Talk about bittersweet.
I’d just found out that big changes were afoot at one of my favourite Hong Kong restaurants.
Head chef Oliver E was departing the restaurant that he’d helmed since it’s opening and was being replaced.
Ordinarily, I’d have been heartbroken; I mean, I’d spent so much time at Seasons by Oliver E and devoured many great meals there with my girl.
But the shock turned into joy when I found out that renowned German-born alumni of Joel Robuchon, Lorenz Hoja was taking control of the French fine-diner. Chef Lorenz will always hold a special place in my heart, having met the chef at my very first L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon experience a few years back in Singapore – long before the restaurant had picked up it’s two Michelin Stars.
To this day, that meal and the friendships I made seated around the open style kitchen, are literally unforgettable (see post here)
I’d been holding off heading in to see Lorenz and check out the new Seasons menu for a special occasion; and what better time than New Year’s Eve?
We were spending the night with regular dining buddies, Gemma and Stephen, a pair of gastronomics with a passion for great food that matched our own….
Over many, many meals at Seasons by Oliver E; I’d never actually seen Chef Oliver in the kitchen; which was a little disappointing (truth be told). So, as we entered the dining room, I was delighted to see Chef Lorenz standing at the pass of the open style kitchen and marshalling the kitchen troups for the meal ahead.
But it was not a surprise, knowing the level of passion and attention to detail from the widely decorated chef, it made a whole heap of sense and it was clear that he already felt comfortable at the helm.
It took us only moments to decide on the special Christmas tasting menu; a little while longer for the table to sort out the champagne and wine for the evening and we commenced our celebrations for the coming year ahead.
Paying homage to his time at L’Atelier, a very familiar bowl of freshly baked bread hit the table with huge slabs of lightly salted French butter. We dug in, knowing that it was an amateur move to eat so much bread before a tasting menu, but doing so anyway…
Even though Lorenz’s signature dish was not on the tasting menu, we were treated to a couple of humongous ‘amuse bouche’ versions to start the meal. Lorenz is really well known for his Salmon Tartare with Caviar Imperial & Wasabi emulsion; the finely chopped salmon bright pink against the black bowl, small and precise dots of wasabi emulsion decorating the side of the plate. The salty hit from the caviar was discernable against the subtle flavour of the salmon, the wasabi just strong enough to tantalise the tastebuds without destroying the palate.
Looking very similar to our ‘amuse bouche’ start to the meal, the Sea Urchin from Hokkaido in cauliflower Coulis and yuzu was presented in a similarly black bowl with more hints of the wasabi emulsion decorating the side of the plate. It was a case of same same but different from our first plate of food; this time the saltiness coming from uni and the creaminess from velvety cauliflower. There was a jell sitting atop of the dish that was packed with flavour, contrasting nicely with the fresh uni.
There was more Imperial Caviar with our next dish, which was simply delicious; the Brittany Scallops on leeks and Iranian saffron foam was very simple in its presentation but very complex on the palate. The sweet flesh of the scallops provided a little texture and played beautifully against the saffron foam; stewed leeks sat under the scallops and provided a contrasting sweet hit and texture. The caviar was the contrasting flavour, the subtle saltiness balancing the sweetness to perfection.
I’m a sucker for a great risotto, so loved the complexity of flavours and textures that came from the Black Truffle and spelt risotto with ricotta cheese and cooked ham. The texture of spelt risotto is chewier than rice, but I loved the firm bite of the spelt, but what was best about the dish was the layering of flavours, each mouthful uncovered a new depth of richness, first from the earthy truffle, then from the salty ham and finally from the risotto reduction that had bags of flavour. I definitely wanted to lick the bowl clean, but somehow restrained myself…
We were really hitting the highlights by the time the Sweetbreads from milk-fed veal with chanterelles ‘a la crème et vin d’Arbois’ arrived. The rustic looking dish right out of provincial France was another palate pleaser! With exquisitely prepared sweetbreads that were nicely caramelised, yet moist and full of earthy richness. Enhancing the sweetbreads was a sauce that simply belonged on the plate, so perfectly matched with the delicate offal. The bed of chanterelles that accompanied the sweetbreads were just a joyous bonus; I’d have happily devoured a bowl of those mushrooms alone… But not at the expense of that sweetbread. Yum
It was around this time that we started to feel almost uncomfortably full; the generous serving from each of the tasting menu courses truly adhering to Chef Lorenz’s philosophy of not sending anyone home from any of his restaurants hungry… There was no fear of that, we were worried about getting through the rest of the meal!!
Thankfully, our next course was relatively light; the Blue Lobster – In an opened ravioli with fresh herbs and Foie Gras sauce was another rustic looking dish that did not disappoint. The perfectly cooked lobster was accompanied by a foie gras sauce that was wonderful and rich, offset by the earthy truffle and artichoke sauce. I simply adored that sauce, and while I’d have loved a bowl of the gooey foie gras, I was grateful for the restraint shown on the plate; otherwise, the sauce may have been overpowering!
Speaking of overpowering, I really struggled with our final savoury dish. The VENISON – just seared with “Sauce au sang” and stewed savoy cabbage and pomme puree was just a little bit heavy for me. Whether it was because we were full from a huge tasting menu, or because the sauce was just so thick and rich, I just couldn’t add much of the sauce to my venison. I loved the flavour of the gamey flesh and the earthy truffle that sat atop, but I pretty much steered clear of the sauce.
Of course, I finished off the classic Joel Robuchon style pomme puree; as well as cleaning out Steve’s bowl (he was stupidly full at this point too)
Lorenz came over to ask how our meal had been; at which point we all noted how full we were. This elicited a smile from our host, who again articulated that this was his main goal – to which we all agreed that he’d definitely achieved…
Next was a palate cleanser that was totally appreciated! Clementine in duet, fresh from Sicily and sorbet was a citrus hit that both cleansed our palate as well as helped settle our stomach for dessert.
Which was a beautifully presented and very sweet end to the meal; the Mont-Blanc chestnut mousse with cassis sorbet and meringue was a well-balanced mix of toasted meringue, chocolate and berry coulis. The chestnut mousse sitting atop the half dome was topped with more sliced truffle, adding a very earthy touch to the desert and helped bring down the sweetness somewhat.
By the time we finished, we still had about an hour and a half before the new year turned over; so we had time to reflect on the year and the meal we’d just consumed. For me, it was representative of a year where I ate out much less often, but when I did eat out, it was at world-class restaurants.
The food at Seasons was delicious and while there are elements that I will miss from the previous menu (and iteration); the fact that Chef Lorenz has moved from Singapore to Hong Kong is a huge bonus for me; it also means that I’ll continue to hit up Seasons whenever I’m wanting a huge and satisfying meal.
Singapore’s loss is HK’s gain