Jean May: The new Frenchie in Wanchai

I’ve been a little obsessed with two things of late. Firstly, I’ve been trying like crazy to get back into Jean May for a second visit. The second obsession has been duck.

Did you know that it’s almost impossible to get a decent duck breast through any of the home delivery services? Believe me, I’ve tried; and it’s been this inability to get a decent pan fried duck breast that’s increasingly driven my obsession to have some duck.

Which leads me to my second obsession of trying to get back in the Wanchai’s newest and hottest French restaurant, Jean May. Duck is one of their specialties and my first visit during their soft opening lead to one of the best duck dishes I’d had in a very long time.

The problem has been that Jean May is ridiculously hard to get into, made worse by the fact that they really are not open that often…

Despite my best efforts, we’ve only just been able to sneak into one of the elusive tables this week; to be fair, I usually only try to book a few days out – a strategy that’s repeatedly failed. Until it didn’t and we managed to secure a 4pm sitting; a late lunch or early dinner (you decide).

If you’ve unfamiliar with Jean May, it’s the new restaurant by Tiffany Lo, a local girl made good, trained by legendary French chef Pierre Koffmann. Koffmann himself was trained by the granddaddies of French cuisine Michel and Albert Roux in the 70s at world famous Le Gavroche (and later their even more famous Waterside Inn). One of the few French chefs to secure 3 Michelin Stars in England for his restaurant La Tante Claire in London, it’s clear that Tiffany Lo chose a master to learn her trade.

The very unassuming Jean May is located in Gresson Street and tucked away behind the many street vendors plying their trade. The blink and you’ll miss it bistro is quite small, seating roughly 10 tables, which increases the difficulty of actually securing a seat at the best of times.

We arrived 10 minutes early for our 4pm sitting and were asked to wait outside while our table was cleared. During the ten minute wait, I was able to reflect on the arduous process to book the table; firstly booking, then the three confirmation calls, and lastly the requirement to provide my credit card details in case we were a no show. Either the restaurant has had a lot of no shows, or there are serious trust issues with the booking system…

Once seated, we were given the various menus, including the relatively short standard menu as well as the daily specials (on a blackboard) and the drinks menu. The thing that you’ll notice about the menu at Jean May is that it’s quite short; really just specialising on a few dishes for each of the courses.

The girl and I had our minds set on repeating our duck dish (remember, obsessed) from our previous visit, the memory of the roasted carrots that paired with the succulent duck still vivid in our mind, months after our first visit.

So of course, the first thing that we’d noticed was the change of menu and the replacement on the duck dish with a completely different set of accompaniments. Our hearts sank, but we never the less ordered the duck as our mains, hoping for another stellar dish. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Our meal started with slices of crusty French baguette with a huge chunk of French salted butter. The glossy butter looked room temperature, as it should have been, but was surprisingly still cold. This made spreading the butter on the fresh baguette particularly difficult; although once managed, we were reminded of why baguette and butter is one of life’s simple joys.

The Girl started her meal withe the Kanpachi crudo with pickled peppers, the simple yet elegant looking dish filled with colours that were pleasing to the eye. Kanpachi is another name for yellowtail, a fish that particularly lends itself to being served as a crudo (raw with seasoning) and has a subtly sweet taste. We found that the Kanpachi was lost amongst the flavours of the peppers; so much so that the predominant favour was only the sweet peppers. You definitely got the texture of the fish, but without the flavour that we’d hoped for.

I’d chosen the Steak Tartare, a beautifully presented dish with a glossy egg yolk sitting atop the creamy, rough cut steak. I immediately noticed that the serving size was quite generous, however, this generosity did not extend to the toasted baguette that came with the dish to be used as a conduit to eat the tartare and provide texture through crunch. One of the things you look for with a great steak tartare is the sharpness that comes from pickled gherkin, which was missing from the dish. I noticed that there were ample capers in the tartare, but they didn’t provide that contrasting sharpness thats needed. In fact, I found the whole dish overly sweet and creamy, and once I ran out of crunchy toast, it was tough going to finish. I actually had to share the dish with the Girl to get it finished.

While there had been a few interesting looking options for main, including a slow cooked beef cheek with creamy mash, we’d both decided that the only real option for mains was the duck. We’re both game fanatics and as I’d mentioned earlier, I’d had a large number of fails securing an acceptable duck dish via any of the home delivery meals we’d ordered over the last few months.

The expertly prepared duck breast was presented with a spiced honey glaze, insanely creamy and smooth celeriac puree and red cabbage. We’d agreed to the offered medium rare option for the duck, and while the excessive pink of the duck can be too much for some, we found the cooking perfect. The tender duck fat had been rendered perfectly and the skin had the right level of bite and texture. On it’s own, the duck was exquisite, but when compared with the sweetness of that puree and the contrasting red cabbage; then mopped up with the honey glazed sauce…. Well, let me just say that I was in culinary heaven.

My desire, no, my obsession for duck had been satiated. At least for the time being.

So often a perfect dish can be let down by an average dessert. Not so here. We both ordered the sticky date pudding with clotted cream. When you talk about perfection, this dish would need to enter the conversation. Simplicity at its finest, the soft and spongy pudding was not overly sweet on it’ own, but had the right level once the sticky sauce was added. The clotted cream helped ‘cool’ the dish down and helped the palate get through the dessert with a contrasting creaminess that hit the spot wonderfully.

I’d been getting incredibly frustrated with our inability to get into Jean May over the last few months; and I know that the feeling had been shared with some of our regular dining buddies having similar experiences while trying to get in (being told that the restaurant was booked solid until March).

As frustrated as I was, I definitely take responsibility for getting a booking; after all, I can always book weeks in advance… But, for a person who doesn’t really know what they want for lunch in 4 hours time, it’s hard to go and book weeks in advance for a table.

All that being said, Jean May is a delightful little French bistro with a talented chef and a menu that is tasty and well thought out. Best of all though, it seems like Duck is a permanent feature on the menu, so definitely know where I can get my duck breast fix in the future.

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