Saturday, September 20, 2014

The New Fall Menu at Caprice

"11am? I thought the restaurant won't open until noon, no?" When I received the kind invitation from Four Seasons Hong Kong for a lunch tasting at Caprice, I wrote back just to make sure I didn't read the meeting time wrong. Turned out our afternoon at Caprice didn't begin in the dining room but behind the kitchen counter, where we got the opportunity to spend some time chatting with Chef Fabrice Vulin on some of the new developments of the restaurant, along with a little cooking demonstration he did for us before the regular lunch service began.

Chef Fabrice Vulin has taken the helm at the Michelin-starred Caprice since the turn of this year after the departure of Chef Vincent Thierry. We were having lunch at the restaurant a few months ago for what was his first menu for the spring season, but I must admit after that visit, even though the meal was good, in my mind there were still a few questions left unanswered. So I was quite curious to see how he's doing now that he is given more time to settle and have a better understanding of his clientele and their preferences.

I stepped into the empty restaurant through to the open kitchen, where Chef Fabrice was already waiting for us, in the room right behind which will soon  be converted into a private dining room and a chef's table. He's excited to share with us all the details of the chef's table concept, which will be launched some time this fall, from the custom-designed tableware and glassware done to his specifications to his cooking philosophy to some of the ingredients and dishes he's planning to bring in for the special menu. This has every potential to be the hottest table in town, just by hearing about what's in the making. But wait... am I supposed to keep my mouth shut before it's officially announced?

Well, we spent no time having our first dish of the afternoon, with Chef Fabrice making an amuse-bouche for us as a cooking demo. It's a langoustine ravioli with caviar, mushroom and watercress puree. Like a dimsum, he quipped, as he started laying out all ingredients in front of us. The pasta dough for the ravioli was made without eggs (because the egg would have overwhelmed the lighter langoustine flavor, as he explained), rolled and cut into rounds; part of the langoustine was whisked into puree and the rest cut into small pieces. Both the langoustine puree and meat was then put in between the dough rounds and pressed to seal. Instead of sautéing the mushrooms (with porcini, chanterelle and a few other types), they were instead blanched first before a quick flip on the pan with garlic and rosemary to cook through, and then grated summer truffles were spread on top for a more intensified flavor. The blanching liquid was then used to cook the ravioli as well.

Separately, the watercress was picked, blanched and pureed as well to make the sauce. Chef Fabrice then assembled the dish first spooning the mushrooms (and truffles) into a deep dish, followed by the ravioli and finally topped with watercress puree and caviar. I first thought the caviar would have buried the taste of the langoustine but instead the caviar enhanced it - and I love that clean taste of the ravioli with that hint of sea-water from the filling. And I was happy to have picked up a few tricks from the chef too as he showed us how this is prepared and put together.

After we tried our first dish right at the kitchen line we retreated back to the dining room to enjoy the rest of our meal (and let Chef Fabrice and the team got on with their regular work). This afternoon a 5-course meal was prepared for us, based on some of the dishes he's going to introduce in the new season. I am not going to describe the meal in details dish-by-dish, and I would imagine he probably paid special attention to the dishes coming our way, so of course they came out near-perfect, understandably.

But what impressed me most was the menu selection and design, which represents quite a turn-around and in my opinion, a big step towards the right direction. Last time during our lunch here, while I think the dishes were well-executed, I had that feeling the menu was a bit too casual for a restaurant in such setting and lacked the "wow" factor people came here to expect, whether that be lunch or dinner, a random meal or for special occasion. But this time was a totally different story - all the dishes were presented with such finesse like a piece of fine art and with an interesting, unique combination of flavors, and they were delivered with a coherent theme from amuse-bouche down to the desserts.

Atlantic Oyster in Sea Water Jelly, Veal Head and Gribiche Sauce
We started with a cold appetizer, with layers of oyster in sea water jelly, veal head and gribiche sauce molded into petal shape, and topped with pickled vegetables. This is a beautiful interpretation of classical provencal cooking minus the rustic part. Served on the side at the same time was a piece of breaded then deep-fried oyster which was equally delicious - much improved from a similar version in his previous menu using shrimp which I thought was a bit soggy.

Brittany Lobster, Watermelon, Coralline, Avocado and Green Apple
... then the second course with an interesting combination of Brittany lobster, watermelon, coralline, avocado and green apple, presented like a slice of savory mille-feuille. At first I thought this might be more suitable for summer time but I like that refreshing sweet one-two punch from that of the slightly-poached lobster and the fruits. Two different kinds of sweetness, of course.

Line Caught Sea Bass, Marinated Mushrooms, Kristal Caviar in Champagne Sauce
My favorite dish of the day was the sea bass which came next. It's filleted with the skin on, rolled and poached. It's served with a light, foamy champagne cream sauce, spinach leaves and caviar. It's a straight-forward yet outstanding dish with balanced flavors, and I love the firm texture of the succulent and fresh sea bass combined with the intense broth-like sauce.

Sauteed Rack and Saddle of Lamb, Meditteranean Vegetables
I also like that running of that green hue throughout the courses, starting with the bowl of raw garden vegetables with yoghurt dip before our meal, all the way down to the arugula sorbet in one of the desserts, consistent with the "forest" theme Chef Fabrice was trying to bring this season, like this lamb dish with the saddle coated with greenish dill and wrapped with sweetbread and the rack roasted with the bone on, and on the side was a medley of Mediterranean vegetables (zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant caviar) and complete with meat jus. An elegant yet hearty dish, I would say, if there's such a thing.

They also changed the choices of breads being served during meal service with some new creations - I love that rye farmer roll stuffed with sweet corns, and also the epi with a hint of black olives. But yes, the traditional mini-baguette is still around, and of course they are all of the highest quality, served nice and warm with a choice of salted and unsalted Bordier butter. 

Arugula Sorbet with Fresh Figs, Hazelnuts and Yoghurt
Chocolate and Kumquat Cremeux, Moka Sidamo, Crispy Amaranth and Kumquat Sorbet
We looked at each other amazed when the first dessert was brought in. It was described as arugula sorbet with figs, hazelnuts and yogurt meringues. First we struggled on where to start because it's so beautifully plated that we fear of breaking up such a delicate piece of art created by Pastry Chef Marike. And then we immediately fell in love with the flavor of that rather exotic-looking arugula sorbet in deep green color. An unusual choice this might be for a dessert, but the arugula worked somehow, with its mild, tamed grassy taste contrasting the sweet figs and berry tuiles with bits of crushed hazelnuts along the way. We were equally impressed with the richer, more substantial second dessert of the rich chocolate and kumquat Cremeux, served with slices of candied kumquat and sorbet. That's another mind-blowing creation.

And one other significant difference I observed was Chef Fabrice seemed to have scaled down on the Middle-eastern style of cooking he brought in given his background in working in Morocco. The first time I tried I was a bit worried that it might be too big a change in style for the restaurant which may alienate some of its regular customers, but this time, while the hints of those Mediterranean influence were still there, he did it in a much subtle way and blended well into his dishes, instead of hitting right in your face with exotic spices and flavors. That I believe would be better received by most people coming in expecting classical French cooking, while giving the opportunity for the chef to show the best of his unique style.  

I am very impressed at the meal this time and glad that the "wow" factor is still around and kicking at Caprice. That gave me more incentives to come back to try the rest of the fall menu soon - especially when the white truffle and game season gets into high gear, plus this time we were too full to get to the cheeses. Better return soon to do so.

Thank you Four Seasons Hong Kong and Chef Fabrice for having us and for a fabulous Saturday afternoon that we enjoyed in the kitchen, and at the table. 

More pictures on my flickr page:

Previous Visits and Posts: (just came to realize this is probably the restaurant I posted most often!)

When? September 13 2014
Where? Caprice, Four Seasons Hong Kong, 8 Finance Street, Central
Menu Highlights? Line Caught Sea Bass, Marinated Mushrooms, Kristal Caviar in Champagne Sauce 
Sancerre Les Monts Damnes, Domaine Francois Cotat 2011
Egly-Ouriet Tradition Grand Cru NV Brut
Meursault Les Tessons, Domaine Michel Bouzereau 2010
Ribera Del Duero, Bodegas y Vinedos Alion 2004

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