Monday, November 21, 2016

Before we said "Au Revoir"

A group of friends love Serge et Le Phoque in Wanchai a lot so we came over for dinner again one Sunday evening to say goodbye, as the team planned to close the restaurant to move to London next year.

Despite the somewhat eccentric location in the midst of a local market, with fishmonger and butchers' stall lining alongside the narrow street leading to the restaurant, the place has always been popular since its opening a few years ago, leading the way to a few other restaurant openings in this neighborhood. It was packed as usual on the day of our visit, showing no sign of slowing down despite the pending closure in slightly less than 2 months.

We went for the chef's menu as we usually do, essentially leaving the decision up to the chef. The style of the dishes fell somewhere in this interesting balance of being bold, eccentric but refined, using whatever ingredients they can get hold of regardless of their origins, resulting in a series of unique courses in tasting portions being brought to our table in order. A small shot glass of the tardy ceviche juice with sweet raspberry got us started as amuse-bouche, followed by a skewer of tiny mussels with a dab of miso and wasabi (also slightly sweet).

We are more familiar with tapioca being used in many Asian desserts, but the cube of deep-fried tapioca as savory appetizer was interesting, like what one would do with polenta but with more of a bouncy bite. The halved tomato sourced from their Japanese supplier was amazingly sweet, firm like a fruit (yes tomato is technically a fruit I know) and burst with flavors. A slight sprinkle of sea salt and olive oil on top and a spread of tapenade sauce underneath were all that's needed.

The Japanese influence was evident, and done in creative ways unlike many who tried to do something similar. Beef tartare was served with a few tongues of sea urchin, bringing that clean, creamy flavor to the well-seasoned meat with a distinct hint of umami. The seasonal Sanma fillet, the Japanese for Pacific Saury fish, was pan-fried and served with thin slices of raw champignons, grapes the pink stalk of myoga (Japanese ginger), and a piece of thin crisp made of dried small sardines, another common Japanese ingredient.

The suckling pig was the other more substantial dish served for the evening. Not the crispiest skin but the dish was tasty with the smoky burnt corn kernels and a rich black garlic and squid ink puree on the side going with the tender roast meat. We also loved the side dishes being served with our fish and meat courses - first the whole head of savoy cabbage roasted with butter with its robust flavor and a trace of sweetness, then the roasted chunks of potatoes with garlic and green onions. We had to scream at the staff when he tried to took away the pan with the last bit of the cabbage so we could wipe it clean.

Of course we were expecting the dacquoise to come as our dessert at some point, as this little almond cookie sandwich has become many people's favorite dessert in town. But before that we had two equally impressive dessert courses, in particular the smooth dark chocolate tart with crumbs of dried red plums (the other one was pot de creme with lime and cucumber). The richness of the tart reminded me of the chocolate palette at Neighborhood (another of my favorite chocolate dessert) but the one here was firmer with that interesting twist of the salty plum crumbs for the balance of flavors. Of course, the dacquoise was as good as we have expected, sweet and decadent.

We had a chance to talk to Charles Pelletier, one of the co-owners of the restaurant, just to show our gratitude as we were wrapping up our meal, in case we didn't have another chance to say farewell. Charles did mention there’s a slight possibility some in their team might decide to stick around and keep the place open, but I won’t take my chance for getting a few more doses of their food before the end of the year, cuz Hong Kong to London would have been an awfully long commute, even for a perfect dacquoise like the ones they made.

When? November 13 2016
Where? Serge et Le Phoque, 3 Wanchai Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Dacquoise, as always! But the rest were excellent too!
Drinks? 2011 Cedric Bouchard 'Roses de Jeanne' Inflorescence Blanc de Noirs Val Vilaine

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