Saturday, May 18, 2013

Dinner at The French Window

Last Monday evening I joined a bunch of social media peeps for a tasting of the Le French Gourmay menu at The French Window in ifc mall, prepared for us by its head chef Matthieu Bonnier. It's good to come across some new faces, while catching up with a few friends who happened to be at the dinner too.

We began our dinner with a sumptuous display of the Grand Seafood Platter served on two levels of ice-laden plates, prepared at the seafood bar just right behind our table. On the plates were seasonal seafood item from all over the world including New England Lobster from Boston, clams and Britanny Tourteaux crabs from France, Atlantic shrimps, Tsubugai (small sea whelks) from Japan, and oysters (which I forgot where they came from - presumably from the southern hemisphere given the time of the year). The platter came with shallot vinegar, cocktail and mayonnaise sauces made in-house as condiments, but I reckon just a dash of lemon juice was all it takes to bring out the best of the delightful, fresh seafood flavors.

Just when I thought a crisp, refreshing Loire Valley wine would have been a perfect accompaniment, they brought in the Sancerre to the table. It's a simple but energetic wine from a recent vintage (2010) that taste like a gently ripe green apple and with a zesty sharpness on the palate, and they must have read my mind because that's exactly what I have wanted for the chilled seafood after a long work day. 

We moved on to the quartet of appetizer items in tasting portion, which originally came from the items on offer from the main menu. The crab cake was served on a bed of celery roots which gave it a different texture to what I am used to and a refreshing taste. It's good though I personally preferred that to be deeper fried. My favorite of the four was the little spoonful of beef tartar which was flavorful and with good balance between the meaty taste and that from the spices. The (smoked) salmon tartar served in a similar way was quite decent as well. Portion of duck foie gras was generous, cooked just right and with rather subtle, not so overwhelming flavor which filled you up.

From the appetizer medley we progressed to the main courses, which were served family-style to share by everyone. They were typical French brasserie dishes - from coq au vin served with tagliatelle, roast suckling pig, to braised beef cheeks in stew, Bourguignon style. The dishes were solidly executed - true to the traditional flavor - with the beef cheeks the one that stood out this evening. It's melt-in-your-mouth tender and with delicious, think reduction sauce from the slow-cooked process with root vegetables, shallots onions and spices which brought in the rich taste. I also like the juicy chicken meat from the coq au vin casserole and the crispy cracklings from the suckling pig.

Apart from the main courses, all of us were slightly distracted by the side dishes of two types of fries served with an impressive line up of sauces. From the more traditional beurre blanc or mayonnaise with a hint of tarragon, to the more interesting cream sauces with green peppercorns, black truffles, or even bleu cheese, all worked well in their own unique ways with the homestyle fries or the conventional pomme frites. I think if I can only have this and a glass of wine in hand for a simple, "light" meal while glancing over the beautiful sunset from the floor-to-ceiling windows on one side of this restaurant facing the harbor, I would be quite happy already.

Chef Bonnier saved us from the agony of having to choose over the desserts with platter of four different desserts in miniature, individual portions. I like the chocolate mousse most with rich and creamy creme au chocolat encased in a cute little edible chocolate cup. On the other spectrum of sweetness there's also a mini lemon meringue tart which I equally enjoyed. The platter came complete with the pineapple sorbet and an apple almond thin tart, both of which I found to be a bit bland, especially when compared with the other two more impressive choices.

It's clearly a change in style of The French Window to move away from the avant-garde interpretation of French cuisine when it first opened to the more traditional Parisian bistro fares in a formal setting. It's not the first time we saw something similar in this shopping mall (remember the good old Le Parisien, or later the Cafe de Paris which came and gone?), but from what I have tried at The French Window this evening, I think they might have found their strength finally and should move from here in the right direction to become a serious driving force in the somewhat brutal dining scene in this area. There are reasons to be hopeful.

Note: The dinner was by invitation from and paid for by The French Window and the Miramar Group. And the menu was customized for the occasion so it might be different to what's being offered normally.

When? May 13 2013
Where? The French Window, ifc Mall, Central, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Grand Seafood Platter
Drinks? Henri Bourgeois Sancerre Les Baronnes 2011

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