Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A new start at Caprice

We headed back to Caprice at Four Seasons for lunch, trying to have a glimpse of what the new head chef Fabrice Vulin brought to the table since he came on board a couple months back.

The posh but comfortable restaurant has become ever so popular, seemingly unaffected by the loss of the precious third star in the 2014 Michelin Guide (which most suspect has more to do with the departure of the head chef rather than the drop in quality) We tried to make the lunch booking a couple weeks in advance but couldn't get confirmation for a table until the day before.

My observation is that the change was subtle yet not unnoticeable, especially in terms of menu items, table setting, cooking style and to a lesser extent, services. Overall my feeling is they have turned up a notch (or down, depends on how you put it) on the casual scale, which I don't necessarily hold it as a disadvantage per se - not all the aspects, at least. For example, I was admiring the new set of contemporary designed Perceval knives now being used (replacing the classy Laguiole-style ones), and they seem to have made minor adjustments to their pastry which I like as well. Of course there were changes that I appreciate much less - like they have raised the food prices.

Chef Fabrice Vulin plied his trade in the French Riviera for a couple years recently before making the move to Hong Kong, and before that, spending time in Morocco with his own restaurants. Because of this interesting background, Mediterranean influences were evident in the first seasonal menu since he took helm at Caprice. Ingredients such as figs, medjoul dates, or Ras el Hanout spice made their way into a number of savory dishes in both its a la carte and tasting menus.

We opted for the 3-course lunch menu this time, as usual. The amuse bouche was promising - I liked both the mini puff filled with foie gras and also millefeuille layered with squid ink jelly and sardine mousse, but less so of the prawn fritter, which I think was a bit soggy and oily to be served as finger food. They also made a change to their bread offerings, with new items such as a buttered semolina roll accompanied by olive oil being served. It's alright, but I still much preferred the traditional baguette and olive roll with generous spread of Bordier butter. (well, we packed the leftover semolina roll home and it made perfect breakfast the next day though)

My appetizer course was poached egg with colonnata pork, mushroom and meurette sauce. similar to the one I had here a few months ago. While I personally thought the egg might have been a bit overcooked this time (by two or three degrees I reckon), overall this version was prepared truer to the tradition, with the meurette sauce richly enhanced by the addition of duck foie gras. And the presentation was fabulous.

I admit I did raise my eyebrows a bit when I saw a new main course item listed as "Grill Cut of the Day" - I thought even if they change the item daily as the menu implied, the restaurant should have no problem printing a new one every day with a detailed description instead of listing this as a rather generic, uninteresting item. When we inquired, the waiter did go on to explain it's the roast Iberico pork rack served with fregola and grilled vegetables on the side.

While the dish was well-cooked and delicious, there's not so much of a surprise factor, other than traces of Mediterranean style and lighter cooking. The pork was grilled with a splash of salt in the surface, giving it a nice crust outside the tender pink meat. It was then sliced by the table-side and served on a plate in a fancy presentation with meat jus, fregola and tarragon garnishes. The vegetable gratin - with zucchini, tomatoes, cucumber, aubergine and onions - were sliced thinly, put in layers in a nice pattern inside a small cast-iron sauce pan and cooked in the oven with a splash of olive oil on top. It bore more than a striking resemblance to Alain Ducasse's signature "cookpot" dish (except the serving utensil) and it's aromatic and tasty. But this is way too ordinary for a restaurant of this level... "Could I have done the same at home?" I couldn't help but wondered.

The dessert choices saw the least of changes on the menu in my opinion and the one I picked happened to be my favorite this afternoon. Textures of raspberry - jelly, mousse, crisp, espuma, sliced, sorbet - was served in a beautiful, pinkish, feminine presentation in mille-feuille form with sweet sable crackers and tarragon meringue in the middle. It's light and refreshing with the right sweetness.

We finished with the petit fours of a carrot cake "puff", peanut and caramel macaron and chocolate, but wait, where's my nougats and caramels? The omission better be just an oversight, or I will be disappointed if they decided to take that off permanently.

Well, I have had better meals at Caprice - either lunch or dinner - and I would say this time it's pretty average in their standard. I think it's going to take a couple more months and a few menu iterations for Chef Fabrice to settle and strive. Change is always a tricky business but I am hopeful he will make it right eventually.

When? March 8 2014
Where? Caprice, Four Seasons Hong Kong
Highlights? Texture of Raspberry, Tarragon Cream, Raspberry Sorbet
Drinks? M. Chapoutier Côtes-du-Rhône Belleruche 2012

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