Thursday, March 26, 2015

Goût de France at Epure

If there is one thing the French did better than the rest of the gastronomy world, it's the way they treasure and celebrate their traditional cuisine. This year, Chef Alain Ducasse, along with the French government, started the Goût de France project (dubbed Good France in English - don't ask me why it wasn't a straight translation) to celebrate such culinary heritage with a grand event worldwide, inspired by the "Epicurus Dinners" initiated by the legendary Auguste Escoffier over a hundred years ago.

This year, on Thursday March 19, over 1000 chefs in 150 countries across 5 continents, from casual countryside bistros to fine dining establishments, would each present a classic dinner to showcase the fabulous French cuisine. Each chef will offer their own dishes with the common theme of "French-style" menu, featuring a cold starter, a hot starter, seafood (fish or shellfish), a meat or poultry main course, a cheese course and a chocolate dessert, along with aperitif and digestif before and after the meal. Similarly, French consulates and embassies around the world hosted the same for their invited guests on the same evening, and a grand gala dinner was held at Chateau de Versailles in Paris. See, as I said, they surely know how to celebrate.

In Hong Kong, over 10 restaurants participated in this global event, including a handful of Michelin-starred restaurants, and Chef Fabrice of Caprice cooked at the French Consul-General's Private Residence in the evening for the official dinner reception. Among those restaurants that offered this special menu for the night, Epure was one that caught my eyes since I have heard positive comments about the restaurant and Chef Nicolas Boutin's cooking but have yet tried his place which opened May last year at Harbour City in Tsim Sha Tsui. I figured this would be the perfect occasion to sample the food there with this special, one-night-only tasting menu.

As we arrived for our dinner reservation, through the glass door at the back of the Parisien patisserie Dalloyau, which operated under the same ownership in Hong Kong as Epure, we were led into the secluded dining area behind. The decor was comfortable and cozy, with dark furniture, floral upholstery chairs and intimate round booth seats against the wall, beautiful table setup, and colorful flower arrangement around the room. I thought the ceiling was a bit too low and the tables a bit too tight which may cause some noise issues if the room was packed, but on the night of our visit it was relatively quiet so it wasn't a problem.

Our waiter came to explain the Goût de France Menu which was based on the restaurant's signature dishes, and left us with the wine list on an iPad. The wine list wasn't long, unlike some other restaurants offering the wine list in similar form, but there's a wide selection of French wines from various regions and it's not that difficult to pick something we like.

We started with some pre-meal nibbles, a quartet of hors d'oeuvres served in a fancy plate along with a glass of their house champagne. I loved both the Gougere and the Foie Gras lollipop - Chef Nicolas spent time working at Amber so it's similar to the one there, except I thought his version is softer and milder which I enjoyed. It was followed by the amuse bouche of raw oyster with jasmine tea granite and a piece of oyster leaf on top. I thought the granite and the oyster leaf were a bit too light but overall it's refreshing with the subtle sea water flavor from the oyster itself.

Our first course of lobster was beautifully plated. The lobster tail and claws were put in 2 corners of the plate, each dotted with apple gel. They were to be eaten with the dollop of mild and almost foamy savora mustard remoulade. On the side was a roll of celery roots wrapped with radish and topped with a slice of apples. The subtle tartness from apple gel was well-mixed into the uniquely refreshing lobster flavors and the mustard was mild but brought in the creamy texture in every bite. 

The champignon cream soup looked straight forward but nonetheless delicious. The balance of cream and the mushroom flavor was done just right, and the soft gnocchi made with baby spinach gave it an interesting twist of flavor. The thin slices of mushrooms on top seemed a bit redundant taste-wise but did add to the presentation. I enjoyed the dish very much.

The Vol au Vent was another excellent dish. The piece of Guilvinec langoustine came in good size, cooked with a quick sear on the pan, then served with a piece of fish fillet, which was similar to cod but I happened to forget the name and a bisque sauce infused with reglisse aroma. To complete there's also a ring of very flaky puff pastry baked to golden color surrounding the food. The sauce was certainly my favorite part and overall this is probably my favorite dish of the evening too.

I thought the main course of duck was way too simple - I expected something fancier for the chef to show off the skills and creativity - and a bit small, but other than that, it's excellent as was. The piece of Challans duck was pan-seared to perfect pinkish color. It was lean but tender, just as what I  expected. The dish was served with a quenelle of parsnip mousseline, rings of pickled shallots, pommes souffle and dressed with the duck jus reduction. I thought the portion was so small that I might not be full after the meal but at the end it felt like just right. But still, I thought the chef would deliver something more complex than a home-style dish with simple garnishes - maybe I was just being nitpicky and hard to please.

After the cheese course which featured 5 different types of cow and goat cheeses with homemade fig compote and slices of walnut bread, we reached the end of the meal with a decadent chocolate souffle and a scoop of chocolate-tonka bean ice cream for a double punch of rich chocolate flavors from Araguani cocoa beans. It's perfect.

The menu was loaded with light, creamy dishes, so I thought we should go for a richer white as the sole bottle for the evening. Well, we started with the house champagne, a blanc de blancs from Dalloyau patisserie next door, which was surprisingly mellow with a long finish. In comparison, the wine we ordered, a Chablis, was much milder, not so much of the acidity but with a good mixture of minerals and stone fruits on the palate, which worked decently well with our seafood dishes and wasn't that far-fetched with our duck too. At the end, a Calvados was served as digestif with the enticing apple aroma. We also thought the service was fine throughout the evening and the bread and pastries were great too, from the mini baguette to the little petit fours at the end.

With only one more day before we set off for a week-long vacation, we couldn't think of a better way to ease into the holiday mood with a fine meal to catch up with friends, with a little Goût de France...

More pictures on my Flickr album:

When? March 19 2015
Where? Epure, Shop 403, Level 4, Ocean Centre, Harbour City, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Le Vol au Vent Allege - Flaky butter puff pastry, seared Guilvinec langoustine and line caught fish, reglisse scented coulis.
Champagne Dallayou "Blanc de Blancs" Brut NV
William Fevre Chablis Premier Cru "Vaillons" 2012
Christian Drouin Pomme Prisonniere Calvados Pays d'Auge NV

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