Thursday, April 12, 2018

Serious Bistro Fare

A few casual (and unrelated) chats with Chef Daniel Calvert of Belon on social media led to a dinner reservation at the restaurant last week. I realized it’s been a while since I last visited the restaurant and not since Dan took sole helm as their head chef, and CYY has been bugging me for not having been to the place herself at all, so I figure we should make amends on both situations with a meal there on the first evening when both of us were free.

The restaurant decor didn’t change all that much since my last visit with the same wooden façade and the spacious simplistic interiors, but they now added a speakeasy-style bar upstairs serving drinks and snacks. The dishes served were still of classic French bistro style, but the menu structure changed a bit as well, now with both the a la carte choices that change regularly plus the "carte blanche" options for letting the chef decide. Knowing Chef Dan and confident of what he could deliver, we didn’t hesitate to put our trust in him entirely, with our only a few dietary restrictions.

Dan came over to greet us as we settled at our table, and we assured him we are ready for whatever he’s going to send our way. It didn’t take long for us to be impressed by his cooking, with a small piece of bite-sized amuse-bouche appearing at our table. The gougere with aged Comte has served warm with perfect texture (both the pastries and the filling) and complex flavor – we almost refused to believe there’s simply cheese inside and nothing else, and turned out this paired well with the complimentary glass of champagne they were pouring to everyone for celebration – oh yes, the restaurant was just named one of the Asia’s 50 Best last week. Surely that's something worth celebrating about.

More food came our way in tasting portions in quick succession. The oyster tartare was served in a small bowl topped with oyster espuma and panko crumbs – I like the balance of flavor and texture in this one with straight forward combination of ingredients in their purest forms. Same with the small bulb of artichoke – steamed/poached (?) then roasted and topped with grated parmesan - served with a warm “Bagna Cauda” dipping sauce which was garlicky (more like an aioli) with a touch of paprika on top. The few slices of Lomo Iberico were not the fattiest type nor one cut super thin but with rich meaty flavor, served with a simple drizzle of olive oil.

White asparagus season may have just started but this is already my third time trying a white asparagus dish in as many days (with one being at the Four Seasons a few days ago). But the one I had at Belon was particularly memorable – served as a chilled veloute in a Chinese-style porcelain bowl with spring peas in the middle. Individual flavor from the fresh ingredients went through and complemented one another in a beautiful presentation. The small plate of “Salad Nicoise” was chef’s interesting take on the classic dish, with similar set of ingredients but using the fatty piece of shima aji (striped jack) sashimi, so it’s even more refreshing. We loved the housemade sourdough bread served with a dab of rich butter too, and we got more of the bread for our next course of foie gras "au torchon" with preserved blackberries with impeccable texture.

The scallop dish was an interesting one – with half a piece of the giant Hokkaido scallop cooked mi cuit with a piece of thin pasta on (almost like a ravioli) and served with bits of pomelo mixed with shio kombo and beurre blanc (almost like a risotto). Not often I saw pomelo used in a warm dish but this one was brilliantly done with the diced shio kombo strips added to the subtle umami flavor to the buttery sauce with a touch of acidity.

Both of us secretly hoped we would have the roast chicken at some point knowing it’s on the menu, but we didn’t say anything when we ordered, true to our words of trusting chef’s choice entirely. So we were more than delighted that the whole chicken was shown to us at the table before being taken away for carving into pieces to serve. Dan told us he debated whether he should send us half or the whole bird, fearing we might not be able to finish one whole chicken after all the dishes prior to that – obviously he didn’t know us well enough. At the end we wiped the plate clean effortlessly – head, neck, feet and buttocks included. The chicken was simply perfect – skin was crispy and flavorful, meat well marinated and succulent with a thin layer of the spinach stuffing under the skin. The dish was my favorite in my last visit to the restaurant and I felt the version we had this time is a serious contender to be the best chicken we have had in town (sorry, David!). It’s served with a small pot of meat jus on the side but I reckon even without that the chicken was tasty and juicy enough. A bowl of mashed potatoes with peas and ham was included as the side dish as well – that one was great too with the smooth puree that actually tasted more potato than butter.

Two desserts were served, first the mille-feuille with vanilla cream, than a smooth chocolate cake with a couple scoops of vanilla icecream – both classic and well-executed. So were the madeleines as our petit fours served warm and fluffy. The mille-feuille looked rustic and straight-forward with the thick, custard-like creme patisserie piped in between the sweet and crispy pastries but it was mind-blowing. The touch of salt in the chocolate cake did wonder to the overall flavor as well.

Soho was never a neighborhood that came to my mind often whenever I wanted a more serious meal – perhaps that’s the reason why I didn’t come here as often as I should despite liking what I had the first time, but I am sure after our recent dinner this time around, it won’t take me another 2 years to return to experience more of Chef Daniel's wonderful cooking.

(More photos in my Flickr album:

When? April 5 2018
Where? Belon, 41 Elgin Street, Central, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Whole Roasted Chicken with "Petits Pois a la Francaise"
Champagne Bollinger Special Cuvee Brut NV
2015 Cave Yves Cuilleron Viognier "Les Vignes d'a Cote"

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