As you know, we like to eat and drink locally when we travel. But, this time, we decided to make an exception. Why? The short answer is: The Cheap Duck is treating us to dinner (Can you believe this? The Cheap Duck, out of all people?!?!)!
The truth is, we, after our experience at some of Hong Kong’s highly regarded Western restaurants, don’t hold Western food in Hong Kong in very high regard. One of the more memorable was the degustation menu at Pierre (by Pierre Gagnaire). That dinner was a bit of a disaster, nothing tasted right and the only dish that was okay was a dish with balik salmon where no cooking/intervention was required…! Oh, the desserts were okay, they were innovative and interesting. We did not mean to sound rude but it was really a very disappointing experience given its reputation and the price we paid.
But we thought, to be fair, we need to try the yardstick before we give such a decisive opinion. We have been told by people in the industry (including a few French chefs) that if we were to try a Western restaurant in Hong Kong, they highly recommend the French restaurant, Caprice at the Four Seasons Hotel. So Caprice it is then.
Ambience and service were great, as you would expect from a 3-star Michelin restaurant (or a 5-star hotel restaurant). We can’t say that for the food though. The response of the Cheap Duck about the meal sums it up: It’s okay… For a Michelin 3-star restaurant and a bill of HK$7,000+ for 3, okay is simply just not good enough. With the price it charged, we don’t think it is unreasonable to ask for something more spectacular!
The best dish of the night was the crab tiramisu. The slight tang from the mango and smooth mascapone complimented the light yet complex sweetness of the crab.
As for the scallop, we either couldn’t taste them or they were not very fresh and were slightly fishy.
The mushroom consomme was too heavy and oily for a consomme! It also lacked the sweetness of a typical mushroom soup and somehow brought out the mouldy taste of mushroom. The ravioli had a tiny bit of mushroom sweetness but the overall dish left us with this undesirable mouldy aftertaste!
Poached egg was not very good. Eating the egg and caviar on their own was fine but when you eat everything together (the seaweed crisps and the buttered leek) the flavours clashed in a bad way!
Like the other seafood dish, the salmon was rather bland and has a slight undesirable fishy taste. The sauces in these dishes were nice. But, having said that, sauce is supposed to compliment the main element of a dish, NOT to become the main element…! The other elements on the dish were too heavy and overpowering.
The lamb rack was perfectly cooked and VERY tender. However, they had obviously sacrificed flavour for tenderness. Average dish which is passable for other restaurants but not one with 3 stars!
The hare was another pretty good dish. It was very gamey but this is what wild hare is supposed to taste like. The cranberry sauce did away some of the gaminess but it would be better if the sauce was a bit stronger and tangier. The pasta and chestnut were okay.
Understandably, they were really proud of their cheese collection. It was an impressive cheese board and it was also the highlight of the night. Apparently, Hong Kong is the only place where import unpasteurised cheeses from France are allowed. We were told that they have built a special cheese room to ensure that the cheeses are kept at their best quality. However, it is a pity to say that, despite being very tasty, we noted that the cheeses had not properly matured.
Dessert was heavily worked, overly decorated. It was obvious that a lot of attention was put on each element on the plate, however, the elements did not go together. There was no marriage of flavours!
One odd thing we noted dish after dish was that the waiters would proudly emphasize that the crab meat was from Normandy, scallops were from France… and it was the same for all the other dishes. Throughout the dinner, the staff, who attentively waited on us politely asked us how we enjoyed our dinner. Out of courtesy, we would politely answer: Good! However, third time round, we thought: well, since he was so eager to know our opinion, we should be honest with him. We told him that we found the produce, in particular, the seafood and lamb a bit bland and the seafood did not taste fresh. He accepted our comments and said that other non-local patrons have said something similar. He then explained that the use of fresh local produce is frowned upon by local diners, so all the produce are flown in (frozen) from France. He said this is what, the industry understands, the Hong Kong patrons expect from up-market French restaurants in Hong Kong. Apparently, the same is true for restaurants serving other Western cuisines.
In Hong Kong French restaurants, they proudly boasted that all their ingredients, including seafood and vegetables, are all imported from France. When most of the culinary capitals of the World are working towards paddock to plate and all the chefs and critics cannot stop talking about the importance of fresh local produce, it is hard to believe that Caprice prides themselves in having flown frozen ingredients in from thousands of miles away?!
It is a pity that Hong Kong’s Western restaurants seem to think that they can only appease their patrons by importing all their ingredients from overseas. It may be true that Hong Kong is not as privilege as some countries and does not have many of the natural produce they have. But a place surrounded by sea surely have fresh seafood, you just have to walk into any Chinese restaurant and you are bound to see LIVE fish, lobsters, crabs (you name it) swimming in the tanks! It just doesn’t make sense! Can someone explain to us why Hongkongers who expect their dishes to be made from fresh produce at Chinese restaurant would want a Western restaurant to serve them food prepared from produce that has been frozen for a week or more??? We just don’t get it!
We were also told that Caprice’s signature dishes are not in their “Taste of Caprice” menu and that we should go back and try their signature dishes… Umm… we think the excuse that our “signature” dishes are not in the tasting menu is a bit lame. It is not a patron’s job to second guess what your signature dishes are, especially when there is a degustation menu called “Taste of Caprice”, isn’t it just commonsense to expect to get the best of the best from the kitchen when you order this menu. Why called it “Taste of Caprice” when you are not showcasing your best food?!?!
From our “Taste of Caprice” menu experience, we honestly do not think Caprice will be 1-star if it were in Europe, New York or Tokyo or even 1-hat in Sydney. Most of the 1-star restaurants we have tried were, justifiably, 1-star because there were usually some dishes (sometimes up to 50% of the dishes) that would taste wrong or not very good (though quite interesting and creative), but then, there were always other dishes that were really good to compensate for the bad dishes.
We genuinely hope that the philosophy on food in Hong Kong will change in the future. Our suggestion to these fine dinning restaurants is to liaise with local producers to get them to grow/rear what they need locally rather than flying their produce in from half way around the world. This will surely be better off for both the environment and the diners.