Tried & Tested

Restaurant review: Ecriture, Hong Kong

16 Jan 2019 by Michael Allen

Background

Backed by Hong Kong hospitality group Le Comptoir, Ecriture in Hong Kong’s Central district promises “a space in which French cuisine is elevated to new heights by uniting it with exceptional Japanese produce to explore the endless possibilities that occur when Western craftsmanship meets Eastern philosophies”.

The restaurant takes its name from a series of paintings by Korean artist Park Seo-Bo, whose work hangs in the private dining room.

Executive chef Maxime Gilbert presents his vision of French cuisine, inspired by his experiences of working with chefs such as Yannick Alleno, the man behind another Hong Kong restaurant, Terroir Parisien. Gilbert handpicks fresh, seasonal ingredients from artisanal and small-batch producers in France and Japan, infusing the two food cultures through technique and flavour to present dishes that highlight the culinary heritage of both. 

Where is it?

Ecriture is on the 26th floor of H Queen’s, a new skyscraper almost directly opposite Topshop on Queen’s Road Central. The building bills itself as being at “the center of Hong Kong’s art and lifestyle”. Upon entering the lobby, an attendant guides you into the lift and helps you push the button for your desired floor.

The venue

Spacious. Unlike many Hong Kong restaurants, the tables are spread far apart, ensuring a high level of privacy. The restaurant has an open kitchen, which carriers the risk of unwanted cooking fumes permeating the restaurant, but Ecriture must have a top notch ventilation system as I could not smell a thing. On Tuesday night, a couple was celebrating some kind of special occasion, possibly an anniversary, while another table was filled with mildly rowdy businessmen, though thanks to the layout each table was its own personal island of gastronomic enjoyment.

Unobtrusive, tinkly jazz piano music plays in the background, so light I only became consciously aware of it about half way through the meal. The balcony (which was shut for dinner; it was a fairly cold night) has a nice view of the International Finance Centre (IFC), the tallest skyscraper on Hong Kong Island and second tallest in the city.

The food

We started off the meal with three canapés. The first looked like – and also tasted very much like – a tater tot topped with caviar.

Then came the Pumpkin Oreo, consisting of pumpkin tuille, pumpkin cream and puree. It had a buttery mouthfeel. 

Then came the steam buns with dehydrated seafood, topped with spring onion, ginger, shiso flower and pickled daikon (main picture).

Before the eight-course mains, the waiter came around with a box and offered us a selection of eight knives with different style handles. The knives, he said, come from Thiers, a commune in the Puy-de-Dome department in Auvergne in central France. The implement we chose would stay with us for the whole meal, and be used for both meat and fish. 

“It’s only about the design. Some are heavier than others, but they all cut the same,” he said, when I asked how one should go about selecting a blade. 

This was my weapon of choice…

The mains started with the Hokkaido Aka Uni, made of watercress jelly with dice of celtuce, and warm sweetcorn foam with seaweed. This was paired with a side dish made of fine de claire oyster from France, pickled daikon and seaweed, served with seawater. 

Start with the uni and move to the oysters to refresh your palate,” the waiter suggested. 

The uni, watercress and corn were all extremely delicate and complimented each other well. The oysters were an unusual but welcome contrast, their ocean-taste different to that of the uni. It was served in an impressive looking bowl, which looked like it weighed a tonne but was actually almost as light as the ingredients inside. 

Then came the Caviar dish, consisting of schrencki caviar covered and infused with Spanish air-dried beef, served with Chinese celery, beef bone marrow soufflé, assorted vegetables and clam sauce with parsley oil.

“It’s very unusual, but meat and caviar go very well together,” the waiter said while serving us from tableside. 

Next up was the Scallop dish, a Hokkaido scallop mille-feuille with black truffle, wrapped with seaweed and deep fried with Beignet sauce, served with celeriac puree, Italian hazelnut shavings and scallop skirt foam sauce. This was an intriguing concept and tasty, though I found that the deep-fried coating overpowered the truffle a little. 

Our fourth main was the akamutsu fish from the east coast of Japan, wrapped with seaweed (from Brittany, France) and verbena, steamed in a pot with heated stones and poured over sake for three minutes. The fish is served with “fish milk”, which is made only with simmered akamutsu and a touch of lemon juice.

“It’s a very simple dish: the fish and the sauce. The sauce is made with only the bone and the trimming at a very precise temperature. When you overcook salmon, you always have those white dots coming out, so that’s the sauce,” a second chef explained. 

“So the sauce is albumin?” one of our party asked, referring to the white, not quite so appetising-looking stuff that sometimes oozes out of salmon when you cook it.

“Pure albumin. Nothing else,” the waiter said. 

The addition of the pure albumin sauce made for a thoroughly fishy dish, but a delicious one. The fish was served only partly cooked, the centre approaching sashimi.

Our fifth main was the Kuro Awabi, consisting of black abalone poached in sake, seaweed and daikon, served with aubergine puree, diced grapefruit, Spanish air-dried beef and abalone liver puree, and aubergine soup. 

Sixth was the three-month-old lamb, which arrived naked before the waiters added sauce (or “lamb jus”) and grated over a generous serving of black truffle. This dish was served with choy sum stem, Shanghainese cabbage and Taiwanese spring cabbage sautéed with pickled lemon and extraction of seaweed. 

Some of the more sensitive members of our party expressed their discomfort with the young age of the lamb, but they seemed to stop feeling sorry for the poor creature’s truncated existence once they tasted how exquisitely its medium-rare flesh mixed with the sauce and truffles.

Now for the desserts – all three of them. First up was the amaou strawberry from Fukuoka, served with sake lees puree and ice cream, as well as sake jelly. 

Second was the ganache of chestnut with three citrus filling (mikan, dekopon and hyuganatsu), with chocolate rings. The citrus filling brought the chestnut ganache to life. The chocolate rings were a nice Instagramable touch – one of our party spent several minutes arranging the rings on his plate so he could take a photo – but didn’t add too much to the taste due to their thinness. Melted chocolate might have worked better, taste-wise. 

Then came a surprise. I had barely noticed that a book had been sitting on our table for the entire meal. The waiter lifted its cover to reveal a chocolate tart with cognac chocolate ganache.

“Oh, it’s been there the whole time!” one of our party exclaimed. The waiter then proceeded to pour extra cognac on it.

“Just a little. You will not get drunk from it,” he said.

We also had a galette des rois (king’s cake) with almond paste, in which the waiter said a little toy was hiding. Whoever found it would be crowned “king of the day”. I was glad of his prior warning; the tiny ceramic red crown I discovered in my slice – and, thinking it edible, nearly ingested – looked like the perfect secret weapon to slip into an arch rival’s dessert in the hope that they’d chip a tooth on it.

The service

Unhurried. Our meal began at 7.30pm and did not finish until gone 11.00pm. The gaps between courses were a little too long for my liking. Make sure you come here with very good company, otherwise conversation is apt to run dry. Don’t bring a new client unless you’re confident you’ve got enough small talk in your repoitoire to fill three-and-a-half hours.

A Friday or Saturday night may be preferable to a work night; I couldn’t sleep till past 1.30am when I got home, being too stuffed full of the lavish desserts and petit fours.

But the waiters are excellent, knowledgeable and appear genuinely passionate about the food. They also dish out just the right dose of French wit and humour alongside the courses.

Verdict

For leisurely, drawn-out fine dining with exceptional service, this is certainly a good spot. For weekday dining, make sure you don’t have early morning commitments the next day so you can fully enjoy the dishes and wine pairings.

Fact file

Hours: Monday to Saturday, 12:00pm to 2:30pm / 6:30pm to 10:30pm; closed on Sunday (except public holidays)

Price: HK$488 (US$62) for the three-course Calligraphy Menu, HK$688 (US$88) for the five-course Calligraphy Menu, HK$1588 (US$202) for the Library of Flavours Menu. The game-focused Furs and Feathers Menu (available during January 2019 only) will set you back a cool HK$1,688 (US$215) for four courses or HK$2,088 (US$266) for seven courses.

Location: 26th floor, HQueens, 80 Queens Road Central, Hong Kong

Contact: +852 2795 5996; ecriture@lecomptoir.hk; lecomptoir.hk/ecriture

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