Parisian super-chef Yannick Alléno is a recipient of three Michelin stars for his fine-dining restaurants in France. However, when he opened his first establishment in Hong Kong in August 2017, it was a cheerful bistro-style eatery with affordable prices – given the high-end location in Central’s Prince’s Building. Alléno said at the time that for Hong Kong, he thought a bistro was “the right concept for the right place”.
LOCATION AND LAYOUT
Hidden away down some stairs on the linking corridor between Prince’s Building and Alexandra House, the entrance opens to a large space that contains today’s prerequisite open kitchen on the far left, a large bar island surrounded by stools, and two seating areas with both wall booths and freestanding tables – for a total of 135 covers.
Stylish black-and-white photos line the walls, and while the ceiling is quite low, light-brown wood décor and strong but subtle lighting keep things bright and airy. We arrived to find perhaps half a dozen tables occupied, but within an hour the restaurant was buzzing, with plenty of chatter making it feel like a real city bistro. Stainless-steel tables and paper table mats were reminiscent of my favourite café-bistros in the Montmartre district when I lived in Paris in the 1980s, and I was pleasantly surprised to recognise the familiar atmosphere and feel a few pangs of nostalgia – a difficult feat in a culturally disparate city on the other side of the world.
A look at the menu – printed on a large sheet of paper with food on one side and drinks on the other – also smacks of no-nonsense French bistro style. In the starter section there are obvious staples like onion soup, oven-roasted Camembert and line-caught mackerel fillet, alongside some more intriguing choices. (Fine de Claire No.3 oysters and specially made French pâtés are also available.)
We opted for Caviar de lentilles et blinis (“Beluga” lentils with nutmeg crème fraîche and warm blinis; HK$88/US$11) and Bouchées de champignons de Paris aux escargots (snails baked in a Paris mushroom cap with parsley and garlic butter; HK$158/US$20). Both were beautifully prepared and presented, smooth and delicate in flavour – the snails were fantastic, the lentils a little bland, perhaps needed slightly more nutmeg in the crème fraiche.
From 12 mains only one was vegetarian (saffron tagliatelles tossed with goat’s cheese pesto and spinach), but the list was indicative of this type of restaurant in the French capital. Atlantic cod, Escoffier’s hamburger, veal sweetbreads and a black pudding dish are offered alongside two classic Charolais beef entrées: a tenderloin in pepper cream sauce and a ribeye with Béarnaise sauce. We plumped for“Pilafaela” de noix de coquille Saint-Jacques (sea scallops cooked over simmered rice pilaf in an aromatic broth with fresh herbs; HK$288/US$37) and Navarin printanier d’agneau (spring lamb shoulder “navarin” with seasonal vegetables; HK$348/US$45). Both were served in double-handled skillets on wood blocks; the scallops were cooked to perfection but it was the meatiness of the pilaf rice – cooked in a chicken broth – that I was most impressed with. The lamb, meanwhile, was smothered in fresh carrots, green beans and peas, flanked by tasty new potatoes and swimming in a delicious sauce – superb, hearty fare. (The fresh crusty baguette bread served with our food was perfect for mopping up the sauce.)
We tried one of the restaurant’s signature desserts, Saint-Honoré (caramelized choux pastry, kirsch custard and Chantilly cream; HK$88/US$11), and another classic in Tarte au chocolat (ganache, fourless sponge and cocoa nibs crisp; HK$88/US$11). Both were sinfully good, especially the former’s creamy combinations of texture. We finished off with excellent espresso and Capuccino coffees.
With our main courses we opted to try the Parisian house wines. The white was a crispy Sauvignon blanc that went well with the scallops, and the red was an excellent Merlot-Cabernet Franc blend, round and smooth.
The wine list is exclusively French, covering the country’s many wine regions extensively. There’s also a very good selection of spirits, liqueurs and cocktails, as well as a few French beers and ciders too.
The waiting staff struck just the right balance of casual friendliness and efficiency. Our food arrived quickly and there was always someone nearby to fulfil requests. The music was kept on a low volume to encourage conversation; all around us people were chatting happily – the perfect casual bistro setting.
I was impressed by this restaurant, which tries to replicate a typical Parisian bistro setting – and largely succeeds. The classic hearty French fare is cooked very well, presented nicely and very good value. It’s a fun place to have an enjoyable meal in the heart of downtown Hong Kong Island. Jeremy Tredinnick
Expect to pay around HK$1,500 for a three-course meal for two with house wine and coffee.
Open every day for lunch 11.30am-2.30pm, for dinner 6-10.30pm; Shop M20-M24, Mezzanine Floor, Prince’s Building, 10 Chater Road, Central; tel 2522 9990; yannick-alleno.com