Summers spent in the South of France sipping rosé, eating cheese and enjoying the je na sai quoi of French living seem like a distant dream in this frantic city we call home. I didn’t think there was really anywhere I could go in Hong Kong that would ooze the same relaxed, cool atmosphere as so many of those French bistros and cafes that you come across in France, but when I was invited to try Le Bistro Winebeast, I changed my mind.
Situated at the top of Wan Chai market, Winebeast’s latest venture is easy to miss tucked away down McGregor Street. This tiny little bistro may be small on space but it’s big on ambience, and I can honestly say that at some points I felt like I was in France rather than in the middle of Wan Chai, Hong Kong.
Le Bistro Winebeast is THE place to come if you have a passion for wine. Cristina, their master sommelier is an absolute expert on all things to do with our favourite tipple, and has exceptional taste and attention. She’ll recommend you a wine for each course and her extensive knowledge will really give you an insight into flavour combinations and pairings.
I actually felt like I learnt a lot from her just from my short experience there (and despite how busy it was)… who would have thought a sweet, sparkling red dessert wine could go with cheese?
Not only is Cristina an amazing sommelier, but she also acts as a fantastic front of house, seating people with ease and ensuring the smooth run of the restaurant. Her experience working at some of the top restaurants in Paris makes her service flawless, leading by good example to the other waiting staff. We were always asked how our meal was and our water and drinks were kept topped up throughout the evening… impressive for such a busy little restaurant on a Saturday night.
What I enjoyed about the menu was that it was so concise. The fact that it changes every six weeks is also impressive, considering the work and training that has to go into preparing a whole new menu on such a regular basis, but it’s great to know that you’re getting seasonal, fresh ingredients. We tried a selection from the October and November menu, starting with two light appetisers.
The seared mackerel fillet with melted onions, lardons, basil flavoured oil and puff pastry was honestly to die for. Perfectly cooked with a crispy skin, this usually underrated fish was really elevated by the sweet, caramelised onions and the thin, flaky crunch from the puff pastry. Simple, but delicious.
My dining partner ordered the baby octopus marinated in vanilla vinaigrette with rocket salad and wasabi condiment with green apple julienne, which was a nice contrast from the mackerel. The octopus was also perfectly cooked, not chewy but still with a nice bite to it. The wasabi sauce was very unique and proved how incorporating Asian flavours into European style cooking seriously works. A citrus flavour complemented the flavour of the wasabi – there was a bit of heat at the back of your throat, but nothing that was overpowering.
On to the mains and I was worried they wouldn’t live up to the standards of the starters. How wrong I was! My lamb cutlets with piquillo peppers and aubergine puree were the juicy and the most tender I’ve had in Hong Kong – pink and perfectly medium rare. The smoky and creamy aubergine melted into the lamb and the pepper gave another burst of sweetness to the dish.
I was sceptical of the duck confit with pan-fried fruits and confit potatoes with reduced red wine sauce, as I usually find this dish too fatty and oily, but I was more than pleasantly surprised. The duck literally fell off the bone and the crispy skin was unbelievably indulgent. The addition of pears and apples to the potatoes underneath added another sweet flavour that tasted delicious with the rich duck… a must try!
We then decided to go French style and have our cheese first before dessert, and the chef prepared a mini cheese platter for us to try. Cristina instructed us to eat the cheeses in a certain order and I savoured the heavenly strong flavours that were perfectly complemented by the red wine.
We couldn’t leave without sampling the desserts, and we decided to try the more unusual sounding dishes and go for the strawberry flavoured panna cotta with white chocolate and berries and the cherry and pistachio ‘a la nage’ and cardamon emulsion. The panna cotta was stunningly presented with a white chocolate cup that exploded with fresh berries. The actual panna cotta itself was small and subtle, going well with the sharp raspberry coulis… a safe and crowd-pleasing, pretty dessert.
The other dessert was truly unique, and again matched perfectly with the dessert wine that Cristina had selected for us. Although the presentation wasn’t quite as appealing as the panna cotta, the flavours of the ‘a la nage’ stood out much more, with a smattering of cardamom giving it a distinctly Indian flavour. The creaminess mixed with the deep, rich flavour of the cherries made it so moreish, and I would definitely order it again!
I can honestly say this is one of the best meals I’ve had in Hong Kong for a long time. The food is simple and classic but with interesting, subtle twists and everything is cooked to perfection. This is the kind of food you could eat every day and not get sick of. The ambience of the bistro is so relaxed, and although it is a bit of a squeeze (the space and size of the actual bistro is tiny!) you actually feel like you could be in France, especially after a couple of glasses of the incredible wines! I would highly recommend this restaurant if you want fantastic food, fabulous wines at shop price and attentive service in a chilled out atmosphere. I’m already planning on booking my next dinner there!
Le Bistro Winebeast, 15 McGregor Street, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, 2479 6833, www.wine-beast.com/le-bistro
Hi, I’m Lauren and I was born and raised right here in Hong Kong. That being said, with a blonde-haired, blue-eyed mum from England and a Chinese-Australian father, I would definitely say that I grew up as a third culture kid! I love every part of this city and all its many contrasts; from the green of the country parks (and the scary monkeys…) to the shimmery lights of the skyline – it never gets old. I’ve always loved to travel and living here is such a privilege as we’re so close to so many incredible countries and different cultures. I’ve always got a bad case of wanderlust and I’m constantly on the look out for an adventure… here’s to my new adventure at Sassy!