As Wan Chai’s Ship Street and surrounding streets continue to grow as a foodie destination, it doesn’t stop at quick, casual eateries. At the end of last year, two Michelin-starred chef Akrame Benallal opened the second branch of his eponymous Restaurant Akrame, the first of which is located in Paris.
Chef Akrame himself was recently at the restaurant to introduce the launch of his summer degustation menu, which will be available throughout July and August. I was invited to try the 6-course menu and meet the 32-year-old chef who gained his experience under the direction of Ferran Adrià and Pierre Gagnaire.
Unlike many French fine dining establishments, Restaurant Akrame has a clean, contemporary design, with concrete walls, sleek black furniture and interesting portraits of tattooed models. It’s a surprisingly small, cosy space, seating only 30 diners, yet has a comfortable atmosphere without feeling cramped.
Akrame’s menu changes frequently. He doesn’t like to be restricted by routines and boundaries, as he finds these boring; instead he bases each dish on a particular idea or feeling and then further develops it. His menu, therefore, starts as a series of drawings with arrows and words scribbled around them; it means little to the diner, but you don’t receive the menu until the end of the meal anyway, in order to maintain an element of surprise throughout the meal.
The first of our six courses was a cold white asparagus soup with orange blossom and smoked haddock. Although not much to look at, it was a lovely start to the meal, with light, delicate flavours that worked well together.
The zucchini with crabmeat was more of a spectacle: two baby courgettes topped with crabmeat, mayonnaise and a charcoal glaze. Again the flavours were very delicate, but the charcoal – apparently a favourite ingredient of Akrame’s – helped bring them all together.
One of my favourite dishes of the day was the crispy lobster with tartar sauce, capers and apple. This is Akrame’s reinterpretation of traditional fish and chips, but obviously a much more fine dining version. I loved the texture of the breaded exterior that gave way to soft, meaty lobster beneath. The crushed lobster shell didn’t have a great deal of flavour and seemed a little pointless other than for the purpose of the presentation.
The Pollack with tandoori sauce, pine nuts and grilled cauliflower was pleasant and had the potential to be excellent. The fish was perfectly cooked, wonderfully flaky and paired well with the tiny amount of tandoori sauce. I just wished there had been a bit more of this sauce to bring out the flavour of the otherwise slightly bland fish.
To cleanse the palate before the final main course, we were served a small scoop of basil ice cream. This was absolutely divine and easily the dish with the most flavour.
Throughout the meal, we each had what looked like steak knives on the table, and then shortly after the palate cleanser we were each given a sort of mini pitchfork. It was therefore not absurd that we were expecting the next dish to be steak. We were, however, first served a plate of neatly arranged potatoes and smoked shallots, before a waiter came round the table and served us chicken breasts from a mini barbecue. The chicken was perfectly tender and had a lovely hint of charcoal, whilst I also really enjoyed the smoky potatoes. Despite the initial disappointment at not being served steak, this ended up being my favourite dish of the day.
Our dessert course actually consisted of three desserts in one: milk froth with ginger, strawberry jam, pepper and white chocolate; clafoutis with cherry and emulsion of honey lavender; and creamy milk chocolate with tonka, crisped rice and coffee ice cream. Surprisingly, the chocolate dessert was my least favourite; I liked the chocolate itself but the strong coffee ice cream was far too overpowering for my liking. The other two were both lovely and light, with interesting and unexpected summery flavours.
I had to rush off shortly afterwards, so missed out on the petits fours, but I was given a bar of homemade salted dark chocolate to take home, which was intensely rich, smooth and addictive.
Akrame’s Summer Degustation Menu is priced at $280, $380, $580 or $788 for a 3-course, 4-course, 6-course and 8-course lunch respectively, whilst dinner is $788, $988 or $1398 for 4, 6 and 8-courses respectively. There is clearly passion and a lot of thought behind each and every beautiful dish that Akrame creates. It’s not necessarily somewhere I would go to eat often, but for special occasions and if there’s someone you’re trying to impress, Restaurant Akrame would definitely be a good option.
Restaurant Akrame, Shop B, G/F, 9 Ship Street, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, 2528 5068, www.akrame.com.hk