Wan Chai Market is not a location that immediately springs to mind for a French restaurant… but neighbourhood newcomer Serge et Le Phoque is like a chic tourist quietly taking in the local culture. Strange as the setting may seem, its co-founder, interior designer-turned-restaurateur Charles Pelletier, remarks that it’s almost like having a giant TV in their restaurant – one that offers all-day entertainment and prime people-watching! Their floor-to-ceiling windows fill the space with light and, coupled with their muted blend of wood, white walls and pistachio green leather booths, create an airy and relaxed atmosphere.
Together with Pelletier, the other powerhouses behind Serge et Le Phoque are Chef Frédéric Peneau (former co-owner of the famed Le Chateaubriand) and Chef Christophe Pelé (formerly of La Bigarrade). Serge et Le Phoque (which translates literally as “Serge and The Seal”) may seem a random appellation, but it was named after and by Peneau’s son Serge, who thought it made sense given another of Peneau’s ventures is called Le Dauphin (“The Dolphin”)!
Serge’s kitchen produces beautifully plated contemporary French cuisine, with Pelletier explaining that they do not want the portions to be too big; their vision is for diners to enjoy their food “with their mouths, not their stomachs”. Don’t worry about going hungry though; Serge’s three-course set lunch menu (which costs $250 per person) allows you to feel utterly satisfied without being stuffed to the rafters… You may even avoid the dreaded food coma!
Serge’s menu is seasonal and changes monthly, with all ingredients flown in from Japan or Europe, whilst all their meat is from Hugo Desnoyer, the famous Parisian butcher.
The presentation of each dish belies the actual complexity of technique that has gone into its creation, making the meal even more of a gastronomic pleasure. We started with a lovely amuse bouche, a sensational mouthful of toro with raspberry and shiso dressing. For starters, the asparagus with mizuna and orange was a heady blast of citrus (which could prove a little overpowering for some), but the asparagus was crisp-tender.
We loved the thickly-sliced red snapper ceviche, which was fresh and bouncy in texture – but the real star was the hen egg with squid ink, grilled corn kernels and fried fish. It was one wonderful, gooey mess of deliciousness!
Our surprise middle course had me longing for more. The two pieces of chargrilled octopus on Japanese mustard sauce topped with tobika roe were spot on tender and slightly, deliciously caramelised.
For mains, the choice is simple but vague – “Meat” or “Fish”. As there were two of us, it was only sensible to have one of each! The fish main course was a red snapper served with grated cauliflower, nori, clams, a watercress emulsion and yoghurt. For meat, it was pork belly on an eggplant and squid ink blend with harissa paste and smoked herring.
Both dishes had to be admired for their aesthetics, but Rach and I felt the pork belly had the edge in terms of a complete taste. The pork was fantastic, its crackling prepared to crunchy perfection and I liked the kick of the harissa paste. The red snapper was lovely too, but its flavours were less punchy.
To finish, we went for the chocolate cream with caramelised nuts and the dacquoise with vanilla cream and nougatine. I love dacquoise – traditionally, a dessert cake with almond and hazelnut meringue and cream. In this amazing mini bite-sized version, the vanilla cream and nougatine made it even more irresistible; Rach and I tried our best to convince Serge’s owners to open a little shop selling these alone! We also had a taste of Serge’s Brie from Alléosse in Paris, which was creamy, rich and served with a divine plum and lemon compote.
It has been a while since I was truly excited about a French restaurant in Hong Kong, but Serge et Le Phoque might well be the one to break my rut; now that it has been open a few months, I think most of the initial hiccups some may have encountered with service have been ironed out. Serge are sticking to a set menu for both lunch and dinner, where a set four-course dinner costs $550; alternatively, you can opt for the three-course “Hugo’s menu for two” which gives you the option of sharing 1kg of Cote de Boeuf ($1450) or 700g of Quasi d’Agneau ($1250). Lunch is definitely great value and I do think the quality of the food, attention to detail, hospitality of Pelletier and entertainment provided by Wan Chai Market will make Serge et Le Phoque anyone’s regular hangout.
Serge et Le Phoque Shop B2, G/F., Tower 1, The Zenith, 3 Wan Chai Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong
5465 2000 www.facebook.com/…
Check out more foodie adventures from Michelle on her blog, Chopstixfix!