Come summer and my appetite for hearty stews, rich pastas and piping hot soups pretty much goes out the window! Enter Pierre Gagnaire’s one Michelin-starred Pierre at The Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, with a light refreshing creative summer menu – proving that summer food doesn’t always have to equal salad!
Pierre has also just welcomed a brand new Chef de Cuisine to head up proceedings – Jean-Denis Le Bras, who comes with 18 years of experience in top restaurants, including several of Gagnaire’s other eateries around the world and a stint at Sketch in London where they were awarded two Michelin stars (maybe he’ll even manage to do the same here!).
Chef Gagnaire will be working closely with Le Bras to brainstorm new creations for Pierre here in HK, in addition to showcasing all their signature dishes, so the summer menu proved the perfect chance to check out the new team’s work. Meanwhile Pierre itself is exactly as you would expect a restaurant in a five-star hotel to be – classy, luxurious but not OTT décor, fantastic attentive service from staff who know their stuff and all with an amazing harbour view.
We kicked off with an appetiser of crabmeat, baby squid and cucumber coated with mushroom jelly. With other elements of the dish including a sardine infusion and olive oil sherbet (served separately) and a brioche stuffed with spider crab and grapefruit, in less expert hands this could easily have become an over-complicated mess. Instead, this was a beautifully light yet complex starter; I particularly loved how the powerful tang of the mushroom jelly and the uber salty sardine infusion contrasted with the other more subtle flavours.
Next up was indeed a soup… but somehow the Gagnaire-Le Bras team managed to just about make it work for HK’s hot and sweaty climate! Although the foie gras green curry soup with borlotti coco beans and mushrooms wasn’t my favourite dish (I found the mushrooms way too pungent and almost vinegary), the broth itself was aromatic, delicious and very moreish.
The meal really started to crank up with a dish of blue lobster (from both chefs’ hometown, Brittany), summer cabbage, pistachio powder and frozen raspberries. Although I found the layer of Parmesan cheese at the bottom too strong for my tastes, the lobster itself was stunning – light, delicate and beautifully sweet – whilst the frozen raspberries, adding another taste, texture and indeed temperature to the mix, were an inspired touch. Of course, it helped that Monsieur Gagnaire himself came to scatter the raspberries on our plate, adding an extra sprinkling of Gallic charm!
My favourite dish turned out to be the main – roasted veal with sweet onion purée, smoked lard and a minted garden peas ice-cream. The veal was incredible – extremely flavourful, meltingly tender and pretty much the most perfect portion of veal I’ve ever had. The mint pea ice-cream was also amazing, instantly transporting me back to thoughts of an English (or I suppose French!) country garden, and it went alongside the veal beautifully. I would never have picked out a veal and ice-cream combo to be the absolute epitome of summer on a plate, but this was it!
Pierre Gagnaire’s grand dessert was a three-in-one special – a poached pear with peach and rose ice-cream; caramelised fruit, pear sherbet and hot chocolate; and an apple crisp with red fruit perfume, tandoori and lime sherbet. I have to say that even though my appetite for rich indulgent mains might disappear during summer, my love for rich indulgent desserts remains undiminished! These were all light, fragrant and refreshing sweets that definitely fit the summer theme… but I have to say, I’d still have preferred a gooey chocolate cake or sinful sticky tarte tatin! That being said, the curried apple crisp was a delightful surprise.
I often associate French fine dining with lots of rich ingredients and heavy sauces, so Pierre’s summer menu was a welcome reminder that this isn’t always the case. Of course, the meal comes with a hefty price tag so I’d definitely advise saving Pierre for a special occasion where you can truly savour the quality ingredients, beautiful presentation and complex innovative gastronomy on display. So if you’re in the market for some creative haute cuisine prepared with an assured expert hand, then Jean-Denis (and Pierre) is your man!
Pierre’s Summer Tasting Menu costs $1,588 (or $2,588 with a wine pairing) and should be available until mid September; dishes change seasonally every three or four months.
Pierre, 25/F, Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, 5 Connaught Road Central, Central
2825 4001 www.mandarinoriental.com/hongkong/dining/