Below average by Joël Robuchon's global standards, this underwhelming and ludicrously overpriced restaurant delivers on classic dishes and desserts but falls short in many important categories, like service, just to pick one element at random.
Led by Justin Tan, a Guangdong native who started cooking professionally at the young age of 16, T'ang Court is an impressive application of Cantonese-style fine dining in a beautiful Shanghai neighborhood appropriately called Xintiandi (literally, "Heaven on Earth.")
Chef Tan was trained personally by the head chef of T'ang Court Hong Kong, Kwong Wai Keung, and in Chef Tan's own words he desires to explore "creativity through simplicity." The simplicity theme shone through pretty strongly; many of the dishes he served would not seem out-of-place at a family Chinese restaurant anywhere in the US. Lots of incredible flavors set in a gorgeous, high-ceilinged dining room.
Earlier this year when I saw that the Michelin Guide planned a new Shanghai book in 2016, I got really excited. Known for its vibrant food scene and such all-stars as Paul Pairet's Ultraviolet, I was anticipating a pretty exciting slate of 3-stars. We got only one: T'ang Court at the Langham Hotel. Interestingly, another T'ang Court restaurant also at a Langham Hotel in Hong Kong also has three Michelin stars. How totally unsuspicious.
PRICE PAID: $140PP (INCL. WATER, TAX, TIP- PRE-CHALLENGE)
FINAL SCORE: 7.5/10
Like many luxury hotels in mainland China, walking into the lobby of the Langham is asking to be olfactorily (is that a word?) assaulted by a massive cloud of perfume that they douse the space with to differentiate it from the hazy, permanently welding-chemical scented air that looms over Shanghai. Totally gorgeous from the outside and the inside; this is an outstanding hotel.
We went up an elevator into a smallish, curved space enveloped by some massive draperies, which abut all the tables on the outside of the room. Those drapes would later prove entangling during water service; our waiter got wrapped in it and took a solid 15 seconds to struggle free. Not a well-conceived floor plan, but a pretty and airy room, with seating for about 20. Lots of private rooms hovered in the background with space for perhaps 90 more.
Service had a few small missteps as we arrived. After sitting for about 15 minutes, we were asked "Oh, you want to see the set menu?" Another 10-15 minutes after that until glasses of water arrived. The waiter got pretty tangled, as I already mentioned. He slammed the water into glasses in big, heaping splashes, maybe because he was flustered that the drapes incapacitated him momentarily. Kind of a strange start.
This first dish was an immediate home run.
Counterclockwise from the right: "black fungus," crispy green bean, yellow fruit (winter cherry), and a stack of fried suckling pig skin, cucumber, and BBQ pork.
The black fungus (mushroom is a perhaps more accurate word) is like really tasty rubber. Super pliant and soft texture, and a deep flavor.
The green bean has a hoisin-like sauce that goes great with the crunchy texture. A touch salty but still incredible.
The main appetizer is really a gem. The pork skin is supple, crunchy, and not overly salty. The middle layers of cracker and bean curd add texture. An under layer of bread is soft but dense. The sauce brings it all together. One of the best individual bites of this whole project. 10/10.
Next, some sea whelk (a mollusk) soup with chicken and pork. The broth is served magma hot, and the dish itself is scalding. The pork is in cubes and just melts apart as you bite down. Subtle layers of fat on the chicken adds umami and delicateness/softness. The sea whelk has firm texture, with lots of great oceanic flavors. Tastes the way a day catch boat smells. Last bite is the saltiest and best. 8/10.
Next up, a rich, oily dish of crabmeat dumpling (charmingly labelled a mille-feuille) on the right with local prawn on the left; crab eggs on top. Green veggies feel like a play on snow peas. The prawns are excellent, the sauce is decadently oily, and my only complaint is the bite size—they are too large to wolf down all at once and make an awkwardly oily splash when you try to bite them in two. Knife and fork don't work well either. 7/10.
Woah. So that's a sea cucumber. Braised and served with fish maw, the spiky-looking cucumber is almost as soft as jelly. It has a neutral, jellyfish-like flavor (that is, it mostly just tastes like unflavored gelatin), and not really my thing. The fish dumpling is hot, delightfully flavorful. 7/10.
Even the menu seems like it doesn't want to say much about this next course of braised seasonal veggies. Basically, some cooked greens that taste just like collard greens. Quite plain. 7/10.
On to the last main course—chicken fried rice. Made with Chinese rice wine, this dish is oily, plain, and delicious. I have to emphasize that while extremely tasting and shaped into an attractive sphere, this chicken fried rice is in no way different to me than chicken fried rice at a halfway-decent Chinese restaurant almost anywhere in the States. Maybe that speaks to the robustness of the dish, but I have to say that I was a little surprised that this was the final main course. Perhaps some dimension of precision existed here that I was unable to appreciate.
Lots of pine nuts, which end up dominating in texture and taste. 7/10.
Dessert is some lovely almond/vanilla-flavored tofu with mango, and hovering in the background is a confusingly swan-shaped pastry, made of egg yolk. Very sweet and soft textures throughout, an understated and tasty dessert. 7/10.
Tucked into a corner of the Mercer Hotel in downtown Hong Kong, Sushi Shikon has a small, intimate space for just 8 diners with the chefs standing just on the other side of the low counter. The benefits of this setup are total visibility into everything the chefs prepare, which is super cool. Every component of the meal, from the fish all the way down to the hay used to smoke the Bonito, is imported from Japan each day. If your goal is a super-authentic Japanese meal while visiting Hong Kong, this is the place to do it, and Holy Toledo will you end up paying for it. At more than $500 per person (list price) without alcohol for the privilege of such things as Japan-fresh hay, the price is not justified (especially with the perspective of, as I write this, wrapping up at some very fine sushi places in Japan).
HONG KONG, CHINA
PRICE PAID: $520 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)
FINAL SCORE: 6.0/10
The first dish is a Kobako crab, a very special kind of female snow crab from the west coast district of Kanazawa. The name literally means "flavor box," and they've been prized in Japan for centuries. Serving it cold brings out the fruit flavors in the preserves/jam that adorns it, and the texture is just perfect. A strong start. 9/10.
A delicious cutlet of fresh whitefish, seared briefly and served warm with fresh, hand-ground wasabi. A small bite, but wonderful flavors and aromas. 8/10.
Rubbery, warm, and with a surprisingly neutral flavor that a sugary fruit sauce tries and partially succeeds to dance up. 7/10.
Continuing the rubbery trend, this dish of seared abalone was a texture-driven dish, and by that I mean the most interesting thing about it was the odd combination of potato-like softness with rubbery firmness. Not terribly flavorful but engaging nonetheless. 8/10.
In a classic sushi restaurant pairing, right after the abalone comes rice with abalone liver sauce that the chef hands over and encourages us to mix together on our own. The sauce is heavenly-rich, with strong foie gras-like flavors. A bit on the heavy side for an appetizer, but extremely flavorful. 9/10.
So, I have to give credit where it's due- for all the fanfare associated with FedExing themselves hay from Japan each day, this Bonito was deliciously, exquisitely, perfectly smoked, seared, and cooked. This is in the running for most delicious piece of fish I have ever encountered. One is tempted to say that there's no way any other hay besides Japanese hay could possibly bring out such flavors in the fish, but that's totally absurd. Cut down your carbon footprint, fellas. 10/10.
This final round of appetizers- steamed egg custard with snow crab- thick texture, wonderful flavors. 8/10.
So, please excuse the weird photography for the next few courses- the chefs prepare sushi to be served at the perfect temperature for consumption, and the expectation is that you'll wolf it within a few seconds of the fish hitting your plate. Not wanting to piss anyone off, I scooped sushi with one hand and took a really fast photo with the other.
The squid is firm, fresh, and very very good, but not as transcendent as other places. 9/10.
This next fish, teasingly named "whitefish," is both firm and pairs perfectly with the light dabbing of soy sauce the chef adds with a brush in the final step before service.
A beautiful bouquet of flavors- rich greens, umami, and perfectly wasabi'd before serving. 9/10.
This Otoro tasted like the purest, most delectable, most heavenly piece of fish ever created. Fatty but not so decadent that it overwhelms the palate, this slice of tuna stands up well against Masa, Yoshitake, and Jiro. 10/10, mostly because I can't award an 11.
Spanish mackerel is known for a full, smoky flavor that quickly becomes "fishy" if it's not extremely fresh. This does not suffer from any such issue, but the smokiness is a little underserved by the low temperature of the fish. I'm no expert, but it reaches my hand a bit cold. 8/10.
Akagai, also known as Ark Shell or Red Clam, came next. I've never been the biggest fan of these bubble-gum-textured, chewy sea creatures but this is about as good as I've tasted. Rich, sea-floor flavors of kelp and salinity. 7/10.
Check out these immaculately- organized boxes of Sea Urchin (Uni) that were trotted out to prepare the next course- a Junior Whopper-sized seaweed roll of sea urchin. The flavors are earthy, almost like dirt, but a very creamy and rich texture- like eating soil-flavored cream cheese (in a really good way). 8/10.
Next, a beautifully-colored tiger prawn, served quite warm and freshly cooked, definitely took more than two bites to consume even though I realize that this is sushi heresy. 8/10.
This bite of warm, freshly-cooked sea eel practically falls apart and doesn't suffer from the usual eel issues of oiliness. Like a beautifully-baked whitefish, you wouldn't know this was eel unless someone told you. 9/10.
Slightly sugary and sweet, I'll admit that I have never understood the appeal of egg custards, but this one is quite delicate and tasty as we get to the end of the savory courses. 7/10.
Lastly, one of the tastiest (and saltiest) miso soups I have ever consumed- clearly made by hand, with delicately-cut greens and extremely fresh soy.
Desserts in Japan are always a subtle affair, and this baked pear with fresh fruit preserves on top is delightfully refreshing without being heavy. A delightful meal overall! But like I said, ungodly expensive for what you get.
Yet another in a long string of confusing-how-they-earned-it Chinese Three-Stars, Au Kwok Keung's Cantonese-style restaurant is named the luckiest number in Chinese culture. Fitting that it's inside an enormous casino, the Grand Lisboa, which is in fact the very same casino as the other Three Star in Macau, Robuchon au Dome. The Eight is, without any doubt, the inferior of the two.
PRICE PAID: $220 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)
FINAL SCORE: 5.0/10
References to the number Eight are literally everywhere, and I have to say I found this restaurant's interior like something from a Bond villain lair. Female wait staff are outfitted in extremely slinky cocktail dresses and high heels, which look incredibly uncomfortable and contribute to said ambiance further.
One of the restaurant's signature dishes- we are first presented with a dumpling with abalone sauce, and abalone with pomelo. Only after we've consumed both does the waiter come over and inform us that it wasn't really an abalone, it was a mushroom! You guys got us! 7/10.
This next course is the interpersonal equivalent of coming on way, way too strong way too early. A heaping slab of barbecue pork prepared Char Siu-style is garnished with an even-larger hunk of goose liver. This makes the goose liver appear bigger than it is, balancing unsteadily on the pork like a big, sweaty elephant on a circus ball. When you think about how fatty and heavy both of these things are together you wonder what might make this a good starting dish for those who haven't skipped lunch (and maybe breakfast before that). On top of that, the goose liver is dry and the pork is overcooked. Poor. 3/10.
This next course is, once again, really heavy, but it has the new feature of actually being delicious. Beef from the tropical Japanese island of Kagoshima is super tender, and pairs almost perfectly with the watercress,which is crunchy and has a great texture. 8/10.
The menu charmingly describes this dish as "double-boiled sea whelk, abalone, and silky fowl with red dates." Sea whelk, a type of sea snail, is gamey and chewy; the same idea as escargot but less tasty. The sweetness of the dates is pronounced and welcome, but along with the rubbery-chewy abalone it makes for an extremely difficult-to-eat soup. 5/10.
I feel terrible for this lobster, who followed me all the way from the US (Boston) only to be badly cooked and dumped in a vat of mushy, poorly-articulated sauce and minced pork. Very difficult to pull the flavors apart here, and the undercooked lobster didn't help straighten anything out. 4/10.
What could only safely be described as an orgy of green vegetables came next; the second dish in a row that seems to be drowning in its own sauce. I got barely a third of the way through before deciding that this A) tasted like a crappy take-out side dish that one orders purely out of guilt for how unhealthful the rest of the meal is, only to wish they had fully committed to the oils and fats and B) was an enormous waste of my and someone else's time. 3/10.
The first thing anyone confronted with this plate would probably ask, of course, is: "What in the holy hell is happening right now?" This pile of rice vermicelli, conpoy (dried scallops) along with fake shark's fin was a bland, soulless dish that tasted exactly like eating a bowl of plain pasta mixed with bran cereal. We are told by our server that this is, in fact, fake shark's fin; real shark's fin is a delicacy, they worked tirelessly to re-create the flavors and textures for this dish. A similar idea to the abalone that was actually a mushroom from earlier. I'm sure someone gets the significance of this effort, but it is completely lost on me.
From just looking at this dessert, there's no way you'd think it was totally gross, right? You'd be wrong. Lukewarm, sickly-sweet flavored, in a bath of sugar milk. 2/10. I broke off one of the wings, only to find it also bland and brittle, leaving the small fake butterfly staring forlornly at the crystal Bond-villain drapes. A sad image evocative of my experience here.
A final dish- coffee service- is brought out, complete with gold leaf on the white-chocolate rose to remind you that this meal is not only bad but also expensive. What a strange and disappointing place. Please avoid at all costs.
Perched at the very top of the Grand Lisboa casino in Macau, Robuchon au Dôme was a delightfully refreshing break from its Hong Kong/Macau 3-Star brethren in that it was actually incredibly good, reasonably priced, and full of service staff who seemed to really give a shit. This is, fortunately or unfortunately, one of only two places out of all the 3-stars in the region that I truly enjoyed.
PRICE PAID: $98 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)
FINAL SCORE: 9.0/10
Navigating the Grand Lisboa hotel and casino to reach the restaurant requires no less than four lobbies and three elevators, a luxurious but galling approach if you're running late (as I was- which was my fault- but I prefer to blame luxury elevators).
One of the only bummers of the whole visit was the view itself-the restaurant offers stunning vistas of the thick pollution-fog from Zhongshan/coastal manufacturing China. This, according to our service staff, is actually considered a relatively clear day.
A short note on bread and butter, because I'm obsessed with such things- this was the best butter service I have yet experienced, full stop. They had two enormous pillars of butter that they "cut" and served with a spoon idling in hot water.
They basically dumped four pounds of assorted breads on the table, arranged in a lovely star shape, which more than suits me. Highest marks possible for bread. 10/10.
The amuse-bouche consisted of a sweet corn velouté with marshmallow, popcorn, and smoked duck. The presentation and colors are gorgeous, but I didn't expect it to be cold. Maybe because it sat too long before service, but the popcorn and broth have intermingled into a mealy consistency, and the sweetness doesn't stand up as well as it should. 6/10. Marshmallows make it richer without adding depth. 6/10.
I admire dishes that take something I don't automatically find appetizing- in this case beets- and make them my new fave. Beets and beetroot salad on bottom with microgreens and a delicious green mustard sorbet on top. The sorbet is incredibly refreshing- almost spicy- and pairs with the salad perfectly. My only small issue is that the microgreens are not 100% fresh. 8/10.
"Les Crustacés" - "The Crustaceans," is a shellfish soup on the right and two rice-and-shrimp balls on the left. In the soup is a hugely rich and dense variety of seafood flavors thanks to a few different kinds of shellfish along with roe to add sweetness. The miniscule, bubbly texture of the shellfish goes great with the tiny pops of the roe. Great flavor, perfect temperature. 9/10. The shrimp balls don't add a ton, and I wouldn't recommend mixing them with the soup. Crunchy rice texture is a touch dry.
Remarkably similar to a dish offered by Robuchon's place in Hong Kong (my brother got it while we were there) the idea is pretty simple- spaghetti with lobster knuckles and microbasils in a turbo-rich lobster sauce. The execution boils down to how well the lobster is cooked, and in this case they rocked it. The microbasils also have great flavors that really heightens the dish. Simple, well-thought-through. 9/10.
A main course that would make any French chef proud- beef Wagyu Bourguignon. The Wagyu is soft enough to cut with a fork, the vegetables are lightly cooked and relatively firm, which enhances the contrast. What's interesting is that the traditional recipe uses a variety of cattle called Charolais, which are actually very lean- so to instead use Wagyu, which is basically on the opposite end of the fatty spectrum, is a really cool idea. 9/10.
Thanks to the Robuchon au Dôme, I got introduced to my new favorite varietal of cheese- Epoisse, this one specifically from a producer in France called Gaugry that is, sadly, not available in the US because they don't pasteurize (as, indeed, most good French producers do not). 9/10.
An extremely delicious coffee service, complete with pink sugar cubes. 9/10.
What is very likely the most absurd dessert cart in the Eastern hemisphere rolled up next. I love envisioning the design conversation that went into this megalith.
Jacques: "Should there be ceramic mushrooms?"
Jean: "Of course, Jacques."
Jacques: "And the chocolates; should they be in small, hand-painted cocoa bean shells?"
Jean: <long stare> "Obviously, Jacques."
This cart instantly inspires joy as it is wheeled around the room; photo flashes abound and laughter fills the high glass ceiling. A small part, but nonetheless an important part of these experiences is the transportation factor- making you feel, even if only for a moment, that you are whisked to some alternative dimension where you get to see or feel something genuinely new and different. No one pays as much for these meals as they do because they care that the ducks were raised by priceless organic bees or whatever, they want to feel taken away. This is the rare restaurant that actually accomplishes this goal
A short final note- as I walked out, I could't help but inspect the massive, low-lit rows of wine racks the restaurant stores on the main floor. A truly unreal collection of Romanée-Conti, Chateau Haut-Brion, Cristal, Krug, etc. Though certainly showy, it makes a hell of a point.
A confused meal with absentee service with a suburban-mall feel to it, I am utterly confounded about how this place earned or keeps its 3-star status. Avoid.
HONG KONG, CHINA
PRICE PAID: $140 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)
FINAL SCORE: 5.5/10
A few quick words on service- both the runners and the wait staff were silent to the point of coldness; few explanations were offered for any of the dishes even when prompted, and the vibe was, "we're really fucking busy, man." During a business lunch time I can recognize that this is true, but I've never felt so roundly ignored as I did at Otto e Mezzo.
Packed-crowded on a weekday with business-lunchers of all stripes, the space felt dense and overcrowded. The atmosphere was loud but not jovial, and the restaurant felt like it was emphasizing how popular it was- the mirrored ceilings, big open windows, etc, all contributed to both the visual and audio noise that permeated every inch of the restaurant.
I try hard not to judge restaurants too harshly on their bread, but this was an utterly uninteresting set of slices that could very easily have come from, say, a gas station. 4/10.
A pretty impressively-laid-out dish of caviar and abalone. The colors are beautiful and the caviar (from the Lombardy region of Italy), is zesty but pairs poorly with the abalone, which is more rubber tire than seafood. 5/10.
Blue lobster from Brittany, France. Vegetable chunks at the base add considerable depth. The colors are beautiful and the plating really holds together well, but the cooking falls short- lobster is rubbery and undercooked, so it's sad that it made its way across Eurasia for such poor treatment. 5/10.
The textures for the pasta and the sea urchin- both extremely soft and creamy- pair up to create an excessively rich and decadent dish. It's difficult to taste the Uni as separate from the pasta's sauce, so a lot of those delicate flavors are lost. 6/10.
I'll admit that the main dish- pork- is close to outstanding. The chef somehow creates an extremely tender, lamb-like texture, and the vegetables go along with the main perfectly- well cooked, balanced, pretty. 8/10.
This is the true high point of the meal- strawberry, cracker, and cream desert is world class. 10/10
Last, a not-too-subtly branded cup of espresso. It's pretty tasty, but its a half-hour between emptying this cup and finally getting someone's attention to give me the check. Sigh.
Though by no means a mediocre restaurant, I'll admit that Lung King Heen continued a trend I noticed in Hong Kong and Macau- I have no idea what makes this place special enough to deserve the third star. The space was pretty in a cold, corporate way, the service was attentive but not memorable, and the dishes were neither terribly inventive nor exceptionally executed. I can't bring myself to give them failing marks, but when I think about the pathologically amazing servers at Da Vittorio, the unbelievable colors and creativity in each dish at Gordon Ramsay, or the garden views at Hertog Jan I come away extremely confused as to how this place made any Michelin Inspector's heart sing. More to come on this topic, but my initial conclusion is that Michelin needs to do much more to level-set their grading format globally.
HONG KONG, CHINA
PRICE PAID: $210 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)
FINAL SCORE: 6.0/10
Lung King Heen is one of several restaurants and bars inside the Four Seasons hotel in Hong Kong, which it itself connected by walkway to the largest and fanciest shopping mall I have ever experienced called IFC. If you are a person who likes premium goods, I can't say I've ever visited a place that has more of them.
The restaurant's interior was subtle and slightly understated compared to some of my other Hong Kong experiences- lots of red, a wavy metal ceiling, ambiance lighting. As I mentioned earlier, I can't really find fault here besides the fact that it feels a touch like I'm on a cruise ship.
The first bites are a delightful deep-fried ball of scallops, pears, and Yunnan ham. Yunnan ham is particularly prized - the small black pigs have the run of the steep river slopes, herb-filled meadows, and grassy valleys in this particularly pristine and gorgeous part of China. Other regions like Jinhua are similarly famous, but this more out-of-the way region is about as good as it gets. 8/10.
Next came a very good pork, goose, duck app combo. The pork is extremely tender and good. Duck is also excellent. Good texture, rich flavor. 8/10.
Next, a sweet corn soup with lobster and minced chicken, with a roasted tomato in the center. The minced chicken texture is a great idea with the soft, round flavors in the corn soup, but the lobster gets a bit lost. 6/10.
This next course was enormous, and tough to approach- overwhelmingly yellow and fried. A King prawn simmered together with an underlayer of green leafy vegetables and bean sprout forms a pretty stout base. The seafood sauce was truly overwhelming and thick- and didn't add much beyond a ton of salt. Disappointing main dish. 4/10.
An interestingly presented dish- two rolls of "Star Garoupa" with a rich oyster sauce and a very mildly steamed stalk of broccoli. Lots of different textures- the barely-cooked broccoli contrasts nicely with the soft, rubbery abalone and the even softer fish rolls. 7/10.
Next up, some fantastic Australia-raised Wagyu beef cubes paired with fresh grilled vegetables, morel mushrooms and bell peppers. A big, hearty dish that felt a big like American comfort food- really rewarding dish but a bit big. 8/10.
Warm, starchy, and a touch on the heavy side, the order of this dish didn't make a ton of sense after the massive, heavy Wagyu beef right before. I was expecting something lighter, refreshing, or perhaps even palate-cleansing, but this was basically another appetizer soup dish. Just fine as far as texture and flavor goes; a bit confusing. 6/10.
This course definitely WAS on the more refreshing side of the spectrum, but with a big, hearty, starchy center to it. If the restaurant was concerned that I might leave hungry, they extinguished all possible concern with this last main dish. 7/10.
What I'd call a hard stop for the end of the meal- a tiny dessert of fruit gelatin and a rice biscuit that was, at most, semi-sweet. Once again, I didn't really understand this transition, but it was an enjoyable plate. 7/10.
Hong Kong's most recent arrival to the Three Star ranking, T'ang Court is in the Langham Hotel in what is affectionately known as TST (Tsim Sha Tsui, a main business district on the Peninsula side of Hong Kong). The name refers to the Tang Dynasty, and the restaurant's two rotating head chefs (Kwong Wei Keung and Tony Su) try to dutifully replicate the culinary achievements thereof.
This is also the least-expensive Three Star I've been to yet. and that lower price seems to translate directly into lower quality, based on my experience here.
It's one of only three Cantonese-style restaurants in the world with Three Star status (for now...), so I was very excited to try this place out. That excitement was misplaced.
HONG KONG, CHINA
PRICE PAID: $45 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)
FINAL SCORE: 6.5/10
I must mention here that the set lunch is an unbelievable deal- $320 HKD is about $41, so even with the Hong Kong-required 10% service fee it's less than $50 for a 3-star experience. Oddly. a very similar set lunch is offered toward the back of the menu that had, to my imperfect judgment, 2-3 extra courses for a mere $3,000 HKD, about 10x the regular set lunch. Though I'm sure those extra courses were great, I opted to see what $41 can buy you in a world-class restaurant.
To transport you as fully as I can to the vibe this restaurant generates, try to imagine a halfway house between Arabian Nights and a Midwestern Conference Room, complete with large-scale art prints and dramatic lighting. Exuberant & Awkward would be the kindest label one might apply.
The first question the waiter asks is whether I'd prefer Mango, Guava, or Orange juice. Guava felt pretty exotic, so that's where I landed. 6/10. Sugary, but clearly made by hand from actual guavas. A refreshing but, honestly, minimalist kickoff.
Next out marched a very small procession of pork, shrimp, and spring rolls. All are quite good, but not a ton better than you'd get at a decent tea house or dim sum place, of which Hong Kong has thousands and even Chicago has dozens. Also, not to be a prick, but the presentation was a bit oily and splashy; could have been plated more neatly. 6/10.
A really interesting combo of jellyfish, goose with plum sauce, and pork. The jellyfish tastes like bland, undercooked rice noodles, with the small slices of bell peppers adding a lot to the plain flavor profile. The pork is really good- perfectly cooked, and beautiful. The goose is rich and quite dense. 7/10 overall.
Some really interesting flavors in an otherwise bland soup. The broth has strong notes of, I kid you not, Coca Cola. The mushrooms themselves taste a lot like Budweiser beer- hoppy and barley-like. 5/10.
This main course- Garoupa fish in soy sauce with Chinese broccoli- was, at best, pretty plain, and at worst badly cooked and carelessly plated. Once again, a landing strip of soy sauce greased the fish's path as it was tossed on by someone who did not give a shit how it ends up looking. Unevenly cooked and with a halfhearted attempt at steamed veggies that doesn't really even things out. 3/10.
This dish nearly saved things. The shrimp in this dish pops with delightful freshness- feels like crunching a million small air bubbles in your mouth. 8/10.
Cheekily titled the "T'ang Court Delight," I'm unclear on what exactly could be delightful an egg custard with the rock-solidness of a goddamned billiard ball such that one almost chips one's tooth upon at the first bite. The heart shape was weird- it was November, nowhere near Valentine's, and I was a bit stunned that this was their idea of dessert. 3/10.
The check, charmingly, is presented in a chromed-up metal box that makes JUST THE MILDEST POINT EVER that you have dined in a fancy place and everyone who isn't grabbing said check needs to be impressed with you. Hilarious to me that this is, by far, the least-expensive Three Star I have yet been to, putting it on track to be the cheapest Three Star in the world. Just sayin'.
Alvin Leung, Hong Kong's culinary wunderkind, is actually nicknamed The Demon Chef, which is a pretty badass nickname and totally incongruous with the extremely humbly-presented, delicious meal I experienced at his flagship restaurant in Wan Chai.
HONG KONG, CHINA
PRICE PAID: $340PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)
FINAL SCORE: 9.0/10
The restaurant shares a private elevator with a Thai place right below, and has a pretty amazing fire-heated terrace outside. We opted to sit at the Chef's Table, which gives an intimate view into the main cold-line and prep areas. In general, Leung and his staff do a lot without much space.
A quick note on service- I was terrifically impressed with our chef/server/curator Derek, who not only ran the prep table but would also serve us with a breathless and carefully-detailed vignette for each and every one of the almost two dozen dishes he would present us. I was impressed by his storytelling and his clear gift for fine cooking; rare to see both in one human.
Hong Kong's streets are thronged with food vendors, and among the most unique and fascinating are the egg waffle vendors. These crispy, crunchy treats are broken apart by hand, and the distinctive bubbles are filled with air. This first bite was a nod to the uniquely Hong Kong staple, and set the mood that Alvin would be telling us a story about his hometown.
Continuing the description of the hometown, a lovely dish called "air." Or, more specifically, "fog," with a flowing stream of chilled vapor flowing from the dry ice beneath. The foam in the spoons had delicious rose flavors. 10/10, creative, interesting, good showmanship, terrific flavors.
The next dish showed up on a beautiful metal sculpture and caviar go together well, though the tarot is a touch heavy. 7/10.
This beautifully-plated oyster is bright, saline, and refreshing. It pairs perfect with green Sichuan sauce and the beef tongue. I have to admit that I ate in two bites, though I'm pretty sure that's not the design intention. The peppercorn is a touch spicy. 8/10
This foie gras dish is cooked for 48 hrs, and it is a fantastic contrast to the hard crunchy bamboo. It's glazed in a miso sauce made of Chuh Yeh Ching Whiskey, which gives it a touch of fire. Pickled indian lettuce stem, green apple rounds out the green theme here. 9/10.
Okay, the "umami-" otoro (really fatty) tuna is completely outstanding. Seared perfectly to remain soft, yet unbelievably rich and flavorful. We are offered some Har Mi oil to add additional umami flavor, and sure enough it really pours it on.
The noodles are shrimp-y and not too terribly oily, but don't add much. 9/10.
Perhaps my favorite and most creative dish of my whole experience thus far- a jar of baby food with custom-designed hairy crab logo (hairy crab is in season in late November in HKO). Great texture, deep flavors that really take advantage of the tasty crab proteins and texture. 10/10.
... This was followed by, quite possibly, my next-favorite dish of the entire experience, a "molecular dim sum explosion," made to imitate a Cha Siu bao (pork bun). Very rich- you can taste the bun even! 10/10
This next course, I will admit, was a real challenge. Bathed in a bowl of liquid nitrogen which is poured casually from an industrial container kept in the corner, this tiny ball of spicy-hot ginger is rolled around in the frozen liquid and then handed off for quick consumption. Of course, the contrast of the super-cold ginger with the spiciness of the bite itself is pretty interesting, but I have to admit that it froze the hell out of the tip of my tongue, and it took a few days for me to get 100% of the sensation back. 8/10.
With a sauce based on Pat Chun black rice vinegar, this gamely-named dish of "Tomato" features tomatoes in very different preparations from left to right. Leftmost is a tomato marshmallow, or maybe tomato foam is a better title. The middle is based on fermented Chinese olives; the texture doesn't work perfectly so I'm not crazy about it. The roasted tomato on the right is fresh and delicious. 7/10 overall.
Before serving this next dish, they brought around a Kia's worth of white Alba truffles in glass cake-case to show off.
Duck egg, white truffle, Chinese dumpling all are totally amazing. The white truffle in particular is even more outstanding. My only problem with the whole thing is that I can feel my arteries hardening as I eat- it is insanely rich. 9/10.
Next, a beautiful slice of blue lobster that practically falls apart at the touch of a fork. A Sichuan hollandaise off to the side (in case you wanted to make it even more decadent) and coated in a broth of chili and Shaosing cooking sauce. Chinese leek, peas, and roasted corn round things out. A nice light break from the weight of the previous courses. 9/10.
Next, a palate cleanser "King's Cup" (meaning you have to hold it with both hands and tip your head back to consume- not sure what makes that kingly). Alcohol and passion fruit flavors are very strong, as is hawthorn and lemongrass. 9/10.
Using special 9-year-aged risotto rice that is sole-sourced directly from a farm in Italy (Derek told the whole story about how the farmer was dining in the restaurant, met the chef, convinced the chef to try his risotto, chef decided to buy all the risotto the farmer had grown), the chef creates what is essentially a deconstructed congee. You can really taste the difference in the rice- I'm not sure I'd call this the Ferrari of rice but lacking similarly hyperbolic descriptions for basic starches I'm going to roll with it.
This next course was a fun wagyu and dumpling soup combined with a ton of black truffle. Derek mentioned that these are a play on "Cheong Fun," or dim sum rice noodles, and so yet another chapter in the Demon Chef's Hong Kon story. All I can say is that this tasted very little like dim sum, and was totally outstanding. 10/10.
Finally getting into the dessert courses, this one reminded me intensely of Alinea's desserts. Deconstructed coconut with pina colada snow; sweet, strong cherry flavors, decadent, totally great. 9/10.
The final dessert courses was a really fun interpretation of 8 Treasures Tea, one of the most popular of thousands of Chinese herbal medicines that includes relatively run-of-the-mill ingredients like green tea, goji berries, ginseng, etc. The brownie and the tea are both made from the same components, a fun and crowd-pleasing way to explain this traditional piece of Hong Kong culture. Once again, I applaud the creativity and showmanship; flavors were okay but not great as this felt a bit like shoehorning an idea into a dish. 8/10.
Mignardises were a lovely final touch. Easily one of the best meals, if not the best meal, of the whole journey.
With its distinctive brightly-colored ingredient displays, shiny reflective surfaces, bright red furniture, and seasonally-appropriate panoramas inside the chef's counter, Robuchon's 3-Star restaurant in Hong Kong delivered a quality (if predictable, and somewhat overly traditional) French meal. The dining room wraps around the kitchen in a nice, transparent setup that makes you feel like an observer (but definitely not a participant). Fascinatingly, throughout the entire meal, the head chef barks at his staff in French, and they reply.
HONG KONG, CHINA
PRICE PAID: $98 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)
FINAL SCORE: 7.5/10
Set inside The Landmark, likely the nicest mall in Hong Kong (a good clue is that Otto E Mezzo, another 3-Star, is right across the hall), L'Atelier is up a set of escalators that sit idly until we trip their proximity sensor and they smoothly start up, bringing us up the short flight. A very nice team of three people greets us and takes us to our seats at the counter.
As many of you know, I tend to obsess over bread, so I got pretty fired up about this bread basket. Every conceivable variety of European breads, accompanied by some damn fine butter. 8/10.
The amuse-bouche came out next- a small soup with Parmesan foam and a base of foie gras. Heavy but flavorful. The small, deep-fried ball of bread was extremely tasty. 8/10 overall.
Next, a very pretty presentation of chilled corn soup- Japanese sweet corn for extra sweetness, smoked duck breast for saltiness, chili powder for spice, and popcorn for crunchy texture. Textures and flavors all pulled together extremely well, and the dish was served quite cold. My only complaint was that this was a huge quantity of soup, but I guess that can't be too bad of a thing. 8/10.
Le Homard soup with a clear, somewhat spicy broth, with strong flavors of ginger and celery. The dumplings are prepared in "Tsukune" style; basically a meatball typically skewered and grilled over charcoal in yakitori restaurants, and typically made with chicken. The dumplings have a "squeaky" texture that feels like they're full of hundred of tiny air bubbles; a very cool effect. The lobster itself is okay- chewy and not terribly flavorful. The flowers off to the left are kind of neat but give the impression that someone was just sort of trimming the hedges and had a pretty stalk left over that they decided to toss next to the soup for no particular reason. I'm trying to say that it looked nice in the same way that any brightly colored thing would have looked nice, and didn't make a ton of sense. 7/10.
Flagrantly saffron-ed, this risotto was danced up with a pretty excellent collection of seaweed, lettuce, and pimiento peppers (the ones that flavor pimento cheese). Rich, big mouthfeel from all the cauliflower and broccoli pieces, which are on the underdone side, which actually further enhances texture. Very fun. 8/10.
The main dish- a Challans duck (known for its tenderness- they grow up along the canals near Vendée in France on a diet of snails and tadpoles, so they're usually pretty tasty). Overall, surprisingly undercooked- I nearly sent it back for another go on the grill. 6/10. A disappointing main dish.
A lovely brick of crispy chocolate with ice cream, nuts, carefully-cut leaf-shaped crisps, and, hey, why not, a small folded bit of silver paper. 7/10.
Lovely, extremely fresh Petit Fours/Macarons/Pâte de Fruits. Bright raspberry flavors from the Pâte de Fruits. 8/10.
I don't usually partake, but they offered complimentary coffee on the way out, which was completely lovely. All in all, a pretty amazing meal for less than $100!