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Posts from the ‘Restaurants’ Category

Au Revoir Rech Hong Kong

[UPDATE: InterContinental Hong Kong announces that its 1-MICHELIN Star Rech restaurant has closed as of today, March 12, 2020. The hotel will continue to work with Ducasse Paris on the development of a new restaurant concept to be launched following the hotel’s major renovation and consequent rebranding to Regent Hong Kong, with an anticipated reopening in 2022.]
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Legendary chef Alain Ducasse’s first foray into food was not a runaway success. As a child growing up in France he would watch his grandmother cooking and aged about 11 he decided to make a chocolate roulade himself. “My grandmother let me attempt this, although I was not up to the task,” Ducasse recalls. “Chocolate ended up everywhere and in the end the cake did not resemble a roulade at all!”

Luckily for the culinary world Ducasse was not put off by his early endeavour. Last month saw the opening of his 25th restaurant worldwide. He has chosen Asia for the first international outpost of Rech Alain Ducasse, a French seafood restaurant replacing his Spoon concept at the Intercontinental hotel in Hong Kong

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“I have a long relationship with Intercontinental Hong Kong so together we looked at the Hong Kong dining scene, local tastes and global travelers’ expectations and we agreed that the new restaurant should keep its French inspiration,” he says. “We decided that a fish restaurant with a Parisian history would be a great addition to the market.” (The storied Rech was created in Paris in 1925 by Adrien Rech and brought into the Ducasse fold ten years ago.) “And the location offers the best views of the harbour,” Ducasse adds with a nod to the seafood menu.

Alain Ducasse was one of the first world famous chefs to open a restaurant in Asia with the launch of Spoon at the Intercontinental Hong Kong in 2003. “The opening started a trend in Hong Kong with other internationally acclaimed chefs openings outposts there,” he says. “Over the past decade the city has seen a culinary boom with many interesting restaurants showcasing every type of cuisine imaginable.”

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Now head of a hospitality empire that spans restaurants, inns and colleges, Ducasse began training as a chef in France at 16. At the age of only 33, the 33 month old restaurant Le Louis XV which he helmed at the Hotel de Paris in Monaco became the first hotel restaurant to be awarded three Michelin Stars. Then in 1998 Ducasse became the first “six star chef” with three Michelin stars for Le Louis XV and three stars for Alain Ducasse in Paris. The latter has this year regained a position on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. In Hong Kong though, Spoon dropped a Michelin star in 2016 and lost it’s remaining star in the 2017 Guide – surely one of the driving forces behind the new Rech restaurant.

More Alain Ducasse restaurants are planned for Asia in the near future including Japan, adding to Beige and Benoit both in Tokyo, and an eatery in Macau is slated to open within the next two years. Ducasse Education, the educational arm of the Alain Ducasse empire, is also expanding including in Asia.

Alain Ducasse

 

The first franchise college opened in Manila, the Philippines in 2009 and at least two Ducasse Education Institutes will open in Shanghai and Hong Kong by 2019. In fact the chef and restaurateur cites his work in culinary education as his proudest achievement: “What is really important to me is to pass on what I have learned and am still learning, and to motivate the younger generation so they embrace this profession.”

Ducasse credits the great French chefs and pioneers of nouvelle cuisine Michel Guerard, Roger Verge and Alain Chapel along with celebrated pastry chef Gaston Lenotre as his biggest influences. It was through Roger Verge who a young Ducasse worked for at the renowned Moulin de Mougins that he encountered the flavours of Provencal cuisine which were to become an integral part of his own cooking.

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While he is no longer in the kitchen, Ducasse still creates the recipes for his restaurants with inspiration coming from mother nature. “I was born and raised on a farm and when I was growing up my grandmother cooked for the entire family using vegetables from the garden and poultry and eggs from the farm,” he says. “For me, nature comes before cooking. I get my inspiration from sourcing the very best ingredients and produce. I am very demanding with the quality and seasonality.”

This is much in evidence on the menu at Rech in Hong Kong. “Most of the fish is sourced in France from small, independent fisherman who are strongly involved in the protection of natural resources,” he says. “We will source some ingredients locally such as lobster and some of the vegetables.”

Specialities include four types of French oyster and pan seared sole from Brittany in France filleted table side. Camembert from the French region of Normandy and matured for 30 days is the only cheese served while desserts include Mr Rech, comprising hazelnut meringue, hazelnut ice cream and warm chocolate sauce made with Alain Ducasse’s own chocolate. Extra large eclairs designed for sharing are also on the menu – probably a far cry from the chef’s first chocolate creation back in his family’s farmhouse.

Pics by Pierre Monetta

https://hongkong-ic.intercontinental.com/en/dining/rech-by-alain-ducasse/

[This story was originally published in April 2017]

A Hotel for a Happy Year of the Rat

In celebration of the Year of the Rat we bring you the University Arms where copies of The Wind in Willows, the tale of Ratty, Mole and Badger written by Kenneth Grahame, are in every guest rooms and a recording of Alan Bennett reading the book is transmitted in the restaurant/bar loos…

University Arms exterior

University Arms, Cambridge, UK

What’s the story?

Cambridge’s oldest hotel, the University Arms which began life as a coaching inn in 1834, has reopened following a four year, £80m refurbishment. The original classical façade overlooking Parker’s Piece (a green space that was the scene of Queen Victoria’s coronation banquet) has been retained but the interiors have been rebuilt and an out of place 1960s extension has gone. In its place the new building is in keeping with the original style.

 

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University Arms, Cambridge lobby

It looks so authentic…

Architect John Simpson has worked on such grand projects as Buckingham and Kensington Palaces and a couple of Cambridge University colleges so knows a thing or two about classical refurbishments. His design for the University Arms includes a striking porte cochere – a columned, covered carriage entrance, for cars rather than horses these days and a grand lobby inside. It’s hard to believe the new addition to the hotel building hasn’t always been here.

What about the interiors?

They’re down to Martin Brudnizki, designer du jour (responsible for the new Annabel’s clubhouse in Mayfair and the refreshed Ivy in Covent Garden). Overall the feel is of a contemporary private members’ club: Farrow and Ball painted walls, reclaimed wooden floors, antique rugs, on trend ottomans and armchairs and sofas that beg to be sat on.

 

University Arms suite

A suite at the University Arms, Cambridge

What about the rooms?

They span cosy (19-22sq ft) to superior plus there are 12 suites named after Cambridge alumni including Charles Darwin, Virginia Woolf and Stephen Hawking. All the bathrooms have black and white tiles, underfloor heating and DR Harris of St James’s products. Twenty six of them have (roll top, claw foot) baths as well as showers.

 

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Parker’s Tavern restaurant, University Arms

What’s the food like?

The hotel has cleverly recruited talented local (by way of London and Mustique) chef Tristan Welch. With the restaurant, Parker’s Tavern, taking inspiration from a college dining hall with stained glass windows and leather bench seating, the menu offers a modern take on traditional British fare using East Anglian produce including smoked trout, potted shrimp, a daily roast trolley and pie of the day. Don’t miss the Cambridge Burnt Cream pudding – a British take on Crème Brulee.

Is there a bar?

As the name suggests, Parker’s Tavern is split between a restaurant and a sizeable lounge bar where the members’ club atmosphere continues. The bar itself is lined with vintage style leather stools plus there are plenty of velvet sofas, a vast spirits list and strictly no beer on tap.

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Parker’s Tavern bar, University Arms

What about my fellow guests?

Visiting academics, students being treated by their parents, tourists from the US and China and tech people (Cambridge is becoming known as the Silicon Valley of the UK).

What is there to do?

The hotel is on the doorstep of the city centre so the historic colleges are a short stroll away – or take one of the hotel’s bicycles in signature light Cambridge blue. Tours as well as punts on the river Cam can be arranged. The hotel will even whip up a picnic for you. If you’re looking for the willow tree celebrated in Xu Zhimo’s poem, Second Farewell to Cambridge, it has recently been removed but a cutting has been planted nearby at the newly opened memorial garden in the poet’s alma mater King’s College.

 

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The Library, University Arms

Anything else I should know?

Playing on the learned location the hotel has made books a feature. Rather than the usual untouched, artful collection the hotel’s guest sitting area, The Library, has a selection intended to actually read curated by the renowned Heywood Hill booksellers in London. Each of the suites includes literature by or about the namesake while the other bedrooms each has a copy of The Wind in the Willows, Porterhouse Blue and Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Verses.

What’s the bottom line?

Prices for rooms start at £205 for cosy rooms and £505 for suites.

The hotel is on Regent Street, Cambridge CB2 1AD Tel +44 1223 606066. http://www.universityarms.com

[A version of this piece was originally published in the South China Morning Post in 2018]

What is it about Les Amis? Now elevated to 3 stars in the Michelin Guide Singapore

For the first time, Singapore gets two Three-MICHELIN-starred restaurants

Les Amis’ Sebastien Lepinoy (left) with Michelin’s Gwendal Poullennec and Julien Royer, Odette

[UPDATE: Les Amis which was awarded two Michelin stars in the inaugural Singapore guide 2016 has tonight been elevated to three stars in the 2019 guide. For the first time Singapore has two three Michelin starred restaurants with Odette also being elevated. Here’s a look at the restaurant with a rich pedigree of talent.]

French born head chef Sebastien Lepinoy and award winning pastry chef Cheryl Koh joined Les Amis in Singapore after sister restaurant Cepage closed in Hong Kong in 2013.  Both restaurants share the same enticing formula of sophisticated food and slick service mixed with an unstuffy atmosphere; a recipe that has made Les Amis as popular with food writers in the region as it is with regular customers.

Lepinoy, who was head chef at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon Hong Kong prior to Cepage, and Koh are the latest in a glittering alumni that includes Ignatius Chan owner of renowned restaurant Iggy’s. Les Amis was at the forefront of the French fine dining scene in Singapore when it opened in 1994.

Award winning sommelier Chan and chef Justin Quek, who’d worked his way around several classical French restaurants in France and the UK, were the brains behind the concept. With Chan’s experience, the restaurant became known for fine wines (it still has one of most extensive wine lists in Asia with some 2000 labels) as well as Quek’s cuisine.

Justin Quek

Justin Quek at Sky on 57

“Ignatius and I drove the operation for 10 years,” says Quek who now runs his own restaurant Sky on 57 at Marina Bay Sands where he cleverly combines classic French cooking with a Chinese influence. “We were the first stand-alone fine dining, French restaurant with a great wine list in Singapore.”

Quek says what he gleaned most from his time at Les Amis was wine knowledge and how to pair wine with food. “I tasted a lot of great wines in those ten years,” he says. “I remember the first new year’s eve menu with truffles, caviar and lobster on the menu paired with Krug champagne, Chevalier Montachet by Domaine Leflaive, Chateau Latour, Chateau Yquem…”

Quek became friends with many of the guests who came to the restaurant, often bringing their own rarefied bottles with them, and still returns to dine there with them.

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Iggy’s

Both Chan and Quek left and sold their shares at the end of 2003. Chan set up the now famous Iggy’s while Quek opened a restaurant in Taipei. Following his departure, Gunther Hubrechsen took over as head chef and continued Les Amis’ reputation for exemplary fine French food. After over five years Hubrechsen too left to set up his own establishment, Gunther’s, in Singapore. Gunther’s is another fine dining experience, this time in a converted shophouse, and much loved by business people, tai tais and romantic couples alike.

Gunther's interior

Asia’s Best Pastry Chef 2013 & 2014, Janice Wong, worked a 6 month stage under Hubrechsen at Les Amis following her training at the Cordon Bleu in Paris. Wong, who now owns the acclaimed 2am Dessert Bar in Singapore, says: “Working with chef Gunther on the line was my most memorable experience of working at Les Amis. From him I learnt about the balance of flavors and right pairings of different ingredients in each dish.

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Janice Wong

“What I’ve taken with me to the 2am Dessert Bar is the importance of team spirit in the kitchen and that a choice of fresh produce and ingredients is key to a good dish.”

Sebastien Lepinoy’s appointment marks the end of an 18 month search since head chef of nearly four years, Armin Leitgeb, left in May 2012. Under Leitgeb (who has since moved back to Austria and is currently working on a new restaurant project), Les Amis joined the exclusive Le Grandes Table Du Monde. The honour is usually reserved for Michelin star winners but since Les Amis has none as the Michelin Guide does not operate in Singapore [it’s due to launch late 2016] the feat is even more impressive.

Pastry chef Daniel Texter, who previously worked at Noma, left a few months after Leitgeb (to helm Adrian Zumbo’s new bakery in Melbourne). So Leproy has brought over Cepage’s Cheryl Koh, a Singaporean who began her career at Raffles Hotel.

Since joining in September [2013] Lepinoy has put his own stamp on the menu introducing Japanese influences. “In Singapore, Japanese cuisine is well received,” he says. “So I decided to use familiar Japanese ingredients and a lot of my dishes are Japanese-inspired.” These include angel hair pasta with lobster, crispy Sakura ebi and a touch of parmesan; pan seared Hokkaido scallops with teriyaki sauce, pan seared foie gras and French River eel accompanied by citrus fruits and dashi broth; and Daikon veloute with black truffle.

The ethos of the restaurant will remain the same though: “Les Amis means “The Friends” so we exist to create a warm and welcoming environment without the pompous façade that the fine dining image commonly portrays,” say Lepinoy.

Raymond Lim, Les Amis’ spokesman puts the restaurant’s longevity and success down to consistency. “The core experience which we want to deliver is the same – food that is tasty and not cerebral with a pared down, friendly approach to service,” he says.

[A version of this article originally ran in November 2013]

Odette, Asia’s Best Restaurant, elevated to three Michelin stars

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Odette’s Julien Royer (between Gwendal Poullennec and the Michelin man)

 

[UPDATE: Odette has been elevated to three Michelin stars in the Singapore Michelin Guide 2019. Earlier this year the restaurant was announced number one on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list 2019.]

Julien Royer, formerly head chef of the acclaimed Jaan, now has his own restaurant in the form of Odette, a bread roll’s throw away from his alma mater, within Singapore’s stunning new National Gallery. Odette is named in homage to Royer’s grandmother. And the family theme continues as the dreamy design is down to artist Dawn Ng – wife of the restaurant’s co owner, Wee Teng Wen of the Lo and Behold group – in conjunction with Universal Design Studio.

 

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Odette restaurant, Singapore

 

With its romantic, cream interiors, Odette is the White Swan to Lo and Behold stablemate, Black Swan nearby in the CBD. But back to the food. Royer is continuing to mix classical French with modern techniques in his new home. Some of his greatest hits from Jaan are on the menu: Mushroom “tea”; 55 mins Onsen Egg; Heirloom Beetroot Variation; and Hay Smoked Pigeon.

In it’s new incarnation though the Pigeon is served two ways: the breast cooked sous vide then grilled and the leg cooked for six hours. And the Onsen Eggs are smoked on a bed of pines – foraged by the chef’s father and sent over from France (another family link).

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Julien Royer of Odette, Asia’s Best Restaurant 2019

Royer has also added some new creations such as the standouts Hokkaido Uni with Apple, Mussel and Caviar and Trout with Miso Glazed Kurobuta Pork. The welcome champagne trolley includes Chartogne-Taillet rose, Henri Giraud for Odette and Krug – said to be Royer’s favourite.

Desserts, by pastry chef Nicolas Vergnole, are also impressive including Confit Victoria Pineapple (below): toasted coconut ice cream, banana cake, passionfruit coulis, tapioca and Kaffir lime.

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This piece was originally published in 2016

Wine Not? What it’s like to stay at Les Sources de Caudalie vinotherapy spa near Bordeaux

 

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Les Source de Caudelie

[UPDATE: From today until September 30th the InterContinental is serving a Grape Antioxidant Afternoon Tea in conjunction with Caudalie. Here’s the story behind the vinotherapy brand.]

The waitress is so shocked she can hardly contain herself: I’m not having wine with my lunch? After a few seconds of stunned silence, she adds with further disbelief: “And I suppose you’re not having pudding either?”

Okay, so I’m in France, where not partaking in the finer things in life is practically sacrilegous, but I am in a health spa. Then again, this is the world’s only vinotherapy centre and it is dedicated to beauty treatments derived from grapes. Denial is definitely not on the agenda here – as well as a cellar of 13,000 wines, there’s a Michelin-starred restaurant and a cigar room. You’re even encouraged to join a wine-tasting session at the nearby chateau.

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Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte

 

The name of this unique spa is Les Sources de Caudalie, and beauticians at the centre, 15 minutes’ drive from Bordeaux, believe that as well as imbibing a couple of glasses of wine a day, we should be bathed and massaged in it, too. The theory is that the humble grape pip is highly effective at countering skin damage caused by free radicals (smoking, pollution and sunlight).

Which is why, later that afternoon, I find myself lying on a plastic sheet being slathered with wine and honey. The sheet is wrapped around me, then covered with what looks like a thermal blanket and I’m left to doze in a gloopy cocoon for 20 minutes. Not only is this bacchanalian-sounding process strangely relaxing, it is meant to render me lithe, toned and youthful to boot.

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Les Source de Caudelie hotel

 

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