Sometimes it feels like you don't need to leave Hong Kong to eat the world.
These were Chef Akrame Benallal's thoughts when he chose to expand his 2-Michelin starred eponymous French restaurant to Hong Kong . . . and only Hong Kong.
He saw Hong Kong as one of the most international cities in the world. So many foreigners travel through this Asian port city. Not only would he be among a dizzying array of global restaurants, he would be able to reach people from all around the world just by setting up shop in Hong Kong.
And thus Akrame Hong Kong was born in 2013, two years after the huge success of his Paris restaurant, which had opened two years earlier.
Chef Benallal, who was greatly influenced by his mentors Pierre Gagnaire and Ferran Adria, sees his dishes as an ever-changing pieces of art that he continually tries to perfect.
Interestingly, once it's perfected, he gets bored and removes it from the menu. This could explain why he changes his menu so frequently (at least monthly). The food is decidedly French, and almost all of the ingredients are sourced from France.
Lunch starts at $280 HKD per person (Tues - Thurs only), and goes up from there: $480 HKD for a four courses and $580 HKD for a six-courses. Sunday brunch is $680 per person. Dinner you can get either six courses for $888 HKD (so Chinese, such lucky numbers!) or eight courses for $1188.
We came here for dinner one evening as a "break" from Chinese food after Bryan had spent almost a week doing business in China.
We started with a few amuses bouches, compressed watermelon with absinthe and a charcoal chip topped with smoked fish. Chef Benallal has said his favorite color is black, and it becomes quite evident as charcoal is used A LOT throughout the menu. The presentation was striking and definitely made a strong initial impression, even if the flavors were reasonably normal.
I'm a fan of French butter in general, and bread and butter is always a joy at French restaurants. Akrame was no exception, and their bread was very good.
The next course involved cooked spinach, mushroom, and charcoal mixed with the perfect egg (probably sous vide) and toasted bread crumbs for texture.
I thought the next course was quite creative and ambitious. On the plate sat what looked like a huge ravioli, but what was actually a risotto made with smoked fish amaranth topped with a garlic and milk jelly. I really enjoyed this course. The flavors of the smoked fish risotto was quite nice, and I like the unusual texture of the amaranth grain.
The lobster is a signature dish and definitely one of the best (and probably my favorite). The server brought over a bowl filled with embers from a fire. She then smoked the two lobster tails (lobsters are from Brittany, France), which were served together with the lobster claw in a flavorful pigeon sauce.
Slices of daikon and chives helped cut the richness, and the resultant dish was fantastic. Execution was spot on and the flavors were brilliant.
Our next course arrived in a martini glass: tuna and veal tartare tossed in a French espelette pepper mayo and served with house made potato chips. Honestly speaking, this dish seemed downright ordinary after the previous one. It was fine, but nothing memorable.
Our last savory course was steak, more specifically a filet of beef served alongside a beetroot ravioli filled with beef tartare and a beet, ginger, and pickle sauce on the side. The beef was cooked a solid medium rare, and the dish was solid and enjoyable.
We enjoyed a lovely slice of French washed rind soft cheese, served with a parsley vinaigrette, nuts, and a mushroom powder. As a palate cleanser, we also enjoyed a mousse of lime, avocado, and banana topped with a white chocolate disc. Thankfully (for me), the banana flavor wasn't too strong.
Our first dessert was a foie gras flan served with a creamy corn soup and topped with a kumquat and a capsaicin leaf. The foie gras plan was mild, though you could definitely tell that it was made from foie gras. The dessert was fine - nothing that blew me away, but we enjoyed it.
Another signature dish is the charcoal pineapple with coconut ice cream and charcoal powder (hello charcoal again!). Striking to look at, the dish was light and enjoyable, but tasted less interesting than it looked.
Akrame Hong Kong - General Thoughts
Akrame is a lovely restaurant. The ambiance is cozy and understated, and the staff is really warm, personably, and friendly. We felt right at home. The food is creative, sometimes unusual, and often interesting. There are some standout dishes like the smoked lobster or the amaranth risotto. Other dishes vary, with some tasting more ordinary while others may still be in various stages of being "refined". Considering that the menu changes frequently, it's quite likely that most of the dishes I've described above aren't even on the menu anymore, and if we went back, it would another surprise exploration of Chef's latest innovative ideas.
The restaurant did seem slightly understaffed when we went. For some time it seemed like there was only one woman who had to be front-of-the-house, server, and sommelier all at once. She tried her best to keep up, but we occasionally we had to wait longer-than-normal times. We felt really bad for her, because she was doing the best she could.
In short, it's a place I wouldn't mind visiting again someday, maybe more for academic food curiosity than for pure food enjoyment (since once a food is "perfected" it might just disappear off the menu). It's fun to try interesting new flavor combinations or unusual ingredients from France, and here you have many opportunities to do just that.
Akrame Hong Kong
9B Ship St, Wan Chai