A street surrounded by Wan Chai Market on one side and a bustling very traditional Chinese outdoor market on the other side may not be the first place you would expect to see a fancy French restaurant. Yet Wan Chai, a "colorful" neighborhood (both literally and figuratively) known for its red light tinged nightlife, bustling farmers market, Michelin-starred restaurants, and local Chinese flavor, is where three powerhouse French restauranteurs decided to open their newest venture.
Former Le Chateaubriand chef-owner Frédéric Peneau, interior designer turned restauranteur Charles Pelletier, and Chef Christophe Pelé (former chef at 2-Michelin starred La Bigarrade) came together in 2014 to open Serge et Le Phoque.
Serge et le Phoque translates to "Serge and the Seal." Chelf Peneau's son, whose name is Serge, chose the animal for the restaurant name. Serge et Le Phoque has one Michelin star and has been recognized by Diner's Club World's 50 Best Discovery Series as a restaurant to watch. The restaurant has done so well, it opened up a second location in London at the end of 2017.
Serge et le Phoque would best be described as serving Asian-influenced French cuisine. The cooking techniques are decidedly French, but the ingredients are very Asian. Everything from local produce from the local market to vegetables flown in from Japan are featured on the eclectic menu.
We came here on a chilly Thursday evening. Surprisingly, the restaurant was only about half full the entire night, filled with a majority of French-speaking natives, some of whom seemed like regulars who knew the restaurant staff well.
There is an a la carte menu. Or alternatively, you can do the chef's tasting, which includes an appetizer, entree, cheese course, and dessert for $800 HKD a person. Because it was our first time, we opted for the tasting.
And oh what a tasting it was!
Our meal felt absolutely perfect. The food, the excellent wine, the laid-back, friendly, and warm service, all came together to form a perfect evening.
Can we start with the bread?
We started with freshly baked bread served with butter imported from Brittany. The butter was so good I really could not stop eating it. Throughout the meal, I periodically snatched pieces of the bread, each time spreading it with a nice, generous slab of butter. The server was kind enough to leave the bread basket on the table the entire meal, even refilling our butter each time we ran out.
Our first course was a single oyster dressed with a bit of olive oil and crunchy salt. It was fabulous. The oyster was sweet, reminding me of a kumamoto, and I liked the addition of the oil and the salt.
Next came a plate of deep fried sea conch served with a sweet miso dipping paste. I was impressed by the frying technique - it reminded me of tempura a bit. The breading was super light and crispy, and the sea conch had an ocean briny flavor, reminding me of a cross between an oyster and a clam.
Yellowtail ceviche was next, served with onions, chives, a slice of fresh mango, and a peppery amarijo pepper sauce. The server suggested that we mix everything together to taste all the components in one bite.
The pepper sauce had just enough kick to make the dish come alive, reminding us a bit of Nikkei cuisine (Japanese-Peruvian). Bryan commented "I'm not used to French or Japanese food having a "kick", but I like it."
Next came a seared scallop served with grilled anchovy, shredded cauliflower, a ginkgo nut, and a creamy beurre blanc sauce.
Seared mackerel was next, served with burrata cheese, a Japanese tomato, and chirata, a vegetable from Thailand. The mackerel was perfectly cooked and its strong flavors were nicely balanced by the phenomenally sweet Japanese tomato, the creamy burrata cheese, and the fresh vegetables.
Our server was very excited about the next course: Galicia beef.
"I must tell you," he began, "that you are about to have the best beef in the world. This is better than Kobe, this is better than anything in Japan. This is beef from Galicia, Spain."
I had always associated Galicia with seafood (based on my brief dining experiences in Barcelona). However, it appears that in just the past couple years, beef from older bullocks (castrated male bulls at least eight years old) from Galicia or the Basque Country in Spain has become the biggest rage in the meat world. People praise the aged meat's deeper and more intense flavor. High end restaurants in London and France are going crazy importing this meat for their most distinguished clients.
I don't know if our Galician beef was aged to that extent, but I will say that the beef we had was fantastic. It was cooked perfectly - a lovely char on the outside while totally raw in the middle (French rare, I love it!). It was soft and tender (like a good filet mignon) but full of intense, beefy flavor.
We enjoyed the filet with a beautifully roasted carrot from Japan and a sweet, quince-like paste to balance out the chargrilled flavors.
On the side he brought a roasted eggplant topped with a sweet miso paste, cilantro, and parsley. The combination was delicious, and it reminded me a lot of the roasted eggplant or fish "nobu-style" that I've made in the past.
The cheese course was lovely. I can't remember exactly the names of the cheese we had, but there was definitely a lovely, nutty and sweet compte, a washed rind creamy cheese of sorts, and a stinkier blue. All three were really, really good.
For dessert we each had a slice of their richly decadent ume (plum) dark chocolate cake (topped with sea salt - the best!) and a dacquoise, a nut flavored meringue cake with vanilla cream and nougatine in the center. Usually I don't like ordering dessert because I find most desserts too sweet. Here, they were perfectly balanced.
The ume (plum) dark chocolate cake was intensely dark and had a lovely deep chocolate flavor. The crunchy salt on top made the dish for me. The dacquoise was light and fluffy, and the cream and nougatine center was just the right level of sweetness. We polished both off easily.
All in all, it was a fantastic meal. The service was attentive yet unhurried. The food was phenomenal (one of the best western meals I've had in Hong Kong). I loved the relaxed, uncrowded ambiance. I would most certainly come back again.
Those in the UK may be excited to find out that a new location of Serge et le Phoque has just opened in Sept 2017 in London at the Mandrake Hotel.
Serge et le Phoque
shop B2, Tower 1 The Zenith, 3
Wan Chai Road, Wan Chai. Tel: 5465 2000.