How many different ways can you fashion steak frites? If the number of similarly-themed restaurants popping up all over town is anything to go by, the options are limitless – the variety of sauces available alone is enough to make your head spin. It’s no surprise then that Akrame Benallal – the creative chef behind the Michelin-starred Akrame – is looking to put his own spin on not only steak and fries, but the entire concept of meat and potatoes. As well as beef, chicken and pork, practically every variety of potato imaginable is served – either mashed, sautéed, Darphin or gratin. But no frites. As the man himself proclaimed to Time Out in May, “I don’t like frites, they only taste good straight after they’re cooked and not later.” Having received a Michelin recommendation, the concept of Atelier Vivanda is proving a success in Paris where there are three outlets. Other branches are set to open up around the world, but Hong Kong gets to be first.
Located next door to sister restaurant Akrame, on Star Street, Atelier Vivanda’s comfortable surrounds nod to industrial-chic with its bare concrete walls and filament light bulbs. The formula of the menu is simple: for $448 you get an entrée, a meat and side dish and a dessert. We begin with a beetroot risotto accompanied with smoked haddock. Turns out it isn’t really risotto at all. Rather, orzo, the rice shaped pasta, is utilised, and it actually works better since it absorbs the subtle tang of the beetroot and haddock.
Among the many choices for mains, we plump for a beef flank steak and pommes dauphine. The flank steak is superbly done; crispy on the outside, the meat is succulent and rich in flavour without an ounce of fat. The side of pomme dauphines – fried potato balls – is unlike any we’ve ever had. The fragile skin is rice paper thin and crumbles on the tongue, melting into the soft, smooth texture of the potatoes inside. Perfection. We sample our dining companion’s pommes Darphin – a pancake made with shredded potato – that features an added twist of cheese in the recipe, which is a little too strong. The dish isn’t bad but it fails to shine. We finish off with a molten chocolate cake. The casing of the cake is so thin, and the amount of filling so vast, the dessert has problems maintaining its shape. It’s a rich treat, but the refreshing sprinkles of lime zest balances the flavour.
You can’t go wrong ordering flank steak or pommes dauphine at Atelier Vivanda, especially the latter, which are world class. It takes a talent like Benallal to turn a concept as simple as meat and potatoes into something greater, and here, he does it spectacularly. Lisa Cam
Atelier Vivanda9A Ship St, Wan Chai, 2109 1768; ateliervivanda.com.hk.
Dinner for two: $1,000.
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9A Ship St, Wan Chai