The first bite, they say, is with the eye, and if it were judged on this criteria alone then modern French spot Zenses Pissarro Dining would be up there with the best restaurants in Hong Kong. Housed in the slick and contemporary confines of Wellington Street’s The Loop building, and created by lauded British-born, Hong Kong-based designer Michael Young, Pissarro has style in spades.
Brown and yellow tones dominate Pissarro’s inviting, if a little narrow, interior, while the clean lines and smooth finish of the teak tables and chairs help to create a setting that’s both relaxed and effortlessly chic. When we visited, relatively late on a weeknight, we were the only people in the restaurant but we got the impression that this place would still feel intimate and relatively private even when approaching its full capacity of around 50.
The most striking feature of Pissarro’s space are the various large panels created from different coloured, folded pieces of paper (some 300,000 in total) that adorn several of the walls. The pieces, which pay tribute to the works of influential French Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro, after whom the restaurant is named, offered a visually arresting, yet soothing backdrop to our dinner. These were complemented by tastefully subdued lighting courtesy of a seemingly random formation of small glowing chevrons that enliven the larger wall spaces, and by a number of irregular purplish glass lamps that hang pendulously from the ceiling. These pieces were apparently hand-blown by the designer in a small village workshop close to Mount Fuji, and became a frequent topic of conversation throughout our meal as we listed the diverse range of items that they reminded us of: an egg from the movie Alien, a giant’s cudgel, a jellyfish, and an ogre’s testicles were among the favourites.
But could the food live up to the lofty standards (and curious touches) set by the design? Unfortunately, despite some high points, the answer was no – although, predictably, we couldn’t fault the presentation of the dishes, which impressed at every turn.
An inventive menu comprising contemporary twists on classic French dishes made choosing pleasantly tricky, although we were somewhat surprised by the pricing: soups were $90-$120, other appetisers $140-$280, mains averaged around the $300 mark, desserts $80-$90, while the wine list tended towards the extravagant, with even the house tipple clocking in at $380 a bottle. All these pretty surroundings, it seems, come at a price.
To start, my companion plumped for the duo of seasonal oysters ($140), neither half of which quite hit the mark. The raw one came topped with a runny poached quail egg, sea urchin and ginger soy sauce, a barrage of flavours that didn’t sit well with the oyster’s briney natural flavour; the cooked one was served wrapped in truffle, spinach and pancetta, the latter of which – although high quality – rather overwhelmed the other ingredients.
I plumped for the set dinner ($450 for four courses, plus petit fours and coffee/tea), which began with a Champagne Aspic. Served in a shot glass, this featured king crab and Hokkaido sea urchin in a Champagne-infused gelatine topped with seruga caviar. This too was rather disappointing, skirting a little too close to the wrong side of the subtle/bland divide. The caramelised foie gras crème brulee served with figs and toasted brioche that followed, however, was a winner, the creamy smoothness of crème brulee providing a novel delivery method for the foie gras flavour, which even my liver-hating companion approved of.
Moving on to our mains, the confit of duck leg ($320) was executed in textbook fashion, with just the lightest crispness on the skin enveloping the succulent flesh beneath. The accompanying square-cut French fries appeared overdone, but were actually mashed-potato soft inside, and perfect for mopping up the orange and balsamic reduction. The French guinea fowl slow-cooked in morel sauce and served with parmesan chips, asparagus and braised carrot (set dinner) was also expertly cooked, and surprisingly juicy, although the portions were perhaps a little on the small side and we found ourselves grabbing at bread rolls once the mains had been consumed.
A dessert of white chocolate and pistachio cake with passion fruit jelly (set dinner), while totally inoffensive, left us craving something with rather more flavour – which is when the petit fours saved the day.
Ultimately, we left Pissarro a little underwhelmed, and speculating on what kind of meal our thousand dollars would have bought us at other choice spots around town. Sure, Pissarro’s a looker, but possibly not the kind you’ll call for a second date. Beauty, after all, is only skin deep.
11/F, The Loop, 33 Wellington St, Central, 2521 8999.
Duo of seasonal oyster $140
French mulard duck $320
Set dinner $450
Ten per cent service charge $91
|Venue name:||Pissarro (Closed)|
11/F, The Loop, 33 Wellington St, Central