Arriving at The French Window – the Miramar Group’s new eatery in the old Lumiere space at IFC Mall – it’s impossible not to be struck by the elaborateness of the entranceway. After being greeted at the innocuous front desk, positioned close to the walkway in a quiet-ish area of the shopping mecca, we were led down an improbably long, tortuous and high-ceilinged corridor that – we hoped – would take us to the restaurant. Featuring walls bedecked in weathered-look grey wooden slats, giant metal and glass ‘windows’ displaying wine bottles by the dozen, occasional bursts of shrubbery and portly glass pots holding candles, it feels like you’re disappearing down the rabbit hole – albeit for a rabbit of mammoth proportions with the interior design skills of a mildly rustic Philippe Starck.
Mall-based restaurants have a notoriously difficult task in removing themselves from the general atmosphere of their location, but this elongated approach is the perfect pathway to transit out of the retail space, both physically and mentally.
The restaurant itself is equally impressive. Muted olive and turquoise tones dominate the substantial, art-deco-tinged space, with giant French lanterns hanging pendulously in front of floor-to-ceiling windows offering appropriately expansive harbour views. To the left as you enter, textured stone tiling offers an enticing iridescent backdrop to comfy booths; to the right, columns of wrought iron and textured glass stand amid rows of tables and chairs that reflect both fine dining and modern casual aesthetics. With the exception of Caprice, if there’s a more impressively stylish restaurant in Hong Kong, we’re yet to see it.
And so to the food. The menu is the creative offspring of Singaporean uber-chef Justin Quek, who is French Window’s dining consultant, and Chef Mickael Le Calvez, a Frenchman whose previous employer was the three-Michelin-starred L’Aubergade in Puymirol, close to Bordeaux. Dishes are of the classic-French-with-a-modern-twist variety, and are listed refreshingly plainly on the concise menu, a reflection perhaps of the relatively subtle flavours they contain. The wine list, meanwhile, is primarily French, and as impressive as the two-storey cellar display close to the entrance suggests.
We opted for the six-course degustation menu ($780, or $1,380 with wine pairing), but also asked for a portion of the modern avocado shrimp ($160) after a serving bound for another table caught our eye. First came an amuse bouche of pumpkin cappuccino; generously portioned and served in a brandy glass, it was a gentle twist on a traditional winter warmer. Next was the Angus super prime beef tartare, which sat on a thin ‘pizzeta’ base and was topped with a flourish of crisp greens. The freshness of the meat was the main thing that stood out about this one, while the merest hint of spice added a novel touch.
Taking a slight detour from the degustation menu, our appetiser of modern avocado shrimp followed. Comprised of diced shrimp wrapped inside a spherical avocado-based coating, the dish was a visual wow, the five gooseberry-sized shrimp balls lined up all in a row and adorned with thin discs of tortilla. Flavour-wise, we began to see a trend: rather than overpower with a cacophony of pungent tastes, it was once again the freshness and quality of the ingredients that earned this course its stripes.
Next, the scallop, cep mushroom and parsley butter continued the trend, the pleasant sliminess of the fungi providing a textural counterpoint to the lightly grilled flesh of the scallop, but it was the pan-seared foie gras in black truffle pot au feu that particularly impressed. The soft foie gras absorbed the light broth in which it was served, giving it an almost liquid texture, while the broth itself was light enough to allow the flavours of the attendant vegetables to be easily discernable. A triumph of subtlety and restraint.
The best, however, was reserved for the main course, cuts of pan-seared lamb accompanied by Maxim’s potatoes and a Middle East pesto. Again, the quality and flavour of the ingredients shone through thanks to the intuitive and simple preparation, while the delightfully ornate presentation illustrates that subtlety and extravagance need not be mutually exclusive. A dessert trio of almond cappuccino with poached pear and chocolate sorbet, cinnamon apple, and modern tutti frutti rounded things off perfectly.
Mention must also be made of the service here: as well as being stylishly dressed in curious shirts that button up at both the front and back, they were a knowledgeable, friendly and attentive lot, the only slight blight being the addition of an extra glass of wine to our bill (although this was quickly remedied with floods of apologies when we pointed it out).
Throw in the fact that this place has a real buzz about it in terms of atmosphere, and you have a very significant addition to our high-end dining scene. If you’re looking for Hong Kong’s newest destination restaurant, look no further.
3101, Podium 3, IFC Mall, Central, 2393 3812; www.thefrenchwindow.hk. Mon-Sat noon-2.30pm & 6pm-10.30pm; Sun/public holidays 11.30am-3.30pm & 6pm-10.30pm.
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3101, 3/F, IFC mall, 8 Finance St, Central