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State of the art. That’s the phrase that comes to mind when you think of Le Comptoir restaurants. Crammed with pieces from notable street artists like Invader and Vhils, The Ocean’s stablemates Hotshot and Bibo made headlines around the world for their decor when they opened. Then came the serene interiors of Tri, where almost every piece of bamboo and wood used to create the ethereal ambience came direct from Indonesia.
These three amazing spaces are a cut above the average in Hong Kong’s dining scene, but they’re reputed for being pricey affairs – somewhere to see and be seen – and less known for what’s served on the plates. So when The Ocean opens inside Repulse Bay’s luxury mall The Pulse (the third by the group in the same location – so hopefully they’re getting a bulk discount) we expect breakthrough design and, again, steep fine dining.
Awash in blue tones, floor to ceiling windows line the side fronting the beach. If you visit the premises on a sunny day, the decor and sky blue combine to submerge you in an azure sea. That dramatic effect aside, giventhe group's history of creating restaurants with a certain flair, The Ocean shows a bit more restraint with its interior design. Although, on close inspection, the exquisite tableware turns out to be none other than Hermès, which raises the stakes. Apart from a jellyfish tank by the entrance and a tropical fish display near the private dining area, the seating is mainly comprised of booths facing the beach. The entire ambience of The Ocean is calm, as if you’re sitting ashore the clear waters of the Maldives rather than Hong Kong’s busy shipping lanes.
Boasting a Japanese and ‘modern’ (read French) dining concept – rather than a reinterpretation of either cuisine – the restaurant houses two dining areas. One is an umi bar where chef Yukio Kimijima crafts an omakase menu, while the table area serves creations by chef Agustin Balbi, selected as one of the 10 Best Young Chefs in Tokyo by San Pellegrino this year. The latter’s menu comprises different degustation choices, beginning with a concentrated three-course option at lunch ($488) through to five ($888), eight ($1,188) or the full 10-course ($1,488) experience during dinner. You can also order sushi items à la carte but, if you visit for sushi, you’re best off at the umi bar.
We opt for the five-course menu and decide, in order to be comprehensive, it’s worth sampling the sushi anyway. At first glance the items are startlingly expensive. Two cuts of sashimi tuna are $188, while a single tuna nigiri is $108. We select two pieces of yellowtail sashimi ($188) and a piece of salmon roe nigiri ($98). The fish slices are aromatic and sufficiently fatty, while the nori on the nigiri is crisp and the umami flavours of the roe are well balanced and extremely fresh. Though this is exactly what good sushi and sashimi ought to be, we find it hard to justify the prices.
We move on to our degustation courses and highlights include the appetiser of homemade tofu and uni in ponzu sauce. At first the tofu feels too gummy and viscous, the texture nowhere near as smooth as the popular silken variety. But, when taken in combination with all the other elements of the dish, the texture makes sense – it’s a vehicle for the sea urchin to linger on the palate, drawing out the briny flavours of the shellfish.
For mains we opt for the sous-vide turbot, with cauliflower textures and nori butter sauce. The texture of the fish is smooth and flavourful – pretty much perfect – and when drenched in the butter sauce it incites rich French flavours. This is broken up with zucchini and cauliflower purée, an elegant dish that’s the epitome of how quality seafood should be served.
As a finale to our evening, it’s the passion fruit, with coconut foam, meringue and rum granita that tickles our fancy. Light as air, the rum serves to gel the medley of fruit flavours into a vertiable tropical experience. And so our oceanic journey of seafood ends with dessert upon the beach.
Though there was no opportunity to try chef Kimijima’s omakase menu, we feel that the degustation courses are a more unique and fairly priced option. In fact, in comparison to the rest of Le Comptoir’s establishments, The Ocean is the most budget friendly, taking into consideration the outstanding quality of the menu. This is a restaurant with food to match its stunning décor We forecast The Ocean will definitely be making waves. Lisa Cam
The Ocean 3/F, The Pulse, 28 Beach Rd, Repulse Bay, 2889 5939; theocean.hk.