Racines means “roots” in French, and the roots of the friendship of Adrien Castillo and Romain Dupeyre, the founders of fine-casual southern French restaurant Racines, run deep. 

The chefs met nearly two decades ago as 15-year-old apprentices at two-Michelin-starred La Chèvre d’Or on the French Riviera, forming a bond that saw them reuniting in Paris and then landing in Hong Kong at around the same time a few years later, with Adrien cutting his culinary chops at three-starred Caprice at the Four Seasons and Romain cheffing at one-starred Petrus at Island Shangri-La. In late 2022, they united to open 18-seat Racines in Sheung Wan, cementing their long-lasting friendship. The chefs have an easy rapport with each other and the diners they entertain.

The secondary translation of racines is “origin”, with terroir and provenance being a focal point of the two chefs. The chefs hail from southern France –  Adrien from Toulouse in the southwest, Romain from Nice in the southeast. At Racines, newly crowned with its first Michelin star last month, classic southern French gastronomy is modernised and refined with creative and whimsical touches.

We recently headed to the Sheung Wan restaurant to try the chefs’ new six-course spring menu (HKD1,688 pp) – Genese 6 – showcasing the seasonality of southern France. Each dish, lighter than what we are accustomed to in French cuisine, is composed of inventive and contrasting textures and flavours and plated with precision.

Racines butter
Smoked butter

Bread and butter are elevated with Racines’ sublime sourdough loaf, a collaboration with local bakery Levain. The bread is accompanied by the butter of our dreams, smoked in cherry wood and topped with a jam made of plums cooked in port, with its hint of Espelette pepper jump-starting the palate.

Racines amuse-bouches
Amuse-bouches

Then come the pretty amuse-bouches – in this case, chicken-liver parfait with kumquat and piquillo, a local prawn one-biter with Hokkaido uni and seaweed, and a potato and pissaladière croquette – that are aptly described by chef Romain as “flavour bombs”.

The spring menu begins officially with the Spanish carabinero, poached in lavender olive oil. The prawn head and lavender also feature in the vinaigrette, as well as the consommé jelly. Preserved lemon from Nice uplifts the dish, whilst the bitterness of the bottarga and broccoletti balance the prawn’s natural sweetness. We got a kick out of the finishing touch of crunchy buckwheat kernels.

Racines frog leg
Frog leg

Our best-loved dish on the menu comes in the unlikely form of the frog leg. It’s cooked tempura style with a touch of curry from Brittany – get your hands dirty with this one. Accompanying the frog leg is a plump dumpling filled with escargot and local watercress. The foamy, East-meets-West sauce is what takes the dish to another level; it’s light yet buttery and fragrant with yellow wine and kaffir lime.

White asparagus, clams, and blood orange play supporting roles in the lively dish of golden threadfin sea bream, whose skin is crisped to perfection. The inclusion of coconut is an ingenious touch – some of the white asparagus is poached in coconut oil, whilst the green-hued purée is made of white asparagus cooked in coconut milk and mixed with pungent tarragon, whose aniseed-like flavour has a natural affinity with fish.

Racines pigeon
Brittany pigeon

A signature of Racines, we opted for the Brittany pigeon for our main. In this continuing interplay of bitter and sweet, liquorice is employed to balance the gaminess of the pigeon and acerbic anchovy and aubergine elements. This dish is intense for all the right reasons, and we can understand why it’s become a fan favourite.

A cheese course is de rigueur at a French eatery, but Racines’ version is much more intriguing than most. It places the spotlight on Ossau-Iraty, a Basque sheep’s milk cheese made in southwestern France along the Spanish border. On the spring menu, the cheese is mixed with cream and freshened up with rocket. Amplifying the chefs’ out-of-the-box philosophy, the cheese cream comes with mango (green and yellow) chutney laced with piquillo pepper, chilli jam, Espelette pepper, and focaccia croutons.

Racines sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes

Dessert at Racines is always uniquely vegetable driven. Though autumnal sounding, the sweet potatoes dish is surprisingly refreshing. The sweet spuds, poached in clementine juice with tonka and coffee beans, are also presented in baked, purée, espuma, and sorbet formats. The coffee-mandarin vinaigrette and coffee crisp add sharp vibrancy.

The finale features a trio of petits fours offered to diners in vintage-esque French confectionery tins, the buttery madeleines still warm. 

We were sent off into the Sheung Wan night with a signed copy of the menu, along with printed maps and postcards of Nice and Toulouse – a fitting way to say au revoir to Racines, as charming as the chef-founders themselves.

Our verdict of Racines

Truly deserving of their Michelin victory, Adrien and Romain’s French restaurant is special. The chef duo’s passion and chemistry are palpable, and their conviviality echoes throughout the cosy, open-kitchened space, warmly welcoming diners into the Racines family fold. Every aspect of the restaurant and menu speaks to the friendship of the chefs and their love for the South of France; the interior design elements are inspired by the town of Eze where they first met, whilst the knives, personally selected by each diner, are each engraved with an influential culinary figure of the pair (mine was Mamie Nicole, Romain’s grandmother). May Adrien and Romain’s original culinary tale keep being told for years to come and may their accolades continue to soar!

Racines, 22 Upper Station Street, Sheung Wan, WhatsApp 5742 6539, book here

Order this: there’s only one seasonal six-course dinner tasting menu on offer at Racines, which changes every 6–8 weeks
Menu: Racines dinner menu
Price for two: around HKD3,400
Atmosphere: like dining in the chic kitchen of a long-time French friend, chatting up the chefs
Perfect for: cosy and creative fine French fare for those in pursuit of a more intimate and approachable Michelin-starred dining experience

This review is intended to offer an individual perspective on the dining experience and should not be considered as a definitive judgement of the restaurant’s overall quality or reputation. The views expressed in this review are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions of Foodie.

Stephanie Pliakas is the Digital Editor of Foodie. From Michelin-starred fine-dining to the local comfort-food eats dished out at cha chaan tengs, she has immersed herself in the 852’s ever-changing food scene since making Hong Kong her home more than a decade ago. When Stephanie is not devouring something delicious, she’s cooking and baking up a storm at home (whilst listening to true crime podcasts).

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