After 27 years of culinary experiences at refined restaurants in France and Hong Kong (and a total of 23 Michelin stars earned to date), Chef Olivier Elzer embarks on a personal passion project that fuses French flavours with Asian cooking techniques. Clarence, his second independent restaurant concept following Seasons by Olivier Elzer (RIP), utilises the techniques of robata, steaming and teppan to create a unique brand of contemporary French cuisine.
Mentored by some of France’s culinary greats the likes of Joël Robuchon, Jean-Yves Leranguer and Pierre Gagnaire, Chef Elzer grew up in the kitchen, beginning at the tender age of 12 when he subbed as sous-chef on weekends at his mother’s restaurant in Marseille. He went on to earn his stripes at several fine-dining establishments in France, incuding Le Jarrier, Abbaye de la Bussière, La Pyramide and Le Fouquet’s Paris (just to name a few), before making the move eastwards to Hong Kong with the blessing of his mentor, Pierre Gagnaire, whom he helped to win a second Michelin star for his restaurant Pierre at the Mandarin Oriental.
Clarence is a juxtaposition of sorts, blending fine-dining techniques in a beautiful, refined setting with a more casual menu and ambience. The spacious venue at H Code features four distinct dining areas, ranging from the main dining room filled with natural light, to the raw and wine bar dressed in dark wood, to the breezy lounge (a perfect spot for sampling cigars), to the intimate, brick-lined sommelier room with its ethereal “cathedral” vibe (giving thanks to the gods of wine).
Although the menu is all Chef Elzer, the lead role in the kitchen goes to his protegé, Simon So, who has worked with the chef for over a decade, first at Pierre, then at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon and Seasons by Olivier and, finally, at L’Envol at The St. Regis Hong Kong.
The raw and wine bar is awash in dark wood, whilst the sommelier room is a cosy, intimate gathering spot.
We commenced our tasting with a dish from the raw section of the menu. The black prawns ($228) feature delicate, sashimi-grade prawns marinated in tonka bean, lemon juice and zest, balanced on a giant mountain of ice and served with crackers and fresh tarragon cream. The tonka bean adds a rounded, vanilla-meets-caramel flavour with a hint of liquorice, while the lemon zest uplifts with its citrusy freshness.
The cooked octopus ($288) is blanketed in uni foam with delicate dices of fresh tomato, spices and chipolata. The richness of the foam is undercut with a hint of lime and vibrant heat.
From the “Yakifrenchy” section of the menu, we sampled the ratatouille ($52), a creative interpretation of the classic French dish. Instead of a dish of stewed vegetables, courgette, onion and aubergine are skewered and grilled on the charcoal robata, then drenched in pesto cream. A fun mix of quintessential French flavours prepared and presented with Japanese flair.
The eggplant escabeche ($62), a popular dish from the French Mediterranean, is presented in skewer form featuring grilled aubergine topped with onion confit. The hallmark acidic zing of the marinade permeates the meaty eggplant, balanced by the sweetness of the onion confit.
Moving on to meatier dishes, the frog legs ($68) brushed with pastis and tomato commemorates Chef Elzer’s signature dish at Abbaye de la Bussière in Burgundy, where he earned his first Michelin star. The juicy, perfectly cooked frog legs are incredibly meaty and flavourful, with a touch of anise aroma from the pastis. They are also surprisingly easy to eat on the stick, compared to how they are normally presented in classic French dishes.
The veal head ($88) is our favourite of the skewers and a must-order. The combination of sticky collagen and juicy meat with crispy, crunchy skin is a deliciously winning combination, with the house-made wasabi mayo undercutting the richness of the skewer. We bet you can’t eat just one!
The headliner comes in the form of teppanyaki-grilled skate wing ($688/400g) with pink garlic confit ($90), cooked on the bone in a brown butter sauce. The sticky, tender fish had delectable golden caramelisation and was incredibly flavourful, easily forking off the bone into buttery flakes. It was so decadent that we didn’t need extra helpings of the accompanying brown butter sauce.
The garlic confit is a must for any garlic lover – vampires, beware! Slow-simmered in butter, the sweet, soft cloves of garlic are sinfully addictive, and we couldn’t resist polishing off the entire bowl.
Fresh berries, whipped cream, coulis and Normandy milk ice cream ($130) make for a pretty, summery pudding. Served with a drizzle of olive oil, diners can build their own dessert with a combination of the raspberry and black pepper coulis and intensely rich Normandy milk ice cream.
On the more indulgent side, the croffle ($128) with Isigny crème ice cream and salted caramel sauce is a delicious contrast between hot, buttery crunch and icy, smooth creaminess.
Clarence crosses the confines of haute cuisine, giving diners a refined, immaculately executed menu minus the usual pomp of a French fine-dining experience. The same finesse and imagination go into Clarence’s menu as at any high-end establishment, but the dining experience here is of a much more convivial, relaxed nature, and the use of Asian cooking techniques with classic French flavours gives a fresh perspective. Clarence doesn’t take itself too seriously, although it has every reason to do so.
25/F, H Code, 45 Pottinger Street, Central, 3568 1397
This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s.