Having been raised by dogs, naturally you like to please. This is burdensome for a restaurant reviewer. Nowhere is the burden clearer than at Le Bistro Winebeast, which basks in accolades, even listed as one of the 10 best French restaurants in Hong Kong in 2015 by Eat and Travel Weekly.
Plastic grapes festoon the railing as you ascend to the vinous sanctum sanctorum. You start with a fig-walnut bread that your waitress assures you was made in-house. This is one of the best breads, if not the best, you’ve ever eaten: sour and chewy, nubbed with a satisfying sweetness and crunch. It is remarkable that a small restaurant can produce such a masterpiece. Kudos! Served with an elegant cone of salted butter and a mound of extraordinarily flavourful pork rillettes, you know great things are to come.
In wolfish anticipation, you and your wife order a Kir and a Kir Royale. A Kir needs a flinty wine to offset the sweetness of cassis. A Kir Royale should be served in a champagne flute. Both drinks require a twist of lemon. These points are as absolute as exact change to a bank. But at Winebeast, heir to Bacchus, wrong wine, wrong glass, no twists. Your canine nature intrudes. You want to like Winebeast, to write them a great review, to join the club of admirers. You loved the bread. It’s only the start. It’s trivial. The other reviews were so positive. You sputter excuses. Your wife, raised by cats, arches an eyebrow. You take her meaning precisely.
A handsome platter of appetisers appears. A croquette of duck confit is tasty, though the underlying sweet potato purée is an indifferent foil. The next dish, a scrumptious soup of beetroot and apple, could perfectly sidekick the confit had it been reduced. ”Are there cranberries in it?“ your allergic wife asks. The waitress doesn’t know and has to consult the kitchen. The jambon is so fatty it’s inedible (though you take it home, fry it for brekkie the next day, egg on top, delish). A crostini with French beef sausage has little flavour. None comes close to “10 best” Hong Kong level. They’re good country-club fare.
Surely the reputed genius of this restaurant will come forth with the duck. So many reviewers can’t be wrong. Meanwhile you each order another glass of wine and it is apparent that the good-natured waitresses know less about wine than making Kirs (one readily admits she knows nothing about wine and refers us to the next, who admits the same, who refers us to the manager, who isn’t in). They badly need a week in wine camp.
The duck is warm, not hot. The skin – that wonderful crackling – is nowhere to be seen. The berry sauce seems pre-made (again, your wife asks if there are cranberries in it, waitress doesn’t know, consults kitchen). If the duck was just cooked, not reheated, it is no better than reheated. The skin, which finally appears under a glop of sauce, is flaccid. The meat is tough. It’s medium, not medium rare, which is ideal and more difficult to achieve. No one asked you how you wanted it, which points to the likelihood of pre-cooking.
Much as it pains, you say it: Winebeast is unexceptional. Winebeast is plastic grapes. Either the other reviews are wrong, it’s changed or it’s having an extraordinarily bad night. It has good ideas but does not execute them well, details misfire, the waitstaff know little or nothing about the food and – zut alors! – nothing about wine. The bread is genius and you’re amazed the kitchen team make it. You wish it was for sale. Maybe if you went again, Winebeast would redeem itself, though you’re dubious.
The restaurant would do better with simpler food. Simpler food needn’t be worse food. Such might be the path of redemption.
Dessert is a poached apple (a bit undercooked) in a snappy red sauce topped with a crumble that is decked with luscious (but melting) pistachio ice cream. Your feline partner (having given up asking about cranberries) picks at it, but you think it’s delicious and you lap it up like a…
G/F and 1/F, Tai Yip Building, 141 Thomson Road, Wanchai, 2782 6689