Your feelings for your wife are such that you schedule two Mother’s Day meals for her, the first at Bistro du Vin in Kennedy Town.
The restaurant is not the creation of a passionate chef trying to make a go of it. Instead, it is the calculation of businessmen (Piccolo Concepts) trying to fill a perceived niche in the market. Creation. Calculation. Both approaches are legitimate. Though, in your experience, the former is more likely to shoot Roman candles. Still, if you put cost aside, Bistro du Vin succeeds quite well, with one significant exception.
They have two dinner seatings: 6 and 8:30. On the phone they emphasise the need to be out by 8:30 for the next seating. Neurotic about punctuality, you fret as your taxi trudges along. Half an hour later, the place is completely empty. The interior exudes bistro, as though the designer distilled all the bistro interiors in France into one. You are graciously seated. Servers are immediately attentive, making you feel comfortable with a basket of excellent, warm bread, room-temperature butter and sea salt with a Lilliputian spoon.
There is no corkage for the first bottle of wine (which is much appreciated). They put your rosé in a stiff, transparent plastic bag – in fact, a clever wine bucket. With some grape in hand, all gyros spooled, you peruse the menu.
It is standard bistro hits, relatively simple fare, that you’d find in France. You start with a salad and seared foie gras, more challenging than cold foie gras, to test the mettle of the chef. The salad is lettuce and herbs with bits of citrus in a sharp dressing, nowhere near transformative, but competent and satisfying – a salad you’d get from a good home cook. The foie gras is perfectly seared, not overcooked (the bane of foie gras), with a wafer of crisped jambon pâté, rather like bacon, adjoining. It is daringly covered in a fine grating of fresh horseradish and surrounded by dashes of Dijon mustard. Almost all seared foie gras concoctions are accompanied by sautéed fruit or an agrodolce sauce of some sort to balance what amounts to a slice of fat. Bistro du Vin’s savoury overlayer is improbable and high risk and it works brilliantly. EXCEPT, there is a piece of smoked eel on the plate. Perhaps the chef was feeling a bit manic, or perhaps the eel simply flopped over from another kitchen, but it just doesn’t work. It makes no more sense in this dish than it would in a vanilla crème brûlée. You hope the restaurant continues with this lovely dish but removes the eel, who surely would be happier underwater with his pals.
Your main course is a shared dish of pork (what amounts to two boneless chops of moderate size) over cassoulet beans flavoured by smoking hay. Smoking with hay has been a culinary magic trick since at least the 1990s, but this is your first experience. The smell is lovely, and you’re pleased to see that it’s more than showboating. It works, imbuing the perfectly cooked pork with its sultry flavour.
Along with the pork you order haricot verts, perhaps the finest dish of the evening, cooked perfectly with a glaze of butter, fresh thyme and a fortissimo of garlic. Wow!
The gods despise hubris. Dessert is a fall into the abyss, a Grand Marnier soufflé for each of you. Soufflés require the creative hand of an artist, plus the precise hand of a scientist. In this case, the artist was there, but the scientist was off drinking. Both soufflés were significantly overcooked. Where they should have been almost liquid in the middle, they were as dry at the centre as on the edges, more earthbound than ethereal, more scrambled egg than soufflé. The accompanying ice cream nested in cookie crumbs was good, probably made elsewhere. Had the soufflés worked, sweet-cream ice cream, in your wife’s view, would have been better than vanilla. Please, Bistro du Vin, work on this dish to get it right (perhaps you need a higher cooking temperature and a shorter cooking time). This is an important heritage dish and uncountable chefs (and home cooks) of generations past are watching you with dour expressions.
By the time you leave, at around 8pm, the bistro is full and boisterous. The acoustics are poor and you have to raise your voice to be heard – no bad thing perhaps, but certainly not suited to most conceptions of romance.
Ah, that price was not relevant, but it is. The total bill was just shy of HK$1,200 without wine. Hong Kong is expensive, but by your lights this is just too much for a meal of good, but not incandescent, quality. Bistros in France are almost by definition reasonably priced, an everyman’s alternative to expensive haute cuisine. In terms of value for dollar (and, to be honest, quality of food), a number of French eateries in Hong Kong are vastly superior to Bistro du Vin. Vastly. Little Kitchen (probably the finest French restaurant in Hong Kong, even without factoring in price) and the wine lunch at Amber come to mind.
The setting was bistro beautiful. The service was excellent, though the noisy acoustics did not help to fan the embers of romance. The food was quite good, if not excellent, with one tragic failure. The value for dollar was low, and it is for this reason, alas, that you will not return.
1 Davis Street, Kennedy Town, 2824 3010
This write-up is based on an anonymous, independent visit. The meal was paid for by the author and no monetary compensation was provided in exchange.
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