You enter the swanky Upper House hotel, on whose upper limb Café Gray Deluxe is perched. Up and up, the lift doors open and simultaneously you are entranced and clobbered. You are entranced by the restaurant’s elegant entryway, a colonnade of large, ivory candles, backdropped by stunning harbour views. You are clobbered by the music. For such a gem – waiters coiffed, view nonpareil – the music is a gross non sequitur, inexplicable. It is the synthesiser music of budget lounge acts across the world, with an insistent, carnal beat, laced by sound effects from a grade-B outer-space movie. It is sex music for robots that will play at the robot apocalypse. The volume has been set by a 13-year-old who has tied up his parents in the basement. This is music to accompany nachos with gelatinous cheese sauce. The music of convention groups at hotels with scuffed carpet. This is the music of the waiting line at Space Mountain. How did such a reptile snout its way into this elegant place?
Feeling shaky, you and your wife start in the bar, overlooking the harbour, dark like a bruise, jewelled by red and blue glowing junks, and sip preprandial wine, which helps to steady your nerves. Yours is a terrific, jammy glass of Uruguayan red, the least expensive on the wine menu and among the best you’ve had in Hong Kong.
A hostess fetches you to sup within the restaurant proper at a corner table with a stunning view. It’s the early- supper special at HK$395 for three courses, two in each category from which to choose. Your wife begins with barbecued duck consommé and you with a sardine escabeche. Sardines are oily and assertive and always a split second from cat food. This one is pristine and deboned perfectly, the oil offset by the vinegary carrot and onion slices atop. It is a simple yet bold offering and you love it.
Duck is noble. Your wife’s consommé is ducky indeed, with a beguiling hint of star anise. Bobbing within is a perfect wonton filled by lovely duck forcemeat.
Both dishes show a refined intelligence that is light years from the puerile music saturating the interior like bargain-rack perfume. Who thought this music up? Was it the son of the owner? A grandson with a Star Wars obsession? It must have been. No one else could get away with such a choice.
As a main course, each of you has half a quail, deboned, lacquered perfectly, alongside a berry coulis and an intense jus poured at the last moment from a small carafe. A classy presentation. It’s as delicious as it looks.
For dessert, each of you has a perfect pavlova with a quenelle of sorbet (perhaps blackcurrant) and berries perched like gems, an exquisite rendition of a classic dessert.
You finish with fresh mint tea served in lovely glass teapots and enough chunks of good chocolate, both dark and milk, to seriously spike your blood sugar. Delicioso.
The meal is well paced. The service is mainly cordial and mainly attentive, if ever so slightly rushed. You particularly like the sommelier, who discourses thoughtfully on the Uruguayan wine you love.
Though the food is superior, you would never return owing to the aural onslaught. Your wife says she’d go back in a heartbeat. Okay, this means you would return. In good spirits with a smile on your face. And no ironic expressions, thank you.
Café Gray Deluxe, your music choice is stunningly poor. For God’s sake, don’t you know that you are a conservator of good taste? Turn it off or change it. Pretty please with Prozac on top.
If you can somehow put the music aside, Café Gray Deluxe is a distinguished restaurant of vibrant culinary intelligence that dishes out uncommonly pretty (and delicious) food based on strong French technique, with good service, a beautiful interior and stunning views. The early-supper special with two drinks at the bar, a bottle of red and a bottle of sparkling water came out at HK$1,639 for two including the service charge. That’s a good deal for Hong Kong, if the place doesn’t drive you barking mad.
Rating (on a scale of 0 to 5)
Ambience: 2 (were it not for the music, you’d give it a 5)
Overall value: with music – 2; without music – 4
49/F, The Upper House, Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Admiralty, 3968 1106, book online
In order to review objectively, David Greenberg does not solicit or accept comped meals and anonymously reviews restaurants.
Read more of David’s reviews for many Hong Kong restaurants on his website, www.ardentgourmet.com, and remember to like Foodie on Facebook