The holy grail for planetary scientists is so-called Goldilocks planets. These are planets not too hot, not too cold, about Earth size, with plenty of water and oxygen. In other words, like Goldilocks’ porridge, they are just right… for supporting life. You are on a similar quest for Goldilocks restaurants: not too noisy, not too expensive, not too formal, not too informal, with superb food and, ideally, romantic. Just right. Restaurants worth many visits.
For all the gushing reviews dispensed liberally by local reviewers (who are usually comped to write them), there aren’t many such restaurants in Hong Kong. Recently, you’ve been to SOMM and Neighborhood and Pondi and had afternoon tea at The Peninsula, which are all highly touted, and left unimpressed.
New Punjab Club warms your heart. Little Kitchen, felled by a rapacious landlord, did as well (Godspeed to its unsung, genius founder-owner-chef, David Forestell). A number of terrific Chinese restaurants, though short on romance, do too. Your quest continues.
They’re drinking wine, smoking and speaking French on the patio. Très Français. You step within LPM Restaurant & Bar (La Petite Maison). The ceiling is high. The interior eggshell. The room is feminine, calm, cheerful, pretty. There are tablecloths on the well-spaced tables, which you notice because, given the expense, this is rare. It comforts you because this is how things used to be before restaurants started economising on every photon.
You’re early and sit at the bar. The spirits include Punt e Mes and Lillet, two of your favourites. There are many beaded wine buckets – the one item, more so than any other, vital to a civilised life – plump with bottles. It’s comforting to know that if you mortgage your house, you can afford a glass of Bataille Montrachet for HK$1,048. By your calculations, about 245 glasses of this wine – 9.5 gallons, the size of a guppy tank – would equal the cost of a brand-new Subaru Outback. Apparently, they sell a number of these per month.
Unconvinced this is a good deal, your wife orders a Lutetian Spritz for HK$120, based on soda water, sakura vermouth (flavoured with cherry and violet blossoms), lemon juice, rosé sparkling wine and oleo-saccharum citrus (which are the oils that puddle after muddling citrus peels with sugar). It is garnished with a perfect mini sprig of estina cress that has a wonderful liquorice flavor. You’re generally dubious of cocktails with this many ingredients, but it is so delicious with its keel of vermouth that you order one for yourself, a perfect summer drink. You couldn’t defend it in court, but its transparent ice cubes are simply better than opaque.
You also order a serving of calamari fritti decked by a few wisps of jalapeño and lime to squeeze over. It too is delicious. You particularly like the crust on the calamari. So many restaurants resort to panko for this and all other deep-fried coatings. And just as your son got tired of visiting churches in Europe (“I’m all churched out”), you’re all pankoed out. LPM uses potato starch and paprika, coating the calamari like a crispy BBQ potato chip.
Upon your table sit two tomatoes (still attached to the vine), a lemon and a bottle of olive oil with a pour spout. There is a serrated knife alongside. It’s a pre-appetiser. You slice the tomatoes, cut and squeeze a wedge of lemon, add olive oil. Charming!
Longingly, you look at the à-la-carte section of the menu filled with luscious items, including deep-fried, stuffed squash blossoms, one of your favourite treats, and then refocus on the lunch sets, two starters and a main for HK$448. Their food comes on small plates meant to be shared.
You order Chilean sea bass (admittedly controversial since much is endangered, and you hope they are pulling from a licenced source), Sagabuta pork (a particularly luscious, organic pork from Japan), another portion of the calamari fritti, pickled beet and onion, veal-stuffed vegetables and burrata with tomato and basil in a vinaigrette.
Your second portion of calamari is as good as the first. It’s hard to get burrata wrong, but this one is as right as it ever can be. Like an actual cherry bomb, each cherry tomato explodes with flavour. Bang. Bang. Bang.
The beet might be a smidgen oversweet, needing a little more vinegar tang.
The veal-stuffed vegetables are two delicious, crisped veal meatballs, one topping roasted tomato, the other roasted courgette.
The Chilean sea bass is extraordinarily good, exciting actually, cooked à point with a sauce of confit lemon skin, green chilli, black olives, capers, dry cherry tomatoes, garlic and olive oil, finished with fresh black pepper and chives. The complicated sauce doesn’t taste complicated. It’s among the best pieces of fish you’ve ever had. You particularly like the garnish of micro-diced chives atop. You savour every bite.
The pork is cooked medium, which you commend. Pork has traditionally been cooked well done – drying it out, diminishing its flavour – out of a fear of transmitting trichinosis. In fact, with modern sanitation protocols, most pork can now be served medium. And so this is how it’s served at LPM (though they do ask if you’d like it well done). It is succulent beyond belief, with bits of charred fat that are flavour-crazy. There is what they refer to as a chimichurri sauce on top (bearing no relation to any chimichurri you know) made with confit onion and more of the chive garnish. It’s delicious. Exceptional.
The only item that is merely average is the extra pommes frites you order. McDonald’s are better.
The staff are well dressed, professional, warm, informative, attentive, without presuming to be your best friend. They circulate with excellent, warm bread. It’s not as good as Amber’s, but, then again, Amber’s bread is the bread made by Demeter herself, Goddess of Grains, nurturer of children, source of happiness, giver of all, mistress of the threshing floor. You’re a bit of a crumb disaster, and your server patiently scrapes the tablecloth in front of you several times like a Zamboni at an ice rink.
You pay an extra HK$60 each for two desserts. One is a classic apple tart with apples imbricated upon a pastry crust. There is a quenelle of delicious vanilla ice cream as well as a squiggle of what is probably butterscotch sauce. The presentation is elegant.
The other dessert is a cassata, which typically comes as a cake layered with sweetened ricotta and chocolate chips, perhaps some candied fruit. In this case, the sweetened ricotta is mixed with chunks of chocolate and frozen like a semifreddo. It is then cut into small cubes and served with a raspberry sauce and fresh raspberries. It dazzles, the raspberry perfectly counterbalancing the ricotta and chocolate.
You finish with coffee and chocolates. You like it that the accompanying milk is heated.
With a bottle of white wine (at a bit over HK$400 – great deal), a bottle of sparkling water, two drinks and calamari at the bar, pommes frites, four appetisers and two main courses, two coffees and two desserts, plus service charge, the total price is HK$2,225 – great value for dollar.
The restaurant exudes confidence. There is no feel of a chef frenetically slinging trophy ingredients like Wagyu beef with caviar, foie gras, uni and gold leaf to knock you silly. The excellence is intrinsic, not extrinsic. It is simply superb technique wedded consistently to superb artistry, yielding vivid flavours as though lit by the Mediterranean sun. Ingredients are curated with particular discernment. The tomatoes served with the burrata are one example of this. The à-la-carte menu is extensive, with great depth. You are eager to return to explore it more.
The food is excellent or better. The service is great (although there are so many servers nearby, you have a hard time figuring out who is yours). The ambience is lovely. It’s unquestionably romantic. The price is high but fair. LPM is a Goldilocks restaurant. Its porridge is just right.
For all its remarkable chops, LPM is not the quite the equal of Amber or Restaurant Floreyn or erstwhile Little Kitchen, which have taken you to slightly greater heights. Don’t misunderstand though. This is a superb, exciting restaurant and you almost never dispense such high ratings. You love this place!
Rating (on a scale of 0 to 5)
Overall value: 4.5
Shop 1, 1/F, H Queen’s 23–29 Stanley Street, Central, 2887 1113, 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