Sunday, July 26, 2009

Caprice in Hong Kong

Wonderful French fine dining in Hong Kong.

With so many great restaurants (and so much wealth to support the industry!) concentrated in such a small land area, Hong Kong has always been a major dining destination. And these days the hottest table in this exciting, cosmopolitan town is at Caprice, the fancy French restaurant of the Four Seasons Hotel adjacent to the IFC Mall in Central. In fact, a reservation here is so in demand that the city’s power brokers and bejeweled taitai (which means wife in Cantonese, but is also often used to describe wealthy wives who lunch) have been competing frantically for confirmations.

I usually have a mild aversion to very hot new restaurants, so I intentionally gave Caprice a miss during a week-long stay at the Four Seasons earlier this year. On my second stay not too long ago, however, I phoned up at the spur-of-the-moment and luckily got someone’s cancelled lunch table on my last day in Hong Kong.

Well, as a self-confessed foodie, there are few things in life I regret, and one of them is not having made it to Caprice sooner. I walked in at a quarter to twelve, bags packed and waiting in the lobby, expecting to sit down to a fairly satisfactory meal before a flight back to Tokyo at 3 pm. I enjoyed the food so much (a sautéed foie gras to start and then an excellent rack of lamb for the main course) that I would have happily missed my plane to finish dessert (a dreamy dark chocolate tart with pecan nuts, accompanied by a cocoa sorbet) if not for the urgings of my nervous husband who had to be back in Japan that evening.

Caprice’s kitchens are run by Chef Vincent Thierry who moved to Hong Kong from Le Cinq, the Michelin three-star restaurant of the Four Seasons Hotel George V in Paris, together with restaurant manager Jeremy Evrard and sommelier Cedric Bilien. Consequently, both the food and restaurant have an unmistakably classic Parisian feel -- which is quite rare in Asia, where many good French places either go rustic, fusion, modern, or local French.

Caprice is a beautifully-designed formal restaurant with flawless service intended to make you feel relaxed. However, instead there is a contagious buzz here that gets you excited – it makes you feel alive! I’ve only felt this same delicious energy in a few places in the world (the New York Grill of the Park Hyatt Tokyo is another).

What exactly is this buzz? It’s a combination of many factors, with good food the first prerequisite. Then it’s ten million other things including the impact of the design, the upbeat mood and laughter of the guests seated next to you (on that day, an immaculately-dressed French lady with three equally formidable-looking male companions), the confident dance of the chefs in the kitchen, the sparkle of the chandeliers and wine glasses, and the smart steps of the waiters as they bring you food they’re sure you will rave about.

Of course, it helps that most of the staff – save for the rather brusque lady who took my phone reservation -- are highly experienced at friendly and attentive, but reserved and unobtrusive service (which is actually a hard combination to get right).

As you might imagine, Caprice is not cheap; but it’s the kind of expense that will keep you smiling all the way back to your hotel room. Highly recommended on the a la carte menu are the avocado chiboust (a type of custard) with Alaskan crab (HK$280) for starters, the pan-sautéed veal chops with chanterelle mushrooms (HK$380) as a main course, and the chocolate macaroon with a Tonka mousse (HK$130) for dessert. There is also a nine-course tasting dinner menu called “A Taste of Caprice” for HK$1,080.

The best deal here is the set lunch, which is amply portioned and reasonably priced at HK$380 for two courses and HK$450 for three courses. As it is, the choices on offer daily – I counted four first courses, five main courses and five desserts! -- are some restaurants’ entire a la carte menu. Another treat to doing lunch instead of dinner is the wonderful view of Victoria harbor in broad daylight. That alone, is already a spectacular offering in itself.

Four Seasons Hong Kong
Tel. (852) 3196-8888

Note: This was written in 2006, but much of it still holds true today.


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