Thursday, July 10, 2014

Upper Modern Bistro - Almost There

Upper Modern Bistro - beauty without the pretence
Let's start with the obvious: the pedigree of the restaurant. The chef is Philippe Orrico, most recently of St George at Hullet House, but his CV notably includes a big chunk working for Pierre Gagnaire. He was initially brought to Hong Kong to open Pierre at the Mandarin Oriental. Another notable addition to the team is Jeremy Evrard, formerly manager of then-three-Michelin-starred Caprice at Four Seasons Hong Kong, and known particularly for his expertise in cheese.

The restaurant world (well in fact, the world itself) seems much more predictable when you see it in terms of evolution à la Darwin. El Bulli spawned a bunch of modernist, Spanish-inflected avant-garde-ists, Noma has led to a clutch of clean-lined, new Nordic, locavore philosophers in kitchens around the world.

Looking at Hong Kong - in the 1990s and early 2000s, we had hotels and groups importing good chefs from around the world - Bombana at the old Ritz, L'Atelier de JR (owned by Lisboa), and the various chefs coming through Gaddi's and Petrus, and to this day, I'd say hotels are still the ones with enough muscle and hiring expertise to bring the right people into Hong Kong.

For a long time, Hong Kong was just a point of transit - come for two, three, five years, get your "Asian" experience, and move on, but recently, there have been people who have decided to stay after their contract with their corporate sponsors had ended (or left the role on their own accord). The reasons for this are beyond the scope of this blog and I've waffled on long enough, but suffice to say that because of this "trend", Hong Kong is getting quite a few new independent restaurants helmed by foreign chefs, usually of hotel or similar pedigree, which means dining is becoming more diverse and hopefully/eventually we're going to get higher quality outside the hotel bubble (not that I don't love hotels - I do).

I still hedge with silly words like "hopefully" and "eventually" because I've recently been to a number of modern French restaurants with ex-hotel chefs and none of them have been truly, consistently enjoyable. I'm not asking for perfection (here's a tangent to go off on later - do customers demand perfection in food?), but throughout the meal, I couldn't help but think it wasn't quite there yet.

Marinated Japanese saba, crab, zucchini rolls
A beautiful plate - if anything, you can't fault them for plating here - but there was so much soy that it drowned out the flavour of the fish. To be honest, I could't even be sure that it was saba (mackerel) - it was very soft and the colour a bot too consistently pink, but then again, I'll be the first to admit that I don't know my fish that well.

Pork terrine "a l'ancienne", pickles, brioche toast
Good ol' bistro food, done right. Classics like this terrine and the mushroom and egg tagliatelle (next pic) are definitely on point here. The toast was perfect - the colour was divine. (Speaking of toast, here's one for weird food trends - artisanal toast. Apparently a big thing in Portland, Oregon at the moment - mais bien sûr.)

Mushroom tagliatelle, 63 degree egg, cheese sauce and Parma ham
This, down to the bowl, is almost exactly what I have for TV dinners when I'm home alone, so I'm not sure whether it's worth writing about, but anyway, here you go, and yes, it was spot-on. I'm a little disappointed it wasn't more "elevated" and cheffy, but hey, I would have gone crazy if they gave me jellied cheese sauce or a ham foam instead of real ham, or something.

Broccoli soup, hazelnut emulsion, smoked salmon toast
For instance, our broccoli soup. Close your eyes and you would have tasted warm, savoury cream. Sure, maybe hazelnut cream, which is nice, but it's not broccoli soup.

Quail and foie gras pie
The foie and quail pie is pretty (neat dome) and tasted fine. The overall mouthful is just too dry though, as the quail didn't have enough juice, and the foie - well foie is paste-like by definition. The sauce underneath wasn't enough to bind everything together (there needs to be some inside too, I think).

Chargrilled 40-day aged, US grass fed sirlion
The mains were fine. Again, easy bistro food - I guess the place is called a "bistro" after all. The beef was less tasty than I would have thought - for grass-fed and aged - but it was nice nonetheless.

Wild seabass, green asparagus, scallops, octopus
Again, well cooked. The scallops were, for me, the stars of this dish. Slippery and tender, but cooked through, well seasoned, and a joy to eat.

A note about the service. Once you've sat down, it's fine, but they've got to get the bookings situation sorted. I've been there twice now - once for dinner and once for brunch, and both times, I wasn't able to get my table (which were booked, by the way) when I arrived. At dinner, I waited probably 20 mins, at brunch, half an hour. Sure, they gave us a free drink each at the bar, apologised, looked really stressed, but hey, if it's not ok for me to be late for my restaurant booking, then I can only say that it's not ok the other way round either. Tell your guests when they book how long they have the table for. Kick them off when their time is up. It doesn't have to be rude - it's a pre-arranged act of mutual consent, just execute it nicely.

Ok, breathe...

Old fashioned
They offered to comp us drinks while we waited, so as usual I got an OF. It was much too sweet (in fact, the other cocktails also had this problem too. I'm asking for 小甜 (siu tim = less sweet, the way we order milk tea at cha chaan teng :P ) next time). And I won't ask for OF again - they use Canadian Club, hmm, and didn't seem to have many other bourbon choices on the shelf (nb. these are cocktails over HK$100. Call me a snob all you want, but I have reasons).

By the end of the main courses at the pictured dinner (didn't take any pics at brunch), we were a little exhausted, so we didn't give their dessert or even the famous cheeses any thought. Plus, a busy Friday night meant we were seated on the low coffee tables (of which they informed me when I booked, so not their fault at all, we just underestimated the effort it would take to crouch over food and squeeze into little chairs). Anyway, I'll definitely be back for some cheese and a light dinner, with good friends who won't chastise me under their breath for having to wait - for me it seems to work best as that kind of place.

I hear they're opening in Central soon, so I hope they're not stretching themselves too thin, too fast, because this could be the beginning of something great.

Upper Modern Bistro [map]
6-14 Upper Station Street
Sheung Wan
Hong Kong
+852 2517 0977
Lunch & dinner daily, closed Sunday

1 comment:

  1. You're not the first to comment on their service to be honest but I thought I'll still give it a shot. We made a reservation two weeks in advance (what can I say, I'm a planner) and they happily accepted our reservation only to call back three days later to say oh they received a private event booking and so will cancel our reservations. No apologies, no offering of reschedule, nothing. =/