Living in a country without a Michelin Guide, the idea of dining at a 3-Michelin Starred restaurant can seem like an unattainable holy grail. Sure, we've got some truly exceptional restaurants in Australia but the allure of the prestigious Michelin Star remains. So when we realised that Hong Kong had a guide with a few Three Star restaurants, it was inevitable that we'd have to make a gastronomic pilgrimage to at least one of them. Almost immediately I was drawn to Caprice - the French restaurant headed up by chef Vincent Thierry (formerly of Le Cinq) and located in the luxurious Four Seasons Hotel. Listed as the No. 12 Restaurant in S. Pellegrino's Best Restaurants in Asia (and no. 73 in the world) and No. 20 in the world on the Elite Traveler list, the consensus seemed to support my immediate impression and I made reservations almost 6 months ahead.
Located adjacent and connected to Hong Kong's IFC Mall, the Four Seasons is very centrally located with easy access via the MTR and the Star Ferry. Given that this was a particularly special meal, Alissa and I decided on the more romantic option of taking the ferry from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island.
Or at least it might have been more romantic had we taken the lower deck. For a better view, we chose to travel via the upper deck – a huge mistake given every choppy wave churned our stomachs to a state of mild seasickness. The journey across the harbour is thankfully brief and we recovered as we made our way to the Four Seasons.
Located on the sixth floor, the large, black doors and moody lighting immediately drew us into the world of haute cuisine. We were greet warmly and then ushered to our table. The room was expansive and luxe; high ceilings, giant art nouveau paintings, crystal chandeliers, an amazingly orderly open kitchen (no place for chef tantrums here), wood and leather seats and gorgeous table settings.
As this was a special occasion I had requested a table with a nice view, and our table was located overlooking the Kowloon side of the harbour.
Before ordering, a waiter placed our amuse bouche on the table. With his French accent filled with delight and a sense of conspiratorial cheekiness he advised that; 'this looks like a profiterole, but actually it is savoury'. We took a bite and were immediately impressed with the strong but not overpowering cheesey parmesan flavour and delicate flakey texture, with just a hint of iberico ham giving it additional interest. This was an excellent introduction, and were already impressed with the quality of the food.
Though we did peruse the menu, we had already decided what we were going to order before we had even arrived in Hong Kong. Sure, we could have ordered the four course seasonal Menu du Chef, or we could have ordered a la carte. But for the full, opulent multi-course experience we just had to have the degustation – the Taste of Caprice, in addition to a special honeymoon cake the restaurant offered to make us when I made the booking in June.
As with Otto e Mezzo Bombana, the bread basket was brought around for us to select bread we would like to have with our meal. We tried 3 of the 4 options and all were awesome – amazingly melt-in-your-mouth soft on the inside and with a nice crust on the outside. My favourite of the lot was the sesame brioche. Imagine the best burger bun you've ever had, then imagine it even better. Now you're somewhere in the region of how good this bread was. To go with the bread was some premium hand-churned butter, available in salted and unsalted.
The first course of the Taste of Caprice was the Langoustine Céviché, Sologne Caviar, Cauliflower Cream and Lemon Sabayon. Neither Alissa or I have ever eaten langoustine before, so this was something I was very much looking forward to. Visually the plating was stunning, with the langoustine body butterflied, the Cauliflower cream seamlessly painted on the plate and the caviar piled very carefully on top of the langoustine. The texture of the langoustine was much like fine quality sashimi, and the creaminess of the caviar, cauliflower cream and lemon sabayon all combined in ways that complemented the langoustine instead of overpowering it. This remained for me one of the highlights of the meal – truly exemplary.
Next up was Petit Gris Snail Velouté, Chicken Liver Custard, Escargots and Aromatic Parsley Bruschetta. Soup courses are not usually amongst my favourites, but this was a very good soup. Parsley seems to me a herb that restaurants find difficult to balance – either its not enough and you barely notice its there, or its too much and the bitter aftertaste overtakes its more appealing primary flavour. This soup on the other hand had a wonderfully strong flavour and aroma of parsley which combined very nicely with what I'm guessing is stock made from snail, and the creamy richness of the chicken liver custard placed in the middle of the dish. The bruschetta on the side was a crispy reimagining of the flavours of the soup – snail and parsley 'two ways' if you will. This was a powerful, full-flavoured knock out of a dish.
Perhaps due to the strong flavours of the snail and parsley, the Suckling Pig’s Trotters, Sautéed Atlantic Scallops and Escabèche Vegetables in Warm Dressing was, in spite of being excellent, probably the least memorable dish of the evening. It was expertly prepared, with the scallops perfectly seasoned and cooked with a nice sear imparting it with the usual associated maillard flavours, and the bed of sucking pigs trotters was a classic example of how porky flavours complement the soft texture of scallop meat. It was very delicious, just simply not quite as memorable as some of the meal's highlights.
As someone who actually likes brussel sprouts, I was looking forward to the Line Caught Sea Bass, Brussels Sprouts and Carrot Panaché in Curry Infusion. The fish was perfectly cooked, with the crispy skin pushing it over the line for Alissa as better than the fish she'd had early in the day at Otto e Mezzo Bombana. The brussel sprouts were again perfectly cooked, combining nicely with the sweetness of the carrot and the subtle curry flavour of the sauce. This was not curry in the sense of what we'd be eating India of course – much milder and anglicized – but it helped frame and complete what was a most excellent course of the meal.
Our mains came next. We were given two choices for a main: Dombes Quail, Foie Gras and Autumn Vegetables in Natural Jus or Hare à la Royale, Taglierini Pasta and Crispy Pancetta. Alissa and I decided that we had to try both, so as a foie gras aficionado she went with the quail and foie gras while I ordered the hare. When I ordered the hare at the start of the meal the waiter warned that the dish was very strong in flavour and that it wasn't for everyone, but I assured him I liked strong flavours.
When the plates were placed on the table the waiter explained how the hare was cooked – firstly it was marinated for 24 hours in a combination of wine, cognac and other liquors then slow roasted and then broiled in its own liquids and marinade until the wine-cognac sauce had become thick and treacly, with a smaller plate of taglierini with pancetta and butter being served on the side.
We tried Alissa's main first. Ironically, for a dish containing foie gras, it was definitely the lighter of the two – the more 'safe' option in terms of flavours. As we'd come to expect with this meal, everything about the quail and foie gras was faultless. Tasting my main on the other hand, everything was extremely high octane and perhaps a bit over the top. Though delicious, the more restrained quail dish seemed like a better choice. That was until I combined it with the taglierini. Mixing the pasta with the treacly thick wine sauce and the meat, the dish was transformed into something like a hare ragu – absolutely fantastic. I gave Alissa a forkful of the hare with the pasta mixed in and she agreed mixing in the pasta elevated the dish to the next level.
By this stage we were getting rather full, and yet had 3 more courses of the Taste of Caprice to go! After giving us a little time to recover, Alissa and I were wowed as two waiters carried out the most gigantic, most impressive cheese board we'd ever seen. One waiter remained with us, and spoke passionately about some of the cheeses on display, including Caprice's signature 4 year aged Comte. He asked what kind of cheese we liked to eat, and I informed him that we liked those with strong, stinky flavours as well as rich, creamy bries.
He then expertly selected 8 cheeses for our platter, which was served with crackers and apricot bread. I can't recall the names of all the cheeses as some of these are varieties I've never heard of and are not available in Australia since you can't import unpasteurized cheese into the country, however Alissa and I agree that without qualification some of the cheese on the platter ranked as the best cheese we'd ever eat.. so rich, so creamy, so stinky.
But the show wasn't over yet – we still had desserts to come, even if we were loosening our belts and feeling like we'd already had too much to eat. Our first dessert course was my favourite as someone who prefers fruity desserts - Texture of Pear and Fennel Pollen. Plating was beautiful – not unlike what I've seen in photos of Eleven Madison Park's desserts. The elements combined beautifully – as someone who loves fennel I much appreciated the crispy, candied fennel bulb slices, and Alissa proclaimed; 'I'm sorry to say, but this pear sorbet is better than your sorbet'. I had to agree. Included as well were some spheres of what I assume was some kind of pear sauce that exploded as we placed them in our mouths – a nice example of molecular/modernist technique that didn't seemed out of place or forced.
We could easily have finished up here, and when they placed the petit fours on the table we thought this might be the end, but our waiter reminded us that one more dessert was to come. We immediately advised him that the cake we had ordered for our honeymoon would probably not be required tonight, and the waiter kindly offered to have it packed for takeaway. I can't recall all the petit fours, but Alissa and I agreed the chocolates were amazing – one was a hazelnut praline, and the other dark chocolate. The raspberry macaron was by far the best macaron Alissa and I had ever eaten and the one on the far right had another example of spherification that had Alissa and I audibly saying 'Mmmmmm!' as the sphere broke open in our mouths.
Just as we experienced the deliciousness of the exploding sphere, the waiters brought our our final course of the degustation - Kalingo Chocolate, Tonka Bean and Red Bananas. As with everything else, this was faultless as a dish but perhaps because it was so utterly rich and we were already so full, this is probably the least memorable dessert of the lot. As with other chocolate dishes, please keep in mind I'm not a chocoholic so this might be more your cup of tea than the fruity dessert.
Tea and coffee were offered, and we both decided a mint tea was needed to help wash down what was an extravagantly enormous meal. Alissa thought of Monty Python; 'but sir... it is only wafer thin!' - we were so full I don't think we could have possibly had a coffee after all that.
As we drank our tea they brought out our cake for us to see – a Raspberry and Popcorn Cream Millefeuille. They then packaged it up for us to take home and eat the next day.
Forget what you know about vanilla and custard slices – this was a seriously next level millefeuille, with a very generous amount of raspberries and the popcorn cream being utterly delicious. The pastry was so so good, and we enjoyed this so much that what was supposed to be a few small bites ended up being us eating the whole cake for lunch as we sat in bed in our hotel.
The Verdict: Ultimate
To say the least, Caprice met and exceeded our expectations. The service was warm, friendly, genuine and attentive yet unobtrusive, the dining room comfortable and elegant, and the food was definitely the best food Alissa and I have ever eaten. Coming in at about $670 AUD for the food (Taste of Caprice plus our honeymoon cake) and drink (sparkling water and a very hefty fee for corkage of a bottle of wine), this was by far the most expensive meal of our lives. All our other meals in Hong Kong probably don't even add up the price of this one meal, even with Otto e Mezzo Bombana included. So was it worth it? Absolutely. We'd definitely come back again. Of course, I wouldn't suggest eating like this everyday, for wallets and waistlines could not sustain it, but as the best meal of our lives, Caprice couldn't come more highly recommended.