French polish

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 June, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 June, 2004, 12:00am

In a city where residents dine out more than in and are keen to tick off a new restaurant the minute it opens, it is well nigh impossible to discover an eatery few people have heard of - a little gem you can whisper about in conspiratorial tones.

Tucked away on the ninth floor of a commercial block in a Wan Chai backstreet, Le Blanc has somehow escaped the 'fooderati' and features in none of the usual restaurant guides. One enters to discover a cross between Aladdin's cave and ye olde antiques shop. Under a low ceiling draped with fairy lights, dried flowers and chandeliers, a warren of private dining spaces separated by swathes of muslin is furnished with mismatched tables and chairs. It is surrounded by an array of knick-knacks, gilt-framed oil paintings, fringed lamps and the odd piano.

Quaint though it may be it is the food that keeps it fully booked at weekends, with a clientele developed solely by word of mouth (the owner doesn't advertise and discourages newspaper coverage). For a set price of $280 you can choose from eight courses of thoughtfully prepared home-style Gallic fare, including escargot de Bourgogne (snails in garlic butter); asparagus in vinaigrette; magret de canard (duck breasts in raspberry and orange sauce); spinach souffle; and cherry clafoutis.

So authentic is the cuisine that many of Le Blanc's customers are homesick French expatriates. But amazingly, the chef wasn't plucked from some renowned bistro in the south of France. Gloria, self-taught, is also the wife of owner Yves Chan, who originally ran a kitchen company on the premises (the cooking is done in the former show kitchen). Chan lived in Paris for a decade, which helps explain the food.

Despite their lack of catering experience they have stumbled onto a formula that works. Le Blanc is perfect for a romantic soiree or cosy celebration, and being a BYOB establishment with no corkage, you can have a rare night out in a top-class restaurant without breaking the bank. For dinner reservations and much-needed directions, call 3428 5824.