Fine dining at Fanling Industrial Estate
Every plate has a surprise at this unlikely venue, where chefs serve as waiters and explain their creations
Fanling Industrial Estate isn't the most obvious location for a fine dining restaurant, especially one that not only wants to offer its customers a menu with the expected emphasis on presentation and flavour, but also claims to serve healthy food.
It is something of an understatement to say that at IPC Foodlab the restaurant-within-a-restaurant Chefs' Table is inspired by the popular concept of farm-to-table cuisine. The chefs pick their own ingredients from calamansi, lemons and herbs to edible flowers and cherry tomatoes on the roof of the seven-storey building that houses the restaurant. En route they may pause to forage for fresh, supposedly cancer-fighting ABM mushrooms from the indoor nursery on the sixth floor.
The concept is the brainchild of chef de cuisine Louis-Antoine Giroud, a Frenchman who wears multiple hats as IPC's chief executive, managing director and corporate executive head chef. Fortunately, he functions well on a minimum of four hours sleep per night.
The placing of the apostrophe in Chefs' Table is deliberate, emphasising that this is very much a team effort. Giroud is happy to share the limelight with his colleagues - Jimmy Poon, head chef; Bryan Ng, second chef; and F&B director, Francisco "Pancho" Barria from Argentina. "We four make a cultural melting pot and that is reflected in the cuisine," says Giroud. "Once the basic structure of the menu was decided, everyone made suggestions to help it evolve."
The team looks a little apprehensive at the start of the night I attend. "Of course they are nervous - this is fine dining," says Giroud.
"Everybody can cook, everybody can make simple food, following their mother's or grandmother's recipe. But only about 15 per cent of professional chefs can tackle fine dining successfully. It is a question of detail, the smallest change will make a difference. That's why restaurants with Michelin stars are special.
"It would be nice if we were awarded a Michelin star, but then you have to keep it and look for a second one. That's not my prime aim. And I don't really expect Michelin to redo their Hong Kong map to accommodate us. The most important thing here is my message about healthy eating. That is my focus. The best recognition we can have is from repeat customers who share this message with others."
Diners sit at a long slate counter, which provides ample opportunity for interaction with the chefs as they assemble each course. There are no waiters - the food and drink is served by the chefs. "You get the service but no service charge. Who better to introduce the food to you?" asks Giroud.
The resulting tight-knit teamwork creates its own special atmosphere in the small, sleek dining space that stands apart from the main restaurant.
More than a little fantasy and flair go into the food. Our evening begins with smoked salmon mousse and orange confit alongside strands of house-made pearl-pink kimchi (served on a white porcelain spoon). "You eat first with your eyes. Understand what you have on your plate, otherwise you don't know what to do," says Giroud.
Every course has its little surprise, such as the salad of young leaves and fragrant locally grown melon concealing a sprig of house-grown herbs pressed into the clay at the bottom of the platter prior to glazing.
A miniature vegetable garden is presented in a glass jar. It has to be viewed from the side to appreciate the various layers: onion and honey confit base, then creamy pumpkin mousse topped with mushroom crumbs that look like soil, supporting baby vegetables cut to look like living plants.
Giroud advises us to dig our spoon down through every layer so that the various flavours and textures merge into a delicious mouthful. This is one of the restaurant's signature dishes as it can be updated with the changing seasons without changing the basic concept.
Triple wild mushroom consommé and poached baby pear was Giroud's initial concept, and Poon and Ng added their own suggestions to create an East-meets-West triumph. The slight graininess of the poached pear works well with the richly flavoured consommé, which has simmered for 72 hours and is poured from a porcelain teapot into the bowl. Date and dried longan turn the dish into a typical winter medicine while enhancing the appearance. The final touch is a decorative dusting of powdered ABM mushroom and cherry tomato around the edge of the bowl.
Strands of saffron and a little carrot add interest to the dainty dish of crème brûlée topped with dried and fresh Petrossian beluga caviar. The dried caviar has a slightly crunchy texture, a superb contrast to the ultra-smooth, fresh pearls with their intense ocean flavour.
The Chinese version of le trou Normand (literally "the Norman hole") - a traditional palate-cleansing shot of calvados - is a refreshing lychee sorbet, a welcome prelude to the rich, slow-cooked blue lobster, served in a beautiful blue bowl. The shellfish is a perfect foil for the accompanying pumpkin and nutmeg purée, local savoy cabbage, cheddar cheese sauce and lobster bisque.
Slow-cooked quail breast is stuffed with baby spinach and smoked mozzarella and, accompanied by triple chicken jus.
Each chef adds something different to this dish - Poon's contribution was to suggest playing with shapes and flavours a little, sitting a richly flavoured reconstituted ABM mushroom cap atop a "stalk" of boiled potato with a basil pesto surprise at its centre.
The grand finale is described as blueberry pie revisited, and is surely one of the healthiest pies ever created. Juice from the South American stevia plant, often used as an alternative to sugar, is mixed with egg white to make a soft meringue topping for the fruit, which has been sweated with muscovado to make the most of the juice and complex flavour. The base is a crisp fluted shell made from egg, flour and muscovado. A touch of fresh passion fruit on the serving plate adds just the right note of palate-balancing acid.
At the moment Chefs' Table only serves dinner, at a fixed price of HK$888 per person. Advance reservations are essential as some dishes require three days of preparation.
Early in 2015, when an additional chef joins the team, there are plans to open for lunch on a first-come, first-served basis. The charge for the simple menu has yet to be confirmed, but will be less than HK$300. [email protected]
Chefs' Table, IPC Centre, 26 On Lok Mun St, Fanling, tel: 5423 9118, [email protected]