High Tea @ Le Salon De Thé de Joël Robuchon Hong Kong
Wondering down the streets of Central, Hong Kong after our morning walk in the Mid-levels/Soho area, we were feeling a little hungry and could sit down somewhere for a pitstop. In between meals, we didn’t want something too heavy so high tea seemed like the perfect choice. There are many 5-star hotels dotted along the coastal stretch overlooking Victoria Harbour from Sheung Wan all the way to Causeway Bay. Since we just came out of H&M along Queen’s Road Central, it seem to make sense to head in the direction of Pedder Street to a place which I have on my “to-eat/do” list. We didn’t make reservations as high tea here isn’t part of the travel itinerary but we are here nonetheless to try our luck. Thankfully, it was a lazy weekday afternoon and there were empty tables available, though not very many. High Tea @ Le Salon De Thé de Joël Robuchon it seems destined to be…
Located in the middle of the CBD area, Joel Robuchon Hong Kong (JR HK) seems to be strategically positioned be it for casual banter and gossips during tai tai afternoon tea sessions or business partner talks over a cuppa. His three establishments here, i.e. L’ Atelier, Le Salon de Thé and Le Jardin are all nested within the same building, connected to each other for an all JR experience. And exclusiveness is most certainly one of the elite qualities JR HK has in mind. So exclusive that JR HK even has their own private elevator that brings one right to the doorstep of L’Atelier from which one could access Le Salon de Thé through an escalator which is again made exclusive to JR HK diners.
There wasn’t much of a queue before us, just another distinguished looking lady who was waiting to be seated. So it didn’t take long for us to be shown to our table and presented with the menu. But I already had what I wanted in mind of course! The high tea set for 2 comes with 2 pots of tea served in Staub ware. The teapots which are made of cast iron, probably weighs many times more than the tea they contain!
The view from our table on the 3rd floor, overlooking the concourse of the Landmark, a chic and classy shopping gallery lined with numerous boutiques and shops for fashion, luxury goods as well as restaurants serving haute cuisine. For a place like Hong Kong where retail and office real estate is worth every inch in gold, such extravagant openness and lavish use of space is quite extraordinary. But all this adds up to an excellent dining experience of course… and with that the price we had to pay for it!
And it didn’t take long before the food were presented to us. Unlike the customarily multi-tiered sandwich trays which many hotel chains serve their high teas in, JR HK deviates from the norm and serves theirs on stilted wooden sushi boards. With the deconstruction of form, the traditional high tea practices and etiquette of the “sampling order” are probably removed as well. While one traditionally starts with the savories, i.e. sandwiches, we opt to begin with the scones and mini croissant before moving back to the sandwiches on the same board, finishing off with the sweet pastry pieces on the other.
Why start with the scones and croissant? Well the logic is simple! These pieces are served warm and best eaten when they are still so! The butter scones despite being really petite like all the rest of the pieces on the plate was in short, heavenly! The structure of the interior remained really soft and fluffy when the outside was somewhat crusty. Really rich and buttery but not in a cloying manner.
Then there were two oblongish pieces of Earl Grey and Orange Scones. I was initially skeptical to whether the flavour combination would actually work as citrus fruits like oranges and lemons are typically paired with a tea that is more neutral-flavoured like Darjeeling or English Breakfast and not something as full of character and robust as Earl Grey. But it worked really well! Milk was first steeped in Earl Grey before being used to make the scone dough and orange presents itself only in the form of its rind for that zesty, citrusy aroma without the acridity and zing from the juice. Texture-wise, really impeccable with everything so well balanced. One can’t help but wonder how much thought has been put into making these small delectable pieces.
The scones were accompanied with Devonshire clotted cream and a strawberry and rhubarb confiture, the default combination of condiments to go with English scones and of course they were equally wonderful as well.
Cut through the interior revealing the bits of tea leaves and orange rind confit within.
Then there was that one single petite butter croissant. It’s more of a “croissantlet” given how teeny weeny it actually is. But don’t be fooled by its size, as it is equally packed with buttery goodness. One bite into it and one immediately understands why more was not provided. Its aim was to entice and not to overwhelm. The use of salt in the pastry provides a bridge between the scones to what we were going to sample next, i.e. the savories. So at least we knew we are on the right track…
Despite its size, the “croissantlet” was very good. The complex network of air pockets formed symbolises the piece being really well made and baked. One pop into the mouth and it is all gone, leaving behind a deep and intense butter aroma which lingers on. In retrospect, one pop is probably enough and 2 would probably be overdoing it a little.
Then we worked on the savory of 5 mini finger sandwiches which were really quite small and has to be carefully rationed… but they look almost too pretty to be eaten! Top down, there was a black truffle pate sandwich, chèvre and salmon served in a mini hotdog bun, sandwich with eggplant filling, a Maine lobster and mango sandwich and finally smoked salmon and salmon roe sandwich.
A good selection of flavours and very diverse in presentation, especially in the use of “floor space” above the top sandwich layer. In fact almost all of them are somewhat embellished on top, each looking individually unique and thus visually quite astounding to start with.
The Maine lobster and mango sandwich was interesting because of the thin layer of mango gelée added on top together with bits of dill (it seems) arranged in a geometric fashion. Flavours wise, very light and refreshing on the palate owing much to the mango.
The middle salmon sandwich was entirely covered with chopped chives making us wonder if it would be too jarring. Thankfully, it wasn’t! Smoked salmon as a filling with ikura on top really provided a strong sense of umami on the whole, apt but not too overpowering.
The eggplant sandwich was the weakest link of the five in the selection for me. Despite the leaftlets of mint on top, the filling wasn’t actually quite impressionable.
The black truffle sandwich though looking most drab but it was really quite the star of the five, Prima facie, we had initially thought it to be some kind of black sesame paste like tahini or something. But the first bite and KAPOW, the unmistakable flavours and aroma of black truffle land upon us heartily. Simply astounding! In fact the black truffle pate is so good on its own anything else on it would be utterly redundant.
We saved the goat’s cheese and salmon sandwich for the last because it looks distinctively different from the rest in the choice of breads. Well, the use of chèvre was interesting as well but there was probably too much salmon on the menu given the smoked salmon and roe piece earlier. I think it would probably be better if it had been something else, A red meat sandwich perhaps, like the one with roast beef filling that is paired with infamous cucumber sandwish from the Peninsula. Not meaning to be plagiaristic but simply suggesting somewhere along those lines for better contrast. That would have certainly made me happier.
And finally we moved on to the sweet and pastry pieces. First with a Paris Brest made into an eclair. Well, both uses choux pastry as a base so nothing wrong with that at all really. The praline paste filling was lovely. Sweet but not too overwhelming and the bits of nutty morsels on top lends a wonderful touch of crunch and all that toasted nutty aroma.
Then there was a selection of 3 macarons sitting on a piped chocolat au lait ganache and a layer of sable. The macarons looked a little domed and weren’t filled as much as we’d hoped they would be. Think Pierre Herme macarons and you’d immediately know what I mean. Perhaps deconstructed with part of the ganache being expended as the base? Well… this piece was quite puzzling really.
And then there is a Tarte au Citron… well not a full blown one but rather one which is simply constructed out of a pate sucree disc as a base topped with a dollop of lemon-flavoured cream and a little wedge of citron confit. Perpetuating the theme the whole high tea set, the flavours were on the light and airy side. Pate sucree was delightfully crisp and buttery. And the lemon cream was light and delicate, with a slight hint of sourish hues from the lemon component. But I actually prefer the Tarte au Citron on the petite gateau selection available at the patisserie section of Le Salon. In comparison, the full scale version was tart to the core, reaching a level of astringency that would make one cringe and squirm slightly, One can literally feel the impulses soaring through your nerous system with that kind of sourness that would make your nerves work very hard against hyperstimulating your system. In comparison, this mini version can be described as being docile, at best. Pleasant, but not impressionable in plenitude.
A Mont Blanc, or at least that is what the menu says. Individually, the components taste very good on their own, the sable was buttery and crisp, the vanilla creme chantilly was really luscious and the creme au marron was also rich and flavours hitting the right spots, without being too much and heavy. But when put together, the piece seemed like something was lacking. Is it the full-bodied flavours I was expecting in a more traditional Mont Blanc in place of something so much lighter on the palate? I am not entirely sure. But I do know that that slice of chocolate decor is the misnomer on the piece. It shouldn’t have been there to start with and probably doesn’t do much apart from aesthetics.
And there was a deconstructed raspberry white chocolate cake. It was literally turned over with the base now a crumble on the surface. The tart flavour from the fresh raspberries very delicately balances the sweetness from the white chocolate body making it a lot more pleasurable than when the cake is eaten alone, probably.
The mango cheesecake in the background was also deconstructed with the mango and cheesecake appearing as two separate components. While the cheesecake was quite light and smooth and the gelee layer on top packed with the flavours and aroma of Alphonso mangoes, this piece didn’t occur to me as being stunning. This would probably be something I’d expect from a local cafe or a patisserie that is just starting out. Not quite what I had in mind as being JR calibre.
For petits fours, there was Gâteau de Voyage Citron. Was kinda disappointed to see segments of what looked like half-eaten cake actually. Was expecting something more “proper” like financiers, madeleines or caneles perhaps. But my oh my, the lemon cake tasted very very good! It was wholesome but without the heft. Reasonably moist and fragrant. Very simple but yet very well-made. A turn in the end on the happier side for me after somewhat disappoinment with some of the other pastry pieces.
So on the whole, a melange of hits and misses, for me at least. Well, when one dines at such an establishment where its reputation preceeding its name, one cannot help but have expectations. So to visit à la tabula rasa, like a piece of blank paper to be doodled and drawn on,,, very difficult. Not for Joel Robuchon at least. It is quite good really. Just not stellar in every aspect as I had well…expected. With a price tag of HKD 345 and on top of that a 10% service charge making it to a grand total of HKD 380, once is really quite enough for the experience. I would probably save my stomach… and my wallet for other pastry pieces from their patisserie section. Those who were curious like me though, yes I would strongly encourage you to try it. Just to satisfy your curiosity…
Joël Robuchon Hong Kong
Shop 315 & 401, The Landmark, Central, Hong Kong
For Reservations : (852) 2166 9000
High tea is available from 3 pm to 6 pm everyday. The Le Salon De Thé opens daily from 8am to 8pm (last order)
It is also available at the recently opened Le Salon De Thé de Joël Robuchon located at Shop 2045A, Podium Level 2, IFC Mall, Central, Hong Kong. Opening hours 8 am to 10 pm.
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