10 March 2010

Restaurant Review: The French Window 食評:「法國窗」

One moment I was window-shopping outside Prada and Burberry, the next I found myself being ushered down a never-ending tunnel lined with giant louvered shutters painted in a rustic fern green. At times it felt like the fictional land of Brobdingnag in Gulliver's Travels, or was it the curious hallway after Alice tumbled down the rabbit hole? The otherworldly entrance to The French Window, the latest addition to Hong Kong’s upscale restaurant scene, is as much a bold design statement as it is a harbinger of the gastronomical journey to come. I could almost see the Cheshire Cat grinning in the tree.

The new kid on the block hides inconspicuously between a health club and a Chinese restaurant on the third floor of IFC Mall, just about the last place in the city I would expect to find haute cuisine. That perhaps explains why AB Concept, the award-winning interior designer for the restaurant, spared no expense (or space) to create an entrance that bridges reality to fantasy. The dining room itself is at once industrial and warm, working off a muted olive-metallic palette and featuring heavily textured wall treatments with no shortage of art deco motifs. By the time I trod down the bouncy carpeting and arrived at my table overlooking the sweeping Kowloon skyline, the visual feast was complete and the culinary one about to begin.

At the helm in the kitchen is head chef Mickael Le Calvez, a 24-year-old wunderkind who graduated the top of his class from the prestigious Hotelier La Closerie culinary school in Côtes-d'Armor. In his solo debut outside France, young Mickey was guided by celebrity chef Justin Quek, one of Asia’s few true masters of French cuisine. Following his successes with Les Amis in Singapore and a half dozen restaurants in Taipei and Shanghai, the Singapore-native sure knows a thing or two about the Asian palate. As I studied the carefully designed menu, I could almost picture the energetic Le Calvez, with well-honed techniques and halting English, cooking up a storm in the kitchen only to be reined in by an old hand twice his age who suggested using milk instead of cream, more olive oil and less butter to suit Asia’s preference for lighter fare.

The degustation menu opened with a silky-smooth pumpkin cappuccino to be slurped with a straw. The amuse bouche set the tone for the rest of the meal: simple, pleasing and positively playful. The teaser was followed by a trio of tiny green apples, which turned out to be a daring reinterpretation of the classic French dish of avocado shrimp. As the mélange of flavors worked its way through my palate, I was momentarily transported to a sylvan grove in the South of France. The only pity was that my favorite dish of the evening had come so soon.

The arrival of the eye-popping beef carpaccio Rossigny, the restaurant’s signature dish, put an immediate stop to my suddenly unimportant dinner conversation. Whatever topic my guest and I were discussing could most certainly wait. Alternating strips of foie gras and lightly salted raw beef lay unsuspectingly on a simple rectangular plate, pretending that it didn’t already know it was the most sought-after dish on the entire menu. The creation packed a powerful and complex punch, with every bite releasing a different, nuanced flavor and leaving us bewildered as to how such rich ingredients managed not to overpower one another.

A few hearty quaffs of Muscat d’Alsace later, the meal shifted to a heavier gear, as the young waiter of impeccable manners replaced my silverware with exquisite Laguiole cutlery. The grilled lamb with potato fondant, housed within an architecturally inventive potato tube, was a welcome change of pace as I finished my luscious white and moved on to a full-bodied Bordeaux. But if French cuisine is all about the sauce, then those looking for a sumptuous jus to go with the tender meat were bound to be disappointed. The scant amount of pesto sauce, however well-prepared, was used to glaze the serving plate for visual effect, leaving very little for actual tasting.

Dessert was a modest helping of diced fruits draped under a translucent pastry sheet made from agar-agar. Kiwi, pineapple and sundry other tropical fruits were somewhat odd candidates for a French dessert, but both the taste and the presentation held up well. The meal was rounded up nicely with a sampling from the plateau des fromages that featured a generous selection of classic and exotic cheeses sourced from all over France.

I took the same winding tunnel that led me back to the shopping mall, not realizing that I had just spent three hours in on a culinary tour de France that fed both the eye and the mouth with equal bounty. Dorothy finally woke up in Kansas, only this time she found herself surrounded by night cleaning staff working their waxing machines on the marble floor. In many ways the French Window reflects the ethos of its head chef: young, creative and daring with a sense of adventure. Together they breathe a breath of fresh air to the oftentimes complacent restaurant scene in Hong Kong and are on their way to becoming a force to reckon with.
The French Windows
Podium level 3, IFC Mall
Central, Hong Kong
+852 2393 3812

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A shorter version of this article appeared in the March/April 2010 issue of Mens Folio.


  1. i think i can skip this french window! french cuisine for chinese palates without butter and cream. give me a break. thats like sichuan kitchen w.o chillis. oh my dear.


  2. Maybe TASTE isn't the only or most concern for some ppl to enjoy the french fusion, unless the taste is really bad, or otherwise still appreciate the way they enjoy the fd, the table setting, the atmosphere~


  3. rita veronica leungMarch 11, 2010 at 1:44 AM

    i agreed with TMN, milk & olive oil??? forget it!!!!! Y not they made all the ingredients organically grown??? ;D I lov the beginning of the essay as u put it an alliance of the two fairy tales but the picture of the entrance is not very comprehensive of wat u wan to describe, theres an entrance u will find more impressive if u go to the swimming pool of the HK hyatt hotel which is exactly wat u r mentioning.

    The food r not tempting visually i dont know the taste but the environment is great except it looks a little like the chloe boutique in pacific place or the lane crawford in IFC.

    wat is desirable it seems is the cheese platter at the end, the dessert was somehow funny & where were the hors D'oeuvres which had been so good in the previous Hugo restaurant ??

    u hav been so kind jason that u were so generous with such fair food ; Is high tea being served there though its not selling english food? i will go if its cheaper than the peninsula....for the atmosphere.

    In chinese, i wan to say u dont need to use a good knife to butcher a cow, is it??? Ur writing is too good to write as a food critic for a restaurant like this! i mean u should use a zebra ball pen instead of using a montblanc.

    Im sorry if i make an offense im only joking ;)

  4. rita veronica leungMarch 11, 2010 at 3:21 AM

    the chinese saying should be its not necessary to use a knife 4 butchering a cow to butcher a chicken, right?

  5. Thanks, Rita, for your thoughtful comment.

    The restaurant makes a genuine effort to break away from the usual stuffy hotel restaurant scene in Hong Kong. So I applaud their effort. You should try having dinner there some day. You just might change your mind -- and experience the "rabbit hole" for yourself!


  6. Your article makes me want to have a sweet macaron and a cup of hot chocolate in Angelina this weekend (reader from paris)!


  7. Just read your review and as usual, your prose is as spendid as the cuisine and the decor as you portray them to be. Remember my asking you before whether you were reviewing the French Window?

    Actually will be trying that out this weekend for my friend's birthday. Hope it'll be good.

    Still waiting for your Haiti piece or whatever other goodies to come (something just clicked - obviously I am trying to avoid getting down to proper work) - suddenly associate your articles to the candies/lollies in a Quality Street chocolate tin. No offence, those were my childhood fancies, remember?


  8. Thanks for posting, it is so inspiring and once again I have learned something from you.. 好感激你呀!:)


  9. Hi Jason,

    The French Window let me not good impression. Maybe I chose a bad main course which I cannot believe it appears in fine dining restaurant.