Saturday, 3 April 2010

La Terrace, Hong Kong

It is a little far to travel, one supposes, to Hong Kong to visit a neighbourhood French restaurant. Surely more appropriate to enjoy the splendid Chinese cuisine on offer, what ho! And we had, at a splendid Yum Cha luncheon washed down by a refreshing quaff of Australian Sauvignon Blanc (one wonders if that should be Sauvignon Blanche). It was also Spring, when a fat man's thoughts turn to ... well, food.

Your Humble Correspondent was indeed in the Pearl City for other reasons, but ever vigilant in pursuit of your dining pleasure we visited La Terrasse in Soho for a splendid meal at the suggestion of the redoubtable Colin. In the time-honoured tradition of this random collection of mutterings, Colin is not Colin's real name but it is remarkably easy to remember and one in which he seems to revel. He also has a well-developed love for good wine, which is a singularly endearing characteristic. Surprisingly, Colin is sans wine-pimp and relies on the normally unreliable off-licenses which in true HK fashion are perfectly reliable. Hmm, seems like an opportunity for an enterprising young man ...

The Soho area in the Mid-Levels of Hong Kong is probably one of your more favourite haunts, dear Gentle and Well-Travelled Reader, but for your Humble Correspondent and The Once and Future Blonde it was a revelation. Colin informs me that there is often more mediocrity on offer than mastery, often exacerbated by an influx of restaurant entrepreneurs perhaps more focused on margins than on the dining experience. But happily this is not the case at La Terrasse, which has delighted patrons for many years and relies exclusively on word-of-mouth rather than crass publicity.

You will no doubt be surprised to learn that we were seated on the very pleasant terrace at the rear of the restaurant. This showed estimable foresight by Chef Rene, as it meant that we were located in such a way as to feel suitably honored yet at the same time we were unable to frighten away any other potential patrons.

A word to the wise - avoid pastis as a pre-dinner drink. More accurately, avoid a surfeit of pastis as pre-dinner drinks. Actually, avoid very large quantities of pastis (think barrique).

It was scrumptious, mais oui, but left one considerably light-headed and with a resounding after-taste of aniseed. Of course this effect could possibly be put down to quantity rather than quality, but one was en vacance after all! In fact, it is now apparent to me why so many French bohemians became ... ah, bohemian. Pastis could quite likely induce aberrant behaviour in even the most-level headed of Correspondents.

But we digress. With The Don and Bride, we let ourselves be gently guided by Colin and Mrs Colin into a selection of entree and main courses that would test most kitchens. Do try the roasted heritage tomatoes topped with fresh mozzarella - a very interesting and successful variation on Caprese. The Sea Bass and Scallops was delicious, and was sauced prettily with a magical combination of butter and chives. Entrecote is somewhat of a speciality at La Terrasse, and given the satisfied faces of my companions you can safely assume it was entirely up to scratch. Do not give in to the siren call of the house-made bread ... well, at least try to avoid over-indulging.

Chef Badu is passionate about sourcing quality produce, which virtue results in a focus on precision in preparation and an admirable lack of fuss in presentation. La Terrasse is good at simplicity, and offers the visitor a guarantee of quality dining without the trappings of celebrity status.

The wine list at La Terrasse is more than adequate, with an above-average range of vintage and chateau at reasonable prices. While this is no doubt due to the enlightened move by Government to remove the tax on wine, it also encourages experimentation and indulgence - qualities that are your Humble Correspondent's forte. We sampled a Sancerre and two vintages of a sterling Bordeaux, and despite a slight tang of aniseed (see above) these quickly evaporated by the glassful in the pleasant Hong King spring weather. As did my memory of their labels. However, my companions assure me that I enjoyed them immensely. And the champagne ... Champagne? We had Champagne?

The floor team at La Terrasse are both efficient and friendly, a combination that seems strangely rare in Hong Kong. All of this makes for a very pleasant dining experience, for which we are all suitably grateful to Simon ... oops, Colin.

La Terrasse is such a pleasant combination of all of the things that go to make a "keeper" that it comes as somewhat of a surprise that it is on such a cruelly steep hill. Surely Rene could have managed it better! Thighs ache and chests heave if you approach from Staunton Street. The cost of the Sherpa team can be prohibitive. But follow the second option in the directions below and you should find it relatively easy.

Visit La Terrasse with friends and locals you wish to impress, but whose company you intend to enjoy. Like Colin. And smile sweetly at the fat boy in the back with the oxygen mask; after all, I'm the one who recommended the place!

La Terrasse [Directions]: 19 Old Bailey Street, Mid-levels, Central, Hong Kong. t:(852) 2147 2225
Rating: Food: 7/10; Wine: 8/10; Service: 7/10; Terrace-ness: 7/10; Price-Performance: 7/10.
Total: 36/50.

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