Wan Chai's New French Foodmaster

Is it actually possible to pair foie gras with orange and bitter chocolate sauce? King prawns with baby artichokes tartare, goat cheese and beetroot ice cream? To stuff a boned chicken with pig trotters, porcini and foi gras and add black trumpet sauce?

You can, and the dishes are surprisingly good and strikingly original. They are the creation of Patrick Goubier, a tall, rather portly and distinctly genial French chef in an impeccably starched and properly lofty toque blanche. He has opened Chez Patrick on the second floor of Garden East, a service-flat tower on Queen’s Road East. The space was occupied before by Le Bons Brasserie, an oddly named and conceptualized, rather inexpensive French-Italian fusion restaurant that moved to a new location.*.

With 15,000 French citizens now in Hong Kong, prowling a city whose western cuisine is seemingly dominated by hordes of Italian restaurants, Goubier believes he has a built-in clientele. Indeed, it’s a menu that appears dominated by foie gras, black truffle and other goodies Francais. Indeed, the wine list is resolutely French, ranging up to a 1989 Château Léoville Barton, 2ème Cru Classé for HK$2,680. The handful of non-French wines are off in their own little new-world ghetto, called “New World ‘Découverte,’” or discoveries. Although the Napa Valley Opus One, a pricey joint venture between the late wine mogul Robert Mondavi and Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, is there, selling for HK$2,990 per bottle. There is a fairly strong selection of wines by the glass or half-bottle.

Chez Patrick, it should be noted, isn’t cheap. It’s a relatively small prix fixe menu that allows the diner to pick a combination of either three dishes for HK$580 (US75) or four for HK$680, with a wine list to match. It seems to go with a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood – what with McLaren and Rolls-Royce dealerships just across Queen’s Road East that can be seen through the big windows, and a Maybach dealership just down the street. Property tycoon Gordon Wu, who owns most of the formerly downtrodden area, appears to be determined to give it some sparkle. It’s always possible that prospective Roller customers will look up and see the Chez Patrick logo on the windows across the street and drop in for dinner.

Goubier, from a small village near Lyon, has made a kind of world circuit, first to London where, he says, he went to learn English. Then he was off on an odyssey that saw him in restaurants in the Caribbean, South America, North Africa, Singapore – and Vietnam, where he says, “Love pushed me to go there” for his Vietnamese wife Xuyen, the restaurant’s pastry chef, “Vietnamese of birth, Frenchwoman of heart.” He is a man who can wax rhapsodic about boiling mussels down for their juice. “French cuisine is all about reduction, reduction,” he says.

The couple ended up in Hong Kong 10 years ago with a plan to stay for awhile before moving back to Vietnam to open a restaurant in Hanoi. However, he says, “I am a nomad no longer.” He has found a home in Hong Kong, operating a brace of French delicatessens in Star Street, Stanley Plaza and on Harbour Road in Wan Chai. Chez Patrick was on Peel Street on the tony hillside reaches of Wan Chai, a bit too steep for women in high heels, especially in the rain. So he moved to the new location on Queen’s Road East.

Although his dishes are unconventional, this isn’t fusion, a word that makes him cringe. Goubier is a classically trained French chef although influences of some of the places he has cooked in have crept into his menu – particularly from Vietnam. Nonetheless, his cuisine is dominated by the flavors of Provencal and Burgundy even if they are sometimes-exotic pairings, like a cold smoked salmon starter that includes cold bavarois – a kind of egg custard mixed with whipped cream and gelatin -- with the juice of fresh mussels along with curry and saffron. Another starter is a crème brulee of oysters and cistrus, with a mini salad and crispy smoked bacon.

The dishes Goubert has put together work on several levels, especially including surprise. Perhaps that is because they stem from what he likes to eat himself, he says.

“I am a traditionalist,” he insists. “If I buy a chicken, it must be a good chicken to start.”

Or a good rabbit, for that matter. Goubier bones a rabbit leg and stuffs it with prunes, foie gras and roast hazelnut sauce. Pigeon breast comes on gingerbread with a bit of leg confit and raspberry sauce.

The room itself, like the cuisine, is formal, somewhat spare and French. No drapes cover the expansive windows, making the room light and airy. Starched white napery adorns every table. The maître d’hotel meets all customers with a click of the heels and expansively Gallic gestures. In all, it’s a pleasant dining experience. The service is friendly, knowledgeable and leaves plenty of time between courses. Chef Patrick will appear for a chat at the table. It’s definitely worth a discussion of what’s on the menu. We haven’t sampled all the dishes on the menu yet, but we hope to before he rotates it for another season.

*This prevciously stated that Le Bons Brasserie had closed. Asia Sentinel regrets the error.

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