Delightful Degustation at Akrame
In the last two years, Ship Street in Wan Chai has become home to a disproportionate number of interesting and innovative restaurants that have truly established this little slice of the city as a foodie haven.
One of the most notable additions to the street is Akrame. Opened at the end of 2013 by two Michelin starred chef, Akrame Benellal, this French fine-dining restaurant showcases the talent and finesse of the chef who honed his skills among culinary greats including Ferran Adrià and Pierre Gagnaire. It is the first international outpost of his acclaimed Paris restaurant of the same name.
The restaurant has a muted and subtle interior, with predominantly grey tones on the walls and black tables. Although it is relatively small, the tables are well spaced out and the décor strikes the right balance of understated luxury with a modern edge. The colourful photographs of beautiful, tattoo-adorned women that line the walls add just a touch of humour to an otherwise very simple space. You really get the feeling that the décor is designed to be unobtrusive so that the food is the focus of your attention.
Our first hint of what we had to look forward to was the amuse bouche – three pretty little creations presented on a folded napkin surrounding a wooden spoon. First up was a parmesan crisp with anchovy, followed by an olive with greek yogurt and finally an impeccably presented miniature endive with salmon roe. The attention to detail on both the flavouring and presentation was astonishing – the ultimate canapés.
Shortly afterwards, the starter arrived. Remember this is a degustation menu, so no time is spent deliberating what to order, and whether you’ll let your dinner companion share your meal – it’s straight to the fun part! We chose to go for the 8 course option, so that we could enjoy as many dishes as possible. You will not receive the menu until the very end of your meal, so each dish is truly a surprise. If you have special dietary requirements, the kitchen will try to accommodate them – they actually substituted my fish dishes for non-fish, which considering that the balance of the dishes was distinctly seafood/fish, was very welcome. Notify the restaurant at the time of booking so that alternatives can be provided.
The starter was cauliflower but not as I’ve ever experienced. The outside had been burnt with a blowtorch and was served with an orange blossom cream, almonds and milk jelly. Initially I found the burnt flavour of the cauliflower a little overpowering, but it was softened by the orange blossom and the addition of the almonds gave the whole dish a very satisfying crunch. My only criticism was the inclusion of the milk jelly – for me it was just a little unnecessary and I didn’t find the texture to be particularly pleasing.
It is worth noting at this point that Akrame offers a wine pairing option with the degustation menu and the restaurant manager, Kelvin, did a wonderful job of recommending wines throughout the evening and adjusting his recommendations to our palate. The dishes on the menu were predominately more suited to pairing with white wines, but after two or three glasses, we asked to switch to red, and he was happy to oblige.
Next up in this multi course extravaganza was a dish of red curry crab with a granita beer. It was a beautiful dish that successfully combined the delicate and light crab meat and a hint of spice.
Please excuse the poor photograph – it was very dimly lit inside and that combined with a dark plate, meant that the photographs do not quite do the food justice.
The non-fish version of this dish substituted the crab for mushrooms. The soft button mushrooms worked well with the crunch of the granita beer and it was another very unexpected combination of flavours, with hints of the sea from the seaweed contrasting with the earthiness of the mushrooms.
Next up was another seafood dish, this time razor clams with grapefruit and green beans. The substitute used white turnip instead of the razor clams.
The sharp tang of the grapefruit sauce was delightful against the firm texture of the turnip. The finely sliced beans gave some balance to the grapefruit and the whole dish came together very well.
Next up were two definite highlights of the evening. The first was a lobster consommé which was so light and delicate, and subtly offset the flavour of the celery.
The alternative non-fish dish was a black rice with fine slices of radish and greens. The rich and earthy rice had a silky smooth texture, while still retaining the bite of the grains. It was so good that I wanted to ask for seconds!
We enjoyed a brief hiatus before the next course of baramundi with parmesan and lemon and the alternative of chicken with oyster mayonaise and white turnip.
The barramundi was simply delicious. Perfectly cooked with the meaty fish tempered by the quinoa. The crispy skin of the barramundi set the off a clean but strong set of flavours.
The chicken was incredibly soft and accompanied by more white turnip, a richly flavoured but light textured sauce and a few drops of oyster mayonaise. The sauce was a real triumph – so much flavour packed into just a few mouthfuls and the turnip gave a firm contrast to the soft chicken.
Degustation menus are the food equivalent of a marathon, not a sprint and this was no exception. It was at this point that both of us were starting to wonder just how many more courses we had to look forward to – did we need to pace ourselves for a big finish? As if on cue, the most amazing refresher arrived at the table in the shape of a shot glass honed out of an ice cube and filled with a potent mojito. Unfortunately my camera really did not do it justice, so you will have to use your imagination, but suffice it to say the powerful little creation was just what we needed to get back on track.
The final main dish arrived and it was a show stopper. A tender fillet of beef, sitting on top some braised sweetcorn and with a crispy topping of ground tandoori flavoured popcorn. This is the first time I’ve had popcorn at a fine dining restaurant, and I hope it’s not the last. The addition of the tandoori flavour gave the dish just enough of a kick and the combination of the tender beef and crunch of the popcorn was highly successful. We received a basket the insanely moorish popcorn to enjoy after the main course was cleared and each spicy mouthful was a delight.
The menu certainly didn’t lose it’s focus as it reached its conclusion. The penultimate dish featured layers of comte cheese and mushroom served in a chicken consomme. As cheese courses go, this one was pretty special. The rich cheese and mushroom combination was perfectly balanced against the consomme and despite all that had preceded it, not a sliver was left on either of our plates.
Just when we thought that the we had reached the pinnacle of what the Akrame kitchen could deliver, these three stunning creations appeared. A trio of desserts comprising a strawberry ice in a milk sauce, a chocolate pie with tonka bean and finally a verbena cream with mango, lime and pepper ice cream.
It’s difficult to single out my favourite from the three desserts, they were all special in different ways, but the verbena cream with mango and pepper ice cream was stunning. The slight spice of the ice cream against the tart mango and combined with the ultra smooth verbena cream was a triumph of flavours and textures. It was a really special dessert that I would happily eat again and again. The rich chocolate pie was lifted beyond expectations with the addition of the tonka bean and the light strawberry ice with milk sauce provided a refreshing and clean end to the whole spectacular affair.
At the end of the meal, we were presented with the menu outlining all of the spectacular food we had enjoyed, complete with Akrame’s drawings on the back showing his inspiration behind the ingredients and presentation. We also took away a bar of Akrame dark chocolate with sea salt that we enjoyed a few days later – both very well thought out touches to end an incredible meal.
Akrame truly offers something different for diners that want to experience technical, refined food that showcases ingredients in both flavour and presentation. The menu is full of surprises and we found that the food was a real talking point throughout the evening. Akrame hopes to ‘make the fleeting, unforgettable,’ and the food that we experienced definitely reached that goal. The light flavours, unusual and innovative combinations of ingredients and exemplary presentation made this a very memorable dining experience that I hope to repeat soon.
3-courses: HK$280; 4-courses : HK$380; 6-courses : HK$580; and 8-courses : HK$788
4-courses: HK$788; 6-courses : HK$998; and 8-courses : HK$1,398
A specially curated wine pairing is also available for the degustation menu, priced at HK$788 for 6 courses, and HK$998 for 8 courses.
Akrame: 9 Ship Street, Wan Chai, 2528 5068