Despite being rightfully derided as unreliable and capable of incomprehensible ratings, the Michelin guide in Hong Kong has remarkable traction. Having ignored the Peninsula’s f&b outlets, even the hotel’s French restaurant Gaddi’s has thus far failed to become as famous as the city’s multi-starred culinary destinations.
The Peninsula is Hong Kong’s oldest grand hotel, and has managed to stay relevant, and at the top of its game for almost 100 years. Aside from the hotel’s long history, its French restaurant Gaddi’s has served classical haute cuisine for six decades. Whilst other hotels in the city have attracted culinary big shots such as Pierre Gagnaire or Alain Ducasse, the Peninsula worked with a number of chefs with impressive CVs. Despite having a loyal following among the city’s elite, the restaurant has never managed to make the headlines internationally in the same way that Caprice or Amber have done.
A visit to the restaurant will show that whilst the rubber man has refrained from even mentioning the restaurant, and it is often derided as stuck in the past, there is a lot more to Gaddi’s than you might think. First of all, its dining room is decidedly different to those in the city’s other top restaurants. The setting has changed little over the restaurant’s existence, and one can see why regulars are so attached to it. Dominique Lemercier, who worked with legends such as Roger Vergé, runs the friendly and professional service.
In terms of cuisine there have been noticeable changes since David Goodridge left. Remi van Peteghem’s food is a little more focused on presentation, and less hearty than his predecessor’s. Nonetheless, he cooks food that is classical, and suits the location.
Not shying away from dishing up great classics of French cuisine, van Peteghem serves a fine paté en croute with game and black truffle. Liberally studded with foie gras, this is a dish that you don’t find all that much outside of France. Requiring a skill set that few young chefs acquire these days, it is both labour-intensive and time-consuming. When done well, however, it is one of most beautiful ways to begin a meal. Van Peteghem’s paté is delicate, and judiciously seasoned, making it less rustic than it often can be.
One point that we found in some of Van Peteghem’s dishes, is a sweetness that sometimes feels like it is a little too prominent. An otherwise very good tartar of sea bass with caviar and seaweed wafers, suffers from wafers that are too sweet, making the dish’s flavour somewhat dull and flat. A pigeon with muscovado crust, stuffed leg and root vegetables suffers from the same problem, being topped with too much sugar. The dish lacks a bit of a gamey side that we associate with pigeon.
If this is one of the few perceptible weaknesses in van Peteghem’s cooking, his strengths are equally evident. Turbot with crushed celery and truffles is superb. Based on a cooking method he devised when working under chef Christian Le Squer at Ledoyen, the fish is served with truffled celeriac, and a truffle crust. The result is an excellent combination of the flavours of the earth and sea. The truffle comes through beautifully, and creates a very harmonic flavour profile with the turbot.
Whilst the cuisine of Richard Ekkebus and his team at Amber is hard to beat in Hong Kong, the fact that Gaddi’s has no Michelin-star, and is often written off as being past its glory days, is hardly comprehensible. Van Peteghem’s food is perhaps not the most innovative, but it does not claim to be. Instead, it offers assured classical cooking that you don’t get all that often in this part of the world. There is better food to be had here than in most of the city’s triple-starred restaurants.
Cooking food like this cannot be easy in a city as obsessed with all things new as Hong Kong. This is a pity, as van Peteghem and his brigade clearly are among the best in town, and deserve more attention. We certainly look forward to seeing how the food develops, and hope that the rubber man comes to reason in the near future.