A detour for dinner at La Petite Maison in H Queen’s yields infinite pleasures
Whole sea bream baked en papillote with lemon, herbs and olive oil
When La Petite Maison opened last year at H Queen’s in Hong Kong, the city had nothing like its Southern French-style cuisine, which had already been winning over hearts, minds and palates at its locations in London, Miami, Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Warm prawns with olive oil (crevettes tièdes à l’huile d’olive)
About a year on, we decided to put the restaurant to the test. Enjoying a pre-prandial Daumas Gassac rosé champagne on the expansive terrace, the locale exudes a sense of laid-back exuberance, complete with eclectic art and Belle Époque accessories. It’s sizeable inside, too; the 3,600sqft space seats more than 100 guests. And on the night we visited, a less than fashionable and particularly rainy Tuesday in June, it was close to full.
It was soon apparent why. At first glimpse, La Petite Maison serves what appears to be light French Mediterranean and Niçoise fare, but a closer inspection reveals more complex and broader ambitions. Carpaccio de boeuf (beef carpaccio) was a preface to the revelation, coming as it does with approximately 14 separate garnishes. The scrummy, supple red meat (dry-aged Scottish Black Angus beef sirloin, home-cured for four days with salt, black pepper, thyme and garlic) arrived with chopped chives atop and was flavoured with anchovies, capers, shallots, cornichons, pickled garlic and olive oil. Along with the chives came black pepper and olive oil – for a dish so red, it took a surprisingly green turn, like a new game-changing category of eco-paccio. Accompanied by a convivial glass of Saint-Émilion, it’s the sort of dish that makes you marvel at the wonders of this infinite universe.
Deep-fried zucchini flowers and sage with anchovies
Heading under the sea, the crevettes tièdes à l’huile d’olive (warm prawns with olive oil, lemon juice and julienned fresh basil) was a simpler antidote in which a quintet of king prawns, undressed from their shells, were halved and placed in a vinaigrette of olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and basil. Painterly by way of presentation – somewhere between impressionism and pop art – its effect was most esculent, sating and simultaneously provoking the palate’s cravings.
The beignets de fleurs de courgette (deep-fried zucchini flowers and sage with anchovies) arrived looking otherworldly – a high-bred hybrid of baroque pomp and ceremony, marine coral, fairy-tale storytelling and the 1960s sci-fi film Day of the Triffids. The succulence and artfulness of the flowers (the zucchini are deep fried in the Japanese tempura style, lavished with parmesan cheese and accompanied by a tomato-based dip) was moreish and addictive. It was very this-worldly, despite its Triffidy mien, and the textures fit like couture.
And so it was on to the main event: daurade au citron (whole sea bream with lemon and herbs), which was notably supple and soft. This dish invokes a gilt-head bream, found only in the Mediterranean and renowned as being one of the world’s leading white-meat fish. It was deboned at the table and plated with a flowing frock of freshly shaved fennel, in turn dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, chopped chives and salt.
Another intriguing, intimate garniture sat aloft, comprising fresh lemon skin and lemon juice, tamarind, onion, green chilli, Provençal herbs, ginger, garlic, fresh thyme and olive oil. This scaled the heights and had us hook, line and sinker gloating over its poise and balance. It was Christian Dior’s New Look on a plate, as fine and uplifting a line as ever took shape in a René Gruau illustration. Some things are just instinctively right – and daurade au citron was the rightestest.
Back on terra firma, we dried off with côtelettes d’Agneau Vivienne (grilled lamb cutlets with smoked aubergine), featuring Welsh lamb less than a year old – lean, tender and with delicate flavours, and again wrapped up with plenty of love. The cutlets are first marinated in a mixture of Kalamata olive paste, cardamom, paprika, honey and sherry vinegar, then grilled and served on a bed of shallots seasoned with icing sugar and olive oil. This arrived alongside quenelles of smoked aubergine caviar, which comprises roasted aubergine pulp, hot paprika, cumin, lemon juice, pine nuts, chopped mint and olive oil.
And so, sated beyond our expectations, our senses dancing somewhere beyond utopia, we took crème brûlée for the finale. Like chocolate mousse, this dessert is so ubiquitously served across the globe that it’s almost become the prequel to or accompaniment with coffee, with little distinction of its own. Yet this baby wore its ambrosial accents like velvet and its texture in italics. Restaurant manager Romain Blanchard tells us that La Petite Maison’s chefs conduct crème brûlée tastings like a ritual every morning in search of the gold standard – and this was ecstatic. No more, no less, balanced, pitch perfect, zensational. Mr Blanchard, regarding that morning ritual… any way to squeeze a writer in?
Rack of lamb with spiced couscous (carré d’Agneau)
Warm chocolate mousse with malt ice cream
Images provided to China Daily
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