One of the hardest questions facing any Hong Konger is the classic “where shall we go for dinner tonight?”. The city is crammed with restaurants offering an array of different cuisines – whatever your taste, you are sure to find it here, and survival in such competitive circumstances means that restaurants can only offer the best quality for their very discerning customers. Going out for dinner these days also requires planning if you wish to secure a reservation in the restaurant of your choice. We can easily forget that some countries are facing tough economic times when we need to book more than a week in advance to get into our favourite restaurant.
BYO (bring your own) is commonplace in Hong Kong, a legacy from the old days when the territory had exorbitant duty rates which ultimately meant top wines on wine lists were just too ridiculously expensive for diners to justify spending on. With the reduction in duties, many of us had hoped that restaurants would follow the importers in cutting their prices. Understandably they have to make money to cover high rents and staff need to earn salaries, but there does seem to be a nonsensical situation with some restaurants still having more than a 300% mark up. This really makes it ludicrous not to pay corkage and bring your own good bottle. Why allow corkage? If they don’t the diners will not book. The result is that the winelists of these establishments become mere showcase lists.
This weekend we went to a marvelous place – Amuse Bouche, located on the 22/F of The Hennessy. Opened at the end of 2009 by the former chef and sommelier of Petrus Restaurant of the Shangri-La (both of whom worked there for some 18 years), it has a modern, open interior design, is chic but relaxed and has stunning views over the famous Victoria Harbour of Hong Kong, Causeway Bay and Wanchai thanks to the floor to ceiling windows. Judging by the packed restaurant they seem to have hit gold in offering what today’s customers are looking for. Delicious food using the best ingredients, a great wine list with reasonable prices (similar to those you can find in retail outlets) and the option to bring your own wine if that is your preference.
To kick off we had 36 month aged Iberica ham, served with a bruschetta topped with tomato and fennel – this matched perfectly with our 96 Gosset Grand Millesime. If you buy just about any champagne from 1996 you will not be disappointed – it is such a great vintage. Made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the floral character of the Chardonnay was very much to the fore on the nose. On the palate it was full, showing a little age with a slight toasty character, but the Pinot really gave the wine structure and backbone.
Next, Hokaido seared scallops topped with sea urchin with cucumber and mint jelly – mmmm.
We then decided to serve our next two red wines blind. The first had a magnificent colour, showing some signs of age, with masses of licorice on the nose along with raspberries (almost confectionary in style), and lots of spice. On the palate, it had very soft tannins yet it maintained good acidity supporting its medium body with lots of licorice again and 100% cocoa chocolate milk. Complex, with raspberries, dark fruits, a slightly earthy edge and fresh vanilla pods. Over time the nose and palate just kept on evolving. My initial guess was something from '82 - a classy, hot vintage. I was wrong! This totally threw me, if not '82 then what could it be? From there on, my selections just continued to go downhill, left bank, no; Pomerol, no; it’s St Emilion???? I was lost…..When the wine was unmasked later, I couldn’t believe it - 1983 Ausone – wow! My tasting experience of older Ausone has been very limited. This chateau suffered during the '70s, '80s and '90s with feuding between the joint owners - the Dubois-Challon and Vauthier families. The chateau is now under the 100% control of Alain Vauthier and the subsequent vintages (since 1998) really show the potential of the estate and the unique terroir and microclimate. With a production of less than 2000 cases it is tiny, the quality stunning and yet the prices still significantly below those of Pétrus and Le Pin.
With the next course being served, we switched our palates from wine to food – aged US beef cooked to perfection! Delicious. This was followed swiftly by red wine number two. When compared to the Ausone it was deeper in colour, yet starting to show some signs of ageing. An aromatic nose, more blackberries, earthy with a touch of pepper. On the palate the tannins were well integrated and quite soft with balanced acidity. Very seductive black fruits, a hint of spice – beautiful length on the finish. Must be left bank, yes; hot vintage, yes; then we got stuck……Pauillac, no, can’t be St. Julien, this means it could only be St. Estèphe – so that leaves Montrose or Cos. The wine is revealed as 1990 Cos d’Estournel, slightly atypical for Cos (as are several chateaux of the 90’s vintages) as that distinctive asian spice was not so evident. A wine for drinking now, this was nothing less than stunning.
We had no room for dessert so we reminisced over the reds, thinking how good life was. The question now...where to go for dinner next week?