You might remember I posted in late December about winning an autographed copy of chef Thomas Keller’s French Laundry cookbook when he visited the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong a few weeks prior. Since Brett and I had not visited the hotel yet, I managed to talk Brett into flying out for the weekend to check out the restaurant that earned the privilege of hosting Thomas Keller.
The Mandarin Grill + Bar is a one-Michelin-star restaurant that offers cuisine and service you would expect from some of the world’s most expensive restaurants. We researched the menu ahead of time and discovered countless items that piqued our taste buds’ curiosity. While you can order a la carte, I’d suggest checking out the chef’s tasting menus, designed to let you experience some of the Mandarin Grill’s signature courses.
The menu offerings have just switched over, but when we were there, diners had the option of choosing three chef tasting tours — five (HKD 998), seven (HKD 1,288), or nine courses (HKD 1,488). These menus could be paired with sommelier suggested wines as well (3 wines HKD 388, 4 wines HKD 488 and 5 wines for HKD 588).
It probably comes as no surprise that we instantly opted for the nine course chef’s tour and the five paired wines.
Before we even started with any courses, they brought a basket of freshly baked breads and a cart with olive oils to choose from. The five olive oils were:
- Italy – Manni L’olio vivo – Blue – Strong Flavoured
- Italy – Manni L’olio vivo – Gold – Light Flavoured
- France – Chateau D’Estoublon AOC
- Spain – El Mil Del Poaig
- Greece – Lambda
Brett tried the strong truffle Italian oil and I opted for the French one. If you have the mindset that there’s no difference in olive oil, this is a great way to prove that thought wrong. We love olive oils and both of these were exceptional offerings and each had a very distinctive taste. Since starting to write this post, I saw something rather interesting on Twitter — the world’s most expensive olive oil and I recognized the bottle. It’s the Lambda Greek olive oil served on the Mandarin Grill’s cart! It’s not the actual most expensive bottle — that one comes engraved and has 18K gold — however, be sure to still try this one if you have the opportunity.
Although we opted for the wine pairing by glass with our dinner, the wine list at the Mandarin Grill + Bar is extensive. I am not talking about 10 pages, but try 35 pages. It’s thicker than some books and offers countless wines from around the world and even select sakes. Overall, the wines were pretty reasonably priced, although we recognized a few selections we’ve seen for slightly less at similar hotel restaurants in Hong Kong, but that is pretty typical. A note regarding the wines — the attention to detail does not end with a “showy” wine list. They serve all wines in their respective recommended glasses and use quality (Riedel) stemware. If you’ve ever done a wine class to understand the importance of serving wines in their recommended glasses, then you can appreciate how frustrating it can be to purchase a $150 bottle of wine and have it served in low-quality glassware that does not even compliment the type of wine you ordered.
As with many fine restaurants, our evening started with several amuse bouche offerings. The first of these was a smoked salmon mousse topped with caviar.
The next one was quite impressive in presentation — homemade olives served with a small planted tree, presumably an olive tree. These olives were not olives in the traditional sense, as they had a jellied texture and consistency, but what an amazing flavor.
The third amuse bouche consisted of homemade cookies served in an elegant box (wish we could’ve kept that box!) There were two cookies — one basil and one olive — both topped with tomato and Parmesan cheese. Although meant to be eaten in one bite, Brett and I managed to nibble on just half so we could try them both. Not sure which was my favorite as they were both excellent and quite representative of the flavor profiles mentioned.
For the amuse bouche and the first course, we were served a glass of “R” de Ruinart Brut Champagne (HKD 198 per glass). I never thought I’d be a Champagne person, but it continues to grow on me. This has a nice dry aspect, but a crisp flavor and paired nicely with the amuse bouche and the first dinner course.
First Course – Oyster
The first course was an oyster dish. The Mandarin Grill features an extensive oyster menu, with some high-end offerings that can cost nearly as much as a tasting menu. There is even an “crustacean bar” for displaying their signature oyster offerings each night.
For our tasting menu, we received one of the more expensive ones, which was from Denmark. The oyster was served with coconut sago, herbs, lemon, and edible flowers. The oyster’s flavor was exceptional — fruity, yet smooth and had a nice buttery finish. We still have a long way to go in understanding oyster flavor profiles, which has been likened to learning about wine varietals.
Second Course: Carpaccio
The next course was Carpaccio served with seared tuna, tuna mayo, cucumber rolls, capers, and veal au jus. The veal had a delicate and lush taste, not surprising considering we were told it was milk-fed. The dish was nice, although the tuna mayo was a tad overpowering. The velvety veal’s flavor became slightly lost amongst the strong tuna mayo.
We were told the wine poured would be for this and the next course (the onion consomme). It was a 2009 Batasiolo Gavi di Gavi from Piedmont, Italy. This was an interesting wine with a soft floral nose and crisp fruit tones on the palate.
Third Course: Onion Consomme
This was quite an innovative and fun course. The course started with an herbal tea bag and teapot being placed on the table. Then the server (wearing white gloves) dropped the tea bag into the pot and poured the onion consomme inside. The tea bag disintegrated in the hot broth, and after swirling it around a bit, they poured it into the bowl which had pearl onions, onion sago, and aged gruyere cheese. The blend of the edible flowers and herbs, with the onion consomme, was a divine combination. Unfortunately for Brett, he said his teapot was not mixed as well so much of his tea bag contents did not make it in the soup bowl.
Fourth Course: Langoustine
Next, we moved on to a bit of seafood with the Langoustine course. This was served with lobster foam (added tableside), homemade gnocchi, seaweed sponge, and the entire plate dusted with seaweed powder. I was a bit worried about this course as Brett has a strong aversion to anything with seaweed, but he dove right in.
The langoustine was cooked perfectly and was not tough in the least. The seaweed sponge was interesting and the gnocchi were amazing. It’s probably safe to say this was Brett’s least favorite course, but we both figured it would be, so not great surprise there.
The only issue with this course was a bit of miscommunication prior to serving. To start, we were somewhat surprised that the only person who had not come by and introduced himself was the sommelier, so we asked one of the servers who was the Mandarin Grill’s sommelier.
The sommelier then came by to ask if there was an issue with the wines. We said no, we just wanted to know who was doing our wine pairings. Perhaps we’ve just become spoiled, but we are used to the sommelier being an integral part of a multi-course chef’s tasting dinner in most other fine dining establishments. In any case, we think he had been by at one point, but since he never introduced himself (and we never noticed the wine grape pin), we just had no idea who he was.
Going back to the miscommunication — it was not the sommelier’s fault, but had occurred when the other server initially advised the wine was for the second and third courses only, so we now found ourselves out of wine for this course. We asked what wine we were supposed to have during this course and I have to hand it to the sommelier (I think his name was Ali), as he just poured a little more of the Gavi di Gavi for the Langoustine since it was supposed to be for three, not two, courses.
Fifth Course: Millionaire
All I can say on this one is WOW! Fortunately, we would’ve ordered this even if we had gone with the a la carte options, otherwise we would’ve seriously missed out! This course basically took ten minutes to get set up and prepare tableside. This was a foie gras and truffle explosion — a course I wish had never ended! The Millionaire started with a hot cast iron skillet plate that the foie gras was cooked on. There was an organic duck egg placed alongside it. As those were cooking, they added truffle croutons, poured truffle jus along the plate, added herbs and topped with shaved black truffles. We were also given a piece of sweet bread to enjoy along with it. The entire creation was served atop a giant hay nest, giving it a really rustic — and almost comfort food — feel. Ironic given we were about to eat foie gras and black truffles.
I cannot say enough about this course — it was beyond our imagination and the presentation was so involved that Brett actually videoed the entire thing. Normally I would never break out a video camera in a restaurant, but it was something so unique that we wanted to preserve a memory of how much work went into this course.
I take no responsibility for the Blair Witch movie videography skills displayed here — all that credit goes to Brett. LOL And yes, that is my camera shutter you can hear going off repeatedly in the background. Ooops. For all the good it did — sadly, many of my photos came out pretty grainy given the low light and my desire to remain respectful to other diners by not blinding them with the bright flash.
The wine for this course was 2005 Riesling Egon Muller Scharzhof by Chateau Bela from Slovakia (HKD 145 per glass). This was an incredible wine and completely unexpected. I would not have considered a Riesling with this course, but the slight sweetness of the wine definitely cut the richness of the foie gras and truffles.
Sixth Course: Sirloin
It was time for the main course already. Seems like it was flying by — not because they were serving courses too fast, but we were enjoying the meal so much that I think we just lost track of time…something we invariably do at dinners like these.
This course was whimsical and quite a sight to behold. It was sirloin served with a “magic mushroom”. There were mashed potatoes shaped into the stem of a mushroom and the top was an actual mushroom that was covered in a hard candy-like coating. I believe the server said it was supposed to numb your mouth a little — not sure what it was made with however.
The sirloin was nicely cooked to medium rare and the mushroom displays were quite ingenious. We were awaiting the chosen wine pairing for this one given it was a rich dish, and a bit complex, to pair a wine with. We were served a 2007 Alvaro Palacios “Les Terrasses” Priorat from Catalonia, Spain. What a robust wine — definitely one I want to track down more bottles of. It is a blend of 40% Carinena, 40% Garnacha and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. It has a bold blackberry nose and a hint of cherry and chocolate on the palate. We looked up the wine to verify spelling for this post and learned it is a highly regarded wine, earning 92 points from Wine Advocate, 91 from International Wine Cellar, and 90 points from Wine Spectator.
Seventh Course: Autumn Dessert
The first of three desserts was called “Autumn,” a unique take on a traditional tiramisu. In keeping what I consider the “forest” theme, the tiramisu resembled a giant mushroom. The presentation was flawless and the flavor was everything you envision from a quality tiramisu. As you can tell by the photos, the small details added around the mascarpone cheese give this a realistic look.
The dessert wine we finished off with was rather funny. I had a feeling something was up as he poured the wine with the label facing backwards, and looked several times to ensure it was not visible. He said it was a 2007 Sauternes and asked us to try it first. Once we confirmed it was to our liking, he then showed us the label — the name was rather humorous — Chateau de Bastard. Despite any thoughts you may have about the name, it was an excellent Sauternes.
Eighth Course: Souffle
Based on the a la carte menu, Mandarin Grill + Bar’s dessert specialty definitely seems to be the souffle. The Chef’s Tour Menu comes with the truffle souffle so we asked if we could try one with a different flavor. They happily obliged so we ordered one truffle and one candied ginger. Other souffle choices include chocolate, Grand Marnier, raspberry, and caramel.
The souffles are heavenly and there is no mistaking the respective flavors! Topped with a small scoop of white chocolate ice cream, these rate among the top souffles I’ve ever tried!
Ninth Course: Truffle Petit Fours
Oh yes, more truffles! Their truffle petit fours were the last course and they were served on an edible cutting board! The chocolate board had so much detail and we were both stunned when we were told it was edible. After the amount of food we devoured, it is no surprise we could not finish all the petit fours — we took the chocolate board and several of the truffles to go!
Without a doubt, this was one of the best meals we’ve enjoyed during our travels. It was not cheap obviously, but certainly not in the league (pricewise) with many other restaurants of this caliber. After dining at the Mandarin Grill, both Brett and I were shocked they did not have a higher Michelin Guide rating. They have maintained their one-star status, but we found the cuisine, the service, and the presentation to far exceed many other higher starred restaurants of note.
Uwe Opocensky is the Executive Chef of Mandarin Grill + Bar. His name might sound familiar as he trained in the world-famous El Bulli in Spain. Prior to his arrival at the Mandarin Oriental in 2007, I believe he was working with the Shangri-La. Opocensky is also heading up the uber private dining experience called Krug Room. It was booked up the night we were there so we didn’t get a tour of it, but that is definitely on my radar for our next trip!
If you have plans on visiting the Mandarin Grill + Bar at the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, I’d recommend making reservations at least a week in advance to ensure you get your preferred time. It was completely booked up the night we were there. Also, there is a dress code (smart casual) and people were definitely dressed up. If you have time prior to dinner, be sure to go upstairs and have a drink at the M Bar on the 25th floor — the bar has a host of signature drinks and offers an incredible view of the harbour and Hong Kong skyline.
Overall, this was one of the most enjoyable dinners we’ve had — and definitely beat some of the more renowned restaurants we’ve tried during our travels. The service was definitely what you’d find in a three-Michelin-star restaurant and the courses that Chef Opocensky created were masterful and engaging, with complex flavor profiles. The wine pairings were superb and I think it’s important to note that the wines used for our selections were not inexpensive choices, and had we ordered these wines individually, we would’ve spent more than the pairing add on.
Definitely looking forward to our next visit to the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong — we’re looking forward to trying the other restaurants and bars inside the hotel — although it’s going to be hard to pass up visiting the Mandarin Grill + Bar again first though!
Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong
5 Connaught Road
Central Hong Kong
+852 2522 0111