July 5 (Bloomberg) -- There's nothing quiet about Pierre's
cuisine. Textures clash, colors jar, flavors collide.
The anchor restaurant of Hong Kong's Mandarin Oriental
Hotel serves creations by Pierre Gagnaire, whose provocative
take on French cooking won him a third Michelin star in 1993.
Each dish is a dare -- familiar ingredients in alien
combinations. There's the popcorn soup, meatballs in beef mousse,
and white-asparagus custard with orange jelly.
So showy are these dishes that conversation grinds to a
halt when they arrive at a table. Like attention-seeking
children, they demand your undiluted focus. And they get it.
On one lunch visit, a young man with an American accent at
the next table poked at his order with a fork -- the way a
hunter might prod a still beast to see if it's dead -- and
whispered, ``What is it?'' His companion, shuddering with
laughter, shook her head and shrugged.
Another diner, the female half of a Hong Kong couple,
greeted each dish with furrowed brows, tasting the sauce before
proceeding or setting down her fork. Her companion, thumbing the
keypad of a new silver Nokia cellphone, munched away happily.
I ordered the set lunch. The skewered sea snails with
sautéed curried vegetables and crushed seaweed, one of three
starters, was an elegant blend of exotic textures and tastes.
The orange jelly topping the asparagus custard bit the tongue
the way food flavoring does, giving the dish an unflattering,
The main course, John Dory, a deep-sea fish, came perfectly
poached, sitting on a bed of butter-thickened pea-puree that
offset the fillet's natural sweetness.
Desserts, too, came in threes. The chocolate mousse with
ginger strips was a mellow and full-flavored treat, marred by a
sprinkling of almond crunchies that disrupted the smooth texture.
The fruit salad was a madcap concoction of diced apple, kiwi
fruit, and orange, topped by a marshmallow strip that was
difficult to cut with a spoon, and whose bite and flavor were
woefully out of synch with the fruit.
Dinner is an elaborate affair at Pierre and speaks of
Gagnaire's generosity and complaisance as a Chef. The meal began
with no less than seven appetizers, from banana purée to bread-
crumbed olive to spiced bread. That it was a disparate spread
with no clear theme didn't disrupt my enjoyment of the delicate
and witty preparation.
It went downhill from there. The chilled yabbies, a type of
freshwater crayfish, had lost the natural bounce of fresh
seafood. The steamed oysters and pan-fried cockles with chickpea
flour mixed different cooking styles in a single dish, and ended
up tasting bland. The meatball in beef mousse, announced in the
menu as Wurtz of beef bouillon, a carpaccio ``cuisine,'' was an
overzealous experiment that assaulted the sight with its muddy
Play-Doh appearance and insulted the palate with its insipid
taste and gooey texture.
I felt like a subject in Gagnaire's culinary laboratory and
thought of walking out. But I stayed, convinced the meal had hit
bottom. It had. The lamb with sweet garlic and the elaborate
array of desserts that followed helped blot out the earlier
Pierre is headed by Frenchman Philippe Orrico, who worked
at the three-Michelin-starred Pierre Gagnaire restaurant in
The restaurant opened in October after a $140 million overhaul of
the Mandarin Oriental, a Hong Kong landmark that recalls the city's
colonial heritage and hosted the likes of the late Princess Diana
and U.S. President Richard Nixon. Perched on the 25th floor, Pierre has a commanding view of Kowloon across
Copper and Glass
Like the food, the decor is a discourse in dissonance. Wood
the tone of roasted coffee-beans and black leatherette seats
give the restaurant a somber air, only to be disrupted by
tasseled floor lanterns and glass chandeliers. Some walls are
decorated with convex mirrors, others with copper plates. A
purple hanging light resembling an inverted morning glory
illuminates each table.
Service varied, depending on the waiter. One head waiter
raised his voice with impatience when asked if it was a good
idea to order à la carte along with the set lunch. Waiter Ali
Fong scoured the Mandarin Oriental's other restaurants to secure wholemeal bread. (And why don't they have it at Pierre?)
Gagnaire's edgy cuisine expands the boundaries of Hong Kong's
normally stuffy luxury dining. Yet for all its innovation, Pierre doesn't pass the taste test. Gagnaire calls the
restaurant every day to ask for diners' feedback, sommelier
Pierre Legrandois said. My advice? Don't play with the food so
Pierre, Mandarin Oriental, 5 Connaught Road, Hong Kong. Tel:
+852-2825 4001 or visit
The Bloomberg Questions
Cost? HK$450 for set lunch; HK$1,450 for set dinner.
Sound level? Hushed.
Private room? Yes.
Inside tip? Have a pre-dinner drink at the Captain's Bar on
the ground-floor, a favorite hang-out for Hong Kong bankers.
Special feature? Zero-reflection windows for the view.
Date place? Yes, though you may compete with the food for
Will I be back? Not immediately.
(Le-Min Lim is a writer for Bloomberg News. The opinions
expressed are her own.)
To contact the writer of this story:
Le-Min Lim in Hong Kong at
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