It’s always refreshing, in a city dominated by huge restaurant groups, to find the independent boutique-style restaurants. Le Bistro Winebeast, owned of course by the same people as the wine shop Winebeast just down the road, is one of these places.
Le Bistro Winebeast is a cute, cosy little spot just off Queen’s Road East. There are only about 25 seats, and yet there isn’t a feeling of being crammed in; rather, you get the sense of being seated at a lively bistro in the heart of Paris.
Running the show is husband and wife team Johan Ducroquet and Cristina Carranco Ducroquet, chef and sommelier/maître d’ respectively. Chef Johan has worked at a number of Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris. It was in fact whilst working at one-Michelin-starred Ze Kitchen Gallery that the couple met, before moving together to Spain and Cristina’s home country of Ecuador to open their own restaurant there. The menu, which changes every four to six weeks, therefore reflects all of these influences, whilst using French techniques at the core. It was interesting to chat to Cristina about how they came to be in Hong Kong only a few months ago, whilst sipping on a glass of Jean Graviers ‘Brut Reserve’ Champagne.
It’s pretty much impossible for me to see pork rillettes on a menu and not order it, especially when it’s homemade. It’s not something I eat often, but more of an occasional treat, and chef Johan’s was certainly a treat. It was rich and comforting, just as it should be, served with chunky toasted farmhouse bread, which was also homemade.
Having heard good things about the beef tartare, Winebeast style, I still did not expect it to be as good as it was. The hand-cut beef was still chunky, just how I like it, incredibly tender and perfectly seasoned, topped with an intensely yellow egg yolk that oozed all over the meat and brought all the flavours together. This was quite possibly the best beef tartare I have ever had. Both of the above ‘nibbles’ were paired with a glass of Morgon “Prémières” 2011 Domaine Jean Foillard, a light and fruity red with a freshness to balance the rich dishes.
Whilst the above were definitely traditionally French dishes, the baby octopus clearly brought out chef Johan’s worldly experience. The tender octopus was marinated in vanilla vinaigrette and served in a pool of rocket and wasabi purée, topped with julienned green apple, creating a medley of fresh, exciting flavours that all worked perfectly together. This was paired with a glass of Rueda Ricardo Sanz ‘Las Olas’ 2012, which was light, fresh, only slightly acidic and far too easy to drink!
When I saw seared mackerel fillet on the menu, I must say it wasn’t something that jumped out at me, yet this dish was absolutely beautiful. A disc of deliciously buttery pastry was topped with a generous serving of caramelised onions and lardons that simply melted in the mouth. On top of this was the pièce de résistance: the seared mackerel with wonderfully crispy skin and perfect pinkness beneath, all finished with a drizzle of basil oil that nicely balanced the flavours and somehow lightened this rather heavy dish. Unlike a lot of Rieslings, which can be considered too sweet and syrupy, the glass of Alsace “Grand Cru” Riesling Muenchberg 2011 Domaine André Ostertag with which this dish was paired was dry, refreshing and well balanced.
Moving on to the mains, I had been looking forward to the griddle-grilled gambas with squid ink risotto, yet was again taken by complete surprise at just how delicious this dish was. The sizeable prawns were nicely crispy on the outside, whilst perfectly bouncy beneath. The risotto, although heavy in itself, was nicely balanced by the light citrus fruit emulsion and pieces of confit lemon. This was paired with Saint-Joseph “Les Mûres” 2012 Michel Chapoutier, a deliciously smooth white wine.
Just when I thought this meal could not get any better, along came the lamb cutlets, served with baby carrots and beetroot, piquillo pepper purée and minced aubergine. The lamb was incredibly tender and I loved how the sweetness of the baby veggies and piquillo pepper offset the richness of the lamb and its jus. I refused to leave a single scrap of meat behind, so had no choice but to pick up the bone and gnaw it clean. The wine pairing here was a glass of Alicante, Sierra de Salinas ‘El Caire’ 2010, an elegant, bold and slightly spicy wine that wouldn’t be everyone’s choice, but I certainly loved it.
The cherry and pistachio ‘a la nage’ again would not have been my first choice of dessert, yet it was heavenly. Whole, slightly tart cherries bathed in a sort of cherry soup, topped with pistachio ice cream and a cardamom emulsion that was flavoursome yet mild. This was a lovely, refreshing end to an incredible meal. Naturally, we simply had to enjoy this with a dessert wine: Muscat-de-Beaumes-de-Venise Thierry Vaute 2012. I’m not a huge fan of dessert wines, yet this one was light and not overly sweet, perfectly complementing the lovely dessert.
One of the best things about Le Bistro Winebeast is that wines are priced the same as their retail store, with no unnecessary mark-ups. There are 35 wines by the glass (starting as low as $48) and 130 by the bottle, ranging from $150 to $10,000 – bar the latter, this makes for a very affordable and interesting wine list.
Prices for food are also very affordable, with starters all under $168 and mains all under $258. The whole experience was utterly faultless, from the exquisite food, to the excellent service and fantastic wines. The menu is creative, without being pretentious and you can taste the passion in every mouthful and every sip of wine. After just one evening at Le Bistro Winebeast, I think I have found a new favourite French restaurant that I will definitely return to again and again.
Le Bistro Winebeast
G/F, 15 McGregor Street
Tel: +852 2479 6833