Story and photographs by Christopher Kucway
Sep 12, 2019
OLIVIER ELZER HUDDLES with his staff at L’Envol before the lunchtime rush. The daily menu review takes longer than it would at most restaurants, but then again, the mod French offerings here change as often as the tablecloths, which not so incidentally are embroidered subtly with champagne bubbles. Elzer’s emphasis on seasonality is a key ingredient, though not the only one, at his restaurant in the St. Regis Hong Kong.
In a city where “Have you eaten yet?”—sik fan mei ah?—is the standard greeting at any time of day, it’s safe to say that the path to understanding, not to mention winning over, Hong Kong is most often over a meal. That’s true whether you’re courting vocal seniors huddled around a makeshift table covered with bamboo steamers of dim sum, business suits convening for brief lunch meetings, or trend-setters on the hunt for the city’s newest and hottest flavors. So, if you’re going to open a new hotel, then your menus best be up to snuff in this city of well rounded tastes and intense culinary competition.
Having opened its doors in April, the St. Regis Hong Kong offers a two-pronged gourmand attack, with a de rigueur Chinese restaurant already at the top of the game, and a wonderfully unfussy fine-dining French option a floor away. Of course, every St. Regis around the world is known for its champagne sabering at half five each afternoon, and that is no different here, even if it does feel a bit contrived. Neither of the property’s top tables, fortunately, falls into that category. L’Envol succeeds with haute French fare given comforting twists, while Run takes traditional Cantonese cuisine to a different level.
THIS BEING HONG KONG, the lunch crowd at L’Envol is a mix of business suits and those simply looking for a decent midday meal. Impressively, what most have in common is that they’ve been here before, even though the hotel is so young. “I have created dishes that are tailored for Asian palates without forgetting the French roots of each dish,” Elzer explains once the midday crowd has dissipated.
That merging of cultures and continents appears in a piece of grilled tuna liberally sprinkled with five spices, crushed avocado and crispy shallots, all meant to be mixed into a single bite. The restaurant itself is divided into an area that peers into the open kitchen and a more discrete half where the suits solve their financial puzzles, a glass of red in hand. You can’t help but feel that Elzer, who has lived in Hong Kong for 11 years now, is trying to insinuate some French dining culture, one with a twist, onto the South China coast. A starter of snails with cherry tomatoes and chicken mushrooms arrives before me unrecognizable: gone are the shells; instead the dish is presented with the idea that you eat everything on it. It’s not a difficult task. Among the four main courses on the set menu, roasted Iberico pork pluma, with black garlic and rosemary sits very well, even more so after sommelier Tristan Pommier suggests an accompanying glass of Burgundy.
Aside from the obviously French ingredients Elzer has in his kitchen, he relies on seafood from Hokkaido, Kagoshima beef and even in-season Australian truffles.
Regardless of its Hong Kong address, L’Envol is undeniably French. Pommier is quick with recommendations when it comes to wine—there are more than 800 labels on offer and a strong collection of more than 100 champagnes resting in a climate-controlled glass room next to the kitchen just waiting to be uncorked. If that weren’t enough Gallic flair, 25 varieties of cheese are the savory bookend to any meal. Pourquois pas?
ONE LEVEL AWAY, the 100-seat Run might at first glance appear the lesser of the two restaurants with its Cantonese dishes, but do not be deceived: equal attention has been paid to every corner of its vast menu. Where L’Envol relishes its wine list, for instance, Run does the same with its Chinese tea selection. While French cuisine is known for its set-in-stone intricacies, Cantonese is normally much more straightforward—yet, Run proves that not all har gau is made the same. Did you know that the translucent-skinned dumplings should have at least seven, preferably, 10 pleats? How something as simple as dim sum can be elevated to an entirely other level is a question I pose to executive Chinese chef Hung Chi Kwong. “I think my cooking style is very traditional,” he says, “but the presentation of the dishes is quite modern.” In part that explains an extensive menu that includes barbecue and live seafood but also gluten-free and organic plates.
Here, the menu is lined with choices most have had before elsewhere in the city. Whether dim sum, a set lunch or a la carte, these would be considered usual Cantonese dishes—it’s their individual quality that sets them apart. Something as simple as fried tofu with seven spices, a dish that turns up in many a steamy Hong Kong street-side kitchen, stands out for its pop, one that isn’t wallowing in oil. “People are looking for healthier options. We have a quinoa fried rice dish that doesn’t jeopardize the taste,” the chef says as he explains his modern take on dishes he grew up with.
Run emphasizes both taste and aesthetics through traditional dishes with high-end ingredients, Iberico char siu and melt-in-your-mouth cubes of wok-fried Wagyu beef.
Food aside, as mentioned the restaurant offers an extensive Chinese tea menu. The tea sommelier points out Pu’er teas that are 15, 20, 30 and even 50 years old, but is more than willing to make recommendations according to exactly what dishes you’ve ordered.
Playing off of strengths, the chef tells me he’s exploring a tea-pairing menu in the coming months. Then he stops, pondering aloud whether a tea and alcohol-infused menu might be the way to go. This is Hong Kong, after all, and there are a lot of palates to win over. If there was any ever doubt, I now know the answer to that Cantonese greeting.
The André Fu–designed St. Regis Hong Kong has 129 rooms and suites, and brings the chain’s signature St. Regis Butler and e-Butler services to the city. L’Envol offers three-, four- and five-course menus for HK$588, HK$698 and HK$798 respectively. Run has a set-lunch menu for HK$638. marriott.com; deluxe rooms with king beds from HK$3,704 a night.