Nostal­gia for child­hood treats in­spired the lat­est con­cept restau­rant to hit Cen­tral. Chloe Street meets the French founders us­ing their loaves

Hong Kong Tatler - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy edgar ta­pan

Nostal­gia for child­hood treats in­spired the lat­est con­cept restau­rant to hit Cen­tral

"I don’t eat bad food,” de­clares Arthur de Villepin as we take our seats at Tar­tine, the French en­tre­pre­neur’s lat­est ven­ture and his first restau­rant. Nor will he touch nuts and other snacks, pre­fer­ring to “re­serve” his stom­ach “for bet­ter things.” Mem­o­ries of board­ing school in Reims— where the food was so bad he “didn’t eat din­ner for three years”—are still fresh for Arthur, the son of for­mer French prime min­is­ter Do­minique de Villepin. His week­ends and hol­i­days back at the of­fi­cial gov­ern­ment res­i­dence were joy­ful oc­ca­sions when he could gorge on the finest cook­ing in the land. The wait­ers, car­ry­ing plates piled with the likes of scal­lops, veal and po­lenta with black mush­rooms, “cir­cled twice be­cause they knew I was starv­ing!”

It’s no sur­prise, then, that the boy grew up to es­tab­lish an en­ter­prise called Art de Vivre with the ex­press mis­sion to “in­tro­duce Euro­pean savoir faire to con­tem­po­rary Asia.” Un­der its um­brella, Arthur has brought to Hong Kong some of the key in­gre­di­ents for ad­vanc­ing the art of liv­ing—fine wine, fine art and, now, fine tar­tine. The ubiq­ui­tous snacks are the sta­ple of ev­ery French­man’s child­hood, tra­di­tion­ally com­posed of a piece of bread or toast spread with but­ter, jam or mar­malade.

Arthur’s part­ner in the new ven­ture is chef Philippe Or­rico, a fel­low French­man with a mul­ti­cul­tural culi­nary back­ground. With Tar­tine, Philippe riffs on the theme to de­liver a tempt­ing smor­gas­bord of open sand­wiches—but his are a far cry from the child­hood ren­di­tions. “We are look­ing to

com­bine the re­li­a­bil­ity of a prod­uct you know with an el­e­ment of sur­prise, by play­ing with it and mod­ernising it,” says Arthur.

For din­ers fear­ful of tar­tine fatigue, rest as­sured that Philippe’s broad in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the con­cept en­sure this restau­rant is not a one-trick pony—and there are plenty of sal­ads, soups and light op­tions to com­ple­ment the tartines. Blini-based shar­ing bites, eggs Bene­dict break­fast tartines, gluten-free and vege­tar­ian choices, and even Nutella brioche tartines give glo­ri­ous va­ri­ety, along­side show­stop­pers such as lob­ster bisque tar­tine (an ooz­ing, cheesy, herby lob­ster béchamel af­fair) and a won­der­fully deca­dent duck con­fit-topped cre­ation that bear lit­tle re­sem­blance to the quo­tid­ian sand­wich.

The bread (for which Philippe learnt the recipe from Bel­gian chef Michel Souris in the South of France) comes in sour­dough and gluten-free va­ri­eties, and is made with spe­cial flour the team ships in from France.

While cel­e­brat­ing the sim­pler culi­nary fare of their mother­land, Arthur and Philippe’s restau­rant is un­mis­take­ably Euro­pean and re­fined. The idea for it came to Arthur while din­ing at Tartin­ery, a New York restau­rant that serves in­no­va­tive twists on the tra­di­tional toast-with-a-top­ping. But it re­mained just an idea un­til he man­aged to re­cruit Philippe, whose food he dis­cov­ered on a visit to St Ge­orge in Hul­lett House. Arthur had been “so amazed” by it that Philippe was his im­me­di­ate choice for Tar­tine. “It’s very rare,” says Arthur, “to be able to feel the iden­tity, the DNA of a chef in ev­ery dish; he has a def­i­nite style and yet at the same time it’s dar­ing, it’s sur­pris­ing.”

The tartines come in man­age­able sizes, with din­ers en­cour­aged to or­der two each. “I like the idea of putting lots of food in the mid­dle and tast­ing ev­ery­thing,” says


Arthur, em­pha­sis­ing the laid-back vibe of the restau­rant—“ca­sual, but with the best prod­ucts. You can eat a truf­fle sand­wich with your hands.” Quick ser­vice means the venue is per­fect for break­fast meet­ings and busi­ness lunches, while can­dlelit evenings are con­ducive to leisurely repasts.

The breadth of the menu al­lows Philippe, who trained un­der Pierre Gag­naire at his epony­mous Man­darin Oriental restau­rant, to flex his mul­ti­cul­tural mus­cles. Born and raised on Réunion, a French is­land in the In­dian Ocean, he grew up eat­ing and cook­ing not only French but also Chi­nese, Cre­ole, In­dian, Mada­gas­can and other African food, which gave him his con­fi­dent deft­ness in com­bin­ing flavours. “I can mix some cumin with some soy sauce and when you eat it, it makes sense. It’s about controlling some­thing while in­ject­ing el­e­ments from my life,” he says. As the owner and ex­ec­u­tive chef of the Miche­lin­starred On Din­ing in Cen­tral and Up­per Mod­ern Bistro in She­ung Wan, Philippe cer­tainly has form when it comes to feed­ing Hong Kong.

As for Arthur, his sculp­tor mother, Marielaure Viebel, in­stilled in him a pas­sion for art that shows in the decor of Tar­tine, which oc­cu­pies the sec­ond and third floors of The Mood at Lyn­d­hurst on Lyn­d­hurst Ter­race. White walls, wooden floors and ex­posed brick com­bine with win­dows along two walls to cre­ate a light and airy space. An art deco leit­mo­tif gen­tly per­me­ates, with cop­per fit­tings, bronze table­ware, and 1920s can­dles and chan­de­liers. A curved mar­ble bar on the up­per floor opens onto a pretty ter­race where 30 din­ers can choose to tar­tine al fresco.

On the walls hang scenes from the belle époque, the pe­riod of French history af­ter which Arthur has themed the restau­rant. The adventurers of the era are de­picted trav­el­ling the world in search of ex­otic pro­duce to bring back to the kitchens of France (or, in­deed, Tar­tine) for chefs to “cre­ate the best symphony of flavours,” ex­plains Arthur.

Just as the zenith of French im­pe­ri­al­ism saw the coun­try ex­port­ing its cui­sine and cul­ture fur­ther afield, Arthur and Philippe are also ex­cited about bring­ing their con­cept to Asia. “This is a great, boom­ing place where peo­ple want new ideas and are open to new things,” en­thuses Arthur, who ar­rived in Hong Kong in 2010 and soon set about es­tab­lish­ing Art de Vivre. “In Europe they think they know it all al­ready, but here they are open to new dis­cov­er­ies.”

The tastemaker’s first ven­ture un­der his life­style brand was the pre­mium wine la­bel Pont des Arts. Next came pho­tog­ra­phy gallery Yel­lowkorner, of which he is chair­man for Greater China, an events agency and the or­ganic Mr Green Juice brand. “I put my­self at the fore­front of my busi­nesses, I per­son­alise them,” says Arthur. To “put the Philippe Or­rico touch” on his lat­est is equally im­por­tant. “We live in a world where peo­ple re­late to in­di­vid­u­als and the per­son­al­i­sa­tion of food. They like it when you can feel the soul.”

Sit­ting on Tar­tine’s ter­race drink­ing Pont des Arts with the two gourmets, I imag­ine them as mod­ern-day ver­sions of the adventurers on the walls in­side. Given that the city’s French com­mu­nity is grow­ing at a faster rate than any other ex­pa­tri­ate group, it seems we’re wit­ness­ing a new belle époque. Vive la révo­lu­tion!

toast of the town Arthur de Villepin’s lat­est con­tri­bu­tion to the art of liv­ing harks back to the belle époque

on a roll Philippe Or­rico brings a mul­ti­cul­tural culi­nary back­ground to the ta­ble

beauty and the bisque Arthur’s favourite treat from the menu: lob­ster and home­made béchamel tar­tine with lob­ster bisque

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