Clarence: Reviewing the new modern French fine dining, because dinner is back on!

Chef Olivier Elzer has already made waves with L’Envol, his two-Michelin-starred establishment at The St Regis Hong Kong. Now, he embarks on a new culinary journey with Clarence, a more casual French-dining concept located on the 25th floor of Central’s H Code. While the former embraces the strictest tenets of fine dining, his latest outing – which is helmed by his protégé, Chef Simon So – offers innovative takes on French classics tempered by Asian techniques and traditions.

gafencu taste french fine dining Clerance interior


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This amalgamation is no accident. “With Envol, I know my guests come to sample true French fine dining, so the scope I have to experiment is rather limited. So, with Clarence, I wanted to really explore and create my own culinary concept – one that’s been informed by my own experiences across the world, and particularly in Asia,” explains Elzer.

The award-winning chef, whose impressive 27-year CV includes tenuring with famed chef Joël Robuchon and a collection of 23 Michelin stars, has lived in the Far East for the past 13 years.

gafencu taste french fine dining Clerance chef olivier elzer

Hence, the Clarence menu is punctuated with a sashimi-inspired raw bar, as well as such techniques as teppan (iron plate) grilling, steaming and charcoal smoking. Perhaps the most inventive of the listings are ‘Yakifrenchy’ dishes that utilise the Japanese robata grill to cook and flavour traditional French fare like frog legs and escargot. Chef Elzer’s diverse vision also encompasses the layout of the restaurant, which comprises three disparate areas – the wine cellar, the casual dining room and the bar.


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gafencu taste french fine dining Clerance 4

Eager to begin our own tasting, we start with a cold appetiser of Black Prawns / Tonka Bean / Lemon Peel. Beautifully plated on a bed of ice, the crustaceans are accentuated by tart sprinkles of lemon zest, while hints of vanilla emerge through the legume shavings. Creamy and crunchy in equal measure, this delicate portion serves as the perfect opening act.

gafencu taste french fine dining Clerance 3

Next, we sample an array of skewers from the Yakifrenchy section of the menu. Ratatouille / Pesto sees such vegetables as courgettes and bell peppers grilled then basted in a rich pesto cream. A second vegetable skewer of Eggplant / Escabeche has generous slices of aubergine marinated in assorted spices then topped with beautifully caramelised onions. Juicy and sweet, this is one dish whose diminutive proportions belie its filling nature. The next two en brochettes are reinterpretations of French standards and perhaps our favourites of the selection on hand – the umami-laden Burgundy Snails / Garlic Parsley and the super succulent Frog Legs / Pastis / Tomato.

gafencu taste french fine dining Clerance 2

Then, twin portions of Cooked Octopus / Uni Foam / Fresh Tomato / Lime hove into view. Constructed much like a savoury trifle, each layer of this dish reveals new ingredients and flavours. A sliver of tender cooked octopus rests atop a rich sea-urchin foam that heightens the dish’s oceanic accents. Underneath it all lies a bed of cubed tomatoes tossed in lime and more mollusc slices. The result is an ever-evolving creation where each mouthful yields different dynamics and nuances.

gafencu taste french fine dining Clerance 1

Rounding out our visit to Clarence is a main course of Skate Wing / Teppan / Brown Butter / Spices. “This was inspired by an old French classic where the fish is paired with a burnt butter sauce, but it often overwhelmed the palate, so it’s dwindled in popularity,” says Elzer. “My vision with this dish is to use the oft-overlooked French skate wing and then to soften the effect of the butter, while infusing it with an array of spices to temper and complement the inherent tastiness of the fish.”

Grilled over a teppan and coated with spices, the delicate flesh of the skate wing can be paired, in turn, with roasted lemon or the decadent brown-butter sauce. Displaying the creative chef’s East-meets-West inspirations to their most satisfying effect, it’s a fantastic course for sharing with loved ones and a great example of sea-to-table dining.

Clarence. 25/F, H Code, 45 Pottinger Street, Central. (852) 3568 1397.

(Text: Tenzing Thoundup)

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