Finding La Cantoche at Sheung Wan on a weekday night has been quite a challenge. For one, almost the entire Hollywood Road is deserted, with hardly any shops open. I did wonder if I got the address wrong, until I saw this sign outside Wa Lane Street.
Who would have thought! Clever them; otherwise I would have walked right past not knowing La Cantoche is down a smaller lane and not on the main road.
This new trendy place is touted as a quirky, casual French restaurant, and it is not difficult to see why. The white exposed-brick was a stark contrast to the playfully mismatched tables chairs. Old-school films were projected onto a wall while hip-hop music played through the night. I was told about the foosball table and wasn’t disappointed to discover it right next to the entrance! All shiny and new and (seemingly) underused.
The end result was a wonderfully chilled space without trying too hard. The staff were more than eager to please, speaking perfect English (always a plus for me) and though they are also tip-as-you-please, I was more than happy to do my part.
(A little digression about tipping in Hong Kong. If a restaurant charges 10% automatically onto their bill, I find that their service is often rather staged. However when I get to choose to tip – if at all – or not, the staff are usually charming and attentive. Probably they know the amount of tips depends on how good they really are)
To start off our meal, I went for the Rice Krispies, which was highly recommended by other foodies I have read, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. It is curious to see these crispy puffed rice being jazzed up with Asian influence – Vietnamese being the keyword here – even though this is a French restaurant. Mixed with bits of pork, shiso leaf and spices, the Rice Krispies is devoured wrapped with lettuce leaves. I loved it when they combine crunchy vegetables with crispy stuff. It was a truly refreshing bundle of saltiness and sweetness.
The Poisson Papillote – fish fillet cooked in a tinfoil parcel – was ceremoniously unwrapped in front of me. The thinner side of the fillet was delicious with the accompanying soft leeks and capers, but as the meal progressed, the dish got cold and I moved onto the thicker side of the fish to discover some portions uncooked. Not that it really mattered, but unless it is very, very fresh fish we are talking about here, cold uncooked fishes never impress.
The half roast chicken was deceiving to the eyes. Though it smelled wonderful delicious, I was apprehensive was the chicken looked a bit dry. My fear was unfounded; the chicken were tender, flavourful and went swimmingly with the gravy, but even when without it was able to stand on its own. Kinda reminded me of Kenny Roger’s roast chickens.
We went all out on the sides; you get to choose two for each of your main dish, which you can combine into a large portion of sides. The potato purée (aka mashed potatoes) was amazing, so fluffy in the most creamy, lumpy way, it was all I could do not to scrape it off the plate with my spoon. The remaining three sides, however, were underwhelming. Fries were alright, if got cold too fast (I guess it is the room temp), the buttered macaroni was tasteless and slightly overchewy, and the green salad… well, you can’t go long with greens, I suppose. But all these paled against the supreme mashed. Long live potato purée!
The star of the night arrived at the end of the meal. I made sure I saved space for dessert, and goodness am I glad I did! The most incredible combination of homemade nougat ice cream with crushed M&Ms. Certainly this is heavy stuff but you have not tasted great dessert if you have not got your fork on this. I was rationing the icecream so that it lasted for as long as possible, as was my smile throughout dessert.
A word about the place. As we progress on dinner the place gradually filled up, even for a Thursday night, with many tables seem to order bottles of wine (err, why?). But I didn’t mind the din of conversation, though after the fifth round I could rehearse the waiter’s script myself. But the fact that the place is packed on a weekday night at this part of town must be a testament to what La Cantoche has come to meant for its patrons. I was glad to have made the trip.
Verdict? La Cantoche’s Innovative menu and friendly staff made the humble French joint a destination to be for casual diners.