I may have mentioned on just a couple of occasions (like here… and here… and errr… here too) that my boyfriend is a bit of a chip connoisseur. For him, fries are one of the main food groups and golden chip fat probably runs through his veins. So when I heard about a new joint in town, Brasserie de L’ile, that was serving all you can eat fries, I knew it wasn’t a matter of if we would go, but WHEN!
Luckily for Brasserie de L’ile, it is located on Arbuthnot Road – and Central not being one of our frequent hang-outs, I felt slightly less nervous that my boyfriend would manage to put them out of business in just one visit!
They bill themselves as Hong Kong’s first authentic Northern French brasserie and specialise in pots of moules and handmade frites – with the large 800g option (note: smaller than Frites 1kg offering) coming with the much-heralded all-you-can-eat fries deal!
The restaurant itself is exactly my kind of place – very casual, very French, with comfy plush banquettes lining the walls and an open-front out onto Arbuthnot (not admittedly much fun when lorries and traffic come charging down it, and a bit chilly in winter too). It reminded me of nicer-looking Café Rouges in the UK and of a lighter brighter Press Room here; gorgeous Art Noveau prints and classic French advertising posters adorn the walls, red velvet curtains cordon off the back, and I knew it was made for me when I discovered a stash of amazing-smelling luxurious Aesop hand wash and cream in the bathroom. Yes, the make-up junkie in me is never put to rest, even on foodie trips!
My boyfriend and I ended up going at a betwixt and between time (following my knockout new haircut courtesy of Lorena Severi – see all the photos here!), meaning they weren’t actually serving dinner yet. So, we ended up doing our meal backwards and starting with dessert, a novel way of me getting round the fact that I often feel too full for pudding!
We opted for… well, I chose and assured my boyfriend that he would like it… crepes with sea salt caramel. ‘Oh my God…’ the boyfriend drooled, as soon as he had a bite. Salted caramel is truly a gift of the gods and this was the stuff of Zeus’ dreams. The crepes themselves were a thin, light delight and our plate was licked clean all too soon. We could have done with just one more of the feather-light crepes to truly satisfy our sweet urges though.
Then, we moved onto our starter – escargot with a garlic herb butter. Whenever I see escargot on a menu, however sketchy the joint (and I have had some truly sketchy escargots in HK, which the proprietors probably sourced from the back streets), I just have to have them. Brasserie de L’ile is a definitely non-sketchy joint and these escargots were absolutely mouth-wateringly delicious. Boyfriend had cautioned against having them (as he wanted to leave as much room for the fries as possible!) but these are worth making room for. However, not served in their shells and swimming in a pool of green sauce, I’ll admit it doesn’t make for the most appetising picture – but trust me, these are so good!
The snails themselves were juicy squishy little morsels that carried the full flavour of all the heady rich garlic butter could throw at them. Sadly, these weren’t served on a bed of mashed potato to catch all the juices; my advice is to save some of the (rather average) bread to soak up every last drip! See how full the bowl is in my picture? Well, by the time we were done, it was completely wiped clean!
Finally, the main event… the moules! We went for the classic Mariniere – white wine, garlic, leeks, herbs and love in a pot. The obvious point of comparison here has to be Frites; for me, Brasserie de L’ile’s sauce was a little thinner but the flavours were spot on. As for the mussels themselves, Brasserie’s are mere tiddlers compared to the big ‘uns at Frites; the result is that although the large option here weighs less, it feels like you get more! The taste of the mussels themselves was delightful – sweet with just the right hint of the sea, and tender without a hint of that rubbery stringiness of being overcooked.
And now… onto what you’ve all been waiting for… the frites. WOW. Even for a non chip connoisseur like myself, these are definitely amongst the best in Hong Kong. They are defiantly homemade – soft, light, hand-cut chunks of awesome. They are also seasoned to perfection, salty, buttery, even a little garlicky. We made it through three dishes… and my boyfriend claims he could have made it through at least another three more. (It seems to compensate for the all-you-can-eat deal, they do make your initial serving smaller than the norm but don’t be afraid to ask for more, and they come quickly enough not to put you off your rhythm!)
I must also complement the service that day, from a lovely smilingly attentive waitress who made us feel so welcome, even when we wandered in at the most random of times, and for whom nothing was too much trouble.
My boyfriend and I have actually taken to reminiscing about the chips, like some golden childhood memory… that’s how good they were! The truth is though, that everything we tried off Brasserie de L’ile’s menu was similar levels of wonderful and, coupled with its relaxed vibe and reasonable for the quality prices (most mains are around the $150-200 mark), we can’t wait to go back. Maybe we’ll even do the menu the right way round next time!
Brasserie De L’ile, G/F, 4 Arbuthnot Road, Central, Hong Kong, 2147 2389