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The Japanese and French, on One Plate

By Kames Narayanan

From left: Tasmanian salmon confit served on a bed of vinegared rice cream topped with ikura; kadaifi fried Taiyouran egg served atop sour cream and topped with smoked pike roe; raspberry feuilles topped with whipped pepper berry ganache.
 
Andrew Loiterton
From left: Tasmanian salmon confit served on a bed of vinegared rice cream topped with ikura; kadaifi fried Taiyouran egg served atop sour cream and topped with smoked pike roe; raspberry feuilles topped with whipped pepper berry ganache.

When the Landmark Mandarin Oriental reopened its doors after renovations that spanned across nearly half a year, it unveiled a stellar line-up of noteworthy dining establishments. Amongst them, the revered two-Michelin-star restaurant Amber helmed by culinary luminary Richard Ekkebus, three-Michelin-star Sushi Shikon and Somm, a neo-French restaurant. 

Sitting in place of what was once an adjoining bar to Amber, Somm (derived from the word sommelier), sets the table for diners to indulge in an expansive range of wine — we’re talking more than a hundred bottles in variety — alongside the chef’s seasonal fare. Its inspiration clicks into place when one enters Somm — its interior, designed to mimic a wine barrel, is built from distinct curved walls fitted with wooden panels in dark walnut. At its centre sits a sprawling display of the city’s largest repository of champagnes, wine and sake. 

Somm’s neo-French bistro makes an equally compelling case as does its alluring interior for diners’ consideration. Helmed by chef Mario Paecke, formerly a sous-chef at Amber, Somm takes a newfangled approach to French cuisine. Taking full advantage of the city’s strategic geographic proximity to Japan, Paecke employs fresh Japanese ingredients at Somm. 

“The concept is French but we use Japanese products. In terms of freshness and sustainability, it presents a more viable option compared to importing from the rest of the world. For instance, when we talk about scallops, especially when used as sashimi, you need the best quality. I can certainly order from Norway or from England, but I would need to place orders a week in advance,” said Paecke. Sourcing from around the region and the significantly shorter turnaround translates to not only a better gauge of the quantity demanded but also the quality of ingredients. “So, I place my order every day and receive fresh produce straight from the market,” he continued. 

The menu, skewed towards casual dining is sectioned into categories that run the gamut from sharing plates to sizeable portions for a full course dinner. The diverse range at Somm presents diners with the freedom to taper their dining experience to their taste preferences. While there, I started my meal with the kadaifi fried Taiyouran egg presented atop a smattering of sour cream, topped with smoked pike perch roe. The soft-boiled egg, wrapped beneath a deep-fried golden crisp cut open to liquid gold oozing out from its centre. The richness of the yolk, off-set by the slight tang of the accompanying lemon-flavoured sauce. 

Nic GauntSomm's wood panelled interior is designed after a wine barrel.
Somm's wood panelled interior is designed after a wine barrel.

On a lighter end, Hokkaido scallops served on the shell with dashes of sea lettuce and kyuri condiment set the benchmark for quality that Somm prides itself upon. It was an ideal refresher to ease into the main course. The horse mackerel is steamed in sake then charred and plated in lime, daikon and dashi arrived with tempting, perfectly seared skin. The lightly crisped skin tore apart at first bite to reveal melt-in-your-mouth tenderness of the fillet. Paecke likens his kitchen to a culinary laboratory of sorts where he experiments with seasonal ingredients and sophisticated techniques. 

“Sometimes, I have a main ingredient and I look at what I can combine it with. For instance, asparagus is now in season. I decided to coat it with a crust, keeping the outside crispy just how the people in Hong Kong like it. The exterior is complemented by the juiciness of the asparagus on the inside,” said Paecke.

The sweet enders to the meal at Somm are also subjected to seasonal availability of fruits with consistency observed in mainstays like pastry chef Michael Pretet’s signature Abinao chocolate soufflé served alongside cacao sorbet. A departure from a dessert’s stereotypical one-dimensional sugary taste profile, the fluffy, inflated puff delighted with a depth of flavour where the bitter notes of the chocolate found perfect balance with the sweet. 

Every minute detail at Somm is carefully approached and investigated. “Even when we add the dressing to dishes, we pay attention to its quantity down to the manner in which it is spread. You want the guest to enjoy the whole flavours in one,” explained Paecke. Regardless of being branded as casual dining fare, chef Paecke takes to Somm with the culinary prowess of its neighbouring fine dining restaurant, Amber. 

“No one expects to get cuisine like this here in Hong Kong. That, I think, is its unique selling point,” said Paecke. With uncompromised culinary standards preserved in a casual dining setting, Somm sets the template for quality dining even on the daily. 

Somm, Landmark Mandarin Oriental, 15 Queen’s Road Central, Hong Kong.