Some restaurants open with a bang, shouting out their arrival for all to hear. Others open quietly, safe in the knowledge that people will find them on their own and fall in love. La Cantoche, tucked away on a side street off Hollywood Road in Sheung Wan, did the latter and, having only been open for a couple of months, is packed full every night.
David Sung, the restaurant’s French-born owner, doesn’t have a background in hospitality or F&B, but after years in unsatisfying jobs, dreamed of creating a place of his own where he could serve his childhood memories in a fun and casual space. This is exactly what La Cantoche is; get to know David and you’ll instantly see how much of his personality has gone into the design and overall flavour of the place.
The two-floor space is lovely, with whitewashed graffiti-dotted brick walls contrasted with brightly coloured mismatched chairs. Chilled out hip-hop beats provide a soundtrack, old-school films (like Back to the Future or Ghostbusters) are projected onto a wall and a foosball table welcomes guests in the entrance. The aim is for diners to feel at home and relaxed in a completely unpretentious environment.
The food isn’t pretentious either; obviously it is French, yet as the name of the restaurant suggests (it translates to ‘canteen’), the food is kept simple and homely.
Despite protestations that it was a Monday evening and therefore an alcohol-free day, David insisted we try a glass of rosé, which he claims is the best in Hong Kong. I haven’t tried enough to be able to judge, but it was definitely delicious: delicate in colour as well as flavour, making it more than easy to quaff.
We began our meal with some ‘Rice Krispies’, one of David’s mother’s recipes – crispy puffed rice mixed with minced pork and exciting Vietnamese herbs and spices (David’s mother was born in Vietnam). David’s advice was to scoop a serving into one of the accompanying lettuce leaves, take a bite, wait a couple of seconds and then smile. It was hard to disobey the final command, as this dish was absolutely incredible, packed full of flavours that instantly made me… yes… smile.
The Nems au chevre (goat’s cheese spring rolls) were also amazing, oozing with molten goat’s cheese yet still, somehow, delicately light… or maybe that’s just what I told myself to ease the guilt of eating deep fried cheese?! You’ve got to love a bit of deep-fried cheese!
Our final starter was a selection of crudités: leeks in gribiche sauce, mimosa egg and shredded carrots. Each of these had a distinct flavour – slightly sharp carrots in vinaigrette, beautifully soft moreish leeks and delicately flavoured hard-boiled egg, my favourite of the three. The leeks’ gribiche sauce also served as the perfect dip for the still-warm fresh baguette.
We decided to share a couple of mains to keep food envy at bay. The Poisson Papillote, a fillet of barramundi cooked in a tinfoil parcel, was divine. With little added to it but soft leeks, cherry tomatoes and capers, the flavours were all natural and light, leaving a jus that again doubled up as the perfect dip for the bread.
The rustic Cordon Bleu was also a winner, stuffed with flavoursome ham and melted cheese and then lightly breaded and fried, again without that overly heavy feeling. My attempt to only have half of my share failed due to it being far too delicious to waste!
Each main comes with complimentary side dishes; we had some wholesome comforting ratatouille as well as three different kinds of potato – homemade mash, homemade chips and pommes noisettes. Ever had a tater tot? Pommes noisettes are exactly that, but with a fancier name: deep-fried crispy balls of pure potato goodness reminiscent of childhood days gone by.
It seems David loves his old-school child-friendly food, as the desserts are just the same. A thin semi-cooked chocolate cake comes served not with a scoop of vanilla ice cream but in a puddle of crème Anglaise (English custard). The cake was gooey and perfect, without being too sweet.
The most incredible dessert is the homemade nougat ice cream with crushed M&Ms. I am not exaggerating when I say that this was heaven on a plate; again, it left a permanent smile on my face from the first mouthful until the last.
Prices at La Cantoche match the unpretentious feel of the restaurant, with starters around the $70 marker and mains around $130. They have also jumped on the no-service-charge bandwagon, where guests are encouraged to tip only if they appreciate the service. It is impossible not to here, as the waiters are genuinely friendly and David himself does frequent rounds of the restaurant to make sure all his guests are happy… and happiness is precisely the emotion that La Cantoche will instil in you too.
La Cantoche, G/F, 5 Wa Lane, 227 Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong, 2426 0880
Check out more from Ale on her fab blog, The Dim Sum Diaries!