Esmé might be difficult to find if you don’t have the right address. The signage in the downstairs lift lobby and even when you step outside the elevator indicate “Maison Eight and The Ballroom”, but we couldn’t see anything called Esmé until we opened the menus.
The said ballroom – a large space adjacent to the small restaurant area where we were eventually seated – really does look like a ballroom with its chandeliers, filigree ceiling, heavy curtains, long bar and cosy seating areas. The sound system was playing an eclectic mix of tunes, including Michael Jackson, hip hop, and a remixed Tom Tom Club. There were only a few drinkers in the Ballroom on the night of our visit, several more on the terrace (which has a great view), and only one other group of diners in the Esmé restaurant area.
The menu states that “Esmé is a place … for longer lunches, liaisons and unhurried evenings. Detailed and designed with inspiration from classic New York power lunch venues with French flair”. The menu lists 10 starters and soups, and 10 main courses.
Roasted pigeon with candied endive and lettuce leaves (HK$188 for a starter, HK$358 for main) had meat that was slightly overcooked (I like it rare) but still moist. The endive, though, was fantastic, with just a hint of bitterness. My guest enjoyed his appetiser of sautéed wood mushrooms with chives and madeira jus (HK$178).
Veal sweetbread and veal piccata with vegetable ragout and morels seemed expensive at HK$498. The sweetbreads were slightly spongy – they didn’t have the texture of having been pressed, which would have made them firmer and more compact. The veal piccata was tender, but too eggy and one-dimensional – it needed more lemon juice and capers. The sauce on the sweetbreads, though, like that on the pigeon and mushroom dishes – was excellent; the saucier here does a great job. Canon of herb-crusted New Zealand lamb (HK$418) was cooked to my guest’s requested medium, but it wasn’t at all tough.
Desserts were a mixed lot. Flourless pistachio torte with ganache and strawberries (HK$98) was dense but flavourful. The chocolate brownie with berries (HK$98) was not chocolatey enough, and we couldn’t taste any maple.
Esmé at Maison Eight, 21/F 8 Observatory Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, tel: 2388 8160. About HK$760 without drinks or the service charge