Chef Olivier Elzer puts a casual spin on classic French cuisine at The Clarence
The amazing dishes of Olivier Elzer’s new Clarence are unmistakably French, but you’ll also find Asian influences, the result of Elzer’s long culinary journey in Asia. But no, it’s not fusion, it’s just classic French cuisine, redefined.
A few first things to note from chef Olivier Elzer’s new H Code opening, Clarence: it’s entirely Elzer’s ideation, from concept to decor, to menu; second, it continues Elzer’s distinct style of fine French cuisine, with the introduction of its original and patented “Yakifrenchy” concept, and finally, it is completely, entirely different from all of its other restaurants, especially L’Envol.
“[Clarence] serves French cuisine in a casual way, outside of the usual bistro or brasserie mold, and instead of fine dining,” Elzer says of the concept. “We’re turning French cuisine on its head by lightening up classic French dishes with Asian cooking methods to allow gusts to experience French cuisine in a new way.”
You can consider Clarence – named after one of Elzer’s favorite wines – the current high point of Elzer’s journey through a star-studded career – 23 Michelin stars, in fact, with 27 years cooking alongside chefs renowned, including Jean Yves Leuranguer, Pierre Gagnaire and, as he speaks with affection, Joël Robuchon. Clarence is opening a new stage at Elzer to showcase an evolved style of French cuisine, something that goes beyond the neat and sophisticated setting typically expected of traditional white-tablecloth establishments, but rather one of his own creations. : a revolutionary take on French cuisine developed in his creative style.
Finding your own style of cooking in an industry already filled with endless remakes of specific cuisines, especially one as prevalent as French cuisine, is particularly difficult. But Elzer manages to carve out a niche with the invention of “Yakifrenchy”, a hybrid concept of Japanese yakitori with classic French ingredients. He attributes the inspiration to mentor Jöel Robuchon, who also defined his niche with L’Atelier, joining French cuisine with Japanese elements and small portions of Spanish tapas.
And miraculously, Clarence, currently run by his protege Chef Simon So, graciously opened its doors amid the fifth wave of the pandemic – the worst in Hong Kong, minus some expected blunders in supply chains, and braved, with immense success, thanks to the lunch-only restrictions, two per table.
A new face of French cuisine
Step out of the elevator and you’re greeted by a spacious dining room in soothing shades of browns, beiges and creams, as well as streams of natural light from the floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook Tai Kwun’s courtyard. In the summer, the windows also open – a unique feature of the building – for an outdoor dining experience.
Like the interiors, the space – which spans the entire 25th floor – at Clarence is not marked by austerity, but rather by a comfortable casualness that is spread across four different zones, each a different facet of the renewed French cuisine from Elzer. Further afield are The Lounge and Raw & Wine Bar, consciously designed to mimic a classic sushi bar experience, and from there, The Main Dining Room and Elzer’s favorite part of the space: Sommelier Room. A private tasting room—and a passage to a hidden rear cellar reserved for the restaurant’s biggest spenders—anchored by a colossal 14-seat black marble table and outfitted with vaulted brick ceilings, stepped red-brick walls, and countless shelves of wine fridges along the walls to evoke a traditional French wine cellar.
“I wanted wine lovers like me to experience lesser-known labels and vintages at reasonable prices,” says Elzer. “The Wine Fridges encapsulate a world of fine wine, housing the best of old and new world wines, as well as lesser-known vintages to discover from iconic producers and rising stars – some of which cannot be found elsewhere in Hong Kong.”
The menu is an inherently French affair, complemented by distinct Asian influences that Elzer has been particularly fond of and familiar with over his many years of residence in Asia, including charcoal grilling, steaming and teppan. Elzer makes sure to clarify that while Clarence is inspired by Asian-style cuisine, it’s not fusion he serves, but rather a new face of French cuisine, entirely reinterpreted while staying true to the ingredients, traditional French flavors and techniques.
“Our dishes are constantly changing to keep learning new things,” he shares. “Clarence combines my 13 years working experience in Hong Kong, with the soul, heritage and traditions of French cuisine and at the same time, linked to my lifestyle.”
Along with the selection of one-bite Yakifrenchy brochettes that will inspire a colorful journey through different provinces of France, the à la carte range is a similar collection of hearty and healthy French dishes, served in huge portions as a tribute to the local culinary culture of meals. shared. It highlights products not commonly available in Hong Kong, with current signatures such as the Skate Wing – Elzer’s personal favorite – cooked whole on a teppan and seasoned with a French meunière sauce with added brown butter. , Elzer’s secret spice blend and confit garlic and the 2 kg charcoal grilled. Duck breast from Challans brushed with a spicy caramel glaze.
Driven by an unwavering passion, Elzer not only has a full bank of Yakifrenchy ideas waiting to materialize, but a curated selection of dishes that will take their place on the menu as the seasons change. “20% of the menu will feature daily and seasonal features,” Elzer reveals. “The plan for the next six months is to have a weekly rotation of new dishes.”
As I type this, Elzer already has a spring-friendly lamb dish in the works: a whole cooked, charcoal-seared baby lamb — it might even be on menus already.
But sometimes things don’t always go as planned, even for a Michelin-starred chef. With the current supply chain issues, Elzer faces the challenge of obtaining fresh ingredients from France. However, a magical part of being a Michelin-recognized chef is adaptability, combined with Elzer’s willingness to continually seek new inspiration. He has already passed through the local markets in search of hidden gems. “Freshness is the most important thing for me,” he adds.
“We were at the Aberdeen fish market where I found some lovely fresh sea snails, and came back to Clarence where I tried some new recipes and they were phenomenal – my guests loved them,” recalls Elzer . “Next week, I will visit Ap Lei Chau to see what I can find.”
Come to Clarence for a sample of Elzer’s favorite wine or a taste of his ingenious creation that is Yakifrenchy – Elzer recommends Ratatouille, a classic French vegetable dish skewered and slathered in pesto – then, make your way through all the other delicious stuff, including must-have black shrimp with tonka bean and lemon zest and smoked trout.
Don’t expect Clarence to be too worthy a frame, either; it’s fine relaxed French cuisine.
“Of course the food will always taste and look good, but here we want you to be a little loud,” Elzer laughs. “If you end the night dancing on the table, we won’t mind!”
Better visit with your dancing shoes, then.
Clarence is open Monday through Sunday from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Last service is at 4:30 p.m.. Reservations can be made here.