St. George, located in the historical Hullett House, formerly the Marine Police Headquarters on Canton Road, brings to the 21st century a feeling of colonial era luxury. Elegant hardwood floors, comfortable leather sofas and plush velvet curtains create an antique lounge environment, one that blends beautifully with the surf-and-turf based, Contemporary French cuisine of the talented Executive Chef Philippe Orrico.
To find out more about the wine program at St. George I sat down with Chef Philippe Orrico (above left) and Restaurant Manager Gregoire Valentin (above right). Gregoire recounted to me the history of the restaurant and of the Hullett House, and Chef Philippe spoke of the inspiration behind his Modern French cuisine, one which is based on the marriage of land and sea. We discussed the private wine dinners held at St. George, for which the Chef designs personalized menus to match the wines brought by guests. Gregoire and Chef Philippe also explained to me the structure of the clientele and how it has changed throughout the 3 years that St. George has been open. When asked to describe a signature dish, Chef Philippe decided to speak instead of his signature style, highlighting his Spanish Beef from Galice as a dish which best reflects this style. He paired the dish with a Spanish Wine from Alvaro Palcios, the 2005 Palacios Remondo La Montesa.
Our interview follows:
St. George seems like a restaurant with a bit of a history behind it. Please tell me a bit about its story.
Chef Philippe: St. George is located in the historical Hullett House, so we must first speak of the Hullett House, which is a heritage hotel that used to house the Marine Police Headquarters on Canton Road. It was renovated and made into a boutique hotel with five restaurants. One of them is a fine dining restaurant called St George. When the owner, David Yeo, was designing the Hullett House, he kept in mind the shared history of England and Hong Kong. Our restaurant is named after the Patron Saint of England, Saint George, who killed the dragon and saved the princess. So it echoes English history but also Chinese history, since the dragon also exists in Chinese tradition. We tried to make it related to the colonial past, but add to it a modern twist with the cuisine.
Gregoire Valentin: The restaurant St. George opened 3 years ago, but the building has been around since 1881. We have some old British officers visiting the site every once in a while, and we had one come in, who said that this dining room was his workplace when he was part of Her Majesty’s Secret Service. His office was actually the wine cellar and there is a picture of him in his office from that time. He showed me the place within the wine cellar where he used to heat his water to make tea, and he used to sit there and watch the others work through the window. Stories like this make the place very unique.
So that guy has unlimited access to the wine cellar if he ever comes in?
Chef Philippe: No. Time passes.
Gregoire Valentin: No, but we absolutely encourage the old officers to visit, because it is important for them and for their families. Sometimes they come with the grandchildren to show them the history.
Chef Philippe: Some cities destroy all memories of the past. Hong Kong is an example of a place where you can find many old buildings that get renovated but survive through time.
And how is the restaurant arranged? Please tell me about the decor.
Gregoire Valentin: St. George is designed in the style of the colonial era, with high ceilings, vintage leather sofas, and long velvet curtains. We also have a lot of wood in the furniture and the flooring. There are two main rooms and two private rooms here, but sometimes we use one of the main rooms as a private room. The private rooms are usually for wine dinners or private functions.
Please tell me a bit more about these wine dinners.
Gregoire Valentin: We are very flexible in organizing wine dinners and we cater the food menu to the wine that the guests decide to bring. We adapt everything to the guests’ preferences. If the guest wants specific food, Chef Philippe tailors the menu. If they need help with pairing, the sommelier is there to assist them. We have many regulars who often use St. George for their private functions. We normally charge guests who bring their own bottles a 350 HKD corkage fee or ask them to buy one of our wines for each one of their own that they consume. During the wine dinners, when guests take a room and Chef Philippe makes a menu for them, we waive this corkage fee.
That’s pretty reasonable. Please tell me a bit more about the cuisine here at St. George. What is the inspiration behind it?
Chef Philippe: I believe that food is something very personal and I think that if you are French, it is better to stay with French food. St. George is a Contemporary French restaurant. What we have always maintained in our dishes is the marine essence – I use a lot of fish in my cuisine. I grew up on the French island of la Réunion, near South Africa, so I have always been near mountains and sea. Hong Kong is also an island and near mountains and sea, so I fit in well here. The cuisine we have here is related to mountains and sea. We base the menu on fish, shellfish and a mix of land and sea, surf and turf [photos below courtesy of the Hullett House]. I’ve lived in Hong Kong for 6 years and have worked in various restaurants, so I have learned during that time about the market. People here like surf and turf – it works quite well. We also decided to have a wine list that’s related to this style. It is quite strong on French wines, Burgundy whites and Riesling for the surf, and bit of American reds to match the turf part of the cuisine.
So would you say that the composition of the wine list is more heavily based on New or Old World wines?
Chef Philippe: Old World. Most of our wines are French, because this is a French restaurant. The food I make goes very well with Chardonnay and Riesling as well.
And how is the wine list physically arranged, by variety or region?
Chef Philippe: It is arranged very traditionally – by origin, country and region. We try to have a simple wine list, where each wine fits in the right place. The selection is limited but each wine is exactly what we want it to be.
How many labels does the cellar have?
Chef Philippe: 250.
I’ve also noticed that there is a Sommelier Selection section on the wine list. How do you choose the wines to include in this list?
Chef Philippe: In this section we try to have some wines that fit the dishes and the flavors I am playing around with at the time perfectly. We will have, for example, a classic Chardonnay and a classic Sauvignon Blanc and then an Australian blend, something a bit more complex, to match some of the dishes offered at the time. The wines that make it to this list have to be, first of all, good. We also want them not to be too complex, because they are meant to be paired with food and in our case wine is meant to support the food.
And a bit about the structure of your clientele – are they mostly local, expats, Mainland Chinese or tourists, and how do you think your location influences this ratio?
Gregoire Valentin: The structure of the clientele has changed since St. George opened 3 years ago. At the beginning, it was mostly an even mix of Kowloon locals, Japanese and German guests, and Mainland Chinese who came to Hong Kong for the shopping. But now we have much more regulars and most of these are Kowloon locals. So 60% is locals from Kowloon, 20% is French and 20% is a mix of Japanese, Germans, U.S., Australian, Philippine. We have many Japanese guests, I think, because when people come here for vacation they visit St. George, enjoy themselves and when they return they spread the word to their friends. It is also because we are an old building and people like to come here for the environment. We get many French guests, because they are happy to have a French manager and French chef at the restaurant they are dining in, especially when we are tailoring the private dinner menus for them. The fact that we are in Kowloon means it is a bit difficult to attract clients from Central, but the cuisine of Chef Philippe is starting to pull more of them here.
Have you noticed any trends in regions your guests tend to order, without even consulting a sommelier?
Chef Philippe: I would say Bordeaux reds and Burgundy whites. There are definitely two types of guests. There are those who order the wine they want and the food they want and they don’t really care about pairing and then there are those who want to match and they usually ask for help. There are about the same amount of these two types.
If you could choose a signature dish that would best represent St. George, what would it be and which wine would you pair with it?
Chef Philippe: I don’t think I could pick out a single signature dish at St. George; I prefer to speak of a signature style. My cuisine changes quite a lot and what you will be offered now you will probably not find on the menu in 2-3 months. We go by season and by guest preferences, so we change dishes constantly, while maintaining the same signature style that is typical to my cuisine at St. George.
One dish we are currently serving, which is quite popular, is a beef from Galice in the Northwest of Spain, North of Portugal. We call it the Spanish Wagyu, but it is not too fatty and a bit tastier and tender, aged for 3 weeks and then one extra week in my own fridge. It is unique, since we are the only ones to have it in Hong Kong so far. It’s expensive, of course, because it’s so special. I do not touch the beef to much – it is cut, grilled on four sides, and then slow cooked with a bit of butter and herbs. It is allowed to rest for 15 minutes before being warmed up again in a pan. The beef comes glazed with a Japanese teriyaki inspired sauce. We serve it with a mix of shiitake mushrooms, Roman salad and snails over the top. The snails and the beef work very well together in terms of texture and there is a very nice conversation between the two. Around the beef we have a bone marrow with a touch of caviar to give the dish some freshness. The fattiness of the caviar and that of the beef have an interesting relation. This is a dish that I think represents St George. It is open to the world, a mix of cultures and communities, with some interesting games on the plate, contrasts in flavor.
And which wine would you pair with the dish?
Chef Philippe: Spanish beef, Spanish wine. From Alvaro Palacios, someone I know, I suggest the 2005 Palacios Remondo La Montesa. I really like what he’s doing. All of his wines are good and we have quite a large selection of them at St. George. Spanish wines are not so well-known in Hong Kong, so it is also a good way to help people to discover some very good wines, strong ones which they maybe have never tried before and which go very well with the beef from this part of the world.
Address: 1/F, Main Building, 1881 Heritage, Hullett House, 2A Canton Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
Telephone: (+852) 3988 0220
Monday to Saturday: 12:00-14:30, 18:30-11:00