Eager to find out more about the famous wine list of one of our favorite Entaste venues in Hong Kong, Cépage, I spoke with Mr. Gon Leung, Head Sommelier of the restaurant. Gon introduced to me the work of Chef Sebastien Lepinoy as traditional French with a few Asian touches, the local ingredients serving to lighten an otherwise butter-rich and heavy cuisine. Gon described to me the elegant yet comfortable interior design of Cépage, conceived by famous Singaporean design company Kay Ngee Tan Architects, also in charge of Les Amis, the flagship restaurant of the Les Amis Group. We discussed the impressive wine list, boasting 2,500 labels and over 7,800 bottles, of which around 70% is French to match the overall French cuisine offered. Gon explained to me the physical arrangement of the easy-to-navigate wine list, by vintage for Bordeaux, by domain for Burgundy and by region for their Italian wines. Gon also let me in on the shifting trend from Bordeaux to Burgundy to smaller Champagne producers, which he has noticed during his 3 years working at Cépage. When asked to recommend a signature dish, he chose the Black Truffle Maki Roll and paired it to a 2008 Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Riesling Kabinett from Mosel, Germany.
Our interview follows:
My name is Gon Leung. I am the Restaurant Manager and Sommelier of Cépage. I take care of general operations and organize the wine events at the restaurant.
Please tell me about the concept of the menu at Cépage. What type of cuisine do you offer here?
Our chef, Sebastien Lepinoy, is French and for sure he creates 100% French cuisine. When he came to Hong Kong, however, he decided to do something special, so he prepares French food with an Asian touch. Some of the ingredients are imported from Japan and, as traditional French cuisine is very heavy, he decided to add some Asian touches to lighten it – less butter, more healthy and more easy-going.
And how about the beautiful décor here at Cépage? What kind of atmosphere do you try to create at the restaurant?
We are part of the Les Amis group, whose flagship restaurant (Les Amis) was designed by a famous Singaporean interior designer called Kay Ngee Tan. He designed our restaurant as well. He wanted to make the interior design project a warm atmosphere, elegant fine dining with some very nice chandeliers, in particular.
Cépage is known to have one of the most well-respected and extensive wine lists in Hong Kong. What do you think sets it apart from those of the other restaurants in this city?
I have to say we have one of the best wine lists in town. We have around 2,500 labels and around 7,800 bottles in our cellar. We have one of the best Burgundy lists as well. Our wine program is divided into three parts: One part is sourced from our Singaporean company, this is 70-80%. Most of the wines are sourced from very loyal negociants from Bordeaux or London. Another 10% is from our owner Mr. Lim’s private collection. There are things like the old vintage Henri Jayer, Vosne Romanée, Cros Parantoux ‘78 Magnum bottle, Petrus ‘90, Petrus ’82 and Lapin ’82 as well. The rest of the list is assembled by me, and taken from the local market. We source the wine directly from our sister company, so the wine costs aren’t that high and are quite reasonable and so our mark up is quite low as well. People can come to this restaurant and have a great bottle of wine at a reasonable price.
Tell me a bit about the composition of the wine list. Are they mostly New or Old World wines?
As I mentioned, we are a French restaurant with French cuisine, so most of our wines are Old World wines. More than 70% are French, around 10% Italian and the rest are New World wines. And I would like to add even more French wines to the list, especially Burgundy, because Burgundy is a trend now.
So French wine complements the cuisine the best, you would say?
Burgundy is my preference. I’d like to put more on our list. Our chef likes to use some Japanese and local ingredients to prepare a different type of French cuisine, so the food is healthy and more easy-going, which is a perfect match with Burgundy wine.
And a bit more about the physical arrangement of the wine list, is it arranged by variety or by region?
It depends on the wine category. For Bordeaux, we like to do it by vintage. So, for example, for ’96 we have Château Margaux, Château Lafite, Château Bouillon, we have to do it this way. For Burgundy, we have to do it by the domain, from A-Z, from Anne Gros to Romanée-Conti or Thibault Liger. For Italian wines, we do it by region because it is easier for customers to find what they want that way. For example, people know very well the Super Tuscans and Piemonte rather than the small producers. In this way we try to make it as easy as possible for the customer to read the wine list.
How would you describe your role as sommelier at Cépage? What kind of interaction do you usually have with your customers?
In Hong Kong, most of our guests have their own iPhones and iPads; technology is very common. So, we cannot make a mistake in front of our guests. To explain the wine lists to them, we speak to them directly, making sure to give them the right information. We treat them like a friend and try to share as much information with them as we can.
Have you noticed any trends in the regions that restaurant clients seem to order from the most? Are any of them specifically popular?
When I first started working here 3 years ago, Bordeaux was very well-known and it was a trend, because people were starting to buy wines from auctions and they learned about Château Lafite, Château Margaux and Petrus. But 1 year later, so 2 years ago, people started to learn about Burgundies and they wanted to know more about Domaine Leroy, DRC, etc. This year, people have wanted to learn more about small producers of Champagne. It is the new trend.
If you could pick one dish and wine pairing which would best represent Cépage, which would you pick and why?
I would pick one of our signature dishes, the Black Truffle Maki Roll [photo below courtesy of Cépage]. It’s like a maki roll but they use black truffle instead of seaweed and they use Hokkaido scallops. There is no rice in the maki roll, the Chef puts celery and mayonnaise instead. And instead of soy sauce they put black truffle jus. I would pair that with a glass of simple Riesling from Mosel, Germany – a 2008 Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Riesling Kabinett is a perfect match with this dish.