Last week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Hubert Chabot, Head Sommelier of Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong. He explained to me the concept behind the master wine list (which boasts an impressive 800 labels), and how it matches the very different cuisines of the three fine-dining restaurants at the hotel – two Michelin-starred Pierre (French) and Michelin-starred Man Wah (Cantonese) and Mandarin Grill + Bar (European Cuisine). We discussed some of the similarities and differences between the regions and varieties which are most popular in the aforementioned three restaurants, as well as some of the changes in the general wine consumption trends which Hubert has noticed in the Hong Kong dining scene in the past few years. Finally, Hubert walked me through one of his favourite dishes at each one of the restaurants and recommended a pairing for each one.
I’m very much looking forward to trying one of those “Grand Desserts” at Pierre, matched with a glass of Pineau des Charentes in the near future!
Our interview was as follows:
Good afternoon. I’m Hubert Chabot, the Head Sommelier here at Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong.
Please tell me a bit about the concept behind the wine programme at Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong. How was it conceived?
We try to have a master wine list in the three fine- dining restaurants, which is orientated towards several wine countries or regions. We have around 800 wines on this list and, over the next year, we will try to make that 1,000.
Which one of the three restaurants would you say has the most active wine programme in terms of sales?
The two Michelin-starred restaurant – Pierre, Chef Pierre Gagnaire’s French modern restaurant in the Hong Kong has the highest sales in wine pairings and by the bottle. We also try to arrange some special events built around the wines there, like wine dinners or winemaker dinners. We also have some nice activity at Mandarin Grill + Bar, with mostly New World wines, and we provide an exceptional wine dinner at that place as well. The third one is Man Wah, the Cantonese restaurant, where we try to do one or two wine dinners a year as well. Wine is also consumed there. We try and host around 8 exclusive wine dinners per year.
And in terms of cuisine, could you tell me a bit about the concept behind the menus at the three restaurants and how the wine lists complement these different concepts?
Pierre serves modern French cuisine, with specialty wines which are flown in from France. It’s run by legendary French chef, Pierre Gagnaire. Pierre is known for his creative interpretations of the classics and his iconic multi-plates presentation. The wine list complements the menus and the food, both of which are French orientated. In Man Wah the Cantonese restaurant, the wine list is a rather mixed international collection, New World wines and still some Old World, so all types of wines are consumed there. And in Mandarin Grill + Bar, which features contemporary European cuisine based on seafood and meat, things like that – more New World wines are consumed and, of course, some Old World too..
And how are the wine lists structured at the three different restaurants, by country and region or by variety?
Well, basically, they are organised by country first, followed by regions, followed by vintages.. So when they are organised in this simple way it’s very easy for the customers to study and choose the wines.
And wines from which regions seem to be ordered the most at the three different restaurants? Is there a difference between what seems to be most popular at Pierre versus Man Wah versus Mandarin Grill + Bar?
It’s linked to the food and the cuisine. Because of that, in Pierre 90% of the wine ordered would be French, and now that Burgundy has become popular in Hong Kong people are interested in it and want to try it. At Man Wah we know that it’s New World wine that is mostly consumed, Californian and a bit of Australian, and still a bit of French as well – it’s the cuisine, again. And at Mandarin Grill + Bar we know that the Cookbook per example , which is indeed Beef Calotte presented in a ‘cookbook’ container, Shiraz will be ordered often, as well as California Cabernet Sauvignon and some Italian and Spanish is chosen quite often too.
And what about the structure of your clientele at the three different restaurants – is there a major difference between the percentage of locals versus tourists versus expats who visit the three restaurants at Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong?
At lunchtime, for example, there will be many business people who work around Central, or in the buildings around here, so it’s very local, or Occidental, with many expatriates. And in the evenings, we can have maybe 50-50% local and Occidental people. Also, we have more and more customers from Mainland China visiting us as well as people from other parts of Asia, such as Singapore, Thailand and Japan. So it’s really an international mix, especially in the evenings.
And what is one of your favorite dishes at each one of the restaurants that we’ve mentioned so far and which wine would you pair with each of these dishes?
At Pierre I like the Grand Dessert of the Chef. It’s a selection of eight special desserts, one of them is fully chocolate. I pair that with a Pineau des Charentes NV from Domaine Guy Lheraud, which is a blend and aged in oak barrels. It comes from the Cognac region and it’s a fortified wine and it goes very well with the Grand Dessert. At Mandarin Grill + Bar, I like the Cookbook, which is a special type of dish created by Executive Chef of Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, Uwe Opocensky, it is a very fine piece of beef calotte with a red wine reduction sauce and for me personally I like a rather expensive wine with this dish that I like a lot- the Colgin Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, which is a very boutique wine with a lot of structure, full-bodied and rich. In the Cantonese restaurant Man Wah, there is the abalone dish by Chef Lee, which is really liked by diners here. The locals love abalone. I pair that with a Meursault Jean-Philippe Fichet 2006 from Burgundy, which I also like a lot.
That sounds wonderful.
As well as a white from Penfolds, Yattarna, whom we recently welcomed to the hotel for a special wine dinner, and it was absolutely stunning, a great Chardonnay.
Hopefully I’ll get to try that pairing sometime. My last question is about trends that you’ve noticed on how your clients tend to order in the three restaurants. Have you noticed through time how customers’ ordering may have changed?
Yes, I have to say that several years ago the wine scene in Hong Kong was quite slow but it has picked up very, very quickly. The wine lists at restaurants at that time were not very extensive, so people brought their own wines into restaurants and imported wines themselves. Since then, in the past five to six years or maybe a bit more, there has been a great expansion in the number of wine suppliers and the duty tax has been avoided, so everybody is importing wines now, and here in Hong Kong the variety of wines is great in terms of selection. Basically, three to four years ago Bordeaux was the king. Everyone was ordering Bordeaux, there was a collection of Bordeaux in every restaurant and cellar. Now we can see that they’ve moved more into Burgundy and New World wines from California and Australia. We can see a lot of New Zealand wine consumers as well. So it’s really a grand diversification, with a large and intense increase in consumption. We are not selling much wine for lunch, in any of the restaurants, but for dinners, for evenings, yes.
So would you say that wine culture has expanded somewhat in Hong Kong in recent years?
Yes, very quickly, and a lot. Hong Kong is becoming the new “wine place”. The wine shows are here. You’ve got all of these salons, Vinexpo, and wine fairs coming here. All the great importers from different countries like the UK or New York are coming here. So there’s definitely something happening here.
Very interesting. Thank you so much for your time!