It’s official: The highly-anticipated French restaurant Louise is set to open its doors on 18 June. And if you didn’t already know, it involves a talent trifecta of Hong Kong’s JIA Group, the people behind popular dining spots such as Old Bailey and Duddell’s; French chef Julian Royer of two-Michelin-starred Odette, which took the top spot in this year’s Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants; and acclaimed architect and designer André Fu,who left his mark at The Upper House and, more recently, The St. Regis Hong Kong.
The new restaurant commandeers the former Aberdeen Street Social space at PMQ and will invite guests to dine in a colonial-style interior which houses a Tropical Greenhouse lounge and Ivory Boudoir dining room. Louise promises to offer a fresh take on traditional French cuisine, in which casual lunch and dinner menus include nostalgic Gallic recipes that Royer was brought up on.
So, as one of Asia’s top chefs gears up for his Hong Kong opening, we took the chance to chat with the man himself about being an award-winning chef and what he has in store for his new venture, which will begin taking email reservations on Saturday, 1 June.
Has winning the title of Asia’s Best Restaurant changed your daily life?
Not really. It has been humbling to be recognised alongside many chefs that I admire and respect. All the awards we receive, as a result of our efforts to deliver the simple, genuine pleasures of enjoying a meal, are deeply appreciated and an affirmation of our hard work.
You also took your cuisine to the sky (with Air France) — how was that?
It was a real honour collaborating with my home country’s national carrier. It was very enlightening and inspiring to challenge myself to create quality dishes despite the operational limitations of an airplane. But at the end of the day, we reverted to our core values of serving beautiful produce prepared with honest cooking techniques and I am so glad that the menu has been well-received so far.
And yes, it’s true that everything tastes different up in the air! We had to play with salt, sugar and acidity levels.
What’s the meaning behind the name Louise?
It’s a seemingly simple French name that exudes regality and elegance, which perfectly encompasses our direction for the French bistronomy program in the space.
At Odette, your cuisine is described as “French in its DNA but influenced by the Singapore surroundings for produce and ingredients”. Will Louise be similar in that sense for Hong Kong?
We are always open to discovering and incorporating local produce. I’m very excited to see what Hong Kong has to offer.
Any examples of dishes that we can look forward to at Louise?
We will be serving traditional French cuisine, reimagined. For example, la truffade is a beautiful dish from my hometown, simply done with roasted potatoes, garlic and young Cantal cheese. And joue de bœuf braisée au vin rouge, or red wine braised beef cheek, with confit carrots and baby onions is another hearty dish.
Is there a particular dish you feel nostalgic about?
My mum’s yoghurt cake — it will be on the menu [smiles].
Are there any foods you dislike?
I was not a huge fan of the stinky tofu in Taiwan when I tried it.
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
Bread and cheese are my go-to comfort foods.
What are your thoughts on fine dining?
I feel like fine dining’s come a long way: It’s no longer an extremely exclusive and stuffy experience. More and more people are into fine dining today. It’s less about that traditional opulence, and more about the connections that you make — with your server whom you can enjoy conversation with, with your chef through the food that he or she has prepared. It even extends to the producers behind the ingredients, or the artisans behind the plateware. People are looking for sincerity and authenticity in their fine dining experiences now.
When did your love for food and cooking start?
Watching my grandmother cook and seeing the amount of joy derived from family coming together over a home-cooked meal.
Can you recall the last good restaurant you went to?
I had a truly awesome meal at VEA [Restaurant & Lounge] in Hong Kong recently. What [Chef] Vicky is doing is truly unique and exceptional.
You’ve accomplished a lot in a short amount of time. Do you put any pressure on yourself to keep pushing?
We’re incredibly grateful for all the success that the restaurant has enjoyed, and I couldn’t have done it without my team. While the awards and accolades are definitely encouraging, I still believe that at the end of the day, the success of the restaurant is judged by the indelible memories that we’ve created for our guests — through sincere hospitality and honest cooking. That is what we continue to strive to achieve, each and every day.
How about family time? Are you able to balance it well with work?
I believe everyone who works in hospitality struggles with work-life balance because of the long hours, but I believe in spending quality time with my loved ones whenever I have the opportunity.
Do you cook at home?
Rarely as I’m not often home. But a good roast chicken with my wife and friends is always a good idea.
So Hong Kong is next, but is there anywhere else you have your eyes on yet?
We’re taking things one day at a time and being incredibly intentional with our expansion plans, so it’s too early to tell.
Louise, 35 Aberdeen Street, Central, Hong Kong; +852 2866 0300