Paying a visit to the bathroom in a 1990’s British household often felt like taking a trip to the nautical love nest of Laurence Llewelyn Bowen and Captain Birdseye. For reasons unknown, the trend of ocean themed bathrooms transcended the lower and upper middleclass. Ceramic fish swam upon cobalt blue walls; buoys, anchors and oars were propped on whitewash linoleum and cracked seashells were in constant battle with the steep sided bathtubs. Exactly the same interior design greeted us at lunch last Saturday.
With the name, décor and vista of mega tankers leaving a swell of pollutants in Repulse Bay, The Ocean is at pains to let you know it’s a seafood restaurant.
Visiting on a Saturday lunchtime, the price of the set menu borders on reasonable. Mrs A and I both opt for it and in no time at all a deep fried oyster ball is sitting in front of us. The wee morsel burst with the structural integrity of a cheese puff, releasing a mild oyster liquor. A very nice start indeed.
A lovely refreshing little dish of asparagus, burrata and foam was next. But then began a less welcome theme. Buckwheat. To the uninitiated, buckwheat is a grain that looks like rat droppings and tastes like a hoppy ale. It first made its presence known in the bread, then the butter, then a langoustine dish and then the desert. One can only assume the kitchen had a tub of the stuff nearing its sell-by date.
The next dish of cauliflower, sea urchin and squid ink was wasted on me. The flavour of the two fishy ingredients are too strong for my palette and the delicate cauliflower ended up being lost in a sea of black and brown mucus.
However, the ingredients of the next dish of langoustine, black pudding and beetroot really are to my taste. The langoustine was succulent and sweet, the boudin noir had the luscious consistency of wet mud and the sharp beetroot cubes gave the dish real bite.
Expectations of seafood are very different in Asia and Europe and I often find myself hankering for clean Atlantic fish and French culinary methods – where quality trumps quantity and you don’t need sharp elbows to get to the front of the all you can eat seafood buffet. At the Ocean, with a little squinting and sun-drunk imagination I can just about picture myself dining cliff side in the Cote D’Azur. Alas, Mr and Mrs Clooney weren’t feeding raw shrimp into each other’s moist lips. We had to make do with the lone son of a factory owner shovelling delicate oysters into his ample mouth with all the refinement and enjoyment of colonoscopy examination.
Our fellow diner notwithstanding, the next dish delivered the clean Breton refinement we craved. Monkfish, gnocchi, seaweed, audouille crisps and a meaty pâté substance was a triumph of perfectly balanced flavour and texture.
My second (optional) main failed to live up to the previous. The combination of lobster, pork head and curry sauce was unbalanced and overcooked and I was left trying to discreetly pull strings of lobster meat from my teeth. Olivier Bellin’s Gallic patience would no doubt be tested at the treatment of his signature creation. But that’s the risk you take opening a restaurant six-thousand miles from home. The Ocean made a few waves upon opening two years ago largely thanks to its Michelin patron, but only a ripple of noise remains. One problem with pseudo-celebrity chefs is their elusiveness. With multiple restaurants on multiple continents, preparing five covers on a Saturday afternoon in Hong Kong will not be Monsieur Bellin’s number one priority. On a Saturday lunchtime you don’t get the head chef. Based on the lobster, I’m not entirely sure you get their deputy… or their deputy’s deputy.
We returned to The Ocean’s adjoining sister restaurant a fortnight after our initial lunch.We enjoyed a dozen unadorned oysters and moule mariniere. Both dishes were as sweet, salty and delicate as my new-born daughters tears. My recommendation is therefore to forgo the Ocean and stay at the lighthouse.
How much? $2,066 for two
Where? 303 3/F The Pulse, 28 Beach Rd, Repulse Bay
Who goes? Chinese tourists and European fish lovers