JETSETTER – Perfect Pairings at Bacchus

Serving up Asian-influenced French cuisine, Hong Kong restaurant Bacchus designed its menu by selecting the wines first, as executive chef Mickael Messina tells Helen Dalley.

Q: You have one of Hong Kong’s most extensive wine lists with more than 800 labels and a suggested wine pairing featured alongside every dish. Tell us about this wine-centred approach

A: Our whole menu was designed first by selecting the wine, then creating dishes that best pair with each wine. With each dish, I’ve also aimed to connect the culinary cultures from France and regions of Asia, particularly Hong Kong and Japan. Our executive director Hervé Pennequin has curated an extensive wine programme where we can really showcase Asian products and flavours while staying true to our French heritage and complement the intricacies of each wine pairing.

Q: Tell us about the relationship between you and Hervé

A: Hervé and I have a close and enriching partnership. With his wealth of experience, he’s guided me to think from the perspective of a sommelier, and during tastings he explains each flavour profile in depth so that I can source the best ingredients from my favourite farms, fishermen and suppliers that shine on their own and elevate the wines.

Q: Bacchus featured the input of chef consultant Laurent Varachaud. Tell us about his involvement

A: Laurent’s input was invaluable to my work so far at Bacchus. His resumé of impressive fine dining restaurants and celebrity chefs was a true eye-opener as to what we could do on the menu. He’s helped me realise what I’m capable of, and I’ve gained confidence with each passing week, discovering new products to be prepared with the French cooking techniques that I’ve learnt.

Q: Bacchus’ signature dish, Apicius Duck Magret Revisited, pays tribute to late chef Alain Senderens. Tell us about the recipe

A: I didn’t have the privilege of meeting Chef Senderens before his passing, but Hervé had worked with him as chief sommelier at Lucas Carton in Paris, where the Apicius Duck was a signature dish. Based on our research and what Hervé learnt during his time with chef Senderens, we felt that we had to revisit the dish as a tribute to his inspiring methods of a wine-oriented menu. We stuck close to the original recipe but injected Asian flair with orange zest and cinnamon marinated white turnips and sauteed daikoku mushrooms. It’s paired with a 2017 Banyuls Domaine de Bila-Haut port wine that takes the duck to a whole new level.

Q: What are your favourite restaurants and which chefs do you admire in Hong Kong?

A: Chef Olivier Elzer, now culinary director of L’Envol, was one of the first chefs I met in Hong Kong. He has a remarkable way of approaching and understanding ingredients and techniques and inspires me to study and create more even if I run into challenges. And of course, L’Envol is one of my favourite restaurants here.
Another chef whose sheer talent pushes me to explore innovative dish presentations is chef Ricardo Chaneton of Mono. He revisits traditional produce and techniques and elevates them to greater heights on his menu. His cuisine is very intriguing, and I love dining at Mono.

Q: How would you characterise the Hong Kong dining scene?

A: I’ve only been in Hong Kong for a few years, but I’ve noticed that a lot of restaurants are chef-forward, where it’s down to the chef to make something special out of similar ingredients and dish preparations. That’s why at Bacchus we wanted to be as unique and creative as possible by combining classic French dishes with techniques with unusual Asian ingredients to differentiate ourselves from the rest.

Q: What are your favourite Asian ingredients and how do you like to use them?

A: Having such close relationships with suppliers from Japan has led me to discovering the kabosu lime, which is similar to lemon and yuzu. The kabosu flesh is subtly sweet but has a bitterness to it. I use it in several dishes at Bacchus to add balance to savoury dishes like my lobster bisque. I also use it to cure and season the scampi in another dish. When you take a sip of the lobster bisque you might also get a strong aroma of mandarin oranges, which is another unique feature of the kabosu.

Q: You’ve previously worked at the Hôtel Plaza Athénée in Paris. How did that help you develop as a chef?

A: It was my first experience working in a luxury hotel kitchen, led by the renowned chef Alain Ducasse and pastry chef Christophe Michalak, who won World Champion of Pastry in 2016. Working with them helped me to discover the art of cooking and my passion for the culinary world grew. I put myself to learning a greater range of techniques under their guidance, such as pastry making and sauce making, which I still use today when creating dishes at Bacchus. I also gained valuable experience leading a team and becoming more organised in and out of the kitchen.

Q: Are you working with any local suppliers or growing your own produce?

A: I work with a local company called Natural Farm to source my herbs and flowers, which utilises hydroponic farming to add nutrients to their herbs and flowers without the usage of soil. It’s been supplying Hong Kong with high quality produce since the early 1990s, and I trust that what I source from them reaches the highest levels of standards with regards to pesticide residue and environmental benefit. I’m also able to track every bit of info behind each ingredient from seed to transport to plate.

Q: What’s in store for the restaurant over the next 12 months?

A: We want to evolve with the seasons and create dishes around any interesting new bottles that come into our possession. As our relationships with local suppliers strengthen, we hope to source new ingredients and create flavours that are complementary to the wines.