Sunday, 19 February 2012

Re-finding my faith in fondue

In my ongoing quest for cheese in Hong Kong, I occasionally, well okay, regularly, experience cravings for cheese-based cuisines. My former home, prior to Hong Kong, was Grenoble in the heart of the French Alps. Grenoble has its fair share of fondue restaurants, which I often found reason to visit. As my departure approached, I prepared myself for a long fondue fast.

In fact, it has not been so hard. The hot summer weather in Hong Kong is not propitious to fondue-eating, so for at least 9 months of the year, my fondue-related yearnings are put on the back burner. However, whenever I hear of a fondue restaurant in this city, I must say I can't get the idea out of my head. As a result I have sampled three different fondues in Hong Kong so far. I list them here in reverse order of tastiness.

一. The first fondue doesn't get a picture. It was hardly worthy of the name. I ordered it in the Spaghetti House two years ago. It was my second and last visit to that restaurant chain, and I was lured in by the gigantic posters in the MTR showing a pot of melting cheese. Said pot was surrounded by distinctly un-fondue-like accompaniments such as scallops, Chinese mushrooms and (probably) abalone. I'm not sure why alarm bells didn't ring at that point. Indeed, the 'cheese', if I could call it that, was a pallid concoction rather like the cheap instant cream sauce you get on cha chaan teng pasta bakes with possibly a handful of ready-grated emmental thrown in. The pot was heated with a tealight and was most likely intended to be an ornament; I still doubt it was food-worthy. I also remember there not being any bread (you were meant to dip the scallops in). After this depressing experience, I concluded that a fondue in Hong Kong was an oxymoron.

二. Over a year passed between that and my next fondue experience, which was at Classified, and is pictured here. 

Thankfully, this was a far more reassuring one. Not an entirely convincing fondue, mind you, and certainly more about style than substance. I don't suppose any self-respecting resident of the Alps would deign to dip a chunk of granny smith into their fondue, for instance, but if my benchmark was not the 'real thing' from Grenoble then I would probably have been fairly satisfied. The cheese mixture could have been more pungent, but at least it was genuine (and I would expect no less from a shop claiming to specialise in cheese.) We did run out of bread but they eventually brought us some more when we asked (although it was their ordinary table bread and not the thicker dried chunks more suited to soaking up cheese). As far as fondues go, you could say that this one was inspired by Switzerland with Hong Kong in mind, i.e. it can be eaten outdoors on a warm night without breaking into a sweat.

三. The third and final fondue was last night, at the Swiss Chalet in TST, and it was by far the best.

Pictured here is the basic fondue on their menu.  This place didn't faff around with seafood or apples for dipping, they just brought a big plate of slightly dry baguette and refilled it spontaneously when we ran out. The pot, as you can see, was cast iron and sensible. And the taste... good! True Gruyere and white wine and unashamedly smelly (we arrived early but a whiff of cheese was already hanging in the air, as in all real fondue restaurants). My friend spotted a flaw in the kitsch Swiss decor - a wooden Scottish shortbread mould with a thistle emblem mounted on the wall - but apart from that, the experience was the most authentic fondue I have had so far in HK.

My faith in fondue has therefore been restored and I intend to return to this particular establishment to sample their other fondue offerings. If you have any fondue/raclette restaurant recommendations, I would be happy to hear them!

Read about a less fruitful quest for cheese.

All content © Emilie Pavey

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