Rouge, a recent addition to the ever-popular Courtyard 4, feels like a diner from 1950’s Hong Kong collided with an ironic modern brasserie. Walk under a neon marquee to find a vinyl-lined bar with art deco mouldings and old Hong Kong movie posters, next to marble table tops, leather-bound chairs and exposed girders. Thrown by the split personality of the décor, we settle in, expecting little.
The menu is far more organised than the surroundings. The offerings cover an impressive swathe of Cantonese dishes without relying too heavily on high-ticket rarities or deteriorating into an encyclopedia of food that becomes more overwhelming than appetising.
A selection of dim sum staples, served all day, are followed by a range of well-priced six-course set menus (268RMB-898RMB for four). The sets are a convenient way to survey the kitchen’s best dishes, but it’s just as easy to cobble together a meal à la carte.
Not surprisingly, seafood features prominently throughout the menu. The hot and sour seafood soup (20RMB), a spicy prawn and fsh number has a tangy finish, gloriously thick with layers of satisfying gelatin. The sea cucumber in abalone broth (198RMB) is cooked to perfection. With its glossy sheen and signature silky crunch, this sea cucumber ranks among our favourites in the capital and its ligh broth is mild enough for even the pickiest palates.
The fresh catch comes with a choice of three different treatment the ‘chef’s spicy’ style, a spicy- sweet braising that resembles the preparation of Malay chilli crabs; steamed with rice wine, a simple and clean way to enjoy the natural flavours; or stir-fried with XO sauce, which is served piping hot from the wok, bursting with savoury richness.
But what really helps Rouge stand out, however, is its attention to simpler home-style dishes. Its roasted squab (48RMB) could mak us forget Beijing duck, if just for a moment. The small roasted fowls have a crispy golden skin that’s leaner than duck, but its complex gamey flavour more than makes up for the lack of creamy fat. Chewy cartilage, juicy dark meat and a more dynamic favour put pancakes and hoisin sauce to shame; these birds are really good. The clay pot mushroom and chicken rice, mixed tableside by a smiling waistcoat- clad server, is the perfect starchy end to a meal of fine and mild favours. The mushrooms are paltry but after a few bites of savoury chicken-infused rice, interspersed with the nutty crunch of burnt grains the absent fungi are forgotten.
There’s nothing terribly inventive about Rouge, but for the area it’s one of a kind and a welcome taste of bright southern flavour.