Jean May: Loving work from the kitchen (8.9)

Jean May is named after Chef Tiffany Lo’s grandmother, which immediately gives the place a personal touch and loving glow. Lo has trained under Pierre Koffmann, whose protégés include Tom Aiken and Gordon Ramsey, among a long list of reputable chefs all over the world. Bringing home skills from one of the most talented chefs of our time and having trained for some time as sous-chef at LPM, Lo ventured to open up her own restaurant in true neo-bistro style last year. From what I had gathered, the venture is quite a success so far and Jean May has become one of the very difficult-to-book places on a weekend.

And you’d be surprised. Because the food looks simple, and the menu is so compact. You wouldn’t understand why such a small bistro with tables so crowded one could barely pull out a chair to sit could be so popular. Yes, the chef uses fresh and seasonal ingredients. Yes, it combines classic French with a modern twist. But really, steak tartare and live oysters and poached salmon don’t sound too exciting to me in a city like Hong Kong where we can and do have those things regularly. With all this in mind and not much expectation I went to find out what the hype was all about. Well, I must admit that I, too, was impressed and very much hope to return, although I would still argue that a three-month wait is not reasonable for a casual meal.

I would add that hospitality was exceptionally warm and personal. It’s a good place to take friends to, but slightly too crowded (and perhaps cute) for a business lunch.

Food Rundown

Oyster, pickled cucumber, horseradish, dill, $58/pc
A small mouthful. Fresh, very sweet and creamy with melon-like and peppery undertones.

Crispy ox tongue, salsa verde, $56/pc
Just a slight, crisp batter wrapping around a tender and flavorful piece of ox tongue. Dip in salsa verde for a tangy kick.

Steak tartare, $188
One of my favorite interpretations of a steak tartare in town. The hand-chopped tartare had a wonderful texture and a perfect balance of flavor. It’s not as salty and peppery as quite a few decent versions elsewhere, so do ask for the salt if that’s what you need.

Duck à l’orange, $328
I love duck and order it often at French restaurants. And while this looks very simple, it was moreish. The flesh was moist and succulent and the sauce was an absolute delight taking its unique flavor from the juices of orange and a combination of sugar and salt and broth and butter. And the slow-roasted carrots that accompany the duck are caramelized and must have been some of the most lovely carrots I’ve ever had.

Salmon, peas à la Française, $288
This one is poached in a lovely soup of butter and peas for maximum tenderness and juiciness. The peas are a nice and lovely contrast.

Hand-cut pommes frites, $88
Triple-cooked to perfection.

Jean May
14 Gresson Street, Wan Chai, Hong Kong
$$, French