Friday, January 13, 2012

Restaurant Review: French Window

Location: IFC Mall
Type of food: French
Rating: ** (2 out of 5)

I reviewed French Window for a lifestyle magazine when it opened in October 2009. A lot has changed since then. 26-year-old head chef Mickael Le Calvez has left (translation: he was fired) and got another job at Brass, a sad little French restaurant at Nexxus Building across the street from the IFC. Le Calvez was replaced by German chef Bjoern Panek who is working hard to turn things around for the struggling restaurant. Indeed, the restaurant with a poorly chosen name is pulling out all the stops to drum up business to cover the sky-high rent. They revamped their lunch menu and offers a Sunday champagne brunch featuring free flowing Moet.

French Window at the IFC
Two and a half years on, French Window is fighting an uphill battle to stay in business. Snubbed by the value-conscious lunch crowd, it is one of the few places in Central you can walk in without a reservation. Come dinner time, the IFC just doesn’t get enough pedestrian traffic to fill the tables. But the restaurant’s biggest problem is the food. In the past few months I've had several client lunches there (mainly because I couldn’t get a reservation elsewhere) and time after time the restaurant proved to be a disappointment. The lunch menu is unimaginative – scallop, salad or lobster bisque for starter; steak, pork belly or halibut for entrée – and the quality of food is underwhelming. The beef sirloin, for example, is dry and over-cooked. Twice I had to send back my steak because it wasn’t done properly.

Duck breast with broccolini

The service is not great either. It has always been a challenge in Hong Kong to hire quality waiting staff, mainly because the job doesn’t pay well, the hours are long and anyone with any talent would rather work in hotel management or other jobs with better career prospects. French Window suffers that very problem. The waiting staff know little about the menu and mess up the orders. They don’t appear to take their job seriously enough.

The writing is on the wall: French Window’s days at the IFC are numbered. The restaurant that started with so much promise is now dying a slow death. I wonder what will take its place when it folds. Knowing the IFC, it may just be another luxury watches and jewelry shop.


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