Away from the raucous bars and heady fumes of Korean barbecue restaurants nearby, an unassuming 30-seater contemporary French restaurant quietly goes about its business at 3 Duxton Hill.
Don’t mistake Rhubarb Le Restaurant’s meek exterior for commonness. Service and decor at this gem are top notch. Step inside and one is immediately cosseted by an elegance expected of fine-dining establishments, even though it is only two months old. Dignified staff in sharp suits tread softly on plush carpeting even as they busy about the restaurant, gently placing dishes on crisp grey linen spread on dining tables.
Yet it opened with no fanfare, preferring to remain below the radar. It is a joint venture between business partners Frenchman Jerome Desfonds and English chef Paul Longworth, who formerly helmed Au Petit Salut’s kitchen for three years. The owners’ birthplaces inspired the restaurant’s name – the rhubarb is a piquant celery-like vegetable common in both countries’ cuisines.
That doesn’t mean the ingredient is employed any which way – only when appropriate. Like as a puree to harmonise Longworth’s finest dish: pigeon confit with chicken jus and grapes ‘a la Aussignac’ – fresh seedless grapes coated with crunchy caramel and studded with nuts. The 36-year-old chef learnt this technique under the tutelage of one-Michelin- star chef Pascal Aussignac at Club Gascon in France, where it is served with cheese or foie gras. Here, he uses the grape’s elevated sweetness and crunch to balance the bird’s savoury succulence with the tart rhubarb.
Equally astounding is the chocolate and peanut-butter torte with nuts and smoked-hay ice cream. While hay has been a popular medium to smoke meats, it’s rare to find it infused into cream and served on a plate. It’s luscious with a slight smokiness that lifts the entire dish from a simple chocolate torte into a complex symphony of textures and bittersweet flavours.
These two dishes are exemplary of Longworth’s style: A quiet respect for classic techniques expressed in adventurous flavour combinations. For this reason, we think that while the restaurant may have opened without as much as a squeak, it won’t take long for crowds to come knocking.
3 Duxton Hill.