In the pulsating heart of Central, Hong Kong, where culinary artistry usually meets refined palates, a melancholy silence has permeated the 26th floor of H Queen’s. Écriture, a two-Michelin-star French fine-dining establishment, has inexplicably closed its doors. Executive Chef Maxime Gilbert’s social media reverberates with both the shock and a kind of sepulchral farewell to a dream he and his team have ardently built since 2018.
Écriture, under the aegis of restaurant group Le Comptoir, has not only been a mere restaurant. It has been a symbol of exuberant French culinary mastery in the vibrant, eclectic dining scene of Hong Kong, a place where avant-garde menu items met traditional French elegance, captivating both local and international gourmands. Take, for instance, one of its iconic creations – a caviar uni tart costing HK$1,388, which skillfully melded Royal Caviar Club Schrenckii caviar, Hokkaido sea urchin, and kabu bavaroise in a delicate buckwheat tart shell, all complemented by a silky beurre blanc.
Gilbert’s career, suffused with rich experiences, including working with acclaimed chef Yannick Alléno at Le Meurice in Paris and navigating through kitchens in Asia, including at Stay by Yannick Alléno at the Shangri-La in Beijing, has always shone with a rare luster. His later role as chef de cuisine at Richard Ekkebus’ Amber at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental hotel in Hong Kong manifested his expertise before Écriture became his culinary canvas in 2018. Thus, the sudden closure, announced on Gilbert’s Instagram, has not only marked the end of a gastronomic era but has also sprung forth myriad unanswered questions and an outpouring of support from culinary peers across the globe.
However, Écriture isn’t an isolated case in this unraveling thread of high-end restaurant closures in Hong Kong. Eateries like Haku at IFC Mall and Kontrasto on Hollywood Road have met similar fates in recent months. While the reasons might seem ostensibly sudden and unexplained, a deeper dive into the matter reveals multifaceted challenges shadowing Hong Kong’s fine-dining sector. The first summer in four years without Covid-19 restrictions had brought semblances of recovery with nearly 3.6 million tourist arrivals in July, yet the figure pales compared to pre-pandemic levels, with a notable shift in dining preferences of those visitors who did arrive.
Ronald Wu Keng-hou, a Hong Kong Tourism Board member, in a conversation with reporters, underlined this nuance of change, highlighting a pronounced pivot towards casual dining among tourists from mainland China, who now lavish their culinary expenditures on local delicacies like fish-ball noodles and other offerings from Hong Kong-style eateries known as cha chaan teng, instead of the erstwhile frequented Michelin-starred venues.
As Gilbert and his team navigate through the uncertainty and sorrow of sudden unemployment, support from the global culinary fraternity is profound. Affectionate and encouraging words have flowed from noted personalities like Nathan Green of Rex Wine and Grill, Jerome Quilbeuf, formerly of the three-Michelin-star Restaurant Sant Pau in Japan, and Vicky Lau of Tate Dining Room, among others. While the shockwave of the closure reverberates across the industry, the undercurrents speak to the broader challenges and transitions navigating the culinary world in these fluctuating times. It bids adieu to a beloved culinary institution, yet the harmonious chords of camaraderie and resilience strike a hopeful note for the future.