Located on the stretch of Arbuthnot Road that is so popular with wedding photographers, Brasserie de L’ile has a picturesque location. A large open front allows the diners seated on the black and white front patio to people-watch and smoke while dining, two quintessentially Gallic activities if there ever were any. Inside, red velvet seats, large mirrors and small wooden tables complete the Parisian brasserie look. Although the restaurant is too new and not original enough to be called charming, at least the decor is not too trite or clichéd. Although one may be tempted to sit near the front for its street café vibe, do keep in mind that Arbuthnot Road is a stop on numerous bus routes, and unless the sound of rumbling buses trundling up the steep hill is what you call a good time, it is best to take a seat at the back, where you will have the view without the dusty soundtrack.
Brasserie de L’ile is a play on words, featuring cuisine from the northern city of Lille, especially the popular mussels or moules frites. Using mussels from Normandy, Brasserie de L’ile features seven varieties, from the traditional mariniere to exotic Thai. We opt for the Côte d’Azur version with shallot, parsley, fennel, Pastis and cream. It is an excellent choice: although the mussels are smaller than the New Zealand variety so commonly seen in Hong Kong, they are sweet and do their job. Which is, act as a vehicle for the absolutely delicious sauce. A perfect balance of fennel, Pastis and cream (the parsley was missing), the only complaints that we had were that it could have been slightly runnier, and there was definitely not enough of it. Another starter of asparagus with hollandaise is less successful: lacking both salt and acid, the dish is bland and not helped at all by the addition of sweet puff pastry with its sickly trace of vanillin. For mains, the steak tartar is average. It is a tad dry and again, under-seasoned. It benefits from the addition of the homemade mustardy mayonnaise, which came with the (not salted) fries. Our other main of duck confit is the one dish that is truly seasoned properly, but unfortunately, it was not nearly tender enough and the orange sauce verges on overwhelmingly zesty. Finally, for desserts we try a sea salt caramel crêpe and a classic tarte tartin. The caramel has a bold flavour but taste more like molasses, it would have done with a dash of cream to take the edge of bitterness off. The pastry of the tarte tartin is not flaky enough and - like the rest of the meal with the exception of the excellent mussels - not bad, but nothing you would crave.
With a choice of eight wines by the glass and just under 20 by the bottle, there should be something to suit most palates. It is a crowd-pleasing selection with Villa Maria sauvignon blanc from New Zealand, Hugel & Fils riesling from Alsace and a couple of medocs from Bordeaux. The prices are extremely reasonable: bottles start from HK$250 and only go up to HK$688.
The staff at Brasserie de L’ile are friendly and helpful. While they are not extremely familiar with the menu, they are more than happy to pop back to the kitchen to ask and always return with a smile and a ready answer. There is no service charge and diners are encouraged to tip according to the service received.
Dinner for two comes to just under HK$1,000. While the quality of the food ranges, Brasserie de L’ile does nevertheless offer a fairly authentic and very pleasant French dining experience, making it a reasonable price to pay for an enjoyable night out.