07 January 2016

Giving take-out roast chicken a French twist

Let's face it: We all wish we could cook more. But there are a million excuses why we don't. Washing up is daunting. I've had more than one friend tell me they are horrified grease might splatter on them while frying something. There's always some ingredient that goes missing in action halfway through the recipe.
And, in Asia anyway, it is often easier and cheaper to eat out.

The result is that if we wish to dine in the comfort of our underwear at home, the choices are often limited to sloppy rice boxes and greasy pizza. That's where La Rotisserie comes in. The brainchild of three French friends, chef Aurelien Malik Benbernou, marketing guru Marie Ranc and banker Jerome Carlier, La Rotisserie is a strictly take-out venue that recently opened its second branch in the buzzing neighborhood of Sai Ying Pun.

Giving take-out roast chicken a French twist
Chef Aurelien Malik Benbernou with roasted chicken at La Rotisserie in Hong Kong.Photos by C for Communications / For China Daily

It offers grade-A free-ranging corn-pecking chickens from France, slowly turning on spits in one of its two rotisserie ovens until moist and tender. One machine specializes in the 20 top-secret spice mixture that replicates chickens roasting on street corners in local Parisian neighborhoods, while the other is a flavor of the month — and that was mustard when we dropped by. Sliced, diced and sandwiched into crisp baguettes — another fragrant offering made on the premises — or packaged into take-away paper containers, it is a taste of the city of lights to be savored at home.

"People don't cook in Hong Kong," says Ranc. "This is a way for them to enjoy a bit of France at a reasonable price. French food doesn't have to be all three-Michelin-star restaurants. And the high rents in this city make take-away a good concept for us."

Ranc is the product of a French father and a Cambodian mother. "I started out a year ago as the kitchen help!" she laughs, remembering when she and her partners opened their first La Rotisserie in Sheung Wan. Barely larger than a closet, it nevertheless quickly garnered a huge following as the area is teeming with office workers on the prowl for alternative lunch options.

While more than double the size of Sheung Wan, the Sai Ying Pun shop follows the same concept and offers no seating, catering or delivery services to keep prices low. One wall is devoted to gourmet products at reasonable prices, such as French Epicerie Dijon mustards, terrines and pickles. La Madeleine de Proust, a pretty pastries supplier, boasts a selection of colorful macaroons and pralines.

Giving take-out roast chicken a French twist
Roast chicken is a signature dish served at the take-out restaurant. Photos by C for Communications / For China Daily

A self-help fridge stores water, soft drinks, beer such as Leffe and a handful of wines such as Loron Chardonnay, Macon Villages Chateau de Mirande and Domaine Astruc Pastel de Rose.

"This shop used to be a garage," notes Ranc. "We think the Sai Ying Pun neighborhood is really up and coming. We love the local feeling of it and being so close to the wet market. People stop by on their way home and pick up whatever they need. Most of our customers are Chinese people and this may be their entry point into French food."

Along with juicy, flavorful chicken with succulently crispy skin, La Rotisserie offers three daily sides: roast potatoes with a sprinkle of rosemary, roast mixed vegetables and pasta of the day. The sides change daily and you may be greeted with ratatouille, mashed potatoes, salads or French beans instead, although roast potatoes are always on the menu.

La Rotisserie offers a soup of the day — we had a sweet and soothing pumpkin — and a quiche of the month along with quiche Lorraine. A special quiche oven in the kitchen can fit up to a dozen quiches either to store or to bake.

For those craving a sugar rush, La Rotisserie makes one of the city's best Croque Monsieur, simply oozing with gooey cheese, and a moist chocolate cake with the surprising crust of Guerande salt. Apple tart, naturally, is a typical pastry on the menu.

And, if you just can't wait until you get home to tuck into your chicken, King George V public park is a quick block to the east and an ideal setting for an impromptu picnic.