Meet Jean May, The Newest Independent French Bistro In Wan Chai
With its cheerful green facade and neo-bistro vibes, Jean May by chef Tiffany Lo is the kind of restaurant you’d immediately feel comfortable in. Unfortunately for Lo, the opening coincided with the worst Covid-19 outbreak in Hong Kong since the beginning of the year. While the chef managed to soft open for a short while, introducing friends and family to the modern French bistro concept, the recent government restrictions have sent the team scrambling to adapt—even before official opening, they’ve had to quickly pivot to create a new takeaway offering (with highlights such as confit chicken and leek terrine, and raspberry and almond tart) given that restaurants will not be able to operate dine-in services at dinnertime.
In any other circumstance, we imagine Jean May to be lauded among the food community, so it’s a shame that the pandemic has put the brakes on the independent chef’s project. Lo, who worked previously with the legendary Pierre Koffmann in London, is bringing her representation of comforting French food to Hong Kong, matched with natural wines. It’s very reminiscent of the neo-bistro style of dining that took Europe by storm several years back, with pared back interiors, blackboard menus and a simple, straightforward approach to local and seasonal ingredients that uses the best parts of traditional French technique and contemporary innovation.
Below, we speak to Lo about the journey so far and what you can expect from the restaurant when things hopefully resume a semblance of normalcy—with any luck, Jean May will officially open some time in August.
What is Jean May all about—how would you describe it to a first-time visitor?
Jean May is a neighbourhood bistro where diners can enjoy a meal of hearty and flavourful dishes we lovingly prepare, with the freshest ingredients. The moment they arrive, they will be greeted warmly with a relaxed and cosy atmosphere and a friendly front-of-house team.
Tell us about your mentor Pierre Koffmann and what you learned from him.
Pierre Koffmann is a chef of chefs and godfather of French cuisine in the culinary world. His cuisine is classic, timeless and flavour-based. I thought it was a ‘lost’ dream to work in his kitchen when he closed his three-Michelin-starred La Tante Claire where so many great chefs had trained in. But he came out of retirement to open Koffmann’s at the Berkeley and my dream to work with him came true. The flavours in his dishes are unforgettable, including his world-famous pig’s trotter, pistachio soufflé, and scallops with squid ink sauce. His kitchen is known to be one of the toughest ones and I have learnt an incredible amount of skills; from how to extract flavours to running a restaurant from behind the stove.
How has it been opening a restaurant during a pandemic?
I've always had my sights set on presenting my own flavour-focused approach to French cooking, and Jean May is a heartfelt passion project that has been in the works for some time. We are geared up to open our doors mid-August. We are mindful of adhering to physical-distancing protocols and navigating responsibly to ensure the health and safety of all.
What is your favourite detail about the restaurant?
My brother Ramon and I designed the restaurant together. We have had quite a clear vision of how we wanted it to be and feel—cosy, personal and welcoming, timeless. Every part brings me great joy because it’s our project together.
What do you think will be the house favourites?
Razor clams—an ingredient that the Chinese do flawlessly, to steam with soy sauce, garlic and spring onions. I put a classic French take on it with only few ingredients to maximise flavour. We use quality ingredients such as Scottish razor clams, parsley, confit shallots, roast garlic, fish stock and butter.
Chicken liver parfait—my nod to nose-to-tail eating, to elevate often overlooked ingredients. A classic and flavourful parfait garnished with a seasonal fruit.
How have you designed the food and drink menus?
Our menu is seasonality based—we celebrate each season by maximising on nature’s best offerings for each season, e.g. in summer, a lot of green vegetables, summer vegetables and herbs. I love nose-to-tail cooking, classical and timeless dishes. As for the drinks, all wines, beers, teas and coffees are handpicked and tasted by our whole front of house team. We are working with La Cabane to offer beautiful natural wines, selected by a very good friend Florie Tap who is also a Koffmann alumnus from Hibiscus. We are passionate about what we offer.
If you could invite anyone to dine at Jean May right now, living or dead, who would they be?
Chef Pierre and Claire Koffmann, my culinary parents, and all the chefs who have inspired and taught me. Needless to say, I wish so much that my grandmother Jean May were here.
How the dine-in ban is going to impact you?
These are challenging and stressful times to open a restaurant, but we are trying our best to adapt to the constant changes, taking things a day at a time. We endeavour to keep our focus on creating a restaurant where guests would love to return.
Jean May, Shop A, 14 Gresson Street, Wan Chai, Hong Kong