The boys of MNSC gathered for another dinner tonight, and not surprisingly our host the Ox chose the Pawn Kitchen by Tom Aikens as the venue. The food from Tom Aikens has always been solid, and I wondered what would be on our menu tonight.
House-made ricotta, broad bean, green peas, sorrel emulsion - the ricotta here has always been tasty, but now they've taken it up a notch by replacing the olive oil with sorrel emulsion - which adds a nice touch of acidity. They've also introduced some texture to the normally smooth spread with the inclusion of broad beans and peas. Gone are the dried herbs of old, and now we have chives and pea shoots. A very, very tasty way to start.
Charcuterie board: Ibérico shoulder, grape chutney, pickle, grilled toast, home-cured meats - duck breast, salami, pancetta, pork rillettes - another staple of our dinners here. Since I've already eaten a good amount of bread with the ricotta, I decided to take it easy with the rillettes and foie gras parfait.
Flat iron chicken, tarragon and parsley - this is a new dish, and while I liked the charred and crispy skin, it was a little too burnt - which meant the carbon tasted a little too bitter. I liked the pile of herbs on top, though... They naturally went well with the kitchen. And those two cloves of garlic...
Lamb cutlet, peas, white garlic puree - another new dish, and we were pretty surprised by the size of these cutlets. Plenty of lamb fat here, and that was just heavenly to me. The meat itself was very tender and succulent... I wonder if it was cooked sous vide. Pretty interesting to have both split peas and pea mash, along with pea shoots. Worked very nicely here. The deep-fried cube was supposed to be coconut panna cotta, but somehow I didn't taste any coconut... It was a little more like a diluted tartar sauce... with herbs and acidity.
Chocolate brownie, red bean, green tea ice cream - I liked the combination of the dense brownie with the green tea ice cream, but I couldn't taste much red bean in the liquid nitrogen-frozen pellets.
Once again our host was very generous, and the lineup was thought-provoking. We were wondering if he was mind-fucking us... and it turned out he was! And in the middle of dinner, the Ox actually dissed us by quoting from a movie... and asked: "Is it really that hard (有那麼難嗎)?"
1999 Salon - a little tight and not showing to much. Not too oxidized, nice with a little caramel. Later on it got nicer, showing some minerals and ripeness on the palate.
First pair: popped and poured from bottle.
1945 Haut-Brion - smoky, a little brett. Ripe and sweet on the nose, very upfront. Also a little sweet grass. Soft and kinda sweet on the palate. Beautiful with the first pour, but actually went downhill with the second pour.
1985 Haut-Brion - nose of sweet grass, fruity, a little smoky and earthy. A little more oxidized. More fragrant with cedar notes, and a little stewed prunes. 93 points.
Second pair: decanted for 1½ hours prior to serving.
1982 Haut-Brion - smoky, a little brett, a little oaky, fragrant, and nice. Somewhat medicinal, a little savory, and leather. 93 points.
1990 Haut-Brion - nice with cedar notes, some savory soy sauce, slightly medicinal with leather notes. 94 points.
Third pair: decanted for 1 hour and 40 minutes prior to serving.
1994 Dominus - more concentration here. A little more mint, a little fragrant cedar. A hint of leather but also pungent. Later on more medicinal notes. 95 points.
1994 Latour - tighter, showing a little burnt rubber. 92 points.
Fourth pair: decanted for almost 2 hours prior to serving.
1994 Henri Jayer Echezeaux - really grassy and vegetal nose, and I believed this was corked. Underneath there was a little fruit.
1994 Beaucastel Hommage à Jacques Perrin - leather, violet, sweet on the nose. Really nice. 95 points.
What a wonderful lineup! How sad that the Jayer wasn't enjoyable (to me), but of course none of us would waste of drop of this rare nectar... Many thanks to our generous friend! And judging by our guesses for the blind-tasting... when many of us made the mistake of taking a pair of wines 4 decades apart as a horizontal... it IS really that hard!
I seem to be the unofficial ambassador for David Lai's restaurants among my group of friends, since I keep getting requests from friends to take them there. As it happens Winnie the Chew has not been to either Fish School and Neighborhood, but since I'm attending a wine dinner at Neighborhood in 2 days - and my last visit to Fish School was some time ago - I figured we should go fish.
As we opened our first bottle of wine, though, I had a shocking realization - my SLR didn't have a memory card! I normally check this before taking the camera out, but neglected to do so. So while my friends very kindly and patiently waited, I ran around the neighborhood in circles in search of a store that would sell such a thing. Thankfully I managed to find one.
Winnie the Chew was a little worried that, given 休魚期 had just started 2 days ago, what kind of seafood would be available to us. I, of course, had supreme confidence in the Man in the White T-Shirt, and he arranged everything for us with the restaurant's new Chef's Selections menu option.
Babylonia - it's been years since David served me babylonia, and this buttery sauce was pretty damn tasty.
Razor clams - there were actually two types of razor clams here, but I wasn't very happy with them. These were barely cooked, and tasted pretty "fishy" to me. Not a fan despite the smoked pork.
Mackerel tartare / radish / nasturtium - there were both thin slices of raw radish as well as chunks of pickled radish. The mackerel tartare was a little more salty than I expected, and also had an unexpected spicy kick. The acidity from the pickled radish comes into play while the freshness of the raw radish helps to cool things down. Also tempered by molasses. Very delish.
Tomato / home-made ricotta / molasses / pancetta - organic tomatoes with a layer of tomato fondue, molasses, beurre noisette, and lemon ricotta on top. Garnished with begonia, pansies, and radish. VERY delicious. The flavors of the tomatoes were wonderful, and you've got the savory notes and umami from the tomato fondue coming through, while there is a bit of saltiness as well as the acidity in the ricotta.
Flounder ceviche / sea urchin / orange leche de tigre - pretty nice, and I especially liked the orange flavors as it made things a little sweeter than your usual ceviche. The addition of mango also made things a little interesting.
Mantis shrimp popcorn / cured duck yolk - one of the signature dishes here, and for the first time ever I finally tasted the egg yolk... since I can now see it sprinkled on the outside on top of the batter...
...although I wasn't sure if this was also yolk or mantis shrimp roe. In any case, this tasted better than the same dish on my previous visits. Very yum.
Marinated raw crab / sea urchin / rice - this was never one of my favorite dishes here, because I always felt that the ratio between the rice and the contents of the crab shell was wrong. After things are mixed up, there wasn't enough flavor in the mouthful of rice that one takes in... and sometimes one may be eating a mouthful of just rice. I do have to say, though, that the crab/sea urchin mix tonight smelled a little more pungent... Perhaps a little more fish sauce than in the past?
Tea smoked pigeon / fermented plum / buckwheat - this was DAMN GOOD! The smokiness from the jasmine tea leaves was immediately apparent when the plate arrived. The pigeon was done rosé, definitely a more than a little pink, and just the way I like it. Crispy skin, tender and juicy meat. The fermented plum sauce on the side was pretty nice, and the buckwheat on the bottom was interesting.
Scallop / tofu / spring onion - the scallop was done perfectly, but it was paired with something that has very little flavor on its own... and I suppose it didn't soak up enough of the delicious spring onion flavors.
Steamed Dover sole - although I would normally expect to get this done à la meunière, I wasn't too surprised to see this steamed in a lobster butter sauce. This meant that the fish was really, really tender and succulent... to the point that it was almost slippery and would slide around in the mouth. Soooooo damn delicious. The fermented roots and, most importantly, the chorizo on top added the additional dimension of flavors. Simply awesome!
Seaweed rice - we were already pretty full, but this came as a side dish to the sole. The rice was cooked with nori (のり) seaweed, Parmesan, and sea bream roe that looked like mentaiko (明太子). Very rich and delicious, but we simply had no room for more.
We didn't have room for dessert, but nevertheless got four portions
Sesame mousse / ginger granita / home-made tofu - very Asian flavors here... with the ginger overpowering the white sesame and tofu.
Pumpkin ice cream / persimmon / melon - this has always been delicious, and we were a little surprised to find fresh persimmon on the plate. The pumpkin ice cream was rich and sweet as usual, and the pickled melon lent its acidity to balance things out.
We brought a couple of bottles to dinner:
2005 Vincent Girardin Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Folatieres - very nice and buttery, good amount of toasty notes. Delicious to drink.
2003 Yquem, en demi-bouteille - really sweet, nutty, with marmalade notes. Rich on the palate.
So... two nights after seeing David Lai at Fish School, I paid him a visit at Neighborhood tonight. Étienne de Montille is in town and arranged a dinner at the restaurant - featuring wines from Domaine de Montille. I was happy to have the opportunity to see Étienne again after our lunch together last year.
Hello Kitty noticed that the set menu for this evening was presented in red leather menu holders by Prada. This was a nice touch, but a little surprising coming from the Man in the White T-Shirt. Maybe a feminine touch from the missus, then...?
After an initial round of tasting, we sat down and prepared for the feast...
Gougere - the jamón inside the gougères was a nice surprise. Pretty nice to start dinner with this!
Small soup - nice and warm cream of mushroom.
Sea mullet crudo / green tomato / yuzu / bottarga - this was really nice and refreshing. Love the green tomatoes... and of course anytime you've got yuzu in a dish, things just get so much better. Too bad there wasn't enough bottarga...
Fried asparagus / bacon mayo / trout roe - our eyes opened wide when this arrived. These were HUGE spears of white asparagus, and I didn't expect to see them covered in a layer of batter.
These had just been deep-fried and were still piping hot, and one could see steam rising from the asparagus once it was cut open.
The bacon mayo with trout roe on the side was simply awesome. Not only was this completely perfect with the asparagus, it was even better when spread on some bread! The sharp acidity was tempered by the richness of the mayo, and the saltiness of the bacon added so much ooomph...
Warm Riviera vegetables "Ducasse" / truffle jus - given that the Man in the White T-Shirt used to work for Monsieur Ducasse, it's not surprising that we would see some shadows of Ducasse in some of the dishes. This is a prime example. The delicious mix of cooked carrots, fennel, artichoke, peas, baby radishes...etc. was dressed in an acidic truffle jus and came with shaved black truffle on top. Oh and there was also little bits of lardon, so I guess this dish wasn't strictly vegetarian...
Girolle mushroom risotto / wild garlic butter - such a delicious risotto with the girolles... and that garlic butter was to die for! Sooooo fragrant/pungent and delightful!
Roast pigeon / foie gras toast - they've always served up really good pigeons here at Neighborhood, and tonight they really have outdone themselves. The foie gras toast on the side was just... so rich and sinful.
Yup, nice and rosé. A little more cooked than the pigeon at Fish School 2 days ago, but no less delicious. The jus was deep and rich in flavors.
Epoisse cheese - the Époisses from Alléosse had to be one of the ripest I've ever had. It was just so completely liquid, and incredibly rich and salty. Because of this spoonful of cheese, I ended up eating a few more chunks of bread... but it was soooooo worth it!
Chocolate palette - honestly, we really didn't need a whole palette for everyone by this point. Half was already as much as I could manage.
Canneles - can't say no to canelés...
Plenty of wine tonight, starting with a range of 2013s which we tasted before dinner started.
2013 Deux Montille Bourgogne Chardonnay - toasty, oaky, some minerals. Good acidity.
2013 Deux Montille Saint-Romain Le Jarron - lovely toasty notes, very fragrant, nice citrus notes with minerals. Good acidity.
2013 Domaine de Montille Meursault Les Narvaux - more minerals, even better and more fragrant. Softer on the palate than expected, without too much acidity.
2013 Domaine de Montille Bourgogne Pinot Noir - good fruit, a little sous bois and eucalyptus.
2013 Domaine de Montille Beaune 1er Cru Les Sizies - the fruit was somehow more muted, with more eucalyptus, leather, and animal notes.
2005 Domaine de Montille Corton-Charlemagne - very floral, so elegant, almost a little caramel. What an honor to be able to taste this wine, since this was the very first vintage and only 1 barrel was produced.
2001 Domaine de Montille Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Caillerets, en magnum - this was so beautiful, with sweet and creamy corn, almost like corn ice cream, and nice toasty notes. Some ripeness on the palate here.
2005 Domaine de Montille Volnay 1er Cru Les Champans - nice leather notes, nice and fragrant. Reasonable concentration and tannins.
1999 Domaine de Montille Volnay 1er Cru Les Taillepieds - more spices, more mature, with black fruits, cedar, and almost a little caramelized. Richer and really beautiful.
1995 Domaine de Montille Pommard 1er Cru Les Rugiens - so fragrant, with animal, leather, meaty, and a little smoky notes. Really nice and sweet fruit. Also a little metallic and iron. 'Rugiens' derives from rouge, which refers to the red soil full of iron oxide.
A very, very fun evening. We had plenty of interesting discussions with Étienne - especially regarding the pricing and allocation systems for wines. Let's see if that leads to any changes which benefit both the wineries and the consumers...
So I'm back in Singapore on my annual conference trip, and as usual I'm spending a few extra days here to meet up with friends... and EAT! As I have arrived at lunch time, I headed out to find some food as soon as I dropped my luggage off in my hotel room.
Believe it or not, I actually don't eat much Hainanese chicken rice (海南雞飯) in Singapore. While that may sound sacrilegious, the reality is that the dish is available readily in Hong Kong, and what's on offer in Singapore isn't necessarily significantly better than what I can get in Hong Kong. So I usually save my stomach space for specific restaurants I want to try out in Singapore, or for food that I can't easily find outside of Singapore.
I've heard about Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice (天天海南雞飯) at Maxwell Food Centre for years, but never really had the urge to go. When all the tourists seem to be heading to just the one place that they've all heard about for this iconic dish, that often spells like a serious land mine best avoided.
As it turns out, I'm staying within walking distance of Maxwell Food Centre at the start of this trip, so I figured I might as well scratch this one off the list...
Well of course there's a line at the famous chicken rice stall! I dutifully line up behind a bunch of tourists, camera in hand. Thankfully the wait wasn't long - within my normal tolerance of 15 minutes - and soon I was carrying my tray around trying to find a seat.
Hainanese chicken rice, medium portion (海南雞飯, 中) - yes, the white meat of the chicken was very, very tender. And moist. And fluffy. It was almost as soft as some types of tofu (豆腐), or cotton balls.
And that's kinda exactly what I think is wrong with it. While I'm not a fan of overcooked chicken (especially breast meat) that shows me what it's like to chew on pieces of rubber, I also prefer my chicken with a little bit of bite. I don't want my chicken to yield effortlessly to my teeth. I want it to resist a little, before finally surrendering.
I also want my chicken to taste like chicken. That might seem like a ridiculously obvious statement, but these days so many battery farm chickens we come across taste completely bland, including this one. If it weren't for the sauce that was lathered on top and the chili lime sauce on the side, I might as well be eating chunks of tofu.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that this was the worst plate of chicken rice I've ever had. Far from it. But I just don't understand the popularity of this place... and why there's always a long line here when there are 3 other stalls selling Hainanese chicken rice in the very same row as this stall. Is this simply a case of herd mentality, spurred on by Anthony Bourdain telling the world that this was the best Hainanese chicken rice in Singapore? Is this the Singaporean version of what happened in Bali?
I try to meet up with my friends Mr. and Mrs. Ho every time I'm in Singapore. We've been friends for a long time, and have shared many culinary adventures together - including that fantastic dinner at elBulli. This time around we're celebrating Mr. Ho's birthday a little early, so after some discussion we decided to get ourselves a table at the Tippling Club.
Tippling Club has, of course, been regarded as one of the top restaurants in Singapore for the last few years. My first impression of the restaurant wasn't a good one, as it was featured in an article in the Wall Street Journal about cryptic menus - leading me to write a post about my pet peeves regarding menus. Nowadays the Tippling Club has entered the ranks of Asia's 50 Best Restaurants for the last 3 years, and certainly would expect to bag themselves a macaron or two when the Rubberman publishes their first Red Guide for Singapore next year. So it moved to the top of my hit list.
We started the evening at the Ho residence, where I saw the kids and their bunny before bedtime. As was customary, Mr. Ho also opened a nice bottle of white wine as an aperitif.
2006 Beaucastel Blanc Rousanne Vieilles Vignes - lots of tropical fruits like mango, ripe and sweet on the palate. Drinking deliciously.
After a nice stroll, we arrived at the restaurant and were seated at a table near the bar area, in full view of the open kitchen. One could choose from either the 5-course or 10-course menu, but the whole table most take the same number of courses. Given that both Mr. Ho and myself wanted the full 10 courses, Mrs. Ho gave in and joined us for the full experience.
First we started with a series of snacks:
Tom yum with coriander tempura, deep-fried curry leaves, coconut - this was kinda interesting... I could definitely taste the lime, coconut, and a little bit of spice from the tom yum cream.
Bocadillo - with chorizo, tomato, and olive oil caviar. Very tasty. Love the chewy texture of the chorizo being sandwiched by crispy wafers.
Corn cracker, garlic aioli, sakura shrimp - with pea powder. My cracker had gone a little soggy but I was accused by my dining companions of taking too long to snap pictures... which was, of course, not true... The aioli was very tasty, as were the sakura shrimps (桜海老).
Smoked and charred red bell peppers, soya wasabi mousse - the peppers were pretty tasty - with crunchy charred exteriors crumbling to reveal the true flavors inside. The accompanying mousse was a complete FAIL. It was just so incredibly salty... to the point where one has to wonder why the chef thought it necessary. It reminded me of my experience at Alinea, where there were courses which compelled me to reach for a drink in order to wash away the saltiness on my tongue.
Manchego bread puff, Manchego mousse, Manchego cheese - this was very good... with a mouthful of Manchego and the fragrance from the hazelnut oil caviar.
Deep-fried mushroom nori roll, algae powder, oba vinaigrette - I can't believe that, in 2016, there are still chefs who think having diners injecting something into the food by squeezing a pipette is still cool. It's the kinda shit I hated about Richard Ekkebus' cuisine at Amber back in 2007, and Richard outgrew that years ago...
I think the roll was already kinda mushy before the injection of liquid, so it only got worse.
Our palate cleanser came as a shot of tomato gazpacho with olive oil and basil oil. Nice.
Then the procession of 10 courses began...
Alaskan king crab, liquified scrambled eggs, shallot puree and lobster veloute - the slow-poached crab was pretty tasty. The two globs of what must have been 'liquefied' scrambled eggs were kinda interesting... although I must confess that I had a hard time identifying the contents inside purely from the flavors. The salsify on top was pretty nice and crunchy, and the jus was sweet and flavorful. Overall a pretty good dish.
Razor clams, purple Brittany garlic soup - buried under the parsley chip were wild Scottish razor clams and milk-braised parsley root, which were immersed in the garlic soup. There were also three parsley 'dots' on top. The garlic flavors of the soup helped to make this a warm and comforting dish, and there was just enough seasoning/salt to be just shy of becoming too salty.
Foie gras coulant, passionfruit center, Chinese celery financier - the presentation here is certainly visually appealing and interesting... A cylinder of foie gras pâté, almost like a skinny torchon, sitting on a bed of crumbled financier made with celery and mixed with cocoa nibs and celery gel. Topped with thin strips of crunchy celery.
But cutting open the coulant revealed the problem with this dish... There was simply way too much passion fruit coulis inside. The acidity dominated the dish, to the point where one had difficulty tasting the foie gras. Foie gras should be the star here, but it feels like passion fruit has usurped the star status.
When someone who proclaims to love foie gras chooses not to finish a foie gras dish, that should tell you something...
False risotto of artichoke and potato, jamon, confit egg yolk, avruga caviar - more trouble. First of all, the nomenclature is wrong. Besides potato, the other brunoise in this "risotto" (and the ingredient used for the chips) was topinambour - otherwise known as "Jerusalem artichoke" or sunchoke. It is not at all the same thing as artichoke. To make this mistake in the introduction - and worse, on the menu itself - is a ridiculous mistake for a restaurant trying to play at this level. The "bellota jamón" was also introduced as "J5"... which I believe should be "5J" or Cinco Jotas as that is a brand name.
The real problem with this dish, though, was again the flavors. While I was not surprised to find some acidity in a dish featuring Jerusalem artichokes and jamón ibérico, the dish turned out to be incredibly salty. Yes, the jamón can be a little bit salty at times but in reality it also comes with sweet and nutty flavors. The salt also didn't come from the confit egg yolk. It appears to have come from, among other things, the avruga caviar... which was completely unnecessary in this dish. Let's face it... avruga caviar isn't even caviar. It's a fucking processed food ingredient made to look like caviar, but it neither has the right texture nor the right flavors... and in the end all you get is salt on your tongue. And the illusion that you're serving your customers a luxe ingredient - which it is most definitely not.
Another dish that my friends did not finish.
Kingfish, aubergine, pea and green curry puree, tom kha veloute - the poached yellowtail kingfish was very nice and tender, and Mrs. Ho thought the foam on top was very similar to otak-otak... The aubergine caviar and Thai basil were nice and all, but for some reason there were chunks of celery that had obviously been salted or marinated or whatever... If one chomped on the celery alone, one would again be left with a ton of salt on one's tongue. What, exactly, was the purpose of having the celery in here?! The dish would be so much better without it, with all the flavors coming together pretty harmoniously. The celery was definitely a "WTF" ingredient for me...
Mangalica pork collar, nuka vegetables, nori, cinnamon infused dashi - I was so looking forward to having some Mangalica pork, but this was ruined by... you guess it... too much salt. The pork was brined and cooked sous vide, and while it was very, very tender it was also very, very, very salty. Adding insult to injury was the topping of carrots and cucumber which had gone through the Japanese nukatsuke (糠漬け) fermentation... so that they, too, were salty. Or maybe that was the cinnamon dashi (出汁) that was poured on top of everything which... yup... added more salt. The france of yuzu (柚子) in the dashi couldn't hope to save the dish form being a total disaster.
A4 Toriyama beef, horseradish burrata, Japanese fruit tomato, artichoke - the final nail in the coffin. By course number 7 we were all pretty full... and the kitchen sent out this incredibly heavy dish for a knock-out punch. And succeeded. Neither of my friends finished their dish.
The wagyu (和牛) from Toriyama Farm (鳥山牧場) was indeed very marbled and premium, but unfortunately too rich for us as it came after the heavy assault we had just gone through. While I understand that many people feel that horseradish is a good complement to beef, we were puzzled by its combination with burrata. The addition of Japanese sea grapes (海葡萄) seemed like a novel idea, but it tasted heavily of the ocean and clashed badly with the beef. Finally, the slices of wagyu that went through the Japanese kobujime (昆布締め) process of seasoning turned out very, very salty... AGAIN.
At least the chunk of Jerusalem artichoke at the bottom was introduced correctly this time... even though the menu still got it wrong.
At this time both Mr. and Mrs. Ho threw in the towel and declined any more dishes. Mrs. Ho came to a full stop while Mr. Ho skipped the next two dishes and only took the very last fruit-based dessert. Cat the manager was kind enough to take this into account and deducted some of the charges from our bill.
Cheese, a daily creation from the pastry kitchen - "quesa de torta" with sourdough crumbs, potatoes, pickled shallots, olive oil caviar. At least there was some acidity here to help cut down the richness... and the black truffle (?) bits were nice and fragrant.
Sweet treats - as if we didn't have enough food, I got more playful bites before hitting the desserts...
A bottle of pills came and these were supposed to be my strawberry cheesecake medication...
They did taste of strawberries, complete with having seeds stuck in between my teeth. There were also bits of savory crust.
Mandarin and Madras curry - a frozen ball of ice that tasted strongly of both.
Violet fizz bomb - actually also tasted somehow of nori (のり) seaweed to me...
Chocolate ganache, banana and avocado puree, poached banana, sorrel - with caramel rum poached banana and banana chips. Well, banana and chocolate do pair well together. The avocado dots had so much surprising acidity, however... Oh and the leaf was introduced as "shira leaf", but perhaps they meant sorrel?
Strawberries and cream, creme fraiche sorbet, yoghurt and white chocolate rocks - there were strawberry rocks at the bottom instead of the chocolate rocks stated on the menu, along with a strawberry sablé.
Taking out some of the foam on top showed the mint granité and the crème fraîche sorbet. There were also some Japanese strawberries macerated in strawberry liqueur. When I asked for the type of Japanese strawberry used, the response was "ichigo strawberries".
Now... the main event tonight was actually not the food but the wines. Specifically, a very special bottle of wine. Many years ago (it has been so long that neither of us remembered exactly, so let's say it was 10 years ago) I had given Mr. Ho a very, very nice bottle of wine from his birth vintage. It was a gem in my collection, and I had chosen to part with it as a sign of my friendship with Mr. Ho... with the stipulation that the bottle must be drunk with me. Tonight Mr. Ho very graciously allowed me to collect on my debt.
1976 Yquem - double-decanted due to a broken cork. What a lovely wine! Loads of honey, nutty, grapey notes... with dried prunes and Medjool dates. The wine opened up with time and just got richer and more amazing over the course of the evening. Such an incredible privilege to be able to drink this 40-year old nectar!
2001 Comte de Vogüé Musigny Vielles Vignes - opened for an hour prior to decanting. This needed to be chilled to a more suitable drinking temperature. A little smoky with leather, eucalyptus, dried herbs, and forest notes. Long finish.
The wines were simply fantastic tonight, and we were very happy to have shared the experience together. Too bad the food fell far short of our expectations, and I felt bad enough that I picked up the tab.
In spite of the disappointing food, the service tonight was better than I had expected. Besides being fairly attentive with wine service and all, and deducting some cost off our bill for not taking the full 10 courses, the restaurant also graciously decided to waive their standard corkage for both of the bottles we brought along. It was unfortunate, then, that I was fuming by the end of dinner that I did not notice this fact until after I returned to my hotel room. I would have added back some tips to show my appreciation.
P.S. One final rant about this restaurant. I know that many diners like the idea of an open kitchen so that they can watch the kitchen at work. I'm not one of those people, but I wouldn't mind so much as long as the kitchen is properly ventilated. Unfortunately, this kitchen isn't. When I'm paying good money for a meal, I don't want to be smelling the kitchen making other people's food - because it interferes with my dining experience. My olfactory experience should consist solely of what's on the plate in front of me. I would also be extremely bothered if I could not properly smell and enjoy my glass of wine... which was the case at various times tonight. This is a HUGE pet peeve of mine, and there's little reason for me to return to a restaurant that delivers this kind of experience.
I pinged my friend L and told her that I was coming in town again, and wanted to see if we could meet up for dinner. Seeing that I was already scheduled to hit a couple of fine dining places in town, and this being Sunday night and all - when many of the city's finer establishments don't open - she proposed taking me to New Ubin Seafood. I've been hearing quite a few Singaporean friends mention this place, so I figured I owed this place a try.
FYI, New Ubin Seafood actually isn't on Pulau Ubin... or anywhere near it. The owners have relocated the restaurant to Sin Ming Industrial Estates, which is kinda smack in the middle of Singapore. So I made sure I got my Google Maps working on my phone as I went north in a taxi.
We were led to the wine cellar in the middle of the restaurant, where our table of four would be seated. It feels claustrophobic, but L had insisted that we book this room... because only VIPs who receive permission from the owner get seated in this air-conditioned room. Well, A/C is always nice to have in Singapore, especially when most of the restaurant doesn't get it. But wine cellars are normally kept at a temperature that falls below my comfort zone so I did feel a little chilly.
I left the ordering to the locals, with the exception of one dish that I was craving for.
Carabineros sashimi - I don't know why, but this didn't taste anywhere nearly as good as I imagined it would. It tasted a little... medicinal. Everything I love about carabineros - like the incredible umami - was basically missing here. I don't think I'll ever have them raw again.
But they deep-fried the heads for us. Yum!
BBQ king tiger prawns - these were nice, with tons of chopped garlic on top.
You tiao with squid paste - this is one of my favorite dishes at seafood restaurants in Singapore, ever since I first tasted it 30 years ago. Surprisingly, while the deep-fried Chinese crullers were crispy they weren't too hard and crunchy. Similarly, the squid paste encased in the middle was much softer and fluffier than any I've ever had... almost like marshmallow. I loved eating this, but nobody else was really helping me with the dish. I started feeling a little full after a few pieces of this.
Chye poh kway teow boss style - L was confident that I would be impressed with this dish, and I was. Stir-fried at high heat for that wonderful wok hei (鑊氣), this was really delicious... and just glistening with oil. Soooo satisfying.
Fish roe fried with petai and sambal served with chinchalok - naturally the flavors were pretty strong and a little heavy-handed with the chinchalok, but thankfully the fish roe was a little bland to provide that balance. Pretty big petai beans here... and the taste is kinda growing on me.
Garlic baked Sri Lankan crab - they ran out of the big crabs so we only got something under 1kg. I didn't get this preparation. At all. The crab was baked with garlic cloves, but the garlic cloves were not peeled and the flavors did not get into the crab meat itself. So while there was plenty of natural sweetness in the crab meat, I failed to see why the restaurant bothered cooking with garlic at all...
Even though we were seated in the "ultra-VIP" wine cellar, there seemed to be a lot of regular customers tonight... because all the good stuff seem to have been taken by the time we got around to ordering them. Even the durian dessert! Oh well... No durian for me tonight!
A pretty good dinner, but not much wow factor except for the kway teow. I guess I was really expecting to order the famous steak and the accompanying fried rice cooked in fat drippings, and came away disappointed when we didn't have enough mouths for it. That, and the bland crab dish...
For the last couple of years, there has been one restaurant which I insist on visiting during each and every trip to Singapore. That restaurant is Candlenut, and is my top recommendation to anyone looking to visit the Lion City. I simply love the modern Peranakan cuisine that Malcolm Lee is doing at this place. For the first part of my trip this year, I even went so far as to stay in the Dorsett Singapore... so I could just walk out of hotel lobby and into the restaurant.
Since my last visit, the restaurant has decided to switch to a tasting menu format for dinner. That is actually bad news for us "regulars", because we've gone through most of Malcolm's repertoire and would prefer to cherry-pick our own dishes. On this trip, given that I am coming to eat by myself, I decided to do lunch instead.
What I actually love most about Candlenut are actually the desserts. So before I even stepped foot inside, I had already made up my mind that I was gonna order THREE desserts... and take just one savory dish to start.
I was sweating a lot when I walked in, so I ordered myself a calamansi juice. I had forgotten that they serve it straight up without adding any sugar, and provide a small pitcher of syrup on the side. I like that.
I debated about which one savory dish to order, and after checking my past blog posts to make sure I don't repeat the exactly combination, chose to order the beef cheek rendang.
I expected this to be very tender, and indeed it was. The extended cooking time plus the collagen meant that meat yielded easily to my spoon. Not surprisingly the flavors are full-on, and I love the roasted coconut flakes on top...as well as kaffir lime leaves - both chiffonade and deep-fried. Sweeter than I remembered, but soooo tasty.
After stuffing myself with a hunk of beef cheek along with as little steamed rice as I could get away with, it was time to order my desserts. I asked my waiter to deliver the three desserts in sequential order, one at a time.
Textures of coconut - true to its name, the entire dessert is made with coconut and comes in 5 different textures: little bits of coconut flesh at the bottom sprinkled among the fresh, clean and pure coconut jelly; a scoop of coconut sorbet that was packed full of coconut flavor; some fluffy coconut espuma on top of the sorbet; and microplane grated coconut. I would be happy to have this every day.
Chendol cream - probably my favorite dessert here. I just loooooove the soft and fluffy coconut custard, and of course everything tastes three times better with gula melaka added. This is a dessert I won't share.
Durian soup - ah... the last of the trio. I haven't gotten around to getting my durian fix yet, but this would do nicely. That durian ice cream sure was rich and creamy! And the feuilletine added a nice texture to the whole thing.
I was really, really full... Thankfully the three desserts were mostly liquid and would pass through my system relatively quickly, but it was still taking up a lot of space in my stomach. But I didn't care. I was really, really happy that I got to take all three of my favorite desserts together.
By the way... as I was on my second dessert, one of the waitresses came over and suggested that I order the buah keluak ice cream, since it was their signature dessert. Well, I've had that a couple of times already, and while it is indeed very special and creative, I'd rank it as #4 out of the 4 desserts available at lunch. And no, I didn't have the stomach space for a fourth dessert, anyway...
P.S. I was still burping up durian some 5 hours after lunch finished. That's how good it was.
Not having spent nearly enough time with my friend Chubby Hubby and his lovely wife S at the party for Asia's 50 Best Restaurants in Bangkok, I figured it would be good to catch up over dinner while I'm in town. As S handles PR for quite a few of the top restaurants in town, I was not the least bit surprised when they offered to host me at these places. Not wanting to take advantage of too many freebies - as I always prefer to go on my own dime - I arranged to meet up with them only at Odette.
I'd had a taste of Chef Julien Royer's cuisine when I came to Singapore this time last year, shortly before he left JAAN to start things up here. I enjoyed my meal very much, so I was pretty confident that I wouldn't be writing up a post trashing the chef's food after I had just eaten a free meal there - and putting my friends in an awkward position in the process.
I was pretty distressed to find out yesterday, though, that Chubby Hubby had come down with a case of stomach flu. Naturally he was still recovering and purportedly having porridge tonight, so poor S was left with no choice but trying to entertain me while listening to my drivel all evening.
Chef Julien came over to greet me, and when we were ready - after I confirmed to the restaurant that I have no dietary restrictions - the procession of yummy bites started arriving.
We started out with a smaller platter of nibbles...
Parsley crisp with confit tomatoes
Charcoal Mediterranean pita bread with olive spheres - very nice with eggplant inside.
Cantal cheese cake with candied walnuts - contrasting savory flavors from the cheese on top with a sweet sponge cake bottom.
Tartlet with Le Puy lentils and grain mustard
This brings back some memories from JAAN. It's even presented on a porcini-shaped board!
Here we've got mushroom sabayon on top of wild mushroom tea, with puffed buckwheat and shimeji (しめじ茸) mushrooms. I love it when it's soooo.... mushroomy! So hearty and comforting. Nice acidity in the sabayon, and crunchy buckwheat.
Porcini puff with cep butter
The bread basket came and along came this lard butter. Not many things can get me to totally ignore Bordier butter, but this thing certainly did...
Hokkaido uni: langoustine, mussel 'cloud', Oscietra caviar - this familiar dish has been tweaked a little since the last time I had it. Mozambique langoustine tartare, apparently... There seemed to be big chunks of green apple inside, but provided an interesting crunchy texture and also a little bit of acidity and sweetness.
Hand-dived Scottish scallop: oyster leaves, jalapeno, ikura - a nice mix of ingredients here... with marinated scallops together with salted salmon roe (イクラ), along with rice crackers, nori (海苔) seaweed, oyster leaves, edamame (枝豆), and a small quenelle of jalapeño sorbet. Except for the sorbet and the oyster leaves, the flavors here were pretty much all Japanese and very familiar.
Majestic oyster 'Jacques Cocollos' 2 ways:
Tartare, dill sea pearl - the bottom layer of the bowl came with oyster tartare along with shredded spring onions.
Tempura, vadouvan, sea grapes - the tempura (天ぷら) batter was a little thick and the flavors of the oyster were kinda obscured, but I did taste the vadouvan in the emulsion. Garnished with Japanese sea grapes (海葡萄).
Egg/egg/egg: scrambled organic egg, Le Puy lentils, truffle 'mouillette' - while many of the other tables were getting Chef Julien's smoked eggs, I'm glad that we got something different that I haven't tried before.
The "eggs x3" is basically the lentils, the egg, and the Oscietra caviar on top. I get a warm and fuzzy feeling after spooning this into my mouth.
I love the mouillettes that often come with runny eggs, but in this case the top was covered with truffle shavings... so I guess I wasn't gonna be dippin' it into the egg.
Duo of asparagus: mimosa, wild garlic, sauce mousseline - three types of asparagus here... green from Provence, another from Rhône valley, and white asparagus. Mixed with both jamón ibérico and ibérico pork belly, as well as morels and wild garlic. With hollandaise sabayon on top. Love the acidity together with the salty flavors of the jamón.
Seared foie gras: miso caramel, lemon quinoa, ichigo - the foie comes from Landes, and sits on a bed of tasty lemon quinoa. Here we have more "ichigo strawberries"... this time as confit.
Yes, I rolled my eyes when I heard the words "ichigo strawberries" for the second time in 3 days. It's as silly as saying "homard lobster"...
Crispy-skinned Japanese kinmedai: charred Fremantle octopus, cupidon tomato, fennel and bouillabaisse - I always like golden alfonsino (金目鯛)... especially when the skin is crispy. And having with bouillabaisse is perfect. I liked the texture of the octopus with fennel, and the added fragrance from olive oil caviar.
We were shown the pigeons for our next course and asked our preferences for doneness. As usual, I asked for "rosé".
'BBQ' pigeon Fabien Deneour: petit pois, roasted porcini, pickled cherry - now this looks familiar... n'est-ce pas? The pigeon with the stretched out confit leg... extending its middle finger at the diner - in a last act of defiance, in death. The execution of the breast was perfect for me. It even came with half a heart... which oozed out blood when I applied pressure with my knife. The confit cherries were very yummy, as was the foie gras coulant with liquid foie gras inside.
Cabri Ariégeois - the cheese trolley with goodies from Bernard Antony was rolled over, but I decided to take things easy tonight, and only asked for the Cabri Ariégeois. Unfortunately this was not ripe enough in terms of texture... and wasn't at all liquid.
A pretty porcelain spoon was laid on the table in preparation for the pre-dessert...
...which came in a cup with lemon verbena granité at the bottom, some mint syrup, compressed and diced apple and cucumber, a quenelle of cucumber sorbet, topped with bay leaf espuma and garnished with a cucumber flower. Soooo refreshingly perfect.
Lemon tart: organic lemon curd, sable Breton, basil - sitting on the sablé Breton was organic Amalfi lemon curd, with Amalfi lemon foam on top garnished with basil leaves and basil flowers.
There's Italian basil ice cream inside. This was very, very good. I love me a little acidity at the end of a long meal.
Finally we get the mignardises... Passion fruit meringue with kaffir lime; canelé, pistachio and raspberry tart; salted caramel bonbons.
I wanted to bring a nice bottle to share with my hosts, and I thought this might be appropriate with the food tonight...
Jacques Selosse Exquise, dégorgée à 15 Juin 2009 - this was much, much sweeter on the palate than every other bottle I have had before. Also very rounded and mature on the palate. Nice toasty notes with marmalade. Such a pleasure to drink.
This was a long but beautiful dinner. I knew I wouldn't be disappointed, and I left the restaurant stuffed but beaming. Many thanks to S and Chef Julien for this special treat. I sure hope Chubby Hubby enjoyed his porridge at home.
P.S. Many thanks also to Chef Julien for a jar of the restaurant's groseille jam. I look forward to popping open that jar soon.
For someone who can't seem to get enough Peranakan food - and who insists on hitting Candlenut on each and every trip to Singapore - it seems strange that I've never managed to get to one of Willin Low's restaurants. So I decided it was time to address this issue, and got my ass to Wild Rocket for lunch today.
I must admit that I was a little apprehensive when I looked at the menu online. What Malcolm Lee does at Candlenut is to update Peranakan dishes by using premium, non-traditional ingredients... or employing modern techniques to cook them. But I love his dishes because they stay true to Peranakan flavors - or at least I think they do.
Willin's menu at Wild Rocket, though, lists things like beef carpaccio, pesto linguine, beef short rib... which don't sound like the kind of flavors that I was looking for. But I know that my friend Chubby Hubby is a big fan, so I went ahead and pre-ordered the omakase menu. As it turns out, not many people are crazy enough to take the full omakase at lunch.
Pomelo salad with tiger prawns and frozen coconut dressing - once the scoop of coconut dressing ice cream has been mashed up, mixed with the ingredients, and started melting, the flavors were indeed very familiar. The salad came with string beans, prawns, pomelo, deep-fried shallots, peanuts, mint, dried cranberries, and crunchy cubes of chayote. Very nice, but the flavors of the dressing were a little heavy and punchy for a first course.
Pan-fried Hokkaido scallop with nasi lemak - the scallop was nicely done, and came with a generous helping of homemade sambal ikan bilis that was really tasty, but a little more fiery than I had expected. The puddle of green was inspired by nasi lemak, and was Thai jasmine rice cooked in coconut and pandan until it turned to mush... then sprinkled with a few grains of puffed rice. This was creamy, and milder in terms of flavors.
Char kway teow with cuttlefish noodles - I was asked to guess the ingredient for the kway teow, but given the proliferation of squid/cuttlefish noodles these days, it was pretty obvious... I looove char kway teow (炒粿條), and the flavors here were full-on... with chunks of deep-fried pork lard to boot. Very yummy, but again very heavy in terms of flavors.
Uni laksa risotto - this was very mushy and creamy... and the rice had just a little bit of bite in the center. Geoduck was chopped up and mixed in to provide some texture, and garnished with sakura shrimp (桜海老). Honestly, this was tasty but I found that the natural sweetness of the sea urchin had been completed overwhelmed by the laksa.
Salted egg crab cake - made with both Australian spanner crab and Vietnamese blue swimmer crab.
Willin jokingly said that this was "full of crab", and thanks to the amount of crab meat inside, this was really tasty. The sauce at the bottom had a little surprising sweetness, kinda like white miso (味噌).
"Singapore noodles" spaghettini with king prawn - I looooooove this dish! The spaghettini has been cooked in prawn stock and dressed in lobster oil, so it was packed with umami and pretty spicy at the same time... although a touch of kalamansi lime juice tempered the heat. There was also a good amount of garlic here.
The prawn itself was slightly tough and chewy on the outside, but actually done mi-cuit in the center.
I would do a big plate of this anytime, any day.
Beef tongue with Thai green curry sauce - not bad, but coming after that spectacular last dish this was somewhat anticlimactic...
Pink guava sorbet - with white guava chunks inside. The fragrance of the guava was obvious, as was the sprinkle of Taiwanese preserved orange peel.
Chendol - with pandan-infused panna cotta, dairy-free coconut ice cream, and salted gula melaka. I love chendol, and I would have liked Willin's interpretation of it, too... if it weren't for the bits of digestive biscuits at the bottom. Willin had added so much butter to this that it really changed the flavor balance of the whole dessert, and honestly became a little too much to handle at the end of such a big meal.
I was COMPLETELY stuffed. Nine courses is a lot to take in at lunch, especially since the flavors of many of these dishes pack a pretty heavy punch. I was pretty happy with my lunch, and there were quite a few clear winners. I do think, though, that the omakase should probably be scaled down a little for lunch...
So the globetrotting, jet-setting economics professor is back in town, as he continues his travels through Asia this year. He is on his way to Singapore, while I had just come back from the Lion City. Thankfully we are able to meet up in Hong Kong during his last few hours here. I figured I'd take him to have some of my favorite dim sum items in town, especially since I myself haven't been back to Fook Lam Moon (福臨門) in a while.
I decided to order multiple rounds of small batches so that we would not have ALL of our food on the table at the same time...
Steamed dumplings with prawn (鮮蝦蒸粉果) - very delicious. With fillings like prawns, ground pork, bamboo shoots, chives, carrots, and mushrooms.
Steamed prawn dumplings with bamboo shoots (har gau, 筍尖鮮蝦餃) - my standard for har gau. Can't go wrong with this.
Pan-fried radish pudding with XO sauce (XO醬炒蘿蔔糕) - had to introduce the professor to 'XO sauce', which makes lots of things very tasty. Yum.
Deep-fried salt water dumplings (家鄉咸水餃) - this is also my go-to place for salt water dumplings, but I wondered if they are kinda skimping on the fillings these days...
Baked tart with char siu (蜜汁叉燒酥) - I like the way they put Indian almonds (欖仁) on top.
Deep fried prawn and chicken spring rolls (雞絲蝦春卷) - also my favorite spring rolls in town. I just loooooove the impeccable crispy wrapper that crumbles in the mouth under pressure. And the filling is delish, too!
Steamed buns with lotus paste and salty egg yolk (蛋黃蓮蓉飽) - I gave an explanation of all the desserts on offer, and this was what the professor chose... which I felt was a good choice. Always interesting to put sweet and savory flavors together.
This was a lot of food even for two grown men, but I'm glad I got a chance to catch up with il professore while treating him to some good dim sum. Hopefully we can catch up more regularly going forward.
Some 6 years after the first time, I was once again at a wine dinner with Dr. Katharina Prüm - the winemaker of Weingut Joh. Jos. Prüm. I didn't hesitate to sign up when I first found out about it, because I've been such a big fan of their wines. The added bonus was that tonight's dinner was held at Zhejiang Heen (浙江軒), a Shanghainese restaurant with a Michelin star that I have never been to.
The crowd tonight was much larger than I had expected, which was a testament to the success of the organizing wine merchant. I arrived late and Dr. Prüm was already in the middle of her speech. Pretty soon the waitstaff would start to bring out food from the kitchen, following the preset menu.
Zhejiang Heen signature appetizers: smoked fish, black fungi in Zhejiang vinegar, pickled radish, Ningbo crispy fried eels, transparent bean noodles with shredded chicken, smoked egg (浙江軒冷盤：長江燻魚, 香醋雲耳, 醬香蘿蔔, 寧波脆鱔, 雞絲粉皮. 煙燻蛋) - so we start out with a plate full of different appetizers. The smoked fish was not too sweet, had a pretty crunchy exterior but remained pretty soft inside. Black fungus came with good acidity from the vinegar. The pickled radish was pretty salty with a little sweetness and a hint of spice on the finish. The crispy eels were pretty tasty. The noodles were OK, and the smoked egg wasn't bad.
Fired river shrimps (清炒河蝦仁) - yes, my menu said "fired", not "fried"... These also didn't come with the traditional condiment of black vinegar.
Roasted pork in honey sauce with butterfly pastry (蜜汁烤雙肪配蝴蝶餅) - not a fan. The piece of tofu skin I get, but I don't understand why a slice of pumpkin was used here. The ham was also only OK. Making things worse, the honey sauce was drizzled all over the place, making this messy to eat.
Oh and someone at my table bit into his bun and found a shard of glass. That is just fucking scary! Thankfully he didn't bit too hard, so I didn't see blood spurting from his tongue or mouth...
The servers were also pissing me off at this point. In the space of 10 minutes they have served up the first 3 dishes, without regard to whether the diner has actually finished the previous dishes. I can understand if you serve me dish #2 when I'm still working on the first one, but when I see dish #3 before I finish dish #1, what you're telling me is that you just don't give a shit.
Pork ribs in vinegar (香醋骨) - these were leaner than I expected, but very tasty nonetheless... with a nice balance between sweetness, acidity, and savory notes.
Crispy mandarin fish with pine nuts (松子桂魚) - not one of my favorite dishes from Zhejiang cuisine, but this was OK.
Crispy deep-fried chicken with 4 treasures (四寶片皮雞) - the menu said "smoked chicken", but I think this was probably the chicken with 4 treasures... on account of all the other stuff on the plate. The chicken itself was nothing to write home about, but I started scratching my head when I realized there was a piece of deep-fried fish finger here... I have no idea why the restaurant thought it worked with the chicken, but at least it didn't taste like it came from a box of Birds Eye.
Next I picked up what I assumed to be a battered and deep-fried oyster, only to discover that it was actually imitation crab leg. WHAT THE FUCK! A fucking piece of imitation crab leg! Battered and deep-fried. In a restaurant with a fucking Michelin star. It's like that place in Taipei putting spreadable wedges of La vache qui rit on a so-called cheese platter. Un-fucking-believable.
The fishcake with seaweed was also a little WTF. The only saving grace on this plate was the big chunk of rice crispies. This, boys and girls, was AWESOME. Obviously freshly deep-fried in lots of oil at high heat, both the texture and the flavors were perfect.
Having said that, I still want to throw this plate back in the chef's face. The whole dish feels like school lunch for a 9-year old.
Tofu skin with green Zhejiang vegetable (百葉小唐菜) - this was OK.
Sauteed beef fillets with onion (京蔥爆牛肉) - pretty heavy flavors here. A little bit on the salty side, but there is some sweetness in the sauce. Plus there's plenty of sweetness in the crunchy and slightly caramelized spring onions.
Fried crab in soy sauce with rice flour cake (醬炒青蟹年糕) - also pretty heavy flavors here, as expected, but sweeter. Love this classic Shanghainese dish.
Fried rice with conpoy and egg whites (乾貝蛋白炒飯) - this was OK, if slightly under-seasoned.
Deep-fried egg whites with red bean paste, red date paste cake (高力豆沙, 椰棗拉糕) - the egg white was so-so, and the date paste cake didn't have much (if any) date flavor.
But I didn't come for the food tonight. I came for the wines. And the wines, of course, were fantastic.
2014 Joh. Jos. Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett, from magnum - plenty of flint, polyurethane, almost a little floral and clearly jasmine. Relatively high acidity but with some residual sugar.
2007 Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese - leaner on the nose, with more pungent polyurethane. Rounder on the palate with more sweetness. Very lovely to drink now.
1987 Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese - lots of polyurethane, a little more white pepper, more acetone, fragrant. Much higher acidity on the palate than expected, with almost no noticeable sugar. Good length on the palate.
1998 Joh. Jos. Prüm Bernkasteler Lay Riesling Auslese - much more fragrant and complex, more evolved, with acetone, a little minerals. Pretty sweet but still good acidity on the finish.
1997 Joh. Jos. Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Auslese - more pungent and plastic, more flint, slate, white pepper. Sharper on the nose. Still nice and smooth on the palate.
1995 Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese - very, very floral, with white flowers. Later on the floral notes faded a little to make way for wax and acetone.
2003 Joh. Jos. Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel - very floral, with lots of white flowers, a little bit of slate, and plenty of polyurethane. Sweeter and richer on the palate, also more viscous.
2003 Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel - lean on the nose, with flint, white pepper, white flowers. Kinda sweet but drier than the Graacher Himmelreich, with sweetness coming on the back half of the palate. Opened up more and showed more white flowers. Good length here.
2006 Joh. Jos. Prüm Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Beerenauslese - tons of orange blossom and honey, with acetone and white flowers. Sharper nose here, a little pollen, and the polyurethane really came out later. Sooooo rich and unctuous, and of course sweet like nectar. A beautiful wine.
Beautiful wines. But any place that has the gall to serve up imitation crab meat deserves to be stripped of its Michelin stars. I don't think I'm going back there again...
In conjunction with the publication of his book Octaphilosophy, Chef André Chiang has embarked on a tour with the publisher Phaidon to promote the book. Hong Kong was the last stop on the Asian leg of the tour, and two "four hands" dinners were planned - where both Restaurant André and Amber would contribute dishes. I had the good fortune of snagging a table for tonight.
A few weeks ago, I received a separate invitation to join the chefs this afternoon. The publisher and the hotel were inviting members of the media for an afternoon tasting session, as well as a Q and A session with the chefs. This was a pretty good opportunity to get up close and personal with the chefs behind the restaurants that took the #3 and #4 spots on the list of Asia's 50 Best Restaurants, so I was only too happy to accept this invitation.
Since this was a book tour, André started by showing us his copy of the limited edition box set - with the book encased in 8 separate layers of wood, and where each layer would have to be removed by pulling in 1 of 4 different directions. This was produced in an edition of 50.
Then the chefs sat down and were peppered with questions - many of which had been pre-submitted. These were pretty interesting, and we were able to gain a little insight about the chefs through their answers.
Regarding ingredients which the chefs do not work with much, and perhaps would like to work more with, Richard's response was that he often chooses to challenge himself by working with ingredients that people believe gweilo chefs can't handle. Sea urchin was one such ingredient, and I think we all know what happened after Richard took up the challenge... He also challenged himself with abalone, and I've had some pretty damn good ones from Richard.
André freely admitted that diners won't see much capsicum on his menus because he doesn't really know how to handle this ingredient. He's traditionally also avoided serving cheese at his restaurant, because he feels that he has no input into the diners' experience with cheese, as he wasn't responsible for producing the cheese and would simply be cutting slices and placing them on a plate. This has actually led him to create his "Restaurant André Camembert" - which is a dessert made to look like cheese. I had the pleasure of sampling that creation a couple of months ago when André was in town.
Richard also discussed his experience of trying to serve "locavore" cuisine - which he felt was not feasible in Hong Kong due to the lack of local ingredients... unless he was to serve only bok choy (白菜) and Chinese cabbage. Richard recounted the story of how he came to Hong Kong wanting to use local Asian ingredients, but when he served them to his customers, the feedback 10 years ago was overwhelmingly negative... as customers in Hong Kong felt that they had not come to a French restaurant to be served local ingredients!
So the solution - after being told that his European fish was "fishy" and that he shouldn't be serving local fish because "it wasn't right" - was to turn to Japan due to its proximity as well as the very high quality of the ingredients. These days we have become accustomed to seeing a variety of Japanese ingredients - be it seafood, vegetables, or fruit - at Amber, and today for the first time I understand the story behind the evolution of this facet of Richard's cuisine. Richard says he now takes some 6 trips to Japan each year to source and discover ingredients.
Today being the very last day that the iconic Hokkaido sea urchin dish would be served at Amber, Richard discussed the rationale for removing the dish from the restaurant's menu. I asked him what he thought his next signature dish might be, and he responded by saying that - quite rightly - it would be up to customers like us to decide.
The chefs were asked how much of their cooking was "based on science" - presumably because "molecular" or "modernist" techniques are pretty prevalent at many of the top restaurants in the world. Not having actually visited Amber's kitchen (despite being a huge fan and somewhat of a regular), I was surprised to hear Richard say that they "don't use fancy equipment", and in fact prefers to cook with charcoal - which means his cooks are on their knees constantly...
Both chefs revealed that they don't cook sous vide - which is again a surprise to me. Richard "hated anything cooked in a bag", while André stopped doing it a few months ago because he felt cooking in a plastic bag was akin to cooking in a microwave... that it was "moving backwards" instead of forward.
André shared with us the story (also recounted in the book) behind his signature Mémoire dish - which is a warm foie gras jelly with black Périgord truffles. Having had it twice before, I know that this was created during André's time at Les Jardin des Sens and is a permanent fixture on the menu. The story was that the chefs in the kitchen were asked to each deliver a dish that would become part of the menu dégustation. André, being the lone Asian in the kitchen and not wanting to be accused of cooking something "Asian", chose to create a dish with what he felt were obviously very French ingredients.
The dish was added to the menu at Les Jardins des Sens the very next day, and André felt this was a turning point in his career. It represented the point at which he began to create something by himself, without having copied from anyone or looked elsewhere for inspiration. An Asian cook in a French Michelin-starred kitchen had accomplished this. From that point forward, André unleashed his creativity and was no longer afraid to propose and share his new ideas.
When asked about who he'd like to collaborate with on his next "four hands" meal, André recounted his recent "four hands" collaboration with his mother. While work has kept him away from spending Mother's Day with his mom for a decade - a familiar situation for me - he happened to be in Taipei for Mother's Day this year as part of the book tour. As he was working at RAW that day, he asked his mother to join him in the kitchen - where she prepared four of the dishes. I can only imagine how satisfying that experience would have been for both mother and son.
Speaking of his mother, André mentioned the interview article which was just published in the Guardian 4 days ago, in which he said that what he wanted for his last meal would be his mother's pig ear salad.
Finally, it was interesting to hear that André's "retirement plan" would be to create pottery and sell them to different restaurants around the world, as he loves creating them and the vast majority of what's being used in his restaurants are custom-made.
While everyone else was busy snapping photos and tucking into the selection of dishes being served, I steadfastly held off. After all, I was coming back in a couple of hours for the full experience... and I certainly didn't need the extra calories from the same dishes being served during the afternoon. I think Richard was pretty surprised at my restraint in front of all the delicious food. He was even more surprised when I told him that all I had for lunch - in anticipation of the massive amounts of calories I would consume for dinner - was some canned corn and "local"baguette.
I did, however, partake in the alcohol... as I would be staying dry during dinner tonight.
2013 Marco de Bartoli 'Pietra Nera' - very floral and sweet nose, with honeysuckle, peach, and tropical fruits. Good acidity on the palate.
2012 Oremus, Tokaji dry Mandolas - pretty sharp and plasticky nose, with a little mineral.
2007 Frédéric Lornet 'Vin Jaune‘ - even more sharp and alcoholic nose, with acetone, wax, and pollen. Very dry on the palate.
2010 Zimmermann, Gewürztraminer Vendages Tardives - pretty sweet on the palate, with orange blossom and floral notes.
This was a very enlightening afternoon. Many thanks to the Landmark Mandarin Oriental and Phaidon for the arrangements, and very grateful to André and Richard for their time and sharing their thoughts with us.
A mere two hours after a very interesting session with the two chefs, I'm back in the very same private room at Amber for the "four hands dinner" with Richard Ekkebus and André Chiang of Restaurant André. I was privileged enough to have snagged a table, and unlike a few hours ago, my stomach was now rumbling and I was ready to eat!
We started with a series of snackings, and I was pleasantly surprised that the person introducing them to us was none other than Sudarampai (otherwise known as 'Pam') - André's wife. Quite a nice change from the rude Singaporean girls André brought with him two months ago...
Foie gras, raspberry and ginger bread chupa chup, by Amber - this was a classic snack from the restaurant that had already been retired... and only brought out of retirement on special occasions. Richard felt it would be nice to have the lollipop and the Hokkaido sea urchin on the same menu one last time. Obviously this is something very familiar to many of us, with the coating of raspberry providing a nice dose of acidity to work with the smooth and very fatty foie gras in the middle. The gingerbread adds a little crunch, as does the thin wafer of beetroot.
Baby mushroom tart 'croque en bouche', by André - these might be small, but they do look a little like miniature versions of croquembouche. Those tiny lil''shrooms sure were delicious!
Butternut squash/ salted duck egg/ vanilla - this was introduced as "perfect egg yolk" with vanilla cream. I didn't taste much salt in the bits of egg yolk.
HK egg waffle with bell pepper and tomato, by Amber - I still don't like the limp and spongy texture, but I love the tomato, aubergine, onion, and bell pepper filling.
Spring roll crust with celeriac, apple, and caviar, by André - so delicate and pretty... Loved the convergence of sweet, acidic, and savory notes here.
Charcoal deep-fried dough stick, by André - not on the menu, but this is something I've had before in Singapore... when it was also served off-menu. It's pretty easy to pick out which pieces were the "fake" charcoal... In fact they were not Chinese youtiao (油條) crullers, but a combination of churros and baguette. A little spongy and springy. From the 'texture' part of Octaphilosophy.
This was to be dipped into a blend of piquillo peppers and amaebi (甘エビ) shrimp - which was a refinement over the dip I had from 3 years ago. Very delish.
Now come the "real stuff"... Dishes which were more substantial.
Hokkaido aka and bafun sea urchin in a lobster jell-O with cauliflower, caviar and crispy seaweed waffles, by Amber - so... this is it. What's in front of me would be the very last serving of this dish that I would ever enjoy. As has been widely publicized - by such media outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, FOUR, as well as yours truly - Richard has decided to take his most iconic dish off Amber's menu. And this dinner would be the very last service in which it would appear. Starting tomorrow, you couldn't hope to find it in the dining room at Amber even if you begged the man himself... (but maybe it's worth a try?)
This, unfortunately, was just a tasting portion... so it was gone all too soon. But what an amazing dish! The flavors of the ocean were all there... from the salinity of the oscietra caviar, to the sweetness of the sea urchin, and the umami of the lobster jello... all working in symphony with the creamy and sweet cauliflower.
I always feel that the crispy seaweed waffle is really an afterthought... at least for me. But it's delicious nonetheless.
Charred Gillardeau oyster/ scallop lasagna/ emulsion of watercress and wasabi, by André - this was a very interesting dish from the 'terroir' part of Octaphilosphy. First scallop is put in a blender with other ingredients, then the mixture is placed between layers of plastic before being flattened with a rolling pin. It is then steamed before having the plastic sheets peeled away after cooling. And voila! You have lasagna made of scallops.
Underneath the sheet of lasagna is a Gillardeau No.2 oyster that has been burnt, along with some aubergine purée. Garnished with some watercress for crunchy texture. The watercress emulsion was both savory and acidic, with bright and contrasting flavors.
Surumi squid confit/ kelp jus/ granola soufflé/ silky potato, by André - a dish I had 2 months ago on André's last visit, and from the 'sel' part of Octaphilosophy (although interestingly enough, it's actually listed under 'texture' in the book). A dish made without any addition of salt, and relies entirely on the natural salinity of the ingredients.
The texture of the squid "spaghetti" was beautiful. The kelp jus and wakame (若布) powder were the sources of salt and umami, while the creamy mash of La Bonnotte potatoes from Noirmoutier (which themselves have salty flavors due to algae and seaweed in the soil) at the bottom of the bowl stopped the dish from becoming overbearing in terms of salt. The puffed granola added a little crunchy texture as well as some fragrance. A beautiful dish that I enjoyed having again.
Robert Blanc 'bourgeoise' green asparagus with raw and marinated kibinago, nori purée, seawater foam and matcha, by Amber - the green asparagus was lovely. Served with some seaweed, salicornia, and Japanese silver-stripe round herring (黍魚子) resembling needlefish (針魚) on top. The nori (のり) purée, marinated herring, salicornia, and the seawater foam all delivered flavors of the sea as well as some umami. There was even a little hint of acidity in the seawater foam. Interestingly, this dish from Amber also came with no added salt - just like its André counterpart.
Warm foie gras jelly with Perigord black truffle coulis, by André - my third time having this, from the 'mémoire' part of Octaphilosophy. The story behind the creation of this dish was relayed to me earlier in the afternoon, and is also well-covered in the book. The combination of whipped foie gras and black truffles is simply beautiful and comforting.
The texture tonight, though, seemed a little off compared to my previous experiences. Whereas the whole of the royale used to be smooth when I had it previously, tonight the surface area at the very top - where it meets the truffle coulis - seemed to have hardened somewhat. Well... at this point I'm just nitpicking, because it was still damn tasty!
'Hugenin' piglet cutlet and saddle roasted, apricots with yellow bell pepper, black pudding coulis, salad of piglet ears with amaranth, by Amber - probably the one dish I wasn't so happy with tonight. While I often joke about wanting my chicken to taste like chicken ("雞有雞味"), and normally love game meats for their flavors, tonight the flavors coming from the pork cutlet seemed to be a little too much for me. No doubt some people would find this "stinky". The execution, though, was flawless. I also thought the black pudding on top of the roasted apricot was pretty interesting.
My other complaint? Why the hell did Maxime think that sending me a reed-like strand of chicharrón would be enough to make me happy?! That's nothing more than a very long toothpick! Or as the Chinese saying goes, it doesn't even fill the gap between my teeth (不夠塞牙縫)!
The piglet ear salad on the side was a little spicy... and kinda interesting given what André said he wanted for his last supper.
Fennel sorbet, confit and shaved raw with lemon custard and lemon thyme infusion, by Amber - inspired by tarte au citron. Here we've got fennel, fennel sorbet, raw and preserved fennel, lemon custard, and preserved lemon. Richard likes a bit of savory notes in his desserts, so here we have it... sweet, sour, and savory.
D.I.Y. cake, by André - from the 'mémoire' part of Octaphilosphy again. Pam told us that André is "lazy" and "tired of cooking" by now, so we were to bake the cake ourselves with all the ingredients - egg, flour, milk, sugar, butter, and chocolate. The egg was actually poured onto the plate from an eggshell.
The "sugar cubes" were actually like marshmallows, except they were coated with caster sugar and had a little more crunch. The "butter" was actually made from popcorn ground into powder, so there was both a little bit of sweet corn flavor but savory at the same time. It did kinda melt in my mouth just like real butter would... The "egg yolk" was basically treacle. The "flour" was made from yoghurt sponge that was frozen with liquid nitrogen before being pulverized. Finally, although the "milk" did have milk as an ingredient, the base was actually cooked jasmine rice.
Not the tastiest of cakes, but A LOT of fun to eat.
Towards the end of our meal, the kitchen presented one of the tables with the very last servings of Hokkaido sea urchin that the restaurant was serving. For a minute or so, I was a little jealous of the diners at that table because, given the running joke I have with Richard about #OccupyAmber, I would have loved to have been the recipient of "the last uni". Anyway, Richard and a number of the chefs came out from the kitchen with it, made a racket along the way to draw attention to this little ceremony, and did the presentation. The video of the procession is here.
I was pretty happy with my dinner, even though the element of surprise had been somewhat dampened by the fact that I've had half the dishes at least once before. But the point was to be here tonight, and I wouldn't have missed it for the world.
We were pretty full and it was getting late. A quarter of our table had left us due to either professional or personal obligations, and the rest of us had taken the obligatory photo with André. It was time to go home, without waiting for the petits fours. And for once, I, along with the rest of our table, would leave the restaurant completely sober... and in no danger of falling asleep at the table or on the way home.
P.S. We did get some canelés as a parting gift, which were delicious.
So... here we go again. Back in Macau for another hardcore tour of 5 restaurants with Michelin stars to help the Great One get material for her articles. No doubt my waistline will continue to expand as a result.
Our first stop on this part of the tour happens to be the only restaurant out of the list of 10 which is not located within a casino hotel. Estabelecimento De Comidas King (帝皇樓) may not be a name familiar to many, but its executive chef is none other than Cheng Kam Fu (鄭錦富) - also known as Brother Fu (富哥) - of Celebrity Cuisine (名人坊) in Hong Kong, which itself holds two macarons. So it's not surprising to see a great deal of overlap between the menus at these restaurants.
The three of us had a relatively late reservation, and was kinda surprised to be seated in a private room. Having kinda dominated the ordering process on the last trip, I decided to refrain from evening making suggestions tonight. So the Great One and Hello Kitty picked out what they wanted to eat. As it turned out, there were issues with this approach...
There was a complimentary dish of black wood ear fungus in vinegar (涼拌木耳), which had a nice dose of acidity to whet one's appetite...
Fried prawn with egg yolk (黃金御蝦) - these were reasonably big prawns and ordered individually. Salty egg yolk is always a good coating, but the prawns themselves were overcooked and so-so.
BBQ baby pigeon (脆皮妙齡鴿) - the Great One remembered that pigeon was good at Celebrity Cuisine, and this was definitely a good call! Underneath the crispy skin was the succulent meat, and I definitely tasted some of that milky flavors that I love from young pigeons. I had three-quarters of a pigeon by myself... and wanted more.
Double-boiled pig's lungs and almond soup (杏汁燉豬肺湯) - can't go wrong with this when it's done right. Just thick enough with the almond cream without becoming the dessert.
Chinese lettuce cooked in hot pot (啫啫生菜膽) - always a crowd favorite, and that pungent shrimp paste was pretty damn tasty.
Braised pork brisket with sweet preserved vegetable (甜蕊梅菜扣肉) - this always pushes Hello Kitty's buttons, so of course we had to have some...
And it was pretty tasty. The preserved leafy mustard (梅菜) actually wasn't all deathly salty - it had a good amount of sweetness to it. We immediately ordered up a couple of bowls of steamed rice to go with the dish. Very fatty. Very yum.
We were pretty full by this point. For some reason my dining companions didn't order anything that was a signature dish from Brother Fu, or anything remotely "luxe" for that matter... So we got away with a relatively cheap bill. A pretty solid meal, but I'd love to order some signature dishes and compare them with Celebrity Cuisine next time.
Our tour continues today with lunch at The Kitchen in the Grand Lisboa Hotel. Our lunches on this tour kinda need to fit into the "bargain" category, and this place certainly fits the bill in my book. With my lunch set priced at MOP 480 (and the pricier set featuring Australian wagyu at MOP 580), it certainly feels like a good deal.
Crispy sushi burgers with tuna tartar - these bite-sized "burgers" came with a very pretty presentation, and were surprisingly tasty.
On top of breaded and deep-fried medallions of rice was a layer of avocado purée, and a layer of very smooth tuna tartare, garnished with onions, salmon roe, and chervil. There was also some balsamico and a mentaiko (明太子) sauce on the plate.
USDA prime sirloin, with sautéed broccoli and sautéed mushrooms - I'm not a big steak guy, but I remember liking the charring on the steaks from my first visit 5 years ago.
In spite of my original inclinations, I asked for medium-rare in terms of doneness, and I couldn't find fault with the execution here. This was a very juicy piece of steak, even if it weren't melt-in-your-mouth like Japanese beef. There was enough salt rub for me to dispense with any additional salt, pepper, or sauces.
Crème brûlée - very well done. Love the vanilla seeds here.
I wasn't the least bit surprised when the Kat wanted a little tipple, but I was surprised at how thirsty he was...
2010 Bouchard Meursault 1er Cru Les Perrières, en demi-bouteille - a little closed at first. Oaky and lovely. After an hour or so lots of buttery richness came out, along with sweet, toasty corn, as well as floral and vanilla notes from the oak. Nice acidity along with nice ripeness on the palate, with lengthy finish.
2003 Clos des Papes - decanted after opening. Animal, smoky, and forest notes. Sweet fruit came out after an hour and 15 minutes or so. Classic farmy and stinky notes came out later, along with some dried herb. Starting to drink well.
A very enjoyable lunch, and I thought I got a pretty good deal. Hopefully it won't take me another 5 years for my next meal here...
Our third stop this weekend was Zi Yat Heen (紫逸軒), the Cantonese restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel Macao with two macarons. None of us have ever been here, and in private discussions with friends there have been speculations that this place only got their two macarons because sister restaurant Lung King Heen (龍景軒) has three of them. Well... we decided to find out for ourselves.
I left most of the ordering to the others, and made just one request. The Man in the White T-Shirt suggested that we order up a few "standard" dishes where ingredients and recipes were not gonna be much of an issue, so that the main difference between restaurants would come down to execution. That sounded like a good idea...
We were given a smaller menu of "seasonal recommendations (時令精選)" apart from the main menu - which also contained the two "set menus" designed to be ordered as individual portions. After flipping through it, we wondered out loud how many ingredients were actually "seasonal"...
Our little amuse bouche was a little dish of string beans marinated in X.O. sauce (X.O.醬釀四季豆). This had a little spicy kick to it.
Marinated cucumber in vinegar (涼拌手拍黃瓜) - lots of black vinegar here delivering acidity. In that sense it worked well as a starter.
Barbecued pork with honey (密味香叉燒) - since many high-end Cantonese restaurants have been using premium, imported pork to make their char siu (叉燒), we asked our waiter whether any special type of meat was being used. He matter-of-factly replied: "It's pork." After he walked away, we couldn't help but chuckle at his response. It was basically a real-life version of the Cantonese joke "Mothers are women (阿媽係女人)" happening before our very eyes. No shit, Sherlock...
Back to the char siu itself: this was kinda weird. There were clearly two very different textures - from two different parts of the pig - being served on the same plate. There were pieces that were seemingly leaner but which turned out to be very tender. At the same time, half the plate had tendons which were, of course, kinda chewy. While we liked the fact that this didn't have a thick coating of honey glaze - and therefore not too sweet - the inconsistency of the texture kinda dampened our enjoyment.
Baked stuffed crab shell with onions and crab meat (焗釀鮮蟹蓋) - I like the addition of onions in a stuffed crab shell dish, so I didn't mind too much the abundance of it... although I wish they were a little more caramelized and less crunchy. But I felt that there was just too much cream here... and that covered up the natural flavors of the crab meat itself.
Stewed suckling pig knuckle with Japanese pumpkin and black beans (豉香日本南瓜炆豬腳仔) - this sounded interesting on the menu, but in actually the flavors were just OK. The Man in the White T-Shirt wondered if they actually took the traditional marinated knuckles and put them through a second round of cooking...
Bamboo piths stuffed with spinach in fish broth (魚湯竹笙釀菠菜卷) - a very simple dish that got the thumbs-up from everyone. We needed a veg dish and this "seasonal selection" turned out to be it.
It's just stuffing some spinach into bamboo piths (竹笙), then serving in a milky fish broth while throwing in a couple of wolfberries (枸杞). The addition of white pepper neutralized any strong "fishy" flavors from the broth. Simple and clean flavors.
Zi Yat Heen crispy chicken (紫逸脆皮雞) - we ordered half a chicken as there were only four of us. I must say that while many people I know order crispy chicken on a regular basis, I find it incredibly boring once I've had the paper-thin crispy skin. In tonight's case, the meat was under-seasoned and had very little flavor... so once again I'm gonna throw in the simple demand that "chicken should taste like chicken (雞有雞味)". This was so uninteresting that we left quite a few pieces on the plate.
Braised egg noodles with shredded fish maw and spring onions, abalone sauce (鮑汁花膠絲炆麵) - now this was pretty interesting. It's pretty common to see braised noodles with abalone sauce, but adding shredded fish maw (花膠) was a nice touch. At least it added some interesting texture to the dish besides julienned carrots, even if the flavors of the fish maw were somewhat overpowered by the abalone sauce.
Sweetened cream of walnut with coconut (椰青生磨核桃露) - I'd never seen chunks of coconut being added to a dessert like this, and it wasn't bad. The walnut cream had a reasonable degree of thickness, while coconut chunks were sometimes soft and at other times crunchy.
At the end we were presented with some petits fours. The puff pastry was filled with red bean paste, and we also got a small chunk of brown sugar sponge cake (馬拉糕).
Honestly, dinner tonight was a little underwhelming - especially considering that they've had themselves two macarons for 7 straight years. They failed on the execution of a classic dish, and their ingredient sourcing was a little questionable on another classic. If a restaurant isn't dependable on its classic offerings, then I wouldn't have much faith in its more "creative" selections.
A few final words on service: while service tonight was attentive, they still made the classic mistake that 95% of all Chinese restaurants make. It was good that they paused after sending us the two starter dishes of cucumber and char siu along with the stuffed crab shell, but the next 3 dishes came within 10 minutes of each other, and our big clay pot of noodles came less than 10 minutes after that. There was no way for us to even get to the noodles, so we kept the lid covered on the clay pot for a while. No doubt this affected the texture of the ingredients and therefore our enjoyment of the dish... and isn't something I would expect from a starred restaurant inside a Four Seasons hotel.
But the Great One did catch a glimpse of her ultimate big boss in real life for the first time... as did I. At least we could count the celebrity sighting as a highlight of the evening.
So we've come to the most-anticipated meal on this leg of the tour. We even chose to skip breakfast to conserve precious stomach space for it. Because lunch at Robuchon au Dôme can last for more than four hours, and it an be one's only meal of the day - given the amount of food and calories one can consume.
Similar to my last visit, I asked the PR team at Hotel Lisboa to help me secure the smaller of their two private rooms. Wanting to put as much time as possible between lunch and dinner, we arrived before doors opened at 12:00 p.m., and were the first customers to walk into the restaurant.
Chef Julien Tongourian has settled into his position here for more than half a year, and we can see his influence reflected in the menu as some of the signature dishes from Chef Francky Semblat have now been replaced, while the same dishes are now showing up at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Shanghai.
As we had plans for dinner, I was accused of behaving like the Soup Nazi when I forbade everyone from taking the 5-course Menu Gourmet. The Great One had never come to Robuchon in Macau and not taken the 5-course menu... but today she would grudgingly agree to take the 4-course Menu Plaisir.
First order of business is, of course, the bread trolley. It's not as tall as they used to stack it up, but there's still a good variety to choose from. We ended up getting two baskets of mixed selection.
Naturally, the next trolley to be rolled in was the butter trolley. Yes, there is a butter trolley. Two large mounds of butter from Jean-Yves Bordier in Brittany.
And this was the Great One's turn to play Soup Nazi. We were only allowed to take the salted butter. So our waitress took two dinner spoons and scraped the butter off. Unfortunately, though, she didn't seem skillful enough... and we ended up with these measly, skinny swirls instead of the thicker versions we are used to getting.
La cerise: cherry gazpacho with frozen ricotta and pistachio flakes - this has become a familiar amuse bouche by now.
The ricotta frozen with liquid nitrogen was sprinkled onto the gazpacho, giving it a bit of richness and softening the acidity at the same time.
Once again, the chef has sent us an extra amuse bouche... and it is again the classic deep-fried New Zealand scampi with basil oil dip. This has always been beautiful in its simplicity.
The langoustine underneath the thin, deep-fried wrapper was so, so succulent and delicious! One is almost tempted to enjoy it as is, with just the basil leaf providing some additional fragrance. The basil oil was incredibly intense, and should be used in moderation for fear of covering up the natural flavors of the langoustine.
Le caviar «Grand Cru de l'Impératrice» : Imperial caviar, king crab, lobster jelly, and cauliflower cream - I ordered this extra dish since I realized that I've never had it. This was Francky's creation and had just been taken off the à la carte menu, but the kitchen was very gracious to do a special order for me.
This wasn't just a beautiful dish to behold, but very, very delicious, too. The salty flavors of the caviar; the umami of the lobster jelly; the sweet and savory flavors of the king crab; and the sweet and smooth cauliflower cream... all came together to delight the diner's palate.
L'œuf de poule : crispy soft-boiled egg with white asparagus, black garlic emulsion and shiso leaves - the white asparagus was seasoned with a lot of piment d'Espelette, so it actually had a pretty spicy kick. The black garlic emulsion was pretty strong in terms of flavor.
The Yamanashi (山梨) egg with the runny yolk was encased in a loose kataifi shell, and I just love the crunchy texture.
Les crustachés : shellfish bisque with crispy shrimp and Espelette pepper - loved this bisque, which was also seasoned with a good amount of piment d'Espelette for a spicy palate. Besides shreds of shellfish, there were also salmon roe as well as chunks of tomato. The shrimp balls coated in crispy rice, though, weren't that tasty.
Le black cod : black cod with Malabar black pepper sauce, bok choy and coconut foam - I've always passed up this dish whenever it showed up on the menu at a Robuchon outlet, because I always felt it was ordinary and would deliver no surprises. But today I finally decided to give it a try. The quality of the cod itself was certainly evident in the succulent texture as well as the flavors. I wasn't at all surprised that this tasted like a saikyoyaki (西京焼き). The coconut foam was pretty mild and was mostly overpowered by the sauce.
Everyone got a little scoop of the famous Robuchon mashed potatoes, which was as delicious as always. But I restrained myself and only took about a quarter of my portion...
After our main course, it was time for the cheese trolley to be rolled in... I decided to share a few pieces with Hello Kitty.
Brillat-Savarin fermier - this is a cheese I would never get tired of eating. Soooo creamy and melt-in-your-mouth, with good amount of salt and some acidity on the back.
Petit Fiancé de Pyrénées - pretty stinky and gamey.
Mimolette, 36 months - mmmm so nice... that depth of flavors.
Époisses de Bourgogne au lait cru - from Gaugry. This was very ripe and turned out to be really strong and really bitter. Not enjoyable at all...
Next to arrive was our pre-dessert. This was vanilla ice cream with dark chocolate crunchy pearls, topped with cranberry mousse, along with a ball of Armagnac crème brûlée encased in cacao gélée. I loved the combination of flavors here, with acidity balancing out the sweetness.
The dessert trolley came next...
...and the ice cream trolley came at the same time.
I was pretty restrained, and just nibbled while I shared a few items with the others...
Basil sorbet - this was highly aromatic and delicious, although I thought I tasted some tomato consommé.
Strawberry tart - unfortunately the strawberries weren't very ripe or sweet.
Mango mousse - it's hard for me to pass up anything made with mango... Here it's got a passion fruit outer coat, a caramel center, and a cake bottom.
Opéra - this was absolutely beautiful, with the coffee flavors rising above the bitter dark chocolate.
The sixth and last trolley came in bearing the mignardises, and again I thought I showed sufficient restraint...
The cherry kirsch was very, very delicious.
The chocolate and hazelnut lollipop was made with dried apricot.
Finally, a canelé to finish.
But we shan't forget to take our coffee, if only to have the chance to savor that caramel!
We took it easy in terms of wine today, and shared only 1 bottle among the 5 of us...
2012 Guigal Condrieu La Doriane - what a beautiful wine! Nutty, floral, honey notes, with a good amount of ripeness on the palate. Everything I expected.
Another fantastic lunch, which actually took longer than our last visit in spite of the fact that we took 1 course less today. It was raining pretty hard at this, and we ended up watching the rain flow down the curved windows of the "dome" from inside the restaurant. Dinner is in a couple of hours, and we're thankful that we'll be joined by "fresh" mouths who are eager to eat!
So we've come to the end of our tour of Michelin-starred restaurants in Macau... and our 10th stop would be Wing Lei (永利軒) at the Wynn Macau. We had just finished lunch about two hours ago, so while I wasn't stuffed to the point of being nauseous, I really wasn't all that hungry. Thankfully, we were joined by three additional mouths who weren't at lunch with us, and who - presumably - were hungry enough to help take in extra portions of food.
Having been a fan for a little while, I finally got a chance to say more than just "Hello" to Chef Guillaume Galliot of The Tasting Room - thanks to his lovely wife who decided to bring him along. So it only made sense that we put the Man in the White T-Shirt next to him... and let the chefs yap.
Suckling pig knuckles with Sichuan pepper sauce (椒麻汁滷豬仔腳) - these came with a small pitcher of Sichuan peppercorn (花椒) sauce on the side, and this was a little spicy and numbing, but really delish.
Barbecued pata negra pork with maple syrup (楓糖黑毛豬叉燒) - since they advertise this as being pata negra, I guess we gotta try it...
The maple syrup glaze was sweet but not over the top. The strip of fat in the middle was nice, but a little chewy. A pretty decent char siu.
Roasted crispy goose with apple wood (蘋果木燒鵝) - this was very good. The crispy skin was tasty, and the smokiness was there.
Pan-fried green pepper stuffed with minced pork and salted codfish (馬介休豚肉釀尖椒) - this dish tasted as interesting as it looked on the menu. While it's common to see stuffed peppers, it's a little unusual to see bacalhau in the same dish - in this case flakes sprinkled on top... along with garlic, shredded spicy chili peppers, and frisée. I thought the flavors actually worked well together. The only fault I found was that the green peppers didn't stick to the minced pork filling... and kinda fell apart.
Braised sea cucumber with dried shrimp roe and spring onions (香蔥蝦子燒海參) - this was pretty tasty. Flavors were naturally heavy, with dried shrimp roe and a sweetened, soy sauce-based sauce. Spring onions were stir-fried with enough heat to make them fragrant and tasty.
General Tso's chicken (左宗堂溜滑雞) - this is one of those buttons I have... Just have to order it when I see it on the menu. When I see the description as "slippery and smooth", I already knew that this wouldn't be the heavily-battered variety ubiquitous in American Chinese restaurants. The sauce was made with aged black vinegar and still sweet, but surprisingly the whole thing turned out a little bitter.
Stir-fried kailan with ginger (薑汁炒芥藍) - a simple stir-fried veg, but so beautiful because of the quality of ingredients. The kailan (芥藍) was naturally sweet, young and tender. The ginger sauce gave it a merest hint of a kick and highlighted the sweetness.
Fried rice with soft shell crab, minced pork and bean curd with spicy pepper sauce (軟殼蟹麻婆豆腐燴炒飯) - we ordered this because it sounded very interesting. When it came, though, we were surprised at the presentation. Basically... the mapo tofu (麻婆豆腐) and the soft shell crab came as two separate parts of the dish...
Mixed in a bowl, the components came together to deliver a nice combination of flavors. Definitely tasty, but I wish the components had been cooked together so that the flavors could have melded a little better.
Chilled mango and coconut milk layer cakes (芒果椰汁夾) - not bad at all...
Crispy sesame glutinous dumplings with egg yolk custard (流沙煎堆仔) - these were OK.
Crispy sweet potato with chestnut (栗子紅薯棗) - there was barely a hint of chestnut... and the sweet potato wasn't obvious, either.
Homemade pancake with sugar and peanuts (家鄉煎甜薄餐) - the pancake was pretty soft and sticky... I would have preferred something more dry and crispy.
I wasn't in the mood to drink any wine, and in any case the wine list wasn't particularly inspiring. We did have a couple of thirsty people who proceeded to order a bottle of white wine... which turned out to be corked. Since they only stocked 1 bottle of that particular wine, they decided to give up and drank beer and whisky instead...
This was a pretty good dinner. For most of the dishes, the flavor combinations worked and the quality of ingredients was high. We didn't order any premium or luxe dishes, so we got away pretty easy in terms of the bill. So comparatively this was a "cheap and cheerful" dinner.
Most impressive of all, after we had finished order, the manager actually asked us whether we wanted our food served one dish at a time, or if we wanted all our food at the same time. This was simply unheard of at Chinese restaurants... and definitely earned them some brownie points in my book!
Believe it or not, I'm back in Macau after a mere five days' absence. This being a long weekend for school and all, the Tiggers have decided to spend a couple of days in Macau. I'm joining them for an overnight stay, since I had made the suggestion that we take Bear on the Batman Dark Flight ride at Studio City.
But spending time in Macau means - for me, at least - eating more good food! So I'm introducing everyone to my favorite Chinese restaurant in the Pearl River Delta - The Eight (8餐廳) at the Grand Lisboa.
In spite of all the news about the plunge in punters/visitors from the Mainland, the two restaurants with Michelin 3-stars within the Grand Lisboa are still doing brisk business. While in Macau last week, we were told that the Eight nowadays is booked solid for 2-3 weeks at a time. So I was extremely lucky to have been able to grab a table for Friday night - albeit at an earlier seating time of 6:30 p.m.
I arrived late due to travel arrangements, and poor Babu had to wait for us all by herself. Thankfully Kenneth Lai - who runs the Chinese section of the F and B business at the hotel - had moved us into one of the private rooms. This would prove very handy while we had Bear in tow.
Ordering the food tonight was a little tricky, as we needed to accommodate the needs of our little Bear as well as keeping Hello Kitty's temporary dietary restrictions in mind. In the end, though, I think we did OK...
First came the duo of amuses bouches:
Baby abalone with plum jelly (梅子鮑魚仔) - nice with the grated lime zest.
Cristal blue shrimp dumpling (藍天使蝦餃) - WOW! This little dumpling was sooooo tasty! The shrimp inside was so savory with umami. Kenneth said that the chef didn't want to make it exactly the same as their har gau (蝦餃) served during lunch, but these tasted pretty similar. Small chunks of bamboo shoots gave it some crunchy texture.
Barbecued pork (玫瑰蜜汁叉燒) - they stopped serving my favorite barbecued pork leg char siu (明爐叉燒不見天), so I had to settle for the next best thing... One can never go wrong with the char siu here, as there's enough fat to make it tender, sufficient charring on the edges, and I don't mind the sweetish honey glaze one bit. We were all pretty hungry, and this disappeared in no time.
Double-boiled traditional winter melon soup with cristal blue shrimps and assorted seafood (傳統八寶海鮮藍天使蝦冬瓜盅) - Babu always liked winter melon soup, so we took a small one and went with the "traditional" version, without stuff like black truffle and the like...
As is traditional, you've got shrimp, diced barbecued duck, crab meat, scallops, shredded dried scallops, button mushrooms, lotus seeds, loofah, and Tonkin jasmine. Everything delivered clean and pure flavors. Absolutely loved this. The best part was the har gau, whose wrapper was made from a thin slice of winter melon. The prawn inside simply exploded with flavors.
Crab claw deep-fried with spicy salt (脆炸椒鹽鮮蟹鉗) - I decided to have the deep-fried version as I've already had the steamed version a couple of times before. This looked pretty damn good when it arrived...
The batter was crunchy and there was lots of deep-fried garlic on top. Inside the batter the crab claw delivered the natural sweetness perfectly.
Sauteed sole fillet with Long Jing tea leaves (脆炸茶香晰龍脷球) - we figured we would get some fish for Bear, and instead of the usual steamed fish, we got this instead. The sole was pretty damn big (the menu says 700g...) and each deep-fried piece actually needed a couple of bites. This was obviously not the healthiest of dishes, but it was pretty tasty... if slightly heavy on the seasoning. The deep-fried tea leaves are interesting... but not sure it added that much to the dish, though...
When we were done, the bones were taken away and chopped up. There are few things better than munching on deep-fried fish bones... especially when they're battered. But here the seasoning was even stronger.
Shredded chicken with crispy skin and pomelo in honey flavoured with lime sauce (脆皮柚子手撕雞) - I had kinda chastised the waitress on my last visit for suggesting this dish instead of my favorite chicken with vintage tangerine peel, but tonight we decided to try it out. The shredded chicken meat was just as tender, the skin just as paper-thin and crispy. There was a lot of pomelo here to make things light and refreshing, and the honey made things a little sweeter. I also liked the lime zest used in the sauce.
Sauteed seasonal vegetables with fresh bean curd skin and gingko (鮮腐竹銀杏炒時蔬) - the ladies were in love with this dish, which had a lot of fresh bean curd skin (腐竹) in a milky broth. I found the presence of dried apricots and raisins a little strange...
Suckling pig filled with fried rice and preserved meat (原隻乳豬焗飯) - here we go... I was so happy to be able to order this tonight... even if it were just half a pig. Just look at that glazed crackling glistening under the light!
This boned piglet was rolled into a tube and stuffed with delicious fried rice. It really doesn't get better than this!
The piglet was then cut into rings... so each serving has a decent amount of crackling - with a delicious layer of fat underneath - enveloping the fried rice in the middle. The preserved Chinese sausages made everything taste soooo good!
Coffee jelly (咖啡啫喱) - if there's one dessert I must order every time I'm here, it's the coffee jelly. There's a layer of coffee mousse on top of the jelly, and a thin layer of milk at the very top. Loads of coffee flavor here... and served with some honeycomb crunch on the side.
Finally, my favorite milk tea in the world I can't sing its praises enough, as it just has so much depth of flavor along with that smooth and silky texture. And I like it sweet, too... Since Hello Kitty can't handle the caffeine at this time of day, I was happy to drink a second cup! Even better that the jelly on the side has changed to lychee flavor, with nata de coco and birds nest inside.
It's been a while since I've had a bottle of Keller so I wanted to pick one of their bottles from the list. The restaurant manager knows my history of drinking nice, old Rieslings, and promptly suggested that I open up a bottle of Keller's G-Max... which lists for MOP 10,000 or so. I smiled and told him that we were gonna take it easy tonight, and took something about 1/10th of the price - probably the cheapest bottle of wine I've ever ordered off this list.
2003 Keller Dalsheimer Hubacker Riesling Spätlese 26 Goldkapsel - nice level of sweetness with a bit of acidity on the palate. A little polyurethane on the nose. With the deep-fried fish some minerality came out. Delicious and easy to drink.
I really enjoyed our dinner tonight, and of course I'm always happy to be back at this restaurant - which I always considered to be the real 3-star. Many thanks to Kenneth for arranging the room for us so that Bear can fall asleep quietly in the middle of dinner...