Monday, October 09, 2006

A whipp'n and a beet'n

Public Service Announcement: This is long and may be boring. Proceed with caution!

I was honored to have been invited by the illustrious Cha Xiu Bao to join him and his gang of friends of discerning palates to partake in a meal which was destined to be an ‘experience’. It was to be a private dinner at that place of non-ill repute, Kee Club, who, under normal circumstances, would turn up their nose and sniff at my complete unsuitability to enter into their nook of luxury.

Ok, enough drivel. I was really lucky to be asked by Cha Xiu Bao to join him and his friends for a dinner at Kee Club and decided to trot out the boy to celebrate one year of Sui Mai (which, by the way, is still lacking a logo… if any creative bodies out there is wondering what to get me for … well, any occasion really!) in September.

The chef, Gianluigi Bonelli is very well known and is famed for having worked at El Bulli and adopting some of the techniques and styles of the famous chef Ferran Adrià, who has transformed food as we see, smell, taste and eat it.

I figured this was the closest I would probably ever get to eating at El Bulli and was extremely excited (slight understatement).

The boy and I were on time if not slightly early. We had been lured by the faint possibility of a kitchen tour but it was not to be but this was only a slight disappointment in the anticipation of the food for the evening.

Now the food…

Please note that the names are not mine. I refuse to be blamed for other people’s abstract and cheesy oddness.

Interlude! (welcome from the Chef)

The unfortunate comparison at the table was of salt and pepper fried squid which you can buy by the crispy bagful at the local outdoor stalls for HKD$10 and the beet*, carrot and orange shot was also something which reminded me of drinks at the MIX.
But this was only the amuse guele so I wasn’t put off…

T&M Evolution 2006 (tomato & mozzarella)

The second course was a plat composee. It was a modern interpretation of salad caprese with chopped fresh tomatoes, tomato gazpacho, tomato foam with tempura capers, olive dust and a thin layer of tomato gelatin wrapped around mozzarella foam.

This is what I came for so I eagerly took up my spoon and tasted each little bit individually before putting everything together to put in my mouth. Individually, the tomatoes were nice, if not a little unremarkable, the tomato gazpacho didn’t have the strength or ‘pop’ of flavor I thought they would, the tempura capers were ok and the tomato foam was interesting but the taste wasn’t memorable, the olive dust was quite nice, salty but flavorful, the gelatin flavor was subtle and not bad but the mozzarella foam didn’t seem ‘foamy’ enough. My dining companions unfavorably compared it to whipped cottage cheese, which I had to agree with. It was interesting but not as spectacular or as memorable as we would have hoped. I did mention to another guest that I really expected the flavors to be very bright and vivid and was a bit disappointed that the presentation didn’t quite match up to taste.

06 H7@ (the sea in the memory)

This is dish which Chef Gianluigi Bonelli won an award for and which had been selected for a food exposition (or competition, I forget which…). It consisted of fresh scampi tail on ‘unreal’ shark’s fin made with seafood broth, with sauce of smoked eel and cold avocado mousse, beetroot* chips, tofu cubes, uni (sea urchin), peppers and mirin foam with paprika fingerprints. That’s a real mouthful for you!

What did it taste like, you ask? Well…shockingly, my scampy was mealy! I couldn’t believe it! It did not taste fresh at all! I turned to the boy to tell him when he told me his was perfect. I thus claimed the rest of his scampi tail and indeed it was. I was a little hesitant to comment when asked how it was but I thought the restaurant deserved to know if a supplier is cheating them (the boy will tell you how much I loath people cheating!) so I mentioned that my scampi was mealy and half the table chimed in with the same comment.

The unreal shark’s fin is made using (so the heavily accented but charming and attentive restaurant director told us) some type of gelatin which has limited distribution and sourced only from El Bulli. It tasted ok. Did not have the texture of real shark’s fin but was quite firm without being overly gelatinous. The smoked eel sauce I don’t remember too much of and the avocado mousse was very rich. In fact one of the guests commented that it was almost too strong and competed with the other flavors in the dish too much. The mirin foam in my opinion was the only ‘foam’ of the evening which held together well with enough froth to be a true foam. I enjoyed it but others commented again on the strong flavor. The uni was undoubtably fresh and the tofu tender.

06 The Sea & Co. (the sea in the memory)

The Sea & Co. consisted of caviar with tapioca, coconut, a whitish foam (which someone made the unshakeable comparison to mayo!) with small breadcrumbs accompanied by a sweet potato foam. This was ok and it was a nice play on textures with the caviar and the tapioca but nothing was particularly memorable and the emphasis that the restaurant director had on playing with the flavors of salty and sweet in the mouth didn’t come alive.

Palate Cleanser

In between this course and the next, was served a palate cleanser which was served in a type of plastic serum holder, with a bulbous end and a very thin spout. It was filled with a milky watery type liquid and the end had a tiny sliver of julienned lime.

Unfortunately due to its unusual appearance, it looked exactly what a science teacher would have used to demonstrate sperm. It tasted vaguely sweet and was what one of the guest identified as barley water. The lime was slightly crystallized with sugar.

06 Flour + Egg + Milk = Pasta!

This pasta, much to my surprise, was chosen to be one of the favorites of the meal. This was a serving of tagliatelle tossed with a light creamy type of sauce which was, as far as we could tell, seasoned with nutmeg, and a bit of vanilla. This was topped by a creamy centered soft boiled quail egg and corn mouse. The corn mousse was very flavorful and had notes of ginger and orange as well as the slight zing of Dijon. This was served with parmesan bread crumbs over the top. The boy loved this dish while I found it to be just ok. The flavors definitely worked together quite well, no doubt but not shockingly so.

06 Green Asparagus (texture/izato)

Dover sole, with a smear of taro mousse, overlaid with delicate thin strips of asparagus served with scampi foam, green pea mouse, almond mousse, almond dust and green pea chips. This was quite nice, with the fish just a touch over cooked and the almond mousse bringing out a slight buttery nuttiness to the fish and the asparagus. The taro mousse was nice but almost a little too creamy and rich for the dish and the green pea mousse didn’t have the intensity of flavor of the corn mousse. This was a nicely presented dish but again, something which could have been found elsewhere.

06 B-V-B! (beer-veal-beet)

Veal cheek on Spanish tortilla made with mash potato accompanied by beetroot* foam, flakes of concentrated horseradish and flour chips with a drop of beetroot* and red cabbage reduction.

Fabulous veal cheek, beetroot foam was again collapsed and tasted very soapy and sweet, flour chips were very bland and dusty tasting but the beetroot reduction powerful. However, by this time, the guests were getting a little tired with the use of the same ingredient, i.e. beetroot which made its appearance, rather aggressively due to its striking color, in a total of three dishes out of eight savory courses. I love beetroot but even then I thought that the chef could have used something a little different to spice up the flavoring.

Angus Beef

This course was a free addition by the charming restaurant director asked to be served and is one of his personal favorites. The Angus beef was served with Jerusalem artichoke mousse and chips. The beef was succulent and moist and the Jerusalem mousse dense and flavorful. The chips again tasted a little dusty although incredibly thin and shattered upon biting.

06 Basil & Coconut (tears of wine)

The first of our sweet courses, this was a basil crème brulee with coconut ice cream powder. This excited me quite a bit and I found it quite intriguing. The crème brulee was very nice, creamy and smooth but the ice cream powder was very interesting and looked and behaved like flakes while being cold and melting on the tongue.

06 After 8 (the 17th series) + Caviar and Fisherman!

This was a semi-solid chocolate mousse, vanilla mouse, peppermint gelatin and sugar mint flakes served with caviar. We were recommended to put a combination of everything in our mouths with the caviar bringing out the sweet intensity of the chocolate. The semi-solid chocolate mousse had a powdery texture on top I believe helped with the textural combination. Some of us liked the combo whereas others preferred it separated. I didn’t mind the combination but didn’t feel that I was getting the whole effect. This was a very nice dessert although the peppermint gelatin at the bottom tasted a little slimy and the mint sugar flakes were like candy and could have been thinner to melt upon contact with the tongue.

All in all I think the problem lies with myself. I had high expectations and it wasn’t matched. However, like one of the guests said, none of us had been to El Bulli and perhaps this is what the food is like. Perhaps we were thinking of a non-existant level of food combining. Or perhaps we were just jaded. Around the table the consensus seemed to be that the pasta was the best course. When I was asked, I honestly couldn’t answer. The Angus beef and the veal cheek were delicious, no doubt but it didn’t seem quite spectacular enough to make it “the best”. As the others agreed, other places could make delicious dishes out of these ingredients as well.

So the verdict? In the words of the boy, “I’d be happier if it cost 1/3rd less”. So while it was good food, it wasn’t spectacular and didn’t merit the glitz and glamour of the reputation and the premium paid.


Anonymous said...

I am wondering how someone can rate ketchup flavoured chips so highly really can be respected as a food critic at all.....

That said I would have liked a comment on how you felt the meal went together in its entirety. Also some perspective - what similar meals have you had that DID merit the glam, glitz and premium.

Apart from that good stuff and keep it up please!

Sui Mai said...

Mmmmn, ketchup chips! ar ar ar ar

Sorry, what were you saying?

For those who have not tasted the glory of ketchup chips, I only have sympathy for your poor deprived souls...

Great comments though!

Overall, it was a good restaurant no doubt, just lacked the extra spark that separates the unforgettable and genius from the very good category that I was expecting.

As to perspective I admit I haven't been to many glitzy places but Louis XV was definitely worth it.

Anonymous said...

thank you. than you so much.......