Starry nights in Hong Kong
In one of the world's great cities, Hong Kong, Michelin stars abound and high art blends beautifully with gastronomic greatness.
We get a quick lesson in Hong Kong weather upon arrival. In Hong Kong they grade rain according to colour from amber to black (being the heaviest with the strongest wind). When we land, it is apparently black rain and it has caused a kerfuffle with the normally fast baggage services and we don’t get our bags until about 45 minutes later. We’re then on our way and we’re all looking forward to a sleep. I’m singing Soft Kitty to myself and we’re grateful to be headed to the hotel.
Lobby at the Mandarin Oriental
We reach the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and despite the late hour, there’s no hiding how superb the hotel is and how stunning the Oriental Suites are. The check-in is a breeze and done in the suite as one wonderful staff member whisks us upstairs. He takes our information from us in our suite while Mr NQN and I walk around the enormous space oohing and aaahing …
Hotels are a big deal in Hong Kong, the most important thing for a hotel here is the food and beverage offerings and whilst you won’t find many hatted or starred restaurants in hotels in Australia, you will here. The Mandarin Oriental is a hotel with three Michelin-starred restaurants: the two-starred Pierre restaurant with Pierre Gagnaire, the one-starred Man Wah restaurant and the Mandarin Grill & Bar also with one star and headed by former El Bulli chef de partie, Uwe Opocensky. Hotels here also show art exhibitions and Art HK is an art festival held in May and the Mandarin Grill & Bar is holding a special lunch and dinner menu. This evening we will be trying a preview of the Art HK dinner and I promise you, it is not a dinner one can forget.
We have a quick cocktail at the bar and then it we head into the dining room which is large with an open kitchen where Chef Uwe has his head down concentrating on a dish. Even though a grill is usually quite a traditional restaurant with a traditional menu this one features slight twists in everything.
We start with the amuse bouches, three no less, and they really set the tone for the evening. Firstly are cheese gougeres, tiny bite-sized morsels of pate a choux filled with a creamy burst of cheese.
Then we move to the slightly surreal, olive bursts under a bonsai tree. It tastes exactly like an olive yet the texture is a liquid inside a thin membrane sac.
Then we have the most bountiful and varied bread basket. It’s a delight to taste and there is a range of six bread types: black sesame, bell pepper foccacia, milky butter bread, laugem bread (like pretzel bread) and a seeded bread. They were all lovely, fresh and warm and I particularly like the bell pepper and the comforting aspect of the milky butter bread baton.
The small parmesan cookies were short and with a nice salty punch to them from the parmesan.
Our final amuse bouche was the sweet crispy cornet filled with very finely diced smoked salmon…
The last course, and what was everyone’s favourite (apart from dessert, but that blows expectations out of the water), was the painting course. Presented in a photo frame, there were purees like red pepper, yellow pepper, onion, spinach and eggplant. To the right was a sous vide egg yolk sitting in a highly aromatic truffled mash and below this was a fillet of fat cap beef, the upper part of the rib eye. They tell us that only three restaurants in the world can get this cut: the Mandarin Oriental, Per Se and French Laundry. The meat is wonderfully tender, an exceptional cut cooked perfectly medium rare and I particularly like this with the slow cooked egg yolk which isn’t actually runny and is quite thick and the fragrant truffled mash.
The painting course
The first hint that dessert was going to be an epic production came from the laying of the rubber mats on the table. Clearly we were going to be in for something a) messy or b) creative – or both. Chef Uwe came out with his team and we were each handed an iPod. Mine was, most fittingly playing Madonna’s "Music” whilst others had a selection of music. What follows to the soundtrack of Music is eight and a half minutes of Chef Uwe playing each of the eighteen parts on the table. First he lays down a bottomless cylinder and pours liquid pudding into the bottom.
He then takes a variety of sauce used a spoon to direct curves onto the table, a solid chocolate photo frame is laid on the table. Chocolate paintbrushes and white chocolate coloured chocolate crayons and shavings are then laid down followed by chocolate coated macadamias and almonds all housed in edible containers dusted with cocoa. The whole dessert is an extravaganza of chocolate-like an adult’s version of play time with chocolate or Willy Wonka and we take the brushes and paint, chip off bits of the edible photo frame and nibble on chocolate crayons before collapsing back into our chairs in a happy chocolate coma.
Which is how all meals should really end.
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