May 25, 2017

I'm Buckwheat!

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Those who know me are familiar with my general rule when it comes to new restaurants - that I usually stay away from new openings, choosing to wait a minimum of 3 to 6 months before making my first visit.  I can be pretty unforgiving when I get bad food or shit service, and the likelihood of getting either (or both) is pretty high when a restaurant first opens.  So, like the critics of yesteryear -although I don't fancy myself as one - I wait and give new restaurants time to get it together.

I had never gotten around to visiting The Ocean, despite multiple invitations from friends as well as former chef Agustin Balbi.  Its location inside The Pulse in Repulse Bay meant, in all honesty, that it was just too fucking far to go for dinner on a weeknight.  I had contemplated going there with the Tiggers, but somehow never managed to get around to it.  Then Agustin left for greener pastures, and there was no longer any reason to go...

Late last week I got a ping from Maxime Gilbert - who left Amber last year to join Le Comptoir, the group behind The Ocean.  Apparently they have gotten themselves a new chef to look after The Ocean. Olivier Bellin - whose L'Auberge des Glazicks inside his family hotel in Brittany boasts two Michelin stars - is now responsible for the menu.  Chef Bellin was in town for a few days, and Maxime very kindly extended an invitation for me to try out their new menu.  Unfortunately I was flying home to celebrate the Parental Units' anniversary, so I turned down the invitation.

Then Mrs. Tigger came back to town for a short visit and wanted to meet up.  I figured The Ocean would actually be a convenient location for her, so we ended up here for dinner tonight.

The restaurant now offers two tasting menus - five or nine courses.  As Mrs. Tigger is looking to go on a diet, and will be seeing a nutritionist tomorrow, she decided to take just five courses.  I, of course, followed suit.  After all, the Growing Boy can't keep growing forever...

Set sail: mise en bouche -
Potato (parfait?) with oyster water - more like soufflé potatoes I've had elsewhere.  The filling did taste strongly of oysters, with those briny flavors.  We were told by the waiter to eat it quickly before it got cold, but the reality was that these were already cold...

These were served on a bed of buckwheat, which we were encouraged to nibble on.  We were told by the waiter that the chef loves using buckwheat as it is key to the cuisine of Brittany.

Second serving of amuses came, again on a bed of buckwheat.

Tart with beetroot purée and Dijon mustard - I chose not to tell the staff about my distaste for beetroot, so I guess I'll suffer the consequences.  Topped with thin slices of radish and a sprinkle of what looked like lemon zest.  The mustard sure delivered a little kick!

Mackerel sashimi - unfortunately we couldn't understand our waiter, and thought he said this was "microfish"... until someone more senior came and told us it was mackerel.  This was pretty good, and came with what tasted like a liver sauce.

We also picked up the bones and ate them, too!  And they were great!  Tasted very Japanese... coated in soy sauce and all.

The bread basket came, and I chose the roll made with squid ink.  This was very tasty.

Two different types of butter came with our bread, but we weren't told about their differences.  I assumed one would be salted and the other unsalted, but I was wrong.  Both seemed to be salted.  And the butter with buckwheat already on top tasted slightly off... as if it's been sitting out a little too long.

From dining at RAW, I'm used to the idea of adding buckwheat to my butter, but the presence of a whole little bowl of buckwheat on the side - so that we could add as much as we felt like - was a little surprising.

At this point, with all the buckwheat around me, all I could think of was this...

Blue lagoon: pan seared coral Brittany langoustine, beetroot and buckwheat tartar, boudin noir - we were told to first attack the crab (or was it langoustine?) claw on top before the other parts of the dish.  The meat was very soft.  The bottom was a slice of boudin noir, which I do love.  Unfortunately it came with some beetroot sauce, as well as beetroot sorbet and pickled beetroot tartar mixed with... buckwheat.

The langoustine was still a little raw in the middle - more raw than mi-cuit - but the texture was a little mushy.  That's a little disappointing...

Great reef: Japanese sea urchin, oatmeal foam, toasted buckwheat - in addition to the Japanese sea urchin, there was also a clam as well as clam juice.  Not sure why the chef felt the need to add chunks of sweet, honeycomb crunch inside.  I understand it's a contrast both in texture and flavor, but didn't do it for me...  I also wondered what inspired the chef to make a foam from oatmeal, since it doesn't have strong, distinctive flavors... while the minced ginger definitely stood out. In any case, the dish was marred by the presence of what tasted like wheat husks suspended within the foam.  The texture was a bit of a nuisance, and annoyingly stuck to the back of Mrs. Tigger's throat.

Deep sea: blue lobster lightly cooked, brioche and pork head veil, curry sauce, apple and grapefruit condiment - so the chef likes to combine elements of the land and the sea and present them in the same dish.  The claw on the right came with a little thin wafer topped with a dab of what tasted like herb cream, along with a quenelle of grapefruit and apple compote - delivering some bitterness to the palate.

The tail of the lobster was cooked slightly more raw than mi-cuit, and the texture was perfect - not mushy at all, with a satisfying springiness and slight crunch.  Delicious.  A very crunchy square of toast rested on top, with a wafer-thin, crunchy layer of tête the cochon that left me wanting more.  A lot more.  The "elbow" on the left came with a thin slice of lomo, curiously accompanied by a citrus dot that was soooo bitter it became unpleasant.  As we were instructed to approach the dish from right to left, the sharp bitterness was what stayed on my tongue as I finished the dish.  Not exactly a satisfying end to remember.

Oh, and I got two little grains of buckwheat on my plate.  By now this I'm-putting-buckwheat-in-every-damn-dish is starting to feel really contrived and ridiculous.  I joked with Mrs. Tigger that this was kinda like the "all chicken dinner" that g4gary went to recently, although I couldn't hum #雞全部都係雞...

Decompression: buckwheat texture, carazin ice-cream - SERIOUSLY?  BUCKWHEAT AGAIN?  The "very airy and very light" buckwheat biscuit didn't do it for me... nor Mrs. Tigger.  We didn't care for the texture nor the (lack of) flavor.  The signature "carazin" ice cream - made with caramel and buckwheat - was OK.  I would have preferred a simpler approach with just caramel.  The paper-thin blé noir galette on top was the best part.

Oh yes, there were a couple of grains of buckwheat stuck in the ice carazin ice cream...

Coastal view: chocolate tube and parsley foam, pineapple, banana and lime ice-cream - this was a much better dessert than the last one.  Within the thin tube made of dark chocolate was parsley mousse on top of some very sweet milk chocolate mousse and pineapple compote.  While the presence of parsley in a dessert might seem odd, in reality it didn't come off as overpowering as we thought it would.  After all, we don't find basil ice cream strange anymore these days...

The quenelle of banana and lime ice cream came with thin wafers of dehydrated pineapple.  The whole thing was finished by sprinkling parsley granité on top.  And yes, I think there was buckwheat in there somewhere...

Back to the bay: mignardises - red berry macarons came with a ganache that tasted strongly of strawberries.  The choux de crème came with cherry purée, and my favorite was most certainly the jasmine and raspberry tartlet.

I took it easy with the drinks tonight, choosing to order a German riesling by the glass.  When the choice listed on the wine list wasn't available, I was surprised to find one of my favorite German producers as a replacement.  "Even I know what that is!", exclaimed Mrs. Tigger...

2012 von Schubert Maximin Grünhäuser Abstberg Riesling Kabinett - lovely and classic nose of marmalade, flint, polyurethane, and petrol. Kinda sweet but with some acidity on the finish, and almost a little fizzy.

Well... I think I should stick to my usual practice of not visiting a restaurant during its opening period, even though this was a re-opening.  I didn't think the food was terrible - far from it.  In fact, some parts of the meal were quite delicious.  But there were a few elements I didn't quite agree with, although perhaps one can chalk it up to a matter of preferences.  Ultimately, though, the chef's love of the humble buckwheat was lost on me... I guess I just didn't "get it".  But I gotta respect his passion... or was it stubbornness?  Olivier Bellin has two Michelin stars on his home turf, so I'm sure with a little tweaking, he'll figure out what works for the local palate here in Hong Kong.

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