March 1, 2011

Haggis and more

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I was invited by the Mandarin Oriental to an intimate gathering of fellow bloggers, to sample Scottish fare during the hotel's "A Taste of Scotland" promotion at the Chinnery.  A team from the Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland came to Hong Kong for this affair.

I was pretty excited and responded to the invitation right away.  I must admit that I don't know anything about Scottish cuisine other than haggis which, despite having heard about it since my teenage years, has always eluded me.  This would be my first taste of the iconic dish.

We started with some whisky mojito frappé whipped up by David Sinclair, Bar Manager at the Gleneagles.  Here's a combination of two drinks which I like, so what's not to like?!

Loch Ryan oysters, native, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland naturally served - these oysters are from Loch Ryan in Dumfries and Galloway on the western coast near Northern Ireland.  These little oysters have got to be among some of the most expensive to harvest, because Scottish Water is supposedly spending an eight-figure sum to build a plant to divert waste water away from the Loch... all for a small oyster fishery whose annual production is around 200,000 oysters with a 5-figure turnover...  Anyway, these were pretty briny with a very metallic finish.  No sweetness on the palate at all.  This became very interesting with the whisky pairing, as the sweet and smoky flavors of the whisky tempered the metallic tastes.

Talisker 10 years - kinda sweet, with that hospital disinfectant peaty nose, and spicy on the finish.

Findony haggis, neep fondant and mousseline potatoes - this was a lot prettier than I expected... a quenelle!  OK, so I've never had haggis before hence I've got nothing to compare it with, but... the flavors were a lot milder than what I was hoping for.  This is well-known as a dish that has turned off plenty of people, so I was expecting something really pungent - which I actually would enjoy.  No such luck.  While the flavors of blood and offal were there, the spices - especially cloves - were overpowering.  The neep was very interesting... I intially wondered if it were local radish, and when I discovered its true identity as yellow turnip a light bulb went off in my head.  Nevertheless, I'll take any offal I can lay my hands on.

Before the dish was served, I asked if the haggis recipe had been toned down for this promotion to suit the local palate in Hong Kong.  I was told that the recipe is exactly the same as what they would serve at the Gleneagles.  As we discussed amongst ourselves, we postulated that the recipe used at the Gleneagles was perhaps more refined than what one would find in a local eatery in Scotland, with more delicate flavors instead of being "rough-and-dirty".  I guess I won't find out until I get a chance to travel to Scotland...

Tullibardine Pedro Ximenez - distilled in 1997, aged in Pedro Ximenez casks and bottled in 2009. This was much bigger and richer, with caramel and ripe fruit notes. Perfect to go with haggis.

Loch Duart salmon, lightly smoked with Sherry pickled vegetables - OK so this wasn't done sous-vide as the Sous-Vide Monsters would prefer, but it was mi-cuit and very delicious nonetheless.  The light smoky flavors were wonderful, and I had no trouble finishing the whole piece as my subconscious directed my hands to keep cutting and shoving pieces into my waiting mouth.  The salmon was organically farmed.  Yum.

Highland Park 12 years - very interesting. The peaty flavors were indeed different from what one would find in Islay malts... here they were a little more complex and elegant, not just heavy smoke or hospital disinfectant.

Seaweed fed lamb shoulder, thyme and honey roast roots - a friend had attended a press luncheon yesterday and raved about the yummy lamb.  Apparently the Hebridean black faced lambs feed not only on grass, but also on seaweed by the shore during the winter when grass is not as abundant.  This was not on our menu but I asked the kitchen to send out one serving for us to share.  This was indeed very yummy and gamey, and the color of the meat was much darker than what one would normally find.  The piece of jelly on top was pretty interesting, too.  I wish I had room for more...
Classic vanilla crème brûlée - very delicious.  Just can't find any fault with this one...
Dalwhinnie 15 years, frozen - very cool (no pun intended) as the viscosity seemed to have gone up after freezing. Nose of caramel and sweet fruit became more prominent after warming up a little.

Dailuaine the Manager's Choice - this is a 12-year old, single cask selection at cask strength. A lot sweeter, rich with vanilla and caramel. Funnily enough it was also a bit green and mossy. The alcohol singed a few nose hairs and started to burn a hole through my nose... A few drops of water toned things down a bit.

Tablet - these Scottish fudge treats were really delicious.  I took the first few nibbles, then shoved it halfway into my mouth, holding it there with my fingers while stealthily licked away with the tip of my tongue... all the while hoping that no one else would notice what I was really doing...
This was a really good evening... tasting the finest Scottish ingredients along with some excellent whiskies.  Of course, I really enjoyed the company of my fellow bloggers, as I have only "met" some of them in blogosphere but never in real life.  Many thanks to the Mandarin Oriental for this wonderful treat. 
I think I have a few more days to go back and get some more lamb... Slurp...

P.S. Check out KC's blogpost for the meal in Chinese, as well as HK Epicurus' extensive review.


Singapore said...

That sounds amazing. Now if they would do a dinner in Singapore - I can finally try Haggis too.

Geoffrey Wu said...

Dear Peech,

On behalf of Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, thank you for your wonderful review of our "A Taste of Scotland" Promotion at The Chinnery and we sincerely hope you enjoyed the wonderful meal on the night. That being said, we look forward to seeing you at our hotel very soon.

Best Wishes
Geoffrey Wu

E-Commerce and Social Media Manager
Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong


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