April 3, 2013

The Demon's new lair

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A few days ago I received an invitation for dinner tonight, extended by a restaurant PR through a mutual friend.  The thoughtful friend had double-checked with the PR to make sure that they really wanted to invite me, and reminded them that I could be "very frank".  The invitation was not withdrawn, and I agreed to go with the gang across the harbor to check out the new joint.

Our destination was MC Kitchen, the new Kowloon outpost of Alvin Leung, who has stylized himself as the "Demon Chef".  I have been a fan of Alvin's for quite a number of years now, going back to the early days of Bo Innoseki when he was still at his location in Gilman's Bazaar.  Back in 2004 I'd never heard of elBulli or Fat Duck, and that first meal from Alvin was my first introduction to deconstruction, and I still remember the laap mei faan (腊味飯) vividly.

MC Kitchen (the "MC" stands for "modern comfort") represents a new direction for Alvin.  He says that it's kinda like the opposite of what he does with Bo, and with its out-of-the-way location, it certainly is a very different target market and price point.  I like the fact that he keeps experimenting with ingredients to get the right flavors out of them.  At various points during the evening, he explained that he was taking a classically Chinese ingredient, treating it differently so that he could "take the pungent-ness out and keep the fragrance".

We were treated to a good selection of dishes from the relatively small menu, and Alvin asked for our honest feedback afterwards.

Pat Chun vinegar foam dip - a very interesting alternative to butter or olive oil to accompany the bread, made with local black vinegar from Pat Chun (八珍).

Foie gras, lettuce wrap, Abby's sauce - this was really good.  Being the food Neanderthal that I am (or maybe because I was sitting in close proximity to a Neanderthal), I picked up the thing and shoved it into my waiting mouth, taking it in one bite.  Very yummy foie.  If I weren't trying to cut down and pace myself, I wouldn't have hesitated to inhale the extra piece on the plate.

Aromatic beef broth, truffled tendon, wagyu wonton, daikon pearl - the bowl arrived with the deep-fried wonton with wagyu (和牛) filling, the beef tendon with black truffle paste on top, and the piece of Japanese daikon (大根).  Then the consommé was poured into the bowl to complete the dish.  The consommé was delicious, as were the tender tendon and the wonton.  Interesting use of yellowed chives (韭黃).

Carabinero red prawn, "har mi" oil, handmade pasta, mushrooms - how could I possibly not like a dish made with carabineros?!  This is another variation of Alvin's popular prawn noodle, and as he told us that MC is supposed to be the "graveyard" of old Bo dishes, I wonder what the latest incarnation would be…

Anyway, the prawn was incredibly delicious, and someone generously made sure that I got one of the heads.  Yes, the head really was finger-licking good, and once again I had that coating of yummy goodness on my lips, on my tongue and inside my mouth.  The noodles are hand-rolled and hand-cut in the restaurant, and mixed with tobiko (とびこ).  There was also a bed of sliced shiitake mushrooms.  I made sure that I poured a good amount of Alvin's har mi (蝦米) oil on the noodles…

Cod, black bean, honey, fennel, mandarin salad - this was very yummy.  Cod is easily one of my favorite fish, and here Alvin's done it in a black bean honey glaze, on a bed of fennel, with black bean powder and (canned?) mikan (蜜柑) slices on the side.  Not sure what, if anything, fennel brings to this dish…

Sea bass, "yunnan" ham sauce, salsify - the weakest of the seafood selections.  At the end of the evening, we would brainstorm with Alvin about the best fish to use for this while keeping the cost down.

Iberico pork, hawthorn, plum sauce - this is Alvin's take on "sweet and sour pork".  The pork neck roulade was cooked sous vide, and I loved both the tenderness as well as the flavors.  Instead of being battered and fried, they used a combination of flour and breadcrumbs to create the deep-fried crunchy bits.  The sweet and sour part came from the hawthorn sauce, as well as the lychee jelly cubes on the side.  Pretty good.

Pigeon, shiitake mushroom cake - very nice and tender.  The sugar snaps were delicious, too.  The most interesting bit has got to be the cubes made with shiitake mushrooms, as the flavors were pretty intense.

Lamb skewer, kaffir lime leaf, ginger pumpkin, "fu yu" - personally I prefer lamb that has a lot of fat for that strong "lamby" flavor, so I found this a little bland.  Interesting to find 3 different pools of purée/foam on the side: kaffir lime, fermented tofu (腐乳) and ginger/pumpkin.  There was also piment d'espelette and kaffir lime powder on the side.  The best part of the dish?  All those caramelized water chestnut chunks at the bottom.  I couldn't stop eating those!

MC classic chicken rice - Alvin says he uses "aged" risotto, with chicken broth made with Longgang (龍崗) chicken.  This was very yummy, and I could eat a lot of this…  Chicken and shiitake mushrooms - NOW you're talkin' comfort food!

Mash potato, Chinese salty fish - pretty interesting to have grated salty fish with the mash.

Purple glutinous rice, mousse, mango ice-cream, coconut pearl - a deconstruction.  Yes, the sponge-like mousse did taste like purple stick rice.  The little white balls were made from coconut milk using spherification, but the ingredient was simply too bland, and the "skin" was a little thick for my liking.

Mei Kuei Lu baba - my least favorite dessert tonight.  The texture of the baba was too rough, and tasted more like a brioche rather than a sponge cake.  There was also ginger sorbet, lychee jelly and a lemon honey foam on top.  The Mei Kuei Lu (玫瑰露) substituting for rum also meant it was a little too strong in terms of alcohol, as it burned a little too much.

Coconut sugar crème brûlée, pineapple chili ice cream - texture-wise a little too liquid as they didn't have enough time to cool it, but this didn't matter.  Taste-wise this was very yummy, as I love coconut sugar.  The ice cream was incredibly interesting, as you think it's just pineapple… until all of a sudden the heat from the chili hits you on the back end.  There was also some chocolate and sour cherries.

Initially I didn't want to drink tonight, but the minute I saw one of the bottle of wine, I changed my mind.

2004 Thierry Massin Demon Brut - made with 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay.  Yeasty, slightly mineral and a little sweet on the nose.  Not too acidic and slightly richer on the palate.

2010 Diel Riesling Kabinett Demon Riesling - nose of plastic and petrol.  Sweeter on the palate than I expected.

I was surprised that Alvin got the Diels to do this for him, and he did say that Armin took some convincing.  I had the opportunity to meet Victor Diel last year, and he didn't mention anything about this…

This was a pretty good evening, even though I was getting pretty tired towards the end.  I think I'm overdue for a visit back to Bo...

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