January 8, 2015

The enchanted forest

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A couple of months after playing the 'plus one' to my A-lister friend, I was invited back to the Mandarin Oriental for another dinner with my friend - this time at the Krug Room.  Since dinner at the Krug Room is meant to accommodate a large group, we were encouraged to invite a few friends along.  So we each invited a friend or two and I roped in My Favorite Birdbrain Cousin.  I was happily looking forward to another feast.

I arrived very early to meet my friend for a drink, and happened to run into Chef Uwe Opocensky downstairs while he was having a quick dinner with his family.  Once again I asked him "not to kill me" (with too much food), as he was fond of doing.  He promised that tonight will be "light", but somehow I never believe him when he tells me that...

We gathered in the bar section of the Mandarin Grill + Bar and sipped on some Krug Grande Cuvée while we waited to assemble the troops.  Once we were ready, we made the usual trek through The Chinnery, but were led on a detour first...

Each of us picked up a candle lantern before we entered a dark room.  I immediately recognized the decor - it was similar to the way Uwe and the team decked out one of the function rooms for the hotel's media Christmas party.  We were in an ENCHANTED FOREST, and this is where we would find our first nibbles.

Slices of beef jerk were hung on tree branches, made from A7 wagyu.  There were two types and mine was made with the addition of black pepper.  Really yummy, and I wish I had the stomach for a few more of these...

There was also beef tartare, together with reindeer moss.  These were spread on different surfaces - some vertically on tree trunks...

...which we were supposed to scrape off using these arrowhead (慈姑) chips.  I do have to say... trying to scrape the beef off and catching it with the small chips isn't as easy as it seems!

You've also got these leaves coated with tempura batter and deep-fried.  Who doesn't like deep-fried food?!

These "pebbles" sitting on top of the larger stones were actually potatoes coated with edible clay.  The accompanying anchovy butter was really amazing.

Forest walk:  first part included branches, which were breadsticks made to look like branches, we had to look for them since they were actually hung on the tree branches.

We also had these little things on tree branches, which were little lumps of mushroom-flavored bread that were also tasty.

Now that we were done with our walk through the enchanted forest, we took our lanterns with us and entered the proper dining room in total darkness.  We took in the decor once the lights came on...

TREE: the table was already set for the next course, with multiple elements.

Venison and pine - actually part of the enchanted forest.  Venison meatball, coated and fried.  So yummy.

Nestled among the branches was this venison tartare tart and diced French pear.  There was also some pan-fried maitake mushrooms, as well as slices of black truffle sandwiching a dab of mushroom purée.

A mushroom cookie with thin strips of chicken neck, which were chewy and flavorful.

Mushroom leaves - this translucent leaf was made with mushroom consommé and simply melted away in the mouth.

This piece of bark was made by adding cep powder to the milk skin formed when heating milk.

What looked like chanterelles were made with foie gras mousse.

mushroom actually had two parts: the cap was made of foie gras mousse, and the stem was made of chicken liver mousse encased in a white chocolate shell.

I attempted to spread the mousse onto these wafers, but they were too fragile and broke apart...

Finally, this came out from the kitchen... The shiitake mushrooms were grown on this very block of compressed wood, which was brought in from Japan as is, and roasted with all the shrooms still attached.

Once we've all had the chance to smell the mushrooms, they were separated from the block and placed in front of us.  Very, very good.

PICNIC: the next part of the meal also brought along various items, which were brought to us in a picnic basket...

Thousand year egg - yes, Uwe made us 皮蛋, but while the yolk was actually made with duck egg yolk, the "white" was made with oxtail jelly.  In lieu of pickled ginger, we had pickled Roscoff onions.

Krug lobster - lobster carpaccio, gelée, and caviar served in the dimple of Krug Champagne bottle bottoms...

...with a layer of yuzu mayo at the bottom.  Absolutely delicious!  The sweetness of the lobster, the savory flavors from the gelée and the caviar, citrus fragrance from the yuzu; and texture-wise, the crunch of the lobster versus the creaminess of the mayo.  I should have hogged this and not shared it with anyone, not even My Favorite Cousin...

King crab - we also had these delicious sections of Alaskan King crab legs, which I chose to eat on its own and not dip into yuzu mayo.


Onion bread - this incredible loaf was baked with a whole Roscoff onion inside.  As incredible as it was, I was pretty full already and only took in 1/8th... Should have asked to take away the rest!

And we spread this onto our onion bread... Onion juice reduction on the bottom, and Parmesan shavings on top.  Very, very awesome on the onion bread.

Salad in a jar - a Waldorf salad with all the ingredients in a jar.  You shake the jar (violently) to spread the mayo around.

Ham and salami - we each got one of these packets, wrapped very nicely and tied with a string...

Opening up revealed slices of ham and salami.  These were soooo delicious, I tried to stop after a couple of slices... but couldn't.

Hunters' stew - this was something that Uwe used to serve the Prince of Wales while out on a hunt.  A bread dumpling, vegetable cubes, shredded beef cheek (which were a little stringy and surprisingly tough), with a Scotch broth - all in a big enamel mug.  I can see how this would have been warm and comforting on a hunt in the country, especially on a cold and wet day.

Parker House roll - this was simply awesome.  Hot from the oven, with a brown and slightly crunchy exterior while soft and almost milky in the middle.  I allowed myself one little piece.  Something else I should have remembered to take home!

With our picnic over - and our bellies pretty full by now - we moved onto the rest of the meal.  We were told that the second half was going to be "light", but let's see...

Liquid omelette with white truffle - the very last of the white truffle, shaved on top of a glass with... is that a Riedel Single Malt glass? Anyway, it's got ham broth jelly at the bottom, a layer of spinach and parsley purée above, a layer of egg above that, and finally a layer of potato foam.  Instant comfort.

Celeriac and truffle - these celeriac balls were placed in the cellophane bag with celeriac juice and black truffles, then baked at 200°C for 45 minutes.  Beautiful and warm, served with mashed potatoes.

Sea Bass - butter-poached Welsh sea bass, topped with pickled beets, pickled kohlrabi, wood sorrel and caviar.  Very, very tender and delish.

Amazingly, that was the end of the savory part of our meal.  Next up were just two desserts, but before we switched gears, Uwe offered us a palate cleanser.  He asked us to guess what he held in his hand...

Turns out these were wild passion fruit, foraged right here in Hong Kong!  They looked a little like the passion fruit I love from Bali, but those have shells with a deeper, orange tinge.  Once we get past the shell, the seeds looked similar to those from Balinese passion fruit, but with a much stronger, floral fragrance.  Pretty cool!

Cinnamon caramel - we were presented with a bunch of cinnamon sticks and asked to "choose our weapons".  And so we did.

Then Uwe brought out trays of crushed ice, and laid down a long train of warm, liquid caramel on top.

We were then supposed to take our cinnamon sticks and stick them into the caramel, twisting them before the mass completely solidifies.  Then?  Just lick it off the stick...

A little earlier in the evening, Uwe asked each of us to choose between yuzu and sesame.  We didn't know what it was about, but most of us chose yuzu... and he walked away a little dejected...

Our final dessert came as the staff brought in these trays bearing terracotta warriors.  We were trying to figure out the significance of having 11 warriors per tray, but I guess there really wasn't any.  This was a sneak preview of one of the items in the upcoming ArtBasel menu that the Mandarin Grill + Bar will present to diners.  There were two types of warriors - ones which were made of solid chocolate, and another with filling inside the chocolate shells.

So my warrior was filled with yuzu ice cream.  How should I eat him?

While someone else suggested "sucking his bottom", I decided the easiest way was to bite his head off...

We're in the Krug Room, so of course one would expect lots of bubbly... but we got a lot more than that.  Too bad I was too busy with the food to drink my fair share of vino...

Krug Grande Cuvée

1998 Krug - nice and mature on the palate, and a little bit yeasty.

Krug Rosé - nose of strawberries, and very ripe on the palate.  More enjoyable than the last couple of times I've had this.

2010 Etienne Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Champ-Canet - very big nose of toasty corn, with a pretty ripe palate and a little bit of acidity on the finish.  Later on the nose opened up to reveal a little butter.  Very nice.

2006 A.F. Gros Vosne-Romanée Aux Réas - a little forest, lovely nose of sweet fruit, a little smoky.  Still some tannins here.

2003 Doisy-Védrines - nose of honey, marmalade, dates, a little nutty.  Very rich.  Finish was a little bitter.

This was another wonderfully fun evening!  As I've said in previous posts - and to Uwe himself - I seldom have as much fun during a meal as when Uwe's in the kitchen.  I'm gonna have to come back to see him a little more often this year!  Many thanks to the Mandarin Oriental for the generous treat.

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