March 13, 2015


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NUR was always a restaurant I would have loved to trash for a number of reasons.  First, the PR machine made a big deal out of Chef Nurdin Topham's time at Noma - where he staged briefly, then spent a few months interning at the Nordic Food Lab.  I used to say that "everyone and their dog has worked at elBulli", and nowadays that phrase is certainly applicable to Noma.  I'm not saying that Chef Topham's experience at Noma and the Nordic Food Lab wasn't revelatory or had influenced his cooking, but the guy spent a decade with Raymond Blanc, and nobody seemed to be interested in that piece of info.  That's perhaps understandable, I guess... because how many restaurant PRs in this town actually know who Raymond Blanc is?

The second reason there was an open invitation to trashing was the PR spin about the restaurant's stated policy of sourcing ingredients locally - getting on the "local farm-to-table" bandwagon.  Now, I'm not pooh-poohing the movement.  I do support it and feel that it is best to eat things sourced locally - both from a freshness point of view and also from a carbon footprint angle.  But I was browsing through pages in blogosphere, and everywhere I looked there were things like Irish salmon, Gillardeau oysters, Stockyard wagyu, Taiyouran egg... etc.  So what, exactly, was being sourced locally, other than the few herbs and veg?!  Was this yet another case of PR spinning a story and hyping it up?!

Whatever the case, I ignored most of the reports coming out from the initial flood of invitational meals and decided to stay away.  I wasn't invited anyway...  Over time, though, more friends whose opinions I trust delivered positive feedback.  Then Rubberman decided to give these guys a macaron at the end of last year, and that finally piqued my interest.

So when I Love Lubutin asked whether I had any interest in checking out the place, I didn't hesitate to say yes.  She promptly called the restaurant for a booking, only to receive a confirmation e-mail that started by saying "Dear Mr. XXX"...  We both lamented that in the 21st century, there are still plenty of restaurants in this town where the staff assumes that a woman calling to make a reservation must be a secretary calling for her male boss.  It wasn't the first time, and it ain't gonna be the last...

I arrived at the restaurant first, and immediately the staff assumed I was said Mr. XXX... I, of course, couldn't be bothered to correct them.  It is what it is...

We were lucky to be seated in the alcove by the entrance, which appeared to have the best lighting in the entire restaurant.  However, I quickly realized I was surrounded by a ton of large glass jars, some of which contained liquids or items soaked in liquid.  With the way the jars were lit by spotlights underneath the jars, they actually created eerie glows within the jars.  I felt like I was in a biology lab looking at jars of specimens in formaldehyde... or maybe I was Steve Martin in the movie The Man with Two Brains.  Either way, it was a little freaky to me.

The restaurant only offers a single tasting menu, so after confirming to the staff that I had no allergies or preferences, there wasn't much to do except wait for the food to arrive.

First up was a trio of nibbles.  From the left:
Beetroot taco - with beetroot chutney and watercress emulsion.  Sweeter than expected.
Dehydrated candied carrots - with carrot powder on the side, along with cumin powder on sour cream.
Melon with pickled cucumber - paprika on top.

Next was a pair of crisps.
Rice crisps with homemade ricotta, fennel and dill - the ricotta was very nice.
Barley bread with pickled cordyceps - with thin wafers of mushroom stems.

Jasmin tea kombucha - interestingly sweet on the palate, and actually smells and tastes like Muscat grapes, but I definitely tasted the tannins on the finish.

Tomato: tomatoes, tomato essence - obviously a homage to Raymond Blanc's tomato essence.  Local tomatoes from Fanling were very, very sweet and delicious.  The was also some basil coulis in the beautifully refreshing and pure tomato essence.  Topped with coriander flower, basil flower, shallots, Thai basil, and purple basil.  Pure, clean, fragrant, beautiful.  Umami.

Scallop: Hokkaido scallops, peas, yuzu, lardo - another beautiful dish.  Scallops were diced and buried in the bowl with scallop water, sugar snaps, pea soup, lardo, along with some flower on top. The peas were tender and sweet.  The scallop was delicious and perfect.  The only issue was the lardo.  I looooove lardo, but given that the scallop was diced into several pieces, shouldn't the lardo be also trimmed into smaller bits instead of being one big slice?  The other problem I had with it was that I generally prefer my lardo to be warm.  There's nothing more satisfying than lardo that's dripping with liquid fat, but that's not what is going on here.

Mushroom: maitake mushroom, berries, broth - the maitake was pretty much unseasoned, and really needed to be rolled around in the mushroom broth along with the crème fraîche or risk being bland.  The pickled goji (枸杞) berries added a little sweetness, and of course the mushrooms delivered umami.

Squid: noodles, brassicas, cultured butter - so... more guys doing squid "noodles".  There were shredded cabbage cooked in butter at the bottom, with the strands of squid on top.  At the top were rosette bok choy (塌窩菜) leaves which had been compressed in verjuice.  The homemade cultured and smoked butter made the cabbage taste a little like 奶油津白, and there was plenty of umami in the dish, too.

Egg: scrambled Taiyouran egg, broccoli, seaweed - the scrambled eggs were done with seaweed butter and came with slices of konbu (昆布).  On the side we have pickled broccoli stem, broccoli juice, dill, dill flower, borage flower.  Then we've got puffed brown rice on top, which were a little sweet and tasted a little like Coco Pops.

We were asked to mix everything together before eating, which created this mess...  Anyway, the flavors were good, but we wondered if this was a little too busy...

With this course, we were also served some homemade sourdough bread, which was really, really good.  Beautiful, crunchy crust.  And we were given a quenelle of the cultured and smoked butter, and that was very, very tasty.  When I Love Lubutin - who is herself a walking stick of butter, and therefore a definitive authority on the subject in my book - declares that this was good shit... you know it's the truth.
Mackerel: mackerel, cucumber, pickled guava, nasturtium - mackerel is one of my favorite types of fish, and while this wild mackerel was said to have been lightly grilled, and was still pretty tender and succulent, I kinda wish it had been cooked just a little less.  Served with "apple dashi (出汁)", which was made with apple, nasturtium oil (which looks like it's distilled in-house), and bonito (鰹節).  On the side we've got pickled cucumber, pickled daikon (大根) radish, nasturtium leaves, and little dots made with guava providing some sweetness.  Pretty good overall, with a nice balance of acidity and sweetness to go with the mackerel.

Beef: beef tongue, radish, mustard - the beef tongue was brined for 2 days and slow-cooked for 24 hours.  Served with a custard made from Japanese mustard, along with watercress and pickled radish.  There was a beautiful piece of potato water on top, sprinkled with watercress powder.

The beef tongue was a beautiful hunk of meat, chargrilled to create the perfect crust.  I love nothing more than Frenching all kinds of animals, cows more than any other.  This hit all the right spots.

But I did have to endure the next 30 minutes of listening to I Love Lubutin talk about going into the kitchen to steal persuade the chef to give her more of that potato wafer...  Sigh...

Apple: Aomori apple, cucumber, meringue, dill - a beautiful dessert.  That crunchy layer of caramelized sugar on top of the slice of pickled apple... Slurp!  Sitting in a apple and wood sorrel sauce, with pickled cucumber, apple meringue.  A little bit of dill on top.

Doughnut: goji cream, strawberries, Thai basil - such a disappointing finish.  I Love Lubutin's been eyeing the doughnut from the beginning, and it failed on texture... Just too solid and hard.  The strawberries and strawberry sauce was nice.

The two of us walked out of NUR with smiles of our faces, appetites which had been satiated, yet without the feeling that we've completely stuffed ourselves - which was really nice for a change.  Other than the final dessert - which disappointed on texture but not on flavors - I was happy with just about everything else I had tonight.  And there were quite a few highlights - including the tomato, scallop/peas, both the protein main courses, and the apple dessert.  Hit rate was pretty high tonight.  And the high number of dishes delivering umami did not go unnoticed.

But the burning question remained: how well is the restaurant doing in terms of using local ingredients?  Well, I guess we can assume that many of the vegetables and herbs are sourced locally.  That's much easier to achieve.  We still had Hokkaido scallops and Taiyouran eggs from Japan.  It's much easier to source seafood locally, and I wondered about the squid and mackerel.  For meat it would be really tough, unless we're talking about poultry or game birds like pigeon.  Let's see how this progresses as time goes on.

One final thought: since everyone talks about Chef Nurdin's history with Noma, we might as well make a comparison between my dinner tonight and my dinner at Noma Tokyo.  While Noma Tokyo was a spectacular dinner in terms of creativity, I have to say that I enjoyed my dinner tonight a lot more.  Although there were a couple of cold or tepid dishes tonight, and there was acidity in many of the dishes, the majority of the dishes were at least warm.  That helps to keep my stomach happy, while the combination of cold food plus acidity resulted in an unsettled stomach for me in Tokyo.  So I guess this is just a lot more up my alley... for a guy with simple tastes who just prefers hot food.


e_ting said...

I myself had made the mistake of highlighting the "local" component to NUR, but I have since been reminded several times by the restaurant that it's better to view the ingredients as carefully and sustainably sourced, rather than all local - it's just not very viable at this stage. And PS. I wrote about Nurdin's Raymond Blanc connection way way back. Obviously you don't read my stuff. Pfffffft :P

Peech said...

Ahhhh but Janice, I DID read your posts. Diligently. I even commented on your blog. I was more referring to "the others"...


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