July 22, 2016

Last call with Uwe

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So this is it.  The end of an era.  My friend Uwe Opocensky had decided to leave the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong after 9 years to pursue greener pastures.  Besides passing the baton for the job of executive chef, this also means that both the Mandarin Grill + Bar as well as the Krug Room will be helmed by someone different.

As soon as I found out that Uwe was leaving, I rounded up a few friends who are also fans of Uwe's cuisine.  We were lucky enough to be able to book the Krug Room for Uwe's last day at the Mandarin, and I figured we just had to be there to give him a proper send-off.  I even asked Uwe for permission to BYO so that we could share some wines with him.

I was completely shocked to have gotten a ping from My Favorite Birdbrain Cousin around 7 p.m., telling me that she has arrived... since she is not known for being punctual.  Well, dinner was set at 7:30 p.m. so she turned out to be a whole half-hour early.  I guess the advantage of arriving early is that she got to start sipping the Krug Grande Cuvée earlier, while waiting for the rest of us to arrive at the Bar area of the Mandarin Grill.

After the Fergies arrived, the 12 of us were led through the usual route to our dining room.  We did have a couple of people who hadn't been here before, and the remark about the space looking like a vintage luxury train was spot on.

As usual, the menu for the night was written on the wall in chalk.  Throughout the dinner, I kept hearing the question "How many courses do we have tonight?"  The answer I repeated in response was that the number of courses doesn't really matter, since we all would roll out of there completely stuffed...  That has always been Uwe's m.o.

Salad and flowers - with locally foraged herbs, roasted pistachio, and shaved pistachio on top.  Hello Kitty complained about "no fork use", but this is something that one picks up with one's hands... A nice and light starter.

Salmon caviar - an old favorite that Uwe was serving again tonight.  The glass domes were lifted to release the smoke into the room, which I recall came from chunks of cedar.

The organic Scottish salmon were just so, so tender and delicious.  The smoky flavors were just right and not overpowering.  As usual this was served with dots of sour cream, egg yolk, and egg white... which we would use on the salmon as condiments.  Tonight this came with an additional serving of Kristal caviar from Lake Qiandao (千島湖) in China. Yum!

We also had some fresh as well as pickled cucumbers on the side.

The Parker House rolls also made an appearance, and they were very, very well-received.  These would lead to an interesting discussion about "bottoms" and "tops"...

Langoustine - another old favorite, and these not-so-little guys from the Faroe Islands are really, really amazing.  Seared and sprinkled with some roasted konbu (昆布) powder.

Since another Parker House roll magically appeared in front of me, I decided to jokingly make a 'langoustine roll'... and dipped it in the reduction on the side made with the langoustine head in the same manner as soy sauce.  Another "no fork use" dish.

A video posted by @growing_boy on

At the start of dinner, Uwe brought out this king crab from Norway.  Scanning the QR code on her tag, Uwe was able to tell us that she weighed 4.9kg, was caught by a woman named Inge who owns a boat with a crew of 1... etc.  The ladies felt that the crab needed a name, so they decided to call her "Ingrid the crab".  She may have been sitting on ice, but she was still kinda moving around a little.  Uwe lovingly petted her as he introduced her to us...

King crab, part 1 - leg of king crab, seared (with butter?), with a little yuzu on top.  Beautiful.  With some nasturtium leaf purée on the side.

King crab, part 2 - next came a nice little cocotte filled with lots of yummy-looking stuff.  This would be the rest of Ingrid...

Uwe then ladled the contents of the cocotte into our bowls, which came with some purée of local wild pepper leaves that had been blistered and burned.  Besides the crab meat, there were green peas, finely diced chives, and chive flowers mixed in.  Uwe also spooned a little bit of the crab tomalley on top.  On the rim of the bowl was a pinch of homemade miso with sake.  Smelled beautiful, and tasted rich and amazing.  At this point, I noticed that the staff had taken away our unfinished Parker House rolls... which would have come in real handy in soaking up any liquids in the bowl.

Lobster - cooked in its own jus with girolles and asparagus, topped with microgreens and some dashi (出汁) vinegar.  I dunno what it was, but there was definitely some incredible, almost nutty fragrance coming up as I hovered my nose over it.  Slurp.

A video posted by @growing_boy on

Sea bass baguette - I was kinda wondering why Uwe was slicing a baguette in front of us, when we realized that there was sea bass baked inside the baguette!

The sea bass was wrapped with a layer of greens - which I thought might have been spinach - as it baked inside the dough.  The slices were served with some fennel salad, and we were told to "butter our bread" with some caviar butter.

Many of us are fans of Jean-Yves Bordier's seaweed butter, but this is even better!

Matcha - as a palate-cleanser, we were served the "green tea" which, as I know very well, contains neither tea nor caffeine.  The ceramic bowl comes with some basil powder inside.

Some "ice water" was poured into the bowls, and we were asked to use the bamboo whisks to whip it up until it's nice and foamy on top.  The "ice water", of course, is actually tomato consommé that had been frozen into a block of ice, then extracted as it melted.  Finally we sprinkle some flowers and herbs on top.  This has always been one of my favorites here, as the tomato consommé is just a big umami bomb, and the basil made it really, really fragrant.

A video posted by @growing_boy on

Pork - this was the same good stuff that Uwe served me early this year, and comes from a 5-year old French sow.

Each of us got two thin slices of the very fatty pork, with crackling on top.  Served with some carrots, as well as dots of carrot and carrot top (read: greens) purée.  My first bite of the lean meat was very tough and dry, but thankfully the rest of it was juicy enough.  I could never say no to pork fat, but at this point in the dinner, I was having trouble shoving much more food into my stomach...  So I focused my attention on the extra chunks of pork crackling that magically appeared on my plate - which I dutifully shared with My Favorite Cousin upon demand.

A video posted by @growing_boy on

Beach - desserts in the Krug Room have always been a performance affair that takes up the entire long, marble table.  We were asked to move to one side of the table while the chefs moved around to create it with edible sand, chocolate pudding that hardened in front of our eyes, pieces of chocolate, coulis,... etc.

They've even got coconuts on the beach... which were really, really delicious.

Almost everything on the table was edible, with the exception of these brightly-colored corals...

In terms of the wines tonight, we decided to take the "Vintage Package" which comes with 2 glasses of Grande Cuvée and a glass of the 2002.  There was plenty of vino to go around, however...

Krug Grande Cuvée - I forgot to check the ID and find out the base year.  Honestly, I would be happy to drink Grande Cuvée any day of the week... and often I prefer it to some of the other offerings from the House of Krug.  Tonight I loved the toasty nose, and the way the maturity of the wine hit my palate.

2002 Krug - perhaps my palate was a little off tonight, but I really didn't appreciate this wine tonight.  I thought it was pretty flat on the palate, with just a little bit of acidity.  A hint of toast in the nose, but otherwise totally unremarkable.

1996 Margaux - what a beautiful wine!  Smoky nose with pencil lead, savory minerals, soy sauce, some sweet fruit, eucalyptus, and a little sweet grass.  Silky tannins on the palate.  I would have given this a near-perfect score tonight.  Decanted just under two hours prior to serving.

2003 Colgin IX Estate Proprietary Red - decanted for just under 2½ hours prior to serving.  Honestly I was disappointed in the wine I brought, although the others - including Uwe - seem to have enjoyed them.  Maybe because I left the wine in my glass for much too long before taking the first sip, but I didn't get very much out of my first glass.  I got a little more from my second glass, which showed some coconut and vanilla oak that I was expecting from this wine.  Still very tannic at this young age.

1997 Philippe Delesvaux Carbonifera - as the back label states, this was harvested on October 30, 1997, with a whopping 27% potential alcohol and a ludicrous 459 g/L of residual sugar.  As a reference, Yquem usually comes in at 1/3 of the amount of residual sugar... Totally unctuous, viscous in terms of texture.  Loads of honey, nutty, and orange blossom turning into rich marmalade on the nose.  Very, very sweet... getting to the point of tasting like honey.  A real treat to have tasted this monster.

Not bad... considering that 1 of us didn't drink.

At the end of service, Uwe brought in the entire team from the kitchen to introduce them to us - including Chef Lung who is said to have spent the last 35 years at the hotel. These guys have done a tremendous job, and what we had tonight was certainly world class!

Since Uwe had many fans here tonight, we all took turns taking pictures with him.  I'm not normally in the habit of "stamp collecting", but decided to make an exception and snap a few pics with Uwe.  We will miss him at the Mandarin Oriental, but look forward to seeing him soon at his new venture!


Unknown said...

It's sad to see Chef Uwe leave MO. Difficult to imagine Krug Room and Mandarin Grill without him (kind of like Caprice without Vincent Thierry a few years back.). May I ask where he's heading or is it supposed to be kept secret?

JL said...

Very nice usage of Instavids. Ons.


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