July 8, 2017

A brand new Tasting

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A few weeks ago I received a very kind invitation from the PR team at the City of Dreams, inviting me to lunch at The Tasting Room at the Crown Towers.  There has been a change of chefs recently, and Fabrice Vulin - formerly of Caprice in Hong Kong - has now taken residence there.  The PR team was very accommodating and agreed to arrange lunch on a weekend on account of my day job.  This time around, though, it was poor Carmen who had to sit and keep me company throughout our long lunch...

The sommelier wheeled over his Champagne trolley to start us with a flute of bubbly.  Can't complain about that!

Henriot Brut Souverain, en magnum - yeasty and mineral, at first a little sharp on the nose.  Softened up in the glass.

First came a plate bearing two little nibbles:
I was told that the sandwiched between two layers of focaccia was "white pata negra" - which I had never heard of - along with Tasmanian black truffle, cream, fennel, and artichoke.  It always amazes me that, when you've got good sourcing of ingredients, how little black truffle you actually need to deliver just the most amazing fragrance in the mouth.  The perfume of the truffle hit me before I even opened my mouth to receive this delicious morsel.

On top of the herb crust are very thin slices of radish with salted butter and a sprinkle of sea salt.  Classic simplicity - breakfast radish, butter, and salt.

The next trolley to come our way was the bread trolley - something I don't remember from previous visits.  Our server decided to present us with 6 different types of bread - which was way, way too much for just the two of us.  I felt pretty bad about wasting all that bread, and unfortunately forgot to ask to pack the leftovers.

Provence "Les Cailloux Market" tomatoes, mozzarella di bufala, focaccia - four different types of tomatoes from Provence - pineapple, green zebra, Cœur de bœuf, and Noire de Crimée.  Served on a bed of heirloom tomato gelée with a little citrus acidity and decorated with little dots of balsamico - as well as balls of burrata that were so creamy and soft that the texture was almost like foam.  Garnished with basil and dill.  So clean and pure.  So refreshing and perfect for the summer.

On the side, we also have focaccia with dried tomato from Italy, garnished with basil.

For the upcoming seafood courses, the sommelier very kindly poured me a glass of delicious white Burg, compliments of Chef Vulin.

2012 Vincent Girardin Meursault 1er Cru Les Perrières - more mature than expected at just 5 years old.  Sweet and buttery, with some citrus and acidity for balance.

Poached Brittany lobster, watermelon and yuzu vinaigrette - now THIS was a familiar sight.  A simpler variant was my favorite course on our disastrous evening at Caprice two years ago.  The wedge-shaped "pie" has a thin layer of watermelon at the bottom, topped with homard bleu mousseline made with lobster meat, lobster bisque, avocado and green apple.  Then a thin layer of lobster gelée sits on top, followed by a layer of lobster carpaccio seasoned with yuzu vinaigrette as well as lemon caviar.  Finally, we've got little piles of Kaviari Kristal caviar - from sturgeon farmed in Lake Qiandao (千岛湖) in China - accompanied by dollops of cream as well as little bits of avocado, green apple, watermelon, and dill.

OK, so this was even better than what I had two years ago.  OF COURSE homard breton is incredibly delicious, and the lobster bisque as well as gelée delivered lots of umami.  The sturgeon caviar is understandably savory and packs a punch in terms of salt, which was then nicely tempered by the sweet watermelon.  A very, very nicely balanced dish.  Like the last dish, this was perfect for summer.

Stew "garbure", capers, cardamom, Blue Mountain coffee - I'm not familiar with the gasconne dish of garbure, but this was apparently a pretty different - and vegetarian - interpretation.  I took a couple of minutes to take in the scent coming from my bowl, which smelled strangely familiar - and Chinese!  After racking my brain for a while, it finally dawned on me that what I was smelling was akin to what emanates from a plate of sweet and sour pork ribs (糖醋排骨)!  I definitely smelled the acidity, which seemed like it came from black vinegar, while there was certainly a little sweetness that came along.  But then again... maybe my sensory powers were just all out of whack today...

Sitting on top of the spelt were little chunks of turnip as well as rolls of thinly-sliced carrots, zucchini, and asparagus.  Sitting at the top was a tuile made with Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, which I unfortunately was unable to distinguish as the tuile in my bowl ended up being soaked in the broth.  Sitting on top of the tuile were some celery leaves, caper berry slices, and wild mushrooms that looked like girolles.  The vegetable broth was seasoned with cardamom, and delivered some mild acidity on the palate.

Slow cooked Mediterranean seabass, cauliflower and romanesco, oyster tartare, Champagne sauce - a very tender chunk of seabass.  The "toppings" were very interesting because at once you have the creaminess and sweetness of the sea urchin tongues, which contrasted with the briny flavors of the oysters, then the tongue gets hit with the saltiness and fatty richness of the Kaviari Kristal caviar.  Texture-wise we've also got chopped up cauliflower and romanesco.  I was a little surprised at how much I enjoyed this dish.

The next time I saw the sommelier, he was wheeling another trolley towards me in preparation for the meat course.   Sitting on top was a bottle of Lafite with the Coravin needle piercing through the cork.  I was totally taken aback.  It's always flattering when the chef or the manager comps you a couple of glasses of wine, but THIS... this was rolling out the red carpet in a big way.  As Fabrice later told me, he doesn't offer glasses of Lafite to just anybody...

1990 Lafite-Rothschild - classic pencil lead, smoke, tobacco, very cool, sweet fruit.  Nice and woody notes.  Very smooth on the palate, and still a little tannic on the back.

Aveyron lamb, pan fried rack and saddle, humus and vinaigrette of chickpea from Hautes Alpes by Noëlle Taxil - this was apparently lamb that's been labeled Triple-A, which stands for Agneau Allaiton de l'Aveyron.  The saddle was tender but relatively bland.  The rack is where it's at, with that delicious, lamby fattiness that I love so much.

The most interesting parts of the dish, though, were the accompanying chickpeas.  Besides the fennel, we've got some hummus that was very, very smoky.  But there's more to it than just chickpeas from famed grower Noëlle Taxil.  Fabrice has also added some red finger lime caviar from Australia - like the ones Dan Hunter from Brae used - along with some coriander chiffonade.  So there was a little acidity as well as some added fragrance.  The same finger lime caviar and coriander were also found in the chick pea vinaigrette.

With the savory part of our lunch over, we were invited into the brand-spanking-new kitchen to take dessert at the chef's table - a cozy corner with a loveseat facing the chefs.  And this was where I was plied with more alcohol... as the cork was popped on a new bottle of Krug.

2000 Krug - yeasty, toasty, with good acidity and some ripeness.

Strawberry vacherin - so this was the "pre-dessert", made with meringue, strawberry meringue, strawberry sorbet, and fraises de bois.  I love strawberries, and this was very delicious.

Lemon meringue tart - I love a good tarte au citron meringuée, and I mentioned that the last good one I had was at Odette in Singapore last year.  I was told that there were seven different textures here, but I don't think I managed to figure out all of them...  There was the sablé at the bottom, with some mint chiffonade mixed into the lemon "jam" on top, plus a layer of lemon "mousse" (is it still a mousse when you've got lots of air holes inside?).  Then we've got soft meringue and lemon meringue, which were topped with mint leaves, lemon zest confit, and lemon gel.  On the side there's a quenelle of lemon sorbet.  So... I think I got all 7 of them.

But the most important part was that this was delicious.  I'm normally not a big fan of lots of acidity in my food, but somehow I've grown very fond of tarte au citron.  At the end of a very big meal, that acidity was very, very welcome.

David asked me if I liked coffee, and I figured "why not?" since it always helps with digestion.  As a complete philistine as far as gourmet coffee is concerned, I was bowled over when he rolled out a trolley in front of me and proceeded to brew us cups of siphon coffee - with Geisha beans from Panama!

Finca Santa Teresa Geisha - I was expecting plenty of fruitiness and acidity, and was surprised when the coffee turned out to be very intense and more on the smoky and chocolate side. 


Raspberry macaron

Yuzu chocolate - delicious with a yuzu jam filling.


Well! This was quite a treat for lunch!  I'm glad to see that Fabrice has settled into his new digs, although understandably he still needs a little time to get his brigade up to 100%. They've got quite a few things planned, and I look forward to seeing what the team can do.

Many, many thanks to the PR team at City of Dreams for this kind invitation, and a deep, 90-degree bow to Chef Vulin for getting me drunk on such fine wines!

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