September 3, 2018

Peru in Hong Kong

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Tonight a few of us had the pleasure of being given a preview of ICHU - Virgilio Martinez' first outpost in Asia.  Virgilio had flown in for the restaurant's soft-opening, but apparently that will be delayed a bit longer.  Nevertheless, the team is in place and seems ready.

I had actually been monitoring the progress from my office over the last few months, and I knew they weren't gonna be ready by the end of June as initially announced.  Well... they're almost ready... if only they would get some tables in the space.  As of tonight they only had one table that seats 10, and it was installed inside the private dining room.  So that's where the 10 of us got seated.

Virgilio had long ago made it known that ICHU isn't another Central.  It's meant to be much more casual, although more sophisticated than a regular cevicheria.  Chef Sang Jeong has been in Hong Kong since early this year to prep for the opening and develop the menu, and I look forward to seeing the full range of dishes.

We started the evening with - what else? - a pisco sour.

After we were seated, loaves of cornbread arrived along with a chimichurri and goat cheese dip.  These were very tasty, but I restrained myself and took only one slice of cornbread... knowing there was plenty of food coming.

Tomato ceviche, tomato leche de tigre, snapper, cancha - besides the sprinkle of cancha, there seemed to be thin strips of some root vegetable not unlike sweet potato.  Needless to say there was a good amount of acidity here.

Lobster, rocoto, celeriac - the lobster was lightly cooked, and here the sauce was more spicy thanks to the rocoto.

Next came a seaweed cocktail, which was made with refreshing cucumber and included an ice cube with some seaweed frozen inside.  Once we stuck our noses close to the glass by drinking without the metal straw, the smell of the ocean and seaweed was front-and-center of our experience.

Charred avocado, tomato, tunta - the crackers on top of the avocado was made from tunta - bitter white potatoes from Andean Altiplano which had been freeze-dried.  They were rehydrated, grated, then puréed, dried, and fried.  I can see how much Virgilio loves tunta and chuño, and persists in introducing them to the world.

There was tomato sauce in the middle of the avocado.

Causa with shrimp - not surprisingly, this cold mashed potato dish reminded me of the typical potato salad that the Japanese are so fond of... with a bit of acidity to boot.  The lattice on top was made with purple sweet potatoes.

2014 Roses de Jeanne Côte de Val Vilaine, dégorgée en Avril 2016 - nice and a little ripe on the palate.

2012 Tabalí Chardonnay Talinay Coastal Limestone Vineyard - definitely plenty of ripeness on the nose, rounded on the palate with some acidity.

Pez amazonia, corn, tamarillo - so this kinda reminds me of the stereotypical Thai steamed fish with lime... but in this case the acidity came from tamarillos.  The salsa on top included shallots, big kernels of choclo, and of course tamarillos.  Much to my surprise, I didn't hate it the way I hate the Thai version... and found the acidity quite nice.  The seabass was, of course, nice and tender.

Diversidad de quinuas - this is one of the staples at Central, with black quinoa and white quinoa dyed in two different colors - with airampo for red, and chlorophyll from quinoa leaves for green.  The goat cheese at the bottom provided creaminess as well as acidity.  Instant hipster - just add quinoa.

2015 Selvadolce Terrazze dell'Imperiese Rucantù - this was kinda big, a little sweet, a little pungent and fizzy on the nose.

Seco de carne - the Australian short rib was braised for a minimum of 24 hours, but actual timing depends on the particular product.  This came with a typical sauce made of coriander, aji amarillo, and either cumin or mint (or both!) depending on which description from the chef is to be believed.  Not surprisingly I found the beef a little tough and stringy, but from experience I know that it is how it's meant to be...

Fingerling potatoes, huancaina - the combination of ají amarillo and goat cheese gave the dish some spicy kick one did not expect from the creamy-looking sauce.  The Kat and I joked about Cheez Wiz and Velveeta...

2014 Riccitelli Riccitelli and Father - very fragrant and a bit minty.

Next came a trio of desserts:

Cocoa y nuez - the chocolate sponge was made with the restaurant's own chocolate sourced from Peruvian plantations. Topped with a delicious and light lychee mousse, and covered with shavings of Brazil nuts - although Virgilio jokingly insisted they were "Peru nuts"...

Maiz caramel - sweet corn ice cream with pineapple tartare and pineapple foam, topped with caramelized corn and cancha, cashew nuts, and a coconut tuile.  For decoration on the side we have corn silk dyed gold.

I absolutely loved the pineapple and the toasty corn and cancha.  And since I was sitting next to Agustin Balbi, I just had to pick up some of them gold silk and let him take a picture of me eating them...

Red dragon fruit, chlorophyll granité - the granité was also made with lemongrass, cucumber, green apple, and peanuts... although I did not taste the latter.   Ash was sprinkled on top.  Very nice and refreshing.

Egly-Ouriet Blanc de Noirs Grand Cru, dégorgée en Juillet 2008 - nice and ripe with marmalade notes, almost grassy, and definitely Chinese licorice.

We adjourned to the bar for some chocolates and cocktails:

There was a selection of chocolates made for the restaurant.  The matcha chocolate stuck to my teeth, as did the chocolate in the middle.  The "cookie" on the left tasted almost like shortbread.

This was paired with a cocktail meant to contrast with the chocolates.

Finally, we were served La Dama Blanco... a girlie drink made with Calvados.

I think we all had a lot of fun tonight. This was my fourth meal with Virgilio featuring the flavors and ingredients of Peru, and it's still as interesting as my first.  I'm very grateful for the hospitality, and wish the team lots of success.

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