March 24, 2019

An excruciating dinner

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I had a little less than 3 hours to kill after my long and wonderful lunch at Sichuan Moon (川江月).  Unlike many others who would be attending tonight's dinner, I wasn't staying at Wynn Palace Cotai for the night... so I had no where to park myself and catch up on some much-needed sleep after a night of insomnia.  I ended up parking myself at Buns and Bubbles, got myself a big cup of coffee, and banged away at the keyboard.

Dinner was a "4-hands collaboration" that I was curious about.  I have been a fan of Chef Tam Kwok Fung (譚國鋒) since his days at Jade Dragon (譽瓏軒), and a bunch of us came to check out his new digs at Wing Lei Palace (永利宮) a few months agoL'Effervescence was one of the places I finally got around to at the end of last year, and I was suitably impressed despite Chef Shinobu Namae (生江史伸) being away in Korea during my visit.  Naturally, expectations were high.

But I noticed that something was amiss the moment I stepped foot into our semi-private room at Wing Lei Palace.  I had kinda expected to be seated with a different group of people, and as it turns out someone made a switch for me at the last minute.  Out of a table of nine which included someone from the hotel's PR team, I counted easily six people who didn't want to be at the same table with at least one other person from our table.  The poor PR team at Wynn had no clue about all the complex intricacies of this circle of petty personalities, since they were pretty insulated/isolated here in Macau and not privy to all the gossip.  Dinner got off to an awkward start even before the first glass of bubbly was poured.

Chilled abalone with seaweed, wok-fried green lobster top with caviar, roasted pigeon leg with spicy salt (涼拌紫菜鮑魚 油泡青龍蝦球配魚子 椒鹽乳鴿髀), from Chef Tam Kwok Fung and Chef Shinobu Namae - first up was a trio of appetizers, presented jointly by the two chefs.

We were asked to chomp on these legs from 17-day-old pigeons.  Pretty decent.

The abalone from Dalian (大連) was very tender.  Nowadays one shouldn't be surprised to find abalone served with a sauce made with the mollusc's liver, and this was pretty nice.  Interesting that this came with some yuzukosho (柚子胡椒) as well as shaved yuzu (柚子) zest.

The fried lobster came coated with some starch, which naturally soaked up some of the oil.  It came topped with some caviar from Yunnan (雲南), but the eggs were a little on the small side.  The whole thing came in some deep-fried Vietnamese net rice paper which, of course, had soaked up tons of oil...  But the best thing about this?  All that GOLD FOIL which came with the rice paper.

2005 B de Boërl and Kroff, dégorgée en Juin 2017 - I could smell the acidity in the nose, and this was pretty ripe on the palate.

Preserved sakura blossom chicken soup with bamboo shoot and bamboo pith fungus (鹽漬櫻花清雞湯配春筍及竹笙), from Chef Tam Kwok Fung - I could certainly smell the chicken in the clear broth, but the preserved cherry blossoms?  Not at all.  I thought the bamboo shoots were reasonably crunchy and sweet, but it appears I was the only one.  The black chicken - Silkie, I believe - wasn't particularly flavorful.  The bamboo piths were OK, though...

Tempura of squid and bamboo (烏賊春筍天婦羅), from Chef Shinobu Namae - let's be clear... this was not tempura (天ぷら), at least not in my book.  The batter was way too thick and heavy, and ended up soaking up a ton of oil.  There was also some stupid tartar sauce that, together with the greasy batter, made me a little nauseous.  The squid came in thick cuts, which was pretty nice, but the batter ruined everything.  The bamboo shoots also tasted a little on the bitter side.  This was more fish and chips than tempura.  In short, FAIL.  So why did I bother finishing the dish?!  That was certainly stupid of me...

Oh and the staff member who introduced this told us that tempura is a very traditional dish in Japan... as if we didn't know.  Did he know who he's talking to?

2016 Afruge Ma Chérie - seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 90%.  This was apparently aged for 4-5 years and spent 6 months in oak barrels.  Very oxidized, very salty like salty plum.  Fermented notes.

Wok-fried king crab with ginger and spring onion (薑蔥炒皇帝蟹), from Chef Tam Kwok Fung - another dish, another disappointment.  This was the classic preparation of stir-frying shellfish with ginger and spring onions, which was pretty ordinary and nothing special other than the use of king crab.  Once again we've got that Vietnamese net rice paper that's been pan-fried... and large amount of grease that comes with it.  Add the deep-fried shredded shallots on top and we have all the ingredients to make me queasy in the stomach again.

Crab chawanmushi (羔蟹茶碗蒸), from Chef Shinobu Namae - it's not my first time having cold chawanmushi (茶碗蒸し), but this had got to be my least favorite.  It's nice that Chef Tam picked up some local "roe crab (羔蟹)" but they were pretty much wasted.  The umeboshi (梅干) and ham dashi (出汁) made the dish more salty than necessary.  Yes, the chilly serving temperature made the dish refreshing, but I had no desire to take more than 3 spoonfuls.  I left most of it untouched, and it was finally my turn to ask someone else why he bothered to finish it.

Smoked and roasted beef loin served with stir-fried water spinach in smoked oyster purée (燻燒牛柳配煙蠔空芯菜), from Chef Shinobu Namae - the Japanese beef was very, very tender, and it's interesting that the chef had chosen to add some smoky purée made with oyster... because when combined with the water spinach, it almost seemed like a deliberate substitute for Chinese fermented tofu (腐乳).

1989 Léoville-Las Cases, ex-château 2017 - a bit of sweet grass, smoky, and still got a little bit of tannins.  Classic claret.

Braised noodle with beef cheek (牛面頰燴麵), from Chef Tam Kwok Fung - FINALLY!  A dish that I wanted - and was eager - to finish!  The tasty noodles came topped with two thick slabs of very tender Aussie wagyu cheek.  But the thing that really made the dish?  Those two little pieces of deep-fried pork lard.  If they had put them on more of tonight's dishes, I probably would have been happy to gobble them all up.

Avocado pudding, baked flaky custard tart, yinyang cream (牛油果布甸 酥皮蛋撻 鴛鴦咖啡凍), from Chef Tam Kwok Fung - and we would finish with a trio of desserts:

Avocado. As dessert.  Yuck.  Not even the pomelo pulp, the orange wedge, and the shaved lime zest on top could save this.

The custard tart was OK.

Surprisingly, the coffee jelly with ice cream made of yuenyeung (鴛鴦) - a very local drink which is made by pouring coffee and tea together - was not bad.

This dinner was a train wreck from start to finish, even ignoring all the tension in the air at our table - and a couple of us would discuss about the 殺氣 tonight.  No one was happy, and many of us had long faces throughout the entire dinner.  There was almost not a single dish that was enjoyable... or even up to a reasonable standard.  How was this possible???  Both chefs are capable of so much more, yet this was the result. Many of us didn't finish our dishes - and not from lack of stomach capacity or appetite.  A few of us were scratching our heads about the concepts behind these dishes, and someone put it rather diplomatically that he was "intrigued by the rationale behind them."  Execution was also poor.  To be frank this was the least enjoyable dinner I have sat through in quite a long time.

I was certainly not in the minority when it comes to this opinion.  I spoke to others sitting at different tables, and even people from other parts of the world who are arguably less familiar with Asian cuisine.  The feeling was unanimous: nobody enjoyed dinner.  In fact, a few of us felt downright angry.  HOW COULD IT END UP SO BADLY??!!  When Namae-san came in to our room one last time at the end of the meal, I couldn't utter the words "gochisosama deshita (御馳走様でした)" to thank him for a delicious meal.  The words just wouldn't come.

Well, as it turns out Chef Tam was also part of a 6-hands dinner tonight featuring André Chiang and Chef Liu Guo Zhu (劉國柱) of Golden Flower (京花軒).  They were cooking for the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants Academy Chairs along with other VIPs from the World's 50 Best Restaurants organization.  Since Chef Tam couldn't look after two kitchens at the same time... well, you can guess what happened.

I was pretty upset.  Not only had I eaten a bunch of stuff that wasn't tasty and gotten fat with wasted calories, I also wasted the chance to catch up on sleep.  I wish I had just gone home after lunch and slept.


Anonymous said...

You had a 4 hour, 26 course meal and after a 3 hour break another vast meal was eaten. How does your stomach cope ?

Peech said...

I have no idea... Believe it or not, I actually started feeling a little hungry around the time dinner started...


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