August 15, 2023

Four Seasons day part 1: the paper chase

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I got pinged out of the blue last week, asking whether I would be interested in attending a preview tasting. Apparently the First Initiative Foundation is putting on a gala and has invited a few chefs in town to present dishes. The event would be held at the Grand Ballroom of the Four Seasons Hong Kong, which is where I found myself today with a whole gang of KOLs - most of whom I have never met before.

The theme "Paper Poems" is meant to be "an ode to Hong Kong heritage", and I wondered how this related to the choice of chefs presenting dishes at the event. It was explained that, although 4 of the 5 chefs are not native Hong Kongers, each would present a dish from their hometown while paying homage to Hong Kong. This would certainly be interesting.

I was wondering why, at a gala dinner featuring food from chefs helming fine dining restaurants, they would be offering cups of pearl milk tea (珍珠奶茶)… until a little light turned on in my head and I remembered that the local partner of Chun Shui Tang (春水堂) is also behind one of the featured restaurants. Boba tea doesn’t interest me much, but I was happy to take a cup of lemon jasmine tea with fig jelly (愛玉翡翠檸檬茶).

We sat down and the starters came. Two bites from each chef, and two chefs' creations on each plate. I was, however, a little surprised that the two plates came in quick succession - before many of us even had a chance to taste anything from the first plate.

From Barry Quek of Whey:

Bak kut teh croquette - well... a nice croquette for sure, but to be honest I didn't realize it was meant to be bak kut teh (肉骨茶) flavored until I looked at the menu after I ate it...

Vadai, smoked tuna mousse and lemon - this was much better, and reminds me of what I had at the restaurant a short while ago.

From Steve Lee and Seunghun Park of Hansik Goo:

Korean fried chicken - very tasty, and pretty much as I expected.

Bossam kimchi - always good from this team.

From Akira Ito of HANARE:

Premium Japanese black beef tartare served with Hokkaido sea urchin - I have to admit that I rolled my eyes a little when I saw this... thinking "OH NO, NOT ANOTHER COMBINATION OF WAGYU AND UNI!" I was initially a little taken aback by how much wasabi was on top of the sea urchin, but surprisingly it didn't clear my sinuses as I thought it would. In fact, everything meshed together well and the result was a mouthful of tender, creamy deliciousness.

Hokkaido monkfish liver with Hokkaido hairy crab - no surprise that the monkfish liver was very creamy and flavorful, and in the case the caviar worked very well with the crab without feeling gratuitous. A very good effort.

From DoBee Lam of SÉP:

”Saigonese spring roll”: Nha Trang shrimp roll with dajia taro - the bánh tráng rế was crispy and delicious, but to be honest I didn't taste much distinctive flavors from the filling... and for me the Dajia (大甲) taro didn't stand out. Nothing special.

”Old fashioned Vietnamese ham”: 60’s fish sauce with Iberico pork - this was a little better. Springy with crunchy cartilage inside. Nice, smoky flavors from the light charring.

Then we had the four "main courses", and little did we know that every one of them came with rice or noodles...

Samgye tang, from Hansik Goo - it's been some time since I last had the modern samgyetang (삼계탕)-inspired 'risotto' at Hansik Goo, and it has gone through yet another evolution. Both the chicken roulade and the cubes of abalone were tender, and this version had a reasonable amount of soup - which was pretty sweet from the jujube and other herbs - with the rice so it felt a little more traditional. I was somewhat surprised by the snow fungus in the bowl, and there was quite a bit of it, too.

Dry curry laksa, konjac grains, abalone and Lamma Island dried shrimps, from Whey - we all agreed that there was a sequencing issue with respect to the dishes, and this should have been served last. No surprise that Barry served up laksa, as it's a dish people know well and love, and he does a damn good job with it.

Doing it 'dry' concentrates the flavors somewhat, and the use of real laksa leaves means this will taste very differently from the standard commercial versions - much more fragrant and herbal. The dried shrimps from Lamma Island also offered pretty strong flavors. The use of konjac (蒟蒻) grains in lieu of the traditional rice noodles was pretty interesting, and helped to lower the calorie count.

Specially selected Japanese black beef fillet with rice, from HANARE - I was not impressed. This came tepid, and while I actually didn't mind the beef being served at this temperature, the rice was the different matter... it was actually pretty bland, too. Honestly, this just seemed like an upgraded version of Yoshinoya (吉野家).

"Bun cha hanoi" Basque Kintoa pork belly with rice noodles, from SÉP - I did think the pork belly and meatballs were pretty tasty.

The desserts were presented by Ringo Chan of the Four Seasons Hong Kong:

Grandma's "sugar ring" with Hong Kong milk tea ice cream - the milk tea ice cream definitely hits the spot with its familiar flavors, and the little edible cup of milk tea was very cute.

Sugar ring (糖環) - this is similar to achappam, and Ringo wanted to help keep this tradition alive.

The rabbit: White Rabbit Candy milk jelly - I, unlike many locals, did not grow up with White Rabbit Candy (大白兔奶糖) as part of my childhood memories... so I didn't quite appreciate this.

Blossoming: 70% Venezuela chocolate petals and the Cloud: almond and caramel biscuit

The cloud was pretty tasty, and I loved the caramel center.

I came here with plans to "nibble" as I'm expecting a big dinner at Caprice upstairs. Somehow I had forgotten about this plan until after I finished the second of the four main courses, so I cut the carb intake for the last two mains. Overall a fairly interesting meal, but definitely too much food. I must be thankful for even being included today, as others at the table are certainly more deserving of a seat...

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