September 24, 2023

"Sustainable" cuisine

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I'm pretty free these days due to the fact that I am gainfully unemployed, and one of the consequences of my period of leisure is that I've accepted a few more invitations to freebie events, as long as I found the chefs or themes interesting. PR8 had messaged me two months ago about a so-called "Sustainability Champions Collaboration Lunch" (I love it when he uses big words), and at the time I told him that I was most likely gonna be "picking my nose" today, "so, can".

I didn't bother putting this into my calendar, so imagine my surprise when I received a reminder on this yesterday. After checking old message to confirm that I did, indeed, agree to show up for this event; and double-checking that my presence was, in fact, still desired; and having assured me that I would "sit with the nice people"... I somewhat reluctantly dragged my ass to Roganic for this lunch.

Since the time when I agreed to show up for this event, I had become more wary of all the bullshit around "sustainability". Don't get me wrong, for years I have tried to change the way I live my life in order to be more "environmentally friendly" and "sustainable", and I would love nothing more than having the whole word change their mindset. But I am also keenly aware of businesses - big corporations and small restaurants alike - throwing the word "sustainability" around and not "walking the walk". Cue this recent restaurant visit and this fluff piece on that very same restaurant.

I run into the Man in White T-shirt in his trademark attire on the way in, and pass by a couple of friends sitting together at a table in the main dining room. Today, however, a bunch of us are placed around a long time which straddles two of the restaurant's private dining rooms. PR8 was on hand along with the owner of the restaurant, and soon each of the four chefs participating in this event - Simon Rogan, Richie Lin, LG Han, and Jordy Navarra - delivered a short blurb on their work around "sustainability".

Local figs, whipped ricotta, hazelnut praline, by MUME - the fig from Zen Organic Farm was dressed in a guava vinaigrette that was made with the peeled skin of the guava being used for the pre-dessert later. This was just bursting from flavor. The ricotta was so-so on its own, but worked when all the elements are in the same mouthful. Nice crunch and fragrance from the hazelnut praline.

Trio of local clams, starfruit, blood cake, laksa sauce, dill, by Labyrinth - we've got razor clams, Manila clams, and ark clams. Came with sous vide starfruit, tau pok (豆泡), clam juice, laksa leaf oil.

There was also pig's blood cake and dill, and I thought there were also small sections of bean sprout stems. The flavors were really nice here, and definitely tasted like laksa to me...

Kinilaw of line-caught yellowfin tuna, coconut, chili and kabayawa, by Toyo Eatery - the tuna came from Quezon, which was dressed with a chili-infused coconut milk that helped balance the acidity from the kabayawa juice in the kinilaw. The fermented cucumber was spicy with a good amount of heat that builds up without being overpowering. The fragrance came from both kaffir lime leaves and other lime leaves.

May Queen potato in onion ashes, lovage and nasturtium, by Roganic Hong Kong - the potato comes from an organic farm in Yunnan Province (雲南省), confit and served on top of caramelized onion purée, together with lovage emulsion, crispy potato skin, nasturtium leaves, and generous sprinkle of burnt onion ash. Not a very interesting dish in terms of flavor, to be honest.

Trio of local market prawns, har zi mee, prawn-pork broth, tofu cracker, by Labyrinth - chicken and pork were used along with prawn shells for the soup, with "prawn chili" on the side, fried shallots, and thin slices of pork belly on top of the thin noodles coated with shrimp eggs. I loved that the heat built up gradually and this was so, so tasty - especially the shrimp eggs.

Along with the big (tiger?) prawn in the bowl and sakura shrimp (桜海老), there was also a fried "local baby shrimp" - whatever the fuck that means - that was pretty tasty.

The tofu cracker fell apart pretty easily, and came with a prawn head, a chili sauce that tasted like Indonesian sambal asli, and some seaweed powder.

Grill threadfin, bone sauce seasoned with dry scallop, local gourds, steamed saba, by MUME - the threadfin surprisingly came from Taiwan and not local waters. The flesh was very moist while the skin was very thin and crispy. The sauce was made with the heads, bones, conpoy, and trimmings like clams, prawns... etc. With local gourd and a parsley and lemon thyme oil.

Local chicken with malunggay and tapuy, by Toyo Eatery - the chicken thigh was grilled and basted with chicken reduction, grated pickled ginger. Very tasty.

Underneath the moringa powder and the foam there were chunks of poached chicken steeped in tapuy, where the flavors of the wine were obvious, and crunchy bamboo shoots.

Aged Peking duck with Ah Shing pumpkin, by Roganic Hong Kong - the aged duck was quite chewy, with some fennel seeds and other seasoning along with honey on the skin. The neck was stuffed with trimmings and looked pretty similar to this dish I had last year. The sauce made with duck leg and tapioca pearls was decent, but I didn't care for the mash made with pumpkin from Ah Shing... the flavors were just strange to me.

Crumpets - glazed with duck fat.

Tomato sorbet, watermelon granita, roselle espuma, candied watermelon rind, by Labyrinth - given that there was tomato, watermelon, and pomegranate, one would expect this to be sweet but there was also a nice savory side to it. The candied watermelon rind was pretty interesting, and I loved the fragrance of pink peppercorns.

Sourdough tsokolate bicho, by Toyo Eatery - we had single origin chocolate from Davao inside the bicho bicho. This was so good that quite a few people asked for - and received - seconds. Some asked for doggie bags...

The chocolate dipping sauce was made with single origin chocolate from South Cotobato. This was more bitter but really nice.

Guava granita, fresh and dry persimmon, coffee oil, by MUME - fresh and dried persimmon from Hong Kong. Served with granita made with guava cooked with Moscato. The coffee oil drizzled on top was a nice touch, and garnished with lemon balm.

Mulberry teacake, by Roganic Hong Kong - dark chocolate-covered marshmallow made with preserved mulberries from Zen Organic Farm, on a crisp biscuit base and sprinkled with marigold powder. Meant to remind one of Tunnock's teacakes - something I had never heard of...

I wasn't gonna drink at lunch, but I would never pass up an opportunity to have PR8 pour me a glass of bubbly!

Exton Park Reserve Blend RB23 Rosé - a hint of flinty minerals, some sweet honey on the nose. Good acidity but not too sharp.

Laherte Rosé de Meunier, dégorgée en mars 2022 - so nice and easy to drink. Lots of depth on the palate. Good acidity with a long finish.

A pretty tasty meal overall. Whether any of these guys are "sustainability champions" is debatable. Most of the dishes are using "local" ingredients so that's generally a good thing. Some chefs made more effort than others in utilizing ingredients which normally would otherwise be considered scraps, and that is to be applauded as fine dining in particular produces more wastage. Let's see where we go from here.

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