Sunday, November 22, 2009
A Blue Dining Experience
It used to be headed by Chef Brian McKenna, and my dinner there two years ago was totally memorable with his molecular culinary creations.
But over a year ago Chef Jordi Villegas Serra took over the kitchen and has gotten many great reviews.
So we decided to give it a try, this time with a visiting two-star Michelin chef, Nicolas Le Bec from Lyon, France presenting an a la carte menu.
The restaurant still looks stunning, with the winding chandelier looking like a cascade of small crystals suspended from the ceiling in white and blue. All the wait staff are smart in their black suits, but the white gloves make things a bit clumsy. Nevertheless, they are very professional and attentive.
Unlike last time where I ended up paying an exorbitant amount for designer water, we asked for plain water instead. However, they didn't have pitchers of water and were constantly refilling our glasses with bottled mineral water.
The menu looked interesting, as the maitre d' explained in his French accent that he had tried some of the dishes for this one night only dinner and they were, in his words, "out of this world".
After we ordered, it took a while for us to get some bread and a selection of butter, olive oil, tomato tapenade and salt. Unfortunately that was the theme of the dinner -- waiting.
Our amuse bouche was egg cooked with porcini mushrooms served inside an eggshell. How they managed to get that all in the small hole was quite a delicate procedure.
We finally got our appetizers and as we were starving, we ordered three. One was pureed aubergine and artichokes wrapped in a leaf and steamed that was smooth and creamy. It was accompanied with two small potatoes and shallots and paper-thin slices of baked eggplant. Next was a thick piece of cured salmon, topped with a dollop of creme fraiche and leafy greens. The salmon was very meaty and refreshing. Finally the foie gras was a giant piece pan fried quickly on a bed of thinly sliced apples in a sauce of Chinese vinegar reduced with sugar that was a nice change from the usual balsamic vinegar reduction.
Our appetites whetted, we looked forward to our main courses, but we waited almost 45 minutes. The waitress came by twice, once to say our food was coming "soon", and then that there were too many dishes to cook this evening, a weak excuse. Meanwhile, there was only so much bread we could eat. Nevertheless, we were entertained watching an older French couple sitting near us who were either jetlagged or tired as they started dozing off, the man with his head back and mouth slightly open, the woman with her head cocked to the left. The wait staff didn't know how to deal with the situation as they'd never had people falling asleep in their restaurant before. All they could do was politely wake them up when their dishes arrived.
Still waiting, my friend went to the restroom, and when he returned, we knew why the wait was so long. On his way, he passed by the kitchen, where the cooks were all lined up, including the maitre d', and they were being shouted at in French by this guest chef. I know some chefs have terrible tempers in their persistent strive for perfection, but there are some hungry diners waiting to be fed. And as a guest chef serving this menu for one night it doesn't really make sense to punish staff who aren't even your own.
Finally our mains arrived and it was a disappointment. We had two slices of roasted wagyu beef that seemed quite ordinary with a thick sauce topped with four spinach leaves. While the meat was tender, there wasn't much flavour. The mashed potatoes that accompanied the dish were far superior, but who can get mashed potatoes wrong? Then the seared scallops were fresh, but only four of them in a creamy sauce that was slightly tart garnished with two black truffle slices.
My friend was still hungry so he ordered one more appetizer, chicken liver, but not before asking if we would have to wait much longer. Luckily it was a short wait and was sinfully delicious, lightly panfried again with a selection of mushrooms.
Then for dessert, I tried the Grand Marnier lemon souffle, that arrived half risen and for a dramatic effect, the waiter served flaming Grand Marnier into the souffle. It was OK, as I've had better souffles before. The dark chocolate mousse was actually two small cakes with molten chocolate inside. The menu said there would be Sichuan peppercorn ice cream served with it, but instead we got ordinary chocolate ice cream which was disappointing.
While one of the wait staff apologized profusely for having us wait so long for the main course, we were more disappointed by the two-star Michelin chef. We'll just have to come back again only when Chef Jordi is in the kitchen.
29 Zizhuyuan Lu
6841 2211 ext. 6727