Sunday, November 10, 2013

Birthday Night at The Principal

This year, I spent my birthday night with dinner at The Principal in Wanchai. We dined at the restaurant a couple years ago just after its opening, had a lovely dinner there but never managed to return since, so I was quite excited about coming here again, just to see how the restaurant evolved with all the accolades earned since then (including the Michelin one-star awarded last year).

The restaurant is located in a quiet corner in the hip Star Street District. I really like the decor of the place - modern, quiet and comfortable with plenty of space between each table. In the middle there's a long table with an impressive cheese collection showcased. For dinner, the restaurant offers both a la carte and prix fixe menus. On the menu, only major ingredients were listed (instead of cooking methods) so you kind of knew what you are getting, but you kind of didn't - that kept the meal interesting as we went along with the 10-course degustation menu, keep thinking what Chef Jonas Armas was going to prepare.

I guess one thing I like about the cooking style of Chef Jonas was that, it's creative but not over the line, and is fun and original - you could almost trace back his roots from looking at the dishes he created. Like many of the Spanish-trained chefs of his generation, a lot of nouveau cooking techniques were used - one of our appetizer dishes was scallop marinated with lime juice in a bowl served with avocado "ice-cream", with mashed banana and creme fraiche foam on top - but he managed to strike the perfect balance between modern and classic cooking, and between refined and rustic style. I wasn't usually a fan of anything avocado, but I found the dish interestingly nice - never would have thought scallops can match with banana.

And throughout the meal, you could find traces of many techniques and ingredients inspired by his own past experiences being cleverly applied - many of the Southeast Asian ingredients where he spent quite some time in, combination of different textures, contrasting flavors, fancy plating etc etc. There were a few dishes of obvious Spanish influence - for example the "ravioli" with egg yolk, potato mousse and pancetta, or our "main course" of the Bresse pigeon served with Bomba rice and cepes (I guess this is almost half French and half Spanish), but the traditional thinking of defining food based on a specific region was almost non-existent here.

I was particularly impressed with the several seafood courses served that evening. The beautifully presented langoustine served on a tomato terrine, a light pine nut "ajoblanco" sauce and drizzles of vanilla oil came with unique combination and contrasting flavors. Another course was the sea bream was cooked sous-vide with skin slightly charred afterwards, and served with mustard cream foam with a kick of korean chilli and diced celeriac - that was delicious. I wish the coconut foam with Thai spices (I think it was kaffir lime and galangal) was a bit stronger in our first course of raw oyster, but overall the dish was good as a starter for the meal.

I also loved the two desserts served at the end of the meal. First was a light one with kalamansi curd, ginger, lime fizzy, basil sorbet, lemon verbena granite, then the second one we made a sharp turn into something more intense and adventurous - with chocolate mousse, palm leaf and roaster corn ice cream, served in the shape of Moai statues - the mysterious sculptures found on Easter Island. With this we concluded our meal with a "bang", so to speak. 

It's a weeknight so we went easy on wines. They had a friendly wine list with wide varieties and price range, and at a glance, the mark-up seems to be quite reasonable. We settled for a bottle of German Riesling and it's enjoyable under the late summer/early autumn heat with good acidity and pleasant apricot note, and worked fine with food.

Will definitely try to come back here more often, or so I hope.

More pictures on my flickr page:

When? October 16 2013
Where? The Principal, 9 Star Street, Wanchai, Hong Kong
Menu highlights? 4th Course: Langoustine, Tomato Terrine, Pinenut "Ajoblanco", Vanilla Oil
Drinks? St. Urbans Hof Riesling Kabinett Mosel Piesport Goldtröpfchen 2009

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