Sunday, March 9, 2014

Green Monday x Miele x Grassroots Pantry

Last week I was invited to a private dinner hosted by Green Monday and Miele, held in the posh dining space of Miele Private Lounge in Causeway Bay and catered by the very talented Peggy Chan of Grassroots Pantry.

I have known David, the co-founder of the social enterprise Green Monday, for over 20 years, and he never occured to me as a serious foodie person, yet in recent years he has been making huge impact on local culinary landscape by advocating vegetarianism and in a broader sense, a healthy eating style through his venture. He even wrote a book reviewing and recommending top vegetarian restaurants in town, which was published a few weeks ago and became a bestseller overnight. And I heard a lot of good comments for Peggy and her pure vegetarian Grassroots Pantry cafe in Sheung Wan from many of my friends (vegetarian or not), so I was quite excited about this one-off event put together by them in collaboration with Miele, the innovative home appliance maker which probably needs no introduction. 

The private lounge in which the event was held is a functional space built by Miele on top of an office building to showcase their latest, top-of-the-line appliances and doubled as a venue for many PR or private events. On one side of the lounge is a spacious, well-equipped show kitchen which would make every cooks - amateur or professional ones - envious. That's where Peggy and her team prepared our meal for this evening, with the food served at a beautifully arranged long table in the middle of the kitchen.

We started off with a double-boiled herbal consomme - a meatless "Bat Kut Teh" (Malaysian pork rib soup), as Peggy came over to explain while the dishes were brought to our table. The combination of Longan and Goji berries provided much sweetness to the clear soup base made with vegetables and beans, with assorted fungus (among them, shiitake and wood ears) and dried Chinese herbs intensified the flavor. It's rich, soothing and therapeutic.

The next course was a beautifully plated course of seasonal vegetable "medley". Carefully arranged platter of various "late winter" vegetables was prepared in a number of different ways and in different shapes - some cooked, some served as raw, some slightly pickled. Burdock was deep-fried; seaweed pickled with sesame vinaigrette; lotus root thinly sliced; carrot shaved; snap peas were steamed and served as is. And the dish came with a mild fermented tofu dressing which brought an interesting touch to the dish without overwhelming everything.

Following the salad the "pasta course" was served, which was the Shanghainese dumplings. It's a twist to the traditional "wonton in red chili oil" (紅油抄手). Well-wrapped dumplings with vegetable fillings were steamed and served with dark rice vinegar, chili oil and a "dan dan" paste with a mixture of sesame sauce, roasted almonds and peanuts, and on the side, there were deep-fried shallots and slightly-battered and dehydrated kale leaves. I love the harmonious combination of all ingredients and flavors of this glorified street food dish. 

We looked at one another in amazement when the main course was served. On the plate it's a generous portion of sautéed morel mushrooms in a creamy sauce, plus diced parsnip, pine nut and parsley garnishes, which was to go with the brown rice wrapped in lotus leaf and steamed in a fancy canister made of bamboo that was served separately. The refreshingly fragrant rice (infused with lotus leaf and bamboo) was a stark contrast to the deep and intense mushroom sauce in bisque-like consistency, but they worked together well. Everyone ended up reaching for more rice, though I didn't know exactly what we loved more - the rice itself or the sauce that we used the rice to mop up with. Clearly the dish was meant to be a showcase to Miele's popular steamer oven (in which the rice was cooked), and it's superbly prepared.

A light vegetarian cuisine like this one usually works better with white wines. The riesling we had was made in typical Alsatian fashion and was bone-dry with a balanced mineral and citrus flavor, and enough body to stand against some of the more intense flavors. I reckon it's a decent everyday wine that was appropriately chosen for the evening.

Dessert was an interesting trio. Homemade "Dau Fu Fa", a soft tofu dessert which was a common street food, was prepared in a wooden bucket and served in a small bowl with brown sugar and coconut-osmanthus nectar. The texture was a little too soft - reminded me more of a watery Taiwanese "豆花冰" then the Hong Kong-style "豆腐花" despite the menu description. Peggy mentioned this is her first time trying to do this dish - while it probably would take a few more trials to get the right consistency, I reckon the end product was still tasty, especially the refreshingly floral syrup which smells like spring.

On paper the ice popcicle with taro and red bean gelato coated with chocolate sounded promising, but unfortunately none of the tastes of this frozen dessert really stood out. I would say that's the only (slightly) regrettable bit of the entire meal. The third dessert was a couple slices of Kek Lapis - an Indonesian layered cake - placed in the middle of the plate, which was perhaps the best out of the three with its deep, sweet taste and the right spongy texture.

Overall it's a well-designed fusion menu with good execution that I would even say merit a Michelin star consideration. I was very impressed with the multi-dimensional flavors being presented and the clever use of seasonings and techniques. I wasn't normally fond of a pure vegetarian meal but this is a satisfying one. I definitely want to try Grassroots Pantry again some time soon, now that I had a glimpse of what she is able to do. Thanks Green Monday and Miele for hosting this enjoyable evening, and Peggy and her team for cooking such a lovely meal.

When? March 5 2014
Where? Miele Private Lounge, 24th Floor, 18 Hysan Avenue, Causeway Bay
Menu highlights? Bamboo Rice with Morel Mushroom Reduction
Drink? Domaine Frederic Mochel Riesling 2011
(Green Monday)
(Grassroots Pantry)

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