Monday, June 2, 2014

Le French GourMay Tasting at Whisk

I have to admit - in the past I didn't consider Whisk at The Mira seriously when I looked for a fancy night out. True we have had good experiences at their Sunday brunch quite a few times (including once at the hotel's invitation - in the interest of full disclosure), but somehow that never transpired into the desire to come for dinner. Maybe subconsciously we just never bothered to cross to the "dark side" (a euphemism for Kowloon by us people living on the Island side) for a special occasion unless we must. So I was quite delighted when their PR team asked me to join their Le French GourMay tasting, since otherwise I probably would have never tried.

Over the past few years we did take advantage of special menus offered during the "Le French GourMay" promotion in restaurants around town, which usually highlight the fine cuisine of one particular region that changes from year to year. This year the featured region is Rhone Valley and the menu offered at Whisk for the month of May is a 5-course dinner designed by Chef Alex Buytaert using ingredients typical of the Rhone region with his interpretation in contemporary style. The menu also came with optional wine pairing, with wines from the same region, of course.

The amuse bouche of salmon with caviar was a bit predictable but nonetheless tasty. The first course of scallop carpaccio looked rich at first with the creamy foam on top but was actually quite light and refreshing with the foam made with juice from that of oysters with citrus zest on top. It's interestingly presented in a small bowl in the middle, and on the sides there were a number of condiments on a round slate plate, including caviar, green onions, oranges, sour cream with chives, arranged like colors on a drawing palette. I mixed and match various condiments on my scallops, giving me a different taste in every bite. It's a delightful summer dish.

The second course of escargots came with garlic and cauliflower cream at the bottom, squid ink crackers on top, the noodle-shaped parsley jelly and smoked bacon "dust". Sounds complicated but everything came together nicely. I particularly like the combination of escargots with that of the cream and crackers with different textures.

The matching of foie gras with dashi broth is peculiar, not only because of its obvious Japanese influence, but to put foie gras together with something savory, contradicting to conventional wisdom. The broth - made with seaweed and shaved bonito - did soften the richness of the liver and this might appeal to some, but guess I am too used to the pairings of something sweet and found this a bit strange to my liking. Good trying though, especially I like the beautiful presentation of radish cut in matchstick size and float on the broth. Wait, I wonder what it would be like if we drizzle a bit of something sweet like... mildly sweet osmanthus syrup on top. Would that bring in the right savory-sweet sensation?

The main course of the menu is beef short ribs. The thin strip of meat was melt-in-your-mouth tender, as you would have expected from one that's cooked sous vide for a long period of time, and the Bordelaise Sauce - made from wine reduction and bone marrow among other ingredients - was a good compliment. I also like the baby turnips and pickled onions served on top of it, plus the quenelle of creamy potato puree on the side.

Dessert was another beautifully-presented course, after the pre-dessert of a bowl of raspberry granita with coconut flakes. Cream infused with Cointreau was sandwiched between pieces of sweet and delicious palmiers/arlette with bits of berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries) scattered across a rectangular dish, then it was completed with a scoop of guava sorbet. Again, it's a light and refreshing course which was not overbearingly heavy and thus perfect for a hot summer day. Then there's a sumptuous display of petit fours also.

I wasn't very familiar with Rhone wines to be honest, but I enjoyed the wines that were offered to match with the tasting menu - particularly the Gigondas from Southern Rhone. It's mellow yet down-to-earth with a hint of ripe dark fruit and woody flavors. I also liked the light-bodied muscat served along side the dessert. It's of a rather obscure wine called Muscat de Beaumes de Venise from a small appellation in Southern Rhone, which reminded me of floral water on the nose with a peachy taste.

My impression of Rhone cuisine has always been rustic and homestyle, but this menu was surprisingly delicate and "feminine" with sparing use of rich seasonings or sauces. Thanks The Mira and Chef Alex for a lovely dinner, and let me step out of the comfort zone for something good on the dark side.

Where? Whisk, The Mira, 118 Nathan Road, Tsimshatsui, Kowloon
Menu Highlights? Arlette Crispy Napoleon, with Red Berries, Cointreau Flavored Cream, Pink Guava Sorbet
Domaine Bernard Gripa Saint Joseph 2012
Domaine Fayolle-Gervans Crozes-Hermitage "Sens" 2012
Domaine Les Pallieres Gigondas 2004
Cave de Tain Cornas 2008
Domaine de Coyeux Muscat de Beaumes de Venise 2006


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