Thursday, January 11, 2018

Festive Get-Together

Amidst all the celebrations and dinners in this festive season, it's a mini miracle that we managed to find one night before Christmas to get together when everyone's free and available and check out some new dishes at Nicholini's by the new chef Riccardo Catarsi.

The elaborative Christmas decorations which started in the shopping mall downstairs and extended to the hotel lobby and into the restaurant dining room in red and gold color theme got us in the right mood for a pleasant evening in a familiar setting. On chef's recommendation, we went for the tasting menu with a choice of appetizer, pasta, main course and dessert, with most of the dishes introduced by Chef Riccardo for the winter season. 

I could tell from the chef's expression that he is very confident of his scallop dish, which was what I picked for my first course (after the bowl of scrambled eggs with white truffles served as our amuse-bouche). And it was indeed well-executed, with the pan-fried Japanese scallops served with salmon roes, sea urchin sabayon and chunks of artichokes and purple fingerling potato, all placed inside a scallop shell.

Knowing the chef coming from the Tuscan coast of Livorno, I picked another seafood dish as my pasta course to get more of his hometown flavor. The spaghettoni dish was described by Riccardo as being inspired by the "Singaporean Pepper Crab" from chef's previous post in Hilton Singapore, but jokes aside, this is more like a Tuscan variation of the classic cacio e pepe pasta, for the more "pepe" than "cacio" taste and a touch of umami and sea flavor from the crabmeat and the dollop of caviar on top in another colorful presentation.

I picked Wagyu Beef as my main course (the other option being pan-fried cod with celery root cream). The piece of tenderloin medallion was roasted in the oven and topped with a thin layer of bone marrow crust. On the side was sautéed mixed mushrooms plated like a Christmas wreath and a splash of wine-jus reduction. I liked the combination of the meaty flavor of the Australian Wagyu and the earthy taste of the mushrooms. The taste of the bone marrow was not as profound as I expected but it did add to the overall texture. And you couldn't go wrong with a simple bottle of Barbera for all that - medium-bodied with red fruity flavor that's versatile and easy-going.

Chef brought us a few desserts from the a la carte menu to try, in addition to the single choice in the original tasting menu, which was a twist of the conventional tiramisu using Gianduja cream in the shape of the traditional Gianduiotto chocolate sweets. My favorite dessert of the evening went to the restaurant's namesake dessert (Nicholini's Dolce), a chocolate mousse with Amarena cherry and Amaretto liquor (and it never hurt with some garnishes of gold leaf on top). We were also served a slice of the traditional panettone with a shot of hot Bombadino (eggnog with brandy) as per the Italian Christmas tradition.

It's great to be able to catch up before the year end over some well prepared dishes, and I sure look forward to more new ideas and food to come by the new chef in the new year.

When? December 14 2017
Where? Nicholini's, Level 8 Conrad Hong Kong, 88 Queensway, Admiralty, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Pan-fried Scallops, Artichokes, Purple Potatoes, Salmon Roes, Sea Urchin Sabayon
Drink? 2014 Vietti Barbera d'Asti "Tre Vigne"

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