Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Above any other - Robuchon au Dôme Macau

Nothing excites us more than trying new restaurants - but this time it's purely coincidental. We have planned this short getaway for a while (courtesy of a complimentary hotel night coupon we got for Banyan Tree Macau) and made dinner reservation at Robuchon Macau as part of our anniversary celebration. The surprise came when a few days before the trip, we realized that the restaurant - as it's known as Robuchon a Galera then - has closed and.... indeed moved to the new location on the rooftop dome of the Grand Lisboa hotel next door. Even the name has changed - now it's called Robuchon au Dôme. That means we got this opportunity to try it in its first weekend of business - even before its official opening gala dinner. Wow aren't we lucky.

Fully expecting a long dinner, we arrived early for our 7:30pm reservation. As we reached the dining room of the restaurant after a change of elevator on 39th Floor and walking past a wall boosting their extravagant wine collection (we saw a 1821 Chateau d'Yquem being showcased), we were pleasantly stunned at such a turnaround this restaurant got as far as decor goes.

Those of you who visited the original Robuchon Macau before would definitely remember its classic furniture, carpet, silverware and just about everything else... some people may call that elegant and grand; I called it aged and tacky. But not anymore - old-fashioned decor and table settings has made way to a chic interior design featuring cloth-less black table and dark wood furniture, which blended well with the metallic framework of the dome outside the window. Silverware's still Cristofle, china still noticeably Bernardaud and stemware from Riedel, of course, but they are all given a total facelift - bye bye cheesy gold and blue color theme, hello sassy black and silver. Well, not that I love everything that's changed though - to start I found the faux leather placemat a bit cheap (that I won't even use at home), and the glass lamp on the table that changes color every now and then is way too corny to my taste - I am just saying.

Our table wasn't facing the best view of the restaurant - that belong to the side with a view of the Macau Tower and the bridges - but it's a bit foggy outside anyway so we weren't bothered by that at all - after all it's the food here that we cared most. But you can imagine how great the view can be from the window, with Grand Lisboa being the highest hotel in Macau and the restaurant is located on the top floor.
Well, one thing that hasn't changed much really is their menu and wine list, except the old-fashioned painting on the menu has now disappeared, and the new option for an iPad wine list is available (instead of going through the leather-bound wine list as thick as a phone book). Debating between a 7-course seasonal menu and a 10-course degustation menu, we picked the latter, and for wine, I set sight for a red Burgundy early on and settled with a 2005 Clos de Vougeot with the affirmative nod of the sommelier. With this vintage and appellation, one could never go wrong with, I suppose, and we enjoyed it tremendously from start to finish for its complexity and pleasant, ever-changing nose and taste.

After the amuse bouche of grapefruit jelly with avocado cream, we were bombed by a sumptuous display of caviar trio: on the left is a sweet corn veloute with lemongrass cream and caviar floating on top; the middle one is caviar served in a tin with crabmeat, coral infusion and anise cream beneath, and on the right are 2 little "sushi rolls" with cucumber as wrap, couscous in the middle and topped with caviar. I adored the first one for its delightful color, unique contrast of flavors and subtly refreshing after-taste, and the second one brought out the best of fresh tastes from that of the caviar and crabs. (the couscous sushi was a bit bland in comparison)

The caviar is quickly followed by the deep-fried frog legs, served with garlic and parsley coulis and sauteed chanterelle. It cutely resembled 3 little pears sitting on a plate and I reckon it would have made a perfect hors d'oeuvre at a cocktail party too. It's rich and crispy and accompanied well with the strong parsley and garlic sauces, also displayed nicely on the plate. Just thought we were done with white truffles this season when we had our OD experience at Otto e Mezzo last month, the next dish is a veal ravioli with light parmesan bouillon and what else... white truffles. These two are my favorite dishes of the night as everything just went well together.

Crabs were again done three ways - turnip broth perfumed with ginger, pressed crab roll with citrus juice and deep-fried crab with kadaif with green curry emulsion. With obvious Asian influence all over the plates and while it's so beautifully presented, I found this course a bit disappointing. There's nothing wrong with the cooking or the combination of flavors, but just that I suspect it has more to do with the quality of ingredients. The flavor of crab - which normally would be my favorite - never quite came out. Luckily, I quickly redeemed myself with a lovely pan-seared foie gras with fresh figs and figs marmalade, topped with spices and balanced with cauliflower couscous sitting underneath.

We have different opinions on the pan-fried sea bass with red verjus sauce- CYY thought the fish and sauce were nice but I found the sauce overwhelming and the fish a bit dry. You can't fault the chef's technique though as the sauce is nicely prepared and the skin of the fish fillet perfectly seared. Just that I am not a big fan of this combination and this style of preparing fish, I guess.

Our main course of rib eye is straight-forward brilliant - the melt-in-your-mouth kagoshima beef cubes coupled with sauteed spinach and baby artichoke. The menu says the dish came with a "virtual" bernaise sauce - I am still figuring out how and where. I felt like I don't have enough of the beef though but for a degustation menu, it's about the right portion.

Just as we were preparing to receive the desserts, we forgot there's one more dish after our main course: a pearl pasta with smoked cream, crispy pork and white truffles. It's essentially a glorified pasta carbonara - looks simple but with an elegant touch. I enjoyed that a lot too, and realize there's no such thing as too much truffles for a season.

I didn't think of the dessert of chocolate served in a martini glass much at first until I realize how complicated this dish was. Starting off is a mix of chocolate granita and blackcurrant-flavored champagne at the bottom of the glass, which I sipped with the sugar straw, then I cracked open the chocolate on top of the glass and ate it (and the edible straw) with the rich and smooth chocolate mousse which was layered in the middle. Genius - God knows how long it took for them to come up with this.

The second dessert's even more amazing - apple foam and calvados jelly was wrapped in a bright red sugar sphere, and served more caramelized apples, vanilla cream, caramel sauce and peanuts icecream. A highly unusual combination but nicely executed - with the tangy apple flavors complimenting the sweet notes from caramel, vanilla cream and icecream.

As we were finishing our dinner, Chef Semblat dropped by our table to say hi and we seized the opportunity to ask him to show us around at the kitchen. It's located at one level down and I think it's quite big a kitchen for a restaurant of this size, but with 20-plus chefs working it feels just right. We were also shown by the pastry chef how the sugar sphere we had for dessert was made - it's such a crafty process. Impressive and definitely not something we could even contemplate of doing at home.

You can't always get to try a 3-star restaurant in its opening and being shown around the new kitchen by the chef himself, so this is certainly a memorable evening for us. I always think Robuchon Macau is the only one restaurant in the region that truly justify the "Worth a Journey" annotation used by  the Michelin guide, and with its new location, a facelift, and consistent food quality, I think it's continue to be above any others in the area (pun intended), and truly worth our 1-hour ferry journey.

when? December 4 2011
where? Robuchon au Dôme, The Grand Lisboa Hotel, Macau
menu highlights? Crispy frogs' legs with garlic and parsley coulis
Frederic Magnien Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru 2005
Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey 2001
web: http://www.grandlisboahotel.com/dining-Robuchon_au_Dome-en

more photos of the dinner can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/g4gary/sets/72157628297854743/


Gregoire Michaud said...

Superb dining and very fair review! Well done :)

gary s said...

Thanks Greg!

e_ting said...

happy anniversary and what a fantastic experience! such an honour to be shown around the kitchen.

gary s said...

Thanks Janice! Well most of the time we found that the chefs are very happy to show people around their kitchen to get to know what's working behind the scene and some are even very open in sharing how everything's prepared. All we need to do is just ask and we love these interactions.