Saturday, June 14, 2014

Secret Supper at Secret Ingredient

The brilliant minds behind the gourmet food delivery service Secret Ingredient has began hosting private dinners at their Noho home base since 2 months ago. Only one table for 6-8 persons is available every Wednesday and Saturday, and Head Chef Jesse Teh offer a fixed menu for sharing across the table, with menu items change regularly.

I recently went to check it out, eager to find out what more Jesse can do after my somewhat satisfactory experience with my Secret Ingredient delivery at home a few weeks ago. "Hiking" up to the quiet neighborhood of Tai Ping Shan Street in Noho from the MTR station was quite a challenge after a long day at work but I made it right on time. The venue has simply a long table right outside the open kitchen area - which I think might be a bit tight for 8 people as they have advertised could fit but it's just nice and cozy for the 6 of us this time - at least we didn't feel like we need to snuggle.

Salmorejo, Sour Dough, Semi-dried house olives, olive oil

Marinated Octopus, Confit Potatoes, Chive Oil, Paprika
As Jesse settled us down, he walked back to the kitchen preparing our dinner. We started with some bread, served with a bowl of salmorejo and olives on the side. I found the sourdough bread - probably bought elsewhere instead of made in-house - well-baked. The salmorejo dipping sauce was refreshing and intense with prominent sweet tomato flavors. On the other hand, the octopus dish which came next was very average. I was expecting something like a Pulpo Gallego that I had in Barcelona, a typical tapas dish with octopus slow-stewed to melt-in-your-mouth texture and then enriched by sprinkles of paprika powder and olive oil. But instead, both the baby octopus and potatoes we had lack in flavors and were rather uninspiring. It's a major letdown.

Chef in Action

Grass-fed Beef Tartare, pickled jalapenos, melba toast
The beef tartare which came next was easily the best dish of the evening. It's served in individual sizes with a thin slice of melba toast underneath. The grass-fed ground beef was well-seasoned with the jalapeno flavor kicked in at the forefront of the palate, but not so much as shielding the beef flavor entirely. Brilliantly done.

Chorizo, Green Goddess Quinoa, Ajo Blanco Sauce
Grilled Iberico "Pluma" Pork, Chickpeas, Romesco Sauce
Both meat main courses were served at the same time at the table. First was the chorizo with "green goddess" quinoa, long beans and ajo blanco sauce. The chopped chorizo was tasty, but we found them a bit tough. The quinoa tasted alright, except I found the green color - infused by cilantro - a bit too "interesting" to my liking, and I think the ajo blanco sauce was too bland and didn't do much to the dish except bringing in some creminess to the quinoa. I was looking for something more garlicky - more roast garlic in the sauce would have just done the magic.

We had mixed feelings with the other main course as well - that's the grilled iberico "pluma" pork with romesco sauce. The pork has the same problem with the chorizo - the meat served in thick slices has good texture and flavors, but we found it a bit too firm to chew on as well. I have done something similar a few months back using a similar cut of meat and I know there's nothing wrong with the ingredient itself - so the problem might be the way it's been treated. I reckon it will be much better if chef would cut that meat in bite-sized pieces instead, or leaving it chunky so we could cut ourselves - now it's neither here or there. Nonetheless I love the roast tomatoes and romesco sauce served on the side - the tomatoes were sweet and delicious, and the romesco sauce was rich and refreshingly flavorful with just a hint of nuttiness. It's the right summer dish I was looking for.

Churros with Valrhona Chocolate Sauce
Chef Jesse tried a different recipe than what we used to for the churro dessert, which wasn't well received at the table unfortunately. We felt like the dough was still raw inside with the gluey texture, even though he did come to explain this is different than a traditional churros, in that the dough was cooked prior to being deep-fried - hence the texture. Anyway, we definitely preferred the tried-and-true traditional version. On the other hand, the chocolate sauce - made with Valrhona 70% cocoa - was very decent though, if only we had something better to dip it with.

They charged a pretty reasonable corkage so we opted to open our own wines to go with the meal. We went with the theme of new world tonight, starting with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc than moved on to a Bordeaux blend from Stellenbosch, South Africa. Nothing to write home about but both were decent and easy to drink, with good complexity and long finish to keep the wines interesting.

Overall I think the potential is there - with the intimate venue, good quality food ingredients and solid cooking skills, I can see this turning into a perfect choice for a small dinner party. But right now as I see it this remains a work in progress. I will be interested to return here in a few months' time to see how Chef Jesse moved forward with this new line of business. Hopefully I will see improvement over time.

When? June 10 2014
Where? Secret Ingredient, 32A Tai Ping Shan Street, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Grass-fed Beef Tartare with pickled jalapenoes and melba toast
Tahuna Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Marlborough, New Zealand
Da Toren Z, 2011, Stellenbosch, South Africa

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