Thursday, November 6, 2014

White Truffles Dinner at Umami Concepts

We brought back a medium-sized white truffles (about 100g) from Alba and a few days after we came back to Hong Kong, organized a small gathering with the AG meetup group at Umami Concepts, a private kitchen studio on Bonham Road and a brainchild of the Canadian chef Nolan Ledarney.

Every one was having a bit of difficulties getting to the place - located up on Bonham Road near Western District - during the weekday evening peak hours, but once we reached there and went up the flight of stairs (there's no elevator in this building and it's on the second floor), we were more than compensated with the sight of a cozy loft space with a long dining table (which could sit up to 20), a lounge area at the back to relax and chill, and a well-equipped and spacious kitchen that would make any amateur (and pro) chef envy.

I carefully pulled out the white truffles - wrapped in kitchen towel to keep dry - from the styrofoam box and put it on the kitchen counter. This is one of the pieces we got at Alba's White Truffle Fair on the last day of our trip. We were told by the truffle hunter that the piece was dug up just the day before (Thursday) and by Tuesday it's on our dining table ready to be savored. Chef Nolan then carefully inspected it and started to explain to everyone how we were to prepare for it before it got shaven and used.

Cauliflower Puree, Leek Fondue, Saffron Poached Cauliflower, White Truffles
I was quite looking forward to the dinner and curious to see what chef would do with the truffles even though we already had a bit of a truffle overdose from our week in Piedmont, because the menu didn't look like something I have tasted or envisioned. We started with something light - saffron poached cauliflower served on a bed of cauliflower puree and leek cream, completed with shiso and white truffles. The cauliflower was poached with just a tiny bit of saffron giving it a hint of that unique aroma and slightly yellow color, and gave the dish some different textures. My only "complaint" was the strong shiso on top did take away some of the delicate aroma from that of the white truffles. But overall I think the dish was decent.

Organic French Chicken Ballotine, Porcini Mushrooms, Honey, Dijon, Hazelnuts, White Truffles
The second course of chicken ballotine was my favorite dish of the evening. I like that combinations of earthy mushroom and the sweetness coming both from the raisin bits and honey, and the chicken was juicy and full of flavors, with bits of porcini mushrooms rolled inside the chicken meat then slow-roasted.

Crackling Pork Belly, Pumpkin Gnocchi, Carrot Puree, Brown Butter, Fried Sage, Shaved White Truffles
Our main course was the pork belly, brined, sous vided and finished in the oven giving it a crispy crackling skin, and the dish was completed with light and fluffy pumpkin gnocchi, carrot puree, fried sage leaves and of course, more shaved white truffles. Every components of the dish was cooked nicely, and even though I thought it's a bit too complex to showcase the delicate white truffles, I really enjoyed the dish for it brought balance in terms of tastes and textures. I was surprised how well truffles and carrots match with each other, something I have never thought of before.

Chef Nolan envisioned this space to be a stage for interactions between chefs and guests, not just a private kitchen meal but a learning experience, so he explained everything thoroughly, showed us how those bits and pieces were cooked, and asked people to come to kitchen to help with the preparation, whether that be chopping and cutting, or as we did, helped with the plating of individual dishes. It's good fun getting up, rolled our sleeves and participated.

Belgian Waffles, Toasted Walnuts, Praline Sauce, Banana Icecream, White Truffle Bits
The little light bulb above Chef Nolan's head must have lightened up and he came up with an impromptu dessert idea and started preparing in the open kitchen. He was going to do a souffle originally but now he chucked that idea and did an unusual combination of waffles, white truffle praline sauce, chopped walnuts and banana icecream.

At first I was a little doubtful whether the caramel syrup which made up the sauce would totally bury the white truffles aroma, but amazingly it worked and I could actually taste a strong hint of the truffles coming out and it matched perfectly with the nutty sauce giving the dish a new dimension of flavors! And the banana icecream was delicious.

It's BYO night and coincidentally, both wines we brought were Barbera coming from 2 separate family wineries in Piedmont - always the safest bet when you match food and wines from the same region. We started with the Ceretto in 2011 vintage which has a light ruby hue, not particularly aromatic on the nose, but the palate showed pleasing ripe red fruit and a hint of smokiness. It was then followed by the Piero Busso 2012, which has a slightly deeper color, fresher with plum and licorice on the nose, a bit light on tannins but with a good long finish for a young Barbera well-suited for everyday drinking.

It's a fun, aromatic sort of evening, with good food and company, and bravo to Chef Nolan cooking up a storm for us. And I absolutely adored the place and will definitely come back some other time.

When? November 4 2014
Where? Umami Concepts, 2/F, 35 Bonham Road, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Organic French Chicken Ballotine, Porcini Mushrooms, Honey, Dijon, Hazelnuts.
Ceretto Barbera d'Alba Piana 2011
Piero Busso Barbera d'Alba Majano 2012

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