Monday, March 14, 2016

Juicy Cuisine at Restaurant Akrame

I was at Restaurant Akrame on Ship Street in Wanchai when Chef Akrame Benallal was in town for the week to launch the new seasonal menu at this offshoot of his Paris restaurant.

I love the sense of calmness as I walked into the cozy and contemporary-styled dining room on the side street after crawling through the early evening crowd in the drizzling rain and falling temperature. The sleek, industrial-chic decor with a grayish color scheme with modern paintings on the dark concrete wall with the clear view of the open kitchen at the back, all made the place looks comfortable and extra spacious. I also loved the metallic cutlery and fancy ceramics used to serve the meal, adding to that stylish feel to our dining experience.

Eight of us fitted right inside the private room towards the back of the restaurant, and after everyone arrived and greeted by the flamboyant Chef Akrame himself, we started our meal with three nibbles while he walked back to the kitchen to prepare our meal.

Inside the bowl was a piece of Pommes Dauphine topped with smoked beef and on the small plate next to it, a small piece of black cuttlefish crisp with smoked eel served with a dab of olive puree, and a round sesame biscuit with avocado. I found the combination of the cuttlefish crisp and eel an interesting one, both in terms of presentation and taste. And the olive puree on the side added to the Mediterranean flair of the bite-sized snack.

Our first course was a simple dish of soft-boiled egg with mushrooms and pecan nuts. The egg was cooked slightly firmer than "usual", evidenced by the completely set egg white encapsulating the gluey yolk in the middle. The raw button mushrooms sliced razor-thin, the slightly toasted (?) pecan nuts, the mushroom jus and a hint of tonka beans all gave the dish an interesting earthy flavor.

The second course featured an unusual pairing of sea bream with black rice. The sea bream fillet was pan-fried and served on a bed of black rice with some bite and an aromatic saffron cream sauce. On top of the fillet were some neatly arranged slices of turnip cut razor-thin. From the golden yellow color it's easy to have mistaken them as takuan, or Japanese pickled daikon, but they were not pickled with vinegar but instead infused with saffron giving them that same golden yellow color and a subtle exotic fragrance.

We were given a choice for the main savory dish for our 4-course menu - either lobster or pigeon. It's a pure coincidence that all the ladies at the table opted for the seafood, while guys went for the pigeon. While the lobster was slightly cooked in a tea pot with lobster consomme and prepared at tableside, the pigeon was presented in an earthware casserole, smoked in a mixture of cocoa nibs and grounded coffee.

Everyone in the room got the smell of that unmistakably intense cocoa nibs once the lid was lifted, with the pieces of pigeon breasts well-buried inside. Chef Akrame carefully picked them out one by one with his tweezers and served on the plate with celeriac prepared three ways - puree, deep-fried chunk and as a thin crisp. The meat was unbelievably tender and juicy, and so flavorful that just a spoonful of meat jus was all that's needed to go with it. The slightly tangy and sweet celeriac was perfect to balance the rich flavor from the smoked game meat with some contrasting texture.

After the mojito sorbet served in a shot glass made out of ice to clean our palate after the rich pigeon dish, the trio of desserts presented in separate bowls was a medley of sweets in vastly different textures and tastes. Among the three, I probably liked the milk chocolate custard the most with the “custard” almost soft like a mousse served in the deep dish with foam of tonka milk and a tuile square on top.

During the meal we were given a "sneak preview" of the juice pairing option that they just launched as an alternative to the normal wine pairing choices. It looked like a smart marketing move especially they have been selling their line of bottled cold-pressed juice (called Water Juicery) at their more casual restaurant Atelier Vivanda next door. I never got on the trend of these fancy juice things but I thought they were surprisingly tasty. We began with the bright colored bland called the Digestaid, with the refreshing pineapple and mint on the nose and palate followed by the ginger after-taste, an interesting contrast to the earthy egg appetizer dish. Then we had the C-Green which was dominated by the taste of apple - I could hardly taste the grassy kale, parsley and spinach which were supposedly present. The light acidity of the apple did go well with our seafood course.

The Madame Carrot – our juice pairing for the pigeon – tasted more beetroot than carrot in spite of the name. I am normally not a fan of beetroot but the pineapple and lime did tone down that herbaceous taste that I didn’t like. The final glass of juice, the Pineapple Power, was almost like an additional dessert course with complex flavors. It was distinctly orange and herbs on the nose and pineapple on the palate. Hidden at the back was the slight hint of coconut. That was my favorite of the four juices we tried.

Chef Akrame was known for his bold use of new combination of ingredients and flavors, and I liked what I have tried this evening, as something different for a change. The lovely meal did warm us up in this unusually cold springtime evening.

(The dinner is by invitation - more photos on my Flickr album:

When? March 9 2016
Where? Restaurant Akrame, 9B Ship Street, Wanchai, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Pigeon/Cocoa/Celariac/Coffee
(Cold-pressed Juice Menu from Water Juicery)
Digestaid: Pineapple/White Cabbage/Ginger/Mint
C-Green: Parsley/Spinach/Kale/Apple
Madam Carrot: Carrot, Apple, Orange, Beetroot, Pineapple
Pineapple Power: Tarragon, Pineapple, Orange, Passion Fruit, Coconut Water, Lime

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