Friday, June 17, 2016

Restaurant with a Vision

A few of us went to NUR Restaurant recently to check out their latest tasting menu. Many of my friends like the food at the restaurant and its namesake chef Nurdin Topham's unique philosophy of food preparation, but this is only my first time setting foot at this place, which opened 2 years ago inside a commercial building on Lyndhurst Terrace, not far away from Lan Kwai Fong.

The restaurant was unusually spacious, a rarity in Hong Kong, with the show kitchen taken up almost a third of the space and around 10 tables spread around the rest of the dining area. The decor bore a slight resemblance of the interior of Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons in Oxfordshire, the restaurant Chef Nurdin spent a good amount of his career in, trained under his mentor Raymond Blanc, with that same country home theme, even complete with a mini herbs "farm" at the balcony, similar to how Le Manoir grew their own food at their on-site farm.

The restaurant opens 6 days a week for dinner service only, offering a choice of 6-course or 9-course degustation menus. This evening we went for the longer one and began with a small platter of four bite-sized snacks as amuse-bouche, each in its distinct textures and tastes. I personally liked the beetroot taco the most, with crispy and slightly sweet dehydrated beetroot (curved like a mini taco shell) and as filling, beetroot chutney and watercress emulsion. The carrot – slightly dehydrated – has a bouncy texture like those sour candy straws and served with cumin cream and sprinkles of carrot powder on top. They were all very interesting.

We then moved on to the rest of the 9-course "Feast" menu. All of them were well-presented with beautiful plating in hand-made ceramic tableware. The chef and his team would drop by occasionally with our dishes and explain carefully the ingredients and cooking, and we were amazed at the efforts and time involved in preparing them.

The first course of Taco looked cute with a paper-thin slice of watermelon radish as the taco shell, filled with popped black rice, pickled sardine and shallots in the middle and topped with mint and pistachio puree (and a tiny edible flower as garnish). I love the crunchy textures and the umami flavors from the pickled sardine. The Tomato course was another refreshing “salad” course, with local cherry tomatoes (some fermented, some fresh), pickled and dehydrated watermelon, a small piece fermented watermelon rind, aromatic basil oil and the chilled tomato water poured in the bowl. (there’s also a second part of the course with rye toast served with smoked yogurt and a slice of Japanese tomato)

I liked the individual components of the White Asparagus dish – char-grilled white asparagus glazed with seaweed miso with house-made goose charcuterie, along with the smoked yogurt and pomelo bits on the side did provide a triple punch of smokiness, though I wasn’t sure whether they worked well together as a whole dish - maybe just a little too much smoke. And I thought the Beef Tartare dish would probably be even better if the cucumber slices served alongside with the aged wagyu bavette tartare were pickled so they wouldn’t water down the rich meat flavors.

The Corn + Mushroom and Mackerel were two of my favorite courses of the evening. The former was quite complicated, served in three separate "movements" with the same theme of contrasting the sweet corns with the earthy mushrooms in various forms, while the latter was a simple fillet of Japanese mackerel slow-roasted to perfection with a smoky hint of lychee wood, with onion broth and a herbaceous pairing, lovage and wood sorrel on the side, almost like a herbal/medicinal flavor.

We were all a little overwhelmed by the time our last savory course of pork arrived, with a huge piece of slow cooked pork belly served with caramelized apple and cabbage on top. While the dish tasted fine (what’s not to love about a piece of pork belly cooked super tender), I would be equally happy with just half a portion of the meat.

Two desserts were served, each with distinctive flavors – first was a piece of Philippines mango served with black rice koji, sesame, julienned dehydrated mango, marigold finished with toasted black rice water, and second, a bowl of chocolate ganache with roselle gel, coconut "snow" and slices of blood orange. And the fermentation theme ran through til the very last course, a chocolate-coated koji icecream lollipop with a dot of caramel miso. It's interesting with a sweet rice flavor, but I thought it would be more balanced if there were more caramel than miso. Right now it's just a bit overloaded with that fermented aftertaste.

With the menu geared towards lighter flavors, we went for a carafe of Austrian riesling from their wine menu, which offered a good selection by glass or by carafe in addition to those available by the bottle. Light straw color, dry and full-bodied, with a racy acidity with a hint of pineapple, unripe stone-fruits and lemon. I thought it's a comfortable summer wine going well with the food too.

I like many of the concepts the restaurant and the chef are trying to convey - quality ingredients sourced locally wherever possible, balanced nutrients and flavors, innovative cooking techniques, and elaborate presentation. And all these reflected well on the dishes they served. They are not the only restaurants trying to play with unconventional pairing of flavors and textures, but they did so in the more "natural" way, going back to the traditional cooking techniques - the drying, the smoking, the curing and pickling, the fermenting, so on and so forth. The meal was fun and I would love to see them coming out with even more new dishes consistent with their vision in their future menus.

More photos in my Flickr album:

When? June 7 2016
Where? NUR Restaurant, 3/F, 1 Lyndhurst Tower, 1 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central
Menu Highlights? Corn+Mushroom - Zen farm corn, taiyouran yolk, termite mushroom
Drinks? 2012 Domane Wachau Riesling Smaragd Kellerberg

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