Sunday, December 18, 2016

Last of Pottinger, Perhaps

We were a bit sad when we heard about the pending "closure" of the "Pottinger private kitchen", a place we had the opportunity to visit a few times over the past years, and came out every time being wow-ed by the classic Cantonese cooking at this cozy venue. And we were glad that our friends RC and P managed to round us up and played host to a big-table dinner at this place one evening in December for yet another feast - who knows, this could end up be our last meal here.

With the dinner date confirmed one month ago, We did the usual - with RC finalizing the menu with Chef Tak, while everyone brought in bottles (and in this case, someone supplied birds - talk about BYOB and more on that later)

We ended up having 11 courses this time - sumptuous by all means but still we must make the hard decision of leaving some items off the menu, reluctantly. Everything was excellent, as we expected, but I thought a few dishes were even the best we have tried here.

We started off with the bird's nest and crab meat meringue "cake", a delicate, savory appetizers with bird's nest and picked crab meat mixed with egg white, then steamed and gently deep-fried, followed by another seafood dish, the crystal king prawn served with oyster sauce and cured prawn sauce. Both were excellent especially the prawns with the perfect, slightly bouncy texture and tasty even with minimal seasoning.

Another dish arrived, which was received with exclamations across the whole table. Our chef fried D bestowed upon us a “herd” of ricebirds, which Chef Tak converted into a dish of roasted birds. Liver sausages (made of duck liver – not that of the birds’) were stuffed inside the cavity of each birds and they were to be eaten in whole, including the crunchy bones. They were common street food once upon a time but now hard to come by, so everyone just enjoyed every bite of these rare finds – God knows where Chef D got his supply from his "secret channels".

Oh, and then of course there’s the snake soup. Three large bowls of them, to be exact. I love snake soups especially during winter times, and this definitely represents the best of all snake soups that I have tasted anywhere. No details were overlooked – the ingredients were delicately cut to hair-thin juliennes, the soup base was prepared with snake bones, ham and sea cucumber with a fine infusion of Asian herbs. Even the condiments – placed in separate bowls on the side - were finely cut. I especially love the soup which has a mellow flavor and was very comforting.

The braised mountain turtle probably would draw ire from the conservationist, but before you hypocrites cry foul, they were merely in the same category of concern in terms of sustainability as say, wild Atlantic salmon, at least according to WWF. Anyway, this one was of very decent size, specifically suitable for our big group. The meat was tender and has good gamey flavor and the "skirt" (side of the turtle) was full of collagen, giving this a soft, slightly chewy texture. It was served on a bed of lettuce and the braising sauce.

I always enjoyed the steamed sole dish here and this evening we not only had one but two wild-caught fish served at our table. Just of the right size, the meat was super delicate and they were perfectly cooked. Last time at our dinner gathering we were jokingly saying we should try ask Chef Tak to do a salt-baked chicken using the French Poulet de Bresse, and D fulfilled our wish by delivering one to the kitchen a few days ahead of time so chef could prepare in advance. It was out-of-this-world outstanding! I love the flavor of the meat – rich and with good infusion of the touch of salty taste, and the skin was think and fat, exactly the way I wanted it. We finished with another course of vegetables (pea shoots with liver sausages), some starch (sautéed rice flour rolls with satay sauce), dessert (sweet soup of dates, lotus seeds and longan) plus fruits that our friend W brought over (all the way from Xinjiang province up north).

We were modest in alcohol consumption this time – at least in this group’s standard, finishing "just" 10 bottles. There were no lack of excellent choices, of course. My favorite of the evening was the Chambertin Clos de Beze from Armand Rousseau with a pleasant floral nose and well-balanced taste. We brought over a bottle of Katsuyama sake - first time I tried this particular brewery and wow it was expressive with lots of fruity notes – wish we had a bigger bottle to share.

A lovely evening to kickstart the holiday season with this group of foodie friends. Last time here, perhaps, but it could be the best ever.

When? December 5 2016
Menu Highlights? Traditional Five Snake Soup
2002 Bollinger R.D. Extra Brut Champagne
Katsuyama "Den" Junmai Daiginjo, Katsuyama Shuzo, Miyagi Prefecture
2008 Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet
2007 Peter Michael "Mon Plaisir" Chardonnay, Sonoma County
2000 Etude Pinot Noir Heirloom, Carneros, USA
2002 Domaine Camus Pere et Fils Chambertin Grand Cru
2004 Domaine Armand Rousseau Pere et Fils Chambertin Clos de Beze Grand Cru

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