Monday, July 17, 2017

Eight Countries, Eight Restaurants Later...

One Star House Party seems to be a fascinating concept - a group of culinary professionals would travel around the world and host pop-up dinners drawing inspiration from local cuisines and ingredients, then moved on to another country/town and did the same, like a nomad with a purpose. They started in Hong Kong one year ago, and 12 months later, after various stops and numerous stories to tell, came back to town for a 5-week engagement to host another series of pop-up dinner, showcasing their favorite dish in 8 different countries they hosted dinner at.

I was there with a group of friends during their first week of the series, held at the cozy Test Kitchen in Sai Ying Pun. The loft-style space didn't seem to change much since my previous visit last year, but this time we were seated at what I thought is the best spot of the house, the long table right in front of the open kitchen where the chefs worked.

Throughout the long, 3-hour-plus 8-course dinner, we were brought along to a journey that traced back the team’s footsteps to places near and far, beginning with our first course of “biltongs” with beetroot sauce and raw hazelnut butter, an obvious reflection of their stop at Cape Town, using the techniques of the South African classics using beef tenderloin partially cured wrapped with black peppers for that nutty flavor and firm meat texture.

Next was a small bowl of barley “congee”, inspired by the classic Chinese comfort dish, served with chicken consommé, green onions, julienned pickled ginger, sashimi scallop slices and shaved dried scallops on top. It’s nothing like the traditional congee, but it’s hearty and delicious nonetheless. I found it fun just to see how the team played with local ingredients they came across and added on their own interpretation out of the box.

The new few dishes were more exotic both in flavor and presentations, starting with the freshly-baked aubergine bread served with a puree chickpea spread (dish they served in Oman), then a tub of baked Paneer cheese (similar to how Camembert is served) with sautéed vegetables in Indian spices and spinach puree, their favorite dish created in Mumbai, India, as Chef James Sharman came over and explained the dish to us.

The chicken was our fourth course – served between the bread and cheese courses – and my favorite of the evening. Served in a slightly charred wooden board, the chicken was carved in pieces and served with small bowls of roasted corns and polenta. The chicken was smoked with sugar cane, the method they picked up in Kenya, so the meat was super tender and infused with the slightest hint of sweetness, and I couldn’t stop reaching for the polenta, which worked well with the chicken as a side dish.

The pork was one that drew mixed verdict across our table. The piece of pork served on a skewer was “marinated in 35 different things” as they learned from a chef in Vietnam, then it was grilled and served with three different sauces – fermented soy bean, coriander and sweet chilies. I actually quite enjoyed the course, except I wish the pork was fattier, but some commented the meat was too salty.

Our last two courses were desserts – starting with the Thai-style bowl of candied pineapples with kaffir lime and mint espuma, then ribbons of frozen (and defrost) pumpkins with cream served in a halved pumpkin, something that they served at the Himalayas base-camp in Nepal. Both were refreshing, each with unique tastes in their own right.

The dinner’s BYO policy meant each of us brought a bottle or two to share, so we ended up having more than enough share of booze with a wide selection to go with a fun array of unique dishes. To me it was a great dining experience, watching how the food was prepared in the kitchen and brought to our table in such unique combination of ingredients and flavor, drawing on the culinary team’s inspirations and creativity. It’s truly one-of-a-kind. The team is actually only half-way through their mission of touring around 20 countries, and I am curious to see what they will come up next time when they do a whistle stop in Hong Kong, where they started this journey of culinary reckoning.

When? July 2 2017
Where? One Star House Party at The Test Kitchen, Shop 3, 158A Connaught Road West, Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Sugar Cane Smoked Chicken with Roasted Corn Polenta
Champagne Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut NV
2010 Vino de Unicornio Cava Brut Nature
2013 The Sadie Family Die Ouwingerdreeks 'T Voetpad', Swartland, South Africa
2014 Dog Point Vinetard Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc
2014 Sgarzon Teroldego Vigneti delle Dolomiti
2009 Marchesi di Barolo Cannubi Barolo
2013 La Sirene de Giscours
Nocino della Cristina Walnut Liqueur

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