Sunday, August 20, 2017

French Omakase

We had an epic dinner at Neighborhood a few weeks ago. I forgot what we were talking about over another dinner when the name of the restaurant came up, so we picked a date and I called to make the booking. We were just planning to pick whatever available on the seasonal menu on the night, but then Chef David messaged me that morning offered to sort the dishes out for us. “Just a bit of everything I think people should try” he said; “Sure, as long as we have enough chocolate palette cakes and caneles to share among us at the end” was my response. So just like that, a random dinner became a French-style Omakase meal of sort.

We booked for the second seating at 8:30pm so there’s no rush to finish the meal and give up the table for the next round of customers at this popular restaurant. We first began with some raw oysters (South African, we were told) and cold cuts (salami from Massimo Spigaroli) before more dishes in small plates arrived at our table when everyone arrived.

The Kyushu tomatoes was super sweet, worked in harmony with salted cod and splash of olive oil and vinegar on top for our first course. And we were amazed at the combination pigeon eggs served with escargot butter in an escargot dish – with the eggs just cooked with the whites almost translucent and yolks still running paired with the melted butter with garlic and herbs. We refused to let go of the dish even after all the eggs were duly consumed – the butter was great as dipping sauce to the bread.

Just as we were finishing up with one dish, another few arrived. Nothing fancy about Chef David’s cooking – just perfect ingredient (sourced locally as much as possible) and perfect execution in great consistency, even on the days when he’s not in the kitchen.  The roasted matsutake mushrooms (which I assumed to be coming from the mushroom-rich Yunnan Province) was simply served with an Italian egg sunny-side up. Just mix everything together and served it on top of the sourdough bread, and it’s heavenly. The chicken wings looked simple enough, but apart from them being topped with shaved black truffles, they were seriously the best chicken wings I have tried for a long time, if not ever. The meat was well-brined and simply deep-fried for the golden crispy skin with the subtle earthy aroma from the truffles.

What was described as “white baits ‘pil pil’ baby eel style” may sound cryptic to some, but it referred to the traditional Basque dish Angulas al pil pil but done with white baits, better known as “white rice fish” in Cantonese. It’s served in an olive oil-garlic emulsion (a la pil pil) and topped with chili flakes. I am more used the local way of deep-frying the white baits with a light batter (as a perfect snack to go with beers), but I found this modified version very interesting too. We quickly moved from Basque coast (in the white baits pil pil) to the heartland of Piedmont, with Agnolotti dal Plin served with winter black truffles. I bet the rich pork ragu filling in the pasta dish easily beat any pasta dish served in almost any other Italian restaurants in town.

We lost track of how many dishes were already served at that point but more were coming, now in even more substantial portion. The whole chicken was brought to our table in an oven tray completely buried in a salt dome. The dome was carefully removed at the table and the locally-sourced chicken baked with truffles stuffed underneath the skin was shown to us before being brought back to the kitchen to carve. While we were waiting, another big pan arrived, this time, it’s the whole grilled fish – scorpion fish or better known locally by its Japanese name of kinki – on top of paella. The fish was fatty and delicious with the crispy skin, and much of the fish oil flavor went to the rice cooked in paella style. There’s a reason why the fish was considered a delicacy in Japan, even more so than the prized (and more famous) blue-fin tuna.

Took a little longer for the chicken to make a second appearance and ready to be eaten. And it’s now carved and served with a creamy sauce on top and the rice cooked on the pan underneath with the chicken giblets mixed in. Served at the same time was another poultry dish, the French “duckling” with lavender and fricasse and peas done in the Provencale cooking style. We spent the next 30 minutes or so savoring both dishes, trying in vain to finish every single pieces (we failed – some we needed to pack home after), and arguing which ones – the duck or the chicken – were the better dish. With no clear consensus at the end on that one – I did pick duck over the chicken, but then I loved the rice underneath the chicken. It was so rich and tasty with a slightly burnt crust at the bottom giving it some crispy texture.

We went for two different wines, both picked from their wine list. The Dolcetto was a great everyday wine that went well with the style of dishes served here with vibrant red fruit characters and youthful acidity, and that led the way to the much bigger 1998 Chateau Musar that we had after. A pleasant floral nose, deceivingly light ruby color that suggested nothing of its full body, jammy with ripe dark fruit, some tar and long finish.

Other than the chocolate palette cakes and caneles that I insisted to have as desserts – as they were my all-time favorites, there’s also the seasonal French strawberry tart served with a scoop of icecream. “Just vanilla,” David told us when we asked what flavor of the icecream it was, though some of us insisted there’s something else with a floral hint in it. I love the buttery crust with the extra sweet strawberry filling. They were all wonderful.

With more than one at the table commenting this was the best meal they had in town, I think we all agreed it was a great night out. Thanks Chef David for the omakase experience, and we certainly got more than “just a bit of everything”.

When? July 21 2017
Where? Neighborhood, Man Hing Lane near Hollywood Road/Peel Street junction, Central, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Roast French Duckling, Lavender, Fricasse, Peas and Salt-baked local black truffle chicken with giblet and rice.
2015 G.D.Vajra Dolcetto d'Alba
1998 Chateau Musar

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