Sunday, September 9, 2018

Chinese Italian Crossover

Some may argue there’s some sort of intricate relationship between the history of Italian and Chinese cuisines going way back – so it was an interesting idea when Chef Gianni Caprioli (of Gia and Giando) and the father-son team of Kin-wai and Chun Lau (of Kin’s Kitchen) collaborated to create two sets of special menu at their respective Italian and Chinese restaurant, each using ingredients from the other country and I was curious to see how they turned out.

I missed out on the one hosted by Chef Gianni at his restaurant in late August but was happy to join a few friends to the second tasting session at Kin’s Kitchen last week, this time for a Chinese-style menu with a few dishes making use of Italian ingredients and techniques. I loved the dishes served at Kin’s Kitchen based on my previous visits there, and with its owner Kin-wai Lau sitting alongside with us at the table it’s even better. To start, we ended up having so many off-menu items as he was so gracious to introduce us a few of their new or signature dishes, like the sautéed river shrimps and Indian almonds we had as our first course.

The dish, as it was presented to our table soon after we settled in, looked straight-forward enough just like how it is traditionally prepared in Hanzhou cuisine style, with tiny river shrimps carefully de-shelled and sautéed, then topped with toasted slices of Indian almonds, but instead of the dark rice vinegar that’s often used in the original version, Mr Lau mixed in with drizzles of the prized Balsamic Vinegar from Modena, which added with a slight note of sweetness to bring out the delicate umami flavor of the shrimps. It was a perfect match.

In fact, all the dishes we had that evening were excellent. There were some more traditional Cantonese that most of us have tried before at the restaurant, like the deep-fried chicken broth custard, or the old-fashioned char-siu (one made with just the fermented bean paste as marinate with the maltose glaze basted on top). And on the other hand, there were some new creation based on traditional recipes but with an Italian twist, which is only available for limited time as part of this special menu. Among them my favorite was the stir-fried lobster with burrata cheese and tree mushroom. It’s similar to the traditional Shunde dish of stir-fried milk custard with crabs but using burrata cheese instead – the result was a much creamier custard-like base and much richer in flavor.

Mushrooms were one of the seasonal ingredients widely used in both Italian and Chinese cuisines (at least in certain part of the country where mushrooms were in abundance), and since late summer marked the prime season for such, we had a few dishes making use of mushrooms imported from China. First was the bloc of winter gourd braised with a thick gravy with clams and topped with a thin slice of pan-fried matsutake mushroom (an import from Tibet, as Chef Lau has told us), for the contrast of sea (clams) and earthy (mushrooms) flavor.

Then there was the chicken casserole prepared in front of us by the chef, with raw local chicken chopped into pieces and braised inside a shallow copper dish with thick slices of shiitake mushrooms and shreds of Ganba mushrooms (also known as beef mushrooms). Everyone could smell the unique earthy aroma coming from the Ganba mushrooms as the chicken was slowly cooked in the casserole wrapped with aluminum foil on top of the gas stove and infused with the mushroom flavors, and the chicken meat was juicy and tender. Later on, Ganba mushrooms made a second appearance again, this time in a simple fried rice served with pine nuts – it was delicious but I definitely thought the chicken and ganba mushrooms made a better couple this time around.

There’s no stronger link connecting the Italian and Chinese cuisines than threads of noodles… after all it’s said to be invented by Chinese and turned into the world-famous pasta by the Italian some centuries later. So it’s appropriate that we ended our meal with a plate of noodles – done traditional Cantonese way with the bouncy thin egg noodles served with scallions and burnt leeks, with a generous drizzle of Italian extra virgin olive oil on top. Think of that as the Chinese version of Cacio e Pepe in terms of being super simple yet delicious. And the dessert was definitely more Italian than Chinese, with a scoop of polenta ice-cream served with toffee crunch. I was amazed at how silky smooth the ice-cream was - cooked polenta often has a somewhat grainy texture but I suppose passing the custard base through the Pacojet machine with the right amount of cream added in did wonder in solving that issue.

Most of us probably had a few glasses too much to drink on a Monday evening (including a 40-year Scotch Whisky from Mr Lau's own collection), but it was a great evening with lots of laughter and fun and delicious dishes, and we owed that to a gracious and super friendly host! Thanks Mr Lau for your hospitality.

(Dinner was by invitation and based on a special menu available only for limited time)

When?  September 3 2018
Where? Kin's Kitchen (留家廚房), Fifth Floor, W Square, 314-324 Hennessy Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Stir-fried lobsters with burrata cheese and tree mushrooms

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