Saturday, October 13, 2018

Serious Wine and Dine Night - I Mean, Seriously

Our favorite “secret private kitchen” venue became not so secret any more, now that they finally put a discreet sign outside the building at their new location bearing the name “No 9 SBI Canteen” (9號軟庫飯堂). Apparently this is the name they were known by for those in the circle who has visited the place before. It’s been a while since my last visit at their old location on Pottinger Street, and then they have closed and didn’t re-open until a month ago at this new location in Sheung Wan, and our friend RC was kind enough to organize a gathering for a bunch of us.

Other than the new address and décor, nothing else has changed much really. Chef Tak Chow and his team were still working tirelessly in the kitchen and served a limited group of people – there’s only 2 rooms available. Now the kitchen has moved to the same floor as one of the dining rooms so it's easier to take a peek at what's going on inside and for the dishes to arrive even faster. And again, RC has sorted out the menu for us so all we needed to do was to show up with a bottle and appetite, and ready for a feast.

This time the twelve of us ended up having eleven dishes plus more, and 12 bottles of wines including 2 magnums – not modest by any means but nothing over the top, I guess. And as usual, everything was outstanding, and this without a doubt represents some of the most exquisite Cantonese dishes served in town. We began with the char siu, like we have been a couple of times before. The Kagoshima pork loin was marinated in traditional ways using fermented bean paste and roast in open fire, but this time, Chef Tak added the braised octopus to make this an appetizer platter. I love the soft and tender texture of the octopus, and well-infused with flavor of the soy marinate.

The fried bird nest meringue and crystal king prawn were two dishes I have tried here before, and both were great just as I remembered. This time the prawn was of extra large size but with the same bouncy texture – all I needed was a small dab of shrimp paste to bring out the umami flavor. The Cantonese stir-fried soft-shell turtle skirt (鳳城炒水魚裙) was a classic dish that was seldom seen these days, both because of the difficulties in sourcing the ingredients and the complicated steps involved in preparation, but it was delicious and eye-opening, with all ingredients sliced thin, each in different width based on textures to ensure consistency in each bite. Then on top was the toasted Indian almonds giving the dish a smoky hint and a crunchy texture. The soft, gelatinous soft shell turtle skirt with the slightly bouncy texture just worked well with the shiitake mushrooms, bean sprouts, green onions and more all within the same bite. We all complained there’s not enough for refill once we finished our own portion.

Summer season was prime for the winter gourd soup and that’s what we had in the middle of the meal, served in the hollow gourd as per Cantonese cuisine tradition. This is a particularly luxurious version that the conventional one with more crab meat thrown in, and the soup base was done without ham so it has a cleaner, more delicate flavor. Our fish of the day was wild green wrasse, which came in pretty decent size (around 2 catty or 1.2kg), perfectly steamed and served with a slightly sweet soy sauce drizzled on top.

I couldn’t recall having the Eight Treasure Duck here before but this is my favorite dish this time. The duck wasn’t particularly big but was fat – and inside the cavity was scores of ingredients stuffed in – lotus seeds, shiitake mushrooms, barley, salted egg yolks and ham, which took in the best flavor from the meat jus. I have never had a better version than this, at least from as far as I can remember.

More dishes were coming towards the end, including a fried rice with satay beef which we ordered at last minute and which Chef Tak managed to pull off. It was the simplest food but the most comforting and flavorful. Same with the deep-fried egg noodle “cake” served with a diced chicken porridge on the side. It looked simple but took a long time to prepare. We had a few desserts, including the Taizhou-style mooncakes that our friend AC brought over to share with us. It has a flaky crust unlike the Cantonese ones that we were more used to with a bit of a somewhat exotic flavor.

With this bunch of people it’s never just about the food. A dozen bottles were circulated among us and quite a few were memorable. My favorite was the 2004 Henri Giraud Argonne with strong acidity which worked well with the bird-nest meringue cake, and the 1983 Pichon Longueville paired with the duck. The soft tannin and the subtle fruity flavor with more cedar and earthy flavor just works well with the fatty piece of duck, and with a long after-taste too that went down nicely. My contribution was a 20-plus-year-old California red which still went strong towards the end of our meal after left open to decant for an hour or so, and we finished with this extraordinary 90-year-old cognac which was rated 100 points by Robert Parker. I was a couple glasses away from getting drunk officially but that’s about the right amount that I had to really enjoy a great night of food, wine and company. Just have to look forward to the next one – perhaps during the snake soup season.

More pictures can be found here:

When? September 13 2018
Where? SBI Canteen, Mercer Street, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Eight Treasure Duck
Champagne Jacques Selosse Brut Blanc de Blancs Initial, NV
Champagne David Leclapart L'Artiste Blanc de Blancs Extra-Brut Premier Cru NV
Champagne Henri Giraud Argonne 2004
2014 Domaine Jean Francois Ganevat Cotes du Jura "Cuvee Oregane" (en Magnum)
2006 Domain Leflaive Puligny Montrachet Premier Cru Les Pucelles
2014 Peter Michael Winery "Mon Plaisir" Chardonay, Sonoma Valley, USA
2007 La Pousse d'Or Corton Clos du Roi Grand Cru (en Magnum)
1986 Domaine Armand Rousseau Charmes-Chambertin
2009 Domaine Jean Foillard Morgon "Cuvee Pi", Beaujolais, France
1983 Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande
1996 Harlan Estate "The Maiden", Napa Valley, USA
Tesseron "Exception" Lot No. 29 XO Grande Champagne Cognac

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