Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Snake Soup and Much More...

If I really need to find one reason to join the recent dinner at Cuisine Cuisine hosted by the PR team of Mira Dining (not that it’s really necessary), that would be for the rare opportunity to try Chef Lee Yuk Lam’s famous snake soup. Chef Lee (李煜霖師傅), or Lam-gor as some people affectionately call him since his days of being a resident chef for the rich and famous and also at a hidden speakeasy, is known for his preparation of fine-dining Cantonese dishes, and among them, the Imperial Scholar Snake Soup. It’s often said he’s one of the few chefs who mastered the art of making the most true-to-tradition version of this dish, which is popular among locals during the colder season.

With his current role of being the Executive Chef of Cuisine Cuisine restaurant at IFC, he probably spent more time supervising the brigade of chefs and line cooks rather than working full-time in the kitchen day in day out, saving those occasions when its owner (one of the richest families in town) is hosting or at official functions. Hence it made this special invitation impossible to turn down on.

Of course, the dinner turned out to be much more than just the extraordinary snake soup. It’s also a great social evening to catch up with the gracious hosts (who did a fine job pulling together the event) and many friends who were in attendance, over the interesting canapes of suckling pig slices on top of foie gras terrine and crispy wo-ba (cooked rice deep-fried to crunchy texture) with champagne pairing.

We soon settled in at our table inside the private room of the restaurant with 8 more courses of food awaiting. Theme of the dinner was a combination of old and new dishes that would be featured at the restaurant’s new seasonal menu, and all based on traditional Cantonese-style cooking and ingredients handled by Chef Lee and his lieutenant Chef Chou.

Needless to say, the highlight of the evening was always going to be the signature snake soup. The dish was so named because it was perfected by a high-ranking official during the Qing Dynasty time who often entertained his guests with this Cantonese soup when it’s the right time of the season. Chef Lee was trained under one of the master chefs working in the kitchen of that official’s residence, and with decades of experience of re-creating the dish, it has became one of his signature. Preparation of the dish was said to be long and complicated, starting with the making of the broth using scores of ingredients then each of the components (among them chicken, abalones, bamboo shoots and of course snake meat) carefully cut or shredded to even size. The soup was often called “Five-snake soup” for the number of different snake types used, but we were told that Chef Lee often uses even more than five types for more complex flavor. The bowl of soup was then served with kaffir lime leaves and chrysanthemum petals as garnishes which brought in the unique aromas. I must say this is a truly special one and among of the best I have tried, with my favorite part being the richness of the broth with different layers of flavors from the meat to the many Chinese herbs that went in and through the slow and long cooking, and with the perfect texture of just the right thickness from the collagens of meat bones.

And that’s not the only dish that impressed. Fall season also marked the prime time for crab dishes, and I love the Braised White Fungus with Crab Meat served right after the snake soup. White Fungus, or Snow Fungus so named by its shape resembling snow flakes, was braised with broth and topped with picked crab meat and roes. I love its contrast in flavor and texture, matching the somewhat crunchy snow fungus with mild flavor, with the rich crab in gravy-like consistency.

The duck course was another one well-prepared, with the whole duck braised in soy sauce infused with dried mandarin peel for the balancing flavor. It’s perfectly cooked with the meat tender and well-infused with the flavor coming from the braising liquid. I must admit for a split second I had my doubt of the stir-fried sticky rice when it’s brought to us in small bowls, but then I learned my lesson of never start judging by just looking at its appearance. What looked like slightly soggy than I would have wanted turned out to be of perfect texture and balance of various ingredients that mixed in – from the two types of Chinese sausage (carefully cut in different size depending on the taste and texture of each type) to the cured pork belly to scallions to the bits of scrambled eggs – was simply mind-blowing.

A few bottles were served throughout the evening to pair with the dishes. I love a couple Japanese sakes chosen by their sommelier as they matched with the dishes perfectly. I especially enjoyed the glass of Kijoshu from Niigata, a special type made by adding sake instead of water in the last stage of fermentation, resulting in a more rounded, fuller texture with distinct sweetness. I thought it complimented with the Chinese desserts well, also prepared with subtle sweetness. And to top it all, we also had the opportunity to hear Chef Lee sat down with us to talk and share some cooking tips and decades of experiences working in the traditional Cantonese kitchen, which made the evening even more memorable.

(Dinner was by invitation hosted by the restaurant group PR team and based on a special menu)

When? November 8 2018
Where? Cuisine Cuisine, Shop 3101-07, ifc Mall, Central, Hong Kong Menu Highlights? Traditional Braised Five-Snake Soup
Champagne Perrier Jouet Grand Brut NV
2018 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand
2015 Domaine Vincent Giradain Puligny-Montrachet Vieilles-Vignes
Chitosetsuru Kura Ginjo BY30 - Nippon Seishu, Hokkaido 千歲鶴藏吟釀 - 北海道日本清酒株式會社
2017 Hakkaisan Kijoshu – Hakkaisan Brewery, Niigata Prefecture 八海山 貴醸酒 - 新潟県八海醸造
Web: www.miradining.com/cuisine-cuisine-ifc

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