Sunday, March 3, 2019

Dinner at an Art Exhibition

The neighborhood of Quarry Bay is hardly a foodie destination but recently we were there at two separate occasions within the same week for quite some interesting dining experience. Just a few days after the spectacular Great Farm Feast dinner held at a makeshift dining room on a footbridge, this time, it’s a special dinner held as part of the Beyond Fashion exhibition at the Artistree space in Taikoo Place.

It’s far easier to understand the relationships between art and fashion, but how does food or culinary experience come into play in all these is what we were more curious about and what drew us into this event. Of course that was in addition to our friend J being part of the team that brought together this exhibition (as a “Culinary Consultant”) and Chef Mike Bagale being the guest chef. Chef Bagale might not be a household name but his previous restaurant certainly is, as Chicago’s Alinea has been considered in the forefront for its innovative, avant-garde dishes, with Chef Bagale being their executive chef for 6 years until mid last year. We never had a chance to visit the restaurant nor try his food before, so we were eager to check this out while he’s travelling to Hong Kong just for this event.

Our special evening began with a docent-led Insider Tour, as we were led into the exhibition hall where over 100 works by some of the best fashion photographers were displayed, while enjoying a few bite-sized canapes prepared by the chef along with the orange sparkling wine. The diamond-shaped “Pina Colada” was fun – with the summer cocktail turned into a squishy, multi-faceted snack resembling a diamond, prepared using an alginate solution bath similar to spherification. Moon Rock was another pleasing one – what looked like a strawberry meringue was in fact yogurt in gummy-like texture topped with flower petals.

At the end of the tour was the room where a long dining table has already been set up, surrounded by more exhibits. As we were seated, Mike Bagale gave us a quick run-down of the evening and introduced us to the first course, which has already been placed in front of us. With the room turned dark and the dish presented in a glowing large bowl laden with ice, the first course of “Nightglow” was in fact a quartet of cold appetizers prepared using common seasonal vegetables and fruits readily available in local market. Bits of pomelo served inside a hollowed mandarin orange was perhaps the prettiest yet predictable one, and taste-wise I like the slice of pear topped with candied lemon zest the most, with a good balance of sweetness and acidity, and paired well with the Cremant d’Alsace being poured for the course. (a shiso “taco” and a pickled cabbage were the other two served on the same bowl)

The next course of Beignet was my favorite dish of the night. What looked like a donut topped with gold flakes was in fact a savory course, with an intense truffle sauce filling. I like the complexity of textures and flavors from the soft, chewy shell with a crispy crust and rich filling. The third course, called Umami, reminded me of the famous “Crunchy Bit of Lasagna” course by Chef Massimo Bottura but with a slight variation. Japanese Nori was mashed into a thin dough and then dehydrated to form a crisp, then it’s served with a sauce mixed with butter, parmesan and sea urchin. The flavor of the sea urchin was rather subdued, but I quite enjoyed the intensity of umami flavor coming from the Parmesan cheese.

In a cliché but suiting manner for the occasion, our main course was presented like an abstract art piece. On the plate was a number of colorful ingredients – beetroots, tarragon, parsnip, kale and even a stalk of green "gai lan" (Chinese broccoli) – with a piece of Kagoshima wagyu. I thought it’s more fun to look at than for the taste, and I wish the chef would have done something that relate better with the exhibition, rather than just something that seems to work well as Instagram post, to be honest. Same with the dessert really – I thought we were long past the time of compressed watermelon being a “thing” – but here we have one cube of watermelon served with loads of other fruits and a soft coconut meringue mousse. Not bad given the constraint Chef Bagale was working under (with no cooking facilities on-site) but I expected more for what we were paying.

Our final course was, predictably, the "floating balloon", one of the most remarkable dishes created by Chef Bagale during his tenure at Alinea, with the sweet edible shell infused with passionfruit flavor served like a balloon with helium injected inside. Cause quite a stir at the table when the balloons were brought out one by one, and everyone was having a good laugh with the gas making us all sounds funny as we began to inhale.

A few unusual natural wines were chosen to pair with the dishes – I like that Cremant served with our first course, and I also like the Belgian chardonnay that went with the Umami course, loaded with oak and distinctly vegetal on the palate.

A unique dining experience no doubt, and as after-thought at least, I am sure down the road we would still remember that Floating Balloon we had and for the laughter and company we enjoyed this evening.

When? February 22 2019
Where? Artistree, Cambridge House, Taikoo Place, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Gilded - Black Truffle Beignet
2016 Orsi Vigneto San Vito "Sui Lieviti" Pignoletto Frizzante, Emilia-Romagna, Italy
Vignoble Klus, Cremant d'Alsace NV
2017 North by Etienne Mangier Pinot Noir, Victoria, Australia
2015 Wijnkasteel Genoels-Elderen Chardonnay Wit Haspengouw, Limburg, Belgium
2014 Domaine Leon Barral Faugeres, France
2013 Domaine Plageoles "Loin de l'Oeil", Gaillac, France

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