Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The Four Hour Farewell

Okay, I am going to try not to sound like this is an eulogy like many people have done. The other day we had lunch at Belon at Soho, for what possibly was the last time with Chef Dan Calvert still at the helm. All tables at his restaurant were snapped up soon after the news broke that he’s leaving for Japan at the end of the month – and we were just lucky to get a booking for lunch on one Sunday. 

We went for the 7-course Sunday lunch menu plus a few items from the a la carte selection, but at the end he sent us a few more dishes in addition. No surprise that turned into a 4-hour marathon meal. We began with the series of small bites – gougere with melted Comte, Cod Tarama and Karasumi Tartlets with Mitsuba and the Barbajuan with the ricotta dipping sauce. The Gougere was always my favorite with the puffy texture filled with the exploding warm cheesy flavor in the center.

The oyster tartare was perfectly plated in a small porcelain bowl, served with a mini quenelle of Ossetra caviar on top. The light umami flavor with a hint of mineral from the oyster served as the backdrop to the rich caviar taste along with the creamy aioli plus finely chopped toasted croutons and herbs was perfect on every bite with the mini porcelain spoon placed on the side. The housemade sourdough is always the winner here, served with a cube of salted butter and a plate of thinly sliced Bigorre sausages, like they usually do. 

They keep on bringing more dishes to us sitting in the private room upstairs. Chef Dan’s signature “Mille-Feuille” made its first appearance in our meal not as a dessert but a savory dish, with the mild horseradish cream as filling and topped with ikura (salmon roes). Love the sexiest sound of blade cutting through the delicately thin but perfectly crispy pastry layers, which were paired nicely with the creamy filling, whether that be something savory or sweet. 

We were debating which one to choose among the two pigeon dishes on the a la carte menu, but at the end they brought us both. “Drunken Pigeon” was another perfectly executed dish – I didn’t expect less of course as we had this previously – with the pinkish meat combining well with the chilled sauce made of French yellow wine and meat jus. The intensely rich fortified wine taste plus that of the reduced meat jus coated well with the tender meat. 

The slab of foie gras was cooked “au torchon” but presented whole as a flat slab before it’s portioned into individual tasting size and served with slices of apricots, silvers of almond and the syrup from the reduced poaching liquid with Riesling. Sweetness from the sauce cut down the fatty taste from the foie and I also like the almond for that slightly crunchy texture and mild nutty hint. The Scarpinocc dish was another savory dish that was almost sweet, with the candy-like pasta served with dots of burrata espuma spooned with the sauce made with Japanese fruit tomatoes. 

I couldn’t recall trying scallop “gnocchi” before, but the piece of Hokkaido scallop was turned into an airy, “spherified” texture like a gnocchi but done without any flour, we were told. On the side was Chef Dan’s signature champagne caviar sauce and fava beans – I felt the intricate balance of acidity and creaminess with the umami taste probably worked well in just about anything. 

Two mains were served and both were just as memorable as the first time we tried them back in who know when. Whole roasted local Longgang “Three Yellow” chicken was impeccable, with the meat perfectly cooked with just the slightest hue of pink near the bone and the skin roasted to dark golden color and the rich spinach and mushroom farce just right underneath the skin. Guess I just have to work harder to replicate using his recipe now that he’s going (which can be found here) The sides were just as spectacular – we wiped clean of everything that were served along with the chicken – the pea (petits pois a la Francaise), the creamiest mashed potatoes (the best in town) and also the reduced chicken jus, which I spooned to the last drop. 

Pigeon Pithivier was another wonder which we shared the whole piece among the four of us (at 2 separate tables). Again, the meat was perfectly cooked, not more not less with the pastry in golden color wrapped around. I did find the sauce made with fig jam and amaretto done a tad bit too sweet to my liking, but one couldn’t fault him for the execution and the effort of sauce-making, which was probably one of the best part of his cooking. 

Finishing one whole mille-feuille dessert seems a bit daunting for me, but we ate like there’s no tomorrow, and this seasonal flavor with cherries was good with just the right balance of sweetness that went along with the buttery puff pastry. Same with the chocolate tart – soft and creamy and rich and of the right sweetness, and served with a generous dollop of fresh cream. And oh, that madeleine, baked fresh just off the pastry kitchen right next door to where we sat for the warm and comforting end, not just the meal but surely for an era of extraordinary dining at this very spot. 

Farewell and congratulations Chef, and until we meet again when we were allowed to travel. 

More photos here:

When? August 16 2020
Where? Belon, 41 Elgin Street, Soho, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Everything!
Drink? Champagne Vilmart & Cie, Grande Reserve Premier Cru NV

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