Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Ode to Soy

A table at Tate Dining Room has been hard to come by especially for their popular weekend lunch menu with the theme of focusing on a single ingredient at a time. We called two months ago and managed to get the booking on the last week for the Ode to Soy Sauce menu just as we began our Easter super long weekend. 

The 6-course menu with dishes featuring an ingredient more symbolic in Asian cuisine than western was a bold proposition by Chef Vicky and her team, and I was curious how the punchy, somewhat rustic flavor of soy sauce would match with her delicate cooking style. We began with a fancy presentation of the amuse-bouche course; on the wooden tray, a light Japanese-style soy sauce was poured over mashed raw shrimp served in a small glass cup, and on the side, a sardine tartlet. The sourdough was also brought to our table at the same time served with a shoyu-koji butter with caviar. I enjoyed the nice umami seafood flavor, and the hint of acidity from the sourdough worked well with the savory butter. 

Razor Clams were next, served with sabayon espuma and Kaviari Ossetra caviar, with tomato-flavored soy sauce poured on top. Appreciate the bouncy texture of the razor clams having quick blanched and served in room temperature, and the combination of creamy sabayon and soy sauce flavor with a touch of acidity was an interesting one too with the umami-rich clams. 

We continued with more seafood in our third course – the piece of mandarin fish fillet was perfectly grilled with the thin crispy skin on top, and on the side, a mixture of finely-diced coriander, chicken skin, bacon and ginger along with the sweet soy sauce. The dish was said to be inspired by the traditional Cantonese steamed fish but the result was something totally different and unique. Sans the lack of ginger taste (probably buried somewhere along with all the rich ingredients present), this was delightful with nice textures from the fish and the condiments, and the hint of sweetness in the soy sauce worked well with the firm and succulent meat. For sure this was my favorite of the afternoon. 

Serving pasta with soy sauce would probably be frown upon by the fundamentalists, but I liked our next course of Gnochetti Sardi with squid and soy sauce foam. Two kinds of squid were used – one the richer Japanese Hotaru Ika that's in season now, and another the larger local spear squid with the body scored and served whole, and the tentacles diced and mixed with the bouncy pasta. I like this unique take which went against traditional thinking with surprisingly good results. 

The chicken dish was done in typical Chef Vicky style presented like a picture, with Zhanjiang Chicken (湛江雞, the "Three-Yellow" chicken breed coming from southwestern part of Guangdong Province) slow-poached and served with morel duxelles on the side. The piece of chicken breast was glazed with the traditional Chiuchow-style Pu-ning fermented soy bean paste (普寧豆醬) with edible flower garnishes on top, and on the side was the mushroom-soy cream sauce. The rustic mushroom flavor combined well with the soy sauce, and the chicken meat was tender and juicy from the slow cooking process. 

I felt a bit mixed with our main course of sliced wagyu beef and deep-fried pigeon egg served in a beef broth seasoned with soy sauce, served in a glass deep dish. Nothing wrong with the taste or anything, but then to me it was one-dimensional and predictable – two words that I didn’t expect I would ever use to describe the food here. Maybe a touch of spices or herbs added to the consommé? (I was reminded of the hana sansho season as I wrote this) Seems like the element of aromas was missing throughout the menu anyway, to be honest, while most garnishes focused on the appearances of the dish. 

The theme of soy sauce continued through to our last course of dessert, a simple one with the meringue stuffed with puff pastry in the middle and chocolate icecream served with the syrup made of caramelized soy sauce and coffee. It’s no secret that soy sauce paired well with chocolate but it’s still a creative combination the way it was presented, and the soy sauce flavor did bring out the sweet taste of the chocolate nicely. 

I thought I had the perfect bottle at home to go with the soy sauce dishes so I brought that along. The savory, mineral note of the Egly-Ouriet was always my favorite to go with Asian cuisine, and the bottle of rosé was a tad richer and creamier with a hint of marzipan, stood up well with the stronger dishes we had. We also went along with our good friend (and their restaurant manager) Francois’ recommendation for a bottle of red from Southern Rhode from their new wine menu. More savory than fruity in this one, probably because of the long aging, some licorice and pepper with a hint of soy sauce on the palate did make it a nice match with the soy sauce flavor.

We were happy that we started off the long weekend with a relaxing lunch with our friends over some lovely dishes and time spent together at the table. The first few courses were downright brilliant in concept and execution and I thought the single ingredient theme was kinda cute and fun, though I couldn’t help but feel they went flat towards the second half of the meal. And the omission of midnardises at the end, which normally would have been one of the most anticipated parts of the meal here, certainly didn't go unnoticed though my verdict was reached way before that. With the second Michelin star that the restaurant earned this year, which by the way was a well-deserved one, it's only fair that I expected slightly more. 

More photos here:

When? April 2 2021
Where? Tate Dining Room, 201 Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Mandarin Fish with Steamed Fish Soy Sauce
Champagne Egly-Ouriet Grand Cru Rose Brut NV (Disgorged July 2020)
1999 Domaine le Clos des Cazaux “Cuvee des Templiers” AOC Vacqueyras

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