Monday, December 27, 2021

Winter Treats

I do miss coming to "SBI Canteen" (a.k.a. Softbank Kitchen") every now and then, especially during the winter season when Chef Tak prepared his famous Snake Soup in this cozy, referral-only speakeasy. And in my last visit a couple months ago, we were lucky to get a dose of double whammy with the seasonal soup course plus another one serving in succession. 

I couldn't recall eating with so many at this venue before, and I believe they were stretched to the limit with a long table set up just for us in one of the two "private rooms". Our friend J and A organized everything, working out the menu with the chef and sort out our wine contribution and pairing order. Most, if not all of the dishes we had were a repeat of my previous visits, but in here, it's not about the new dishes but the tried-and-true ones made perfect but the chef focusing on just that. 

We began with a few hot appetizer dishes. The char-siu was on the fatty side, using the butt collar cut with a nice maltose glaze brushed on top for the bits of slightly burnt crust. The Pan-fried bird nest meringue was delicate and beautifully presented, with the braised bird's nest formed into quenelle shape, dipped in a light batter and carefully pan-fried to firm up. 

The "julienned shrimp" was done in a similar way as Chiuchow style fish "noodles", with the minced shrimp meat piping into noodle shape and stir-fried with julienned vegetables and toasted Indian almonds. The mild umami flavor combined well with the smoky nuts with different textures in every bite. The deep-fried crab claws were prepared using the large local mud crabs, with shells carefully removed partially and deep-fried in a delicate (but well-seasoned) batter. 

Normal Cantonese-style banquet menu called for one substantial "soup" dish in the middle of the meal but we ended up with two this time. The "Buddha Jumps Over the Wall" Casserole was presented first, with the extra-big casserole (for 15 of us) filled with all traditional Cantonese seafood delicacies one could think of, like the abalones, fish maw, sea cucumber and more, and it's slow-braised and reduced in superior broth made of ham and pork. It's amazingly good, as it always has been. Snake Soup was the one course I anticipated most since one couldn't find a better version anywhere in this world - while it's still better than the second-best by a good margin, I thought it's slightly under-seasoned this time - I felt the broth base was not cooked for as long as before.  

A pair of steamed wild soles was next, and again, served in extra portion. I am amazed how Chef Tak managed to source wild-caught soles in such sizes on a regular basis and these ones were perfectly cooked with the silkiest meat. And to finish up, it's the salt-baked chicken, braised pea-shoots with liver sausages, fried glutinous rice with cured meat, and the classic dessert of red bean soup with dried mandarin peel, all delivered in outstanding quality. 

With a long food menu and a big group of people it just made sense with an equally long list of bottles. A few of them were remarkable, including the 1963 Armagnac which was the perfect accompaniment for the Buddha-jumps-over-the-wall and the 1966 Chateau L'Evangile for the last two savory dishes of sauteed pea shoots and glutinous rice. 

When? November 12 2021
Where? No 9 SBI Canteen, Mercer Street, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? "Buddha Jumps Over the Wall" Casserole
2009 Champagne Dom Perignon Brut
2018 Champagne Cedric Bouchard Roses de Jeanne (Disgorged April 2020)
2006 Champagne Krug Brut
2018 Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru "Clavoillon"
2017 Santini Collective Bourgogne le Bourguignon En Louissance 2018
2017 Claire Naudin Cote de Nuits "Viola Odorata"
2019 Domaine Paul Pernot Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru
1966 Chateau L'Evangile Pomerol
2009 Chateau Pontet-Canet Pauillac
1963 Marcel Trepout Armagnac

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