Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Spanish Tasting Menu

Agora, under the same group as 22 Ships and a handful of other high-end restaurants in town, seems to fill one noticeable gap in local dining scene - one that specializes in fine-dining Spanish cuisine. Chef Antonio has done a great job keeping 22 Ships as one of the liveliest and most popular eateries so I have high hope he's going to do the same with Agora with a finer touch and setting more suitable for a cozier dining experience. 

Thought the restaurant designer did a reasonably good job turning the heritage site with a contemporary touch. Near the entrance was the show kitchen with a few seats at the counter, and towards the back were the proper marble-top dining tables plus the private room space. At our tasting session, we were presented with the longer of the two tasting menus offered with 10 different courses.  

The first two courses presented side by side gave us an idea of the style of cooking Chef Antonio brought to this new restaurant. Gazpacho and Pan con Tomate might be legendary Spanish dishes but both given a contemporary twist, with the former served in a small bowl with the cold cucumber soup topped with sweet melon espuma, and the latter done Microwave sponge cake style wrapped with Jamon Iberico. Avant-garde in a sense, but still in line with the tradition and both were delightful under the still warm weather in early October. And before that, the traditional family-style candeal bread with a crispy crust, mild-flavored but worked well with the dip of olive oil. 

We stuck with seafood dishes in the next few courses with bold flavors. Ajo blanco, another cold soup made with almonds, was paired with tongues of sea urchins for the nice and clean umami flavor; the Escabeche has a clear vinegar flavor, with the piece of Spanish Mackerel cured and served with tomato water and dots of fig leaf-infused oil. The tuna course kicked up a notch in richness with slices of fat belly meat, garum sauce (made with fermented fish), smoked aubergine and quenelle of Ossetra caviar combined. 

Sea cucumbers and Morcilla black sausage, each with contrasting flavor and textures, combined for a "surf n turf" course with sauteed teardrop peas served underneath, then the fillet of hake, with its delicate texture, was matched with percebes (Spanish gooseneck barnacles which was considered a delicacy) for another creative combination with traditional Ajada sauce. "No need to fight over Socarrat for this one," as Chef Antonio shared the idea behind the carabineros and bomba rice course, with the rice "cake" deep-fried for the crispy bits on the surface, with the large piece of red prawns topped with espuma made of prawn tomalley and aioli. 

The main course was the only exception to the seafood theme, with the Basque Txuleta beef done medium rare served with boletus mushroom, figs, and mushroom mousse. Love the rich meaty flavor from the meat coming from an old ex-dairy cow yet retaining the tender texture. We finished our meal in a similar manner as how we began, with a "bowl of white", horchata served with meringue, vanilla icecream with cherry foam, and then another blob of microware sponge cake, this time a sweet one with hazelnuts, with chocolate "olive" and drizzle of olive oil for the "pan con olivas". That's very cute. 

Went with a wine pairing with five different glasses served - all Spanish selection. Also no surprise that the mineral-rich Albarino blend from Rias Baixas was the one that worked very well with the seafood dishes. The red from Canary Island was the interesting one. Made using indigenous Negramolt grapes with medium body and predominantly red fruits. We finished with the sweet wine of the Muscat of Alexandria. Hint of candied mandarin and tropical flavor with some acidity to balance. 

When? October 5 2022
Where? Agora, Shop 14, G/F D Hall, Tai Kwun 10 Hollywood Road, Central
Menu Highlights? Scarab - Carabinero, Bomba Rice, Prawn Aioli
2016 Granmona Imperial Brut, Catalonia, Spain
2019 Bodegas Terras Gauda "O Rosal" Rias Baixas
2019 Bodegas Valdesil Valdeorras Mencia
2019 Vinatigo Negramolt DOP Islas Canavias
2020 Jorge Ordonez Malaga No1 Seleccion Especial
Web: www.jiagroup.co/restaurant/agora

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