Friday, February 24, 2023

Eight Slices Tasting Menu

We have had tasting menus of different themes before but I believe this is the first time we have a "Menu Degustazione" around pizzas. We made the booking as soon as we heard the Pizza Bar on 58th at Mandarin Oriental Tokyo is doing a popup at Landmark Mandarin and very happy that we did - soon enough it was booked out. 

For 2 weeks in February, the private room next to Amber and Somm, the hotel's other restaurants, was converted into a makeshift pizza bar and kitchen, with 12 seats across the long and tall counter where chefs Daniele and Paolo (the executive chef and chief pizzaiolo respectively) from Mandarin Oriental Tokyo presented a 9-course tasting menu at dinner time, with all but one course pizzas in various shapes and forms and ingredients. 

The space was cozy, or even a bit tight, but we were told it's already bigger than the original 8-seat setting in their Tokyo location and this way we could observe up close all the actions, from kneading and tossing to the steamy hot finished piece coming out of the specialty oven placed on the side of the kitchen. So it was almost like a workshop just without the hands-on. 

First course was the only non-pizza dish of the night, with chunks of Japanese fruit tomatoes paired with a slab of goat cheese, a slice of ham and dots of basil puree over a mildly acidic vinaigrette with tomato water. It was refreshingly sweet with the hint of punchy goat cheese and savory ham flavor. And while the appetizer was served, chefs began the preparation for our pizza courses by carefully moving the super fluffy dough (which has gone through the long 48-hour fermentation in the container and soft like a stuffed feather pillow), turning and stretching into the desired shape. 

Chef Daniele went on to explain his techniques, using a mix of different Italian flours, small amount of yeast (half the usual) but a much longer fermentation process (48 hours), and higher-than-normal water ratio (80%). On the menu he uses a variety of ingredients, some classic to specific areas in Italy, while some adopted to local produce and seasonality. We started with the simplest, with a slice of Pizza Bianca with just olive oil and chopped parsley on top, followed by the Bufala, with blobs of Buffalo Mozzarella and basil on top of spread of chopped tomatoes. 

I had my fair share of pizza in my life (well, who doesn't, going through college) but certainly no expert, but I love how airy the dough was. The slice is on the thin side similar to classic Neapolitan style with a soft but crispy crust and slightly bouncy dough with plenty of air pockets on the crust - the results of fermentation and intentionally kept there by chef's delicate hand while kneading and tossing to add to the volume. And of course having the pizza served to our plate within minutes of it pulling out of the oven is the bonus. So steamy hot that it's a bit tricky to be handled by hands. 

Pizzino was said to be the most popular item on Pizza Bar's menu since Day One and I can totally see why. Best part of the pizza was undoubtedly the crust and for Pizzino, they did it in a smaller size and in square flatbread shape so it maximize the amount of crust one would get for each piece that was cut out. And the toppings are simple - mascarpone, chopped black olives, scallions, and before serving, grated winter truffles. It was additively delicious, and I felt this is one bite I will never get tired of. 

Sansai, or Japanese Mountain Vegetables, was my favorite of the evening. The collection of seasonal wild vegetables – most of them rarely seen or used outside of Japan - was said to be the classic taste of Spring season in Japanese cuisine. I was curious how that would turn out when they decided to use those as pizza toppings with the likes of Fukinoto (butterbur buds), Kogomi (ostrich fern), Shungiku (chrysanthemum leaves),  Taranome (Angelica buds), Takenoko (bamboo shoots), and Yama Udo (mountain asparagus), chopped, sliced and mixed and placed on top of a pizza bianco base with three kinds of cheeses (Stracciatella, Provolone and Mozzarella) The unique hint of bitter and earthy flavor from the sansai combined well with the creamy and slightly sweet cheese taste.

The Hokkaido king crab and uni pizza was the one they created just for the Hong Kong pop-up, which was a slight modification from the original version using cabbage and brussels sprouts as the other toppings. Was expecting they would at least attempt to use some local ingredients for a special version but then this one was decent, except there isn’t quite enough sea urchins placed on top of the pizza base to make its taste distinctive. We moved on to two more pieces in more traditional style, including the Cinque Fromage (with five difference cheeses with drizzle of truffle honey on top) and the Calzone, the folded pizza loaded with cheeses and with the spicy N’duja sausage. 

Our dessert was, well as you can imagine, another pizza, with slices of Japanese “Red Pearl” strawberry, goal yogurt, rose petals, strawberry jam and finished with drizzles of chocolate syrup on top. It’s delicate and sweet. We went along with the wine pairing option available with the special menu, with five glasses poured – all Italian selection. The white wine from Campania (served as our third glass) was the one I like most, with nice golden straw color, ripe citrus taste, refreshing floral aroma and some minerals on the palate too. 

"Any challenge you face doing this pop-up in Hong Kong?" Don't remember if it's me or someone else raised this question, but he shared with us the different temperature and humidity in Hong Kong (as compared to Tokyo) makes it tricky for the team to gauge the time needed for the yeast to work its magic to the dough for the perfect texture. But they made the adjustments quickly and delivered everything flawlessly. This is not only a lovely and satisfying meal but a good lesson on pizza making, learning from the maestro and one of the best in the trade.  

(Dinner was from a special restaurant pop-up event with an one-off menu)

When? February 17 2023
Where? Pizza Bar on 58th Pop-up at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, 15 Queen’s Road Central, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Sansai – Assorted Green Mountain Vegetables, Stracciatella, Provolone and Mozzarella Cheese
2020 Zarfetto Tre Venti Extra Brut Prosecco Superiore Rive di Ogliano DOCG, Veneto, Italy
2020 Fattoria Coroncino Gaiospino, Verdicchio del Castelli di Jesi DOC, Marches, Italy
2010 I Favati Terrantica Etichetta Bianca Greco di Tufo DOCG, Campania, Italy
2015 Poggiotondo Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Italy

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