Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Fine Old School

I am excited when my friend and birthday girl C managed to get a dinner booking at the legendary (and somewhat secretive) SBI Canteen a few weeks ago and asked us to join as part of the celebration. I haven't been back for more than a year so I was eager to try some of the signature dishes by Chef Tak which many considered as some of the finest in town based on traditional old-school recipes.   

We began our evening with a cake brought in by our host, with the eggy crepe cake topped with caviar which paired well with pair of Krug poured. One couldn't ask for a better Char Siu, prepared using Iberico Pork with the belly cut, which has the perfect charred crust and fat balance. In the past, Chef Tak would prepare the pig tripes in fine cuts and sauteed with vegetables and Chinese olive nuts, but this time, it's the more rustic version with the wider slices of pig tripes and done with black soybeans and bell peppers for a richer flavor and more of the bouncy texture. Then it was the scrambled "osmanthus" eggs with bean sprouts and fins, representing the textbook example of how this classic Cantonese dish should be prepared. The eggs were done soft and fluffy (like petals of osmanthus flowers, hence the name) and overall the dish was dry but tasty with many textures in play with just a handful of simple ingredients.

Bird's Nest and Partridge "Congee" is another old-school Cantonese dish, with braised bird's nest cooked with minced partridge and superior broth with the consistency similar to congee but done without rice. The pair of wild-caught sole was steamed and topped with scallions and sweet soy sauce – everything was just perfectly done, whether that be the doneness of the fish, the condiments with just a hint of aromas and the sweet soy sauce that brought out the umami flavor. The "Hundred Treasure Duck" was done in traditional fashion, with scores of ingredients cut into brunoise size and stuffed in the cavity and then braised in brown gravy – again, quite possibly the best version I have ever tried with the meat just nicely brined, moist and flavorful. 

Braised Bamboo Pith and Pigeon Egg was a dish the host specifically requested. Only a handful of chefs know how to make this dish these days, with the delicate pigeon eggs poached then coated in batter and deep-fried, and in the center was the bamboo pith braised in superior broth and finished with crab roe gravy sauce and vegetables. It was said that the pigeon eggs need to prepared diligently to get that perfect texture without overcooking them. After that it was stir-fried satay beef with steamed rice flour rolls then the pair of desserts, first the steamed birthday buns with lotus seed paste, and the smoothing longan, red date and Chinese almond sweet soup. 

With everyone in celebratory mood we averaged almost a bottle of wine per person – some in double bottles and some in magnum, with some interesting choices contributed by our friends. Can’t go wrong with the Krug, especially with the caviar served in the cake. C shared with us a bottle of Dom Perignon 1975 from her father’s stash (“not her birth year”, she categorically said and I felt obligated to put this on record) Not in the best upkeep I have to say judging from high level of evaporation but very much still drinkable and tasted younger than it was – even with some bubbles. Cooking apples on the palate and hint of caramel, still got some acidity. The bottle we bought in, the 2001 Lynch-Bages was the second oldest. Came of age already, and showed plenty of feminine characters (medium-bodied, red fruits, mild tannins) but quite pleasant to drink with milder dishes. 

When? April 22 2023
Where? SBI Canteen, Mercer Street, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Braised Bamboo Pith with Pigeon Eggs and Crab Roes 鴿蛋蟹皇扒竹笙
Champagne Charles Mignon Comte de Marne Brut Grand Cru NV
Champagne Krug Grande Cuvee Brut 170eme Edition MV (Krug ID 221034)
Opus One Overture NV
2017 Weingut Daniel & Marta Gantenbein Pinot Noir, Graubunden, Switzerland
2012 Occidental “SWK Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Country, USA
2011 Domaine Dujac Mont St-Denis Premier Cru
2018 Domaine Heitz-Lochardet Merusault Premer Cru Perrieres (en Magnum)
2001 Chateau Lynch Bages, Pauillac
2006 Chateau Gazin, Pomerol
1975 Champagne Dom Perignon Brut
2018 Marchesi Antinori Castello della Sala Muffato, Umbria IGT

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