NUR-ly Perfect Gastronomy at NUR

There are a number of new restaurant openings in April, succinctly illustrated in Lifestyle Asia’s 10 New Restaurants to Visit this April. which I have been using as a guideline.  Dinner at Cocotte a couple of weeks ago was an enjoyable affair with well-executed French brasserie dishes, and I have a reservation at Mott 32 next week, but it was last night’s dinner at NUR that had me rushing to the keyboard with blogging fever.

Not in a while has Hong Kong seen a restaurant opening as refreshing as this one. NUR has all the elements of modernist fine dining that I love, but without all the fussiness.  Innovative cuisine, beautiful plating (I just love the use of edible flowers), thoughtful choices on the source of ingredients and a perfectly cohesive flow of tasting courses, without having to dress up, keep your back straight and talk in hushed voices.

NUR’s dining room is well-spaced out, almost too much so – they could easily fit another table in the dining room for all the eager diners waiting to get a reservation. Or maybe it’s because I’m so used to tables being packed together in small spaces in Hong Kong restaurants that I find all that space slightly unsettling – speaking like a true Hong Konger!

The Private Terrace table (smoking area)

The Private Terrace table (smoking area)

There is a non-smoking terrace overlooking the Wellington/Lyndhurst junction, and one intimate table for four on the smoking terrace – whether or not you smoke is your choice, but you may have other guests coming out for a cheeky one. It’s a beautiful space, apart from the exhaust fans whirring overhead, which you kind of just get used to after a while. There, you are surrounded by NUR’s private garden, complete with interesting plant specimens to look at while you’re waiting for your next course. It demonstrates a physical translation of the main vision of the restaurant as well – nourishing cuisine, responsibly and locally-sourced whilst lessening the carbon footprint as much as possible.

There are two choices of tasting menus, “Light” with six courses at HK$788, and “Feast” with three extra courses at HK$988. We went all out, bien sur, the reason being the tomato course which has received rave reviews but is not included on the Light menu.

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From right: Beetroot crisp with watercress emulsion, Carrots with cumin yoghurt and carrot powder, Nasi pear and cucumber with jasmine kombucha

We started with some amuse-bouches –  the beetroot taco wasn’t crisp any more when it came to the table and collapsed upon touching it, but the watercress emulsion was smooth and tasty. The carrots were wonderfully glazed, and the pear and cucumber morsels were very refreshing and light, with a healthy shot of jasmine kombucha.

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Gillardeau Oyster, cucumber, wasabi

The oyster was served raw and cool with a warm cucumber and wasabi foam, which we spooned out of the shell eagerly.

Believe it or not, I forgot to take a photo of the tomato course! I guess I was too excited to eat it. The main element of the dish is heirloom tomatoes from the Zen organic farm in Fan Ling – they were quite simply, fabulous. It has inspired us to make a trip out to the farm next weekend, which I will blog, naturally. A clear tomato broth was poured over the tomatoes at the table, warm and infused with tomato flavour, and 100% lives up to the hype.

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Irish organic salmon, beetroot, smoked buttermilk, dill

The salmon, which appeared to be cooked sous vide, literally melted in mouth. The beetroot had been marinated to create a sweet and sour element to the dish which went well with the creamy smoked buttermilk, herby dill sauce and crunchy popped grains.

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This dish is reminiscent of Michel Bras’ famous dish called gargouillou, hailed by some to the best vegetarian dish on earth. The 4 page recipe is certainly the most complicated one that you will ever find for a salad!

The NUR version is most certainly not as complicated, but combines the basic elements of serving raw and cooked vegetables, a tasty sauce and flowers to create a complex a salad that is not only healthy but also beautiful.  For an additional cuteness factor, you are given chopsticks to eat this course.

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Akrame – Trying to make the fleeting, unforgettable

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Putting trust in the kitchen

Firstly, before I start, I shall issue a spoiler alert! Akrame is like a good movie that loses a bit of it’s charm if the movie trailer is just a bit too informative, or if there is too much expectation riding on it. I know the whole idea of a restaurant review is to give you an idea of what you’re going to be eating, and help you decide whether or not it’s worth shelling out some money for, but let me just stop you there and assure you – Akrame is worth it. Secondly, whilst all of the photos really do showcase the creative thought and attention to detail in each Akrame dish, the menu changes every two weeks, thus it may be that the dishes you see here will not be served when you visit.

Menu Planning, by Akrame

Menu Planning, by Akrame

As we sat down at our table, PB told me a little story about the chef Akrame Benallal, which I shall now tell to you. He had a very modest childhood and growing up without his father, he learned quickly to take care of himself. When Benallal was doing his restaurant apprenticeship at the tender age of 14, which was 25km away from his home, he used to hitch hike every day without other means to get there.  In 2004, he wrote to Ferran Adrià explaining that he had a lot to learn, and he wanted to work under him at El Bulli. After a stint there and also working with Pierre Gagnaire (who Benallal calls “Beethoven in the kitchen”), at the age of 25 he opened a restaurant in Tours, but his food was so molecular, too complicated. One day, some of his regular customers walked in, and Benallal decided that instead of making his deconstructed molecular tomato dish, he plated a black Krim tomato with salt, pepper and some olive oil … and the customers said it was magnificent. Sadly it was too late as his restaurant went bankrupt, but so the story goes from there …

To read more about the inner workings of this dynamic young chef, this SCMP article is a good one.

There is no menu at Akrame, you are simply offered a choice of a four-course (HK$788) or six-course(HK$998) menu, with optional wine pairing for both (HK$368 and HK$528 respectively), making this the simplest ordering experience you will every have (even simpler than at The Principle).

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Amuse bouche – Olive crisp and greek yoghurt

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The amuse bouches – squid ink ‘paper’ with smoked eel, parmesan cookie with fish roe, turnip with anchovy and brown butter

After being served a yummy walnut and raisin bread with a tonka bean and lemon butter, we are given a selection of amuse bouches. The eel, served on the thinnest of thin wafers, and the turnip disks with anchovy sandwiched in between, were particularly memorable.

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In waiting for the soup course …

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Pumpkin soup with mandarin orange and rye bread crumbs – Paired with Delamotte NV champagne

The serving of the soup always seems to follow the same protocol – the soup dish is brought to the table with flavour components on display – in this case, mandarin orange slices and those wonderful rye breadcrumbs. They really added a nice texture. The soup was served HOT, smooth and silken. The dish was really a sum of its parts, and would have fallen short had it not been for all of its ingredients.

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Braised razor clams with spinach and spinach mayonnaise – paired with Domaine Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru

The razor clams were tender and tasted of the sea on a sunny day! The spinach was so very fresh and the riesling was very well paired.

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Raw oysters with passion fruit foam and oyster jelly – paired with Christian Moreau Chablis

We felt like the passion fruit foam over-powered the taste of the oysters, and both agreed that this was our least favorite dish of the night. The chablis was very mineral-y and complemented the tartness of the passion fruit perfectly however.

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The lobster is served raw, in a mason jar, then poached in a lobster and tarragon broth

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Poached lobster with celery root puree, chopped green apple and celery root, and a green apple compote – paired with La Moussiere Sancerre

At this point, the meal just kept getting better and better! Raw lobster tail poached at the table and served on a lightly-flavoured celery root purée, which really let the lobster shine. What a fantastic dish.

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A birthday dinner @ On Lot 10

It was a Sunday, and our mission was to find a restaurant to celebrate my dear friend DL’s birthday three days later.  At first we booked Tango, but when they asked us for a deposit (which is understandable, considering it was a booking for 14 people), AND a minimum spend of HK$750 per person (which I thought was utterly preposterous), I decided to find another option. Regardless of the fact that we most likely would have spent that much anyway,  Tango is not fine dining. It is not a private kitchen, nor were we booking a private room, and it was a rather hoity-toity of them to ask this of us!

The table setting

The table setting

I called around and amazingly, On Lot 10 was able to seat us! I’ve been there once before and I had good memories of it, but I must say, this visit really secured it a top place position in terms of favourite restaurants in my mind.

Spread over two floors decorated in clean whites and chocolate brown, On Lot 10 is an unassuming and understated gem serving French cuisine in large portions made to share. I am a fan of David Lai’s restaurants, and whilst Bistronomique in Kennedy Town is a bit far away for me, I always have to pop by Boulangerie Bistronomique whenever I am in the area, and I’m a regular at Kushiyaki Beco, one of my favourite places to go for a fun dinner with friends.

The menu is seasonal, and consists mainly of classic French dishes with a focus on what is in season and freshly available on the day. As a result, there are always daily fish and meat specials which are not on the menu, and other daily specials that can only be pre-ordered because of the longer cooking times.

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Beef Sirloin Tartare “Batutta” – foie gras, mushroom, celery, anchovy, parmesan HK$165

Hold the celery and this is one of the best versions of beef tartare that I’ve seen (the one at Upper Modern Bistro is pretty original also). I love the mandolin-sliced champignon de Paris, and the fresh foie gras adds an element of irresistible over-the-topness that is just so deliciously tempting!

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Boudin Basque “Christian Parra”, pimente d’Espelette HK$140

A little birdy told me that On Lot 10 uses the same boudin noir as La Cabane a Vin. Some interesting facts were gleaned from my further research – I found that Christian Parra is a 2 Michelin-starred French chef of restaurant Auberge de la Galupe in Urt who is famed for his boudin recipe, which is sold commercially and … it’s canned! I can’t wait to get my hands on some the next time I go to Paris.

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Bone Marrow Risotto – shallot, beef jus, aged “Acquerello” rice HK$170

This was just bursting with so much rich flavour and a perfect combination of textures that I could have ordered it for a main and been perfectly content for the rest of the evening. It was a favourite of the table – big chunks of marrow, creamy Acquerello risotto topped with a wonderful beefy sauce and crispy shallots.

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Scallops Crudo, preserved lemon, horseradish, watercress HK$165

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Whole Steamed Breton Artichoke, truffle anchovy dressing HK$150

Next came the main courses. The menu states that the large dishes are for two to share, but really by two they actually mean three (and for the whole roast chicken, even four).

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