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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The Principal: Deserving of a 1 Star Rating

There are only certain occasions when I agree with the Hong Kong Michelin Guide‘s rating of a particular restaurant in Hong Kong – you know as well as I do that some of their 1 Star ratings are just preposterous. However I am so happy (and so is my belly) to say that The Principal is completely, entirely 100% deserving of it’s 1 Star rating!

Chef de Cuisine Jonay Armas hails from the Canary Islands and takes a fresh and thought-provoking approach to each of the contemporary European dishes. He applies molecular techniques to some, whilst others are more complex versions of traditional dishes, and each dish appeals to your five sensations of taste: sweetness, sourness, saltiness, bitterness, and umami.  There are three Tasting Menus available, and what is more notable is that one is of them is entirely vegetarian.

We went for the 7 course menu at HK$ 890 with optional wine pairing – some dishes are certainly more impressive than others; PB and I found that with each course that was served, we were more and more excited to be served the next. I would definitely say that this is the best of The Press Room Group‘s restaurants, and we are eagerly anticipating our Sunday Brunch reservation in January 2014 (it gets booked out weeks in advance). If you are looking for a date venue to impress, boys, this is the restaurant to reserve a table at.

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SNACKS: Passion Campari

The server will warn you not to take a bite of this, but to put the whole thing in your mouth. Once you take a bite, a cool, passion fruit Campari-laced liquid bursts out of its waxey container, much to your surprise!

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SNACKS: Mimetic peanut

This peanut buttery imitation of a peanut definitely amuses your bouche. I love how it is served on a bed of crushed peanut shells.

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Sesame Dentelle & Pâté Bonbon

These two were less impressive, but you can never go wrong with a pâté bonbon!

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UNI: Chawanmushi, sea urchin, sake, dates

On The Principal website, chef Armas says, “My aim is to respect the origins of each ingredient, to pay homage to the cooking methods that have come before while introducing my own interpretation.” Well he has certainly done this with the UNI dish – chawanmushi served in a cute sea urchin vessel and topped with uni and a date crumble (of sorts).

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EGG: Free-Range Onsen Egg, Iberico Ham, Parmentier, Chanterelles

I love, love, love onsen egg, and order it whenever I see it (here, here and here). This one did not disappoint, with potato cream and the most delicious fresh petit pois. When was the last time you ate a fresh green pea? I can’t even remember … before this dinner, of course.

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A very souped-up version of Egg and Soldiers

PB lifted up the glass bowl to get the very last bit in the bottom, and all of a sudden, we smelled SMOKE! We didn’t realise immediately where it was coming from and thought that perhaps something was burning in the kitchen, but we then noticed the wood-scented smoke trapped in the hollow space at the bottom of the glass bowl.

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BLUE LOBSTER: butternut, béarnaise, wild rice, tarragon

The wild rice was crispy like a popped rice, which imparted a smokey, burned popcorn flavour.

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COD: Black and white

The white sauce was a cod-juice cream, and I can’t recall what the black was.

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A view from the top

Bulgarian Bessa Valley Wine

Bulgarian Bessa Valley Wine

The wine list atlas at The Principal is impressive both in its size and in its range. We opted for the wine pairing for our meal (HK$400), and found it to be of excellent value and selection. We were served a new glass of wine with each course, and towards the end were making an effort to finish our glasses before the next course.

For our main course selection, we were served this Bulgarian wine, and I was intrigued enough to take a picture. I’ve never tried (let alone heard of!!) Bulgarian wine before, so I decided to do a little research. Apparently, Bulgaria is one of the world’s oldest wine growing regions, but a law voted during the Gorbachev period as a result of anti-alcohol measures called for uprooting the country’s vines. The Enira vineyard is located in the Bessa Valley region, and for those planning a trip to Bulgaria any time soon, a wine tasting there sounds like good fun!

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SUCKLING PIG: Baby endives, lemon purée, cabbage, pomegranate

Whenever I take a Tasting Menu, I always find that the main course lacks the flair and genius that the appetiser courses do. This suckling pig was nice, but not as amazing as what preceded it.

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Upper Modern Bistro

Having effectively been out of Hong Kong for the last month and a half, I feel like I’ve come back and ten different new restaurants have opened. Not only are they new, but they are impressive restaurants that have been causing a buzz and sending my Facebook news feed into a visual frenzy of food photography.

We were out for a nice dinner with our friends, the elegantly gorgeous KW and her ever-amusing beau BB – with company such as theirs, a meal is always off to a good start!  Fish & Meat was fully booked, and we were lucky that Upper Modern Bistro has just had a cancellation.

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The whimsical ceiling feature @ Upper Modern Bistro

Mirrors and a full glass panel façade makes the restaurant feel very roomy, whilst the soft colour scheme makes the space comfortable and welcoming.  Your eyes are immediately drawn to the fabulous ceiling feature, the design apparently is attributed to chef Philippe Orrico’s love of eggs. The kitchen is set slightly higher than the dining room, and is visible from the street so that you are greeted by the sight of chefs busying away.

At the time of our visit, it felt like the façade was not yet completed, and I had to squint and search to confirm that this was indeed Upper Modern Bistro.  But once I entered the restaurant, I was truly excited to start my meal. Our friends had been raving about how amazing the food was at St. George, the restaurant where Orrico was head chef previously to opening his own place. I had never had the chance to go, and anticipated a great meal at Upper Modern Bistro.

There’s a snack menu, a tasting menu, and the main a la carte menu to choose from. As enticing as the snack menu looked, we decided to go straight to choosing our main meal. With the 4 of us dining, I have lots of lovely food pics for you here!

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Oyster w/ Ponzu Sauce @ HK$ 58 each

I started off with 2 Brittany oysters, they were crisp and not too big with a fabulous ponzu sauce.

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Steak Tartare HK$ 168

As my first choice of moules marinière was sold out, I went for a bistro staple – the steak tartare.  It was unconventional, served on a base of avocado, mixed with pecans instead of capers, and topped with a parmesan cheese foam. If you are a tartare traditionalist, you will be disappointed, as it hasn’t the tartness or the heavier flavours of a traditional tartare. This one is light, with no discerning meaty taste as the favours of the avocado and parmesan overpowered it a bit. Still, the flavours went well together, and I enjoyed the lightness of it.

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63° egg, sauteed crab meat and Bellota ham HK$ 148

63° eggs are one of UMB’s signature components, and Chef Orrico uses them in his main dish of Mushroom Tagliatelle also.

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A bird’s eye view

KW’s starter of Chestnut Soup (no photo!) was dreamy, a rich, sweet cream of chestnut with complimentary shavings of white Alba truffle. Delicious. In fact, if you like creamy soups as I do, I would say that soup is definitely one of Upper Modern Bistro’s strong points!

For the main courses, BB ordered a delectable Quail and Foie Gras Pie. It is limited on the menu and yet it was still available for us to order. I suppose it may sound too heavy and rich for many, but I liked its traditionalism.  One bite brought me back to a meal that I had at Au Petit Riche, an old-school Parisian restaurant, where traditional recipes such as meat pies and tête de veau are predominant on the menu.  And hey, it comes with a salad!  With truffles shavings again, no less.

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Quail and Foie Gras Pie with Lentil Sauce, HK$ 328

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Accompanying salad with truffles!

My main course was the most mainstream of them all, but just as well executed. The pasta was wonderfully fresh and cooked perfectly al dente, and the 63° egg oozed its bright yellow yolk to create a smooth, creamy sauce.

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Mushroom Tagliatelle, 63° egg, cheese sauce and parma ham HK$ 168

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Oozing egg…

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Sole a la meuniere, butternut sauce and sauteed mushrooms HK$ 248

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In Pictures – L’Altro


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I’ll first take this opportunity to wish Happy New Year to everybody! May 2013 bring you even more happiness, good fortune, delectable meals and lovely friends to eat them with! It has been some time since my last post, and for a good reason – yes, it was Christmas and then new year, but more than anything else, I have been preoccupied with another type of food. Food for the soul – LOVE. Yes, gooey, icky, sweet and wonderful LOVE. I have gone from having a truly amazing boyfriend, to having a truly amazing fiancé! For the next 10 months, wedding planning is going to be taking up a large part of my life and most of my spare time, and although I am tempted to perhaps have a little hiatus from blogging, I am always eating good food and wanting to write about it. So my posts may be scarce, and a tad shorter than usual – but I can’t give up the other love of my life – food.

As part of the celebration for our engagement, my fiancé (takes a bit of getting used to!) took my parents and myself to a wonderful new Italian restaurant in town. Another in a line of restaurants opened by foreign Michelin-starred & celebrity chefs, L’Altro is headed by Philippe Leveille, a two star Michelin chef of Miramonti l’Altro in Brescia, Italy, who serves Italian food with a French twist and flair.

Diners have the option of ordering à la carte, or from two tasting menus: a 6-course Tasting Menu 1 for $880 (gotta love those numbers, why not just go all the way and make it $888??), and an 8-course Tasting Menu 2 for $1080. When we visited in early December, we also had the option of the White Truffle Tasting Menu, which could be ordered with or without truffles. Now, dare I wonder why they would offer a menu that was built around the truffle with an option to not have it with the main attraction, but my man and my stepdad were more attracted by it – so we ordered two of these menu and two Tasting Menu 2s, and shared.

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We were all served this lovely amuse bouche of fois gras with a sugar/nut croquant and green apple sauce (if I remember correctly) – yum!

White Truffle Tasting Menu

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Cauliflower Cream

Wonderfully creamy, a little on the thicker side, it didn’t exactly pique our interest for the rest of the meal, but it was a nice and light way to start it.

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Potato compote, confit lobster, asparagus olive oil emulsion

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