Degustation

Where:
Cure
21 Keong Saik Road
Singapore 089128

Phone:
+65 6221 2189 (or email reserve@curesingapore.com)

Price:
SGD110 (+7% GST and 10% service) for the seven course tasting menu.  Add another SGD90 (+7% GST and 10% service) if you want the matching wine.

The deal:
Cure isn’t a new restaurant in Singapore, opening in 2015.  Situated on Keong Saik Road, it’s small and straightforward in muted tones of grey, bronze and emerald accents with  soft lighting and warm oak tones and tabletops to keep it from feeling too austere.  The menu changes monthly depending on what produce is available and seasonal.  Cue the promo shot of the white chef chilling in the grimey wet markets holding a fish cause ya know, LOCAL ASIAN SHIZZZZZZ.  But really, how much does this “eating seasonal” count for in a world where almost every single restaurant in the world is claiming to be changing their menu depending on the phase of the moon and whatever stupid sprout they managed to forage out of a crack in a volcanic rock that was lodged within a mound of lichen underneath the Látrabjarg cliffs in Iceland, that’s only available from the 12th April to the 23rd May every fucking year?  Regardless of my cynicism about seasonality, Cure is run by the Irish chef/owner, Andrew Walsh, and promises “top-notch plates, solid drinks and personable service that is delivered in a casual yet refined environment”, taking inspiration from both his European background as well as his time in Asia.  Predictable, his CV lists a billion stints at Michelin starred restaurants, including Sous Chef at the Michelin-starred Pollen Street Social by Jason Atherton and at Tom Aikens’ namesake restaurant in the UK.  

When it’s a restaurant in this style, I like to do the tasting menu because not only do I get to divest myself of any decision making, I get to see what is the story the chef wants to tell.  To start shit off, it’s Cure’s seeded sourdough bread, served with bacon flecked butter and pickled diced cabbage.  Predictably, the house made butter with rendered bacon fat is as fucking delicious as anyone could hope from a fat-on-fat combo.  With this bread, I feel my heart letting its guard down – that I might actually have a modern dining meal which is well thought out and meaningful.  It might seem small, but the bread course is the measure by which I judge any restaurant.  If a chef gives a fuck about his or her free bread, then it’s an indicator of someone who’s gonna give a fuck about everything else that he’s doing.  The pickled cabbage is acidic and tangy, reminding me of the pickled mustard greens that’s used in Chinese cooking and mixed with the creamy fattiness of the butter and the slight sour edge of the naturally leavened bread, it’s complete and well rounded, as my feelings swell and I wrestle with my inner demons to not ask for more bread because there’s so much more food to come.

breadit

Sauce

There’s an assortment of “Cure Snacks” which are deftly and thoughtfully executed.  Our first course is the “Scallop / Vietnamese Dressing / Coriander / Yuzu”, a half shell perched against a pile of tiny pebbles, all elegant fuck yeah beauty with the scallop topped with coriander granita, minature violet petals and a single micro-sorrel leaf.  Most importantly, nothing has been dumped on this dish for aesthetics with every single element bringing something to this dish.  The flavour of the scallop is accentuated through pairing it with the green flavours of the coriander and the single micro-sorrel leaf and brightening it all up with the yuzu and the pop of the Vietnamese style dressing, the icy coriander tinged granita keeping everything fresh and crisp, like a spray of brisk ocean water.

Shit really gets real at the “Squid noodles / Onion Dashi / Chicken Wing”.  This is Cure’s riff on ramen, substituting the noodles with slices of raw squid which cooks slightly as the onion dashi is poured over it.  There’s an egg yolk in the soup which you stir through while adding toasted rice and crispy seaweed pieces.  This dish is fucking stunning, a complete and utter knock out, and unlike anything I’ve ever eaten before but still so familiar at the same time.  It’s the dish that has it all, the different texture from the slightly chewy squid noodles which contrast against the light crispy toasted rice and seaweed, and the heavier bite and chew of the chicken wing.  But it’s the broth that steadfastly anchors this dish all together, the onion dashi broth is sweet and clear on its own, when the egg yolk is mixed with it, it takes on this creamy, richness adding  to the onion’s depth of flavour and pulling every element of this forthright dish into its centre.

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The “Foie gras brulee / Cinnamon / BBQ Sweet Corn” .  Served with a side of small jam stuffed donuts, these were potentially the only flawed component of the entire meal, as they were a little dry inside.  Not a fatal flaw though because any dryness was compensated for by spreading caramelised foie gras onto them.  Tinged with cinnamon and the sweet corn kernels, this dish was so  perfectly balanced that if this dish was an athlete, it’d be ready to take out Olympic gold on the beam.

For the closest thing to a main, it’s the “Beef Short Rib / Green Asparagus / Pomelo / Green Curry”.  I sigh with relief when they don’t fuck it up, because I’m sick of going to fine dining restaurants that get to the main course and seem to just stop giving a fuck.  Probably because the kitchen is dead exhausted from creating flavour filled, over tweezed tiny bite sized starters and just end up frying up bits of protein while seasoning it with  “that’ll fucking do” and “fuck me, cooking beef in larger portions sure gets boring”.

To close it’s a dessert consisting of chocolate textures, a smear of pandan mousse and coconut ice-cream.  Which is simple, cooling and an elegant as fuck close.  I’m into it and there’s always a complimentary miniature ice-cream sandwich is received when you are presented with the not inconsequential bill.

So, I get pretty fucking jaded when it comes to fancy restaurants and tasting menus because often they’re so ham fisted and you don’t get an idea of who the chef really is versus what the chef thinks people want to eat.  Whether it’s the chase for meaningless Michelin stars or restaurant rankings, it’s so easy for these restaurants to buy into the concept of what they want to be, rather than what makes them be.  Then you have a meal at somewhere like Cure where it’s just a chef cooking his heart out and laying his soul out on every purposefully selected ceramic plate, drawing on where he’s loved, lived and eaten.  Where every component and ingredient on this dish is there with steady purpose, unwavering and poised.  Where the sum of the ingredients is greater than each piece, without relying on over the top techniques or bombastic gimmicks.  And it’s in these quiet moments that are stripped down and bare, you can have this realisation that food is a medium that connects you to an experience.  And how fucking special is that?  It all just comes down to one chef treating his ingredients with respect, pulling them together in a way that’s honest and thought out and that’s more exciting than numbered lists, fancy photos or chefs who’ve worked with all the big names.  It just comes down to the plate and all the heart behind it and how this resonates in the depths of your being even when the food’s all gone.

coachtaylorcleareyes

Which is everything I fucking love about food. Which is why I know I’ve felt true love, honest, shining and pure in Singapore.

Verdict:
So here is where it gets a bit fucking complicated – because when I wrote the bulk of the above review, I was all “FUCK YEAH – I will absolutely put my face on this one – that is, if you go here and have a shit time you have got my full permission to punch me in my goddamn face.  HOLY FUCKING SHIT, some of the best food I’ve had this year“.  I’ve been to Cure twice this year and it was absolutely some of the best meals that I’d eaten this year.

However, just before I finished the above review, I went back to Cure again for the third time and the wheels just came off so hard.  It was devastating, as I’d been looking forward to it all week and then it fell victim to one of the worst sins ever of a tasting menu – drawn out, sluggish timing and food that came out a bit cold.  Like WTF, can I even find it in my body to care if your dessert is delicious if it’s taken me 3.5 hours for it to get to the seventh course and all I want to do is go the fuck home because I’m fucking exhausted and so annoyed that this is taking so goddamn long?

cryinggirl-attable

I raised the glacial speed timing of our food with the wait staff several times and they were nice enough about it (without actually addressing it head on or giving me any comfort that shit was gonna improve), even discounting our tasting menu price from the seven course to the five course menu.  So now I’m all conflicted because how can I give Cure the super OTT FUCK YEAH I was going to give it when the third time let me down and it would have solidly been a fuck no?  How can I tell my faithful FYN homies that if they go to Singapore they need to go to Cure to get their fuck yeah noms on when my last time was such a fuck no?  But I also get it.  Restaurants are run by humans (who are generally busting their balls to get the food out) and on some nights, shit just doesn’t go right, no matter what everyone’s best intentions are.  But when you’re laying down big money, the expectations for it to go right are high.  Is this the culinary equivalent of having two amazing dates and you start to tell your friends that this could be THE ONE and then when he finally rolls around to meet your friends, he’s 45 minutes late and his jokes don’t hit as hard as you thought they would.  So instead of your friends telling you “YASSS, now don’t fuck this one up”, they’re all “Well, I guess he’s nice and he has a good job.  I mean…if he makes YOU happy”.  I’m conflicted as fuck guys and I think the only way I can properly resolve this is to go back for a fourth time.  But considering the heart ache I felt the next morning after a meal that went down into fuck no timing territory, I don’t know if my heart can take the potential of Cure striking out at number four.  Perhaps it’s better to take those two perfect moments and press them between the pages of my fuck yeah memories and move the fuck on.

heartbreaking

Until further judgment, the jury’s out. But I still dream of love and those two perfect dates, when my heart swelled inside my tiny little chest and I pushed it back with fuck yeah bread and stories made of gorgeous, honest and tiny plates of fuck yeah food.

Where:
Noma Australia
23 Barangaroo Ave
Barangaroo, Sydney, Australia

Price:
AUD485 (USD372 / HKD2,890) per person (with the matched wines clocking in at AUD215 (USD165 / HKD1,280).

The deal:
The omnipotent reputation and weight of Noma is crushing. So much so that Noma can announce that it’s going to leave its digs in Copenhagen, Denmark and spend 10 weeks in Sydney, Australia and even with the eye watering price tag and not knowing exactly what this will entail, a throng of eager punters crushed the servers and snapped up all of the available tickets in mere minutes and then 27,000 wannabe customers piled onto the waitlist in the faint hope that someone might give their golden ticket away. Through some judicious planning which involved a coordinated syndicate of food obsessed assholes agreeing to target certain dates and table sizes, I was lucky enough to secure a booking for a table of eight and planned an international trip to Sydney around it.

Our booking was for Noma Australia’s third last night in town and I’d tried to stay on a relative media blackout, spotting the occasional picture online but resisting the urge to read the write ups so I could approach it without any preconceptions. Arriving just as the Sydney sun was slipping away over the harbour, we sit outside on the wooden table and benches as Noma’s waitstaff efficiently flit around and sort us out with an aperitif, their take on the Snakebite as we have a clear view of their chefs preparing various components in both their inside and outside kitchen. The choice of the Snakebite sets an indicative humorous tone which pervades some dishes, playing on a drink which traditionally is a blend of cheap beer and cider (sometimes with the addition of red cordial to hide the alcohol related atrocities which lurk below), favoured by young Australians who don’t know better other than they want to get wasted as quickly as possible. In this rendition though, it’s a cider / beer inspired blend made by Ashley Huntington of Two Metre Tall in Tasmania, using a combination of a seven year old ale, a two year old apple cider, a two year old pear cider and young soured ale, which is lightly effervescent and highly drinkable. I guess old Australian drinking habits die hard because I could have easily finished off a bottle of this.

Even at the end of ten weeks just as the Australian summer turns itself into autumn, the staff show not a shred of apathy and in fact seem to be beaming from their time in Australia, forming a guard to greet every table as they pass through the entrance and hold me back, René Redzepi himself is front and centre greeting guests with a beatific smile. I resist all urge to lunge towards him to grab a tuft of his hair to sew into my deranged voodoo chef doll which enjoys foraging and exploring the boundaries of local produce and instead smile politely and try to act like oh hay, no biggie, it’s just René welcoming me into motherfucking NOMA AUSTRALIA.

The Foolscap Studio designed dining room is straight forward and simple, taking cues from the Australian outback as well as Noma’s Danish heritage, with the art work taking inspiration from the ochre hued Australian landscape and the placement of several native blackboy grass trees. The Carl Hansen & Sons wooden tables and chairs have been shipped in from Denmark with the occasional wallaby fur pelt strewn across the back of a chair and a purposefully tousled bouquet of Australian foliage and flowers sitting in the centre of every table. There’s thirteen courses (ten savoury courses and three desserts) and no written menu is presented, with each course and the provenance of all the locally sourced ingredients explained by the enthusiastic staff at the beginning of each course.

The first tasting dish is the unripe macadamia and spanner crab, which uses thin slices of green macadamia nuts in a clear, chilled spanner crab consommé with a touch of rose oil. Served in an earthen stoneware bowl surrounded by ice, our waiter lets us know that it took the Noma team three days and several knives to figure out how to prise an unripe and stubborn macadamia from its shell. The sweet green macadamia is reminiscent of a firm water chestnut, playing well with the cool, sweet spanner crab consommé with only a hint of the floral rose peeking through.

The wild seasonal berries flavoured with gubinge (Kakadu plum), is a plate of native berries (including lillypillies, lemon aspen and muntries) and pickled lemon myrtle buds.  It’s beautiful as fuck, all pale pinks, greens, creams and yellows with the white powder of a Kakadu plum dusted all over. It’s an intense mix of sweet against sour, astringent and salty flavor profiles, the Kakadu plum powder reminding me of how the Taiwanese use plum powder on their pineapple or apples, to get that same fuck yeah salty and sweet flavor contrast.

The porridge of golden and desert oak wattleseed with saltbush looks innocuous enough, consisting of three saltbush leaves which are used to wrap a porridge made from two types of wattleseeds which have been boiled for hours to crack their tough outer seed cases, topped with a green oil made from anise myrtle. A finger lime and its caviar like insides is squeezed over this dish to cut through all the verdant flavours and nutty tones and this is the first dish of the night which knocks me the fuck over. I was the slowest person on my table to eat this dish because I wanted to understand every part of it on its own and all together and by the time I’d done this, I’d already eaten two of the three parcels, so I had to slow the fuck down so I could fully process what the fuck was going on in the final saltbush parcel as I declared multiple times that I was having a serious fuck yeah moment.

The seafood platter and crocodile fat, is five shellfish that are perched across smooth river rocks and topped with shards of chicken stock skin (imagine the film that forms when you roast a chicken and the oil drips to the pan and you allow that to cool slightly) painted with crocodile fat that look like the rock pools that dot our Australian coastline. I have no reference point for what crocodile fat should taste like and while the shards are interesting, it’s really all about the sweet simple flesh of the clams, mussel, pippi and oyster.

The WA deep sea snow crab with cured egg yolk comes with the René Redzepi’s claim that he thinks that this deep sea snow crab from Albany, located on the southern coast of Western Australia is one of the best in the world and it’s impossible not to feel some sort of patriotic pang of pride that this is Australia punching out its best on the global crab stage. This dish is fucking spectacular, the barely warm flesh of the snow crab just picked from its shell is mixed with an egg yolk which has been cured in kangaroo garum (fermented sauce made from kangaroo mince, which Noma started making back in October), rice koji (a fermented culture fed on rice, kept in a warm place)  and smoked butter. To mix this warm, sweet delicate meat with the cured egg yolk feels reminiscent of the salty egg yolks that you’ve had in Hong Kong, but topped with this barely there fish-sauce like note from the fermented kangaroo meat and koji creates something you’ve never had before but with a few familiar reference points.

That’s not to say that it’s all ecstatic rapture and the unbelievable swelling of new flavours. Noma’s take on the Australian tradition of the meat pie is made from dried scallops and topped with nasturtium flowers. The pie itself is a kelp crust, filled with nasturtium stems, topped with a brown, viscous and slightly grainy, sticky frozen topping made from combining dried Tasmanian scallops together with beeswax and elderflower oil.  Unfortunately, it reminds me of the brown grease that drips from my rangehood when it’s overdue for a clean. This is eaten with two accompanying yellow and orange nasturtium flowers (the earlier sittings at Noma ate this with a lantana flower), their peppery sharp flavour cutting through this greasy, rich scallop chilled fudge like paste but I’m unable to fully shake the smell of stale oil from my rangehood.

The next three courses are the BBQ’d milk ‘dumpling’ with marron and magpie goose, the simply named truffle and avocado and the sea urchin and tomato dried with pepper berries. The ‘dumpling’ uses a crispy milk skin crepe to wrap together a barely cooked marron (a small Australian lobster-like crustacean) with the meatier punch of the gamey magpie goose, all wrapped together in a nasturtium leaf. I’ve never eaten magpie goose but understand that it’s a bird from the Northern Territory that’s almost regarded as a pest given its predilection for eating mangoes.  The truffle and avocado is a single slice of creamy avocado, topped with a black truffle ragout which is a simple fuck yeah interlude from all the layered, complex dishes before it. To reset the palate for the final savoury course, it’s a clean and fresh fuck yeah dish of Tasmanian sundried bush tomatoes, dehydrated for eight hours, topped with subtle Southern NSW sea urchins from Ulladulla and a broth made from native pepper berries (with shades of the Sichuan pepper) and elderflower oil.

The final savoury course is one of my absolute fuck yeah favourites of the night, Noma’s take on the Australian pub meal, the abalone schnitzel with bush condiments. Or as it’s more affectionately known in Australia, the schnitty. Served with a knotted bouquet of Australian green herbs (including Warrigal Greens), Kakadu plum, nuts (palm nut, Atherton Oak Nut), an assortment of seaweed (sea fennel, glass beads and Neptune’s Necklace), a stem of mat rush and the tiniest half of a native Australian sandpaper fig. The abalone has been crumbed and fried, after some sort of complicated cooking technique applied to it, to make an otherwise chewy shellfish into something tender.  The schnitty is fucking great on its own but by combining a bite of this schnitty with the Australian accoutrements is when it transcends fucking everything.  It’s the sweet, young slightly starchy stem of the mat rush. The grassy bouquet of green herbs which cut through the fat of the schnitzel and smash you in the face. The finger lime makes another appearance with its acidic, citrus pearls bursting in your mouth to cut through the fried schnitzel and the green notes. I want to eat this dish again just so I can really get my head around all the fuck yeah Australian foliage and seaweed magic that was happening on this plate.

The next three dessert courses have been much discussed by the press and it’s easy to see why given the green ants on fruit and the highly photogenic riffs on the Australian classics, the lamington (a chocolate and desiccated coconut covered sponge) and the Golden Gaytime ice-cream (a toffee and vanilla ice-cream dipped in chocolate and wrapped in honeycomb biscuits, on a wooden popsicle-stick). ice-cream.  The first fruit based dessert, marinated fresh fruit, is simple, a piece of mango wrapped in a palm leaf and topped with small dried green ants, and a cube of pineapple and watermelon all set on ice.  I wryly smile to myself as I think about how instead of getting food for ants, I’m actually getting food with ants.  As you can expect, each piece of fruit is intense and represents a best in class example of that fruit, with the dried green eats tasting exactly as you’d imagine if you’ve ever squashed an ant.

The rum lamington is all white, an airy piece of cake which is pumped full of Black Head Rum made just north of Sydney, with the “coconut” made from grated solidified milk, sitting in a red pool of native tamarind which isn’t as sour as the tamarind I’m used to.  The native tamarind sauce cuts through the sweetness as the lamington dissolves to nothing in your mouth. While tasty it’s not knock your lights out delicious and relies more on its story and reference to what a lamington is.

The final course is the peanut milk and freekah “Baytime”, which looks like a little a mini-rustic Magnum ice-cream, with its riberry stick instead of the traditional wooden paddlepop.  The ice-cream component has been made from a raw peanut milk and there’s a caramel centre, before it’s coated with a freekah glaze, that gives it the appearance of the chocolate coating of a Golden Gaytime.  Freekah is an ancient grain which Noma have roasted until it’s dark and in the glaze, it tastes like a deep, roasted grain with some chocolate overtones (even though there’s no chocolate in it).  It’s fun and interesting, a humorous and earthy nod to an Australian ice-cream icon but not a blockbuster dessert on its own.  With the food all done, we go outside to take our final digestifs and René makes the rounds to the remaining tables outside, stopping in to say hello (although he didn’t make it to our table), before we leave to literally and mentally digest everything that’s gone before.

When I got home that night, I actually couldn’t sleep because I was too busy trying to process exactly why I had this downright, primal and visceral reaction to this meal. The feeling when your heart can’t even fit your chest and you shake your head because you can’t figure out why did this meal resonate in every part of your being?  And then days later, with some furious internal workshopping as to why this moved my internal needle so much, I slowly began to pull together the more nebulous threads to why Noma Australia felt so personally Australian. Because sure, at first glance the Australian connection is so fucking obvious, it’s the madness of René Redzepi and his globally sourced Noma team coming to Australia to seek out these indigenous ingredients which Australia itself doesn’t use with regularity and then making that work within some sort of commercial context.  It’s the subtle nod to Australian food icons such as the lamington or the meat pie. But then it’s the realisation that for all these new ingredients and highly technical preparative techniques what lodges it in my psyche is the association to personal shit that you know from actually growing up in Australia:

It’s the bunch of native Australian herbs with the schnitzel, which hit you in the back of your throat like the smell of freshly mown grass because fuck, we had the luxury and privilege of lawns in Australia.

It’s the quarters of lillypillies in the wild seasonal berries assortment that you remember from the novelty of being able to eat something that looked like a tiny pale pink apple, straight from the tree in your backyard as a kid.

It’s the verdant, fragrant oils distilled from Australian foliage used in the saltbush wattleseed porridge that remind you of the eucalyptus and lemon myrtle leaves you’ve picked when you’ve been in the Australian bush on school camp and crushed them between your fingers, to leave that green smell of fresh gum trees on your fingers that will never as long as you’re alive will remind you of anything other than Australia.

It’s the shellfish nestled in the smooth river rocks which throw you back to that time you were under the almost surreal azure skies and poking around the crystal clear rock pools of some remote part of Australia’s jagged coast line where every rock you moved with a stick saw five things move the fuck away from you.

It’s the use of nasturtium flowers and stems which remind you of how nasturtiums used to grow almost like weeds in your backyard and eating the flowers as a kid before you spat them out in sheer disgust, wondering why anyone would ever want to eat these stinky, peppery pungent flowers (and now look at you, you’re paying hundreds of dollars for the privilege).

It’s the smear of black truffle ragout on a piece of avocado which you already think FUCK YEAH AUSTRALIA because of the dire avocado situation in Hong Kong. But the truffle ragout paste is black and filled with vaguely yeasty and umami tones giving you some poshed up fancy as fuck take to all the avocado toast with a smear of Australia’s real black gold, Vegemite, that you’ve devoured in this lifetime.

It’s the delicate strand of glass bead and Neptune’s Necklace seaweed which burst in your mouth and remind you of the sargassum seaweed balls that you popped between your fingers when you were down at the beach on school holidays.

It’s when you eat the zingy green ants perched on the mango for dessert which while you’ve never eaten ants before, the taste reminds you of sitting on some warm lawn, the tiny stinging bites of these anty fuckers and the smell of the sharp formic acid after you’ve crushed their feeble bodies against your legs.

So you take this body of personal Australia experience and process that against the fact it’s been a Danish chef who’s shown it to you and then you set that against everything that’s conspired to let you be there, to have this in your existence. Getting the tickets to Noma Australia. Having the time and means to get your ass to Sydney to effectively have dinner. With everything lined up, you then get to have a dining experience which speaks so uniquely to what you know as an Australian and then expands upon that by showing you all sorts of shit you didn’t even know. Noma Australia moved me in a seriously major way and it crystallised everything I fucking love about food and eating.

Because what is better than food that moves you? Food where absolutely everything on that plate has been pored over and deliberated on to be a distillation of what a chef is passionate about, what he truly believes in and presenting this fucking incredible innovative take on unconventional ingredients and still make the sum greater than its individual parts. Where in the ensuing days and weeks, you’re still trying to fucking figure it out in your head as to why it was such a fucking potent experience? I eat so much all the time but I’ve never had an experience which has thrown up so many thoughts and questions days later. I desperately want to know every single thing and detail behind this meal so I can better understand how Noma ended up at this final point for their Australian menu and how did they distil so much of this fucking amazing country into thirteen plates of food.

This was a meal which at the time it hits you in the chest with the impact of something totally fucking new but then pulls you in by the shoulders, to kiss you softly on the forehead with familiarity and nostalgia.

And with that, I will never forget you Noma Australia.

Verdict:
ALL THE FUCK YEAHS EVER.

Where:
SAAM (fuck yeahhhh, fully functional website)
G/F, 51D Graham Street (just up from The Globe)
Central, Hong Kong

Phone:
+852 2645 9828

Price:
The seven course tasting menu cost HKD788 (+10% service charge) with seven half glasses of wine at HKD 348 (+10% service charge), so HKD1,250 in total.

The deal:
Chef Patrick Dang summarises his background and cooking in three sentences on his website, “I was born in Hong Kong. I was raised in Australia. The globe is my inspiration.” and if you had to categorise his restaurant, I’d say it’s ‘Modern European’.  There’s been a fair bit of press around SAAM and the new ‘Back to School’ set tasting menu which is being offered in September / October and as a few FYN homies had told me that they’d really enjoyed the menu, my linen loving self decided to forgive SAAM for proclaiming shit like “We want to take away tablecloths; while maintaining styled elegance” and rounded up some homies to go and check it out.

However, SAAM do not make it easy for you to book a table at their restaurant, outlining a long list of requirements to achieve a booking on their website.  You need a minimum of four people.  You need to pay a HKD200 deposit per person via bank transfer and then whatsapp in the proof.  You can book online but despite the bank deposit requirement, you still need to hand over credit card details.  For reservations of less than four people you go through the same hoops but it’s on a ‘first come, first served’ basis (which really seems contrary to the whole fucking point of a reservation??).  On top of all of that, SAAM will only hold your table for 15 minutes, so don’t be late homies. Either way, SAAM’s reservation shit is NOT easy.  I imagine some of this comes from the fact that SAAM is relatively small, probably seating 20 – 30 people and flakey no-show fuckers (yes HK, I mean almost all of you) would really mess their economics up.

Chef Dang’s vision for his ‘Back to School’ menu is his homage to all the HK kiddies headed back to school in September and is a play on all those mass produced school lunches but of course all fancy and cheffed up.  Each course is named simply and there’s a twist with each course, with the promise of bringing some lightheartedness to the table and no doubt, meant to evoke that innocent childhood feeling inside every diner. Cue every fucking food blogger overusing the adjective  “whimsical” and potentially throwing in some carefully researched Alice in Wonderland quotes about Chef Dang’s mad creations taking you down a fantastical and wondrous culinary rabbit hole.

SAAM kick off proceedings with an Irish oyster amuse bouche (which is in no way connected to the School Day theme).  There is only one waiter for the entire restaurant which means it takes him a few rounds to serve everyone’s food but he’s also knowledgeable, friendly and succinctly explains all of the food we’re about to eat.  The first course is  ‘Nutella & Toast’, where a small pastry (the “toast”) is stuffed with “nutella” (which is in fact a truffle panna cotta), served alongside a scallop crudo and some hazelnuts. It’s interesting and tasty enough, but definitely benefits from being presented within the context of it riffing on the appearance of Nutella toast.

This gimmicky (though tiny) opening course is followed by the simply titled ‘Cereal & Yoghurt’ which was one of my favourite fuck yeah highlights from the night. A small dish of fuck yeahhhh foie gras parfait is topped with a thin layer of pineapple jelly.  SAAM have scattered savoury crunchy granola and small peppered pieces of pineapple on top, with a few small piped blobs of almond yoghurt.  I fucking loved this dish because it was full of fuck yeah contrasts – the crunch of the granola against the soft foie gras, the acidity of the pineapple cutting through the fatty foie gras.  I could have spooned this foie gras concoction onto little toasted crackers all day and into my face, even without being loaded up with a cutesy school food story.

It is at this point that I start to panic regarding whether I’m going to be swinging by McDonald’s to get some McWings afterwards as each tiny though elaborate course disappears swiftly.  The wine pairing provides a half-glass with each course and SAAM are definitely showing some precision in their pours.  It isn’t one of those scenarios when you order a matched ‘half-glass’ wine tasting menu and end up getting generous almost full glass pours and you drunkenly roll your lush ass out of the restaurant.  I enjoyed the wine tasting but I guess I’m just a fucking lush cause I wanted more wine.

The third course of ‘Sausage & Egg‘ was the most successful in terms of the surprise factor that SAAM were gunning for.  The dish arrives with a super convincing ‘sunny side up fried egg’ which has actually been constructed from coconut and the spherification of some butternut pumpkin puree (which mimics the membrane of an egg yolk).  WHOA, SURPRISE NO-EGG EGG YO!

surprisemotherfucker2

Our helpful waiter instructs us to mix the ‘yolk’ with the ‘egg white’, to form a dipping sauce for your ‘sausage’ made from lobster. Sure it’s a bit gimmicky but even this grumpy, cynical gloomy fucker can let a little slice of corny no-egg egg sunshine into my goth as fuck heart and enjoy the fuck yeah pumpkin, lemongrass infused coconut sauce with the lobster ‘sausage’ sprinkled with madras curry flavoured bread crumbs

Next up was the ‘Fish & Chips’ course which didn’t play too hard to trick the fuck out of you with fancy shit.  Despite it not having a M Shyamalan twist, it was one of my favourite fuck yeah courses.  A decent sized slice of poached turbot is served on a bright green bed of mushy peas.  A ‘potato crisp’ is made out of thin reconstituted potato wafer, flavoured with vinegar powder, cleverly hinting at chips splashed with vinegar.  A ball of deep fried tartar sauce is as tricky as this dish gets and it was just a well balanced, fucking delicious course.  All I wanted was MOAR TURBOT. Much tender. So wow. Many fuck yeah fish related feels.

The ‘Gluten free noodle soup’ is described as a gluten free chicken instant noodle.  That’s because the noodles are actually made from pureed chicken breasts.  Our waiter explains that it takes five hours to make these noodles, explaining that it’s super fucking tedious to remove all the tendons.  Sure, it’s clever and chock full of technique but fuck, I’m not convinced the pay off was fucking worth it.  HOWEVER, the superior abalone broth which took two days which is poured over the noodles is fucking spectacular. I’d happily skip the extruded chicken mousse noodles for a gluten filled bog-standard wheat udon noodle as a pay off to get triple the amount of dat fuck yeah broth.

Rounding the corner into the final savoury course, it’s the ‘School Roast Dinner’ which doesn’t stray too far from what anyone would perceive as a roast dinner, except it’s been poshed up to the max with a singular ‘potato fry’ and ‘umami gravy’.  The Australian Wagyu short rib is cooked sous vide and then grilled so it can get some semblance of brown onto it.  Fuck, I don’t really get behind sous vide that much and I dunno why fancy ass chefs are so obsessed with letting meat sit in a warm bath all day rather than just fucking cooking it properly in the first place?? Blah blah tender blah blah gentle cooking blah blah even temperature, fuck off I know I know, I’m just not fucking into it.

sousvidebathtime

Either way, the beef was still fucking delicious and ‘umami’ sauce was just a fancy way of describing ‘concentrated mushroom’ sauce.  I gotta be real that I would have preferred a bit more char on my beef, but due to the lameness of warm bathtime sous vide beef, I get that you have to avoid overcooking it.  I also don’t know if the reconstituted potato smashed into a singular mega-fry shape added much to the overall dish, but the sides were all a side note to the fuck yeah beef.

The dessert course is the simply named ‘PB&J’ and it’s a peanut butter parfait with a grape sorbet, served with some tiny champagne grapes and lego shaped banana pudding.  It’s nice to look at and quite the hit with our table.  I categorise this one under a solid dish which is cute enough. My less curmudgeonly homies seemed to enjoy this more.  The flavours were a fuck yeah but didn’t seem to necessarily come together cohesively enough for me.  I just wanted more from this dish to move it from an interesting concept to a solid fuck yeah dessert moment.

What I liked about SAAM was that it was trying to do something interesting and have its food tell a story.  Was every dish as successful as it had set out to be?  Fuck no.  Was my palpable fear of going through one of those modern, food for ants tasting menus fulfilled?  Not quite, but on a scale of 1 to ‘I gotta get McWings on the way home’ hunger scale, I was probably a 6.5.  Which means that if SAAM hadn’t been so tightassed with their bread (fun fact, you gotta hand over HKD9 per person if you want bread. Like, R U SRS SAAM, HKD9 is really changing the economic metrics of your restaurant, when I’m already handing over HKD1200+ per person?) I would have been fine. Were some dishes fucking about with fussy techniques, just to do something different and provide a surprise moment?  Fuck yeah.  But there was still the occasional major fuck yeah moment like the ‘Cereal & Yoghurt’ foie gras parfait or the ‘Fish & Chips’ turbot with the mashed peas.  Chef Dang is putting something different out there which is unique in Hong Kong and while some of that may result in 5 hour chicken mousse noodles which don’t really outperform your run-of-the-mill standard udon noodle, I gotta admire that it takes balls to do something like SAAM.  And I’d take that any day over all the Mexican-Korean fusion horrors which have taken over this city.

Verdict:
Fuck yeah on pay day, cause this modern creative shiz don’t come cheap.  But I’ll caveat it that SAAM isn’t going to be for everyone.  I’d only recommend getting involved if you want to try something different and you can jive with the wank-off fact that you’re sometimes eating the story as well as the food. HOWEVER, DEM CEREAL AND YOGHURT, FOIE GRAS PARFAIT FEELZ DOE.

Where:
Sixpenny (praise be Australia and your functional websites)
83 Percival Rd
Stanmore NSW Australia

Phone:
+612 9572 6666

Price:
AUD180 each including ordering wine/champagne.  AUD135 for the large 8 course degustation course.

The deal:
Sixpenny is a degustation or bust scenario. Six or eight courses and we went (predictably) with the larger lucky eight course option.  My food wank alarm bells were going off when they said they wouldn’t give us a menu to keep an element of surprise throughout the evening, but for once they were unfounded.  Fuck me, I’m going to come straight out – this was the good shit.  It makes you realise that for all the food wank, pretentious bullshit and philosophising that restaurants participate in that there are actually chefs that can actually have a vision, stay true to it and not end up being a massive money grabbing, disappointing, proselytising form over substance douchebag about it.

Six Penny make a lot of their own shit (sour cream, bread, butter) and grow their own produce.  Often with a degustation there’s a course which is fucked up (see also: dat macaron at Mejekawi) or at least disappointing but here’s some good shit that happened at Sixpenny.

  • Service – besides the fact that the restaurant was loud as fuck so my old lady ears could barely hear the descriptions, the staff were bang on.  My husband kept throwing his napkin on the floor and it was deftly picked up each time.  A tall Frenchman provided laser sharp silver service without nary a glance at what he was doing.
  • Produce – hot damn, I’ve finally eaten a a baby leek or a carrot as a ‘course’ and didn’t feel a wave of proteinless disappointment wash over me.
  • Bread – I genuinely was full as fuck but had to have a big cup of HTFU and snacked down a second bread roll.  Yeah, don’t mind me as I pile on the house made butter and marscapone spread.  That fucking good.
  • Wine list – wasn’t immediately bankrupt by merely looking at the wine list.  Never had the chance to make ‘thirsty face’ at the waiters because my glass was totally optimistic and always full.
  • Presentation – A++++ would buy again presentation – carefully picked plates, beds of baby olive leaves and no errant sauce smears that looked like skid marks.
  • Genuine Aesop soap – I’m taking a stand, I’m calling out every restaurant I go to from now on which buys one dispenser of Aesop soap and then thinks their customers are dumb as shit and won’t realise that they are refilling it with supermarket hand soap.  Sixpenny were keeping it real.  Real cedar like. Mad props for keeping the soap dope.

I don’t want to get all poetic on your ass but this was one of the best meals I’ve had in 2013.  The baby beetroot baked in a salt crust was a fuck yeah.  The veal was a fuck yeah.  The crab with macadmia was a massive fuck yeah.  Even the course where the carrot was the star of the masterpiece was a fuck yeah.  So here’s a big fuck yeah to restaurants having a philosophy but not being total fuckwit wankers about it.

The verdict:
One of the best meals I’ve had in 2013. FUCK YEAH!!

Where:
Mejekawi
Upstairs at Ku De Tah
Jalan Kayu Aya #9, Denpasar
Bali, Indonesia 80361

Phone:
+62 361 736969

Price:
The seven and 11-course degustation menus are IDR 590,000 and IDR 790,000 before tax and service charge.  About USD60 and USD80 respectively, post the tax/service charge.

The deal:
There is no al a carte at Mejekawi, it’s degustation or GTFO.  You don’t need to even guess, I’m a greedy cunt so of course we went for the 11 course option.  The meal was fucking tasty – probably the best one I had in Bali on my last trip there.  It’s upstairs at Ku De Tah which is usually Eurotrash/Oztrash central – the last time I went to Ku De Tah in the day time, I was embarassed that all the Euros were tanner than me.  WTF man, I’ve got more melanin – which meant I had to aggressively step up the tanning for the rest of my trip to compete.  Anyway, enough about my fucking body image issues – I’ve got a Cosmo to read later to workshop it, so don’t sweat it.  11 course degustation was 8 savoury + 3 dessert courses.  Savoury courses were good shit – A+ for execution.  Then, we hit the three dessert courses.  The following is going to skew the fuck up my review because all you’re going to remember is the dessert rant.

This experience was like a study of contrasts.  Glorious savoury and then the second dessert course – which hands down,  wins the title of ‘The Worst Thing I’ve EVER Fucking Eaten in a Restaurant’.  I believe it was a coconut water macaron and it was absolutely horrifying.  It came out and I made some food wank commentary “The macaron doesn’t even have a FOOT, is this a meringue or a macaron”, but the lack of foot was the least of the issues that were to follow.  I ate this bullshit dessert and I knew I was in trouble when it instantly tasted like soap , chalk and sadness.  I couldn’t even spit out the nightmare because this fucked up abomination of a dessert then disintegrated in my mouth, like a dirty bomb that no one could hold back.  Ms Two Serves was with me and she hates macarons and meringues at the best of times, but given the look of pure abject horror on my face, she had to try it. ‘How could anything make you pull that face?’, her innocence shining bright.  She licked the filling, just to get an idea and then to her horror like napalm, the macaron attached itself to the filling and also disintegrated into her mouth.  ‘Toe jam’ she declared, ‘This tastes like TOE JAM’.  The super courteous and attentive waiters came to ask us how this course was and we couldn’t hold back ‘That wasn’t fit for human consumption’ and “Awful.  It was beyond awful” I told them point blank.  Ms Two Serves just flapped her hands, shook her head and her eyes were dead pools of sadness.  The most fascinating thing about Macarongate 2013 is that I wish I could have taken a case of these fucked up satan treats with me, so I could make everyone eat them to truly experience ‘The Worst Thing I’ve EVER Fucking Eaten in a Restaurant’.  I don’t want to take away from the fuck yeah eight savoury courses but when a dessert course is so viscerally burned into your psyche, in some sadomasochistic fashion it’s a fuck no that becomes a fuck yeah.  Just to say you’ve been there.

Verdict:
Fuck yeah!!!!!!!  You should still eat the macaron, just so you can definitively say to people you’ve eaten ‘The Worst Thing I’ve EVER Fucking Eaten in a Restaurant’,

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