We arrived a little earlier than our booking and sat at the bar and tried a Bai Jiu Sour. This was a cocktail made using a Chinese wheat based liqueur that came in a special chalice that allowed the drink to flow out without gushing even though you had to tip at quite an angle. It was pleasant, sweet and sort of tasted like the sweet of my childhood, Refreshers, with the alcohol kick being noticeable after a while. We also were given a sample of Bai Jiu on its own, a incredibly strong firewater I imagine being swigged by Shun Di, Virtua Fighters Drunken Master.
We sat down went for the chefs menu, a 14 course menu coming in at £138. I noticed whilst checking the menu's that the number of courses, dishes and formats had changed considerably since the first reviews I read online and in the press in December had appeared.
First up was a dish called Dead Garden, this was previously only available on request but I guess proved popular enough for it to appear on the menu itself. Dried enoki mushrooms appeared to grow out of some morel soil, with white ginger powder and some dried herbs. Breaking the surface revealed a vibrant lime and avocado foamed mousse. The mousse was incredibly light, almost a foam, I think it held some gelling agent was run through a NO2 charger, and the dried ingredients on top held their flavour well, particularly the ginger snow.
Picture: Not the contents of an old flowerpot, with nitrogen balls and compost, but the dish mixed up. You can also see the avocado mousse. The only negative point was this wasn't the size of a garden, I could have literally eaten a bucket sized portion, it was absolutely delicious. This was truly a memorable dish and any reservations on the price and other reviews faded away as we looked forward to the next courses.
Next up was Bed and Breakfast, Chef Leung's take on an English breakfast. A smoked quails egg rested on a taro nest topped with caviar and a piece of gold leaf. This was presented on a pretty metallic tree. This was just a mouthful of food, biting into the quails egg released soft yolk, which mixed with the salty caviar and a distinct different tasting taro nest to provide a lovely flavour with an almost bacon like note through the smoked egg and the concept of the dish worked really well.
Following this was Cloud, Chef's dedication to the English weather. Rather than tip a bucket of icy cold water over my head, 2 spoons were presented on a special dish from which wafted rose scented dry ice. The dish itself was raw mackerel ginger and topped with a black sesame ponzu foam. The initial flavour and scent were from the very pleasant sesame and ponzu, which faded into the mackerel, which very fresh with a nice texture, not too soft or flabby. This was a decent sushi like dish.
Next up was Foie Gras. A soft well cooked piece of foie gras nestled in a lettuce leaf, mixed with this was Abby's sauce, named after Chefs wife, some peppers and dried noodle for texture. Abby's sauce was miso based but I believe had a citric note too, and with the iceberg, pepper and crunchy noodles provided a fantastic balance to the rich foie gras. The balance was really well done, I'm super sensitive to richness of foie gras, too much of which can instantly disagree with me but not a hint of that this time.
Following this was another really great dish, Scallop. A sweet, juicy, well cooked scallop was provided with a very unusual jolo sauce, made I believe, from a Chinese wine. Sprinkled on top were woba, rice crispies to you and me, and accompanying this was lovely scented sugarsnap pea foam and leaf. The scallop was delicious, and I loved the sauce, an intense, alcoholic, sweet and sour sauce with the unusual taste from the jolo which although was quite dominant, didn't kill the flavour from the sweet Scottish scallop. The foam held quite a bit of flavour, you could really taste the sugarsnap but the scallop and sauce were clearly the stars of the dish.
Next up was a dish I've been looking forward too, Tomato, having seen praise for it in various reviews. The tomatoes came in number of ways, firstly a single cherry tomato, soaked in a sweet "pat chun" Chinese vinegar provided a lovely mouthful. The only acidic elements came from the tomato itself, I had not tried this vinegar before and was surprised by the sweet almost floral note it gave to the tomato. It was delicious. The next bite was a single yellow tomato, covered in a angel hair pastry and resting on a particularly fine Chinese olive mayonnaise. This was my favourite of the 3, the tomato, pastry and mayonnaise were a great combination. Finally the marshmallow was sampled, this had a good tomato flavour and in the centre an spring onion oil provided a counter note to the tomato. It was more of an egg white soft meringue than marshmallow as I know and a very interesting taste and texture.
Following this was "X-Treme", Chefs take on xian long bao, a traditional pork noodle soup. This was a sodium alginate sphere made using reverse spherification, filled with a warm pork soup and topped with a single slice of ginger. I could have done with a few of these, the single bite and explosion of pork soup was over too quickly. The soup within was well flavoured and rich with pork fat.
After this, Lobster was presented. A single piece of lobster was surrounded with a lobster bisque, sichuan butter, peas and a crisp woba piece somehow derived from rice. The bisque itself was very well flavoured and smelt absolutely gorgeous, even when the next table got to this course the smells drifting over made me want this again. The sichuan butter was spicy and numbed the mouth without overpowering the bisque, the peas were very fresh and well flavoured. The lobster itself was soft and delicious. I really enjoyed this one. However, my brothers lobster was too chewy for him to eat and had to be sent back, although I noticed, after every single bit save the chewy part of lobster had been polished off.
Our next dish was sent out to make up for my brothers lobster dish, and was not on the menu. Top marks to the staff there. This was Chef's take on what scents could provide to a dish. A bowl was put on the table, and the lids removed to reveal a piece of salmon resting on noodles. A strong scent of smoke and sandalwood rose from the dish. The bowl was such so that you leaned over to eat the salmon and noodles whilst taking in the flavours from the smoke. The salmon was raw, but intense with a fresh smokiness, not at all like a hot smoked or cold smoked salmon, but more like a salmon sushi, the noodles weren't in fact normal noodles, but made from oysters using a gelling agent, more technical wizardry at work there. The salmon and noodles worked really well, the oyster flavour was still apparent and worked well against the smoky flavoured salmon and scents of sandalwood. I think this was a better use of sandalwood and scents than the "yoghurt next to a joss stick" I've seen mentioned on earlier write-ups.
A palate cleanser was presented next. A hawthorn bubble tea presented in a test tube lit from the bottom. Now i know this hadn't gone down to well with previous diners, I'd read a few negative opinions, but this had been changed somewhat, the basil foam being replaced by a mango foam. A large straw was dipped into the test tube and sucking filled the mouth with the chili tapioca balls, the sour hawthorn and the sweet and sour mango foam. This worked really well and I really enjoyed this, tipping up the test tube to eek every last drop from it.
Our first main course was Sweetbread. A perfectly cooked and presented sweetbread was accompanied by an oyster, bamboo shoots, mushrooms and rested on an artichoke puree. The sweetbread was perfect, sweet and sticky from oyster sauce yet had some bite to it from the coating, not a bit too soft and balanced nicely with a small piece of oyster and bamboo. The artichoke in the puree was a bit lost but provided some creaminess to each mouthful. Of all the dishes, the charred bamboo and oyster sauce made this seem the most like Chinese flavours I am used too. The sweetbread itself was fantastic and utterly delicious and I've not had it like this ever before and a surefire winner.
Our final savoury course was Wagyu Beef. The beef was presented on a truffle paste, and with 2 truffle soy soaked cheung fun noodles and some mushrooms. This was another absolute delight of a dish, the beef was gorgeous, well flavoured and soft as butter, the noodles were sweet and sticky, the truffle soy working really well and retaining a strong truffle flavour. I'm sure I could have managed a larger portion though, I found myself scraping the plate clean all too quickly. A simply fantastic dish.
The first dessert, Bai Jiu, was a change from the condensed milk fritters seen when the restaurant first opened. A bai jiu parfait was accompanied by caramel, chocolate and an interesting passion fruit meringue crisp. The parfait was pleasant, caramel with a hint of the bai jiu liquer could be tasted, and was a creamy without any graininess. The meringue crisp was delicious, intense with passion fruit.
The final dessert was Coconut Creme Brulee, with a palm sugar topping and sour cherries underneath. The palm sugar in the deeper bowl hadn't hardened as much as brulee's using normal sugar but I enjoy palm sugar taste and I found the brulee reminded me of the Malay coconut and egg jam called kaya more than anything, so the dish differed from other creme brulee's enough to stand out. I preferred this to the first dessert.
We skipped the Sex on the Beach dessert, it was offered at the beginning of the evening when we chose menus and we didn't think we would have had room for it, however the meal was quite light and I reckon next time I go I'll have to order this. I think the lack of heavy use of dairy often found in European menu's helped make this less heavy than a 15 course meal elsewhere, but some portions could have been bigger, if only as they were so delicious my inner glutton wanted to gorge away like the infamous Mr Creosote.
Finally some "Petit Four Dim Sum" were presented in a bird cage like display. Even though there were two of us, only 1 of each was provided, I think they need to offer a big selection of petit four like other high end restaurants. The sesame covered chocolate dim sum was warm, and very nice, and the half we each had wasn't enough. Also included were a couple of decent macarons, one green tea and the other a far nicer raspberry, and a lemon white chocolate and salted caramel truffle, which was delicious. The picture was taken after half the dim sum was eaten, they are normally round ;)
All in all the meal lived up to my expectations, despite the final bill coming to £360 for 2 tasting menus, 2 cocktails, 2 bottles of water and service! Although the desserts are possibly weaker than other restaurants mentioned in this blog, the Chinese aspect to the food and ingredients meant it was different to tasting menu's I've had elsewhere in London and I really enjoyed the theatrics in presentation and concepts behind some of the courses and modernist techniques. The menu has definitely changed considerably since opening, and I believe feedback has improved it for the better. Alvin Leung is obviously passionate about his craft, it's not just an act for the TV camera's, and very creative with his food and concepts and I look forward to visiting again. I was told a vegetarian menu is also available, and my wife would like to try that.