I’ll admit to not being the world’s artiest person, so the impending arrival of ART HK has sort of passed me by. However, I do love eating… so when I heard about the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong’s special menu to celebrate ART HK, I was very excited indeed!
I was lucky enough to be invited to a tasting of the three-course lunch menu at Mandarin Grill + Bar (there are an additional two courses for dinner) and after having a quick look at photos of the dishes, I was already worried that this stuff would look just too exquisite to eat! Chef Uwe Opocensky has been beavering away on this menu for five to six months… and it shows. With each dish based around a different aspect of art (Sculpture, Graffiti, Photography, Painting and Music), this is food fit to display in any gallery.
We started off with Graffiti, which was based on the Berlin Wall. Beneath the beautifully-decorated sugar icing was brioche and foie gras (essentially a very pretty, very posh pate on toast) an appetizer rather too decadently rich for me. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of foie gras and found the portion far too big for a starter, but there was no denying the creativity behind this dish.
Next up was the main course of beef – Painting. This was presented in a picture frame and looked absolutely sensational, with strips of colour running across the portrait, a succulent juicy slab of beef sitting proudly in the corner and a glowing golden ‘sun’ of poached egg up top. As if that wasn’t enough, delicious truffle gravy was then poured on.
Sadly, the best way to taste this dish was not to pick at it delicately but to smush everything up together and load a bit of everything on your fork! I felt pretty sad about demolishing the artistry of Painting but it was SO worth it. The flavours were wonderful and expertly matched, each vegetable puree delicately balancing against the rich meltingly tender beef and that addictive truffle gravy (I particularly liked the earthy mushroom and tangy sweet pepper purees). Early versions of Chef Uwe’s Painting did not include the poached egg sun… but that was truly the dish’s crowning glory. Just seeing it, I couldn’t wait to jab my fork in and let the golden goo run all over my plate; it was poached perfectly and, slathered all over my beef, made the whole thing taste even more lush.
But if you thought Painting was spectacular, then dessert really was something else. The MO’s discreetly efficient staff started clearing our table, placing silicon sheets over the cloth; things then started to go all Heston Blumenthal as we were presented with some headphones nestled in a chocolate-filled tin. The music was just one instrumental on a loop (guessing whoever set this up hadn’t worked out the iPod Nano’s Playlist function!) but it did help you zone out and concentrate on the show – your dessert being prepared right in front of you on the table!
When I was younger, there was a tv programme called Art Attack, where a presenter (Neil Buchanan, god) would create a huge amazing picture made up of various everyday objects… well, this was the culinary equivalent!
For lunch, dessert is called Colour and is served sans music but we were treated to the dinner version, Music, which was even bigger, better and more brilliant. It was truly a treat to watch Chef Uwe at work, dribbling drizzling smearing slathering and scattering various entirely edible elements onto the table in front of us. The best bit was when he picked up a small chocolate globe with dried ice smoke gushing out of it and then smashed it into the middle of your table. Be cleverer than me and video it please!
The final result was stunning – both to look at and to eat! All of us were transformed into children, playing with our food, nibbling at this, breaking off that, dipping one thing into another. Everything was edible – from the photo frame in the middle, to the paintbrushes, crayons (I took one home to show my boyfriend, much to his dismay) and pencil shavings to the piles of rubble, dust and the pots that further nuggets spilled out of (super-yummy chocolate-covered nuts, since you asked)! This was a chocoholic’s dream, accented with delicious scoops of creamy vanilla ice cream and raspberry sorbet, gooey marshmallow and smears of coconut milk.
To finish off with our teas or coffees, we were presented with a bowl of baby donuts and chocolate sauce to dip them into; I thought I was fit to burst but the donuts were surprisingly light and filled with cool cream, making them the perfect end to the meal.
Included with the cost of the ART menu are tickets to ART HK itself, whilst there are also numerous other tie-ins to the event, including some special art cocktails in the M Bar, an exhibition in The Clipper Lounge and an ‘artistic food’ competition too. Yet the ART menu has to be the true masterpiece amongst the lot, an unforgettable experience backed up with top-end ingredients, great flavours and lots of clever chef-ing skill. ART HK itself will have a lot to live up to!
Mandarin Grill + Bar’s ART menu costs $688 for the three-course lunch and $1488 for the five-course dinner, including tickets to ART HK. It runs until 20 May, 2012.
Mandarin Grill + Bar Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, 5 Connaught Rd C, Central
2825 4004 www.mandarinoriental.com/hongkong/dining/restaurants/mandarin_grill/