Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Testing the Senses

Salmon and scallop tartar, Bloody Mary sorbet, potato tulle
I just came back from a stimulating experience of eating in the dark.

An upscale hotel in Mongkok challenged us to identify what we were tasting and while we were able to get some ingredients right, we were completely thrown off by others.

We do eat with our eyes, and as soon as we know what it is, we already have preconceptions of how it should taste.

But once you can't see it or don't even know what you are eating beforehand, you are forced to really concentrate on the taste, texture and smell to figure it out.

The first of six courses came with a trio of flavours which to us tasted like salmon sashimi, then a spicy gazpacho, and then a very thin potato chip. It was a bit difficult to eat in the dark, but after a while your eyes adjust and you can see your utensils and the wine glasses in front of you -- but that's it.

Beetroot and French goat cheese risotto
After we finished eating, the lights when back on and it was revealed that we actually ate salmon and scallop tartar with kaffir lime leaf oil; tomato essence jelly, basically a Bloody Mary sorbet and a potato tulle. This was matched with Tsarine Rose Champagne.

Then the lights went out again and we were given what we quickly figured out were three different hams to try. They ended up being Serrano, Kintoa (from Basque region) and Iberico, but of course it was difficult to actually discern their origins; all I could think of was different kind of proscuitto.

Our next dish was a small one with a kind of lollipop. Inside of course was foie gras mousse, but it was hard to figure out what the outer shell was. It was actually an apple-port jelly, when I had thought it was raspberry. This went really well with the Selbach-Oster, Zeltinger Himmeireich Reisling from Mosel, Germany which had a strong smoky smell and quite sweet.

The wine also worked beautifully with our next dish which we could taste right away was risotto, but what kind I had no clue. I thought for sure there was no cheese in it and speculated it could be yogurt. A fellow diner thought it had bits of onion in it. When the lights came on we were shocked to see it was actually a pink dish -- beetroot and French goat cheese risotto. I didn't even smell goat cheese in there at all.

Roasted lamb with broad beans and deconstructed Caesar salad
Some people admitted they didn't like beetroot, but thoroughly enjoyed the dish because they didn't know what they were eating; also the flavours were so hard to clearly identify, that it was more about the food tasting good than about what was in it.

The main course was quickly identified as lamb with some kind of beans and a vegetable, and I thought it could be a kind of bak choy. We were correct about it being lamb, which was actually slow-cooked for six hours with broad beans and then with a deconstructed Caesar salad of garlic sauteed Romaine hearts, bacon-potato soubise or little pastry and anchovy beignets. This was paired with a South African red called Meerlust, Rubicon 2006.

Finally for dessert we were able to figure out there were sliced figs and a scoop of bacon ice cream, with what we thought was warm cheesecake. It ended up being goat cheese honey cake with pistachio and brandy snap.

Being a foodie and completely thrown off, it was discomforting to think I couldn't identify ingredients! But it was a very interesting exercise for the senses.

I had heard of a restaurant in Montreal where the place is pitch dark and diners are served by blind waiters.
Dessert: Bacon ice cream, roasted fig, goat cheese honey cake

It sounded so intriguing so when this opportunity came up to experience eating in the dark I had to try it. And in the end it was definitely a memorable experience. I don't know what the lesson is except to keep your mind open when eating and concentrate more on the taste than identifying everything in the dish.

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