The best way to meet the top culinary masters, says Julian Tan, is to score a chef’s table, which offers diners a chance to sample some of the best gourmet offerings, interact with them and then some.
There’s an ancient Chinese proverb – “To the ruler, the people are heaven; to the people, food is heaven”.
And nowhere could be more divine than at a chef’s table where the drama of continuous creation and lively interaction between the master of the kitchen and his audience lead to an experience for savouring long after the meal is over.
In keeping with the exclusivity of the menus – created using the freshest ingredients and seasonal favourites – the food selection varies. The prices we’ve quoted are for food only, and exclude beverages. Like all good things in life, reservations are recommended.
The Café, The Ritz-Carlton Hongkong
WHAT’S IT LIKE? Enter the hotel by the Chater Road entrance and you’ll find yourself at its all-day dining restaurant The Café (seating: 120), set in an elegant, cosy ambience and lined with big, comfortable sofa seats. Remember to reserve the table from across the small-yet-functional open kitchen, where you can have the best views of the chef and his assistants at work. Each tasting session caters to between two and 24 diners on both the ground-floor dining area and mezzanine level.
WHO’S COOKING? Chef de cuisine Eddy Leung who claims to have started Hongkong’s first private dining restaurant, the now-defunct Poison Ivy. “I find out what my customers like or do not like and check what’s the best available in the market before putting a menu together (based on the ingredients I can find),” says the 36-year-old. “ Then I email the sample menu to my customers a few days prior to their dinner appointment.”
TASTING MENU: Diners can opt for six or eight courses, all carefully portioned, including marinated raw tuna with Japanese pear and salad nicoise, poached Australian sea scallop with caviar, pan-fried goose liver with pâté and pâté ice-cream, oyster cappuccino and fine de claire gratin (chef’s signature), champagne sherbet and tea-smoked pigeon breast with creamy leek stew and chestnut confit, complete with the sommelier’s pick. Our surprise dessert that evening was a handsome plate of truffles made from Valrhona chocolate, courtesy of pastry chef Richard Long.
PRICES: HK$600 (US$77) each for six courses and HK$800 (US$103) for eight courses.
OPENING HOURS: Daily from 0630 to 2300; chef’s table is available only from 1830.
CONTACT: The Ritz-Carlton Hongkong, 3 Connaught Road, Central, Hongkong, tel 852 2877 6666 ext 8311, www.ritz-carlton.com
WHAT’S IT LIKE? Who needs a view when the food in this windowless 28-seater restaurant is captivating enough? Iggy’s – the brainchild of renowned sommelier/restaurateur Ignatius Chan, formerly of Les Amis, Au Jardin and The Lighthouse (a gem of a restaurant at the Fullerton Hotel that has since shut down) – is actually an expanded chef’s table, operating most days of the week, lunch and dinner.
The L-shaped counter, a sniff away from the kitchen, may seem at first to afford little privacy for spooning couples or corporate chatting, but during the times we peeked in, different sets of customers were engaged in all kinds of conversation and no one seemed to mind they were elbow to elbow. In fact, Chan says he’s been told by his adoring clientele that the food seems to taste better “closer to the fire”.
But for those, who prefer the traditional set up, there are tables scattered throughout the low-ceilinged but well-lit nook in a discreet corner of the third level of The Regent Hotel.
WHO’S COOKING? German national Dorin Schuster, who first came to the attention of Chan and his wife/business partner Janice, when he worked as executive chef at The Legian Bali where the couple spent many vacations. Their synergy is seamless, says Chan. “Very often, an active chef has too many worries like sourcing for ingredients and so on that he gets too tired to create. The dimension I add to the partnership is being able to do a lot of thinking, while he does a lot of the executing. We work together very well this way.
“I may not be a chef by training but with my sommelier background, I’ve worked with a lot of flavours, wine, food and sauces. And I simply enjoy creating an experience that takes diners through a gastronomic journey.”
TASTING MENU: Last month’s tasting menu, consisting of eight courses, included pan-fried shirako with green curry foam, seaweed cracker with uni and egg royale with ikura (canapés), mille-feuille of lightly-smoked Petuna ocean trout with tomato vinaigrette, onion gratin with shaved Alba white truffle, tempura of zucchini flower with braised sea cucumber, green pea-shiso emulsion, capellini with sakura ebi and home-made scampi oil, a choice of crispy roasted suckling pig with apple puree and tumeric oil or oven-roasted Australian venison, melted Vacherin Mont d’Or with black truffle salsa, la ratte potatoes and mache salad and baked Valrhona Araguani chocolate soup with Grand Marnier and chocolate ice-cream.
The five-course version had mille-feuille of smoked ocean trout and savoy cabbage and tomato vinaigrette, melted foie gras with truffle risotto and candied tomato, prawn mousse with shiso consommé, croquette of lamb loin with Japanese herbs and soy tarragon butter and Champagne jelly sorbet with fresh peach and elderflower foam.
PRICES: The eight-course experience comes at S$150 (US$96.40) and five is S$75 (US$48). The Table d’Hote Lunch consists of three courses at S$45 (US$29), and with Wagyu striploin, is S$75 (US$48). A 10- or 12-course menu is also available.
OPENING HOURS: From 1200 to 1330, Monday to Friday, closed on Saturday and Sunday; 1900 to 2130 daily.
CONTACT: The Regent Singapore, Level 3, 1 Cuscaden Road, Singapore 249715, tel 65 6732 2234. Advance booking is not only recommended, it’s essential!
Margie T Logarta
WHAT’S IT LIKE? Opened in May, Le Papillon (French for butterfly) is a modern European, semi-fine dining restaurant designed like a gallery (“light, white and very Scandinavian”). It is set in the trendy Red Dot Traffic Building, a colonial structure in the CBD that was formerly the traffic police headquarters and now anchored by a design museum, hosting exhibitions, fashion shows and the like. Dominating restaurant is a long, rectangular main dining room, whose wall is adorned with a stunning 6.5-metre by 2.6-metre mural by local artist James Lim, for 60 guests, a private dining room for 10 and a five-seat chef’s table that offers window-side views of the kitchen.
WHO’S COOKING? The award-winning chef Anderson Ho (the restaurant is a dream come true for Ho and his brother, Singapore’s top food photographer Edmond Ho), who was, until recently, with SATS, the inflight catering arm of Singapore Airlines. Prior to that, he helmed the critically acclaimed fusion restaurant Fig Leaf for two years and was with Raffles Grill in Raffles Hotel for five. The 42-year-old Ho describes his food as “simple and honest – cooking that comes from the heart”.
TASTING MENU: His signature dishes include cold or warm Caesar salad with a choice of toppings sauté prawns and garlic croutons, chilled cantaloupe melon soup with crab salad, pan-roasted grain-fed beef tenderloin with oxtail parcel, sauté field mushrooms, seasonal greens and mousseline potato, and confit of crispy pork belly and sauté tiger prawns on green pea mousse.
PRICES: S$80 (US$51.41) for six courses and S$120 (US$77) for eight courses. OPENING HOURS: Lunch starts from 1200 to 1430 Monday to Friday; dinner is from 1830 to 2230 Monday to Friday and 1830 till late on Saturday. On Mondays, BYO is welcome.
CONTACT: 28 Maxwell Road, #01-02 Red Dot Traffic Building, Singapore 069120, tel 65 6327 4177, www.le-papillon.com.sg
Peach Blossoms, Marina Mandarin Singapore
WHAT’S IT LIKE? Reopened in February as part of the hotel’s total US$16 million refurbishment, this Cantonese cuisine restaurant sports a warm, stylish decor enhanced by soothing wood tones, an auspicious, red eight-pillar entrance and an eye-catching aquarium. The chef’s table is also offered at the hotel’s two other restaurants, Ristorante Bologna (Italian) and Aquamarine (seafood and international).
WHO’S COOKING? The award-winning master chef Tan Yong Hua who’s chalked up an impressive 10-year record in culinary food preparation, à la carte operations and ice carving for leading hotels, country clubs and restaurants.
TASTING MENU: There are two six-course menus. The S$100/US$64-per-person menu (add S$40/US$25.72 for wine) comprises Peach Blossoms Three Combination (suckling pig cutlet with goose liver, deep-fried shishamo fish with shredded ginger and roast duck with barbecue sauce), mini Buddha Jumps Over the Wall, stir-fried prawn and eggplant with garlic, pan-fried fillet of tuna fish with fermented soy bean crumbs, pan-fried spare ribs with spicy mango sauce and chilled red plum with yoghurt.
The S$150 (US$96) menu comprises Peach Blossoms Three Combination; steamed shredded sea cucumber, fish maw, black mushrooms, black fungus and bamboo shoot wrapped in beancurd sheet topped with mini superior shark’s fin; deep-fried cod fish flower with sweet and spicy sauce; braised whole abalone with flower mushrooms and fresh lily bulb; stir-fried seasonal vegetables with white and brown Honshimeiji mushrooms; and black sesame ice-cream served in whole coconut.
PRICES: From US$64 per person. A sommelier is available to give advice on wine pairing.
OPENING HOURS: Lunch is from 1200 to 1430 Monday to Saturday and 1100 to 1430 Sunday and during public holidays; dinner is from 1830 to 2230 daily.
CONTACT: Marina Mandarin Singapore, 6 Raffles Boulevard, Marina Square, Singapore 039594, tel 65 6845 1111, www.marina-mandarin.com.sg
Biscotti, Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok
WHAT’S IT LIKE? This contemporary, casual two-level Italian restaurant with a capacity for 100 features a chef’s table for eight across the open kitchen, separate from the rest of the tables. Guests can request the chef to prepare dishes, which are not on the menu depending on the availability of ingredients. (Advance notice of two to three days is required for special requests.) Further inside the restaurant is a communal table for 10 that functions both as a bar and a gathering point where the chef and guests can interact.
WHO’S COOKING? Chef Danilo Aiassa, who has worked with Michelin-starred chefs back in his hometown of Italy and also in Strasbourg. His predecessor Giovanni Speciale was recently promoted to executive chef at Four Seasons Hotel Shanghai.
TASTING MENU: The four-course meal comprises a choice of appetisers (like focaccia with mascarpone and truffle oil, duck liver terrine “Cotta al Torcione” with fig marmalade and toasted bread, and beef carpaccio with Nameko mushrooms and rocket leaves), starters (like gnocchi with yellowtail, artichokes and tomatoes, and lumaconi/shell pasta with parma ham, zucchini and cheese fondue) and main courses (like roasted lamb chops with bell pepper and ratte potatoes and grilled langoustines with creamy potato, cornetti beans and rocket sauce), complete with desserts like frozen caramel cappuccino with almond tuille and passion fruit and banana frappe.
PRICE: Between 1,800 baht (US$49) and 2,500 baht (US$69).
OPENING HOURS: Breakfast hours are from 0600 to 1030; lunch, noon to 1430; dinner, 1800 to 2230. Chef’s table is available for dinner only.
CONTACT: Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok, 155 Rajadamri Road, Bangkok 10330, Thailand, tel 66 2 255 5443, www.fourseasons.com
Palladio Italian Restaurant, The Portman Ritz-Carlton Shanghai
WHAT’S IT LIKE? This 160-seat restaurant, named after renowned Italian architect Andrea Palladio, is itself a work of art. Designed by Jack Portman of John Portman Associates (also responsible for designing the hotel) and Grover Dear of ArchAsia, it oozes a neo-classical yet contemporary elegance with the use of Palladian arches and columns enhanced by state-of-the-art lighting. The clever use of space is demonstrated through a direct axial symmetry that links the entrance arch, entrance vestibule, ocular window and an arch at the other end of the restaurant, while a piazza marble mosaic extends from the courtyard into the restaurant interior.
There are four seating areas and a bar; an open kitchen with a wood-burning oven entertains diners seated on bar stools. The centrepiece is a unique silver urn handcrafted by Italian artisans with a 500-year family history.
TASTING MENU: There are two menus: four- and five-course. The former comprises of a selection of mixed appetisers, artichoke and crab meat risotto with Bottarga roe, marsala veal scaloppine with porcini mushroom and green pea-filled semonlina gnocchi and freshly made tiramisu; while the five-course menu comes with appetisers, homemade square spaghetti with Boston lobster, fresh tomato and basil, grilled tuna on almond, lemon and basil “Trapani style” pesto with shaved fennel, orange, olive and caper salad, pan-fried beef medallion topped with fried breaded goose liver on sautéed spinach and black truffle sauce and warm chocolate pudding with coconut sauce, pear and grappa sherbet.
PRICE: CNY520 (US$66) per person for four courses and CNY700 (US$89) for five. The expertise of restaurant manager/sommelier Maurizio Moncalvo can be tapped for wine pairings.
OPENING HOURS: Lunch is from 1130 to 1430 Monday-Saturday; dinner from 1730-2230 daily.
CONTACT: The Portman Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, Shanghai Centre, 1376 Nanjing Xi Lu, Shanghai 200040, China, tel 86 21 6279 7188, www.ritz-carlton.com
Senses, Hilton Kuala Lumpur
WHAT’S IT LIKE? Boasting a romantic setting enhanced by soft gold chiffon curtains, atmospheric lighting and monochrome decor, this East-West fusion cuisine restaurant seating 55 is the brainchild of the globally acclaimed Chef Cheong Liew of The Grange at Hilton Adelaide. Senses was awarded the 2005 Five Star Diamond from the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences.
WHO’S COOKING? The 25-year-old, Swedish chef de cuisine Michael Elfwing, who trained under Cheong at The Grange. After moving to Australia at age 16, Elfwing had his first stint as an apprentice chef at Little River Restaurant and Winery in Swan Valley, off Perth.
Tasting menu: The pièce de résistance on the seven-course menu is Cheong’s signature dish, Four Dances of the Sea – a seafood platter of four morsels of soused barramundi, raw calamari with black squid ink noodles, octopus aioli and spiced prawn sushi – paired with 2004 Domaine Mardon Quincy from the French Loire Valley, specially chosen by master of wine Dr Ron Georgiou. Also on the menu are seared Hokkaido Bay scallops with French goat cheese, roasted beetroot purée and fine leaf salad; vanilla and kafir lime steamed Moreton Bay bugs with fragrant soup, fennel, nashi salad and spicy dip sauce; seared foie gras with rosemary, roasted quince and hazelnut milk foam; coal-grilled wagyu beef with stir-fried shitake mushroom, sugar snap pulse with rocket Gorgonzola and potato tortellini; creamed Brillat-Savarin cheese with French black truffle, pine nut baklava and reduction of port wine; and to round it all up, a choice of chocolate-strawberry or basil-coconut sorbet.
PRICES: From RM348 (US$96) per person; RM488 (US$134) with wine.
OPENING HOURS: Monday to Saturday from noon to 1430 for lunch; from 1900 to 2300 for dinner.
CONTACT: Hilton Kuala Lumpur, 3 Jalan Stesen Sentral, Kuala Lumpur 50470, Malaysia, tel 60 3 2264 2264, www.hilton.com
Senju, Edsa Shangri-La
WHAT’S IT LIKE? At Edsa Shangri-La, the chef’s table aims to introduce “the hotel’s culinary expertise with a twist” and is scheduled every quarter of the year. The experience takes place at “a nice, comfortable corner of the kitchen”, most recently at Japanese restaurant, Senju (which translates as “a thousand happiness” and serves kaiseki, made up of courses using only the season’s freshest ingredients and cooked in a variety of ways that enhance their flavours). The hotel’s other restaurants are Heat (international), Summer Palace (Cantonese) and Paparazzi (Italian).
At Senju, guests can indulge in a sensory experience with an interior of abacca (banana plant fibre) wall panels and a display of smooth stones with cascading water.
WHO’S COOKING? Resident chef Kiyoshi Ogawa who offers an imaginative infusion of Western cuisine with Asian in his foie gras with sushi. “I’d like to try infusing bangus (a Filipino delicacy of salted and dried milkfish) someday, or daing, even liempo (pork belly),” says the Tokyo-born chef who is married to a Filipina and claims to be half-Filipino at heart.
TASTING MENU: The three-course meal comprises appetisers (like senju roll, lightly broiled salmon and beef sushi and tuna belly in sweet miso vinaigrette), main course (like assorted mushrooms wrapped in thinly sliced beef, lobster teppanyaki, deep-fried flounder, traditional steamed salmon rice and clear soup) and dessert, which is banana zenzai or rice cake ball and banana with red bean paste.
PRICE: None. By invitation only.
OPENING HOURS: Daily from 1130 to 1430 for lunch; from 1830 to 2200 for dinner.
CONTACT: Edsa Shangri-La Manila, 1 Garden Way, Ortigas Center, Mandaluyong City 1650, Metro Manila, Philippines, tel 63 2 633 8888 ext 2738/9, www.shangri-la.com