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Chowing Out: NUR Development Kitchen

10.30.2014


"Light" and "nourishing" are not words I would generally associate with a ten course tasting menu, but NUR defies expectations in that respect, and in many others also.

The clue is in the the name - nur literally means light in Arabic. It also references the brainchild behind the concept, British Chef Nurdin Topham, whose culinary CV is anything but light. The food offering at NUR draws inspiration from Topham's decade with master chef Raymond Blanc, at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons and his eponymous cookery school, but also carries a distinctively innovative Nordic touch - no doubt influenced by his time at Rene Redzepi's NOMA (widely acknowledged to be the best restaurant in the world) and at Redzepi's food research institution Nordic Food Lab. With that collective work experience, plus the fact that Topham is also a qualified nutritional therapist, it's a safe bet that you're in the hands of someone who knows his ingredients, and how to get the best from them.

The theme of this development kitchen dinner was sourcing, and its difficulties in this part of the world. Topham was the first to comment on the challenge he faced with trying to source as locally as possible while retaining the quality of the ingredients used. The sourcing perimeter has been reduced significantly since the restaurant first opened in April of this year, and much of the produce we sampled came from local Hong Kong farms - including NUR's own herb garden - and Japan; course 7, the pigeon, originated from Guangdong, to my surprise! In his own words, Topham's struggle to further eliminate the carbon footprint of his ingredients lies mainly with sourcing protein, but his ongoing efforts to look locally as much as possible is to be admired. Says Salma Gaj, NUR's Creative Director and Topham's partner, "one of our first investments in the restaurant was to hire a good Sourcing Manager" - an unusual request by Hong Kong standards, but one that was absolutely necessary for NUR. Topham's insistence in understanding the local flora and fauna, and how and where things are grown, was first instilled in him by Blanc; he now views sourcing and purchasing as political decisions, and chooses to support responsible, local producers who share in his respect for the food chain. 


This is all well and good in theory, but is the end result truly satisfying? I'll admit I was somewhat sceptical about Topham's brand of nourishing gastronomy when I sat down at the start of dinner, but he had me converted even before the first course with his appetisers of beetroot tacos and dehydrated carrot with cumin infused cream. The first course of lightly pickled heirloom tomatoes served with herb flavoured water was a marvel - a little dish packed with an astonishing amount of flavour. With this dish, Topham is evidently throwing back to the moment when he tried his first Raymond Blanc tomato creation, taking his diners to the point where he realised all those years ago that fine dining could be light and balanced. 

The flavour profiles of each of the courses to follow is much the same - the ingredients are interfered with as little as possible, allowing the raw ingredients to speak for themselves. The Maitake mushroom, served simply with a little mushroom jus, was quite remarkable, as were the onsen egg with sweetcorn and crisp chicken skin and the aforementioned medium poached pigeon, accompanied by charred pear, radicchio and béchamel sauce. I'm yet to be convinced by onion ice cream with pickled radishes as pudding; the standout among the dessert offerings was the fruit salad - comprising jackfruit and guava and served with a baba. It is also worth noting that every dish emerging from the open kitchen was beautifully presented, with the different colours and textures of each plate or bowl adding to the overall aesthetic. We were all pleasantly surprised that Chef Nurdin managed to successfully run the pass and stop to talk us through each course!


I emerged from NUR feeling unusually comfortable - without any feeling of having overindulged in spite of eating Topham's ten+ courses. NUR is to be congratulated not only for pulling off this light and nourishing fare, but also for introducing a new and holistic pseudo-Nordic dining experience to the Hong Kong restaurant scene. As a true gem in Privé Group's restaurant portfolio (NUR was today given 1* Michelin status), I can't wait to see more from this talented chef and his ambitious restaurant.

NUR 3/F, 1 Lyndhurst Terrace / 2871 9993 / www.nur.hk

Valerie was a guest of Privé Group; all views are independent. The tasting menu sampled will be available at NUR from Saturday, November 1.

10.11.14 Update: I returned to NUR with Mr. Chowdown for our anniversary, and the dining experience certainly didn't disappoint! I was, however, saddened that the fruit salad had been axed from the new 9 course Feast menu. At HK$988 a pop, NUR is definitely a treat for pay day or special occasions - but one that is well worth it for the quality and quantity of chow they dish out.

Weekly Chow

10.26.2014


As I continue to write this blog week on week, I've become more curious about what exactly it takes to forge a career out of food writing. Having the conviction to write what you believe and think (as opposed to regurgitating what you know people want you to publish) is of paramount importance, but so is being knowledgeable about your subject matter, and truly enjoying what you are doing are also key. If you've ever considered going pro and working in the world of food and beverages, check out some of my finds from this week...

Have you thought about becoming a food writer? It's tougher than it seems! (HK Magazine)

Should food critics be able to tell the difference between McDonald's and independent fast food? Not always, it seems... (Telegraph)

10 choice excerpts from the brilliant review of Beast by Jay Rayner. (Grub Street)

The chowdown on Anna Jones, and what it's like to be a chef and food stylist. (About Time)

London is fast becoming the world's cocktail capital, with 8 of the world's top 50 bars! (Telegraph)

Research indicates that tipped workers are twice as likely to live in poverty... (Eater)

P.S. 20 thoughts that all stress eaters have. #18 sums me up!

A Tale of Two Carbones

10.21.2014


Step into Carbone in Greenwich Village today and you are immediately transported back to New York in the 1950s. At the time, the city was flooded with Italian-American immigrants fleeing the atrocities of World War II a decade earlier. Prosperous times were coming, remarks chef and co-creator Mario Carbone - "you’re seeing more protein at the table now, because they can afford it."

Carbone is both a throwback and a celebration to that particular time and place; an unashamedly over the top revival of a red sauce neighbourhood restaurant that is hearty and warm. There are no half measures at this joint: the floors are tiled black and white as a homage to a pivotal moment at a Bronx restaurant in The Godfather; the wait staff wear burgundy tuxedos topped with wide grins; the soundtrack comprises songs you know but haven't heard in a while; the menu is literally larger than life; and the portions are generous to the point of ostentation. In the wrong hands, this combination could have overwhelmed diners and descended into a caricature of what it set out to be. However, the inspired concept, coupled with the execution of familiar dishes such as jumbo Italian meatballs, lobster fra diavolo and lemon cheesecake to an elevated standard, led to a Michelin star and being named one of 2013's top 10 restaurants in its first year of operation.


A few months after opening in New York, a chance meeting between Major Food Group - comprising chefs Carbone and Rich Torrisi plus business partner Jeff Zalaznick - and Black Sheep Restaurants - Asim Hussain and Christopher Mark - in Hong Kong set the wheels in motion for a second Carbone, which opened a couple of months ago on the 9th floor of LKF Tower. The essential components that made Carbone New York a success have been replicated here, from the the tiled floors and exuberant burgundy waiters (some of whom have been flown in from the original Carbone to oversee the opening months) to the retro music and several signature menu items, including the meatballs, rigatoni vodka, whole branzino and that remarkably creamy cheesecake. While not every dish is as strong as those just listed - the linguine vongole is comparatively unremarkable, for instance - the overall experience of chowing out at Carbone Hong Kong was every bit as satisfying as it was in NYC, and I don't doubt that it will soon gain the same critical and popular recognition.


Being me, I couldn't resist delving further into the story of how Carbone Hong Kong came about. Asim Hussain, whom I have interviewed previously, shares his take on both restaurants, from why Black Sheep Restaurants chose the concept to how they adapted it to suit Hong Kong...

What attracted you to the Carbone concept?

Black Sheep Restaurants are all about niche restaurant concepts that tell a story about a time, place, culture and cuisine. Carbone represents a special moment in Italian-American history - 1958 in New York City - along with a rich dining culture that we thought Hong Kong diners would enjoy. My business partner Chris[topher Mark] and I had also been talking about opening a red sauce concept for some time, so Carbone seemed like a natural fit after meeting with the Major Food Group guys.

Talk me through the process of adapting Carbone to Hong Kong.

We never wanted to open Carbone New York in Hong Kong - we wanted to open Carbone Hong Kong. While the restaurants are very similar, we have adapted much of the guest experience specifically with Hong Kong diners in mind.

First off, Carbone New York is on the ground floor, while in Hong Kong we are located on the 9th floor. This allows us to have that special moment when guests exit the lift and feel instantly transported to New York in 1958. Another example would be the back waiter uniforms - the Shanghainese jackets have Mandarin collars inspired by traditional Chinese garb, and represent the similarities that Carbone’s style of service has with those of Cantonese fine dining establishments.

When it comes to the food, chef Mario is committed to working with ingredients available locally, spending the entire summer prior to opening shopping the local wet markets. Many of the dishes in Hong Kong include chillies that are only found in Asia, and we use local fish and this excellent Australian Wagyu for the Ribeye Diana that they can’t get in New York.


How do you see Carbone fitting into Hong Kong's crowded dining scene? 
 
We opened Carbone because we knew that the guest experience would be at once familiar and entirely new to Hong Kong diners. The menu is not intimidating - dishes like rigatoni, Caesar salad and veal parm are not new, but are crafted with premium ingredients and modern cooking techniques. Like Cantonese cuisine, a meal at Carbone is enjoyed family style, and the quality of service is also comparable to that of high end Cantonese establishments like Lung King Heen and China Tang.

But despite these familiarities, the experience at Carbone is unprecedented in Hong Kong as it represents a specific era in New York-Italian culture that has, until now, not been represented in the local dining scene. The food, music, décor, service style and overall atmosphere come together to recreate 1958 New York in the heart of Lan Kwai Fong, and this is what makes Carbone unique.


And tell me, what is your favourite dish and drink at Carbone?

The steaks and the lamb chops are by far my favourite indulgences, and they are absolutely worth saving room for.* As for drinks, I’d recommend kicking off the meal with a cocktail before moving on to wine. I’ve been drinking a lot of Americanos lately, but I am also a big fan of the Whiskey Sour.

*He fails to mention the incredible cheesecake, which by now, I'm sure you've ascertained that I am a fangirl of. This is an absolute must-try when you visit either Carbone!

Carbone 181 Thompson Street, New York / 212 254 3000 / carbonenewyork.com 
Carbone 9/F LKF Tower, 33 Wyndham Street, Hong Kong / 2593 2593 / carbone.com.hk

Images 3, 4 and 5 are courtesy of Black Sheep Restaurants. Valerie was a guest of Black Sheep at Carbone Hong Kong and a paying customer at Carbone NY; all views are independent.

Weekly Chow

10.17.2014


We are coming into the third week of protests in Hong Kong, and emotions continue to run high as a resolution seems very far away still. In such times, I've found myself looking for little sparks of inspiration to keep positive. From the simple act of reciprocating sign lettering for food to adding conversation prompters to table settings, I hope this dose of Weekly Chow keeps you ticking along for another week! Failing that, the video of primary school kids dining at a fancy New York restaurant is bound to bring a smile to your face...

What happens when you treat 7 year olds to a 7 course tasting menu at Daniel... (NYT Magazine)

Why you should cook at home more often, by Mark Bittman. (TIME)

This talented lady offers beautiful hand-lettered signs in exchange for lunches in NYC. What a brilliantly enterprising idea! (Will Letter for Lunch)

Keeping it simple - the only 4 spice mixes you'll ever need for curry. (The Times)

On top of faux luxury goods, copycat branded restaurants are now springing up in China. (CNN)

Ever been sat next to someone at a dinner party and had nothing to say to each other? These conversation prompting napkins are here to help! (Cup of Jo)

Homemade Chow: Farmhouse Jam Mocktail

10.15.2014


This has been a year of many "firsts" for me, and I ticked another one off the list recently with my first solo photoshoot! The shoot was part of an interview for Baccarat, where I dished on where I like to eat (my neighbourhood of Tai Hang, with its myriad of cuisines and late night dessert shops), local causes I support (Feeding Hong Kong is great for ad hoc volunteering) and my junk food of choice (anything from Haribo). If you want to find out a bit more about the girl behind the blog, check out the October issue of Baccarat magazine on newsstands now in Hong Kong.

We were hosted by Fish & Meat, who were also kind enough to supply me with my favourite - and very photogenic - drink during the shoot and interview. For those of you who aren't in Hong Kong, or have yet to try their Farmhouse Jam mocktail - because I genuinely prefer the alcohol-free version! - here's how to recreate it at home. Serve this easy drink at your next dinner party as something that is delicious and Instagram-worthy in equal parts.


Farmhouse Jam Mocktail

Ingredients:
Blueberry jam (they use homemade stuff at Fish and Meat, but store bought is fine too)
Fresh lemon juice
Soda water
Ice
Fresh thyme and blueberries, to garnish

& Mason jars, if you have them handy!

Steps:
1. Add a heaped teaspoon of jam to the bottom of the mason jar, and squeeze in some fresh lemon juice. I like a sharp citrus kick with my drinks, so I added in the juice of half a lemon.

2. Fill the jar with ice.

3. Add in soda water and stir well. Finish off with a sprig of fresh thyme and a couple of blueberries.

P.S. For those of you who want the recipe for the Farmhouse Jam cocktail (perfect for weekend brunches), head over to A Pair and a Spare for the spiked version.

Images by Samantha Sin for Baccarat.

Weekly Chow

10.10.2014


As I'm sure you've noticed, it's been an incredibly significant two weeks in Hong Kong. The topics of universal suffrage, student protestors, and how Mainland China will react to the recent events have taken over general topics of discussion, and rightly so, as this is likely to be a significant turning point for the city. We are all waiting with baited breath for the resolution of these demonstrations, but in the meantime, here are some light reads to tuck into. Have a good weekend, and to my Hong Kong readers - stay safe out there.

Dominique Ansel's fiendish cronut recipe has been released. Will you try it out?  (ABC News)

Go behind the scenes and check out these bloggers' food photography set ups! (Handle the Heat)

As we come to the end of another stellar season of the Great British Bake Off, check out some Great British artisan bakers to support... (Great British Chefs)

Behold: the world's most expensive burger, with edible gold, Kobe beef and more! (Telegraph)

How do you make your tea? Do you put the hot water in first, or the milk? Surprisingly, science is on the side of milk first... (Guardian)

A fascinating look at 72 ways that food can change the world #longread (Eater)

P.S. In love with these creative food and cooking illustrations in new cookbook Plenty More.