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Chef Ho Chee Boon’s one-off menu serves up a gastronomic masterpiece
You know what you’re going to get from Hakkasan. Of such illustrious worldwide acclaim is the Cantonese restaurant that you expect to experience a profusion of quality in everything it offers: every mouthful, every sip and every interaction.
But these are mere preludes to the masterful symphony Chef Ho Chee Boon orchestrated from the kitchen for his one-night-only exclusive in Dubai last weekend.
For me, sat at this exclusive table for a menu that won’t be produced again any time soon, considering the UAE’s now saturated F&B industry, Chef Ho’s unique conceptual Cantonese menu served as a poignant reminder of precisely what chefs get awarded the prestigious Michelin stars for, and what Hakkasan is capable of delivering.
In Chef Ho’s case, it was the subtle combinations of flavours — sea bass and kumquat in particular — that entirely changed the taste and texture of a dish in unexpected and astonishing ways.
Brought over from New York, where he is the International Development Chef of the Hakkasan Group, for a three-night Middle Eastern tour (Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Qatar), the Michelin starred chef put together a UAE-inspired seven-course menu.
Having dined at Hakkasan’s London branch in Mayfair a couple of years ago, I was salivating (not just figuratively) at the prospect of sitting down for a Hakkasan exclusive in Dubai.
I was not disappointed.
Chef Ho put on a culinary masterpiece and delivered a menu that was structured and presented in a way that often left me speechless — and not because my mouth was crammed full of the Cantonese fare, for the portion sizes were intimate but generous, so that come the seventh course you were pleasantly full without any feelings of surfeit.
Most pleasingly of all was the way Chef Ho eased flavour into the dishes: this was an high-class exhibition in how to optimise accompaniments.
The combinations of textures and flavours on the palate were astounding at times which, added to the artistry of the presentation, produced an unrivalled fine dining experience.
With the roasted Chilean sea bass in a honeyed glaze, thin slices of kumquat created a crisp tartness that was entirely unexpected, and gave the sumptuous fish a juicy, exotic flavour. A combination that is new and unusual but worked so effortlessly well.
Of remarkable note was the crispy Wagyu beef puff. A pastry beautifully shaped like a swan — stuffed with wagyu — sat at one end of the plate. And two tender cuts of Wagyu rested at the other. Visually, the dish created an image of a swan crossing a pond to reach dry land. Though it looked like quite a heavy construction of pastry, the puff was inexplicably light and fluffy. And the beef so tender it defies description.
The crispy Peking duck with foie gras in a black sesame pancake was another highlight. A thin sheet of skin, separated from the breast, rested atop a thin slice of breast at one end of the plate, with the black sesame pancake, lined with the most delicately flavoured foie gras created a deconstruction of the elements that, put together, created that inexpressible.
Caviar was also used to great visual effect. For the steamed river prawn dumpling with fresh bamboo, red-orange and black caviar was layered next to a wisp of greenery to represent the colours of the UAE flag. And once again, from high concept to taste and texture, the result was impeccable. The crunch of the caviar combined with the fluffy prawn was something that resounded notes of elegant and exquisite gastronomy.
Throughout the meal, a sommelier was on hand to recommend the requisite wine. A German pinot noir set the wagyu puff off wonderfully, a Chinese Cabernet-Merlot rose suited the prawn and lobster beautifully, all of which was washed down with a rarefied saké at the end of the coconut and lychee desert.
So, the point of this meal: an exclusive, yes. But an exclusive that acts as a reminder of the pulling power and culinary prowess Hakkasan possesses. A timely reminder of the sort of food we should expect from high-end restaurants, given the hyper-competitive fine dining market in the UAE today. It’s important to know what can, and should, be done with the right ingredients at the right restaurants.
Bringing Chef Ho over for the three night exclusives (Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Qatar) was a smart move by the Hakkasan Group: one that suggests that going forward, should they be as well-executed as this one, the Cantonese restaurant’s exclusive concepts will always be worth looking out for.