Snacks before "The Expedition" are fun and tasty. Donna Mah / For China Daily
On a recent fine-dining "expedition" at The Principal in Wan Chai, we were taken on a global food tour including some quirky takes on street food by chef Jonay Armas. Using his knowledge and skill, and taking inspiration from his travels, the chef has created a 10-course menu with optional wine pairing for diners to explore.
"The Principal's new tasting menu reveals my inspirations and personality while also honoring my heritage," explains Armas. "This menu recalls personal journeys, my experiences with various cultures and my love for Asian and Western cuisines."
The meal officially begins with a three-piece selection of brioche-style Chinese bun filled with pork belly, a bite-sized Mexican taco and small bowl of laksa with eggplant. However, we started with a number of pre-tasting menu nibbles that were fun and tasty - crisp pina - colada balls made with rum and coconut cream, Parmesan cheese rolls, squid ink and tapioca crackers with eel cream, and a soft cooked smoked quail egg with a crunchy togarashi caramelized sugar topping. Needless to say, there was lots to take in right from the beginning of the meal. Everything was nibble-sized, so we didn't fill up too early on the starters.
The "Sea" plate is a lovely cold dish composed of sea urchin panna cotta, calamari tartare, fresh sea urchin, caviar and seaweed. It was naturally sweet and fresh seafood dish. The next dish from the sea, "Crab", was inspired by the fish market in Aberdeen. Made with locally-sourced crab steamed with olive oil and served with chive oil, leek consomme, dill oil, and wasabi ice, it was a beautifully presented dish with layers of flavor and texture.
A surprise was next. The "Poie" Thai paired Thai tom yum with pan-seared foie gras. Not sweet, as expected with foie gras, the dish was a bit of spicy with lots of traditional Thai flavors - galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime and chili. I prefer the more traditional sweet accompaniment with foie gras, but this dish was nonetheless delicious, just not what I expected.
The "Carabinero" dish has intense shrimp flavor with a sauce made from a reduction of the heads and shells. The accompanying risotto was made with squid ink and garnished with garlic aioli and seaweed. The last dish from the sea was simply called "Garoupa". Garoupa is a very popular white fish in Hong Kong and was served pan-fried with a delicate lemongrass foam, smoked coconut and palm sugar consomme. The dish was light and elegant.
For my main dish, I chose the "Lamb". There is the option to have the "Wagyu" for a premium. Having spent two years in New Delhi, Armas pays tribute to traditional Indian techniques by pairing the New Zealand lamb shoulder with masala and yogurt. The dish is slightly sweet, and again for me, a little unexpected. The meat was very tender having been slow cooked before being pan-fried before serving.
A cheese dish was next, called "Babybel". Made with Brillat-Savarin cheese and black truffle, the cheese gets a beetroot coating to make it look like the popular snack cheese. Not recommended for those who are not beetroot fans though.
For me, dessert tasted better than it looked. "Violet" was a melange of violet ice cream, rose-colored meringue and goat yogurt. Light and fluffy, the dessert was not overwhelming and a good end to our food journey.
"The Expedition" 10-course degustation menu is priced at HK$1,080 ($139) per person. For an additional HK$500, guests can supplement their meal with the wine-pairing selection. "The Excursion", an alternative seven-course degustation menu, and a vegetarian selection are also available at scaled-back rates.
(China Daily 06/29/2014 page8)