Fuchsia Dunlop, Yu Bo and Chui Lee Luk at Claude’s
By Franz Scheurer
Take a talented writer and two gifted chefs, three continents, multiple talents, and one passion and you end up with a dinner that is special, challenging and memorable.
Last night’s dinner will stay with me for a long time; not just for it’s visual excellence, but for its aromas, flavours and textures. It started with tiny little ‘hedgehogs’ perfectly detailed and obviously extremely labour-intensive, and some large, edible calligraphy brushes with edible ink. I think that these brushes pretty much fooled everyone. They looked so amazingly real that you heard a collective gasp when the first diner dipped the brush in the ink and bit the top off. A Maréchal, 100% Chenin sparkling from the Loire worked a treat and the Bandol Rosé served with the entrées was an inspired match.
The entrées came out in fairly quick succession and the finely diced bittermelon with ginger and the julienned okra with the preserved egg were gobbled up rather quickly. The hot numbing salad topped with ultra-thin beef tripe was texturally the most interesting dish and although the tea-smoked duck was not mind-blowing, the liver served with it, was. My favourite entrée had to be the ban ban chicken with fish-fragrant eggplant. Soft, gooey, gelatinous and perfectly in balance, this was a wonderful combination of superlative flavours and finely honed cooking craft.
At this stage we changed to a Chardonnay, made in the French Jura. This 2005 Arbois from Jacques Puffeney, bottled at 13.5% a/v, is the Pinot Noir of Chardonnays; It’s dirty, feral and a challenge without food, but did stand up to the chilli and spicy flavours of the main courses. First we ate a rabbit and pine nut bun with chilli oil; a stuffed, soft-textured bread roll that was incredibly moreish. The chilli chicken and cuttlefish had so many scuds in it I suspected David Thompson was hiding in the kitchen and the dry-fried bean and potato turned out to be water spinach with potato strips. The red-braised pork was another masterpiece. Lots of gelatinous fat and beautifully seasoned. Apart from Yu Bo it seemed I was the only one to notice that this pig was never castrated and had the definite ‘male’ pig aroma and flavour, an attribute that I do not particularly like. A very stylized mapo tofu dish (with the meat inside a tortellini) finished this part of the dinner with innovation and elegance.
A change to a Keller Spätlese 2007, a lovely, fruit-driven wine with plenty of acid for balance, signaled the end of the hot dishes and a wonderfully cleansing clear chicken broth finished the savoury part of the meal. Dessert consisted of an exceptional mango ice cream with heaps of chilli, on a Szechwan biscuit base with a ‘pastry hat’ that echoed orange zest and a terrific little meringue again filled with Szechuan pepper. A tiny black sesame ball, barely a mouth-full, ended the night on a high.
To have someone of the caliber of Fuchsia Dunlop explain the dishes, with a sensational chef like Yu Bo commenting and explaining, combined with the exacting nature of Chef Chui Lee Luk resulted in a superb night of culinary highs. Congratulations to all involved.