Mission: To respond thoughtfully and responsibly to my experiences of drinking and dining at restaurants with regard to the quality, service, preparation, presentation and overall experience received thereat. The standpoint is one who respects the crafts of the chef and sommelier and who seeks to understand their choices in the kitchen and cellar and grow in knowledge. In this, I will seek to be fair, reasoned, direct and constructive and aim to keep my ego in check on our mutual journeys through the worlds of food and wine.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Seacret 2.0 Save Our Seafood dinner at Samplings on 14th Floor, Berjaya Times Square

Summary: Hmmm. Okay, good value for money but what standard should one set for students?

Arrived by monorail at the Times Square. Decided against car because of fear of mid town traffic and getting lost in BTS Car park. Lift took an age to come though staff were on hand at the 14th floor to direct. Registered and got offered some aquamarine blue liquid in a flute which looked quite off-putting and sweet. When advised it was non alcoholic it got declined. There seemed to be an insane number of young things dressed in black eager to help and assist. Maybe too many. Felt a bit overwhelmed by all the youth. At least they weren't over enthusiastic and genuinely seeking to help in a professional manner. Good sign. Though my one request for an extra copy of the menu was not able to be met. Well, it is a private school and one needs to remember tight budgets in these places. I used to work in Private Education. I know.

Getting seated with about 200 others all on long tables. Quite a pleasant setting, with a dominant open concept kitchen reminiscent of Akelare in San Sebastian, and all the more so given tonight's seafood theme. Table setting was a bit basic with two glasses plus water and three sets of functional cutlery. Well, it is a school. Brief speeches of welcome were followed by lots of smiling and the serving of hot tea in the first of the wine glasses.  This was slightly scary, as all night we were waiting for the glasses to crack under the heat. Surprisingly, none did. Must be something in the tea.

Interior of Samplings on the Fourteenth, Times Square Hotel
Following delightfully brief speeches of welcome by the organiser and guest of honour form the WWF, we got ready for the off. The aim was to raise awareness of sustainable seafood farming amid horror stats of civilisation gorging itself on rapidly depleting numbers and size of fish being caught in the wild. All the fish for the evening dinner was raised in a sustainable manner to generate sensitivity and ease pressure on the ocean sea life. Can't not support something like this, though purists might say the farmed seafood is a bit bland. Will sea a price rise to reflect such a preference. Market forces.

Open plan kitchen in glass
Speech over and out promptly came the first course. The Cerulean Haul dish was quite pleasant in a mango sweet and sourish gunky kind of way. Pretty clear which was the dominant flavour here. The texture of the tian was softly firm and tasty and the chilled ensemble sang nicely across the tongue. Good firm crunch on the noodle and nicely crisp, but seemed to need something to give a shade more finesse in the blend of the tastes to counter the mango. The tea was hugely tannic and harsh and in no way complemented the food. There were many good liquid matches that would have sufficed. A good Sancerre or Chablis would have been belter, but a glass of hot tannic tea is definitely not in the frame. It burned the tongue, both in heat and tannin terms. Big Fail, but when Twining is clearly a main sponsor there and presumably expectant of its product to get promoted, what can you do?
Cerulean Haul

The Rock Bottom scallops were fresh and farmed and possessed of good firm bite though cold and for some reason a shade bland and a bit "scallopy". Maybe a bit too long on the kitchen top somewhere. The sesame foam and dashi pearl gave nice umami on the mouth and the barley gave good crunch to bind the ensemble together. The little sprig of thyme was unexpected but lent a charming herb freshness. Again the tea failed to do anything but rip away the taste of the food. Some generous soul had taken pity on my lack of wine and passed a glass of full on Aussie Cabernet Sauvignon to me. As said, a good Chablis or ice crisp Sancerre would have been brilliant, but when you need a belt all wine is wonderful. 
Rock Bottom Scallops

Ripples of the Ocean is very nice, like a creamy smooth terrine to which the consomme is added. The consomme is pleasantly light and not the overpowering bouillabaisse like offerings previously endured elsewhere and the pop of grilled carrot gives the terrine a crispy sweet textured finish. A good dish. 
Asam Boi and Lime Sherbet

Interesting cleanser, like a cross between soursop and sweet plum puree with a chunk of mint on the top adding an airy pop of spearmint over everything and making it sweetly crisp and refreshingly zingy. Strong challenger for the dish of the night!!

The Aquascape was served following a demo by chef. Apple charcoal smoke being pumped under a plastic cloche over the dish was quite a nice visual and olfactory touch but caught in the throat when all the cloches were unveiled on the table. Great smell, but not good with sore throats. 

The main problem was that the salmon was cold. Two others on the table also said the same. I later saw the reason - staff with the earlier plates were waiting at least five minutes for the later plates to come from the kitchen so that all ten could be brought to table at the same time. Kitchen was slow. There's a need for food to be kept warm or for it to get out of the kitchen faster. 

Aside from this, there was a nice contrast in textures between the carbo couscous and the oily salmon, though both lacked taste and came over as bland notwithstanding generous dashes of fresh tomato, garlic and chives in the couscous. Perhaps the sugar that chef added cut the tomato acidity too much. The cold salmon lacked sufficient taste to really do anything. No one dared ask for salt and pepper although these would have done both the couscous and the fish nicely. Needed more acidity to cut the salmon and the salmon needed pepper to fire up the taste buds. Saliva often gets forgotten as the fire-starter for tasting the food. 

The Trapiche Rose was quite a good choice, and certainly a better one than the Pearly Bay Cab Sauv that was listed on the menu. Crisp and fruity and a nice bit of zing matched the salmon quite well. Fairly generous with the refills which is always welcome!
Ashore Mouselline

Very strong coffee flavours in the mouselline, sponge quite crisp and crunchy, which contradicted the somewhat chewy and rubber jellyfish texture on the noodle. The lemon tried to challenge the coffee but pretty much failed. Bit of an odd juxtaposition of flavours on this one. Challenging. This level of cocoa probably needed whiskey to tame everything. Or kill it. 

The last tea, the Lady Grey, cut the chocolate quite well. A very nice and pleasant tea on its own, fragrant and a charming tannic sweetness in the mouth. Well worth seeking out.

Service was generally friendly and efficient through the night, though one sour note was a bread server who pretty much barged our Dato' out of the way of his having a conversation with a guest so he could park the bread on the plate - felt a shade rude. Great servers do not make a guest get out of their way.  Better to let the guest finish and move on before doing your necessary - you can always come back. Also on occasion, gents got served before ladies. And the entertainment got a bit strange, with one student offering the heartfelt Coldplay song "Fix You" which was well delivered but had the effect of bringing the atmosphere right down. It took a lot to bring it back up and even then it didn't really get back up there with the ambient jazz music over the speakers. Whilst it is good to give way to student enthusiasm to show off their talent, song choice remains a critical factor and maybe needs clearance. Some issues with microphone feedback too - need a lesson in restaurant acoustics from the AV Technical manager.

My seating position offered a great view of the apparently single exit out of the kitchen AND the drinks preparation area. It also appeared to be a relaxation area with staff being able to be seen flopping down on chairs and crossing legs lepak style as if they were in a Kopitiam. Two points here - first is that congestion might be an issue (though in fairness it was not on this night) and second; being able to see staff relaxing somehow takes away from the experience being "fine" dining. Yes, we know they are students and they are young and maybe don't know so much at this stage, but service is a calling and high standards need to be instilled in the early if these kids are going to grace the finest restaurants of the world as presumably the School intends. 
The ingress, egress, and lepak area gangway

Nice piece of theatre at the end of the night with about 60 staff coming out and getting introduced to parents and guests. Good piece of real life experience but need to remember that these are kids and still learning. The real life experience is unquestionably good for them, and from this perspective they all did a fantastic job. Couldn't quite see what feedback could get through to the lecturers, if any. And got a bit irritated when the emcee shared that one of the guests had said the meal here was far better than one he or she had recently experienced at Cilantro. Sorry, this just felt inane. I'm all for praising the kids in public but there's no need to blow sunshine up their butts. You don't have a staff of 60 plus at Cilantro. And in no conceivable way could the food be compared. Agreed, you hold to different standards, but to say Samplings food and service was better than Cilantro is just wrong and suggests a lack of real food and restaurant appreciation on the part of the individual concerned. Cilantro's Chef Kimura is a wizard with food ingredients, and whilst Samplings is showing good potential it is clearly lacking star quality at this time and no way can hold a culinary candle to one of Malaysia's finest. Let these kids spend a night observing and getting served by staff at Cilantro and they'd learn a whole heap about what great food and great service can be.

Notwithstanding, it was in all a fairly pleasant experience, though purists who insist on great food and service might not go along totally with the concept. RM150 was a star price for the quality of the food and preparation, but it did somehow feel like student food from a student kitchen. Service was pretty good and timely, though with the huge numbers of human resource on show then promptness should be a given. Might be good to pare down the server numbers and see how they perform under the pressure they could expect in the real world. Then again, maybe not - the real world will come on them soon enough and one would wish them all the very best in their future endeavors and not throw them in the deep end too soon.  Will be going to the Sunway Cordon Bleu next month with the IWFS which will be a mix of students and alumni so should be interesting to compare. 

Seacret 2.0 Menu
Degustation menu

Cerulean Haul
Crustacean tian with mango salsa, Elements of Pesto tuile, balsamic fluid gel
Paired with Vintage Darjeeling, Twinings

Rock Bottom
Hokkaido Scallops, water chestnut, black sesame foam, Nori, deep fried barley, Dashi pearl on black netting
Paired with Vintage Darjeeling , Twinings

Ripples of the Ocean
Consomme, mosaic of mussel and prawn, carrot Royale, crispy vinegar ginger

Clearing the Current
Asam Boi and lime sherbet

Couscous, Faux garden and salmon, Asian scented clam sauce, potato bone marrow caponata
Paired with Trapiche Cabernet Rose

Two toned coffee mouselline, flourless chocolate sponge, salted creme caramel, croustilllant sable, Citrus noodle, and lemon scented sea coconut
paired with Lady Grey Twinings

1 comment:

  1. Invest in Ripple on eToro the World’s #1 Social Trading Network!

    Join 1,000,000's who have already discovered smarter strategies for investing in Ripple.

    Learn from profitable eToro traders or copy their positions automatically