Friday, July 10, 2009

Molecular Cuisine by Jeff Ramsey @ Pacifica, Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur


salad Jim Lambie...in the same style as the famous installation artist


It's a kind of magic...(aka Queen's iconic song) seems to describe the experience you get with a Jeff Ramsey dinner. The Japanese-American whiz kid from Mandarin Oriental Tokyo's Tapas Molecular Bar (he's only 33 years old and the restaurant was awarded a Michelin star this year) was in town last week, dazzling everyone with his molecular interpretations. I admit I was a little hesistant to join this year's dinner (I had experienced it already last year when he first visited KL) but numerous SMSes from my friend EHK and a very descriptive phone call from another fellow foodie, CS who attended one of the earlier sessions, tempted me so much, we both just gave in. Literally a case of "resistance is futile"...in the words of the Borg from Star Trek.

It turned out to be one of our best dining experiences - a combo of molecular cuisine with intense flavours (and unexpected forms) coupled with great dining companions that included the fun group of Robert Danhi, a chef cum cookbook author who wrote
South East Asian Flavours, a James Beard nominated cookbook. The whole setup for the dinner sessions (twice every night for about three hours) is small and intimate, with about seven people (we had ten that night on a special request) allowing you to interact with the chef while he works behind the bar prepping the dishes. While Ramsey was descriptive about what he was doing, I must admit I wasn't taking notes but just soaking in the whole atmosphere, hence some descriptions of the items can be a little sketchy.


1. coating corn pellets with caramel, 2. apple tuiles with manchego cheese - a tasty bite, 3. the best ever melt-in-the-mouth caramel corn, 4. drinking umami, the fifth taste from ice shooters

It was my first time visiting Pacifica after their designer makeover by uber famous Stephane Dupoux, the man behind swanky places like Buddha Bar in New Ork, Cocoon in London and Opium in New York. Dupoux also designed the Sultan Lounge, the club located just below Pacifica. The lounge was definitely an eye-popping sight with its surreal red glow and unusual shell shaped chairs, when we dropped by for our welcome drink (Laurent Perrier champagne). At one side of the wall, you had large comfy booths to sit and mingle. If Sultan Lounge is all swank and hip, Pacifica on the other hand, strikes me as more intimate and ideal for those romantic dinners. Long fringed curtains envelope the tables, that seem to cocoon you in and cutting you away from the other diners. Motif highback chairs add a touch of elegance while fishes play peek-a-boo with you from jewelled glass portholes on one side of the wall, from their watery home.

For dinner that night, we dined at the circular and more intimate bar counter - a vast improvement from Pacifica's old long bar counter as I could peer down from my very comfy high chair and easily see what was happening behind the scenes. Kicking off the meal was a hot shot of umami - the unique and fifth taste presented to us in shooter glasses made with ice. While the taste was a little ordinary (probably because our tastebuds are so "ajinomoto-ed" already from eating so much MSG, the artificial re-creation of umami), it was still very comforting. Next, we had the caramel corn - corn pellets coated with caramel. Simply ethereal and light as air to the taste, while retaining the flavours of caramel popcorn! How I wish I had a bag of this, while watching the next blockbuster movie. Even the bite-sized apple tuiles wrapped around manchego cheese was awesomely delish.


1. grouper fish with fennel & fresh lily bulbs, 2. xiaolongbao with a twist, 3. ramsey at work, 4. warm sizzling beef, so incredibly good someone started proposing marriage

Most of Ramsey's creations are based on his personal experiences, like the crab dish - one of the lightest ever soft shell crab tempura I have ever tasted, served with a coriander sauce, inspired from his childhood days in Maryland, USA where crab is super popular. I loved the watermelon item, which is based on a traditional Japanese beach party game called Suikawari where blindfolded participants whack a watermelon with a stick (like a pinata). Our version looks like an ice ball that Ramsey quickly flambes to allow it to melt a little. A thwack with our spoons reveals watermelon flavoured dust making it a cool refresher break from the other dishes.

In between bites of a light but very tasty fish powder crackers, Ramsey assembles the next items including this weird looking contraption with multiple syringes to make carrot caviar. Involving loads of chemicals like sodium alginate and calcium chloride, the syringe drops the liquid (carrot juice mixed with sodium alginate) into the calcium chloride to form droplets that resemble ikura (fish eggs). For those who wish to experiment at home, do check
this site out that details out specific instructions on how to recreate this. Prior to our "caviar" being served, Ramsey served us this season's "red" dish. Every year Ramsey creates a dish based on a red coloured food item and this year it is a tomato captured within a bubble similar to the carrot caviar (but much bigger) served with a yuzu bubble, tomato water and nori flakes. I loved the tangy yuzu flavours mixed with the very mild tomato taste.


1. this year's red dish in tomato water, 2. Pacifica's new look with fringes, 3. smoked chicken oyster with cape gooseberries, 4. smoke it baby

Next is the prettiest ever salad inspired by Jim Lambie's installation work. The bold graphic lines that decorate the bottom of the glass plate is a mixture of parmesan cheese and bamboo charcoal, which is essentially your salad dressing. Assembled to look like a piece of art is a juicy raspberry, thinly sliced poly radish, mantis prawns and a pink coloured cauliflower. Seems like a shame to even eat it, as it looks so pretty. After the light bites, Ramsey features the more substantial items like the grouper fish served with thinly sliced fennel cooked sous vide and served with fresh lily bulbs. Splashie Boy's favourite dish was the warm sizzling beef - tender beef that slightly sizzles on your tongue when you bite into it. Another experimentation begins with smoking our food by burning mulberry powder. While the smoky flavour didn't infuse the chicken dish served with young gooseberries (or what we know as cape gooseberries), I thoroughly enjoyed it as it used the "oyster" part - the highly sought after tender and juicy meat above the chicken thigh in the spoon shaped section of the backbone.

Ramsey also featured his famous electric eel dish, a creation that helped him win Eat-Japan's 2006 Sushi Year of Award. The colourful dish consists of grilled eel, roasted pineapple and avocado sauce with lime, which you eat together and the combination of the ingredients give you the slightly salty flavour of miso. Amazing stuff! I liked his interpretation of xiaolongbao made with lamb cutlet. Watch out when you cut into your tender lamb cutlet as it spurts out a sauce made by boiling lamb bones till it is concentrated with flavour. I also loved the baby peach - green in colour but oh so sweet! The meat dishes definitely dazzled and made the earth move for one of the dinner guests, as she started proposing marriage to Ramsey!!
(He did jokingly say yes to her at the end of the meal.)


1. Flame on! - burn baby burn, 2. thwack!, 3. watermelon before, and 4. exposed

My favourite part of the evening was just before desserts, when Ramsey and his Japanese sidekick whipped up some green tea "dust" like some alchemist. Ramsey gives us strict instructions on how to proceed with the dish known as Uji Kintoki i.e, warm our mouth with the red bean paste and eat the green tea "dust", we discovered we could snort out smoke through the nostrils. Hilarious stuff! It felt like a Harry Potter potions class!


1. The elements of warmed red bean and freeze dried green tea, 2. puff goes the magic dragon, 3. cool cool green tea, 4. nose job

Last but not least were the desserts - another roller coaster ride of flavours. First we were served an innocent looking fruit platter consisting of passion fruit, grapefruits, orange, lemon and lime. On one side, we spied an innocent red berry. Ramsey has us tasting the sour citrus fruits first and then chewing on the red berry for about one minute. He asks us to chew it slowly without biting into the seed, to try and coat our tongue with the juices. Once that is done, he asks us to try our sour citrus fruits. Now, instead of a tangy and sour taste usually associated with grapefruit, everything was sweet tasting. Somehow weirdly enough, it didn't seem to change the taste of the calamansi lime as it remained sour. Someone even asked for Tabasco sauce and claimed it tastes similar but less sour. These berries known as the miracle fruit that Ramsey brought in are grown in Japan but imagine if we bring these in - perfect party food to spice up things and even perfect as a murder weapon (CSI NY featured how miracle fruit was used in a flavour-tripping party to mask the deadly taste of sodium hydroxide.)


1. Miracle fruit anyone?, 2. black truffles on a rice tray, 3. assorted desserts including the melt-in-the-mouth NY cheesecake, 4. fruits

Feeling a little confused on whether we were eating savoury items, Ramsey brings out these large black truffles on a tray filled with rice - his interpretation of black truffle risotto. Chew on these babies and you will a delicious chocolate liquid centre. Made from dark chocolate, cream and truffle oil to form a mousse, it is frozen in liquid nitrogen and dipped into hot caramel. To create the black truffle look, it is dusted with charcoal bread powder. A little deceptive, hard on the teeth but damn delish stuff. Other items on the dessert platter were an olive oil gummy and Splashie Boy's favourite - the light-as-air NY cheesecake. How I wish my cheesecakes would be this light. We end the meal, with personalised messages written by Ramsey on our menus to take back as momentos and a wonderful taste experience that will linger long after.

To catch Jeff Ramsey, visit him at Tapas Molecular Bar, Mandarin Oriental Tokyo, Japan. This marks his second visit to Pacifica, Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur. Hopefully he returns next year, as experiencing the whole molecular gastronomy in such a fun and intimate way is definitely a magical experience. The flickr set has the full set of pictures.

*Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here is entirely based on my personal tastebuds and may vary for others. This review is time sensitive; changes may occur to the place later on that can affect this opinion. The reviewer also declares that she has not received any monetary or non-monetary compensation from this place for writing the review.

17 comments:

t said...

wow, i imagine say no to bad food would look like the lady with smoke from her nose when i commented on his english.

"Joe" who is constantly craving said...

looks like a memorable dinner..

shud start saving money very very hard..

Sean said...

what a mind-boggling meal! there's absolutely no way to top that for the rest of the year! despite the hefty price tag, it really does seem worth the splurge. i'm filled with remorse for missing it. :D

thule a.k.a leo said...

hahaha... those people looked old trains... blowing smoke out of nostrils... lol!!! where's ur pic with the smoke???

Alexandra@Chefspiration said...

oh wow! this is the type of meal I would have given an arm and a leg to enjoy...hee hee so lucky! I do hope he comes back because I would love to try it out :) And tokyo is a bit far away...hehe

Jean said...

What a meal!!
I wonder how much is it?

550ml jar of faith said...

This is one memorable meal! I wouldn't mind forking it over to enjoy it once, watch whiz kid in action (confirm my underachiever status!) and savour every little morsel!

Paranoid Android said...

What a lovely treat for yourself. Please do let us know if there are up and coming cool events like this in the future, so that we can arrange to refinance our house to pay for it.

I stay under the proverbial coconut shell and am i insulated from the gastronomical world by a crazy work schedule. Maybe next time we can organize a session with other food groupies! Thanks for an enchanting and informative post.

foodbin said...

it seems like a lot of these molecular artiste chefs are in M'sia. i thought Umami was the ultimate heavenly taste, too bad it wasn't.

email2me said...

Wow! What a magnificent treat you had there ....

thenomadGourmand said...

impressive!!
do they take credit card? ;)

msihua said...

This is awesome.. the next time I come home, I'm heading there!!

CUMI & CIKI said...

great write up boo. cumi read this 1st yday and badgered me to read it.. wow, i am transported into the hot-seat in front of Ramsey. I guess this cld rank way up there as one of those life altering dining experiences huh;)

Sugar Bean said...

Haha, this really is molecular cuisine, the dishes are so small and delicate. Would love to visit! Thanks for introducing!

Shell (貝殼) said...

I'm guessing the food there is expensive. Right?
Great photo and the presentation of the food very nice~~

-eiling- said...

wow this is really mind blowing! it's interesting to see these creations of food.

boo_licious said...

t - if bad english leads to smoke in your nostrils, we're definitely going to have loads of cases soon with the abolishment of English in Science and Maths.

Joe - u saving up monies for his Tokyo show?

Sean - u missed a good one here, I have so much fun at his dinners hence this year, I couldn't say no.

leo - no one taking pix of me mah, hence no pixs!

Alexandra - well, hopefully he does come back. I asked if he is but he wasn't sure so fingers and toes crossed he does.

Jean - abt RM510++ without drinks and RM710++ with free flow champagne. Not available anymore as it was only for 1 week. Other times, you will have to visit Tokyo for this experience.

550ml - maybe shld save up in hope he comes next year or just drop by if you are ever in Tokyo.

paranoid android - Hmmm, thought most people will know abt it since it did come out in Star metro. The first year, almost no publicity but this year there was a little bit more coverage.

foodbin - think it is a newish thing. Quite a few of the colleges are doing their own molecular stuff.

Thxs email2me.

Thenomadgourmand - of course they do but save up for next year, as the dinners are over already.

mshihua - only for 1 week here, if you do want to catch him all the time you need to visit at Mandarin Oriental Tokyo.

ciki - definitely one of those must try experiences, since I'm too poor to go El Bulli.

you're welcome, Sugar Bean.

Shell - yeah, not cheap and definitely can cost an arm & a leg.

eiling - quite fat free too so great for diets.

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