Wednesday, May 30, 2012

United Tastes of China - Golden Flower, Wynn Macau

Tea with tall "smelling" cup
I was lucky enough to have been invited* to Wynn Macau to try out a few of their restaurants, and agreed after I was assured that the chefs would be kept in the dark about my visits, and that I reserve the right to my opinion. I also had to go for work anyway, for which I needed to interview a chef at Golden Flower (coming later) and that happened after I ate there. I don't know about you, but I think it worked out quite well - work and play, easily combined - that's why I went freelance, folks! (I highly recommend it, haha).

Amuse bouche - cabbage wrapped around mango
It wasn't until a couple of years ago, when I received a press release about Golden Flower, that I'd heard of Tan Cuisine. "Cuisine" implies some kind of a grand tradition, which it sort of has, but in true Confucian tradition, in Chinese it's humbly called "Tan Family Dishes", which is also true.

The story goes that the "cuisine" was created by a man named Tan, who was from Nanhai, Guangdong (represent! My dad's family has roots in Nanhai). He was a Qing Dynasty official and as he made it up the imperial ladder, he had to move to Beijing. Being a bit of a foodie, or maybe even a food nerd, he started to experiment with fusing flavours and techniques from regions all around China.**

Tan hosted private dinners at home using his new recipes and they turned out to be a huge hit, appealing to everyone's tastebuds (as was the intention). I suppose he was pretty high ranking, so many of the dishes for which he came to be famous include traditionally expensive ingredients like fish maw, birds' nest, sea cucumber and abalone.

His cuisine was passed on through his apprentices and spread thereon. Beijing Hotel (in, um, Beijing) is reportedly a good place to try it if you find yourself up north. (I'm writing this now in Beijing, and I did find a few dishes that referred to Tan on menus around town.)

Fish maw with crab claw
I'm not usually a fish maw kind of person - I prefer the everyday family-style dishes - but since it's what Tan Cuisine is known for, I gave it a try. My theory about these Chinese "delicacies" is that they're not eaten for their flavour (if your fish maw tastes fishy, it's bad), but because they're rare, difficult to obtain and unbelievably laborious to cook. Usually there's an interesting texture profile - there has to be something, right?

The fish maw and crab claw we had was, to me, more about the amazing soup/sauce that gives the dish its central flavour. It's made from boiling down duck and chicken broth to this slightly sticky, viscous, golden liquid. We were told that it wasn't thickened by flours or powders of any kind. If you love poultry like I do, or just appreciate a good chicken soup, this sauce is like some sort of heavenly elixir. It has the meaty richness of gravy, but has bright, clear flavours of the juices that run from a delicious, just-roasted chicken.

I should mention that the tea service here is pretty exemplary. While the world is trying its best to pair Western wines with Chinese food (with varying results), I feel like they're getting us back on track here with the extensive tea options. We ended up getting the same oolong as we were given as our "welcome drink". It was light with a long, slightly sweet finish that sort of echoed and filled my mouth long after I had drunk it. I'm no tea expert, but I enjoyed it and it went well with the rest of our dishes, which ranged from stir-fried greens to Kung Pao chicken.

Kung Pao chicken
Now, before anyone freaks out about Kung Pao chicken being a Chinatown dish, I must stress that there is a "proper" Chinese version and people definitely still enjoy it in Sichuan, where the dish was supposed to have originated. At the request of G, my only dining companion and lover of all things chilli, we ordered it, and it was very well made - not too greasy, flavourful, chicken diced to a decent size and generous amount. The only qualm we had was that it wasn't spicy enough. G is a spice guy, I'm not, but even I found the chilli quotient a bit low.

Stir-fried venison with cumin
The seasonal special, venison cooked northern style, with cumin, was an elegant version of the mystery-meat chuan that are so popular on the streets of Mainland China (often consumed like a shwarma after clubbing... hmm, I have mixed feelings about that reference). Bizarre flash of nostalgia aside, this was incredibly tasty and the venison was juicy and tender.

Prawn two ways
When I read "stuffed prawn" in this dish of  prawn "two ways", I got a little excited. Something about stuffing such a small thing, perhaps. The "stuffed" side turned out to be very similar to a prawn cake, bouncy, oceany and all, but the deep frying had made it a bit greasy. The prawn head, with tomato sauce (again, meticulously made in-house) was perky flavour-wise. Fine but not as much excitement as I'd expected.

Petit four - mung bean powder cake and plum "tea"
I can be incredibly biased when it comes to Chinese regional cuisine - if you've been reading this blog for a while, you'll know that homecooked Cantonese food has a special place in my heart - but Tan Cuisine, with its balanced fusion of regions, is fast becoming something I want to try more of. Ok, maybe I'm also secretly rooting for the fact that the guy is from Nanhai.

*You might already know that I usually don't blog about places that I was invited to, on the basis that it's not a normal person's experience. I must say, some PR people are really getting quite creative (and I mean that in the best way) with the anonymity thing. That said, please do keep the fact of the invitation in mind.

**China is a vast country (duh) and just like anywhere else, climate affects ingredient availability, flavour preferences and even cooking techniques. It isn't strange, for example, for someone from Shanghai to find Cantonese cuisine bland, because Shanghainese food typically sees the addition of more sugar, soy sauce, vinegar and the like. The Cantonese are known for their love of fresh ingredients, and cooking in ways that bring out or retain the "original" flavour - say, steamed fish with nothing more than soy, ginger and spring onion.

Golden Flower
Wynn Macau (entrances both inside the casino and out - in case you're with minors)
Rua Cidade de Sintra
+853 8986 3663

Nb. From what I could gather, photos of the restaurant are not allowed (perhaps for the privacy of other guests?). Originally we were told that we could only take pictures of the food if we took it with our food - ie. there has to be a person posing for the picture (?!), but afterwards we were told it's ok to take pictures of the food you ordered. Best to ask when you book, if you're a picture-taker.

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