Rare room reserved for bubbly show
Uwe Opocensky, executive chef, Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong
Krug Room, 1/F, Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, 2825 4014
This venue is one of four Krug Rooms in the world, the other three being in the Dorchester Hotel in London, Tanga restaurant in Tokyo, and Hotel Lausanne Palace & Spa, Switzerland - on a private terrace overlooking the lake.
They are exclusive dining venues - bookings only and, obviously, Krug bubbly is the beverage of choice.
Uwe Opocensky is the host of the Krug Room in Hong Kong. This prestigious dining space tucked behind The Chinnery in the Mandarin Oriental has a capacity of 10 guests. The kitchen is visible through a glass window, but Opocensky is often on the customer side of the glass to talk about the food.
'These are [Jersey Royal] potatoes wrapped in edible clay,' he says about amuse bouche, a dish he calls stone-baked potatoes (pictured). As we stare at a plate of what looks like pebbles and hesitate, he says: 'Don't worry, the real pebbles are glued on the plate.'
Opocensky, who did a six-month stint at El Bulli and recently did a summer stint there, has obviously been impressed by the famed restaurant's head chef, the legendary Ferran Adria.
Adria's creative and often chemical take on food ingredients have earned him a reputation as 'the father of molecular gastronomy', although the chef rejects that term. Undeniably, though, he has stirred up quite a molecular storm in the culinary world.
'I cannot tell you what a genius he [Adria] is. The way he looks at cooking has changed world cuisine,' he says.
But the Krug Room host is quick to point out that Adria merely inspires him and that he is not trying to be another Adria. 'No one can copy him, like there is only one Picasso in the world. He's got his own style and so have I. Mine is progressive gastronomy. I am not a scientist, I don't work with molecules,' he says.
Adria closes his restaurant six months a year to experiment with new recipes at his workshop in Barcelona. Opocensky, being the executive of a hotel running seven outlets, does not have that luxury. But he does spend every Saturday morning working on new ideas for the Krug Room.
'Sometimes I can quickly come up with two to three dishes in a morning that I can roughly serve. Others take six months to get to where they are.'
And the results might not be as quirky as some of Adria's inventions, but they are still amusing. Our blackened cod is served on a puddle of potato coriander (with white sesame, ginger puree and miso underneath) sauce and a raked paste of black sesame praline, breadcrumbs and liquid coconut, topped with crunchy eggplant and a twig of what he calls oyster leaves. Amazingly they taste like oysters.
Opocensky says he discovered them while working at El Bulli. After that we were ready for the palate cleanser. 'Champagne is made of grapes and you are drinking Krug, so grapes are running out. I am going to make grapes out of champagne,' he proclaims before making the palate cleanser.
He shakes a cocktail shaker, opens the lid and pours the contents into a glass bowl. The contents bubble and fog like dry ice and Opocensky scoops out from that mixture two grapes for every guest.
The grapes are carbonated on the inside, giving the impression of 'eating the champagne'.
This is followed by lamb tzatziki ('knobs' of lamb loin and squash topped with a prune, served on a yogurt-drawn circle, with a cauliflower couscous) and beef Wellington (wrapped in a piece of mushroom that looks like paper wrap and melts when the sauce is poured on). The Krug Room is more than just cooking it is also a show.
But Opocensky does not mind anyone criticising his dishes. 'It keeps you on the edge,' he says. 'Criticisms are the best praise. They give you the chance to improve.'
Sharing is also how Opocensky ups his game. He says there is a circle of chefs practising that style of cooking who exchange information on the internet.
'Ferran [Adria] shares everything. He knows what he does is original and he tells you whatever he knows. I am a strong believer in sharing, I think it's petty not to.'