Sunday, 27 September 2015

NUR - nourishment, love and science come together

Every once in a while, you experience something so unexpected that it instantly forms a lasting memory.  The tasting menu at NUR has left an indelible impression, one that has me comparing the meal to one of my top five ever....  Big call for sure, but there it is.

Let me tell you a little bit about NUR.  

The chef and founder of NUR has an interesting background: inspired and tutored by culinary legend Raymond Blanc, Nurdin Topham's life changed when Blanc prepared him a tomato dish which was a revelation, tasting like nothing Chef Topham had tasted before.  So much flavour, yet so light and balanced, the dish inspired a life changing decision, one that led to ten years in Blanc's two Michelin Starred Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, as well as a qualification as a natural therapist. 

The inspiration for NUR came once Nurdin was able to eat at Rene Redzepi's world famous NOMA in Copenhagen, which led to an internship at Redzepi's Nordic Food Lab, where he immersed himself in artisanal food production, science and fermentation.  Wanting to open his own restaurant, but never thinking that Hong Kong would become home, it was a chance meeting with a HK chef that led to the  opening of NUR.  The rest, as they say, is history.

I found myself sitting in the classy, yet understated dining room of NUR on a Saturday night.  We were keen to get started and arrive a little before opening time of 630pm, which gave me the opportunity to stand at the entrance and watch the kitchen madly prepare for the session ahead.  Chef Topham was marshalling the team and getting his hands dirty helping prepare for service.  Once 630 ticked over, we were the first into the restaurant and seated at our table, which afforded great views of the dining area and kitchen.

NUR offers a tasting menu only, so we were given a translucent menu that listed out offerings on the September menu, which looked tantalisingly delicious.  The menu gave little away, just naming ingredients, and we were left to imagine the meal to come.  We didn't have to wait long before a series of amuse bouche arrived at the table.  Kicking off with a quartet of small, tasty looking bites on a simple rectangular plate, the sweet corn taco with chilli and coriander foam was a sensation.  Quickly followed by scoffing the flaxseed with tomato, moving to the pickled radish and finishing with a round of cucumber with honeydew.  It was hard to determine which was best, each was fantastic, but very different from the next.

Another little treat before the meal started was a serving of goose ham, made from breast that was cured for eight weeks and leg that was cured for six.  The light ham was powerfully flavoured, yet danced lightly on the palate.  Accompanying the goose ham was a pickled veg with seaweed, which provided a little acidity to balance out the fatty ham.  

A shot glass of kombucha tea seasoned with lemon myrtle and spinach finished of the pre dinner snacks, it was refreshing and didn't have that pungent flavour that poorly prepared kombucha tea can have.

Our nine course tasting menu started on a high.  A beautifully presented plate of king crab mixed with pomelo, lemon, basil and decorative edible flowers was topped up with a lovely broth.  There was a subtlety in the flavours, which were incredibly balanced and well layered.  There was initially the little tart bite from the pomelo, which was quickly followed by the sweetness of the king crab and finished with that wonderful broth.  The flavours were divine and it took all of my willpower not to scoff the lot down, instead, I took my time and savoured every bite.  It was so good that I even picked up the bowl and poured every last drop of that broth into my mouth!

From its title, we had no idea what our next dish would consist of.  We were informed that 'hamo' was in fact Japanese eel, but presented in a completely unique way so that a diner would never know it was eel unless being told.  Presented as a spongy foam and accompanied with grapes, it was flavoured with tarragon and sat in an onion dashi.  Each of the components were wonderful on their own, but when combining all of the ingredients together, magic happened and the dish came together.  Wonderfully light flavours and textures tantalised the palate.  NUR was batting two for two and I was starting to get excited!

The meal was building beautifully and our next course of 'girolle' was another step up.  Essentially a bowl of mixed mushrooms, the bowl included a foam that was also constructed from mushrooms.  The flavour was wonderful but a little astringent, a matter that was quickly balanced once the sweetcorn in the dish was discovered.  I was startled by how complex the layering of the flavours were, simply astounded.  If anything, the 'girolle' was even better than the delectable dishes we'd had so far.

Up next was 'hamachi', which is a white flesh fish, better known as amberjack or yellowtail outside of Japan.  It was ever so lightly seared on one side and accompanied by pickled watermelon topped with pistachio foam, mint and honey dipped lettuce, all sitting atop a honeydew sauce.  Again, each of the ingredients by themselves were beautifully cooked, but combined were somehow complete.  The simple flavours built upon each other and connected in a way that seemed impossible when looking at the plate.

The next dish was a little bit of a bummer for me, the 'golden egg' looked beautiful on the plate, the contrasting colours of the golden egg and the green zucchini, baby new peas and legumes were amazing.  The egg was superbly cooked, but there was a flavour profile that didn't sit well on my palate, which impacted my enjoyment of the dish.  SC had no such issues and wondered why I had any issues with it at all.  It wasn't until our plates were being cleared and we were chatting to our waiter that it became clear that the egg had been marinated in turmeric, an Indian spice that I really dislike.  Reflecting back, I wondered if you could still get that golden egg colour from saffron instead?  I think I'd have loved that flavour combination.

We were back on song with the next dish of 'sea bream', which had been slowly poached and then topped with preserved shallots and accompanied by heirloom tomatoes, matched with a trio of different flavoured basil leaves.  The tomatoes were full flavoured and quite amazing and for a moment I imagined that the flavour was similar to that eureka moment that Chef Topham had tried the Raymond Blanc tomato dish.  The sea bream was perfectly cooked and like every other dish that had proceeded it had incredibly well layered flavours.

The moment I'd set eyes on the menu I'd been excited and apprehensive about the final savoury course and main dish.  Titled 'BBQ'd Goose', my only other experience with goose in Hong Kong had been quite disappointing.  When the dish was presented, we were kept in suspense a little longer, the presentation had the goose hidden underneath a thin layer of Tokyo turnip.  Our waiter explained that the goose was medium rare as he poured a little of the goose juice into the stark black bowl.  My apprehension quickly faded and was replaced with sense of admiration for the chef, who was clearly a master.  The goose was incredible, the flavours deep and gamey, yet perfectly balanced.  It was a fitting way to finish of the savoury component of our meal and left me wanting more.

First dessert was as interesting as it was simple.  A slice of yamanashi peach, topped with pretty flowers, sat in a bed of peach juice and was paired with a slice of tofu.  I've never been a fan of tofu, which was reinforced when I tried a small section of the tofu before any other component.  It wasn't until I combined the peach and peach juice with the tofu that it all came together, and then I understood.  Yum!

Last dessert, and regrettably the last item on the tasting menu, was the 'fig', which sounded simple but was anything but.  A couple of lightly stewed fig pieces were sitting atop some wedges of walnut cake and accompanied by some chia seed tuile and the creamiest of ice creams made from fig leaves. It looked spectacular (as had all of the dishes).  It was also an incredible way to finish off what had been a truly memorable meal.  The fig had that lovely balance of sweetness and savoury, but was enhanced enormously by the ice cream.  It was a #nomnomnom moment for sure.

We spent a little time chatting to our waiter at the end of the meal, he'd been with us through the journey and had carefully explained each meal as it had been presented.  It was indicative of the service at NUR, which was attentive and friendly...  We certainly felt welcomed.  As a bonus, he introduced us to Chef Topham on our way out, so I was able tell the chef personally how much we'd enjoyed the meal.

As we were leaving, our waiter also let us know a little secret.  One of Hong Kong's most awarded chefs, a chef that arguably runs Asia's top restaurant was sitting at the table next to us, enjoying a meal with his family at NUR.  Yep, it's that type of place, extrodanary food and a very reasonable price, so much so that an amazing chef was also in enjoying the meal.

I've been lucky enough to eat at some of the best restaurants in the world, in fact I'd had my best meal ever recently at The Square in London (post coming soon).  I'd have to say that NUR easily ranks up amongst the best.  I guess the only thing that's a bit of a mystery to me is.... How can NUR only have one Michelin Star!!  A travesty that the Michelin guide needs to immediately fix! I'll be back :)

Loved the little plant holder!
The meal started with beautiful and strong flavours and never let up!
The King Crab dish was unbelievable!
As was this simple bowl of mushrooms and sweetcorn
The kitchen hard at it


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