Saturday, 12 December 2015

Zurriola - a game menu that fell short

You know those times when you have no idea what you want to eat?  If you're like me, you can spend hours and hours just looking over restaurant menus to see if anything 'grabs' your attention and gets you out of your lethargy to make a booking.  There's no rhyme nor reason for me selecting a dining spot sometimes, it could be a particularly appetising photo on a web site, or an interesting and different menu, or even just a cool name.  Our visit to Zurriola was based simply on the fact they had a winter 'game' menu with venison on offer.

Winter in Hong Kong brings a couple of very appealing options, it's obviously truffle season, and I don't really need to explain what's so great about that!  But it's also 'game' season, which means pheasant, wild boar and most importantly venison.  If you've not had venison before, it's a very strong flavoured red meat that is quite simply delicious.  Venison is usually deer, but throughout history, it's been a general term used for game and at one time or another has referred to hares, wild pigs and goats.  It also happens to be one of SC's favourite things to eat (after bacon, truffle and duck fat).

Zurriola is a Modern European style restaurant, which means that it takes a bit of a contemporary view of traditional dishes.  I'd been quite excited about visiting, after reading some local HK blogs about how amazing the place was and in particular, one blogger thought the tasting menu was amongst the best in Kong Kong.  Located at TST, we were again struck speechless by the skyline that was recently rated as the best in the world.  We were seated at a table that afforded us the most incredible views of the island and our only regret was that it was raining outside, otherwise the balcony windows would have been open.

There was a bit of a mixed feel about the interior of the dining room, it had paintings of Spanish matadors on the walls, which felt a little out of place and would have been at home in the tapas restaurant next door.  We were given our leather bound menus to peruse, which consisted of a specific game menu and a simple a la carte selection and it was pretty clear to see the direction our meal would take - it was game time baby!!  I found the warning with the menu amusing, informing us that we may find pieces of buckshot in the meals and to take care.

Food and cocktail orders taken, we were brought out an amuse bouche, which was not the most appetising of dishes I'd come across.  The oxtail and mushroom stew, covered in bits of bacon, was incredibly strong flavoured.  I didn't really like it, the texture was quite slimy which I couldn't really get past and it wasn't interesting enough begin a fine dining meal. Unfortunately, the amuse bouche set the scene for the rest of the meal.

We kicked off with the asparagus and langoustine, which is quite a lovely combination.  The presentation of the dish was quite perplexing though, with two expertly cooked pieces of langoustine being wrapped in thin slices of asparagus.  There was also an langoustine tartare that was covered in thin rounds of asparagus, so the overall dish looked a little too green, not a great colour for a dish when not offset by other, more vibrant colours.  The clumsy presentation aside, the soft flesh of the langoustine was subtly sweet and there was a little spicy hit in the tartare.

Our second starter was a venison tartare with textures of cauliflower and dusted with a mushroom powder.  Again, I found the presentation of the dish to be very rustic and more than a little clumsy, there was no precision to the dish at all.  The cauliflower was presented as a puree, a crumble and some toasted florets, with the rich red venison placed for contrasting colour.  One of the things I love about tartare generally is the strong flavour offset with contrasting condiments to help accentuate the flavour, most notably gherkin and onion.  There were no such contrasting flavours with the Zurriola version and I was really surprised by the lack of flavour from the venison tartare. Usually such a strong flavour, there was a distinct lack of that gamey taste that I was expecting, and the cauliflower was not a great pairing for me.

I was a little underwhelmed by our starters, but if I thought the mains would be a step up, I was about to be disappointed.  SC's choice of main was the venison loin with Hokkaido pumpkin and black walnuts, which on the website looked beautiful, but when presented looked as if it had been thrown together in a rush.  Venison runs the risk of being tough when over cooked, so is usually served rare or medium rare, but the Zurriola version was cooked medium and was both a little bland and tough as a consequence.  Balance wise, there was too much pumpkin on the plate, so it felt as if it was a two ingredient dish (even thought there were toasted walnuts and potato on the plate).

My choice of main was a little safer, choosing the tenderloin with mixed mushrooms and potato jus.  I'd asked for my beef to be medium rare and was pleasantly surprised when it proved to be cooked perfectly.  While I wasn't overly enamoured by the presentation, a smear of mashed potato with the steak plonked on top, there was nothing wrong with the flavours at all.  The sauce was nice and sticky and worked well with the beef, which was a little under seasoned, but not so much as to render the beef as bland as the venison.  But, I always ask myself, how wrong can you go with meat and two veg?

Deciding that enough was enough, we decided that we'd grab dessert at home, not really wanting to spend any more cash.  We'd been completely underwhelmed by the meal and given that we were paying a 'fine dining' premium, didn't feel that the meal had warranted a possible redemption from dessert.  Of course, the desserts could have been mind blowing, but we'd not seen any evidence of that being the case.

Service had been weird, one of those occasions where we'd been shown to our table and then left to our own devices until we flagged down wait staff to help us out.  It wasn't a busy night either, there was us and one other table, so it was puzzling as to why our meals were so haphazardly put together.  It made me wonder if head chef Daniel Birkner was not in the kitchen on the night of our visit, surely the dishes we'd been served wouldn't have made it out of the pass otherwise?

I felt completely disappointed by our visit to Zurriola, largely on the back of our expectations going into the meal.  Sure, it had been rated well by others, but on the night of our visit, it was a complete let down.  A game menu should inspire creativity but let the flavours speak for themselves, and that didn't really happen.  Worst of all, it was one of the more expensive meals we'd had in a while - most certainly not good value.

The Zurriola cocktail menu is actually pretty good
This was a weird presentation - it tasted OK, but we eat with our eyes too!
A palate cleanser of orange sorbet
The venison dish was a near miss, a little extra flavour and more care with presentation would have gone a long way

Some of the best views in Hong Kong 

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