Sunday, 31 January 2016

Grissini hosted by Gaetano Trovato - 2 Michelin Stars

I always get just a little bit excited when I discover that international chefs are coming to Hong Kong for guest stints, especially when they are as renowned as Chef Gaetano Trovato, owner of Two Michelin Starred restaurant Italian restaurant Arnolfo.

Chef Trovato was coming to visit his former protege Alessandro Cozzolino who currently holds the position of Chef de Cuisine at the Grand Hyatt's Grissini.  Spending a few short days in the kitchen of the Italian fine dining restaurant, there was a limited opportunity to sample the maestro's take on classic Italian cooking.  

Of course, we had to take advantage of the narrow window of opportunity and make a reservation.

We'd picked the coldest day on record to visit Grissini, it had barely risen beyond 2 degrees celsius in Hong Kong, so when we arrived at the Grand Hyatt, we were dressed in clothes more appropriate for skiing in the Italian alps.  When we made our way through the grand hallway of the Hyatt and up to the entrance to Grissini, we'd only just managed to get the feeling back in our fingers.

We were given spectacular seats, which afforded us an unobstructed view of Hong Kong's world famous skyline, which would have been perfect on a warm summer's eve! The floor to ceiling windows were beautiful, but allowed the cold from outside to slowly seep into the restaurant, so we had to keep our jackets and scarfs on.

Our waiter for the evening brought over the menu and proceeded to explain the two menus on offer, the Gaetano Trovato offering and the normal Grissini offering.  We were there for one reason, and one reason only, so it was an easy choice to make, the only decision was whether to sample the four course tasting menu, or chose from the a la carte selection.  In the end, we both wanted different selections so went for the a la carte.

While we were waiting for our starters to arrive, we were brought out the most amazing breadsticks that we'd ever seen.  It shouldn't have been a surprise though, grissini is Italian for 'breadsticks' and for the restaurant to share that name, meant that the freshly baked 'grissini' would be the essence of the restaurant.  Slightly peppery olive oil was poured at the table and the warm and crusty 'grissini' were pulled apart and devoured very quickly.

We'd been expecting the sort of spectacular and delicious dishes that can only come out of a two star kitchen and we were not disappointed.  The girl kicked off her meal with the Valdonardo Muscovy duck breast with an aroncini ball filled with the confit duck leg.  Finishing off the simple yet beautiful presentation was a line of perfectly cubed turnip tops and a smear of pumpkin puree. The duck breast was exquisitely cooked, the duck fat rendered to perfection and the duck skin crisp, slightly salty and full of flavour.  For a city that has duck on most of the menus, it was a real treat to again see duck prepared so well and deliver so much flavour.  It was just a cut above the duck we'd experienced in Hong Kong to date.

I was in love with the simple elegance of my starter, which was simply red prawns, foie gras and grapefruit.  The presentation was pretty, but in a kind of dated way, with the grapefruit and prawn paired up and surrounding the rich and decedent foie gras.  With three ingredients on the plate, there would be nowhere to hide if not absolutely perfect and perfection was what was achieved. The red prawns had been treated with such respect that they literally shined on the plate.  The balance was exquisite too, equal portions of foie gras, prawn and grapefruit ensured that no single ingredient overpowered the other.  I particularly loved how the acidic grapefruit combined with the foie gras to deliver a flavour that was hard to describe - apart from being addictive!  I was so sad when I'd finished my last bit, but also joyous that I'd managed to experience the dish in the first place.

Chef Trovato's skills continued to be on display with our mains, the first of which was a pumpkin risotto with pienza pecorino cheese and crispy suckling pig.  We loved the presentation of the risotto, which is hard to display beautifully at the best of times.  The elegant dish saw a continuation of the cubed styling of the girl's starter.  This time, cubes of succulent pork belly sat atop of the expertly cooked rice, as did cubes of soft pumpkin.  The flavour of the risotto was quite benign, the light sweet flavour of the pumpkin just sitting on the tip of your palate, but was seriously enhanced with a  smear of pumpkin puree.

I was seriously happy with my lamb rack, which accompanied by filet of lamb, asparagus and caramelised Spanish onion.  Again, the simple ingredients were perfectly displayed on the plate with the rare lamb being the centrepiece that drew the eye.  Looking good is one thing, but the lamb dish followed through with incredible flavour - in particular the tender sweet lamb.  There was a thin smear of olive puree that provided a little natural saltiness to the lamb, which along with the sticky jus, really rounded off a spectacular plate of food.

Of course we hung around for dessert, hoping that the beautiful simplicity and perfection of our meal to date would continue onto sweets.  Look, there was noting particularly wrong with our dessert, but they were quite the let down - in relative terms...

I'd chosen the golden, granny smith apple and the girl had chosen the chocolate.  Both desserts looked pretty similar, centred around a parfait cylinder, but with different supporting acts.  Where the starters and mains were simple and delicious, the desserts had a feel of being slightly pre-prepared and a little formulaic.  Both had good flavour combinations, in particular the chocolate, which came with white, extra dark and milk chocolate as well as dollops of salty caramel and balsamic vinegar.  My granny smith fell just a little bit flat and I didn't particularly like the textures or flavour.

I'd been to Grissini once before for a lunch meeting, and while it had been OK, it hadn't set my world afire.  Not so with guest chef Gaetano Trovato, I had been completely smitten with the simple elegance and complete harmony in the flavours.  It takes real skill to take three or four ingredients and let them speak for themselves on a plate.  Even considering that the desserts were not to the same wonderful standard ensured that the meal was one of the best we'd had in Hong Kong.

We loved the little details, like coming around and replacing our 'grissini' or breadsticks when they went cold, as well as topping up our olive oil to continue enjoying the crusty bread.  Service was friendly and professional, just what you'd expect from such a restaurant in one of the better hotels in HK.

Without doubt, I will be taking myself off to Italy at some point in the next year or so, I think I want to get in and check out chef Trovato's restaurant Arnolfo.  I think testing out his full restaurant menu would be incredible...

Of course, it would allow me to get over and check out Massimo Bottura's world #2 restaurant Osteria Franciscana!


The most incredible lamb I've had in HK and possibly anywhere!
Three main ingredients, working in perfect harmony

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