Saturday, 30 January 2016

The Ocean and Pure Berlin Collaboration: The 4 Hands Dinner

Service and luxury begin long before you enter the front door of The Ocean restaurant over in beachside Repulse Bay.  It's a little known secret that I'm about to expose, but there is a limousine service available from the newly opened restaurant by fine dining restaurant group Le Comptior.  With a fleet of Tesla electric motor vehicles, the group combines luxury and an environmentally friendly approach that is reflected in the group's food philosophy.

Since my first visit to The Ocean, which was a little bit of a mixed bag (see post here), we've been over to Chef Agustin Balbi's fine dining seafood restaurant a couple of times.  It's fair to say that we've come to love the inventive styling of Chef Balbi and his dedication to creating delectable and creative plates of food, centering on seafood.  

So it was great excitement that we travelled from our apartment courtesy of the limousine service to the special collaboration event planned by Chef Balbi and the way-out-crazy-dudes from Pure Berlin.

If you've never heard of Pure Berlin, then your probably not alone, but the avant garde concept group  out of the German capital are looking to establish Germany as the next international culinary trend destination.  Chief idea maker of Pure Berlin and food designer Miles Watson (actually a Kiwi) had decided to take their ideas on the road and the collaborative meal at The Ocean was a stop on the tour.

We hardly noticed the cold and stormy night outside the quiet luxury of our Telsa, save for those few moments that it took to leave the cocoon of warmth to scramble through the rain to the entrance of the restaurant.  Once we stepped out of the elevator to the spacious entry of The Ocean, we were greeted so warmly, it felt that we were amongst long lost friends. As we were shown to our table, we were taken to the back of the restaurant, which surprised me by being much larger than I'd previously thought.

There was no need to contemplate which of the numerous menu options that were usually available at The Ocean, we knew that the eight course tasting menu was a collaborative effort between Chef Balbi and Chef Watson.  Each had been meticulously planning their contribution to the tasting menu for some time and I was keen to see what the outputs of that teamwork would produce.

After drinks were served, a plethora of amuse bouche started to make it's way from the table and before long, our large table was filled with interesting looking small bites for us to whet our appetite. Leaving us in no doubt that The Ocean was a fish restaurant, our amuse bouche were presented on artefacts from the sea, including a conch shell and rock corral.  Highlights of the small bites were the lobster tartare wrapped in oyster leaf, crispy rice arancini ball and the beet and vinegar tart.  

We made a huge faux pas with the Pure-Berlin amuse bouche!  There was a half dome of uni cracker that had been coloured with squid ink which we failed to notice amongst the black pebbles that the bites were presented on.  As a consequence we scooped up the uni mousse and grade A uni in our fingers, wondering why the dish was so difficult to eat.  The 'ah-ha' moment came when our waiter let us know that the cracker was edible too!  Needless to say we were embarrassed by the revelation!

Quickly overcoming our embarrassment, it was time for the tasting menu to commence.

Our first course was from Pure-Berlin's Miles Watson and was a beautifully presented and ultimately delicious dish of king prawns in an XO sauce with chorizo and surrounded by tofu gnocchi and sous vide scallop.  The scallops were cooked slowly at 42 degrees and had a soft texture that mirrored the tofu, with the soft textures offset by the firmer prawn flesh and the crunchy deep fired prawn head.  I'd normally steer away from prawn heads, but the crunchy texture was simply perfect when combined with the softer textures.  The combination of the sweet chorizo and XO sauce was exquisite against the softer flavours of the scallop and tofu.

On our first visit, I could only watch with a quiet jealousy when the girl consumed the tuna tartare, so I was so pleased when I was able to taste the whole dish for myself.  The slight heat from the dijon and miso was offset by the cool of the tuna and incredibly thin slices of cucumber that were arranged so delicately around the tartare.  A hit of dill was detected every few bites, which added an appreciated extra layer of flavour to the dish, as did the perfectly julienne apple.  It certainly was a very interesting take on tartare!

It was interesting to see how insanely creative the mind of Chef Watson from Pure-Berlin worked with the next dish of soft-shell crab and coconut.  The fully formed soft-shell crab was peeking out from a sheet of compressed coconut and surrounded by citrus pieces and thai style herbs.  The insanity started when a blow torch came out to melt the compressed coconut sheet over the crab, the partially liquid coconut mixing with a caramel sauce hidden at the bottom of the bowl.  The combination of ingredients sounded a little insane and watching the drama unfold at the table, I wondered how the ingredients would work in unison.  The sweetness of the coconut and caramel was supremely offset by the Thai herbs and the acidity from the citrus - all combining with the soft crunch from the sweet crab.  Yeah, it sounds insane, but it worked.  I'm not sure how, but it really did.

We were back the the relatively sane offering from Chef Balbi and his red smoked snapper served with a sweet paprika emulsion and the contrasting bitter leaves from the frisee.  An earthy undertone came from some mushroom and a slight heat from the thinly sliced radish and curl of a pickled onion, all working beautifully with the fresh-from-the-sea and lightly smoked snapper.  It was nicely presented with lovely colours and textures melding together to deliver a light and fresh dish.

Our next offering from the mind of Pure-Berlin stepped over that thin line of genius to insanity, and it didn't really sit well on my palate.  It was supposed to be a unique take on fish and chips, and while I could sense what Chef Miles was trying to achieve, it fell a little short for me.  It was a shame, there was a wonderfully cooked piece of sea bass hidden underneath deep fried lotus root that had been dipped in five secret spices and coloured with squid ink.  A peanut sauce, also tricked out with the five spices and squid ink surrounded the plate in ever reducing circles of puree finished off the plate.  There was a certain beauty in the black and white ingredients, but the deep fried lotus root was very difficult to eat and I didn't really see how the peanut sauce worked at all.  For me, it was a case of one step past the point of sanity.

Like a yo-yo, we were back on safer territory with Chef Balbi's signature dish of mushroom tortellini with a confit lobster and maitake mushrooms.  The wonderfully presented dish had vibrant colours that were enhanced when the bright orange of the lobster bisque was poured over the dish at the table, contrasting nicely against the ocean blue of the bowl.  The exquisitely cooked mushroom tortellini had a completely earthy flavour that danced willingly against the sweet lobster bisque.  You'd not normally call the tortellini and lobster dish safe, given the complexity of the flavours, but compared with our previous dish, it was just what we needed to get a sense of balance to our meal.

It was time for desserts and we were expecting a crazy dessert from Pure-Berlin's Miles Watson, and we weren't disappointed when the rice pudding beach was presented.  It was simply stunning with a quenelle of basil, ginger and coriander ice cream sitting on a tuile that looked just like a sandy beach. Underneath the tuile was a black rice pannacotta, which was essential to the balance of the dish, given the twang from the ginger in the ice cream.  My first test of the ice cream left a harsh feeling on my palate, but once combined with the pannacotta, was sensational.  I loved the detail in the dessert, the perfectly arranged yellow leaves a great example of the attention to detail on the dish.

Final dessert and last component of the collaboration dinner was a bread ice cream, covered in goat's cheese foam and accompanied by spiced wine gel and caramelised walnuts (also giving a sense of the beach).  I was worried about the spiced wine gel, but the sharp sweetness of the gel was just what the dish needed to enliven the lightly flavoured goats cheese foam.  The toasted and caramelised walnuts gave some much needed texture to the dessert and blended nicely with the sweet bread ice cream.

We were left with one treat before the meal finally finished and it was quite a surprise as it was a new element to dining at The Ocean.  A cart laden with little petite four was presented to us, with the option of marshmallow, macaroon, truffle and other little sweet bites.  We were pretty full by the time it was wheeled over, but I found room for some of the marshmallow and macaroon!

Once the meal was over, we were lucky enough to have a chat to the architects of the collaboration dinner, getting a sense from Agustin and Miles how much they had enjoyed working together.  It was clear that the two had very different styles of cooking but had (largely) been able to build a cohesive meal that worked really well.  

Apart from the sea bass and deep fried lotus root, we had really enjoyed the collaborative effort between the very talented chefs.  It certainly helped that we were in a completely luxurious setting with wait staff that should be the envy of any restaurant in Hong Kong.  From the moment we were picked up at our front door in the super cool Tesla Model S, the conversation with our really interesting driver and the cool and friendly staff, we were treated like the most important people in the world.  

What was great to see was that everyone in the restaurant (that we could see) were receiving the same brilliant service.

As I said, we've been to The Ocean a number of times now and it's just continued to build and build, and now rates as one of our favourite places to hang out.  The only problem?  Every time we've been it's been raining and cold....

We really need to figure out how to get there for a gloriously sunny and warm day.  After all, there is a cool outdoor area resplendent with cocktail bar and cool DJ spinning tunes (at least there will be in summer). 

Beautifully presented and delicious 
So many options for Amuse Bouch!
Stunning presentation 
Bread is alway a treat at The Ocean
Love the crazy art in the dining room
Post dinner chat with the collaborating pair
Chef Agustin Balbi and Chef Miles Watson Planning the collaboration event


  1. Thanks for the intimate look at what must have been a fantastic meal. Germany doesn't need to struggle to attain its rank in the hierarchy of fine food options, I have had some of the best meals ever in my life there. One dinner at Chef Rockendorf's comes to mind, and the best paella I have had was in a hotel restaurant in Munich 10 years ago.

    1. This is true, I had some amazing food when I was in Berlin (pre-blog days) - A restaurant called The First Floor was amazing


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