A taste of heaven on earth

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A COCONUT filled with double-boiled king crab with abalone, a seafood dumpling, bamboo piths, cordycep flowers, and peach gum consomme. -- JOSEPH L. GARCIA

By Joseph L. Garcia, Reporter

QUICK. What are your dinner plans for Friday the 13th? Cancel them. Remove the bad luck associated with the day and come to China Blue for a touch of bliss and pure heaven.

From Oct. 9 to 13, celebrity chef Jereme Leung (judge on the Chinese editions of the Master Chef television franchise, and Star Diamond Awardee by the American Academy of Hospitality Science in 2000 and 2008) collaborates with Conrad Manila’s Executive Chinese chef Eng Yew Khor for a set of new menu items in the acclaimed Chinese restaurant. Recently, the restaurant was awarded the Global Winner for the Chinese Cuisine category by the World Luxury Restaurant Awards 2017.

We’re not kidding when we said we tasted heaven earlier this week. Maybe heaven is a place to be found on earth, so went Belinda Carlisle’s ’80s pop hit, for there was nothing supernatural about the dishes served to us during the tasting. Instead what we got was a taste of the hyper-natural, if that’s even a thing, for the natural flavors of the ingredients were heightened in the little masterpieces served us, and made you think that possibly, the world does have everything to offer and you need not look forward to a world beyond.

The meal started out with a basket of what looked like lumpy potatoes but were actually trompe-l’œil buns designed only to look like potatoes. Inside was steamed chicken curry, and the overall effect was as soft and yielding as fresh, fertile, earth. This was accompanied by a dumpling shaped and colored like a tomato, and a salad with duck that with a kumquat-sesame dressing. The strong flavor of the duck was tempered and refined by the dressing and the greens, while the duck gave structure to the flighty dressing.

A coconut was served next, hollowed-out and filled with double-boiled king crab with abalone,a seafood dumpling, bamboo piths, cordycep flowers, and peach gum consomme. It had an effect that was almost healing, just like a vacation by a seashore. The memory of the abalone alone might last for a lifetime, tasting of the sea at the first bite – you can almost hear the waves crashing on the sand.

This was followed by a stir-fried crab claw with crispy shredded egg yolk and butter cream, which tasted beautiful (there’s hardly another word for it), with a crisp shell (over the hard shell), and firm, proud flesh.

Next came an oven-baked miso snow fish with garlic white sauce, and baked diced chicken in sweet vinegar sauce, with garlic rice and coconut cream in a bamboo cup. Sounds heavy, but the rice was amazingly light and creamy, each ingredient blending into each other in synergy. While I could go on describing this dish, a socialite at the table easily summarized it by whispering after taking a bite, “My God, that’s so good. What’s my name?” Meanwhile, the fish was sweetish in its freshness, and the light creamy sauce served to highlight this good fortune.

Finally, the dessert. Okay, so a vanilla panna cotta with fresh strawberries might seem old hat, but it was jiggly, perfectly bland, and served only to accent what made this reporter declare this tasting as a taste of heaven. Say it with me: deep-fried Yunnan fresh rose petal ice cream. This must be what heaven tastes like. No more needs to be said, but just think of the inimitable, unmistakable flavor of roses, evocative of love, offerings, and the divine and the sacred.

“Innovation is always short-lived,” Mr. Leung told BusinessWorld in an ambush interview as he made his way back to the kitchen. “The best grounding that every chef could ever find is actually ingredients. A cook is never better than [his] ingredients.

“I first have a grounding of technical skills. But that to me is secondary. The key is always – [it] needs to be – ingredients.”