Thursday, September 21, 2017

Review: A grape escape on the Strand dinner cruise

Back when I was a young 20-something, with holier-than-thou ideals and second-hand Dr. Martens, I’d have considered a US$140 six-course menu with six wine pairings to be a bit poncy. I mean, who really likes foie gras?

A drink on the upper deck of the Strand’s sister property, The Strand Cruise, is as close as most will get to being James Bond. Photos: SuppliedA drink on the upper deck of the Strand’s sister property, The Strand Cruise, is as close as most will get to being James Bond. Photos: Supplied

As it turns out, I do. I like foie gras. And when it’s served with wild boar ravioli and Jerusalem artichoke mousse, I’ll gobble it down faster than a force-fed duck chokes on its food pipe.

I discovered this particular version aboard the Strand hotel’s swanky sister property, The Strand Cruise, at an exclusive event hosted by executive chef, Christian Martena, as a prelude to the hotel’s reopening in mid-November. If the six-course preview menu is anything to go by, November can’t come soon enough.

We start with a Mediterranean tomato semblance served with basil coulis, stracciatella cream and a balsamic pearl. I’ve copied all this from the menu, obviously – I wouldn’t have the faintest clue what a tomato semblance was if it bit me in the armpit. Nevertheless, it tastes exactly like how I imagine the Mediterranean sun would taste if it were served on a plate with posh things drizzled over the top. It’s served with a delightfully fruity Cape Spring 2014 Chenin Blanc – which the sommelier pours in heartbreakingly small amounts.

In addition to my recently acquired taste for artificially fattened duck livers, I’ve also come to learn that absolutely everything tastes good when served with truffles. Happily Martena seems to agree, as our next course is scarlett Spanish prawns (they say “prawns” – it was only one prawn. But who’s counting?) with baby artichoke hearts, black truffle and truffle oil. It’s an exquisite dish and the nuttiness of the artichokes complement the earthy truffle flavours perfectly.

Spanish prawns with black truffle. The foamy stuff? Not sure, but it looked good.Spanish prawns with black truffle. The foamy stuff? Not sure, but it looked good.

As if to tick off another box on the luxury foods list, it is followed by a caviar course. The steamed asparagus with sea urchin sabayon (beats me), egg mimosa and oscietra caviar, is refreshingly mellow after the first two courses – perhaps a bit too mellow for my taste. It’s paired with a delicious, elegant Domaine William Fevre 2014 Chablis – and by now I’m grateful for the tiny servings.

Fine dining menus, with their minute portions and pretentious artistry, are often a bit soulless in my opinion. For all their fancy aesthetics, they lack a certain heartiness: like the guy who looks great on Tinder but spends all night talking about the gym. Thankfully, Martena – who I’m convinced by now is some kind of wizard – evades this pitfall with his perilously rich wild boar and foie gras ravioli. Served with a meaty Morel broth, it is enough to make me wince with pleasure. An intensely aromatic, velvet-smooth 2008 Campone Brunello Maontalcino is the perfect accompaniment.

Martena’s wild boar and foie gras ravioli was the stand out dish.Martena’s wild boar and foie gras ravioli was the stand out dish.

The final main course – and the final nail in the coffin of my withering ethics – is veal tenderloin with a pistachio crust and veal jus. I once went on hunger strike for a whole day because my mother dared to serve veal for Christmas dinner. Of course, that was before I discovered how bloody tasty it was, and Martena’s moist, mouth-watering offering does not disappoint. As I scrape my plate clean, the server sweeps away my empty wine glass only to replace it with another decadent red – though by now everything is a bit hazy and I couldn’t tell you what it tasted like.

When the veal is this good you can forget ethics.When the veal is this good you can forget ethics.

Desert didn’t quite sing for me. The “deconstructed” (read, “chucked in a glass”) fruit tart with Creme Anglaise seemed a bit of a cop-out after the other thoughtful dishes, and contained those maddening popping sugar crystals that became popular with “zany” chefs a few years ago, but are now just a clichéd attempt to jazz up a lacklustre desert. What I did like, though, was the champagne it was served with – I drank two glasses just to be sure.

Martena’s “deconstructed” fruit tart: “a lacklustre dessert”Martena’s “deconstructed” fruit tart: “a lacklustre dessert”

It hardly needs to be said that service is beyond excellent (this is the Strand, dahling). Plates and glasses are whisked away unnoticed and there’s none of that groping-around-in-your-crotch-with-napkins nonsense. It might be pricy – beyond, even – at $140 per person, but in return you get a first class dining experience. And did I mention the exceptionally good wine? Oh, I did.

Sadly, you’ll have to wait until the Strand’s Signature Restaurant opens in November before you can enjoy Martena’s wizardry, though there are whisperings of another preview event in August so keep your taste buds peeled. I feel sure he has even more culinary delights up his sleeve.

Note: Unlike our usual reviews, this review was not done anonymously and the meal was given free.

The Strand Signature Restaurant (opening November 2016)
Strand Road, Botahtaung township, Yangon
Open only for dinner, 5-11:30pm

Restaurant Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Food: 9
Beverage: 10
Service: 10
Value: 7
X-factor: 9

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