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I have my reasons for not being overly excited about the Malaysia International Gourmet Festival (MIGF) but upon chatting with Michael Elfwing, the Chef de Cuisine of Senses at KL Hilton, I realised that I had been thinking only from my perspective and had not considered the chef’s point of view.  ”This is the opportunity for the chef to shine,” he said.  ”In the MIGF, the spotlight is on the chef, and I’m excited to be a part of this.”  He said it with such honesty and earnestness that I felt like I had to re-examine my reasons for not being a fan.

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If it weren’t for Michael, who happens to be a personal friend as well, I could probably go through this month without trying any MIGF menus.  Thanks to him and the PR folk behind KL Hilton, Bald Eagle and I were invited to dine at Senses as their guests. Together with Chynna and Iketeru, the restaurants from KL Hilton were participating in the MIGF for the 6th consecutive year following the theme “Three Outlets, Three Chefs, three Festival Promotions And A Michelin Starred Chef”. One of the highlights of the festival is the special guest chef appearance of Chef Christopher Coutanceau (from 14 to 16 October 2010) from 2-Michelin starred restaurant, La Rochelle in France.

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I subscribe to Michael Elfwing’s Flickr feed, and was already somewhat aware of what he was going to offer to his guests, but as you already know, seeing something doesn’t evoke the same sensation as being present and eating it. All senses are employed, tickled and tantalised with a menu such as that presented at Senses right from the beginning when the edible menu is placed before you. It is a novelty to eat the menu (made of potato starch and printed with edible ink), served with taramasalata (fish roe dip), but before you know it, it’s all gone and you wonder how you’ll be able to tell what your subsequent dishes are!

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A word on the butter at Senses – I used to be bowled over by Echire butter (known as one of the best butters in France), but after trying Bordier butter at Senses, I can’t imagine ever eating anything else again. It is an artisanal butter created by a Frenchman, Jean-Yves Bordier, and is made slowly by hand.   The resultant flavour is intense and creamy, a little on the salty side, and immensely and exceedingly enjoyable.

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Canapes were served together with the edible menu – an egg shell filled with scrambled egg espuma, a sponge with miso inspired by Paco Roncero, and Senses’ trademark macarons filled with foie gras.  As this was not meant to be a dessert macaron, the macaron was denser and less sweet than normal, and when you think about it, a whole lot of experimenting has to be carried out to achieve the texture with the use of less sugar or a sugar substitute.

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I first ate a salad in the guise of a flower pot at the Mandarin Grill at Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong.  I remember falling in love with the presentation then (as an added bonus, the vinaigrette was sprinkled onto the pot with a tiny watering can), and seeing the Organic Flower Pot at Senses, I couldn’t help but draw parallels with my dinner at the Mandarin Grill HK.  The fact is, save for a handful, no particular menu is exceptionally revolutionary and chefs inspire other chefs; at the end of the day, we benefit from their continual feeding off of each other’s minds.

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Heston Blumenthal dreamt of a gold leaf soup for his latest menu, which in turn is Michael’s inspiration to create a Golden Tea soup, essentially dried consomme wrapped in gold leaf and held together on a string, much like a tea bag.  Hot water is poured onto it and the package dissolves into a soup.  Very thinly sliced lamb tongue provides a burst of intense flavour.

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One may see the Smoked Jade Tiger Abalone salad as a departure from the Modern Australian cuisine which Senses boasts of, but as Michael claims, abalone is as much an integral part of Australian cuisine as it is in Chinese cuisine.  Sliced abalones braised with konbu, smoked mushrooms and sea lettuce make up the dish that is presented on a stone atop a piece of smoked cedarwood.  The cedarwood is more aesthetic here as opposed to  the subsequent dish where cedarwood is used in the baking process for the organic beef cheek.  Nevertheless, we enjoyed this dish, particularly the synergy achieved from the combination of the konbu and sea lettuce with the abalone.

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The menu at Senses is as much theatrical as it is functional as demonstrated in the main course – the Stanbroke Organic Beef baked in clay.  A piece of beef cheek is slow cooked after barding with truffles, encased in cedarwood and clay and then baked.  The “package” is rolled out on a trolley and cracked to reveal the tender meat within.

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Despite the performance, I preferred the lesser star of the evening, the Dorper lamb rack.  I was mesmerized by the tiny rack, probably about a third of my fist, and what captivated me the most was the flavour – it was sweet but mild and very succulent.  The cooking technique involved preparing it in truffle gel, a molecular technique which enabled the truffle jus to adhere to the flesh, and this ensured that the flavours were evenly spread over the rack.  The accompanying French lentils did nothing for me as I’m not a fan.

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Our palate cleanser was inspired by Michael’s Scandinavian heritage – a roughly grated frost with violet meringue, vanilla gel, gin and leatherwood honey.  Dried berries complemented this fragrant mound of ice.

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I expected our desserts to be three dimensional like our earlier dishes, but it came presented as naive art within a picture frame.  The flower petals were a jelly like texture made of poppy flower extract mixed with Ivoire chocolate and water.  We loved the banana ice cream that was served together with the “flower”.

The menu is available at Senses from 1 – 31 October 2010 at RM318++ per person (without wine pairing) and RM398++ per person (with wine pairing).  Hilton Premium Card members will enjoy a 10% discount off on food only.

Thank you, Michael Elfwing and KL Hilton for your kind invitation!

Senses
Hilton Kuala Lumpur
3 Jalan Stesen Sentral, KL

Tel: 03-2264 2592/2596

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