Cheers before the China Japan Debate Begins. 

Pan Asian at ITC Sonar is hosting a lovely event called The China Japan Debate on a Plate, partnered with Johnny Walker. After Delhi and Mumbai, the event is presently at Kolkata, and for a limited period, from 7th to 10 November, 2013. In this, Chef Liang and Chef Vikramjit are facing off against each other. The pair have created a number of exotic dishes to pair with exquisite Johnny Walker Whiskies.

Red Sunrise. Ooh So Japanese Name!!! 

I walked in and found myself nursing a glass of Red Sunrise – a lovely cocktail with the said whiskey, pickled ginger, yuzu, pomegranate, and a number of other elements shaken and served over ice cubes. This was Japan’s offering, and Debi of Flysongbird checked out its Chinese counterpart, a lovely martini glass filled with the golden goodness of whiskey shaken together with Chinese tea. She declared it to be a strong, and nice drink, perfect for her. We were whisked to our table before I could contemplate sneaking in a sip.

Chef Vikram is a lovely person to talk to. Before hitting the table he hinted that he would have a special drink for us to start, an amuse bouche but actually in a slightly bigger, more different way. I was given the components, and it suspiciously smelled of molecular gastronomy, and after my excited inquiry, he indulgently told me to contain my excitement, and wait for it like a good, patient little girl that I was.

Of course, my patience was very richly rewarded. The drink that began the meal was a fun thing to watch, with smoke pouring out of the platter on which a glass stood, rimmed with a soy based salt, and containing a pale, peachy-vodka based drink. On one side was a smattering of celery salt, on the other was a thinly slice of fried bean curd sheet. There was a little buckwheat wafer stuck on a mound of mash, and inside a covered bowl, two plum tomatoes, peeled and marinated, waited. There was a miniature explosion on my palate as Chef Vikram explained how to drink it – a sip of the drink, followed by a tomato, then a bit of the bean curd, and some wafer. maybe a dab of celery salt. It was a lovely deconstruction of a Bloody Mary and I was charmed.

There must be poses. Debi with her drink while SD watches. 

Raveen Mishra, Regional Brand Ambassador, Diageo India, and a passionate whiskey enthusiast took us through the three whiskeys we would be served through the night. His first selection was a lovely Johnny Walker Gold Label, and I was given the option to choose the Soup and Starter from the paired menu. I was torn between Chinese and Japanese, as I love both, and in the end gave in to the lure of the drama. I went with the Japanese Starter – Salmon with Confit Melon, Miso Cream Cheese, Bubuarare, Smoked Corn Mash.

Salmon with Confit Melon, Miso Cream Cheese, Bubuarare, Smoked Corn Mash

When it hit the table, I did stare a bit at it. First came a square plate of accompaniments, and then came a long stone slab containing the salmon. The dish was Chef Vikram with a charm and playfulness which is an extension of his own personality. It had a lot of things going on in it – the perfectly cooked salmon skewered on confit melon and smothered with a light miso cream. The sweet smoked corn mash. The lotus root sliced thin and stuck on a light cream. With that there were plum soba noodles, potato flakes, and celery pearls and other little elements. The key was to use them at will, and I liked some of it, didn’t like some of it, and had a lot of fun playing with it.

Golden Fried Prawns

Compared to that, Chef Liang, the Corporate Chinese Chef of ITC, had a straightforward dish of crisp fried prawns. I did sneak in a bite and found the prawn juicy and tender, and it was good, but I would say that I was like a child with a new toy with Chef Vikram’s dish, and the whiskey went really well with it, a twist of citrus bringing out the latent fruity and tannin notes of the drink.

Edamame Soup, Sanso Crisp Foie Gras, Foam

The second dish was the soup, and again, I fell for the lure of Japan (actually make that Foie Gras), and chose Edamame Soup, Sansho Crisp, Foie Gras Foam. We were served a covered dome, which, when opened, revealed a roundel of Sansho Crisp, holding a perfectly seared slice of rich Foie Gras, and the server poured the Edamame soup from a jug. The sansho crisp was quickly broken into pieces, the crisp slices immersed in my soup, and then I virtually inhaled it in one go. The fatty, rich liver, crisp sansho, and creamy soup was a great one for me, and possibly my favorite of the evening.

Pan Fried Tenderloin with Black Pepper and Oyster Sauce

To accompany the main course, Raveen did bring out the Johnnie Walker Platinum Level, and served it neat, to savor with our meal. I was torn here – till now, Japan was clearly winning on my area, and I did look at the China section and found the pork and tenderloin very appealing, but I was still mourning about the chicken with blue cheese stuffed in it from the Japanese section. My server looked at me with a little mischievous glint in his eyes, and said, I will bring you both the beef and the chicken. I gleefully agreed, and that was done.

The smoothness of this whiskey is beyond question, and I agreed with Raveen that it went wonderfully with my first main course – the Pan Fried Tenderloin with Black Pepper and Oyster Sauce came with cooked Chinese greens, a sliver of Shiitake Mushroom, and a side of fried rice. The fishy Oyster Sauce went well with the tender meat, and the rice accompanied it well. The slight bitterness countered the whiskey’s flavors well, and this was the dish for me from the main course section, although Debi’s Chilean Sea Bass did look very good.

Blue Cheese and Spinach Stuffed Chicken

I was angling for the Blue Cheese and Spinach Stuffed Chicken with freeze dried tomato, and whiskey ponzu reduction. Although the dish sounded incredible, personally I felt that the spinach-to-cheese quotient in the dish was not perhaps balanced, and the spinach itself was slightly bitter, so although it was executed well, it did not have my heart.

The Double Fried Pork with Mild Chili and Hoisin Sauce SG wanted  was slightly sweeter, and it tasted good, but I believe that anything that says double-fried should be crisp and yet tender. The pork was tender, but not crisp.

Deep Fried Ice Cream with Fresh Fruits

For dessert, we were given an option, and I chose Deep Fried Ice Cream with Fresh Fruits from the Chinese Segment of the menu. With this, we were served Johnnie Walker XR 21, a rich, smooth blend which was meant to be savored. I loved digging into the cakey exterior of the round ball of ice cream, to scoop out a perfect spoonful of vanilla ice cream, crunchy cake exterior and a bit of the shrubbery sauce smeared on it.

Valhrona Mousse on a Crumbly Tart Base, Mint Ice Cream, Citrus Coulis

However, just as we were about to get up, Chef Vikram yet again surprised us with another little thing that was not on the menu. Bittersweet Valhrona mousse mounted on a crumbly biscuit base, a little scoop of mint ice cream to cut the bitterness, and an element of sourness of citrus coulis smeared on the plate, and some dark notes of currant balancing everything out. Small balls of fruits lay on the side. A great ending indeed, and we were given a lovely package of ITC goodies to take back home.

Group Photo!

You too can come over to ITC and participate in this short event. Join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter or Google + : http://wcom.in/chinajapandebate : Use the hashtags #FoodFromJapan or #FoodFromChina & stand a chance to win a signature culinary experience.

Pan Asian, ITC Sonar: 7-10th November
Price: INR 4000++ per guest.
For reservations and further information call 033-23454545 before 10th November 2013: Dinner Only- 7:30 to 11:45 pm.

Disclaimer: Poorna Banerjee dined at ITC Pan Asian Sonar as a guest of Pan Asian, ITC Sonar, Kolkata. All opinions are unbiased and the author’s own.

Written by Poorna Banerjee

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