Aubergine

Dinner – Wednesday, December 29, 2021

It’s been over a year since I last wrote about a meal at Aubergine. We ate at the restaurant three times in 2021, and I’m rather glad I held off posting about the previous dinners – this was the strongest of the year. Admittedly, with surging Omicron cases, we were a little worried about dining indoors (a forced event due to some technical glitches with their outdoor canopy), but through a series of circumstances, we found ourselves comfortably ensconced in the privacy of their salon, away from other diners – and sparing them from our little one, no doubt.

Napa cabbage, sunflower miso, furikake
A new amuse bouche – the components were held in a wafery fried wonton shell. The miso was intense, and the different crunchy textures of the shell and shredded cabbage were very good.

Morro Bay oyster, mussel ice

Nagasaki bluefin tuna, Tokyo wasabi, nori
Another superb opening bite – like a tekka maki, but without rice and held in a nori wafer. The balance of the freshly grated wasabi against the tuna was perfect.

Siberian caviar, potato, fromage blanc
I really enjoyed how the mild tanginess of the fromage blanc played against the salty caviar. The julienned potatoes added textural contrast to an otherwise “soft” course, keeping things interesting on the palate.

Monterey Bay abalone, char roe
Bibb lettuce broth, charred scallions, oyster leaf, sea grass, nori oil

Abalone is a remarkably versatile protein, so it played well with the strongly vegetal notes in the broth. There were also marked briny notes from the roe and oyster leaf – quite a complicated course. A strong iteration of a product that almost never leaves the Aubergine menu.

Line-caught amadai
Black trumpet mushrooms, radishes, shiro dashi

Amadai is one of my favourite cooked fishes, and tonight’s catch (all the way from Niigata) was firm-fleshed and sweet, with paper-thin, crispy scales. It was accompanied by the restaurant’s perennial shiro dashi, and some brioche (baked in an abalone shell) for sopping up the sauce. Just lovely.

Corvus Farms guinea hen roulade, black truffle
Delicata squash, hen jus, crispy skin, mint, chive dust

Millbrook Farms venison
Pearl onions, shitake, kale relish, ogo seaweed, chicken-kombu jus

Persimmon-glazed mochi donut
Vanilla ice cream, puffed Japanese brown rice, Saijo persimmon hoshigaki

A multi-part course featuring a creamy persimmon and caramelized white chocolate milk punch, garnished with Hachiya persimmon hoshigaki. The strained material from the punch was used to make an almond-persimmon praline filling for the Saijo persimmon hoshigaki that accompanied the ice cream. Lots of textures, temperatures and gradations of sweetness throughout the course. I’m almost certain this is the first time I’ve had a dessert-cocktail pairing here, and I hope it won’t be the last!

Sticky toffee cake, chocolate ganache
Brown butter ice cream, candied walnuts, chocolate veil

Foie and brioche to go
There was a selection of mignardises after dessert, but I was caught up in conversation and absent-mindedly ate them all without taking a picture! Instead, I’ll share a picture of a foie gras torchon care package we received from the team – they definitely know how much we love it. Many thanks for this generous “emergency kit”.

Technically, our dinner in August was the first since former chef de cuisine Ki Chung decamped for new opportunities in sunny Honolulu – but I believe the kitchen was still finding itself then. On this night, I saw the menu confidently enter its next phase, as new voices made themselves heard. It’s been such a pleasure watching the restaurant evolve over the last decade, with Justin’s hand always guiding the overall direction – I can’t wait to see what 2022 will bring (and as always, I think it’s criminal that Michelin hasn’t awarded Aubergine a second star!)

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