Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Ox celebrations continue

Another night, another celebration. I feel like I'm doing Chinese New Year proper this year - with week long celebrations and the like. I'm not complaining though, other than the blister-inducing curse that is new heels.

Onto more pleasant thoughts of a dinner at the Shangri-La Hotel ballroom the night following the twilight parade, essentially to promote the hometown of those 500+ performers flown in from China. I tend to forget the sheer size of China when thinking travel destinations, with just major cities - like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou - and tourist sites - like Xian and Guilin - sticking in mind. Henan Province is in central China and home to the Shaolin Temple and other things I'm told by promotional videos and speeches that I now don't recall.

But thank goodness for high-quality hors d'oeuvres, which you can usually count on a five-star hotel for. An avocado and lobster tart had me tottering around chasing the waiter about the pre-drinks lobby area. In a pre-made minature tart casing a coriander-spiked avocado mixture propped up two scrumptious pieces of lobster - a mouthful that went decadently well with a glass or three of sparkling white wine. I could live on a diet like that.

There was also a very substantial and minced pork-packed dumpling in a thin wheat flour pastry; sliced lavash rolls of smoked salmon and deep fried king prawns floating about the lobby in abundance. This made a bit more sense as the welcome speeches went well over at least 20 minutes after seating. Timing is always a little difficult at these types of events. Personally I prefer not to have a performance during a meal, but don't mind speeches; however I don't think this goes down well with the important, official types.

Alternate drop entrees arrive in the nick of time, before I can have a whinge about being starved and trying to locate the nearest Maccas. They both sound a little unusual on the menu but I'm happy to have scored the lighter-looking option.

Salad of duck rillettes with pickled cucumber and citrus salsa
from Shangri-La Hotel banquets, Sydney

The bits of savoury duck are chilled and simply no match for roast duck, in western or Chinese styles. The meat was a little gamey but matched well with the bits of orange in the salsa. The salad was overall lacking, needed a dressing or sauce to heighten the greens. Pickled cucumber slices were nice but a bit out of place.

The other entree looked extremely heavy and rich, and certainly not a typical summer dish. I found it most odd that there was a strongly cheese-featured dish for a predominantly Chinese turnout. Maybe I'm basing that on outdated stereotypes - perhaps sheep's milk cheese is big in China. And on oddities, the orange napkins in a red and yellow/gold themed room seem to clash in my slightly colour blind opinion, but anyway.

Braised veal loin with porcini and taleggio cheese

The small block of veal was melt-in-your-mouth succulent and infused with flavour. The taleggio was surprisingly not too rich nor creamy, judged from my one mouthful, and I didn't see a mushroom but I think the that's what the jus was based on.

Throw in a few more speeches, a signing of a memorandum and other official bits and pieces before mains arrive. At about the same time, performing students of the Shaolin Temple also hit the stage, quite literally, with swords, spears and other weapons of kung-fu mastery, making it all but impossible for me to even glance at my fish main. Luckily it stayed hot through to the end of the performance, where animal-styled kung-fu entertained and kept the room in awe.

Seared blue cod and cod brandade with celeriac dauphinoise,
foamed shellfish broth and Thai asparagus

The cod was quite substantial as a dish; a thick, meaty fillet. The brandade spread over the top of the fillet was a bit starchy and reminiscent of mash, but probably more like a very potato-ey bacalao (Spanish cod croquettes). Not a fan of the flavour of celeriac, even masquerading as a dauphinoise, but always a fan of asparagus. The "foamed shellfish broth" was more like a thick, cream sauce without really a hint of seafood flavour, but nicely accompanying the fish anyway.

The alternate main was a less interesting sounding and looking "corn fed breast of chicken with rosemary and roasted garlic pomme fondant and Provencal vegetables". Chicken with mash and vegies, anyone?

The red colour theme kept through to the dessert too, intentional or not. Lucky and prosperous indeed for those lucky door prize winners, taking home artworks and imitation relics. My lucky table number 18 also hosted a lucky winner, but I had no luck in trying to like and enjoy the dessert that followed.

Framboise chocolate cake with raspberry puree

While it looked pretty, even despite my attempted artful drizzle of raspberry puree, the cake was a bit of a letdown. More stodgy than fudgey, the cake was like a poor, freezer version of mud cake. The raspberry puree didn't improve it much but I was most content with my thin dark chocolate cigar. Then tea and coffee arrived and I had even more reason to be content.

Handmade chocolates

The plate of chocolates promised delectability and did not disappoint. I had the dark chocolate cup, which housed a lemony filling and topped with a swirl of hazelnut praline, and the red ball - a red sugar coated, strawberry filled sphere of white chocolate sweetness.

Lingering awhile as people dashed home for whatever one does on a Monday night, my companion and I make the most of the organiser's elected beverage package and finally, but not lastly, make our way out into gale-forced winds home. As luck would have it I have my hair down, but at least a non-floaty skirt so still have some dignity as my hair style enters a completely different realm.

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