“Maybe you should eat this first, and then I’ll tell you what it is,” says a cheeky Chu Wei Sin, general manager of Babe by Jeff Ramsey. “This” refers to a pot topped with crispy potatoes and yuzu kimizu, a classic Japanese sauce of egg yolk and vinegar infused with yuzu, separated by kombu-flavoured flatbread and fried silverfish.
My usually insatiable curiosity has been lulled by the first three dishes of the 12-course tasting menu, the second edition of Perrier-Jouët’s Four Hands Dinner Series. The two-night special saw Ramsey collaborate with Kenichiro Yamauchi, a visiting chef from Nagoya whose eponymous restaurant in Japan showcases his classic French technique with the best of local, seasonal ingredients. It is a philosophy that melds beautifully with Ramsey’s own — the KL-based chef and restaurateur is the first non-Japanese to be bestowed the title of Master Sushi Chef and the only American to earn a Michelin Star outside of the US with his modernist culinary skills while at the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo.
Obediently, we slice into the potato crust and scoop lavish dollops of creamy mousse with the crispy kelp-infused flatbread and golden silverfish. I wipe the pot clean and am fantasising about pairing the dip with nachos for a midnight snack when a Google search informs me what Shirako Brandade is: Not for nothing is shirako known as Japan’s weirdest delicacy, made from the seminal fluid or sperm sacs of the male cod. While the dish is moreish, I am immensely grateful I finished it before looking it up.
Although perhaps an acquired taste, the Shirako Brandade has been a great conversation piece, as had been the parade of dishes that preceded it. A welcome flute of Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut segued into a glass of Gérard Bertrand Cote des Roses Rosé 2018 to pair with Yamauchi’s tart-like Kabocha Trevally Flower, a coin of firm trevally in a Japanese pumpkin cup crowned with a coriander meringue.
The following 1000-Year-Old Cedar Smoked Kan Buri Nigiri by Ramsey is a generous portion of glistening wild yellowtail from Hokkaido atop a bed of sushi rice scented with the smoke of burning cedar ash. This is precisely how seafood should be treated — with restraint to showcase the bounty of nature and the ingenuity of man, bringing out the best qualities of ingredients and technique. It is love at first bite and remains my favourite course of the evening.
Yamauchi’s Heart Beet Truffle Dango is the red-hued cousin of mochi, a savoury mouthful of beet, truffle and white mushroom that forms a sticky chew.
Ramsey, who was also behind the Shirako Brandade, is up next again. The Caramelised Ankimo with Passionfruit Ponzu Granita comprises a torchon of steamed buttery monkfish liver whose richness is offset by icy crumbles of sour granita. I am wary of another fatty course with the subsequent Foie Gras with Miso Cornet, but Yamauchi seems to have anticipated this, enveloping the foie gras in a firm cornet that breaks with satisfying crunch to reveal a liquid persimmon jam. This sequence of sour and then sweet ensures each liver dish is distinct and avoids being cloying.
Most interesting about this dinner is the alternating constructions by Yamauchi and Ramsey, which infuse a sense of dialogue. Courses often came in pairs — fish side by side, then liver, for instance — that had each chef design something and the other seemingly respond. The Takiawase — eggplant, tomato and white corn — is a necessary interlude of vegetables but the ensuing squid and unagi by Yamauchi and Ramsey respectively return the conversational interaction.
Like the nigiri earlier, the Sea Urchin, Squid and Squid Ink Sauce proves the influence of a divine hand in the conception of seafood. A teaspoon of sea urchin on a chrysanthemum heralds the squid ink amazake, or sake base that had its alcohol extracted. Each forkful is a bite of firm tentacle elevated by the earthy sauce that clings to it. The Unagi, Sunchoke and Vanilla also showcases the freshness and versatility of eel, braised and grilled and juxtaposed with a creamy sunchoke (Jerusalem artichoke) puree and chips.
Paired with a plummy Manuel Olivier Hautes-Cotes de Nuits “Vieilles Vignes” 2015 is a Beef Pie by Yamauchi, presented as a Japanese take on Beef Wellington. The deconstructed platter features carved Grade 7 Waygu tenderloin wrapped in sleek ribbons of kombu in a flaky crust, complemented with braised leek, a nori roll and smoked Dijon mustard and kinome sauce, concocted from the leaves of a Sansho pepper plant.
We are almost too full for dessert but it would be criminal to turn down the Hamma Natto Chestnut Mousse, Passionfruit and White Chocolate, a white chocolate shell housing chestnut and chocolate mousse, mirin ice cream and lemon and passionfruit jelly. An effervescent Michele Chiarlo Nivole Moscato d’Asti 2017 uplifts the accompanying persimmon confit that hides a zesty miso and white sesame ice cream beneath its honeyed slices.
For the finale, a delicate Ringo Ame (Candy Apple) inspired by Ramsey’s American upbringing is served. A hand-blown apple shell delicately spun from sugar hides a mélange of brown butter ice cream and Kinako apple mousse. The fragility and whimsicality of its glassy exterior is reminiscent of Snow White.
Combined with the fantasy setting — KL at the golden hour spread out before us, faultless service and the pageantry of exquisitely-presented dishes — the dinner is an exercise in escapism that proves two chefs can equally helm a kitchen. While this particular collaboration is no more, it asserts that the next Four Hands dinner warrants immediate reservations.
This article first appeared on Nov 18, 2019 in The Edge Malaysia.