KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 21 — In Tetsuko Kuroyanagi’s beloved book Totto-chan: The Little Girl at the Window, the headmaster reminds parents to include “something from the ocean and something from the hills” in their children’s lunch boxes. Dining at Aziamendi88, I can’t help but share this sense of wonder at tasting the best of land and sea.
Running at Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur till October 31, Aziamendi88 is a culinary pop-up by celebrated Chef Eneko Atxa. Raised in the Basque town of Amorebieta, Atxa is the youngest three Michelin star chef from Spain courtesy of his restaurant Azurmendi in Bilbao.
Aziamendi88 takes its name from Aziamendi, Atxa’s restaurant at Iniala Beach House in Phang-Nga, Thailand, that has been drawing rave reviews for its innovative cuisine since launching in 2013.
Our Aziamendi88 experience begins as my dining companion and I are ushered into a semi-dark “garden sanctuary” decorated with various plants and shrubbery. After taking our seat on the bench, we are presented with a silk-lined picnic basket filled with bite-sized treats.
Each delicately crafted amuse bouche is a little teaser of the flavours of land and sea: creamy and briny anchovy mousse sandwiched between layers of mille feuille; coal-black toasted corn sheets topped with caviar, fish roe and sea urchin mayonnaise; and a mojito bon bon that explodes pleasantly in our mouths.
These delicacies prepare our jaded palates for the courses to come, all eight of them. Our first course, the Bonsai Tree, gets top marks for presentation. A real bonsai plant is delivered to our table with “fruits” and “wood bark chips.”
The hanging “fruits” are actually cherry tomatoes injected with a raspberry-tomato infusion, ready to be plucked and devoured. The “bark” is the dehydrated skin of sunchokes (also known as Jerusalem artichokes), not unlike beef jerky in its chewy texture.
Next up is the Truffled Egg: a parboiled egg yolk that has been injected with hot truffle consommé. Swallow it whole and experience the unadulterated flood of truffle fragrance and rich yolk. Consider this absolute indulgence.
Course number three, the Garden, brings the concept of edible soil to a new creative level. How could you resist “earth” made from a tangy tomato-orange emulsion and “soil” that is really dehydrated beetroot? A cornucopia of miniature vegetables completes this delightful “garden”.
Our next course, Foie Gras Ashes, arrives looking like a charcoal Swiss roll sitting on top of a wooden log. A closer look reveals chilled foie gras pâté resting on a toasted brioche and garnished generously with foie gras “shavings.”
This decadent treat is accompanied by a slice of earthy spelt bread. (The earlier Truffled Egg is paired with a steamed milk bun from a dim sum basket; the Garden with soft, sweet corn bread.)
The following pair of dishes showcases the bountiful harvest from the sea. What looks like pale white pasta turns out to be “noodles” of squid sauced with an unctuous, umami-rich squid broth, to be enjoyed with a spoonful of fish roe and a croquette of squid essence.
A small pot of marmitako, a type of fish stew eaten by Basque fishermen, is served as an introduction to grilled tuna on a bed of cauliflower and fried egg yolk croquettes. Yellow flower petals add a touch of whimsy.
The final courses are almost too rich, after what had come before. Lamb shoulder with pesto, parmesan balls and pine nuts represents the meat course; dessert is a log of Valrhona Dulcey chocolate and peanut butter served with a quenelle of salted caramel ice-cream.
We have to order some black coffee and loosen our belts before we can even consider the petit fours. These come in a transparent “jewel case”; each resting on a different bed of “soil” (mostly biscuit crumbs or chocolate dust). Marshmallow or macaron? A praline, maybe?
Perhaps the wisest choice is to order another cup of black coffee and schedule a long nap after this marathon of a meal.
For more information and to make reservations, visit www.aziamendi88.com.