Three years ago celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck chose Bahrain and Four Seasons to launch his new restaurant concept, re/Asian Cuisine by Wolfgang Puck and, under the watchful eye of executive chef Brian Becher, it has become a fast favourite. So, when I got news that the kitchen team had been hard at work revamping the menu, I was slightly dismayed but also rather excited to go along for a tasting session.
I needn’t have worried, chef Brian assured us this was not “change for change’s sake, we only wanted to make a change if we could do something better”. And he added that certain signature dishes would cause mutiny among his regulars should they disappear!
Shown to a window table with the obligatory amazing view of the Manama night sky from the 50th floor, we were treated to an amuse bouche of cucumber Szechuan, a surprising combination that rendered even this most innocuous of vegetables tasty and moreish.
Our first proper taster was sweet corn soup with roasted garlic custard, cherry tomato and black tiger prawn. Served in pretty demitasse cups with a garnish of coriander, this was the ultimate in comfort food; rich and creamy, the garlic saving the sweetcorn from blandness and juicy chunks of prawn providing meaty substance.
Next came one of those potentially mutiny-inducing dishes – spicy tuna tartare in sesame miso cones. This was my dining companion’s first experience of this little piece of paradise and her stunned silence spoke volumes. The fish provides a slight sweetness, delicately offset with a hidden hint of ginger heat in the miso cones which crumble in the mouth to give an explosion of smoky roasted sesame.
A plate of three appetisers followed, each classic in appearance but with a twist added by this talented culinary team. Shrimp and corn chow feung rolls utilise the traditional noodle dough as a wafer-thin roll – a spring roll without the frying – the accompaniments of sweet soy, pickled chilli and Thai basil perfectly tease out the flavours, which, though a similar combination of base ingredients to those found in the soup, actually taste completely different.
A zucchini flower stuffed with Thai basil sausage and deep fried in a crispy coating of home-made rice flour was an interesting combination reminiscent of Bangkok street food; and a wok-fried duck dumpling finished the trio, served on a base of tongue-tingling chilli crisp aioli with sesame and scallion. Again, the sauces elevated this most common of Asian dishes to the extraordinary.
The next dish was one of the standouts of the evening, eliciting, as it did, a wonderful food memory from my friend. Grilled tiger prawns, coconut cashew puree, banana blossoms and fresh mango. Huge juicy prawns and a wonderful combination of flavours and textures which included a base of Sri Lankan moju (eggplant curry) – a taste which took my friend back to her very early days in the Middle East and a housekeeper who regularly cooked this dish.
She has been trying, unsuccessfully, to recreate it ever since and an inquiry to chef Brian brought forth not only the recipe but the lovely philosophy that “this is what it’s all about, it’s how we connect and to see someone have this kind of reaction to my food makes me happy”.
We rounded off the savouries with roasted quail ‘adobo style’ with fondant potatoes, confit of quail’s egg and kalamansi aioli. Another triumph, we were both intrigued by the aioli, a delicate combination of garlic and citrus with a little something else, correctly identified by my partner as fennel. On inquiring about the sauce, our knowledgeable waiter was happy to explain that it is something usually only found in the Philippines – home of adobo – so it was a treat to try something completely new.
Almost totally replete, we were both ready to refuse dessert but, purely in the interests of research, we tucked into peanut chocolate shortbread with peanut mousse, chocolate sauce and jackfruit sorbet and Japanese cotton cheesecake with momo peach and timut pepper compote and passion custard.
Words are my business but I am virtually at a loss to describe the joy of peach ice-cream/sorbet actually made with peaches and bursting with their pure summer flavour – in chef Brian’s words “peaches are summer”. Tthe addition of pepper seems an odd combination but it’s completely unobtrusive and is clearly there just to give the peaches a little extra edge, which it achieves admirably. The cheesecake was super-light, like a combination of the best sponge with a hint of cream cheese perfectly offset by the passion fruit custard.
And the peanut dessert, with its topping of a spun chocolate tweel atop an extraordinary crumble base of hazelnuts, salt and a little bit of magic, completed the meal perfectly.
At each stage chef Brian had explained the dishes, telling us what’s to enjoy about each one and how it came about. He proudly reeled off the list of Asian nationalities in the kitchen of this most democratic of eateries, which helped to explain the variety and authenticity of the new menu. And we were equally impressed with the charm and knowledge of our server.
In conclusion, if one is going to go out socialising on a work night, I can think of few better ways to do so than 50 floors up with amazing views, a congenial host and fabulous food. re/Asian Cuisine by Wolfgang Puck delivered on all three in spades.
To find that the adjoining Blue Moon Lounge now has a ladies’ night on Saturdays was the cherry on the cake – get those miso cones on order, we will most definitely be back!