The fastest way to the heart of a country is by eating food said many. I have recently moved to the Hague as part of my training. As a keen foodie, I walked the predictable path of attempting to understand a culture by eating my way through town. Last week I took the time to visit HanTing, a 1 Michelin star Chinese - French restaurant. Located in the city, it was in a convenient spot to begin.
The concept was really unusual because while Japanese-French establishments are as cliche as humans’ breathing in Australia, the Chinese - French connection was new to me! But lets leave the food to do the talking.
Tray of “snacks”.
A superb mix of colours, textures and flavours. The complex offering started with a squid ink bun filled with some mild horseradish which gave the sweet-ish almost brioche like bun a subtly pungent bite. Next was the beetroot meringue. It packed a crunch with an unmistakable earthiness from the beetroot. This was followed by was a savoury macaroon, a crisp and crudités with a saffron aioli dip.
Tomato Jelly, Mousse, celery and smoked eel. It was acidic, creamy and salty. All of which was serenaded by a whiff of smokiness. Small and potent, but more importantly it was interesting.
Steamed bread with fried shallots.
The dish of HERRING was the First course presented to me. This fish is a typical Dutch stereotype so when it was served it felt like a surprise but not really. Served raw, I was really quite concerned by the thick layer of “blood" running underneath the skin. But Chef Han’s idea of serving the fish with a host of fruity and refreshing elements was absolutely genius. Among the accompaniments identified are compressed watermelon, Yuzu dressing, Guacamole and tomato jelly. This oily fish was buttery and left only the slightest hint of the sea in my mouth. But scoop a little of each element to eat with the fish and it did not at all feel like a fish! It was light, subtle, and fruity.
For diners that find the HERRING fishy, HanTing serves a complimentary course which felt like a re-interpretation of the Japanese “ONIGIRI”. Its sweet-vinegary flavours readies the palate for the next course.
The Second course featured TUNA in several ways. Seared-all round and a sushi. Served with red pepper puree, soya, cucumber and a wasabi jelly, this was an intricate dish. Not to mention melt-in-your mouth squid and aubergine in the middle. But was all this effort in vain? Not all but some. The sushi probably was the least impressive dish. The sticky shards of rice and pressed tuna tasted stale. With the seared tuna, I found the pairing with the lukewarm wasabi jelly log too mundane. I did not get that kick which I got from the HERRING dish. With the warm temperature in the dining hall, having served the dish with a wasabi sorbet would have totally win it. Oh, do not forget to omit the sushi too!
My Third course was a dish of SEA BASS and razor clam. Another dish from the sea, but this time cooked. A good way to imagine this dish is to think of a perfectly cooked fish. And then think of the last time you had a perfectly cooked fish and cry. Ok just joking lol. Think of the fish and at the same time imagine a soy based sauce that feels buttery, filled with shrooms and a touch of sweet rice wine. Everything was bang on perfect. The HERRING course I had at HanTing is probably not to everyone taste, but this was definitely a crowd pleaser.
The Fourth and last savoury course was a meal of VEAL. Served pink in the middle the VEAL was tender, juicy and flavoursome. The seared loin was well-seasoned and one flavour that was more prominent than others was five spice. A spice frequently used by Chinese to season meat. On the side you had turnips, yam and also a very special solidified lard with shallots. By itself, the veal was delicious. But melt the flavoured lard onto the meat and you get the hint of ginger and spring onions which perfumed the veal so very nicely it was awesome.
Last but not least was a sweet ending. Sorbet frozen using liquid Nitrogen, white chocolate ganache shaped and twisted, and to cut through the sweetness of the lot, some sliced candied Mandarins.
WHITE CHOCOLATE & BERRIES
The meal at HanTing was nothing short of being impressive. The kitchen’s thought on the plate was clearly “more is more” and not "less is more". While this worked brilliantly for most courses, the TUNA took a few steps back with that thought. I wanted a little more surprise that suited the warm summer season. But with 4 out of the 5 courses winning my approval, it is a clear sign that HanTing’s 1 Michelin star is well-deserved. If you had to ask me what my favourite courses were, I would no doubt vouch for the Herring which freaked me out initially. Its buttery sweet flesh was second to none. The Sea Bass is the second best followed suit by the Veal and Dessert of White Chocolate & Berries.WenY