TL;DR: a superb four-course tasting menu at Mandarin Grill + Bar inspired by unconventional art. A feast for the mind and the stomach. It’s tasty art you can eat.
For the inhabitants of Hong Kong, the month of March has become known as “arts month”. Two of the largest art fairs are happening simultaneously, with Art Basel propped up at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wanchai and Art Central briefly occupying Central Harbourfront. From 17–31 March this year, Mandarin Grill + Bar at the Mandarin Oriental has partnered with surrealist Russian painter Konstantin Bessmertny and CONSIGG Art Advisory to create a four-course Palatable Art tasting menu ($1,488/person), themed “Go East”, inspired by the works by several artists, including Bessmertny’s own pieces.
Konstanin Bessmertry’s “Ancient Regime”
I will be the first to admit to my deficient knowledge of art. However, like any other disciplines, mainstream success for artists in the contemporary art world seems to hang in pristine white-walled galleries, much like the 200-plus galleries participating in Art Basel this year. Meanwhile, the niche of “hotel art” – think of the A3-sized dollar reprints at your run-of-the-mill chain establishment – lies many worlds away. Bessmertry himself is the first to admit that most hotel art does not come close to sharing the prestige afforded to the pieces displayed at Art Basel and Art Central.
Li Jin (李津)’s “Maintaining a Sound Body and Mind”
The problem is, no one really goes to hotels to appreciate art. Now, I don’t know how art galleries choose works to feature, but it’s undoubtedly a competitive and selective process, with no shortage of political and financial nuances for an artist to navigate. Counterculture artists like Bessmertry, whose works feature a whimsical and seamless integration of East-meet-West moments styled by 20th-century surrealism, may run against the current popular trend of pieces in contemporary galleries. So it’s a brilliant move by Bessmertry and CONSIGG Art Advisory to capitalise on hotel art in order to showcase a few inspiring pieces perhaps rejected by the dominant Instagram-driven art discourse. Then again, Michelin-starred Mandarin Grill + Bar is no ordinary restaurant, and neither is the hotel in which it is housed. So if you are on a mission to uplift the reputation of hotel art, this is the place to do it.
Antony Micallef’s “Self-Portrait with Blue Slash”
It's always exciting when two artists who excel in their crafts collaborate, and this venture is no exception. Mandarin Grill + Bar Executive Chef Robin Zavou has created a four-course tasting menu, with each course and the amuse-bouche inspired by one of the featured pieces of art, and I was lucky enough to enjoy the meal while engaging in free-flowing conversation with Bessmertry. The artists’ personalities were evident in the conceptualisation of the dishes while losing none of the chef’s flair. Bear with me as I now attempt to recall what I ate and form some opinion on each course (the conversation was not the only thing free-flowing during the meal..).
Tin – caviar, leek and cauliflower: this amuse-bouche was a caviar dish inspired by Bessmertry’s “Ancient Regime”. The chequered dollops of leek and cauliflower pureé mimicking the chessboard in the painting, served with French Sturia caviar, provided a delightfully unctuous and aesthetically pleasing teaser to the meal.
Slash – horse mackerel, miso and black garlic: this was a challenging interpretation of Antony Micallef’s “Self-Portrait with Blue Slash” –a three-dimensional painting was quite literally served up to us. This dish had mild and balanced flavours. I would have liked something that provided more textural contrast to the soft fish and white bean pureé, however, this was the dish that most successfully captured the experience a diner should have when combining food and art. Audible gasps of delight and intrigue sounded as it was served, momentarily transforming a room of veteran journalists and food writers into children again.
Sound, Body & Mind – pork belly, onion, apple: inspired by Li Jin (李津)’s recurring featuring of pork belly in his works of art, the second course recreated the classic Western combination of pork and apple using traditional Chinese methods and ingredients. Sadly, the skin of the pork was quite rubbery and ought to have either been removed or crisped up and added back after the braise. The soup dumplings were a nice touch, as was the plate on which the dish was served, which was reminiscent of a Neolithic Chinese jade artefact called bi (璧).
5 Elements – Wagyu, bark, smoke: the main course was conceptualised after Ji Dachun (季大纯)’s artwork “Five Elements”. Each element – fire, water, metal, wood and earth – was recreated in the dish. In terms of taste and execution, this was easily my favourite dish. The beef was perfectly cooked, and the bark and soil added an earthy tone and crunchy texture to each bite, soothed by the neon squash pureé. When comparing the dish and the artwork, this interpretation was the most abstract of the bunch and required a little more thinking for the diner to reconcile.
Untitled – passion, raspberry, chocolate: to finish was a clean and tangy passion fruit dessert inspired by Izumi Kato’s “Untitled”. Here, the dessert was served on a recreation of the painting printed on a thin sheet of fondant – a great way to end the meal.
Ji Dachun (季大纯)’s “Five Elements”
In the end, the collaboration between the artists and the chef thoroughly followed the theme of East meets West, flowing seamlessly from the art to the plate. For the average person, this isn’t a typical four-course meal, and I am not oblivious to the hefty bill you are left with after this feast. If the ultimate question is, Is it worth it?, I simply cannot answer that. The confluence between art and food manifests itself in many ways. Admiring jaw-dropping street art while snacking on curry fish balls might be more gratifying than a Michelin-starred meal for you. It’s the diner's choice. But I can safely say that this union between artist and chef did not disappoint.
1/F, Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, 5 Connaught Road Central, Central, 2825 4060, click here to book now
This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s.
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