What does space smell like?
That is a question I never really pondered before. And a fine dining dinner at a fancy restaurant was the last place I would expect to get a whiff of outer space.
But sniff the scent of space we did, courtesy of Chef Ryan Clift of the Tippling Club, Singapore, who was in town to present the Hennessy X Ryan Clift dinner at the Brasserie, St Regis Kuala Lumpur last week.
In the latest of guest chef appearances at the St Regis, Clift took over the hotel’s French-Mediterranean dining venue from Oct 26-29 and introduced a four-course lunch and six-course dinner, as well as some of his signature dishes into the restaurant’s Sunday Brunch menu.
The menu was paired with Hennessy’s premium cognac, Hennessy XO, as well as specially designed Hennessy VSOP cocktails.
Renowned for using produce sourced from around the world and from his own herb garden, Clift set up Tippling Club in 2008, and it has since been recognised for its progressive avant-garde cuisine and equally inventive cocktails. Tippling Club was ranked 11th best bar in Asia by Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2017 and the 27th best restaurant in Asia’s Best Restaurants 2017.
What does all this have to do with how space smells like, you ask? Well, we have to first traverse Earth’s treasures through Clift’s menu to get to that.
First up, some snacks, unlike none I’ve ever had before –a little bowl of condensed tomyum sauce, served together with a pair of char-grilled capsicums. Paired with a Hennessy VSOP highball, these snacks were strange but oddly tasty little things that managed to whet my appetite and made me more curious about what was coming next.
Then came a pretty little plate of Petuna Ocean Trout, with Beetroot, Smoked Ox Tongue, Horseradish Cream, and a Hennessy VSOP Radicle Cocktail.
The fish was cooked just right – tender and delicate, its melt-in-the-mouth goodness melding with the beetroot and ox tongue to give a fresh yet creamy burst of flavours, which was complimented well by the sweet berry notes in the cocktail.
Next up, the Roasted Leek & Potato Consommé, with Parsley Root, Parsley Chlorophyll, and Wild Herbs. Topped up with a generous serving of a special hearty soup, the dish had a creaminess laced with hints of herbs, leek, and a green grassiness.
The highlight was definitely the soup made purely from burgundy white wine and garlic, which Clift says was his mother’s recipe.
After two resoundingly unique dishes, the subsequent Wild Turbot with Faux Squid Risotto, Lobster, Turnip, and Watercress Emulsion was a little disappointing, somehow. The fish was silky smooth, cooked perfectly, and with the lobster, risotto, turnip and the watercress emulsion adding a bit more colour and texture to the fish. But there seemed to be something missing.
Ah, but there was more to this dish – it was also the first one to be paired with the Hennessy XO. The velvety sweetness and slightly spicy notes of the cognac lent the dish an extra dimension of complexity, enhancing the flavours of the fresh produce further.
Then came the highlight of the night for me – A4 Toriyama Wagyu with Horseradish Burrata, Japanese Fruit Tomato, and Artichoke. The beef for this dish was sourced from Clift’s farms in Japan, believe it or not.
Served medium and wrapped in thin slices of cured wagyu beef, there is still quite a bit of juiciness with each bite. The fruit tomato envelops the meat with sour sweetness, the artichoke then adds a raw crisp texture to the whole dish.
Paired with Hennessy XO, the cognac cuts through the fats nicely, giving the dish a fresh, sweet, and clean finish.
Finally, we come to the desserts, and the scent of space. But before that, I’d be remiss if I did not mention the Texture of Coconut dessert, which, as the name implies, introduced us to quite a splendid myriad of coconut textures, paired with a creamy Hennessy VSOP Coco Loco Cocktail.
But just before that coconut combo, we got a bonus dessert. Only it didn’t look like a dessert.
There was a plastic medicine bottle with some tablets in it (complete with a prescription by “Dr R. Clift”). There was what looked like a space rock, and a card with a spaceship on it that had the inscription “Onwards to the mandarin and Madras curry asteroid”.
The whole thing was apparently inspired by his love for science fiction. The tablets were actually a whole cheesecake freeze dried into a tiny pill. The space rock? A sorbet of mandarin and Madras curry encased in chocolate. And the card?
“If you sniff the spaceship on your card, you’ll find out what space smells like,” said Clift, adding that he was once commissioned by NASA to take a space-worn astronaut’s suit and put it through a mass spectrometer used to analyse scents for perfumes, so it could determine the scent of space.
So, what did the machine tell them? “Mandarin and Madras curry”. And that’s what space smells like.