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Obsession 2016: Lanshu Chen review

Obsession 2016: Lanshu Chen review

by Gemma Marti 03 February 2016

Gemma Marti attends the seventh night of Nigel Haworth's Obsession festival to enjoy Lanshu Chen's unique combination of French and Taiwanese cooking.

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As Head of Web and Apps at Great British Chefs, Gemma was responsible for the initial research that led to its creation.

After six continuous days of serving world-class cuisine, the team at Northcote are rewarded with a break (or ‘pause’, as they call it), before ploughing on non-stop with the remaining ten chefs. I was lucky enough to get a seat at Lanshu Chen’s dinner – a chef who is almost single-handedly spreading awareness of Taiwan’s food scene.

However, the menu wasn’t full of strange, exotic Asian ingredients; Lanshu trained in Paris and worked with some of France’s best chefs before returning to Taiwan to open her own restaurant, Le Moût. The menu was full of all my favourite ingredients – lobster, beef fillet, figs, ham, plums, halibut – so I knew I was in for a treat.

As a fully trained Le Cordon Bleu pastry chef, it’s no wonder that Lanshu has become known for her plating, which was staggeringly beautiful throughout. She not only contrasts vibrant colours but also shapes, and once you start eating her food you realise that this is a chef who knows how to work with textures – some of the combinations were very, very clever.

As we were treated to glasses of Champagne in the plush restaurant, we were able to try some of Nigel Haworth’s canapés before the main event. These included the Wild mushroom and roast garlic ‘tumbleweeds’ we have the recipe for on our site, so it was great to try them made by the man himself.

The dishes

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Ham-cured halibut tartar, pork liver, plum gel, potato chip

Chopped raw halibut came covered in a dusting of what I can only describe as incredibly savoury ham powder which, when combined with the crispy potato chip, reminded me of a sophisticated version of the Serrano ham-flavoured crisps of my childhood. The intense savouriness was offset perfectly by the plum gel (which came in delicious little blowtorched spheres), while the dots of pomme purée and pork liver added to the festival of textures. Every mouthful was different, and the Sancerre Chavignol Rosé chosen to match with the dish worked perfectly; I didn’t really like the wine on its own, but when drunk with the food it really brought everything to life. Pure alchemy if you ask me!

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Pressed confit of foie gras, dimensions of radish, red barley

Evidently there’s more than one way to eat a radish – I’m used to buying them, using a few in a salad then leaving the rest to die a slow death in the fridge’s veg drawer, so it was beautiful and intriguing to see all the different variations. The confit foie gras, sitting atop a radish foam, was exquisite, so much so that I though the accompanying slices of brioche were unnecessary. The delicate radish jelly was softer than panna cotta – a true melt-in-the-mouth experience. The final crunch of red barley proved again how expertly Lanshu combines textures.

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Blue lobster, cabbage, ravioli and bisque

I absolutely love bisque – I was the sort of child who would pick the prawn heads from the paella and suck their brains out – and I think it’s one of the nicest, most umami-rich flavours around. The one served here was perfect, as was the firm, sweet lobster meat. The ravioli contained a cabbage mixture and burst the second your fork touched it, letting the contents spill out and combine with the bisque. It was a wonderful combination, and I could have eaten three more plates of it without batting an eyelid.

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Beer-fed Dexter sirloin, veal tongue, fig, onion, white currant

The combination of beef and mustard shows Lanshu’s classical French training, but this was so much more than what you’d get at your local French bistro. Textures again play a major role in the enjoyment of this dish; a deep-fried thin slice of onion accompanied onion purée and onion foam; white currants in the mustard sauce burst in the mouth, lending a sharp sweet tang, while soft figs and sticks of beef crackling topped the exquisitely cooked beef. Our table started talking about the benefits of sous vide vs. more traditional cooking – whichever method Lanshu used is my favourite.

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Nympheas

I didn’t know if the dish’s name referenced the Monet painting until it arrived, but that soon changed when it was brought to the table – it was just as beautiful as the water lilies the famous artist created. There were plenty of Asian influences in this dish, which made a welcome change; pieces of set tofu custard came submerged in a warm melon tea soup with tapioca, water chestnuts and raspberries (and for that indulgent French finish, the fruit came topped with gold leaf).

The dessert wine served with this dish is something I plan to stock up on myself – a Pio Cesare Moscato D’Asti. I believe the matching was changed to this once master of wine Craig Bancroft and his team had the chance to try the wines with Lenshu. I’m so glad it was, as it tasted absolutely incredible.

I love food that comes full of surprises and Lanshu’s dishes did exactly that. Craig said that when Michelin finally do make the trip to Taiwan, Lanshu will be up there shining with the best. I couldn’t agree more.

 
 

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