A fusion of French and Korean flavours greeted diners at the latest Chef Eats Out event, in association with Lee Kum Kee, where the chefs enjoyed views over London at Galvin at Windows and the ambitious creations of chef Joo Won. James Stagg reports
Having joined Galvin at Windows as one of the opening team members in 2006 and risen up the ranks to head chef, Joo Won is now setting about putting his stamp on the business. He is continuing its reputation for stunning French food, but including his own Korean twist on some dishes.
It's this inspiration that he drew on for the latest Chef Eats Out, where 30 lucky diners enjoyed a six-course menu specially created for the event at restaurant situated on the 28th floor at the London Hilton on Park Lane.
Welcoming the chefs over drinks and Cava canapés, Won said: "We are ready to impress you, not only with the one of the best views in London, but also with a unique mouthful of flavour sensation created by myself and the team. We serve French cuisine with a Korean touch, so this event, using Lee Kum Kee sauces, really gave us the opportunity to showcase what we do."
Won created a menu starting with mandu soup, a dumpling soup with mushroom, cabbage and onion in a kombu and shiitake broth. "It's quite a traditional Korean dish that is vegan too," he said. "The kombu broth is made with mooli and shiitake, which we combine with soy for richness."
The dumpling soup was followed by Hiramasa kingfish, kohlrabi, cucumber, sesame and soy. This was a dish that really set the palate racing, with the fish served sashimi-style with thinly sliced kohlrabi and cucumber. Michael Mowbray, head chef at the King & Queen at West Malling, Kent, was one of the few chefs present to have experience of the fish. "We eat a lot of kingfish. I usually do it with Indian or Sri Lankan spices, but I've never tried it like that before. It was fresh, zingy and really enjoyable."
Then came a kimchi risotto (above), a bestseller at Galvin at Windows, served with a Clarence Court egg, Cheddar, chilli oil and seaweed. All the chefs agreed that on paper it looked like a dish with plenty of room for error, but it was executed perfectly by Won and his brigade. It was served with Bekseju, a traditional Korean rice wine flavoured with a variety of herbs.
"The risotto was my favourite dish," said Vincent Woolley from the Pantry in Newmarket. "I saw kimchi and knew I'd like it – we make it in the restaurant, too. But when I saw Clarence Court egg, chilli and Cheddar, I thought, this dish is either going to be a car crash or amazing. It was amazing, of course. Just delicious."
Head chef John Fell of Rosehill Theatre in Whitehead, Cumbria, agreed that the use of cheese in the dish was intriguing. "I use kimchi with fried rice and barbecued jackfruit," he said. "The Cheddar threw me a bit and I wasn't sure how it was going to work. But it really does. Like the whole menu, it was stunning."
The cheese combinations continued with baked hake with Comté crust, spicy XO Hispi and pork belly. Here the hake was served on top of braised pork belly and Hispi cabbage, spiked with XO sauce to provide a salty and umami accompaniment to the delicately cooked fish.
"The hake is pan-fried. We are very classical here – everything is cooked on the stove. We concentrate on the fundamentals," Won explained.
"The fish is served with a Comté crust, made of butter, breadcrumbs and cheese, that's applied at fridge temperature to the fried fish and then put under the grill. The XO sauce we use with the cabbage is beautiful – when you roast it with the oil the aroma is amazing."
Fell, a self-confessed devotee of hake, said the fish was the best he could recall eating. "I'm a huge hake fan," he confirms. "It was cooked perfectly. It's a long time since I've had fish cooked that well. It was stunning."
Woolley added that the XO sauce added an extra dimension to the dish. "I was interested to see the XO as it's the next sauce we're going to tackle in the restaurant," he said. "It's another ingredient with loads of elements that are tricky to get, so it's a long process to make it. I'm always interested when I see spice and cheese used, as it's a difficult balance, but it really worked."
"When you're cooking food like this tasting all day, it's difficult as a chef to get the balance right," added Mowbray. "But that dish was fantastic."
It impressed London contract caterer Grazing's executive head chef Robbie Lorraine too. "I won't forget that dish in a hurry. It was outstanding cookery. And the XO brought it alive. Just a different level of flavour for me."
Next came what Lorraine dubbed "the showstopper". A wellington of grouse served with a sauce that was noted by every chef in the dining room. Two generous slices of grouse and foie gras wellington were served along with broccoli and boulangère potatoes with an oyster sauce served at the table.
Won said: "The wellington we do as a special, as it can be too much for a big restaurant like ours. Grouse is a perfect ingredient for this kind of event, and we finish it with reduced oyster sauce."
Though the wellington was superb, it was the accompanying sauce, made from reduced stock and oyster sauce, that really caught the imagination.
"The wellington was a showstopper," said Lorraine. "I thought it was a big portion, but everyone demolished it! The consistency of the sauce was perfect. It didn't overpower it – every element was right on the money."
For chef-director of Cornwall's Eatdrinksleep, Matthew Shaw, the oyster sauce provided an inspirational point of difference.
"The sauce is something we all see and have grown up with, but not really something you use in this setting," he said. "It's also simple, which is handy when everyone is pushed for time. You still have to do something with it, but it's a great ingredient."
The meal was finished with a meringue cup filled with exotic fruits, coconut cream and lime, a fresh way to clean the palate and complete a meal packed with flavour and complexity.
Fell summed up the mood in the room when he said: "I've been surprised by how delicate the flavours are. Although there's soy and chilli and spicy XO, it's all been so subtle. I'm going to pinch the oyster sauce idea. I'd never have thought it would be so versatile. It's been tremendous as it's opened my eyes to the kind of fusion possible that we otherwise might not have explored."
The menu and wines
Cava, Seifried, Nelson Region, New Zealand, 2017
- Mandu soup
- Hiramasa kingfish, kohlrabi, cucumber, sesame and soy
Riesling, Seifried, Nelson Region, New Zealand, 2017
- Kimchi risotto, Clarence court egg, Cheddar, chilli oil and seaweed Bekseju
- Baked hake, Comté crust, spicy XO Hispi and pork belly
Viognier, Domaine Grauzan, Languedoc/Roussillon, France, 2018
• Wellington of grouse, foie gras, bacon, mushroom, green vegetables and oyster sauce
Biferno Riserva, Camillo de Lellis, Molise, Italy, 2015
• Exotic fruits, meringue, coconut cream and lime
Moscato D'Asti, Pio Cesare, Piemonte, Italy, 2017
From our sponsor
Chef Eats Out provides chefs with an exclusive opportunity to experience the culinary excellence of outstanding restaurants and chefs. We were delighted to be part of Chef Eats Out at Galvin at Windows at London's Hilton on Park Lane. Lee Kum Kee was founded by restaurateur Mr Lee Kum Sheung in 1888 and is credited with the invention of oyster sauce, and remains the world's number one oyster sauce brand. Now Lee Kum Kee manufactures and distributes its authentic Chinese sauces and famous condiments across more than 100 countries and regions across the five continents.
Lee Kum Kee is one of the largest and best known Chinese sauce brands in the global Chinese market as well as the brand of choice of many British, European and Asian chefs, including those in Michelin-starred restaurants.
We were delighted with the way chef Jon Woo combined Lee Kum Kee's best sauces with his European and Asian cuisines at Galvin at Windows, and inspired the chefs present with his creative dishes.