Monday, August 18, 2014

W Espresso Sporting Club - Dazzling Food From a Chinese Harry Potter of a Chef

W Espresso may sound and look like a new hipster cafe in Johor, but the surprise is really the savory food that is served here. Despite having a very limited kitchen, the food here is beautiful, modern and inventive.

The young man at the helm, Chef Shawn is only 22 years of age, but he certainly can cook. Even now, he puts a lot of Singaporean chefs to shame with his grasp of knowledge and techniques.

There is a fixed menu of savories when you come to W Espresso, but if you want something to blow your socks off, you can make reservations for a private dinner where Shawn can prepare something special.

I was fortunate enough to attend one of his special 4 course dinner, and boy, it was certainly one of the meals of 2014 for me. Everything was immaculately prepared, and there were lots of surprises and twists.

Trio of Canapes

We started off with a trio of delicate canapes. The smoked salmon on charcoal toast was delightful and light. The shrimp cocktail with an oriental sauce was equally delicate and satisfying. And the third canape of tomato and basil was just simple and on the mark. A pretty way to begin an amazing gastronomic journey.

Summer Salad

This summer salad looked elegant and colorful. Every little piece of salad was thoughtfully prepared and seasoned and it tasted like a myriad of seasons being put on a plate. The sesame vinaigrette was refreshing and fruity, and brought all the elements together beautifully. I absolutely loved this dish and appreciated the care behind the conceptualization and execution of it.

Duo of Smoked French Onion and Chicken Consomme

I thought the pairing of chicken consomme and french onion was a bit audacious, but somehow it worked. The more, robust flavors of the classic french onion was helped along with an additional smoked component, and served almost like a science experiment.

The precise lightness of the chicken consomme was executed to a tee, and when taken together, the lighter notes of the consomme actually worked well with the stronger elements of the french onion, which was accompanied by a traditional cheese toast to soak the broth in. Classic and yet, inventive.

Cinnamon Chicken with Beetroot Mash

The mains were excellent as well, in particular, this dish of chicken breast wrapped around a cinnamon stick paired with a silky beetroot mash and summer greens. The chicken breast was beautifully cooked to a tender texture and perfumed with an aromatic cinnamon scent.

The mash was perfectly judged to a creamery smooth texture, and the flavors wonderfully executed. The plate was just a joy to behold, beautiful and artistic in its clever and considerate plating. Everything looked well balanced and precise, and not a single element was superfluous. One of the dish of the year for me.

Pan Seared Salmon with Beurre Blanc

The pan seared salmon with beurre blanc was less spectacular, but it was still a very pretty and tasty dish. The salmon was nicely cooked to a medium pink inside, and though the skin could have been a bit more crispy, it was still nicely seasoned.

The beurre blanc was also executed faultlessly and demonstrated Chef Shawn's precision in his techniques. I wondered how did he learn all these skills at his age when most lads in Singapore can hardly even cook an egg properly here.

Smoked Duck with Japanese Curry Pasta

The third main was an inventive mix of east and west. The japanese curry pasta did seem a bit gimmicky to me, and tasted like so. But his poached egg was perfect and when the creamy yolk sauce enveloped the pasta, all was forgiven.

His smoked duck was again, wonderfully executed. The apple wood chips used to smoke the duck was apparent in every slice of the protein, and the duck was perfectly pink and moist. A clever dish, but a dish that needs more refinement.

Deconstructed Tiramisu

This innovative deconstruction of a classic dessert shows the potential of this young chef. Visually, it looked like a modern chocolate dessert but when you begin to taste it, the familiar flavors and textures of Tiramisu all came flooding back.

Every component of this dessert was such a joy to savor, and it helped that the coffee used was their own in-house roast, which was full of body and robustness. This is probably my dessert of the year so far too.

Latte Art

The owner of W Espresso, Yuan Feng is only in his mid-twenties, but he is already a champion barista. They roast their own beans, and the coffee here is one of the best I have had all year too. Aromatic, strong but never overpowering, each cup is a delight and I have had the privilege to sample a few cups here already.

Chef Shawn Xiaofu

Working diligently and quietly behind, I had the pleasure of watching Shawn perform in his small kitchen area with just another cook. He moved elegantly and neatly, always sure of his workstation and he had an aura of confidence about him.

Looking like a Chinese Harry Potter with his thick, black rimmed glasses, he weaved his magic over the night with a culinary wizardry that seemed impossible for someone so young. Yet, he remains humble and inquisitive and having a short chat with him, I realized that the passion in this young boy is immense.

Judging from this one meal, it is clear that there is a lot of talent in him, and if he continues along this path, he will be one of the truly greats of Asia. At 22, there is a whole lot of exciting future from this cooking wizard. There are areas to improve and his seasoning can still be a bit stronger, but otherwise he is already well equipped.

I am looking forward to seeing more gastronomic magic from this culinary wizard.

W Espresso Sporing Club
Country Garden
Danga Bay
Johor Bahru

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