Intricately-plated dishes require a careful hand and a dextrous imagination
In Le Petit Soufflé, a French bistro seemingly fashioned in the imagination of a twee Korean votary (saccharine pastels, an abundance of fake foliage, quaint lighting), a four-hour dinner was in session. At P4,000 a person, this wasn’t just any dinner.
A pop-up called Underground Supper Club is set up via Instagram. Led by Chef Miko Calo and former ad man-turned-bacon jam maker RJ Galang—“He bottled his own bacon jam before it became trendy,” Miko points out—the duo takes over the kitchen of a participating restaurant, and, through social media, set up a degustation for diners willing to fork over a few thousand bucks.
The pair first started in late 2013 at Commune, a modest cafe in Salcedo, with just 20 diners.
Now the Ferrandi l’ecole française de gastronomie-trained chef, who answers to junior sous chef at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Singapore (she worked at the Paris and London l’atelier before joining the pre-opening team in Singapore), is on her ninth supper club. Though it was not her largest—a Red Cross charity dinner for 55 done tapas style post-Haiyan can stake that claim—the 40-guest dinner proved slightly unwieldy, with long waits between all nine courses.
“We’re a bit understaffed,” RJ says, when I noted the long periods between each small course, while watching the kitchen staff plate intricate dishes on the restaurant’s long wooden table.
Opening with uni and lardon on toast, the lardon so thin it was almost transparent, and finishing with bittersweet cacao with whipped cream cheese on a spoon topped with a crumble of quinoa-butter cake, it was an ambitious dinner, with some notes that didn’t quite triumph. One of my companions at our four-person table grumbled about the quality of the bread from the first plate—the uni-lardon topped bread—claiming it bore a textural resemblance to cardboard. Ouch. (He wasn’t wrong.)
There were more hits than misses, in my opinion. Most successful were the 64°C egg, onion and truffle compote with parmesan and pepper tuile, topped with a parmesan emulsion (not photographed) and the confit of suckling pig belly and saddle with purée of Butuan lechon aromatics. The pork and foie gras ragout with potato mille-feuille felt hearty and substantial but retained a spirit of luxury, thanks to the duck liver.
One of the lightest courses, a seafood dish consisting of scallop and squid with buko meat that resembled, well, squid in a light buko consommé topped with grilled spring onions, was utterly delightful and tasted remarkable for its innate simplicity.
I cleaned that plate and wanted more. Though the four-hour dinner left me yawning by the end—I rushed home by midnight to prep for an early morning meeting—I woke up remembering that buko consommé and wishing I could have it again. Immediately.
Instead, I ate Spam for breakfast and downed two cups of coffee, before running to work, wishing the entire time that I had the presence of mind to linger over that seafood dish just a little bit longer.
View the slideshow to see the dishes from the ninth pop-up of Underground Supper Club.