NEVER JUST STAY. STAY INSPIRED.
I am always happy to be invited to meet new Chefs when they join a hotel and to experience the changes they make in the restaurants they transform, so when Maggie Chen, Director of Marketing & Communications, gave me the opportunity to meet Bruno Anon, Conrad Beijing’s new Executive Chef, and to experience his new menus I was thrilled to attend. Conrad Beijing is a beautiful hotel with fantastic interior designs. Each public area is very different, and each is stunning in its design, both in concept and execution. I never tire of looking at the details in every area of Conrad Beijing, which I think has reached the zenith in the art of hotel interior design.
Quoted from the hotel’s press release, “Conrad Beijing is delighted to be appointing Chef Bruno Anon to the food & beverage culinary team. The Valencia Spain born Anon made the decision to become a Chef at the early age of 15. He headed to Castellon, a very famous school in the culinary arts world and from there to the prestigious Hofman School, the only school in the world at the time to have been awarded a Michelin star. His incredible career has taken him from the small kitchens in the gastro regions of Spain, to London where he worked for Joel Robuchon, and then as the Chef de Partie at the famed Soho Hotel. While in London, Chef Bruno was twice a finalist in the very prestigious Escoffier Competition for Chefs. The challenge is held across Europe with the final taking place in Paris. From 2008 he has been working his magic and skill at the Conrad Maldives, until moving to Beijing in 2013 as the Executive Chef of Hilton Beijing Wangfujing. With a brief but important stint at Conrad Bangkok from 2015, he has now returned to Beijing to take up the helm of Conrad Beijing’s food & beverage culinary team as Executive Chef. In his own words, Chef Bruno describes himself as having a firm commitment to raising standards not only of the food and menu, but also in operational standards where he tries to inspire his staff to strive for perfection in an environment where they can learn and find joy in what they do. His proven ability to introduce innovative and delicious menus using the best and freshest ingredients with the newest and most modern techniques, whilst never losing the essence of the food, have made him sought after globally. Conrad Beijing looks forward to reintroducing his cuisine and style back to Beijing”.
In 29 Grill, Chef Bruno is working with “Florin Zhu, the current Chef de Cuisine, with many years of outstanding knowledge of the culinary industry. He is a young and talented Chef coming from a background in various and renowned Western kitchens including 2 of Beijing’s best French restaurants before moving to Sofitel Wanda Macau. Chef Florin joined the team at 29 Grill in May of 2014 and since then he has earned the respect not only from his team members but also our many and varied guests and was promoted to Chef de Cuisine. He has helped 29 Grill to win many awards through his continued quest to keep innovating new menus that are inspiring and exciting”.
I arrived at the hotel early so I would have time to relax with a drink and talk with the team before dinner. I was greeted in 29 Grill Bar, next to the restaurant, by Carla Retief, Management Trainee. I ordered a Martini, which was professionally prepared by Jacky Chen, 29 Grill Captain. Emile Otte, Director of Food & Beverage, joined me for a talk about my plans for the evening and then I moved to the restaurant where Jacky seated me at a nice, well-lit table. Carla opened a chilled bottle of sparkling water by Earth Water, with the motto “You never drink along”, and then opened a bottle of 1421 Sauvignon Blanc from Chile and poured a glass for me. Marco Osterwalder, Director of Operations, stopped by my table to say hello and while we were talking General Manager Ian Alexandre came to greet me as well. I was very happy to see everyone and I thanked all of them for their warm and sincere hospitality.
Chef Bruno brought 2 new menus to review with me, first introducing me to his TAPAS AND DRINKS, which is designed to offer food and drink options to people who come to 29 Grill Bar to relax or talk with friends. The first pages explained the restaurant’s tapas concept and what tapas are meant to be. “Executive Chef Bruno, a Spaniard himself, was perfectly positioned to create an exciting menu combining traditional Spanish and Asian ingredients with modern preparation and serving techniques, to provide a contemporary tapas experience utilizing all the best that Asia, Spain, and South America have to offer. Tapas, famed worldwide as a food for sharing, can now be found at 29 Grill’s Tapas Bar where Chef Bruno and his staff have taken that basic philosophy of small plates of amazing food, added some innovation in the cuisine and flair behind the bar to introduce Beijing to the perfect ambience to enjoy that sharing experience; Unpretentious, Unhurried, Undeniably Tapas. The idea came from Andalusia, Spain and it is thought that it began with a piece of bread, soon topped with ham, cheese, or whatever was available, balanced over a glass to keep out the flies – the word tapa means a cover. In dim caverns, where the sherry barrels were stacked high, the men revolved the wine in their copitas, gently sipping, then selected a new wine from a different cask. To compare and contrast is part of the ritual. Tapas are one of Spain’s greatest food inventions that have spread around the globe. ‘Eat when you drink, drink when you eat’ is the philosophy. Spanish men traditionally drink outside the home and rarely alone. It is not meant to be a meal, but one tapa per person with a different drink while you share, sip, and taste. It is a truly social event where you enjoy many different small plates while chatting with those around you.”
Following our review of the tapas menu, we decided that I should begin my dinner with 3 of the several tapas dishes offered. Then we reviewed the new dinner menu together, which offers 6 pages of culinary delights in categories of STARTERS, SOUPS, GRILLED MEAT, GRILL FROM THE SEA, SAUCES, SIDE DISHES, CHEF’S SPECIALS, TO SHARE, and SWEETS. We agreed that I should try 4 selections from this menu, bringing my dining experience to a total of 7 courses. I was glad that I was very hungry because Chef Bruno told me there was a lot of volume coming at me during this dinner, but I knew I was up to the challenge!
My first course was Our 29 Grill Foie Gras Macaroons. Chef Bruno explained that there were 2 Macaroons, both with Foie Gras, but one was with Goat Cheese Mousse & Green Apple and the other with Pear & Saffron Chutney. Both were coated with crumbled pistachio and the foie gras was the warm component in both of them. Chef Bruno suggested I start with the one with goat cheese because it was a little salty, and then finish with the one with pear and chutney because it was sweeter. The goat cheese macaroon was highly flavorful with the mix of foie gras and goat cheese, sweetened by the green apple and accented by the crumbled pistachio. Both the pear and saffron chutney in the other macaroon were sweet and perfectly matched to the foie gras for a nice sweet finish. I loved the flavors in both macaroons and playfully I pretended this was a dessert at the beginning of my dinner….so much fun! I followed this tasty treat with a glass of the light and fruity Sauvignon Blanc white wine, which complimented the nice combination of lingering flavors from the macaroons.
Chef Bruno brought my next tapas, Baked Panko-crumbed Avocado Wedges with Tahini Miso Sauce, and explained that the avocado wedges were marinated in lime, salt, and sugar and then coated in panko Japanese breadcrumbs and homemade mixed spices and baked with a little olive oil for 12 minutes. 4 wedges were stacked on a flat grey stone plate with a white tahini miso dipping sauce, which is made with ground peanuts for a blend of Japanese miso and tahini styles. The avocado pieces looked inviting with their crispy crusts and they were garnished with a few micro-greens. I tried a wedge without the sauce and found it to be crunchy on the outside and soft inside with the flavor of avocado blending well with the panko breadcrumbs and spice mix. Next I dipped one into the sauce as intended by the Chef. This added lots of flavors from the peanuts and the miso and tahini style blend. Sweetness of peanuts, tanginess of miso, and sesame smoothness of the tahini became a nice combination of flavors. I always like to try something new and this was something I could never have created myself, healthy, vegetarian, environmentally friendly, and delicious all at once, such a pleasant surprise!
Chef Bruno brought my 3rd and last tapas for the evening, Seared Scallops, Edamame Bean Guacamole with Chorizo, Tomato & Fresh Tarragon Salsa. He explained that these 2 scallop creations were stacked with cold, hot, hot, and cold layers for varied temperature effects in addition to the flavors; cold avocado and edamame bean guacamole placed on the stone plate and topped with hot seared sea scallops from Australia and then hot tomato, chorizo, and tarragon salsa and 2 cold strips of green apple and 1 petal from an edible purple flower. I cut each scallop in half and took the tender scallops with all the other components together for the intended flavor and temperature effects. Again I was surprised by how well all of these different flavors blended so well together, and the unexpected clash of hot and cold temperatures added another interesting aspect to the dish. I loved the influence of the chorizo flavors in the salsa giving meaty sausage flavors to the tomato and tarragon, combined with the tender and mild tasting scallops, and then the tangy sweetness of the green apple strips and a touch of spice lingered on the palate for a nice finish. This was very creative! The chilled white wine enhanced the remaining flavors while quenching the lingering spice and I followed with another glass as I waited for my next course, coming from the main à la carte menu.
From the STARTERS options Chef Bruno brought Salmon with Compressed Cucumber, Caviar, Oyster Ceviche & Oyster Mayonnaise. He explained that the disc of salmon was slow cooked sous-vide style at 52 degrees for 25 minutes and coated around the edges with chopped fresh parsley. The salmon was then placed in the center of a wide rimmed white ceramic bowl with a thin layer of cucumber jelly, which hardened around it, with 2 rolled coils of thinly sliced cucumber standing up next to the salmon. Surrounding the salmon were 4 balls of oyster mayonnaise topped with black caviar and 2 pieces of raw oyster ceviche. The salmon was topped with a French spoon of homemade ricotta and some fresh dill and decorated with a little purple edible flower with a yellow center. It was such a beautiful dish, arranged so nicely in the bowl and so colorful. I started with the rolled cucumber with some cucumber jelly and added some oyster mayonnaise and caviar to liven up the mild cucumber flavors. Then I added some oyster ceviche for more flavors. Finally I tried the cold salmon with ricotta. The salmon was soft and barely cooked and the ricotta added delicate cheesy flavor while the fresh parsley coating provided some herbal effect. The last 2 bites of the salmon I mixed with everything to get the full effect from the many delicate flavors that harmonized so well together. This was a substantial appetizer that prepared me for my first course from CHEF’S SPECIALS.
In anticipation, Carla poured a glass of 1421 Malbec from Argentina. I knew this full-bodied red wine was going to work well when Chef Bruno brought my Slow Cooked Iberico Pork on Red Wine Jus, with Aged Parmesan Risotto and Iberico Ham & Truffle Essence. He explained that the large Iberico pork cheeks were braised for 24 hours in red wine sauce and placed on top of Parmesan and truffle risotto with red wine sauce, glazed shallots, thin slices of Iberico ham, and a few fresh carrots, broccoli, and asparagus. On top was a layer of white truffle foam and a little yellow edible flower. This was a hearty, good-looking dish that invited me with its aromas not to wait too long to get started. I tried the vegetables first and they were crunchy and fresh. The Parmesan risotto was rich and flavor packed while the pork cheeks were super tender with great Iberico pork flavors and I liked tasting it with the little pearl onions I discovered in the highly flavored red wine sauce. With 2 big pork cheeks and the Parmesan risotto, this was a rich and filling dish and the slices of Iberico ham added their unique full flavors and some saltiness and it all went so well together. There were lots of powerful flavors and a myriad of textures here. For those of us who appreciate the richness of flavors in Iberico ham, this is a special dish because of the addition of Iberico pork cheeks in the mix and they were so tender and good! This was a really hearty, full flavored dinner course that was so well accompanied by the rich and full bodied Malbec red wine.
Fortunately, the next course from CHEF’S SPECIALS required extra time for preparation so I could relax and let things settle with another glass of the delightful Malbec while waiting. Chef Bruno came with my Chef’s Special Paella with Duck Confit & Chorizo Sausage. Served in a proper paella pan this looked and smelled fantastic. This is one of Chef Bruno’s inventions that he formerly cooked for his past teammates and they would always ask for more, and now the dish has taken on a life of its own. Sliced chorizo and shredded duck confit are cooked on a base of Spanish rice with onion, garlic, tomato, red and yellow bell pepper, in chicken stock with saffron, which makes the rice turn yellow. WOW, I love paella and I never had one made with duck confit. It was beautiful to look at with the yellow rice and the diced red and green pepper tossed with the shreds of duck confit and slices of chorizo sausage. The duck was tender and the chorizo was spicy and salty and the mix of everything worked so well together. This was another Spanish based, flavor packed creation modified to perfection by Chef Bruno. Every paella lover should try this, and the full bodied Malbec wine went very well with the full flavors of this preparation.
Finally it was time for my dessert, which was selected from the SWEETS section of the menu. Chef Bruno brought Valrhona Chocolate & Banana Tart with Banana Fritters. He explained that caramelized banana is placed in a cage made from 89% Valrhona dark chocolate and he poured hot melted chocolate over the cage, which melts the cage exposing the banana inside with a couple of raspberries on top. This was accompanied by a French spoon of homemade Tahitian vanilla & banana ice cream on a base of almond crumble with 2 banana fritters that were deep fried and coated in cinnamon and sugar. The bitterness of the dark chocolate was balanced by the sweetness of the caramelized banana, ice cream, and banana fritters. I started with the banana fritters mixed with the ice cream, both with good sweet flavors, and then I broke up the chocolate cage and mixed it all together for a chocolate, vanilla, and banana extravaganza to finish off my delightful evening of fun, food, and wine. It was so fantastic to be able to experience delicious culinary creations from Chef Bruno’s new menus and I greatly appreciate the high level of creativity in each dish. I extend my sincere gratitude to the team at 29 Grill for honoring me with such a fabulous evening. It will be my pleasure to return soon to continue my adventures through the exciting cuisine of Chef Bruno Anon.
My Best as Always,