Have you heard of underground dinners? They are small dinner parties held in a private setting, usually the home of the chef. They may be professionally trained or they may just be ordinary people like who like cooking. Sometimes the organizer would announce the menu beforehand. Depending on the chef, these underground dinners could be held once a week to once a month. As these dinners are quite small and space is limited, prior booking is necessary to confirm your place at the dinner table.
I joined my aunt and her husband for one such underground dinner held by Jimmy Chok. This was my introduction to the world of underground dinners. I had never heard of them until my aunt invited me to join them. We were told that it would be a seven-course dinner but we were not told what were the dishes beforehand. So it could be a bit difficult for people who do not eat or are allergic to certain types of food. Luckily, I was pretty okay with most food and do not have any food allergies.
Jimmy Chok used to work at The Academy Bistro which was located in the the Supreme Court. My aunt went for dinner there a few times and that’s how she got to know Jimmy. Subsequently, Jimmy left the restaurant and no longer worked as a chef. However he still loved cooking so he would hold such underground dinners once a month. This dinner was his second underground dinner.
The venue for this dinner was at the Miele office in Winsland House II, not the Miele showroom which was on the ground floor. The office was rather grand. First we walked through a red corridor to big room divided into half by bookcases containing Miele catalogues and books. The first half of it had sofas while the second half had a counter and two long dining tables sitting 10 persons each. Next to the dining area was a large room filled with Miele’s kitchen appliances. This was where the dinner would be prepared and cooked.
My aunt and I arrived on time. Her husband arrived a while later, bearing a bottle of red wine from his collection. My uncle was not the only person to bring a bottle of wine. The corkage was $10 so it was pretty cheap. Apart from a couple of other people, the rest arrived late. As a result, dinner started at 8pm. Everyone was dressed in office attire and some of them looked really formal, making me felt rather under dressed in my polo t-shirt and jeans. But as the wine flowed, I slowly got over the feeling of awkwardness.
As all of us would be seated at the same table, I was rather afraid that I would have to make casual conversation with my neighbor. To my relief, the lady sitting on my left ignored me and my aunt was sitting on my right so no problems there. The table was spacious enough to have ample elbow room for everybody, creating the illusion that we were separated from the other strangers even though we were all sitting at the same table.
The sequence was like this: The waitresses would deliver a dish to all of us first. Then Jimmy would appear and explain a little bit about the dish before we tucked in.
The first dish was served in a glass cup. In it was caviar, a fresh oyster, an egg cooked at 65 °C. Below the egg were slices of chorizo sausages. I ate the oyster first. It was slightly warm from the heat of the cooked egg. The oyster was very fresh and so soft the it seemed to slide down my throat. There was just a tinge of saltiness to the oyster. I thought that it would be a runny soft-boiled egg but it turned out to be firmer than I thought. The yolk was in that stage between soft-boiled and fully cooked. The chorizo sausage was a bit hard and added an interesting contrast to the softness of the egg.
For the next dish, we were served scallop caripaccio with salmon roe. It was sprinkled with dried scallop and shrimps. The sauce drizzled over it was something Jimmy came up with – XO salsa. I liked this dish very much as everything seemed to blend together nicely. The raw scallops had a natural sweetness to contrast the salty spicy sauce, while the dried shrimps and scallops added some texture to the soft fresh scallops.
For the third and last seafood dish, we were served Maine lobster bisque with caviar. The bisque was much thicker than the lobster bisque soup I had in restaurants. It was savory with a tinge of bitterness. Although the bisque looked like it was meant as a sauce more than a soup, a lot of people (including me) drank it all up. My aunt said it would be perfect as a soup if it was more diluted.
The first meat dish was quail cooked in two ways. The breast was roasted and the leg was confit. It came with a fig wrapped in prosciutto. I liked the confit method of cooking better but both tasted quite delicious. The quail could taste a bit oily so the fig helped to remove the oily taste from the mouth. I liked the prosciutto which was very flavorful despite being paper-thin.
The main lead for the next dish was the stewed ox tail. Jimmy cooked the ox-tail until the meat was tender and removed the bones. On top of the ox-tail, he placed a thick slice of foie gras. Beneath the ox-tail were white asparagus and mashed potatoes. Then he added wafer-thin slices of truffles and two roasted tomatoes. Despite having so many different components, each one was cooked perfectly. The meat part of this dish was full of flavors while the tomatoes, asparagus and mashed potatoes helped to balance the dish so the flavors did not get too overwhelming. Don’t be fooled by the size of the dish. It was quite filling. My aunt couldn’t finish her share and my uncle and I gladly helped her to finish them.
The last meat dish was also my favorite. It was pork cheek with chanterelles and trumpet mushrooms. Jimmy said the mushrooms had just arrived from Europe that very day. On top of the pork cheek, he added some sweetish pickled red cabbage. The pork cheek was so tender that just by pressing with the fork, I could break up the meat. Generally, I do not like pickled items but I liked the red cabbage as it was more sweet than sour. It helped to balance out the fattiness of the pork cheek. I liked the chanterelles while the trumpet mushrooms had a texture like black fungus. By now, even I was feeling quite full and had trouble finishing the dish. But I managed to eat everything up because it all tasted so good.
Dessert was chocolate souffle served warm from the oven. It came with vanilla ice-cream which had some nuts (I’m guessing almonds) in it. The chocolate souffle was warm and moist. It was also very chocolatey but not so rich that you felt sick after a few mouthfuls.
Dinner ended at 11pm and we were the first to leave. Everybody else seemed to be enjoying themselves so much that they continued chatting even when we left the table. Before we left, we paid Jimmy and wrote down our feedback. I think dinner was about $135 per person.