Sometimes, when writing about food, it does feel like I’m typing on a template – Where is this restaurant? What cuisine does it serve? How does the food fare? etc. etc. all while the entire wodge of blabbering could be summarised into a few simple, yet stupendous, words –. it’s delicious, please go try. But this time at Han Ting in Den Haag, Netherlands, the food was neither one that merits a thundering-ovation nor a classic-style introduction. It wasn’t a straightforward “delicious” because some of the tastes were so novel I need to cogitate whether I really liked the taste per se or I was just taken by surprise and thus enjoyed that surprise.
Han Ting is the brainchild of Chef Han Ji and his wife, Ting Ji. The restaurant received its first Michelin star few years ago and this year, it was voted by a jury of 500 chefs as the Best Asian Restaurant in Netherlands.
No, to the tell the truth, we weren’t won over by this string of glitzy achievements because the Asian-French fusion food that they claim to offer was already enough to put us in a state of complete submission.
Han Ting promotes “mindful eating”. Perceived literally, it goes without saying that every dish of theirs that was made with such microscopic care would be given its due attention. But to understand in the parlance of nutritionists and the twentieth-century “clean-eating” foodie, Chef Han Ji’s intention is set on elevating the awareness of healthy cooking and eating among urbanites today, all inspired by the 500-year-old traditional Chinese medicine that anchors one’s health to good nutrition and optimal balance of the flow of “Qi”, i.e. the essential life-force, through the body.
We abandoned the a la carte menu altogether and decided to leave the entire decision-making to the chef. The three-course tasting menu doesn’t come with dessert. The five-course does. So, the choice was clear.
Then it came the first course served in a long wooden tray like a Japanese garden. Rested on the pebbles were unfamiliarity and a funfair of “taste sensations” in bite-size. I had the slightest idea of what I was having. The meringue melted on tongue and exuded a hint of peppery waft, then there was the savoury pickled olives, the zing of yuzu, the long beans… My taste buds and memory couldn’t keep up with such novelty.
No French meal will be complete without bread. This time, the bread came in the form of Chinese bao warmed in a small bamboo steamer. And of course, champagne.
Second course was pieces of wakame with calamari cube, beetroot, grapefruit and black herring eggs lined with crème fraiche. The taste was refreshing like what one would expect from a Thai cuisine.
Then came the steamed cod with miso butter, kimchi gravy and scallop-langoustine carpaccio. The twist was the crisp of fried chicken skin and egg-yolk fused with rice wine. I enjoyed the gravy but found the overall dish a little too salty.
The palate cleanser was this tiny bowl of Japanese rice sprinkled with dried seaweed and sesame. Too cute!
Then it was the black angus beef tenderloin with lentils, shitake, coconut jelly and dots of sweet potato cream. On its side was a roll of veal tongue stuffed with cucumber and enoki mushroom.
Usually, I would finish if not wolf down all the courses with little difficulty, but this time at Han Ting, I couldn’t. I felt a tad overwhelmed by the types of meat placed in front of me. (Different types of) Fish one minute, beef the next. It was too much and I found their flavours too rich.
Dessert was tompouce, which is the Dutch variety of mille-feuille. Laden with chocolate, praline, caramel blueberry and vanilla ice-cream, wiping the plate clean was an effortless chore.
The standard opinion for fusion food normally oscillates between a harmonious pairing or an unforgettable clash of tastes. Han Ting belongs to the latter end. Despite its flaunting use of ingredients, deep-rooted philosophy and bold unique flavours, my overall impression of this Michelin-starred experience was surprisingly and reassuringly unpretentious. It was loud like a true Chinese restaurant where people talked up a storm over their food, except this time, the food were exquisitely plated, servers were attentive and the wine list was beyond impressive.
So, in short, coconut with veal tongue, passion fruit with tarragon, fish and then meat.
Delicious or not… it’s all up to you.
With love x