Friday, May 28, 2010

Hong Kong Noms Series: Molecular Mixology (FINDS) [video]

Interview/tasting originally took place in March when I had to borrow a videocamera and was still using my cruddy old digital point&shoot camera for photos.  Sadly, after all this time, I still couldn't get the hour long video to convert properly with any of my software.  I've included a short video clip, but the audio isn't synced correctly, so the videos are limited to simple visual demonstrations of the cocktails.  Lesson: Never using my brother's HD Sony camera again.  What a serious pain in the butt, all for naught!

Full disclosure: This was a personal invitation for a private tasting--meaning I didn't have to pay and it is up to my discretion on if/how I choose to present it on my blog.  As always, I try to be as straightforward and fair as possible.


Gastronommy recommends:
Smoked Coke with Whiskey (HKD$90)
Earl Grey Caviar Martini (HKD$110)

[photo by Simon Ie]

Antonio Lai, the eccentric, lively bar manager at FINDS restaurant/bar (as in Finland Iceland Norway Denmark Sweden) has been popularizing the concept of "molecular mixology" in Hong Kong.  This past March, he invited me to taste and see some of his concoctions.

This is what greeted me on the table upon arrival:

I figured Antonio was particular about his dental hygiene and forgot his toothbrush out on the table during his break.  Turns out, the presentation was for me.  I was completely baffled when he sat there grinning, nudging me to brush my teeth.  I was hesitant and asked him at a minimum of 8 or 9 times, "I really... brush my teeth?"   It got to the point when he jokingly said he would turn around if it would make me feel more comfortable.

Good Morning

The "toothpaste" is edible and it tastes just like the real thing (whether or not that's a good thing is another matter).  Using molecular techniques, Antonio creates a minty vodka gel.  He claims it's "stronger than drinking alcohol.  It goes straight to your head." The toothpaste is just a fun edible experiment and he doesn't actually expect patrons to slurp it up by the tubes nor actually brush their teeth with it... Though it something to consider for the drinker's next day hangover.  Drink more to cure a hangover, right?


What does one do after brushing one's teeth?  "Have breakfast!" announces Antonio, as he brings me the next course.  Unfortunately, the vodka based mixed berry jam isn't usually available at FINDS, but Antonio wanted to personally demonstrate the variety that can be involved with alcohol, "I love to make people laugh with unexpected fun."  The jam is addicting.  As I go through the jam covered slices of toast, Antonio cautions me on taking it slow lest I get buzzed too soon!

*Gastronommy Favorite*: 
Smoked Coke with Whiskey
"BBQ Coca Cola"
Next up, Antonio returns to the table with a glass covered with a coaster, "Do you know what's inside?" he asked.  As he removed the coaster, smoke billows out of the glass.  Presenting, "a BBQ Coca Cola!"  Antonio uses a cold smoke method to flavor the soda with cherry wood.  His description of a BBQed Coke couldn't be more apt.  The smoky combo reminded me of just that.

He picks up a shot glass and asks me to smell it.  It's whiskey.  He pours it into the glass and asks me to try it again.  Now, I don't take whiskey very well, but it seems I do when its with smoked Coca Cola!  It's a fantastic mixed whiskey drink where "molecular" techniques are put to good use.
Antonio recommends using Macallan for its smoky flavor.

Dragon's Breath 
[video below]

Antonio escalates the chemistry factor with the Dragon's Breath.  He drags out a giant canister full of liquid nitrogen and pours the -196 degree substance onto a mixture of Frangelico, Kahlua and vanilla vodka.  Why is it called Dragon's Breath?  Take a look at the short clip:

It tastes like crunchy ice-cream.  I like it, though the fun is mostly in the cool "breath" more than anything else.  It's a bit too cold for comfortable edibleness.  There's actually a bit at the end of one of the video clips when he walks away and I cringe and turn towards the camera (not knowing it was still recording), "My tongue hurts... I'm not going to tell him that though."

*Gastronommy Favorite*:
 Earl Grey Caviar Martini
"Not that I want to get all the girls drunk, but they love this drink." -Antonio Lai

Antonio takes classic cocktails and uses molecular techniques to dabble on creative touches to each drink, while maintaining the original cocktail's flavor integrity.  FINDS' best selling drink is an elderflower cocktail.  The crisp sweet base is made up of elderflower, cucumber, lemon and vodka.  As for the Earl Grey, it's incorporated with a bit of molecular magic.

A calcium bath is used to form the small floating "caviar," and the cocktail is topped with Earl Grey foam.

I adore this drink.  Delicate "caviar" floats along the surface, a challenge Antonio has been working on so customers can actually get bits of the caviar while they drink it (instead of having it sink to the bottom).  The Earl Grey flavors are subtle in form of the foam and caviar-- the little pearls burst in my mouth like the real deal!  It's a well balanced cocktail and easy to understand why its a favorite amongst the ladies.
Chocolate Martini

[photo provided by Antonio Lai]

This Chocolate Martini is something else.  The martini makes of up three distinct layers from bottom up: chilly chocolate, hot chocolate, then topped with a milky froth.  As I sip on the cocktail, there are flashes of hot and cold, followed by a smoothing cream--the sensation is unique.  Talk about icy hot.

The texture products used were manufactured by el Bulli (basically a chemistry set) and is out of Antonio's own pocket--the passion drives him.  Still, he doesn't take for granted that FINDS has given him the freedom to create their entire cocktail menu and has the flexibility to change it up seasonally.

Antonio Lai was originally inspired by an Italian book on molecular mixology.  Despite the language barrier, the photos alone sparked a newfound passion for the Hong Kong native.  He began burying himself in research, looking up to the molecular gastronomist greats of el Bulli and Fat Duck.  "By understanding those gastronomy methods, I'm trying to adapt those techniques to a drink," he explains.

To be completely honest, Antonio is only using the bare basics of molecular techniques.  It's nothing WD-50 Chef Wiley would be scrambling over to see from New York.  However, Antonio preserves and focuses on the most important aspects of Epicurean indulgences : his creations are delicious, palatable and something that can be shared with friends.

"A cocktail is not just a cocktail to me anymore.  It's an art.  It has to look good, presentable and affordable.  I want everyone to be able to enjoy it, not just the high rollers."  His cocktails do indeed come at standard Lan Kwai Fong bar prices.

FINDS also offers a tasting menu that pairs some of their signature Scandinavian dishes with Antonio's cocktails (4-course HKD$688, 6-course HKD$988).

2/F LKF Tower
33 Wyndham Street
Central, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2522 9318

Here's the Hong Kong Noms Series list so far:

#1 Cantonese Ham & Egg Sandwich (Australian Dairy Company)
#2 Peanut Butter & Jelly (TBLS)
#3 Organic Eggs, Potatoes & Chorizo (Fofo by el Willy)
#4 Truffled Mac & Cheese (RED SoHo)
#5 Chai Tow Kway (SH!OK)
#6 Earl Grey Caviar Martini (FINDS)
#7 ??? (hint: it's a very local Canto beverage... and it ain't Green tea Whiskey)
#8 ??? (hint: itadaki-masu!)

Gastronommy's Hong Kong Noms Series focuses on specific Gastronommy favorite dishes rather than the entire menu at particular restaurants.  My preference for a specific dish may not reflect my impression of the rest of the menu.  Also, my chosen numerical order of listing is not based on any ranking.  It just helps me keep track!


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