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First Class

Alice in Chinese resto wonderland

/ 05:10 AM October 14, 2018

Afraid of rice? At China Blue, you can opt for barley. PHOTOS BY MARGAUX SALCEDO

I have so much respect for chefs who continually hone their craft, always learning, exploring, experimenting, pushing themselves forward, never missing a beat. One such chef is China Blue’s Jereme Leung (yes, it’s Jereme with an “e”).

China Blue has already earned a reputation for offering delicious Chinese cuisine. But twice a year, Leung comes to Manila not only to check on the kitchen—after all, it bears his name (the restaurant’s full name is China Blue by Jereme Leung)—but also to introduce new recipes.

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This autumn (let’s just pretend we have seasons), he introduced a new batch of dishes that I am certain will thrill both regulars and newcomers to the restaurant.

You might remember their famous Mushroom Steamed Bun. This time, chef Jereme ups the ante with his Mushroom-shaped Crispy Seafood and Cheese Pastry.

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It arrives with “smoke” (more like fog) and even a little battery-operated pin light. The presentation makes you feel like Alice in Wonderland stumbling upon a very colorful patch of morel mushrooms. The experience of tasting it is even better. The outer layer is so delicately crunchy, giving you just a touch of saltiness before you bite into the savory mushrooms inside. It’s both a conversation piece and a delicious starter.

Baked beef short ribs.

Vegans or vegetarians would love the Hundred Rings Nippon cucumber sliced so thinly it gives you the illusion of a hundred rings such that the cucumber looks like a spring. This is served with a Chinese aged vinaigrette. You might remember our humble cucumber slices dipped in vinegar and pepper that we just like to nibble on. This is the five-star, first-class, hoity-toity Chinese version.

Not all dishes are this festive although all are carefully crafted with the pleasure of the eater in mind. Beef short ribs are baked and served with meat that is fork-tender. Chicken is served Guangdong-style with an accompanying edamame salad and wasabi dressing. The duck soup, another new item on the menu, is slow cooked for eight hours that it reaches what cookbook author Norma Chikiamco, whom I had the pleasure of dining with, calls “a glutinous texture,” creating a very thick, rich and savory soup. “It must be served at the right temperature,” chef Jereme stresses, so that the soup will remain in its desired viscosity. He insists that soups must be served in the traditional Chinese bowls that have candles underneath, to ensure that even if you have to take 26 pictures of the soup for Instagram before actually tasting it, the soup will still be hot and soupy, not chunky.

For the Elegance of the Orient set menu, he also showcased unique creations such as wok-fried barley with Matsusaka pork and pickled vegetables, a roasted piglet enhanced with truffle-flavored toasted bread, and the simple cod fish brought to life with a pickled ginger and carrot sauce.

Chef Jereme says he always has two elements in his cooking: First, cooking methods from parts of China that a customer may not have yet experienced. He cites, for example, the cutting technique for the Nippon cucumber. Secondly, he likes to use ingredients not very common in Chinese restaurants. He says he also recently introduced black garlic or a specific type of garlic that only has one bulb which, in China, is fermented for 40 days to become black. When available, this is incorporated  in the restaurant’s lobster dish.

Mushroom pastries that look like mushrooms.

The chef is also an advocate of using local produce. “The only thing that is imported here would be the hands that produced the menu,” he says with a wink. He is in awe of Filipino produce, too, saying, “There is so much produce you can explore in the Philippines from coffee beans to coconuts to mangoes that are great! Filipino products are wonderful!”

The great thing about dining at a Jereme Leung restaurant is you get to see traditional Chinese cooking in a different light. The mushroom pastry, for instance, is really just like traditional Cantonese flaky egg tarts. But he folded it differently, presented it like art, and voila, you leave the restaurant not just with a full stomach but with a memory.

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There is so much on the menu to try, inspiring conversations. It’s no wonder that even if Conrad is quite the distance from major districts like Makati, BGC, Ortigas or Alabang,  every bite at China Blue becomes worth the drive.

China Blue by Chef Jereme Leung. Conrad Manila, Seaside Boulevard, Mall of Asia Complex, Pasay City. For reservations, call land line +632 683 3915. Major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Valet available. Notes: The walk from the elevator is quite long, so ladies, wear comfortable shoes. If you are a big group, you can request for a room. Ask for the corner room with a view. If you arrive early, have a cocktail at C Lounge to witness that magnificent Manila Bay sunset.

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TAGS: China Blue, China Blue’s Jereme Leung, Chinese cuisine
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