DESPITE being a mostly carnivorous gastronome, I found myself pleasantly surprised during a recent introduction to the complex flavours of chef Benjamin Thain’s progressive vegetarian cuisine.
The inaugural “Meatless Maverick” event, a one-evening-only discovery of progressive vegetarian cuisine, was held at Neo Tamarind.
The vegetarian menu was specially curated by Thain and Neo Tamarind’s culinary team headed by executive chef Sombat Kokasemkul.
Thain, a self-taught experimental home cook, believes that the reason why vegetarian food is not as popular as it could be is because most people find vegetarian options rather bland in taste.
“But meatless does not have to be tasteless. I aspire to be the bridge between the meat-eating and meatless worlds,” he said.
At first glance, the menu for the evening appeared to pair ingredients that most would not normally associate with one another, but Thain’s experimental creations were made with the goal of assembling balanced dishes in terms of taste and labour.
We were welcomed to the event with some interesting pre-dinner canapes, followed by a palate cleanser of Honey Balsamic Caviar with Cucumber and Herbs.
Those who may be unfamiliar with vegetarian cuisine may wonder — caviar? Rest assured, this type of “caviar” only looks like the real thing, but is actually an agar-based homemade product made through a molecular gastronomy method known as cold oil spherification. Look it up on the Internet.
I admit, I had never tried honey balsamic caviar before and its refreshing taste was rather fruity and reminiscent of berries.
To give us a better taste of the dishes to come, we had an introduction in the form of a Coriander Pesto-infused Macaron with Egg White Mayo and Spicy Aioli for the amuse bouche.
The savoury macaron was a little crumbly, much like a cookie, and its flavour was greatly enhanced by the creamy, spicy aioli sauce. It was as the chef described - well-balanced in terms of taste.
For our appetiser, we were presented with Roasted Pumpkin Soup with King Mushroom Shreds, Sage Crisp and Green Oil.
The milder savoury flavour of the soup came alive after taking a bite of the mushroom, which was an appetising mix of a slightly salty, umami taste.
Moving on to our entree, we were served another rather unique dish: Turmeric Briyani Pilaf, Sauteed King Mushrooms and Shimeji Mushroom, Ulam Raja, Pennywort, Spicy Hummus, Sriracha Caviar and Sage Onion Jus.
The dish was carefully assembled with the sriracha caviar sitting atop the chunky mushroom slices and the ulam raja and pennywort over a dollop of the spicy hummus.
With so many ingredients on one plate, I was unsure which item was to go with which, but the truth was that the whole dish had every flavour profile covered in its ingredients.
The slightly bitter ulam raja and pennywort was balanced by spicy hummus while the spicy sriracha caviar really helped to enhance the flavour of the umami mushrooms. The mild sweetness of the sage onion jus also mixed well with the mild savoury taste of the rice.
We followed up with a strong palate cleanser – a Passion Fruit and Tomato Granita with salt and grated lime zest rim to prepare ourselves for dessert.
For dessert, we had a Rosewater Panna Cotta, Strawberry Sauce, Fresh Berries, Cinnamon Crumble and Rose Sprinkles.
Although panna cotta is typically made of gelatin, Thain used agar to make this vegetarian panna cotta.
The overall dessert has a mostly floral taste with fruity overtones from the berries and the sauce. The more sour strawberries and sweetness from the cinnamon added even more colour to an already scrumptious dessert.
Thain said he has plans to host more gastronomic events like this one in the near future in collaboration with other restaurants around the city. Those who are interested can follow his Facebook page, “A Delectable Journey”, for news on his upcoming events.
Meatless Maverick at Neo Tamarind was priced at RM150 per person, before 10 percent service charge.
Neo Tamarind is a fine-dining restaurant that serves unique fusion dishes crafted by Kokasemkul, exuding Thai and European influences. Collaborations with guest chefs take place occasionally.
NEO TAMARIND, 19, Jalan Sultan Ismail, Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur. (Tel: 03-2148 3700). Business hours: Happy hour from 5pm to 7.30pm and dinner from 6pm to 12am daily (last order at 10.30pm).
This is the writer’s personal observation and is not an endorsement by StarMetro.