A Tribute to Roald Dahl & a unique Dinner Experience at Nutopia

Saturday, November 30, 2013

As pretty as Matilda
"Never do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. 
Be outrageous. 
Go the whole hog. 
Make sure everything you do is so completely crazy it's unbelievable...” 

I thought these lines by Matilda (in Matilda, Roald Dahl) aptly described the whimsical dinner experience I had at Nutopia, hosted by Chef Stephan Zoisl

A dinner set as a Tribute to Roald Dahl, his favourite childhood writer, Stephan set out to immerse diners with a "crazy" experience of sight, sound, taste and imagination.    

I was there with Leslie Tay (ieatishootipost) at the chef's invitation. Though I would normally relish a food conversation with Les over a plate of rojak or KL Hokkien Mee, this was a one of a kind invitation which we could not refuse, even though neither of us were fans of Roald Dahl. 

At least I know he was a famous author of children stories like Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, Matilda and James & the Giant Peach. Leslie, who can brilliantly rattle off food science and medical terms effortlessly, had no idea who he was, let alone spell his name. So, it was time to get acquainted with this author. 

Once we stepped into the room at 61 Tras Street, we could feel that this was going to be a unique dinner. For a start, there were cartoon drawings on the wall which one could lick. I almost wanted to give the chairs a bite but unlike Willy Wonka's factory, they weren't edible. 

You can actually lick off this painting on the wall. 
The menu was splashed out on one side of the wall with each dish representing one of his famous stories. As no menu details were given, surprises await.   

The first course was dedicated to the man himself.  So, what was Roald Dahl's favourite food? 

Caviar, of course. 

We were treated to a delightful plate of scallop sashimi, oyster leaves and three types of caviar, snail, olive oil and sevruga. 

Before the second course based on The Enormous Crocodile, we were treated to a delightful reading of some of Roald Dahl's best lines and snippets of his writings by a gifted actor:

“If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until you can hardly bear to look at it. A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts it will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”

The readings was one of my dinner highlights, reaching the little child in me.
The attention to Nutopia details can be seen throughout
Crocodile Rillette
Croc Au Vin was how the second dish of crocodile rillette was named. They came in a pretty Nutopia can and the flavourful white meat rillette went so well with the slices of bread that one can quickly forget that the meat came from a fearsome predator. Stephan thinks that crocodile meat is under-rated and since we have good local crocodile farms, we should give them a bite. All well and good as long as crocs do not return the favour. 

When it came to The Witches, we had to mix the "potion" ourselves of some minced mushroom, to be eaten with some Indonesian prawn crackers, as dry ice smoke bellowed in the background. Interesting and imaginative, it was fun to do a little witching and cooking. 

The fourth focuses on The Pretty Matilda (lead photo), with a dish entitled The Blanket. I loved the delightful presentation of the dish, especially the texture of the milk blanket and the pretty flowers. By now, I really did wish my daughters were with me even as the largely carnivorous Leslie was trying to chew up the florets. The usual food reviewer in him was muttering something about the texture of the cured salmon en sous vide. 

Undoubtedly, young as we both "in-deniably"  think we are, this meal would have enthralled our children a whole lot more. Indeed "grown-ups are complicated creatures", as the author has quipped.

The fifth course was Cod in a blanket of Zucchini slices in siphoned dashi broth. I was beginning to think that I could cook this too. I liked the way the zucchini slices wrapped around the cod.

96 drops of Chicken Jus with pieces of black garlic
The sixth dish was Chicken Hunt inspired by Fantastic Mr Fox. I am not sure how Stephan pulled it off, but 96 "fox holes" of chicken jus drops were made on the plate. The just cooked en sous vide chicken breast was perfect. I thought the accompanying fennel was edible but I was wrong. 

Snoozing 48-hour sous vide Beef cheek, trumpet mushrooms and octopus. 
The seventh dish was a main course, entitled Snoozing Beef from the Big Friendly Giant. This BFG collects good dreams for children while they are snoozing. I couldn't figure out how the plating conveyed the idea of a snooze but I like the potato espuma and trumpet mushroom with the 48-hour sous vide poached beef cheek, even though it was indeed a very un-giant portion.   

The eighth course was a creative and noisy rattling palate cleanser of a variety of sorbets. It was very unusual. 

Love the Austrian pretzel 
The ninth was a time out and we were given picnic baskets with balloons. We opened it and the sight of Nutopia beer bottles brought out some oohs and aahs. A family picnic basket is meant to be shared and strangers around the table were beginning to get acquainted.
Peachy Peach
James and the Giant Peach is another RD favourite, inspiring Stephen's Peachy Peach and it was indeed a beautiful dessert. Like the story with insect bugs all over, it was shaped like a beetle or insect. The peach was cold poached, with white chocolate and pretty nitro drops. All sounding very molecular. 

Whisky Gums
At the eleventh, we were served some unusual and delicious whisky gums.    

Wonky! & the 7 deadly sins
The last dessert was from The Chocolate Factory. Named Wonky!, the hollow chocolate sphere melted as hot chocolate wine was poured. It was served with chocolate water and chocolate tea. The choc water was interesting and a first for me.  

The event lasted about 2.5 hours in all, not that we minded. It was a very unique experience, though it does not come cheap at $195 per pax (without drink pairing). For an intimate dinner for 20 and with all that creative attention to detail, the cost is understandable. 

The good news is that they are extending it by 2 days and if you buy a ticket for Sunday 1st December, you will get a 20% discount.

Well done, Stephan. Stay creative and continue to be "outrageous and go the whole hog." 

More info on Nutopia here

I have previously written a review on Chef Stephan's creations when he was in Novus. 

Leslie is also trying to organise an event there next year. Look out for it. 

Chef Stephan Zoisl in conversation with Leslie

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