We’ve grown so accustomed to having wines to accompany a degustation, that we have lost sight of the many possibilities outside of winery. When I was served a bottle of fresh juice at a restaurant once, the first thing I thought was that the restaurant must have run out of options on their wine list. A misjudgment – not only did it go perfectly with the dish it was supposed to complement, it was a nice refresher as well. Which, knowing you’re about to embark on a tasting journey that will probably not be too good for your diet, is kind of satisfying to have.
One of the challenges though is that the depth of wines to go with food is not easily matched. Perhaps contributing to that is the fact that we haven’t yet searched for alternative drinks. Sure, there are cocktail pairings, special gin and tonic pairings, but most of the time, these pairings have less to do with flavor than it has with catering to a certain hype. Matching food with alternative drinks is an innovation that is waiting to happen but only few dare to really venture into this unknown territory.
At the Michelin-starred HanTing Cuisine in the Hague, chef Han Ji is one to challenge these gastronomical standards by introducing the HanTing Cuisine Tea Menu. A five-course tasting menu that combines Western cuisine with traditional Chinese herbal philosophy. Served with every dish is a tea that is meant to complement the dish as well as rebalance your body. The latter is not entirely uncommon in Chinese cuisine – great focus is often put on the medicinal values of food and drink in traditional Chinese cuisine.
What chef Han Ji has achieved is a seamless incorporation of traditional Chinese dietetics into modern cuisine. Tea can go from light and fragrant from one end of the spectrum to rich and full of depth on the other end, making it diverse enough to partner with food. On top of that, it is a healthier option than wines. The tea pairing may be a wild one for food connoisseurs who would have a glass a wine over anything, any day. But I reckon it’s a development foodies who are looking for exciting pairings outside of wine for a night will welcome with open arms.
Served with the stunning starter of salmon, eel marinated in beetroot juice, cucumber drops, mustard and dragon fruit comes a longan tea, a tea that is meant to contrast the ‘warmth’ by adding ‘coolness’ to the body. The colorful textured dish had us scraping off every last bit on the plate.
The medicinal use of the teas comes with the second dish, a beautifully pan-seared sea bream and razor scallop with soybean, cauliflower, mango, corn, Chinese seaweed and hints of wasabi. Served with the dish is a citrus tea, meant to stimulate the digestion.
Salmon & eel, beetroot, cucumber, rice paper, mustard
The third dish is a perfectly cooked sole fillet in nori with calf marrow, kumquats, goji berries, celery and shrimp. Accompanying this dish is a hawthorn tea, a white tea with the purpose of lowering cholesterol. For our main, a beautifully seared tender Black Angus steak with shiitake mushrooms, tempeh, smoked tomato and saoto, we are served a heavier black tea of osmanthus.
Sole fillet in nori, calf marrow, kumquat, goji berry, celery, shrimp
Black Angus, shiitake, tempé, smoked tomato, Jack Daniel’s, saoto
Finally, to go with our dessert of orange, ice cream, pistachio, popcorn, citrus and hazelnuts, a fragrant ginger and plum tea, adding a contrasted ‘warmth’ to the cooling dessert.