Michelin-starred chef Ngan Ping Chow brings artful food and a sense of theatre to Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo’s Tapas Molecular Bar, as our writer finds out
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I am seated among eight fellow diners at the intimate Tapas Molecular Bar, a sushi-style counter within the chic Oriental Lounge on the 38th floor of Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo; but despite the spectacular views, all eyes are on the two charismatic chefs orchestrating the alchemy that has turned the hotel’s smallest restaurant into one of the city’s hottest dining spots.
From Hong Kong, chef Ngan Ping Chow has overseen the restaurant’s recent reinvention, winning his first Michelin star in December 2014. The former head chef of Hong Kong’s lauded One-thirtyone restaurant, he moved to Japan in 2013 and spent months learning about the country’s rich, diverse produce before taking the helm of the Tapas Molecular Bar. As for his molecular cooking techniques, he first honed them when working under Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong’s executive chef, Uwe Opocensky. (‘Everything really changed in 2007, when Uwe’s innovative cooking methods vastly expanded my thinking about what is possible in a kitchen,’ says Ping.)
Nothing is quite as it seems: objects transform, liquid nitrogen dances across the counter. Ngan Ping Chow
As 15 tapas-proportioned dishes are plated up in front of our eyes, chefs from Ping’s close-knit team tell the involving story behind each artfully presented creation. This is dining at its most interactive and inventive, and nothing is quite as it seems: objects transform, liquid nitrogen dances across the counter, intriguing textures inject fresh life into familiar ingredients, and flavours tease the palate in unexpected combinations. Talking points come thick and fast as we are instructed on how to add the finishing touches to selected plates. Chef Ping clearly has a playful side, because a bandana-cum-napkin unveils a box in which DIY tools are packed – each, it turns out, will come in handy as the gastronomic adventure unfolds.
The ‘Smoking Cigar’ appetiser relies on the sous-vide technique to cook the Ibérico pork, producing a nuanced taste sensation. But there are so many more layers to the dish. As we bite into the cigar, the potato tulle, apple jelly, cucumber, sesame ash and smoky sauce all melt in the mouth to recall China’s famous barbecued pork.