Solaire Resort’s 10th anniversary celebration features five of the world’s best chefs—Enrico Bartolini, Tohru Nakamura, René Frank, Alvin Leung and Rui Silvestre.
It was a gastronomic indulgence not seen in this part of the world before: a 10-course lunch prepared by not one or two but five Michelin-starred chefs whose restaurants are recognized by the Michelin Guide as some of the best in the world. While the guide awards the stars to the restaurants and not the chefs, everyone knows that it’s the chefs that earn this badge of honor.
The lovely marble and gold-walled Finestra Italian Steakhouse looked like the stage for a large symphony orchestra—each section calm and organized, every movement playing out flawlessly even if, as it were, there were too many stars (in this case, chefs) on stage. It was quite a sight to see the Michelin chefs and their teams with the Solaire chefs all cooking and plating together in Finestra’s open kitchen.
But, first, a word about the cocktails and wines. If you’ve ever been to Finestra, you’ll know that the bar is right at the entrance and across it is a seating area and then the space opens up to the dining area—so you can have your fill of cocktails before lunch or dinner.
Salvatore Calabrese a.k.a. The Maestro greeted guests with his Breakfast Martini, which is his signature drink among the many he’s invented. The martini is made of gin, Cointreau, lemon juice, and what makes it a “breakfast” martini: marmalade. It was an idea that came to Calabrese while he was having breakfast with his wife in their London home.
The first movement done, it was now time for the chefs to take over for the 10-course menu. Italian chef Enrico Bartolini filled his bottoni, a button-shaped pasta, with olive oil and lime, octopus and cacciucco sauce. It was paired with NV Charles Heidsieck Champagne.
The second course, paired with sake, was chef Tohru Nakamura’s Toro-Koshihikari, a type of Japanese short grain rice, okoge or scorched rice, Japanese salt, and wasabi.
Rene Frank, considered the World’s Best Pastry Chef, then served his dessert—because why not? Dessert doesn’t have to be always last nor very sweet (he doesn’t use artificial sugar in his desserts, he sweetens them with ingredients that are already naturally sweet). His dessert had a base of eggplant with pecan nuts, apple balsamic and licorice salt. The sweetness of the course actually came from the wine: a 2018 Sancerre, Jean-Max Roger from France’s Loire Valley.
Incidentally, Frank said he is fascinated by the Filipino champorado, which is on his list of must-trys while in Manila. I mean, really—rice porridge with chocolate and milk and salty fish? Who wouldn’t be fascinated and puzzled by it?
Chef Rui Silvestre served what to me was the best of the 10 courses by the five Michelin-starred chefs. He did a carabineiro (deep-sea cardinal prawn) with tapioca and curry. It was so delicate and tasty with just a few turns on the pan and leaving the inside almost raw. It was, if we are to continue the symphony analogy, like how Salieri described Mozart’s Adagio in Symphony No. 10: “On paper it looked simple, then, suddenly, an oboe, a single note, hanging there unwavering, till a clarinet took over and sweetened it into a phrase of such delight!” That’s how it felt when I bit into it.
Chef Alvin Leung, nicknamed the Demon Chef, which he gave to himself by the way (from the Greek word “daimôn,” meaning “good-spiritedness”), knows how Filipinos love their comfort food. He did a pastry-capped chicken porridge with (arroz caldo) with morel mushroom. As “humble” as his first course was, his second course pulled out all the stops: wagyu beef with abalone and topped generously with black truffle shavings.
Leung is the funniest of the five Michelin chefs, never missing a chance to answer a serious question with a punchline. When asked about the high-stress environment of a kitchen—a Michelin restaurant kitchen for that matter—and what makes them go back to work every day, Leung, deadpanned: “Grab takes me to work every day.”
But seriously, all five chefs take their Michelin stars as badges of honor and prestige, a result of all their innovation and damn fine cooking. Hong Kong-based Leung earned his two Michelin star with his Bo Innovation restaurant. Frank got two Michelin stars for CODA in Berlin, Germany’s first and only two-star dessert restaurant. Frank serves five to seven courses at CODA, all desserts but in an inspired interpretation and flavors.
Portuguese Rui Silvestre, who earned his first star when he was only 29 years old, is the executive chef of Vistas Rui Silvestre, where he earned another star. Michelin Guide describes his two tasting menus—Fauna & Flora (inspired by nature) and Passeio Marítimo (inspired the Atlantic)—as “high on technique,” showcasing “sublime ingredients.”
Tohru Nakamura, whose father is Japanese and his mother German, is based in Munich where he earned his Michelin star at Werneckhof by Geisel where he is chef de cuisine.
And, finally, Enrico Bartolini, who is the only chef in the history of the Michelin Guide to have been awarded four stars at the same time, including two for his eponymous restaurant at the Museum of Cultures in Milan. He was also just 29 when he was awarded his first Michelin star, having come from stints in the kitchens of Paolo Petrini in Paris and Mark Page in London, and then he went back to Italy under the guidance of Massimiliano Alajmo.
While the Michelin chefs know each other, they’ve never worked together, which says a lot about how Solaire wanted to make its 10th anniversary a one-of-a-kind celebration. It took Solaire about six to eight months to orchestrate this feast and feat.
Solaire Vice President for Food and Beverage Bastian Breuer says, “This marks the beginning of more trailblazing events at Solaire. As we close the last decade and enter a new one, it’s only fitting that we commemorate the celebration by giving our guests an irresistible experience that no other property or restaurant in the country has ever done before.”
You can still catch the chefs tonight, their last of four nights, as they take over five Solaire restaurants. Alvin Leung brings his the innovative food engineering to Solaire’s Red Lantern; Rui Silvestre takes over Waterside restaurant with his sensory inceptions combined with masterful French techniques; Tohru Nakamura brings his distinct east meets west cuisine to Yakumi; Rene Frank showcases dishes inspired by desserts at Oasis Garden Café; and culinary legend Enrico Bartolini brings what made his restaurants legends to Finestra Italian Steakhouse.
Also part of this gastronomic symphony at Solaire are the first and only Filipino who’s a certified master sommelier, Luis de Santos; master sommelier Elyse Lambert
Dalmore’s master distiller Gregg Glass; whisky expert and author of The Whisky Bible Jim Murray; bar masters Antonio Lai, Hong Kong’s number 1 mixologist; and Edriane Lim of The Bar at 15 Stamford. Girl power reigns supreme with Remy Martin and Remy Cointreau brand ambassador Kate Osmillo and Bleeding Heart and Don Papa brand ambassador Audrey Gustilo. Gerald Damasco, one of the country’s best sommeliers and representative to The Best Sommelier of Asia & Oceania 2018, puts a strong cap to Solaire’s beverage experts.