Hubert Burda Media

More Than A Morning Fix

The humble cup of joe is finding its place in the world of fine dining, discovers Sara Yap, be it through caffeine-infused dishes or as a way to end off a meal on the right (tasting) note
Typically regarded as a morning pick-me-up to fuel one for a b

The humble cup of joe is finding its place in the world of fine dining, discovers Sara Yap, be it through caffeine-infused dishes or as a way to end off a meal on the right (tasting) note
Typically regarded as a morning pick-me-up to fuel one for a busy day ahead, or a casual beverage to accompany light snacks, coffee seems to be making its way into new territory: Fine dining.
Think food infused with hints of caffeine and dishes designed to be matched with different types of coffee. It sounds unconventional, but some fine dining restaurants have started including a cuppa in their meals.
Take, for instance, Labyrinth at Neil Road, where earlier this year, chef Han Liguang put together a degustation menu that included coffee pork ribs. Forget about the ubiquitous tze char staple, which consists of meat slathered in coffee gravy — his reinterpretation comprised a cup of coffee infused with pork essence and accompanied by a bacon cookie.
It was an unusual concoction, but Han’s objective was to put a fresh and unexpected spin on the traditional dish to bring out its coffee aroma, while preserving its “unique harmony of flavours comprising sweet, bitter and salty”.
[I] tried various types of beans before narrowing it down to the right ones — a strong roast blend that was able to let the diners taste the origin of the coffee, [while] balancing the luscious and rich aroma of the heavily reduced pork broth,” says the 29-year-old.
He adds that the coffee pork ribs drew positive responses from diners. The dish is no longer available at Labyrinth — the restaurant often refreshes its menu — but Han is considering bringing it back in the future, as well as introducing other coffee-infused creations.
Even the best restaurant in Singapore has jumped on the bandwagon. At Restaurant André — crowned the top establishment in the country by S.Pellegrino earlier this year — Michelin-starred chef and owner Andre Chiang uses coffee as a spice to be mixed with ingredients such as vanilla, potato and grilled beef. Other components that can be used in food paired with caffeine include liquorice, almond, mushroom and cacao.
Chiang’s advice? To use ingredients that highlight the various elements of coffee, such as its bitterness, colour and aroma. For example, the nutty, earthy fragrance of Jerusalem artichoke pairs well with coffee that has a delicate aroma.
[I] try to enhance the note of each type of coffee with ingredients that have the same characteristic impressions,” he says.
At a luncheon in August, Chiang demonstrated his finesse in putting together a caffeine-infused menu, with dishes such as a charcoal dessert infused with chocolate and coffee beans. Organised by capsule-coffee company Nespresso and held to mark the launch of its latest Ristretto Intenso Grand Cru capsule, the luncheon was rounded off with a cup of Ristretto Intenso coffee, which packed a bitter punch.
As chefs turn to using coffee as a cooking ingredient, the cup of joe’s role in fine dining may even soon develop to its being used for food-pairing. Recent years have seen the trend of beverages such as whisky and sake being coupled with fine-dining meals; and this may soon extend to non-alcoholic options as diners become more adventurous.
Efforts by coffee companies such as Nespresso might contribute to this. The brand has a Coffee Codex book that explains how coffee and food can be combined for the “perfect harmony of sensations”. Its suggestions include pairing dry desserts such as thin oatcakes and sponge fingers — which stimulate salivation — with a bitter cuppa because of the flavour contrast. And if you have a sweet tooth, tuck into creamy biscuits coupled with a brew that has hints of fruit or chocolate, as sugary confections typically go well with sweet-tasting coffees.
“Coffee has many dimensions and hundreds of different aromatic profiles. There are endless possibilities on the role it has with the world of gastronomy,” says Nespresso Singapore Country Manager Matthieu Pougin.
For chefs hoping to learn skills in coupling coffee with food and drinks, Nespresso also conducts Chef Academy and Coffee Sommelier courses in Switzerland, and closer to home, runs a Coffee and Tea Academy at cooking school At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy.
With epicureans being more receptive to letting the cup of brew go beyond its age-old role as a morning fix, perhaps it won’t be long before we see coffee replacing the stalwart glass of wine in fine dining settings.
After all, as summed up by Pougin: “Coffee is the last moment of enjoyment before the meal ends, giving guests the final lingering taste of the meal before they leave.”