08 December 2015

Special menu offers a beery Merry Christmas

As Christmas approaches, prominent food critic Craig Au Yeung Ying Chai has come up with an inspired way to celebrate.

The Hong Kong artist and critic with a passion for food, design, travel and writing, who boasts a large following both in China and abroad, was invited by Stella Artois to design a set Christmas menu to match with its beers.

"We are proud to be one of the oldest beers in the world and one that remains very popular," says Frank Wang, a marketing executive with Anheuser-Busch InBev, the parent company of Stella Artois, the prestigious upscale Belgian beermaker with a history dating back to 1366.

"China is a market of increasing importance for upmarket beers," he says, adding that the company wants to offer a taste of something special for the once-a-year festivities.

"Stella" means star, and the Belgians' first brew was crafted for the Christmas celebration, so tradition inspires the special holiday set menu, Wang adds.

Au Yeung says Stella Artois has a fine light taste, which he's matched with both strong flavors to provide contrast and slightly seasoned foods that balance well with the beverage.

The cross-media artist has prepared a five-course menu that is characterized with increasing flavor intensity, from appetizer to main course, and I was lucky to be among the first to try it at an event held by Stella Artois a week ago.

The menu is studded with Belgian elements-many of the ingredients are signature products of Belgium, such as mussels and chocolate, and the dessert is celebrated Belgian waffle, with figs and cherries.

The menu also has a relaxing and merry spirit, starting with an appetizer salad with strong elements of Christmas red.

The salad is a mix of boiled lobster, fennel head, parsley, cherry tomatoes, red onion, and avocado, and uses little seasoning except salt, pepper, lemon juice and olive oil fried with lobster heads.

Fresh and authentic, the appetizing mix of ingredients offers a rich bundle of textures.

But what I loved best was the main course, roasted chicken legs dressed with chocolate and chili sauce.

The chicken was very tender and meaty, and had a flavor fully brought out by the chocolate sauce seasoned with chilies.

It was also pleasing to the eye, as Au Yeung roasted kale to resemble fallen leaves to decorate the dish. These can also be used to make a delicious vegetable-chicken roll.

The side of beets was soft and savory, well-balanced between slight sweetness and a salty edge.

The soup was steamed mussels with white onion, celery and capers, and was served with fries, which together made a delicious, traditional Belgian dish.

I also liked the boiled cabbage sprouts, with chopped and butter-fried almonds and bread crumbs. The vegetables were crunchy, unlike traditional preparations which are typically over-boiled.

It was also pleasant to sip occasionally from a big glass of beer while eating those delicacies.

The set menu will be cooked in a five-star hotel kitchen, and then delivered to homes on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, if people order them on Tmall of Anheuser-Busch InBev before Dec 24. The price is not yet determined. The online ordering will kick off on Dec 13.