Every year, as Art Basel rolls into town, Hong Kong goes a bit art crazy: galleries put up their best shows, pop-up fairs are held in prime locations, and even the most dedicated art lover could not possibly manage to attend all the art talks organized for the feverish week. This year, food has entered into the fray, with “art” offerings that you can look at and then devour.
Michelin-starred chef Uwe Opocensky, of the Mandarin Oriental, has devised a menu which will be served during Art Basel that is truly extremely pretty, and satisfying for the most discerning photographer. It is also, to be honest, a bit odd to eat, and, at $HK 1,888 a head, pretty expensive. (The author attended a media luncheon hosted by UBS, the sponsor of Art Basel Hong Kong, to sample the food).
Born in Germany and trained at el Bulli, Opocensky has a distinct passion for presentation, and Art Basel seems to give free reign to his more visual instincts: “I like to take my clues from the most provocative art pieces. Which is why the appetizer is inspired by Damien Hirst,” he said in an interview.
The Hirst he alludes to is “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living,” in which a 14-foot tiger shark floats in a tank of formaldehyde.
The “floating illusion,” on the other hand, is a made of mackerel, langoustine, and a horseradish-flavored cucumber jelly. It was slightly terrifying, but certainly memorable.
The vegetarian option is called “street art,” and features a less menacing pair of chalk hands filled to the brim with tofu and vegetables strips, covered in a black dusting of edible charcoal.
The main course, a metal painter’s box, has tiny bits of the tastiest purées and sauces in an array of colors—from black garlic paste to creamy sweet potato, bright red and orange peppers, brown truffles and grainy mustard—culminating in a rectangular slice of beef covered in edible flowers or, in the vegetarian version, a roasted cauliflower. It was delightfully childish, if a little finicky, to be eating off a painter’s box.
Dessert was inspired by the mountaineering photography of Chinese artist Xu Zhen, part of UBS’s collection.
The dessert was a chocolate mountain with a secret ice cream interior, on a bed of sparkling candy that pops on the tongue and on which hot melted chocolate was poured in front of the diners. It was a pretty decadent wonder that had everybody at the table fall silent for a while.
Another dessert that will be served during the fair portrays an archaeological excavation, with a box of chocolates in various shapes—from a cup to ancient Chinese gold coins—hidden among golden candy pops looking like dug up earth, made of chocolate, coffee and sugar, and yet another hidden ice cream.
“I started thinking and preparing this menu eight months in advance,” Opocensky explained. “Of course what we make has a very short life span: you cook it, you plate it, people eat it. It is gone. It is very exciting though: I cannot draw to save my life, but I can put things on a plate, and I love that we can be associated with art as a movement”
The Mandarin’s Art Basel meal isn’t the only one in Hong Kong, although it may be the most over-the-top. Lan Kwai Fong Group, named after the city’s heaving bar and restaurant district, is hosting “Savoring Art” week from March 21 through the 28th. Participating restaurants will be plating extra-beautiful food, like FoFo by el Willy’s “Red prawn carpaccio,” which the restaurant says is “inspired by the sunny, serene Mediterranean coast.”