April 2016. An ad I wrote for a restaurant’s new affordable lunch menu. They asked for a personal tone for the article. I also took most of the photos. The restaurant’s name is SIP. The article was published on WeChat.
At first SIP
I have a sip of water and take a moment to savour my surroundings. My friends are chatting about the holidays just gone by and smooth jazz music joins their sentences. A fleeting aroma of fresh citrus and herbs billows up from the open kitchen. It is getting late in the afternoon and the humdrum streets of China on the other side of the glass seem worlds away. We are finishing off the last remains of a sumptuous and satisfying lunch at Xiamen’s latest sensation: SIP Wine Boutique.
I had heard a lot about this place and when they brought out a new lunch menu that was within my spending bracket (yay!), I finally gave myself permission to go.
A waiter fills my empty glass as soon as I put it down. “Would you like some dessert?” he asks in impeccable English and I look at my friends. We smile a slow, simultaneous smile. He takes that as a yes.
Despite having just boasted that we were all full, there was no way we could turn down a chance to savour another mouthful of this amazing food. I relive the meal in my head:
Mexican Black Bean Soup: Topped with tortilla chips and a dollop of sour cream, the soup has the silky smooth taste of home contrasted nicely with a crunchy texture.
Steamed Calamari with Cherry Tomatoes and Marinated Olives: This dish is bursting with intense flavours that are cleverly combined in a unique way. It is something you would expect to find in Italy, not in Xiamen. And full of fresh basil. We celebrated over the basil like it was a long lost relative.
Grilled Cheese Kimchi Panini: Another new combination – Parmesan and blue cheese with kimchi – who’d have thought it? But my, oh my how it works. The strong cheese flavour is diffused by the subtle heat of the kimchi and whatever they do to the bread, they do it well: crunchy on the outside, nice oily cheesiness on the inside. A-ma-zing.
Cobb Salad: Kind of like a healthy BLT. All the classic ingredients are laid out separately, allowing us a rare opportunity to play with our food. I tried different combinations of flavours with every mouthful: salty, crispy bacon with soft, creamy avocado; pesto chicken with juicy tomatoes; 6-minute eggs done to perfection with crunchy sweet corn. Yum!
Suddenly I was awoken from my food reverie: the dessert was here.
French Toast… one bite and I put my fork down. I had to stop. I had to know how, how this incredible taste – or rather, this incredible experience – is put together. Fay, head chef of SIP, sits down with us to explain:
“I use brioche because it is a bread that is heavy in egg yolk and cream which makes it fluffy and flavourful. I pan-fry it and top it with caramelised banana and crushed pistachio nuts. The salted caramel is made with Maldon Sea Salt. The bigger crystals space out the saltiness but still have an impact. The whipping cream I use has no additives, no UHT and no stabilizers and is therefore is the most expensive, but definitely worth it.”
The effect is a gorgeous, melt-in-the-mouth sweetness that has us licking the plate clean before he finished talking.
When it was all over, we were left inspired by the experience. Inspired by new flavours and rare ingredients. Inspired by the passion and skill with which Fay crafts his menu to make each mouthful an adventure. Inspired by the professionalism and cleanliness of the restaurant. Inspired by the level of quality and dedication put onto each plate. Inspired by the joy of good food and good company.
On the way out I ask Fay what S.I.P. stands for. He grins and replies,
“Savour. Inspire. Pleasure.”