Nils Henkel – The Datai Langkawi
Kicking off 2020 in grand style, The Datai Langkawi is hosting chef Nils Henkel as the first chef of the year in the resort’s esteemed Guest Chef Series. The team at The Datai have a reputation for organizing some of the most exciting dinners in the country. The exclusive setting, where the forest meets the sea, fine-wine cellar and exceptional service are only enhanced by the invitation of celebrated chefs from around the world.
On this occasion, Nils Henkel, who is responsible for gaining Restaurant Schwarzenstein two Michelin Stars, takes over the kitchen. The German-born chef is no stranger to excellence, having forged his career in some of Europe’s most respected restaurants. Helming the kitchen at Restaurant Schwarzenstein allowed him to explore his culinary creativity and is where he founded, the now famous, Flora and Fauna menus.
Drawing inspiration from “pure nature,” Chef Henkel places prime importance on celebrating the goods of the garden. Certified both organic and biodynamic, wines from Weingut Wittmann make a terrific match. Guests at The Datai Langkawi are fortunate tonight to have both Chef Henkel, and winemaker Mr Wittmann guide us through the dinner.
Chef Nils Henkel – Fauna Menu
The evening begins with a reception by the pool. Surrounded by the rainforest canopy, the sounds of the jungle make a natural soundtrack. It’s a splendid evening. As the sun drops and casts an orange glow across the treetops, a gentle ocean flurry caresses our skin.
A trio of canapes immediately lends a clue to the chef’s meticulous attention to detail. From the description, “green lettuce, Ossietra caviar and lemon meringue,” I would never have predicted the outcome. A small sphere is savoury, salty to the bite and with a smooth gel texture – not a single leaf in sight. Impressive as it is, the beef tartar is my favourite, served on a sticky, crunchy tapioca cracker with mojo sauce. Lastly, a shot glass of gazpacho topped with jalapeño foam leaves a slow burn. It makes the cool glass of accompanying Riesling an even more welcome introduction.
The Wittmann 2018, Westhofener Trocken Riesling, Rheinhessen is the product of an excellent year for the region. Dubbed the perfect summer, 2018 created ripe, golden grapes, which come through in apricot and honey on the nose in this glass. The dry wine is medium in body, silky in the mouth and culminates with a crisp, lime conclusion.
The dull hue of the amuse-bouche in Chef Nils Henkel’s menu belies its incredible flavour. A wild shrimp, firm to the bite sporting a perfect texture, lies across a tiny puddle of broth made from the heads of the same crustacean. There are a wonderfully smoky aubergine mash, a sweet black sesame puree and a halved cashew held in place by ginger ale gel. The combination is so good I want a spoon – we were only given forks. I distract hubby and take a corner of his remaining bread roll to mop up the last drops. Fantastic.
Next is the prettiest ceviche I’ve come across. A beautiful bowl of vibrant garden colours holds torched swordfish, kingfish ceviche and multiple dots, curls, spheres and strips of celery, parsley, grapefruit and micro herbs. Chef Nils arrives with a teapot of liquid. Lemon vinaigrette and parsley oil are given a quick shake, emulsifying the seasoning before it’s poured over the bowl. It’s fresh and bright, and an excellent pairing for the Wittmann, Weisser Burgunder Trocken, Rheinhessen, 2018. The pinot blanc offers prominent aromatics of blossoms and white peach. Its fresh acidity and elegance in the mouth complement the sprightliness of this course.
While Chef Nils Henkel’s ceviche rocked my boat, my dining partners are offering strong appreciation for the salmon trout. The pink cylinder is moist atop a bed of tiny textures in liquid, jelly cubes, and crunchy berries. Made from produce picked from Restaurant Schwarzenstein’s garden, the elderberry caper vinaigrette was hand-carried to Malaysia, especially for this evening’s dinner. The dish enters the mouth with the soft warmth of the fish and finishes with a natural fresh sweetness thanks to the garden.
The wine mates become increasingly delicious. Our third glass from Wittmann hails from the Morstein vineyard, the Morstein G G Rheinhessen, Trocken Riesling 2018. This site captured the attention of wine lovers as many attributes it to elevating the status of Riesling, showing it a capable dry wine, distinct from the sweeter styles previously dominating this area. Scoring a wicked 98 points by James Suckling, it displays herbal notes in the bouquet. It continues with a refined palate and clean, concentrated finish.
The main increases in intensity with a rosy pink rectangle of wagyu beef contrasting verdant, firm sprigs of asparagus, edamame and shimeji. There is a paper-thin char encasing the medium-rare meat with an exceptionally even pattern of fat marbling furnishing an ideal combo of richness and meatiness. I think the meat has plenty of flavour on its own but miso, black soy foam, and barbecue drippings escalate the opulence of the overall profile even further.
We take a slight detour from the white wines to a light red with the Wittmann, Westhofener, Rheinhessen, Trocken Spätburgunder 2016. There’s plenty of berry on the nose with whispers of toast. It’s not very weighty yet somehow works quite well with the beef, playing more off the green sides than to the intensity in the meat. It’s bright with a mineral edge and leads out to a crisp finish.
In another display of edible art by Nils Henkel, dessert is placed artfully across the plate in the final course. A milk chocolate dome acts as centrepoint, while a brushstroke of hibiscus curry cream stands as an anchor for blood orange done as sorbet, segments, gel and rind, along with lychee ginger sorbet, chocolate sponge cookie and microgreens.
And so it is, we come to the final wine of the evening, the Ansgar Clüsserath, Trittenheimer Apotheke Mosel, Spätlese Riesling 2017. Due to the late ripening of the grapes in this vineyard, the Riesling develops complexities not found in its earlier-blooming counterparts. There’s plenty of fruit in vintage and also threads of herbs and minerals weaving their way around both the nose and the palate.
Lastly, caramac is served as petit four with tea or coffee as desired. Even if you skip the hot drink, it’s worth holding just a smidge of space for this salty caramel chocolate.
Chef Nils Henkel Dinner at The Datai Langkawi
The Chef Nils Henkel Dinner at The Dining Room runs from the 9th to the 11th January 2020. It is priced at RM 500+ per person and RM 780+ per person (with wine pairing). To make a reservation, call +60 4 9500 500 or email [email protected]