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CHEFS may come and go but some leave an indelible mark on the menus of the restaurants they have worked at … and Executive Chef Nugi Wardhana is such an example.
He arrived in the kingdom to be a part of the Gulf Hotel Bahrain team, tasked with opening the celebrated Fusions restaurant in 2001 and, sure enough, some of his creations have been carved in stone … and dare anyone try to remove them!
Apparently, it has been occasionally attempted over the years, until regular diners rebel and they insist on their favourites finding a place on the revised menus.
Chef Nugi’s lasting impressions include a lobster and a salmon dish and his famous Fusion salad remains steadfast and secure alongside a dessert which regularly finds folk flocking to the cake shop downstairs with customers calling on supplies to take home.
Fusions’ legendary chef has returned for a short stay and working alongside Head Chef Rohit Tamang and his team has conjured up a culinary adventure highlighting some ‘blasts from the past’ with interesting twists in a special menu available until the end of the month.
“It’s great to be back on the island and to meet up with old friends and familiar faces,” said Chef Nugi. “They love their food in Bahrain and I’m determined that both old and new diners will not be disappointed.”
There’s little chance of that as last Thursday evening’s tasting session proved that the culinary wizard has lost none of his magic touches.
When I first arrived in the kingdom a decade ago I stayed for the first three nights at the Gulf Hotel and one of the very first restaurants I dined in was Fusions which, with its high vantage point, has amazing views over the grand mosque and the busy highway below.
The cutlery is really cool too, shaped like samurai swords, and the teaspoon looks like Uri Geller has called in for an appetiser!
Fusion cuisine combines elements of different culinary traditions. It cannot be categorised according to any one particular style and have played a part in innovations of many contemporary restaurant menus since the 1970s.
This is essentially a marriage of cooking traditions and techniques to form an altogether different finished dish. It most definitely does not mean putting all the ingredients selected into one pot and turning the heat up as high as possible.
Although this often much-maligned and entirely misunderstood, it is a concept has been mastered by Chef Nugi and the fact that Fusions remains a buzzing destination and has such a loyal following is evidence that the ‘east meets west ‘concept remains strong and true to this day.
Fusions’ experienced chefs somehow seamlessly blend Asian and Mediterranean techniques with traditional European ingredients to create food that combines unusual, yet delicious, combinations of flavour and texture and it shows right from the start … or should I say, Starters!
The goat cheese tart, caramelised onion and baby rocca (BD5.800++) is a creative masterpiece with a taste to match and the seared scallop, green peas puree and fried quail egg, a little yolk of divine dipping quality which will have you scrambling for more at BD6.800++!
To avoid arguments the good lady wife, Kathryn, and I, decided to share our dishes with a more concerted plan of action, carefully splitting the main courses in half and swapping the plates half way through after getting in a bit of a messy muddle.
It worked wonders and allowed us to indulge in sampling both meat and fish dishes from the Mains.
The pan-roasted Chilean sea bass fillet was cooked to perfection with succulent flesh and a crispy skin served with truffle-scented pea risotto and artichokes (BD14.500++).
The garlic beef striploin, served with asparagus spears and with a soy glaze proved to be a perfect combination (BD9.500) to tantalise the taste buds.
Chef Nugi said he found his calling at the tender age of seven watching his grandmother at work in her traditional kitchen surrounded by the smell of a simple wood fire and an array of spices.
The Indonesian later graduated from Bandung Hotel and Tourism College and cultivated his culinary career in Jakarta before taking to the skies and securing a position in the kitchens of a Hilton hotel at the UK’s bustling Gatwick International Airport.
He returned home as part of a pre-opening team for The Grand Hyatt Jakarta and helped with the launch of four other hotels in the region, including one in Bali.
He arrived in Bahrain for the Fusions fun as mentioned earlier before starting an African adventure in Nairobi and returning to the Gulf at the Radisson Blu Dubai Deira Creek before being promoted to Executive Chef at the Radisson Blu Media City.
In 2010 he joined the newly-opened Banyan Tree Al Wadi and Banyan Tree Ras Al Khaimah Beach and welcomed the opportunity to renew acquaintances in Bahrain during this short break.
Kathryn, as regular readers of this page will recall, is renowned for being the crème brullèe queen on Bahrain and few pass muster but the ginger and lemongrass (BD3.800) on the Desserts menu left a glow of satisfaction on her face.
But the crème de le crème of puddings is Chef Nugi’s original recipe of Green tea ice cream, parfait, milk tea and green tea truffle (BD4.500++).This is a dessert to die for and one can appreciate why people keep coming back for more.
Thank you, Chef Nugi … you’ve left an indelible mark on my heart.
During this spell back in Bahrain he will also be hosting a cooking class on Saturday and will be with us until March 31. Call 17713000 for more details.