This year started with an amazing find in an amazing city. Ensue in Shenzhen amazed me in so many ways that I couldn’t help but sharing it in WeChat, Facebook and everywhere in social media.
The Culinary Team
Ensue is the first restaurant in China by Chef Christopher Kostow, one of the world’s elite chefs who has maintained the highest honor in the culinary world of three Michelin stars for over 9 years.
Ensue represents Chef Kostow’s latest evolution, blending California farm-to-table culture and techniques with Cantonese tastes and ingredients.
Head Chef Miles Pundsack-Poe from Ontario, Canada was raised with a passion for nature’s natural beauty. He went on to study organic farming and sustainability which eventually shaped his cuisine today. Shortly after, Miles left Canada for the European Michelin dream and spent one year traveling and cooking in some of Spain’s top kitchens including honing his wood-fired cooking skills at Etxebarri. Attracted to Chef Christopher Kostow’s esoteric and natural approach to food, he moved to California and joined the team at Napa Valley’s three Michelin starred The Restaurant at Meadowood (TRAM).
Now, Miles leads daily kitchen operations as Head Chef at Ensue, the first venture in mainland China by Chef Kostow. He continues the story of TRAM and extends the “Farm-to-Table’ ethos to China by highlighting the best of South China on every dish
The menu at Ensue pays respect to the local produce, unique palate and culinary traditions.
In the kitchen you can see a lot of garum, vinegar and preserves that they made in house for use in their cuisine.
Seasonal Tasting Menu
The dinner featured locally sourced ingredients from around the Guangdong province and the nearby Yunnan and Sichuan regions. Not sure how much carbon footprint was saved, but they contributed to an eclectic mix of different flavours and texture to a well-choreographed degustation menu.
For this seasonal tasting menu, they used line-caught and sustainable seafood from the surrounding waters of South China Sea and Dalian, naturally raised meat from Xinjiang and free-range poultry and vegetables from an organic farm in Guangdong.
The meal at Ensue started with 𝗙𝗶𝗿𝘀𝘁 𝗕𝗶𝘁𝗲𝘀 made from seasonal ingredients sourced from organic farms and producers around China.
They were served on a tray made with the ancient map of South China depicting some of the sources of the ingredients on the tray, like vegetables from Hiding, eel from Shunde.
It was really interesting to note that some of the places we are familiar with like Dongguan, Panyu, Shunde are already demarcated in this ancient map. Hong Kong was referred to as “Fragrant Mountain” 香山, and Shenzhen did not exist.
Corn in three texture – corn flour cup, corn mousse and fresh corn cob – provided a sweet contract with the duck foie gras mousse. Umami, saltiness and sweetness in a single bite. The organic corn was from their partner, Teshi Farm.
River eel from Shunde was cured and then smoked over fragrant Longjing tea. Delicately wrapping the silky smoked eel was juicy beef tongue from Guizhou, which has been brined and braised with Chinese spices. For the final layer, a crisp tea leaf wrapper was added for a contrasting crunch
Chestnut mousse encrusted in a chestnut-flavoured puff dusted with morel mushroom salt. I love chestnut, especially in a Mont Blanc cake. Chestnut is in season and often used in omakase at this time of the year. The chestnut came from nearby Zhaoqing, which is famous for its Fengkai oil chestnut 封开油栗.
Finally, a roasted vegetable tea made with Yunnan mushrooms and kochi (wolfberry) cooked into a clear but awesome vegetable consommé made from kohlrabi 苤蓝.
Qiandao Lake Beluga Caviar Blinis with Cured Sea Bass
This was an ala carte item – “Beluga” caviar from Qiandao Lake served traditional-style on a blini.
Kaluga Queen is a Chinese brand of caviar made by the caviar company Hangzhou Qiandaohu Xunlong Sci-Tech Co., Ltd. The company produces 60 tonnes of caviar annually, making it the largest producer of caviar in the world and responsible for 30% of world production. The technology to bred and farm these sturgeons is very advance and the result is a very high quality caviar from China,
The traditional way to serve these pearls of umami pops was with blinis and crème fraîche. They had added house cured sea bass to intensify the whole experience. Not necessary as the caviar was already salty enough, but it did add a different dimension to the whole flavour profile, fishiness in a good way that complimented the caviar.
Often referred to as Chinese caviar, Kaluga is the name of the large sturgeon found in the Amur River, shared between China and Russia. A fish’s diet and environment contribute greatly to the flavour of the caviar it produces—how briny, rich or buttery it is. Wild fish have a diet that is eclectic and varied, hence their roe has a more complex flavour. Conversely, farmed sturgeon have a controlled diet, which results in consistent quality and uniform taste. Frankly, I cannot taste the difference between these Chinese farmed caviar from the ones harvested wild from Belarus or Russia. These days due to overfishing, one would not get the wild harvested Russian caviar in restaurants anymore because of its rarity and inconsistency of supply.
Prawn, Tomato and Sea Buckthorn
This is a very pretty and tasty dish.
Sea buckthorn is a shrub found in Inner Mongolia, and its berries were used to make the vinegar used in this dish. Heirloom tomato was sourced locally and only the soft fruit was used. The rest of the tomato was combined with sea buckthorn vinegar to produce the sauce. Served together with lemongrass oil, the lightly poached tiger prawn from Zhenjiang 湛江 was plated with the sweet and slightly sour fruit tomato flesh.
Teshi Farm Egg Custard
Steamed egg is a traditional recipe that oozes comfort. The ingredients are basic and the version at Ensue is made with organic eggs from Teshi Farm.
Teshi Farm organic first-born eggs were used in this egg custard. What’s first-born eggs? These are eggs laid by hens that have just laid eggs for the first time. These eggs are smaller in size and have larger yolks. We used to refer to them in Singapore as kampong eggs.
Teshi Organic Farm is located in Xiaohedong Village, Huidong County, Huizhou City, Guangdong Province. Founded in 2014, Teshi Huidong Farm produces hundreds of organic vegetables every year, as well as fruits like lychees, longan and bananas, and free-range chickens and eggs.
The custard was smooth as silk with an eggy taste that I remembered from my childhood. Strands of Yunnan matsutake mushrooms, Xuanwei ham and Jiangsu watershed adorned the surface with chunks of locally sourced kohlrabi.
Caviar Sunflower | Yam Cake
This is a very beautifully plated dish. It demonstrated the skills and attention to details of the culinary team.
Carefully sliced mountain yam 山药 was placed on top of a cooked mountain yam paste in the shape of a sunflower. And delicately balanced on the “sunflower” forming the disc florets was caviar from Chengdu.
Usually it was served with the Kaluga caviar, but because we ordered it for a la carte, the kitchen decided to let use try the other caviar available for the evening. Ossetra caviar from Chengdu’s Dujiangyan Cerealia caviar company formed the heart of the sunflower. Smaller production and more robust in taste, these caviars were glistening in the lighting.
Surrounding the sunflower, a creamy artichoke sauce and truffle oil. The bottom layer was a steamed mountain yam cake. Recommend was to combine the cream and caviar with the yam cake for flavour. On its own, the yam cake was rather bland.
Abalone and Fermented Soybean
The course consisted of three parts – a crust made with fermented soybean 豆豉, which was a familiar Cantonese flavour; a pan-fried Dalian abalone 大连鲍; and blanched pea shoot 豆苗 with abalone liver sauce.
Upon receiving their daily delivery of Dalian abalone, the kitchen team first carefully removed the liver, processed them into a puree, before slowly adding in dry matsutake and chicken stock to make a rich and succulent abalone liver sauce.
On the other side, the abalone was gently roasted with a homemade butter, made from wild Yunnan matsutake and French butter, enhancing freshness and flavour.
Dalian, in Liaoning province, is recognised for producing China’s best abalone. The mild climate and rich bait of coastal islands create the ideal environment for habitat and reproduction of the Dalian abalone.
Scallop and Luffa Gourd | Fig
Two pieces of beautifully grilled scallops were served in a small bowl with a spoon. This is a soup course?
A consommé made from loofah and fig leaf oil were added at table side. This was when I realised the scallops was sliced into smaller pieces.
I spread them out and ate it with the soup. The scallops were grilled to perfection and the soup providing the dimensions of salty and vegetable sweetness to the umami and shellfish sweetness of the scallops.
Monkfish and Cashew Sauce
Monkfish is affectionately known as “poor man’s lobster”. But there’s certainly nothing “poor” about this dish!
With sweet and meaty lobster-like flesh, monkfish is a firm favourite with fine dining restaurants. The cooked meat of a monkfish has a similarly meaty and succulent texture, with a sweet and clean flavour that’s not fishy at all. Monkfish fillets are also thick and hefty like lobster tails. Nothing in a monkfish is wasted, the liver of the monkfish is a Japanese izakaya favourite called ankimo.
The course was made up of a roasted monkfish tail, a piece of pan fried loin, fish marrow sauce, scallop roe xo, and monkfish liver torchon.
Monkfish liver touchon is referred to as ankimo (あん肝) in an Izakaya. Touchon (or “kitchen towel” in French) is the technique where liver is seasoned with liqueur and seasoning and then wrapped using a cheesecloth (hence the name touchon) to form a sausage like shape. Here, the liver touchon was torched for smokiness and paired with a roasted monkfish tail. The tail exhibited a totally different texture from the loin. The tail was firmed and had a bit of chewiness and bite. You can taste the collagen from the skin of the monkfish.
The cashew sauce was infused with fish bone marrow to produce a creamy and fatty sauce that went very well with the fish. And for the added spice, XO sauce made with scallop roe instead of conpoy was provided as a condiment. I could have more of this XO sauce.
Coconut Smoked Pigeon
The next course came in its cooking utensil.
I am very biased when it comes to pigeon. I have always thought the best ones are from Yuen Long in Hong Kong. My partner freaked out when she saw the bloodiness of the bird.
Because of that I got a whole pigeon, her half and my half made a whole bird. The pigeon was smoked in the coconut to medium rare. I never had a pigeon this rare before, but then I realised it was sous vide before smoking.
The breast was really tender and the flavours were well incorporated because of the sous vide. The skin was crisped before serving. Of course, the final step was the smoking inside the purposed made coconut husk smoker. This step was totally unnecessary in my opinion, but a good conversation piece for the dish.
Black Pig Cooked Over Sugarcane
This is the first time I ate Tibetan Black Pig. The pork chop from Tibetan black pig was cooked over sugarcane, and side of cucumber stuffed with preserved sausage, and served with a sauce made with hawthorn jus.
The sauce was slightly sweet with only a bit tartness coming from the hawthorn. It was similar to the sweet and savoury sauce served with roasted pig except more watered down. The pork chop was served medium rare, which was too bloody for my partner’s preference. So I had the pleasure of eating two pieces of pork chops, each the size of a lamb cutlet.
The Tibetan Pig on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is especially adapted to the high, cold climate and to being on pasture all year round. They are a relatively small breed, growing to an average of 35 kg as adults. As the Tibetan pig eats herbal medicine, so its meat is very lean.
Chinese sausages, commonly referred to as lupcheong 腊肠, was used to stuff a Japanese cucumber and steamed. This was an innovative way to present a rather difficult internet. To take the greasiness away, pearls of lime was provided.
Claypot Beef Rice
Claypot rice or bozhaifan 煲仔饭 is a Cantonese dish that unites aunties, night owls, partygoers and delivery workers in the immigrant city of Shenzhen. This is Ensue’s interpretation of the favourite bozhaifan .
Beef used for this claypot rice was from Hebei, using a cattle breed with lineage to the Japanese wagyu. The part we were served was the sirloin. I wouldn’t refer to it as Wagyu, but it was a rather fatty cut.
Pine nuts 松子 and fermented soybean 豆豉 were used as a condiment for mixing into the rice.
The mixing was done at the table side together with crown daisy 茼蒿 and then served using the wooden bowls.
This not like the ones in the traditional sense, but it had the making of a classic. Somehow it reminded me of the lapmeifan 腊味饭 that I used to eat in Hong Kong. with the rice, this marked the end of the main courses for the dinner.
Loquat and Honey | Sponge Cake
Without a palate cleanser, we went straight into the dessert section of the meal.
First up, sugared loquat with honey drops with honey milk ice cream. Loquat is a peach like fruit that I associated with cough syrup. My mom’s favourite fruit if I could get the fresh ones from China during the season, which is late autumn when we had this meal. The loquat was poached in syrup in house.
This was a very dense sponge cake, I would even classify it as a pound cake. The loquat taste did not come through but it was a nice (and dense) honey cake.
Grilled Strawberry and Chocolate
Next, a tartlet made of grilled strawberry layered upon chocolate mousse in a chocolate crust and then topped with chocolate ice cream and puffed rice.
Roasted strawberries are delicious, and the roasting in oil and salt really bring out a savory side to the strawberries.
Topped with a quenelle of dark chocolate ice cream, it brought the best of both worlds together.
And finally a parting treat for going with our espressos, a trio of sweets.
- Milk jam fortune cookie with crust made with Taiwan Jinxuan oolong tea
- Rose and date meringue made dusted with hawthorn 山楂 powder
- Green grapes and Earl Grey tarts with shiso gelee and grape drop
I really enjoyed the fortune cookie even though there was no fortune told here, only fortune spent. This meal came up to ¥1,488++ per pax.
Interior design by Chris Shao Studio of New York. The brief was to create wabi-sabi design of luxury. In traditional Japanese aesthetics, wabi-sabi is a world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection.
In Ensue, Chris Shao personified many design intentions based on his Chinese upbringing. He explored the work of local artisans and manufacturers around Guangdong region, to rethink and redefine the modern meaning of Made-in-China in the design industry.
The Alcove is an extension of the main dining area of Ensue, a totally separate space to enjoy a bespoke cocktail, to wind down after a long day in this exciting city.
This was one of the best fine dining I had in China by far. It definitely remained rooted to the French techniques but with modern innovations. What I really enjoyed was that it was not altered in any way to suite the local palate, only concession was the use of local ingredients. So if you are a local Cantonese, you will be familiar with the ingredients. But the flavours, texture and presentation would be bring you miles away from China.
Perhaps because this is Shenzhen, an immigrant metropolis, Ensue does not need to change itself to suit the local market. Perhaps because this is what Ensue is all about anyway. Looking forward for them to get the three stars when the Shenzhen edition comes about.
40F, Futian Shangri-La Hotel,
4088 Yitian Rd, Futian District, Shenzhen,
Guangdong Province, 518048
Tel : +86 188 2343 7333
Date visited : Jan 2022
Asia’s 50 Best Restaurant #69 (2021)
“Glamorous, progressive and a hub of culinary innovation, Ensue was named to reflect the restaurant’s philosophy of constant motion and striving for excellence, both of which traits are also associated with its home city of Shenzhen. Led by internationally acclaimed, Chicago-born chef Christopher Kostow – who, in 2011, while at The Restaurant at Meadowood, Napa Valley, became the youngest US chef to attain three Michelin stars – tasting menus feature dishes that artfully meld a Californian farm-to-table ethos with premium Cantonese ingredients.”