Hennessy X.O Appreciation Grows 2014 in Danga Bay, Johor

April 24, 2014
What is the litmus test one uses to measure quality with? More specifically, what would you do to attend a dinner party you deem worthy of being graced by your illuminating (haha) and obnoxious presence? In this instance it was my willingness to postpone my flight from Kuala Lumpur back to London just so I can fly down to Johor Bahru for the Hennessy X.O Appreciation Grows 2014 event. 

Whenever Hennessy X.O asked me to consider attending, (not-so) jokingly suggesting 'Just postpone your flight lah!' (you know who you are, ahem) my answer was always the same 'I'm sorry, I can't, I have to go back to London and feed my hamster' (the new 'I have to wash my hair). My position was steadfastly so until I met the man behind the magic himself, Chef Viet Pham, and assisted him at the Appreciation Grows 2014 pre-event.

He earned my respect not only with the way he butterflied those prawns, or sautéed the rambutans, or whip up a 'mystery box' canapé in under twenty minutes despite my best efforts to sabotage him (not intentionally, but this is what happens when I help out in the kitchen) BUT when he stopped whatever he was doing (probably chopping something into tiny pieces) and jokingly glared at me for taking selfies while supposedly assisting him. Nobody ever dares to throw shade at me! Chef Pham, you are a cool dude. I will postpone my London flight by two days just so I can come to Appreciation Grows 2014 and have you cook dinner for me.

Consider that the highest form of praise from me.

So I flew down to J.B (the pompous, paranoid KLite in me gives an affected shudder) for a day and night with the celebrities, the media, the 'industry people', and the Hennessy crew who looked after us very well indeed. All fifty of us took over the entire plane which might as well have #TeamHennessy painted across the body. We checked into The Thistle and had just about an hour to scrub up and look presentable for the evening.

Rumah hijau (green house) for Hari Sukan (sports day) with Sarah Lian and her friend. 

My obsession du jour is crystals, so of course I paired my trusty Saint Laurent Arty ring with By Invite Only crystal jewellery. Their aura quartz necklaces are on my lust list and I love their Instagram posts of elegantly lettered inspirational quotes.

Hennessy X.O Appreciation Grows, as always, is about 'The Spirit of Conquest' (a notion I can happily get behind, ha-dee-haha) so the dinner naturally took place inside a 'boat' moored on Danga Bay. 'Windows' around the dining room looked out to the 'sea'. With every course, each from a different country, our view would change as we sailed across continents to the port of the country our dish was inspired by.

I was seated with some of Louis Vuitton's top clients, and was pleasantly surprised to see Robin there acting as chaperone. Robin always looks after me and mummy whenever we are at L.V so it was rather nice (and a little strange) to see him outside his usual 'habitat'. I'm sure he thinks the same of me looking worse for wear after a flight to Johor (yes, it's only an hour, but still).

Suspicious, I texted mummy: "You sent him here to keep an eye on me, didn't you?"

Mummy: "Absolutely. I'm not letting you run around Johor on your own. No, I actually didn't. Get over yourself."

I am adamant that she did ask him to spy on me.

Naughty, naughty Will (I will never forget the passing joke he made about buses and entrances, boy, you naaassty) was our emcee, mais bien sur.

Our first destination, announced with some pomp, circumstance, and fireworks, was Paris.

Cabaret dancers feathered like exotic birds strutted and glided about as we delicately nibbled on our first course.

'Eiffel Extravagance'; scallop, onion, and almost burnt cream.

Delicate, delicious, and tantalisingly moorish (such is the intention of such teasingly tiny portions).

Our second stop was China.

We were serenaded by the strains of Shanghai Jazz as we tucked into our second surprise...

'Orientique Arete'; shiitake mousse, poached duck egg yolk, toasted and sprouted grains.

This was hands down my favourite course.

The shiitake mousse was decadently rich and creamy. But the duck egg yolk was on a whole other level. The word poached does not begin to do it justice. Poached eggs, while seeming solid, spill their liquid guts when you pierce them with a fork. But this egg was neither solid nor liquid. The consistency was more like...gel? What a terrible description on my part! It melted on my mouth but held its form, the texture was so smooth and creamy that every mouthful was a caress on my tongue, and the flavour was ridiculously rich with just the right amount of saltiness.

What sorcery is this?!

Later I learnt from Will that Chef Pham used the warmth of the soup to slowly and gently poach the duck egg yolk to perfection. The constant, moderate temperature ensured a thorough consistency and struck just the right balance between cooked and barely there.


Right before this course I moved tables to join the food bloggers. Hennessy wanted me on the celebrity table but of course I'm much more at home with the writers, photographers, and food enthusiasts. I mean, just look at this scene...!

Tau Fu Lou and Kampung Boy City Gal showing you the meaning of Asians at Work.

They bring their own lights to dinner for taking food blog photos!

And here I thought using my iPhone torch was innovative. Don't play play ah, these people have their blogging game stroooooong.

Now I feel like an underachiever.

The third country on our list was America.

A jazz band played while I stared warily at our American-themed course...

'Western Mastery'; sea bass wrapped with savoy cabbage, sauce of osetra caviar, and potato.

I hate cabbage with a passion almost as much as I detest cooked fish. I ate it anyway and managed to keep it down which is the highest compliment as far as cabbage and cooked fish go.

Taking a break to 'yaaaaam seng'!

Don't drink and steer the boat. Also, don't drink and drive, you might just spill your drink.

Group photos with the foodies, bloggers, and food writers.

The fourth port of call was Italy.

We were treated to a rendition of Nessun Dorma which I may or may not have sung along to. 

In contralto, not tenor obviously.

'Italiano Regale'; chicken parmesan with mushroom ragu.

I won't lie, this was disappointing. 

Next to the delicacy, presentation, and deft precision of the previous dishes, this clunky battered chicken stuck out like a sore deep fried thumb. 

However this was no fault of Chef's. He had intended this dish to be sea urchin, but some powers above decided it would be too 'light' for all but the most refined palates. They wanted this course to be heavy, filling, and appeal to the most common denominator ie. dietary restrictions, religious/cultural choices.

So really his hands were tied, and such a shame, because we all know what he is capable of. The sea urchin should have never been scraped.


Our fifth and final dot on the map was Japan.

Our Japanese experience came all the way from the Land Of The Rising Sun itself.

The Japanese drummer, and his Malaysian partner-in-crime (is that the appropriate term?) whipped us all up in a frenzy with their impeccable control of the drums.

More than just thrashing about and making a whole lot of noise, these instruments involve a whole lot of finesse, a delicate touch, power, and the most incredibly rhythm. 

I was mesmerised as the drumming grew in strength and sound, from a soft yet steady footstep to thunderbolts that filled up my body and shook me down to my very soul. It was very hypnotic, even more so as sakura petals floated across the screen. The ultimate symbols of mono no aware (Japanese; awareness of the transience of all things), coupled with the beat of the drum expanded in my ribcage like a heart ready to burst like a declaration of love for something so profound that no words would do, just a single silent tear.

Just before I was overwhelmed to the point of no return, the sweet strains of the flute snapped me out of my trance and gently eased me back into reality, reminding me to finish my pudding.

'Nippon Delight'; Umbeoshi (Japanese plums) sorbet and yuzu mousse.

The saltiness of the umeboshi, the tartness and sweetness of the yuzu were the perfect comeback from the chicken, and a flourish to end the night with.

Chef (second from right) looking pleased, as he rightly should. Well done, Chef!

How much does Ken Vin look like his twin? Are there actually two of them, and has the cognac have me seeing double?

By the end of dinner everybody was a little sleepy from all the food and the cognac...

...but I got dragged to the impromptu after party anyway.

As per Tau Fu Lou's suggestion we should have gone to this amazing place that serves duck, duck innards, duck skin, everything about the duck what the duck you talking about? or this kuay teow place or we could go for Johor laksa. I suggested doing all both and then jet skiing across the causeway, without passports, into Singapore. Failing that we could smuggle ourselves in durian trucks. Under the durians. 

But noooooo we had to go to Aruku, the 'most happening club in J.B'.

Of course we had never heard of it.

Neither had our taxi driver. "Mana?" "Abuku! No...Shinjuku? Harajuku? Wait, it's Aruku!"

The most happening nightclub in Johor; translation, ah beng/ah lian central.

I warned everyone that my inner tai ka je would emerge after a few drinks "Lei tai mat yeh, sei bat poh?!" until Steve Yap, handsome reformed ah beng, told me that it's not Cantonese but Mandarin that they speak in J.B.

Nak jadi ah lian pun tak boleh. Fail betul. Tak apalah, jadi rempit saja. Bahasa Melayu saya boleh pass.

Chef Pham exhibit A. He had a great time.

All night he made me take a thousand photos of him with so many different people "Hey, sous chef! Over here!" to the point that my memory card malfunctioned; when I tried to transfer the photos to my Mac I actually lost about a hundred photos. I blame Johor. And Chef. Thanks a lot. Probably for the best, some of the photos on my camera should never see the light of day. 

Suspicious 'non-alcoholic' drinks.

Chef Pham exhibit B.

Shots after shots of Hennessy and I could barely open my eyes. I wore glasses and flip flops to the most exclusive nightclub in Johor because nice hair, don't care.

Chef Pham exhibit C.

Chef Pham exhibit D, with his bros, gazing adoringly at the rapper. Sweet, sweet bromance.

I don't know who this uncle is but he is a legend. Thanks for the laughs.

Steve Yap, proof that I am not exclusively attracted to non-Asian men.

But seriously, the one rare time I meet a Chinese man I am attracted to (criteria; taller than me, strong bone structure, broad shoulders, must be able to grow a beard) and he is married. But that didn't stop all the hussies in the club from throwing themselves at him. *glowers*

Chef Pham exhibit D, or is it E, I've lost count...

Chef Pham exhibit E?

Ending this post with a picture that sums up my entire experience at Aruku.

 T'was an interesting evening and worth postponing my return to London for.

Thank you Hennessy for looking after me, especially Thrishie!

See you next year.


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