Cocoa + Co: Chocolate like you’ve never had before!
A few weeks ago, we were invited to have dinner at Peppino once again, this time for their Cocoa + Co promotion. The flamboyant Italian Chef Coco Salvotore wanted to demonstrate his penchant for creativity by playing with puns with his name to create a menu that is fun, adventurous and delicious. Chef Coco would use cocoa as a defining ingredient in his dishes. Tea and coffee would also be used to make the fare more balanced and interesting.
According to Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa, Kota Kinabalu, this is the first time they are being so daring and innovative. “Chef Coco’s vision is to incorporate contemporary and modern elements to achieve the perfect balance in his culinary creations,” says Samantha Siow, Director of Communications at the STAR.
Chocolate Like You’ve Never Had Before
At first, I thought this was going to be a night of desserts and maybe we get to compare their truffles to Leonidas, Godiva, and Neuhaus. I knew they weren’t going to make chocolate history with those, but I had hoped they might have brought in a few bars of Amedei chocolate from Tuscany to amuse us.
Instead, we didn’t get a single piece of chocolate – nope, not one. I should have known better. This is Chef Coco after all and he’s not known to do ordinary things and neither is he a publicist for other people’s work. Coco Salvatore is an artist for which white plates are his canvas, and you and I, his test subjects!
So without further a due, let’s look at what the chef cooked up for dinner…
Anise tea broth, shallot & sea bass fillet enhanced with ginger
The Chef begins setting the stage for the rest of the meal by offering a star anise-infused clear soup with a seared sea bass fillet to open our appetites. The anise taste was definitely quite distinct, but from my lack of experience with the use of it in Italian cooking, I’m unable to make a comparative ‘cuisine-specific’ comment. It wasn’t bad but it was my least favorite dish. This is because I don’t like star anise, but more so because I thought the broth tasted like Malay soup without the cinnamon and cardamom. Maybe this might appeal more to the untrained tongue of Western tourists but as a local who is used to lots of star anise in Malay, Indian and Chinese cooking, I can’t disassociate the flavor with the food of my motherland. I would have liked a soup that tastes less Malaysian, and more typically ‘Italian.’ (RM48.00)
Porcini cake served with white chocolate sauce
We then got to try this ‘muffin-like’ porcini cake that was served with white chocolate and slivers of fresh rosemary leaves. I enjoyed the soft texture of the cake as it held its structure when sectioned. This shows that the mixture was beaten just until some of the gluten binds the cake. I liked that it wasn’t over-beaten into a rubbery sludge or under-stimulated like a scone (which falls apart when separated). The aromatic flavor of the porcini mushrooms really came through, and the sweet chocolate sauce surprisingly went well with the mushroom flavor. As lovely as this is, the only thing I’d like to flag is that some people may think it tastes more like a dessert than an appetizer. I liked the novelty of it. (RM48.00)
Cocoa pasta roll filled with ricotta cheese, eggplant mousse & pecorino sauce
My favorite starter was the cocoa pasta roll. The chef used cocoa powder to make the pasta sheets, which got me really excited. I’ve seen carrot, tomato, spinach and even squid ink pasta before but never chocolate. Very daring indeed! The ricotta cheese, eggplant mousse and pecorino sauce was delicious though it needed more salt. This is just a beautiful starter to coat the palette with a faint hint of cocoa. It acted as a preliminary dish to ease the diner into the rest of the meal. I think the cocoa pasta roll is better value for money than the porcini cake because it has more bulk, but if you’re really doing fine dining don’t bother thinking about quantity but quality! (RM38.00)
Cocoa Ribbon pasta with porcini mushroom and pumpkin
I liked this dish because the freshly made pasta was perfect and the pumpkin sauce was light, yet tasty. It left a very interesting lingering aftertaste which I couldn’t tell was the pumpkin or the cocoa. Somehow, the cocoa was barely identifiable so I wonder if it was only there for the color. I do think the parpadelle has the potential to be a signature novelty dish even if it tastes nothing like chocolate. I imagine the mild taste would appeal to most people, though I hope that they will bring the price down if it ever makes it into their regular menu. For a vegetarian pasta dish, the price would scare a lot of people off no matter how great it tastes! But this was truly vegetarian heaven… (RM58.00)
Italian carnaroli rice with smoked cheese and black chocolate
What absolutely floored me that night was the black chocolate risotto. Admittedly, it doesn’t look pretty but it tasted DIVINE! Yes, short of a culinary Big O, this is what I came to dinner for! THE REAL TASTE OF CHOCOLATE! It’s as rich as Mexican mole, but was done in the Italian way with a very pungent dose of Gorgonzola cheese. Of course, not everybody will be able to stomach this, and you really have to like strong cheeses to appreciate this. So if you live and breathe Stilton, Blue Cheese, and Gorgonzola, you’ll likely find this bizarrely delightful!!! Also, if you like dark chocolate and are somewhat of a culinary explorer, you just have to go try this and let me know what you think. You must order the Risotto Alla Scamorza Affumica E Cioccolato Fondente if it’s only thing you go to that restaurant for. I want this recipe so bad I’m going to asking Chef Coco for it… wish-me-luck! (RM 48.00)
Sea bass with coffee powder and ginger enhanced bread
There were bits of coffee granules that perfumed the sea bass main. Both my assistant and I loved how the coffee bits bursts when bitten into, and the use of it on fish worked! Saying that, while the flavors came together really well, my assistant thought that an alternative to mung beans would have made the dish more special. I on the other hand, didn’t mind the mung beans so much because we were invited to dinner, but I do think if I had to pay, I would like more exotic ingredients in the local context to justify the price. The flavors were delish but the fish was a little on the dry side, maybe because it got cold from all the photo ops I put it through. Something they can easily fix as long as you mention to the captain that you’d like your fish to be more moist. I’m sure they’d be able to do it to your liking! (RM58.00)
Baked duck croiset with Kenya bean and orange tea enhanced lasagna
Even though I don’t like the skinny Asian duck, for what it is worth this baked bird was decent. The meat was soft and full of flavor, although again just a bit dryer than I prefer it (skinny Asian duck syndrome). I especially loved how tasty the meat was when paired with the orange tea enhanced lasagna. The caramelized onions and ricotta cheese filling in the lasagna was sweet, creamy, savory and had a lovely citrus flavor that took the gamy edge of the duck away. The combination can give the traditional French Duck l’Orange a run for its money. Would I order it again if they had this on the menu? Sure. Loved the sauce and out-of-this-world orange tea lasagna! (RM 48.00)
Complimentary Chocolate Fondue Set
There is no reason to complain about a complimentary chocolate fondue set, but I would have liked much, much more chocolate for dessert. A sample platter of their daily chocolate cakes, mousses, and puddings would have been better to seal Cocoa + Co I thought, which the Shangri-La pastry kitchen is famous for. But I’m not complaining. It’s much better than getting 2 thin slices of fruit.
Summary: A Must-Go for True Foodies
If you’re a true foodie and can afford the fine dining prices, go try Chef Coco’s zany experimental menu. What I like about Coco is his guts and talent for making really bizarre combinations somehow delightfully edible. Since taste is so subjective, I can’t guarantee you’ll love or hate it, but I believe that black chocolate risotto will be a conversation piece for a long time to come.
Peppino is open daily from 6:30pm to 10:30pm. For reservations, please call 6088.327.888 or email email@example.com