The food at China World Hotel is considered by the doyens of catering in Beijing as some of the best among five-star hotels in the capital. There are still many pleasant surprises - such as the well-kept secret of Aria, the hotel's award-winning Western restaurant where the menu has remained unchanged for three years now.
But the winds of change are blowing with the arrival of Matthew McCool, new chef de cuisine. Born in Australia of Scottish descent, the 26-year-old's 10-year stint in the business is already considerable.
McCool was junior sous chef at the two-star Michelin restaurant Chez Bruce in London. In the year and a half he worked in Britain, he also worked at Gordon Ramsey's maze, a three-star Michelin restaurant.
The chef says he likes to incorporate all that he has learned in the past into his cuisine, including the influences of France, Italy and his native Australia.
"I try to bring a bit of different style from these European countries," McCool says.
|Matthew McCool, new chef of Aria in China World Hotel, incorporates entertainment with dining. Wang Jing / China Daily|
He describes his style as a fusion between French techniques and Japanese and European produce.
"I like to use Japanese cooking for its freshness, and European for its strong, bold styles," he says.
Customers are seeing a lot of creative matches and novel presentations in a new dinner menu at Aria just out on Oct 8. For example, he often combines earthy ingredients such as a perfectly seared tuna with ponzu-flavored spaghetti. He will also pair Blackmore Wagyu, a juicy, marbled beef exclusive to Aria, with a coffee reduction, chocolate and macerated green olives.
Surprising food matches have become the chef's signature. A tender veal steak is served with a smoked foie gras cream to enhance the taste and texture of the meat.
Roasted sea bass is served with a variety of ingredients including roasted cauliflower, clams, prosciutto and fennel.
"The dining experience should be a show," McCool says. "A good restaurant should incorporate entertainment with dining."
His unique melted chocolate cake proves the point. An attentive waitstaff uses a heated spoon to pour hot chocolate over the cold chocolate crust, which melts to reveal a white chocolate center.
Another piece of theatrical tabletop drama is when the one-kilo slab of prime rib is presented to diners. The meat is attached to a huge bone, not unlike a dinosaur's. It serves two.
"I definitely won't try anything other people have done," McCool says.
The young chef has spent the past month in Beijing experimenting and tasting. He says his goal is to revamp Aria and make it the best in Beijing again. This is McCool's first time in China, and while he says most of his friends are happy for him, some have called him "crazy" for coming over here.
"From Europe to China is a big change, and a big challenge," he says. "But I'm glad I made the choice."