When Velvet opened on the ground floor of Nali Patio back in 2013, there wasn’t much to say. Over-the-top, Rococo décor and an uninspired mess of a mostly Western menu – that old Beijing story.
But the winds of change have blown through Nali Patio and ushered in a new era in the restaurant’s culinary, if not interior, aesthetic. With a completely overhauled menu designed by Michelin-starred Spanish chef Rodrigo de la Calle and the kitchen under the direction of new chef de cuisine Alberto Becerril, Velvet is rapidly turning into a gastronomic destination ready to give the rest of the popular Spanish courtyard a run for their money.
De la Calle has long spearheaded the ‘gastrobotany’ movement in Europe. Focused on exploring underutilized or under-cultivated plants and spices, gastrobotany is what you get when you cross a chef and a naturalist with a serious appetite. Although we can’t say that the concept is entirely well represented in the new menu, the long and short of it is that the offerings are eclectic and original, without devolving into a mismatched hodgepodge of poorly executed ‘fusion’ dishes – which was one of the chief faults of the first iteration.
Fresh from a stint in Madrid, Becerril executes the squarely Spanish menu with a deft hand and eye for detail. From cold tapas like wafer cones filled with briny sea urchin, guacamole, mango and wax apple or a standard of sturgeon ceviche with fresh passion fruit, to a more outlandish sous vide egg served with slow-cooked pork ear and freeze-dried basil crumble or a pillow-soft sponge cake baked with black garlic and crusted with Iberian salt. You’d be a fool to skip these innovative and playful small bites.
The mains are no less impressive, with a particularly fantastic baby squid rice with black ink sauce accented with desert succulents (let’s talk gastrobotany, now) and an ambitious sous-vide-then-chargrilled Chilean wagyu beef oyster blade steak. Prepared with a sweet ‘Beijing’-style sauce that smacks of finely roasted duck, the red meat is luscious, tender and dripping with juice. Desserts are done brilliantly under Becerril, too. The ginger ice cream with pumpkin crème is at the same time lusciously gentle, with nutty roasted pumpkin and bristling with a graduated spice that builds as you dig through the layers of hand churned cream.
A meal at the revamped Velvet is a dramatic example of what can happen to a restaurant when the strength of the kitchen talent and the quality of the menu offerings are the number one priority. The cuisine is unrecognisable from a year ago – unique, focused and expertly crafted – now if only we could say the same for the décor.