Having opened, closed and then reopened again during the pandemic, this south-east Asian restaurant from chef Daren Liew is finally finding its audience.
Blue Jasmine opened in Ocean Village, Southampton, for the first time in February and closed again a month later because of the pandemic. It reopened in August, eager to introduce the city and its surrounds to its innovative south-east Asian menu and super-stylish interior. "Or New Asia, as I like to call it," declares executive chef Daren Liew.
Malaysia-born Liew brings 25 years of experience cooking Asian food, having worked for the Mandarin Oriental and Four Seasons hotel groups in Asia, before taking on the role of development chef at Good Earth in Hong Kong, after joining the Hakkasan group and, most recently, opening the critically acclaimed (since closed) Duddell's in London.
The restaurant is owned by Xi and Phoebe Zhao, a Chinese couple who live near Southampton. They couldn't find a good Asian restaurant nearby so they decided to open their own.
"We fell in love with the marina view, and the proximity to the 119-bedroom Harbour hotel, which matches our clientele. Then we found Daren and our plans fell into place," explains Phoebe. "It's like a marriage. You have to find the right partner. We could feel the spark in the conversation. Daren is very creative. We're very excited about his ideas. We didn't want to do anything traditional."
The menu is certainly far from traditional. The Chilean sea bass dish comes with a pomegranate glaze and a soya ginger crumble (£28), while a twist on Malaysian grilled chicken ayam percik is accompanied by a busily adorned Parmesan biscuit (£20). Hampshire pork belly is cooked for 36 hours at 85°C with white chocolate and orange (£22), while arguably the star of the show is the 72-hour Sarawak black pepper roasted duck and pancake (£38), where in place of plum sauce there's a hawthorn membrillo-style jelly and a dish of Sarawak pepper sauce to add layers to Liew's creative take on the Cantonese classic.
The last three are ‘signature dishes', which the menu highlights, with much of the ingredients being locally sourced, stresses Liew.
The chef credits former Hakkasan group executive chef Tong Chee Hwee as a major influence on his cooking. "And Penang, where I grew up. It's such a foodie place, drawing on so many different cultures," he explains.
Phoebe, too, credits her birthplace, the harbour city of Tianjin near Beijing, as an inspiration for her palate (she loves to cook, and her grandmother once had a restaurant there). "Tianjin is a liberal city, open to new ideas, with lots of influences, from Korea to Japan. There are many foreigners there, so the cuisine is a mix of ideas, just like our food here at Blue Jasmine," she explains.
The majority of the feedback they get is about the presentation, the most ambitious of which is that duck dish, which arrives with ceremony at the table on its own specially designed carrier. "At first people needed time to understand the concept. They do now though," grins Phoebe, who reveals that they did 300 covers in one day the previous week. And with an average spend of £50 per head (excluding drink), it's an impressive figure for the south coast city.
The restaurant also offers a set lunch, called Blue Ramble, available Monday to Thursday, from noon to 3pm, which is priced at £15 for two courses or £20 for three. Popular dishes include crispy basil chicken with jackfruit and chilli mango dressing, plus slow-cooked beef bavette pot with galangal and Sarawak black pepper.
Outside of the set lunch, the à la carte menu offers starters such as fried pumpkin tofu with soya seaweed floss (£6) and turmeric chilli octopus and yuzu tobiko (£15). Liew has a 15-strong brigade to help him, made up mostly of locals. "Recruiting locally is important to me. It's been a challenge, but so far it's working out," he reports.
Blue Jasmine's sommelier Italy-born Liberata Torlontano oversees the 50-bin list, citing Alsace Cave de Cleebourg Gewürztraminer as a great all-rounder for Liew's food, along with Argentina producer Zuccardi's Cafayate Torrontés. The house fizz is from Surrey producer Greyfriars (£9 a glass), located en route from London, from where an increasing number of diners are drawn, along with Winchester, Bournemouth and Petersfield. That's not forgetting the diners who arrive by luxury yacht, and flock to the sunny terrace, which has 80 of the restaurant's 200 seats.
Unit 3-4 Alexandra Wharf, Maritime Walk, Ocean Way, Southampton SO14 3QS
From the menu
- Fried homemade pumpkin tofu £6
- Blue swimmer crab salad with pine nut and shallot oil £12
- Crispy squid with jasmine butter and oatmeal £14
- Spicy rendang chicken with smoked onion and pink peppercorn £20
- Grilled Chilean sea bass with pomegranate glaze and soya ginger crumble £28
- Zhai goose ‘rojak' with winter melon and snow pear, peanut ume dressing £18
- ‘Hoàn Kiem Lake': baby spinach, corn, red date, shimeji and basil £18
- Blue Jasmine orb £9
- Matcha fusion £8
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