– hai kai restaurant | chef amélie darvas –
104 quai de jemmapes, 75010
Elderflower does funny things to people. It makes them say things like “summer in a glass” and “lawn party” and “would anybody like a cucumber sandwich?”. Until quite recently – as far as we were aware anyway – it only seemed to be consumed in cordial or jam form. Then we came to paris and ate at amelie darvas’ hai kai. Darvas is part of the new breed of parisian chefs using seasonal, sustainable and local produce in really clean, creative ways. And at the age of 25 she is, frankly, killing it. In every service since january 2014, darvas has delivered an evolving six course degustation (plus amuses bouches) based on what comes through the front door that day.
It was hard to nail down a favourite during our last visit. Darvas is a master of contrasts in flavour, texture and presentation. But, sitting in a dimly lit corner of the restaurant after a freezing walk up and down the canals at 10pm (“where do you want to go?” “I don’t know… where do you want to go?”) there was one particular dish that made us do one of those wriggly little chair dances: salted cod and duck hearts in a parma ham broth covered with tiny floating elderflowers.
No surprise, then, that we spent the next three weeks unsuccessfully trying to source fresh elderflowers in every flower shop and wet market we could find. Shoulders were shrugged and heads were shaken all round. The lady at the florist in pigalle looked at us like we were trying to score drugs. Maybe it was our pronunciation. Then, purely by chance, at the base of the sacre coeur during one of those disgusting walks through paris at dusk, we stumbled across a giant elderflower tree in full bloom. Can’t really imagine what we looked like to passersby – a gigantic dude hanging off the branches like a skinny-jeans-wearing gorilla while his sidekick straddled the fence, stuffing elderflower blossoms into his pockets, laughing hysterically and hissing ACT CASUAL when we were not, by any means, acting casual. Proper city forage. Have you ever run from french park security? they’re terrifying. Really tough. And mean.
So. Back to food. We loved the ridiculous simplicity with which darvas handled the elderflowers and wanted to try it with a dessert. The end product is definitely the prettiest thing we’ve ever made. It looks a little bit like magic-fairy-pixie-garden. But seriously, who can resist flowers floating on the surface of a pond?
Oh, did we mention hai kai has its own resident puppy? His name is hai ku. Super cute.
3 saturn peaches
1 punnet white strawberries (pineberries)
bunch of freshly picked elderflowers
1 cup white wine
2 cups water
2 tbsp caster sugar
2 star anise
1 cinnamon quill
Mix the water and wine in a pan over a medium heat. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Chuck in the cinnamon quill and the star anise and simmer until the alcohol has cooked off. Dice the peaches into inch-sized wedges and halve the apricots. Poach in the syrup for five minutes. Don’t stew them until they fall apart – they should be firm and only slightly softer than if they were uncooked. Remove the fruit from the liquid and let the syrup continue to simmer.
Use a sharp knife to remove individual elderflower blossoms from the stems. This is fiddly because elderflowers are so tiny and delicate, so be patient. When you have a reasonable pile (or you crack the shits and dont want to de-stem any more flowers), turn the heat off the syrup and leave it to steep.
Cut some cheeks off a few of the cherries, leaving some whole. Halve the strawberries; leave the hulls on cos it looks nice.
Divide the poached fruit, strawberries and cherries between individual bowls. Ladle a few spoons of syrup over the fruit, making sure there is enough to make a pool in the bottom of the bowl. Sprinkle the elderflowers over the top and serve.