new horizons ahead

janvier 7, 2011

Dear readers,

 

It has been a busy year for me, as I have worked closely with a bunch of equally obsessed people to create a website, far away from the standards of this blog. We have published it on the 01.01.11 and are constantly working on it to make it perfect. I would invite all of you to take a look, and to keep checking it, as we will update it on a daily basis. It will feature not only articles about restaurants, but also reviews of special dishes, wines, wineries, hotels, bars, cafes, shops and all that you can think of.

 

Here it is

 

I will now fully concentrate on qli, and hope that you’ll be following it from now on!

 

 

new project

décembre 30, 2010

on the 1st January, we will unveil a new project, here is the link:

www.qliweb.com

I wish all of you a very happy new year, and hope you will enjoy it!

The Ledbury, London

décembre 12, 2010

I have written about the Ledbury on numerous occasions, so we won’t repeat ourselves here anymore. The only thing that can be said is that Brett’s cooking is progressing quicker than that of any other London chef. He is moving so quickly, that one can eat here twice a week and be served a completely different menu on each occasion. That is something not many chefs can say do, even fewer if the food is of a consistently high quality. Autumn is probably one of the best seasons to eat here, as Brett’s game dishes are stunning. So, all I can say is that this continues to be London’s best restaurant, and only keeps on getting better.

So, there you have it. A few shots of recent meals. Needless to say that you should make your way down there pretty soon. A great restaurant it is indeed!

In de Wulf, Dranouter

novembre 24, 2010

This will just be a quick preview, the full article is to appear on new year’s day, when my new website will go online. However, since this meal was quite special I couldn’t resist sharing a few photos and comments with you.

Where was it? In Belgium, in one of my favourite restaurants of the country: In de Wulf. It was more than a year since I last ate here, so it was about time to go back. And indeed it was a decision no one with even the slightest interest in food would regret.

Whilst Kobe’s food was very good last year, it was certainly not at the level of two stars, yet. There were ups and downs in the menu: A truly terrific lobster dish, a very tasty eel and a sole provided the very finest moments of the meal, whilst a few squares of raw squid were pretty forgettable. This time, things were different: A consistency in the menu had emerged that was missing last year. Kobe has obviously worked very hard to present his guests with a truly unique experience. His constant effort bears fruits, as this meal was about to show. All of the 17 or so courses were at 2* level, and some hard to make better. We will have a quick look at some of the strongest, to leave some space for the full review later on.

The greeting in Dranouter was as warm as ever, meeting two Laurents there was also good fun, and after a little walk around the fields we were ready for the meal. Starting with a glass of Marcel Deiss’ Crémant d’Alsace (which was a bit thin, and lacked intensity for me) the wine list arrived. There, not much had changed unfortunately, the prices are still quite steep compared to London and some truly exciting choices were missing, but I just got the news that Belgium’s best sommelier, Wouter de Bakker, will advise Kobe on the list. So, the last “weakness” of In de Wulf will soon also be history. Great news!

The amuses were all fun, delicate and very tasty. Amongst the seven, the best was easily the pork crisp with herbs. This bite is truly great, as the balance of flavours and textures is just right!

Once at our table, the first highlight directly hit us: A raw marinated mackerel with gooseberries and cucumber was of the highest standard. Fresh, light, and full of delicate flavours, this starter was as good as it was beautiful. Of course, Kobe’s seafood is still of sublime quality, and this did not disappoint. Very good!

A modified and enhanced version of the lobster with buttermilk was also served. Again, the crustacean was perfectly cooked: tender, yet crunchy and it had tons of flavour. The combination with the buttermilk foam and herbs is terrific and so good that one doesn’t even miss a lobster jus. Outstanding.

Then, a plate of various young vegetables from the farms surrounding the restaurant struck my attention. This also showed what skill is present here. Each of the vegetables had its distinct taste, and worked beautifully with the others. The cream of the local (Keiemtaler) cheese gave a link that bound it all together, a great dish.

On to the main courses: First up a piece of pork neck with herbs. Simple, yet incredibly tasty and tender it was juicy (cooked in salt, if memory serves me correctly) and melted like butter. The accompanying elements all added complementing flavours or textures making this an absolutely perfect dish. The only slight criticism I have here is that a little sauce wouldn’t hurt. Three drops on the plate isn’t quite as delicious as a whole pot. Yet, in this case things worked better than I anticipated, due to the meat’s very juicy flesh. Excellent.

However, the dish of the day, one of the very best of the year was about to come: A pigeon stuffed with hay and served with beetroot. This was truly special. Simple, no minimalistic in its way, it arrived without the slightest element to distract from the two products. The pigeon was undoubtedly the star in this dish, as it was packed full of flavour (he lets the bateau sit with hay for a week or so) and had everything from gamey to smoky notes. Cooked absolutely perfectly, without the slightest shade of grey, it came bare as it was. All that was added were a few slivers of beetroot. The latter was marinated and added a slightly sour and sweet note to this incredibly complex dish. Needless to say that the bird was of such tenderness that you hardly needed a knife… Stunning!

Thus we ended with three light and refreshing desserts. As In de Wulf is not fully experienced if you don’t stay there, we simply went to our rooms and slept. On the next morning, a lovely breakfast awaits the sleepy guests, and makes sure you get enough power for the road back to wherever you came from. All one can say is that this restaurant is fantastic. But it is more than just a restaurant: Spend a day here with dinner and a night, and you will have saved yourself a holiday and spa trip. It is that relaxing. Furthermore, Kobe is building his own style, even if some of the amuses share similarities with some of Noma’s, he really pushes the boundaries of the Flemish terroir. Such commitment needs to be applauded, and all I can advise you to do is go here, it is amazing.

Gauthier Soho, London

novembre 20, 2010

Gauthier in Soho has it all. A great location, great service and a pretty decent reputation so far, one has to look hard for anyone who has not enjoyed their time here. A few weeks back, we went to have a go ourselves as it seems to be an interesting place. After all, the chef Alexandre Gauthier worked at the Louis XV for a certain time, and the menu read fantastically. Upon entering you notice how beautiful the room and decoration are. Clearly, a lot of money and care has been put into making it into one of the more beautiful rooms around. It looks as though one tries to aim very high, and in terms of the décor one can hardly say that they don’t get what they want. It’s a nice room.

Service was top notch too. We were greeted quite friendly, and were well looked after throughout the whole evening. Roberto della Pietra, the great sommelier seemed to function as maitre (at least in the upper room), and did his job with great charm. We were looking forward to the food!

However, not everything is perfect here. The wine list, which lists a few decent bottles, has hardly anything of interest in the range of £50-100. In addition, most of the interesting wines are far more expensive than say at the Square or Ledbury, so we decided not to buy anything off the list. Instead, we bought a bottle of our own, which proved to be submitted to a corkage fee of £25.

 

Now, to the food. The menu read gloriously! There was pretty much everything that makes autumn great, and the dishes looked very Chapel- or Ducasse-like. So far so good. Price-wise it was rather fair too: 5 courses were charged at no more than £55, which is pretty competitive. Furthermore, you are able to pick from 5 different parts and compose a menu of your choice. That is a refreshing concept, and dare I say it sounded great. We chose and off it went.

First up came a little set of amuses, all of which were very tasty, and seemed to look quite promising. Things looked good.

My first course was Gauthier’s signature risotto with chicken jus and truffles. This was much better than I would have imagined. The truffle was there, if not quite as pungent as a black or white truffle would have been, the risotto seemed to be cooked properly and didn’t lack flavour. Very good.

 

Next up came a dish consisting of quail and eel with autumn vegetables. It read beautifully, but when it arrived, one had trouble finding the quail, which was perfectly cooked and tasty, but hidden underneath the collection of vegetables. The combination might not have been the best, but that was not the problem. Rather, it seemed more like a vegetable salad, which lacked seasoning and was totally overpowered by an acidic vinaigrette. Thus, the whole dish was disjointed and lacked coherence. Pity, as the eel was of fine quality and the quail more than tasty. Mediocre.

Next came a plate of roast scallops with sauce Choron and Swiss chard.  The scallops were fine. More than fine, well-timed and well-seasoned they were hard to argue with. Unfortunately there was one major problem with the dish: The saue Choron was again too acidic. So much so, that even the tiniest amount of it ruined the flavour of all the other elements on the plate. What the red onions added to the dish was a question I did not find an answer too, but they definitely did not do much. Sadly, this course was a letdown too.

The final savoury course was a breast of wild duck with dolce-forte sauce, salsify and figs. Great products, and great combination I thought, especially since I had a superb duck with the same sauce at the Louis XV last year. Well, when the plate came, it was lukewarm at best. The duck was cold, and therefore a bit tough. The sauce was more dolce than forte or anything else, and masked everything in its sweetness. Were it not for the stunning bottle of Sine Qua Non that accompanied us throughout the evening, we would have been a little disappointed by now. Mediocre.

Funnily enough, dessert turned out to be on the same level as the risotto: It was a slightly more elaborated apple mille-feuille, which was perfect. Fresh, indulgent and light at the same time, it provided a number of contrasting textures and flavours, making it quite an excellent dessert.

The Louis XV here was not quite on the level of the one in Monaco. Too big and somehow cloying and heavy, it was far from the light, delicate sweet end to a meal that the original gives.

 

So, what do you make of such a meal? Well, as I mentioned earlier, the sommelier was more than welcoming and nice, so I sent him an e-mail with a few of the issues I had with our meal. He directly forwarded it to the chef, but so far (it must have been 3 weeks ago) I have not heard back from him. I had no intention whatsoever to write about it, as it might just have been an off-day, but restaurants that do not even acknowledge criticism are hardly serious. What do you make of it, when you don’t get a reply after letting a restaurant know how you liked your experience (positive or negative)?

 

Andrew Edmunds, London

novembre 13, 2010

Andrew Edmunds is a cult institution in Soho. Tucked away next to the owner’s antique shop, the little restaurant has the charm of times long gone. The food is not exactly modern neither, but cheap and very good for what it does. The big thing here however is the wine list. Constantly changing, it can feature such things as Meursaults from the Domaine des Comtes Lafon for well under £100, Fourrier Gevreys for around £40, and what we drank a 1997 Jean Louis Chave Hermitage for as little as £75. Compared with other restaurants, where this wine costs at least 5 times more, I was incredibly happy finally discover this legend. To be honest, it did not give me any emotions. A bit on the acidic side (don’t know if that will disappear with more bottle age), the other flavours did not really shine through. I found none of the fruit-forward, opulent character that Mr. Parker ascribes to it, but well, that being said it was a decent wine, just not up to its reputation.

The food was pretty good, much better than I had hoped in fact. Starting off with beetroot salad with smoked eel, you had good quality eel, very aptly seasoned beets and a nice, refreshing cream. All one needs, and at around £4, one can’t ask for much more.

A game terrine with pear was a little on the dry side, but with bags of flavour. Without being mind-blowing it was a tasty little plate, again priced more than fairly.

Much better were the cod fritters with a herb salad. Simple, but very well made, these were tasty, warm and crispy. They did what they said, and we were able to move on to the mains.

A fishcake was quite impressive (£12). Deep-fried without even a hint of grease on the coating, it came with wilted spinach and a kind of tartare sauce. The crunchy coating made way for the intensely flavoursome and creamy filling, where the ratio between the various ingredients was just right. Very good indeed!

 

For meat we chose a roast pork belly with cabbage and crackling. Boy, this wasn’t only a big portion but also a very very good piece of pork. Meltingly tender, with a nicely caramelised skin,  I couldn’t help but polish the plate. Very good.

All in all it was a great meal here. All of the dishes tried were simple, tasty and very well executed (with the exception of the terrine possibly). The atmosphere was great and even the service, which seems to get some less glowing reviews was more than friendly. The wine list must be the best in London, and it makes sense. An equally young couple on the table next to us was drinking one of Dominique Lafon’s very capable Meursaults. Great for a casual, relaxed dinner or lunch and fantastic wines.

2006 Jean Foillard, Morgon Cuvee 3.14

novembre 7, 2010

The wines of Jean Foillard hold a cult-status in France. Hardly known outside of the hexagon, they deserve an awful lot of attention, as they are unique and quite simply great. Produced naturally, thus without sulfur they are fresh, easy drinking marvels that are miles away from what usually comes out of the Beaujolais. Tasting his « cote du Py », coming from Morgon’s most renowned vineyards, on the slopes of the hill called Py, one finds a wine that just screams pleasure. It is easy to drink, cheap, incredibly enjoyable and oh so well made. Fantastic stuff. Anyone who tries this will love it. However, the real deal is the 3.14, with a more funky label, and a slightly higher price tag. But, mind you, whilst the Cote du Py is an easy-drinking wine, this is serious, very serious stuff. More concentrated, complex, richer and maybe even more balanced, it will win you over in just seconds. The wine has a richness, that is incredibly fresh at the same time. That might sound a bit strange but its the way it is, believe me! Having tasted it three times (always 06) over the last few months I must say that it is one of the most characteristic wines I’ve had during that time. A real treat, for a ridiculous £30 at the Sampler for instance. Run and get some, you’ll love it!

 

Soon, soon…

novembre 1, 2010

In a few weeks time, a new project will be unveiled. You’ll be the first to know, but be prepared, it will be rather interesting. There’ll be a few nice reports on all kinds of things. But have a look, maybe you’ll already know the one or other place that will be covered?

These and maaaaaany more will be part of it…

a few more summer dishes from Luxembourg

octobre 28, 2010

A few more dishes that I cooked during the summer holidays.

First up a piece of glazed eel with courgettes.

In September, the first game birds arrived, and this wild duck with cepes and Brussels sprouts was rather tasty.

Seeing that Breton lobster is at its best during the summer months, I played around with these beauties a little, and this dish featured roasted lobster with artichokes and chives. A rich lobster jus finished the thing off.

At some point I got my hands on some beautiful squid, simply pan-fried with romaine lettuce and confit shallots they were a delight.

The next time I’m in Luxembourg, it’ll be time for things such as hare, truffles and a few other goodies. Let’s see what we can get…

2007 Sine Qua Non Pictures Grenache

octobre 27, 2010

Californian wines are overly fruity, too heavy, big, rich, jammy,… those are all adjectives Europeans like to use when describing the wines of the other side of the world (for us). Looking at restaurants or wine dealers in Europe (England excluded), finding a wine from the « new world » is nearly impossible. Finding a serious one even more so, if that is possible to imagine. However, a good thing about being in England is that one is not as prejudiced as the continentals (me being one of them). Therefore you can spot wines such as Harlan, Marcassin, Sine Qua Non, and others on a number of restaurant lists throughout London, and when going through some of the more interesting wine shops, you will be able to find some of these beauties too.

So, now to the wine itself. To put it frankly, it was simply an outer-worldly experience. Every single aspect of the wine was frighteningly close to perfection. But, one after the other. First of all, the labels that Krankl designs are superb. Provocative at times, but always catchy and more interesting than some gothic script spelling out the domaine’s name. Secondly, he changes name and label of every wine, every year. I don’t know many winemakers who do that. Makes it all the more interesting. Thirdly, and most importantly, the wines are truly outrageous. After having it decanted for about an hour or so, this very young wine opened up with a beautifully complex and intense nose. It was just as hard to describe the nose as it was to describe the flavours, therefore I won’t even attempt to do that. However, all I can say is that it was startling, and incredible. There were aromas that I have never had on red wines, especially not on such young ones. Another fascinating point was the texture, yes you read texture, as this had real texture. It was lush, juicy, very concentrated, without being too jammy or cloying, and quite simply a perfectly balanced, intense drop of wine. I have never come across anything like it, and I must say that I hope to be able to have a bit more, at least from time to time, as this was one of those crazy moments that one has very, very rarely when drinking wine.

P.S.: If you open a bottle of it, try to be reasonable and save some for the day after. You’d be surprised by how it changes its character. Dare I say, a grouse at the Ledbury would have trouble finding a better partner…


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