Bei, Beijing

août 20, 2010

Some restaurants are special. From the moment you walk in you feel welcome, are excited about the meal to come and fall in love with the place. Bei was one of those. Tucked away in the ground floor of the fantastic Opposite House Hotel,  in trendy Sanlitun, this restaurant is both elegant and very relaxed. The room is beautiful and service phenomenal. Always attentive, charming, welcoming and friendly this brigade was easily the best I have come across in China. It was a real pleasure to eat there!

Another great feature of Bei is the food, obviously. The menu prices are all incredibly reasonable, but then again you are in China, and for local standards they are pretty high. However, for a westerner it seemed like paradise. Think of that: Uni sushi at around €2 a piece. In London you’d easily spend the double, on inferior quality. Interestingly enough, the wine list was probably the best I saw in mainland (apart one place), and had some very fair prices too. A glass of Dom Perignon 2000 cost about €32, hardly extravagant.

On this evening we ate sushi only, and composed our menu from the separate sushi list. But first, we were offered a bit of tuna with radish. It was a piece of fish that had been cooked through, but remained tasty, with the radish giving it a sweet/salty/sour counter point. A very pleasant start!

Following this we had various pieces of sushi. All of them had one thing in common: Very high fish quality. The uni was better than any I have had in Europe, the scallops sweet and succulent, and the eel simply mind-blowing. Toro ws decadent and extremely rewarding. But it was not only the fish that was of high quality. The cooking of the rice was pretty close to being perfect too, so this really was something special. Alongside sushi of Shiori, some of the best sushi of my life.

However, the best was yet to come: A maki of foie gras and eel. This was so bloody good, that I had trouble not ordering second and third rounds of this! The creamy, decadent foie gras worked beautifully with the umami-ladden glased eel and the rice provided a touch of acidity and gave some texture. The final nuance was the seaweed, which added a iodine dimension. All in all this was simply divine.

Bei was so good that I went back a few days later. In Europe I hardly find sushi of such quality (although sushi of Shiori comes very close), so I was baffled by how good this all was. In addition, to have such great service really made this a fantastic evening. If you are spending a few hours in Beijing come here and have a meal, it is something worth doing by all means!

Maison Boulud, Beijing

août 13, 2010

Daniel Boulud is having a good time since a few months. Three stars have been given to his flagship New York eatery, he’s among the top 10 of the very bizarre 50 best restaurants list, and for those of us living in London, has brought the best bistro to town. His restaurant in Beijing, Maison Boulud, however is not doing quite so well apparently. Rumour has it, it will close later during the year.

That would be a pity, as the restaurant has a lot speaking for it. First of all, the decor is fantastic. Set in the ex-American embassy, the building is rather grand. Upon entering what could be a very stylish hotel lobby, you are warmly greeted by the very polite, if reserved staff. The various private dining rooms, with Salons attached are so beautiful, that you could move in directly and stay for a few nights. Even the pretty big main dining room is attractive, despite the size.

Another positive point is Bryan Reimer’s food. It is technically sound, simple and straightforward. The products are not exceptional, but seem to be of good quality given that many of them are imported. Judging from this dinner, most of it was very enjoyable, apart from the rather uninspired and bland greetings from the chef. These were some kind of tasteless jelly with an overcooked prawn in it, and a cracker with tomatoes. Poor.

However, things began to look a lot more friendly when a foie gras terrine with cherries appeared. A very well prepared rectangle of liver was of exquisite texture and taste. It was well worth a star, and miles away from the previous dish. But, even here there was a problem. Not with the liver, but with the cherries: They were too sour. The acidity was dominant, cutting the foie’s flavour in an unpleasant way, and leavning you with a rather thin, sour aftertaste. I would have rather had the terrine alone. Very good for the terrine, good for the dish as a whole.

Next came a salad of crab with asparagus. This faultlessly prepared, tasty, well-seasoned crab meat was served with a few crunchy slivers of radish and a couple of spears of nicely cooked asparagus. Again it was a combination that one has eaten before, but was well executed. Very pleasant.

Finally, the main came, in this case a roasted pigeon with peas, and foie gras stuffed legs. Having requested for the pigeon to be cooked medium rare (which they didn’t want to do), I was rather disappointed to see that it was more on the gray side of things. That resulted in a different texture than what we have in Europe, but was decent enough. The vegetable garnish wasn’t among the most captivating, but praise has to be given to the deep-fried legs of pigeon. Wrapped in some kind of dough, they were minced and a decent amount of foie gras had been added to the mix. Again it was a good dish which had the potential to be even better.

Desserts were very good, if served in minuscule portions. A modern vacherin with cassis was great, both light, creamy, crunchy and tasty, but disappeared after a couple of spoonfuls. A second bar would not have hurt the restaurant nor the diner. Very good.

A strawberry cheesecake millefeuille was decent, but suffered from very thick and sticky tuiles. These created an unpleasant mouthfeel, which somehow dampened the pleasure given by the otherwise most enjoyable plate of food. Good.

All in all, one can say that the cooking here was on a good level. I did not expect to find French food of this standard in Beijing, so I was rather happy with the evening. However, compared to European restaurants, there were still too many little conceptual or technical mistakes. Another problem was the speed of the dinner. Whilst some of our table were still busy with their starters, others had their plates taken away, and saw them immediately replaced with the mains. This was a bit heavy for my taste, and resulted in an empty restaurant before 11pm (it was full an hour before). I suppose it is just the rhythm in China, but a little more time would not have hurt.

Overall, judging from this one meal, I would give this restaurant 1*. I wouldn’t necessarily go back when in Beijing, as there is too much on offer, but it was a pleasant evening, at very decent prices, so anyone who wants some Western food is in good hands here.

Wine dinner in Luxembourg

août 9, 2010

We were four having dinner at my house recently in Luxembourg. It was a good summer day, the sun was out and we were ready to start our meal, which was accompanied by 9 bottles of very quaffable wines. Here are some pictures of the wines and food we had. Needless to say, it was a very joyful evening!

Blue lobster claws, Ossietra Caviar, cauliflower

Roast blue lobster, aubergine caviar and confit, spicy jus

Poached foie gras, pickled cabbage, pan-fried cabbage, Japanese vinaigrette

Anjou pigeon, artichokes

Braised oxtail, sweet onions

Made in China, Beijing

août 4, 2010

Made in China is not the usual Chinese restaurant, first of all it sits in the Grand Hyatt Hotel, which isn’t really what I would call traditional Chinese. Secondly, it has a pretty good wine list for Beijing, if it is as expensive as all others. Thirdly, the design is a very capable mix of western and Chinese elements. When we sat down in one of the private dining rooms on my first day in Beijing, I was already struck by how beautiful the tables were dressed. Overall there was an understated luxury here, which was warm and welcoming, thus perfect for my first meal in t he People’s Republic.

The black brigade, one must say was a bit absent-minded on this evening. At one point we were looked after very well, whilst at other points, we had no chance of getting someone’s attention. This was probably due to the restaurant being incredibly busy, and us sitting in a private dining room. However, the food was to make up for it, at least as far as I can tell.

Glorious it was, without any doubts. We started with spinach,  pressed, and covered in a thick sauce made with sesame paste, wasabi, soy sauce and vinegar. Rarely have I come across better spinach.It was incredibly tasty, with the sauce giving it a rich, thick background, without overpowering the delicate spinach. Excellent.

Another starter was beancurd, marinated, and served with red beans and mushrooms. It was a Shanghainese dish, which plays with sweet and salty flavours. Again, it was so good, that it was hard to criticise. The balance of flavours was masterful, as were the textural counterpoints. Very good.

Following this, the famous Beijing duck was served. From the moment the chef came and started slicing, the level of excitement around the table started to rise, and when you finally get to try that delicately crunchy, yet melting skin, you definitely are as close to paradise as you’ll ever get. It is outrageously good. Similarly, rolling those pancakes is as satisfying as anythinig, even if we were to try better ones in the following days. Excellent.

The piece de resistance was a braised imperial abalone. Served simply with its juices, and two asparagus spears, it was without doubt the best abalone I have come across. Juicy, tasty, and with a fascinating texture, it was a delicacy well worth (the rather high) price. Outstanding.

The first dessert was a mango/rice pudding, which was good, without being all that exciting.

Much better were puffs, filled with coconut cream, and served with caramelised sesame. These were light, with excellent pate a choux and a fantastic cream. A good end to a fantastic first meal in China.

Made in China really impressed me. It is a restaurant, which might not be perfect, but still does a bloody good job. The food was phenomenal, I would rate it with a strong 2*, would you be able to find Chinese food of this quality in Europe. The duck was amazing, as was the abalone. However, it was the spinach that really got me excited due to the fact that I never had any spinach before that was as tasty and intense a. I can only urge anyone to go here, as it gives a great introduction to Chinese cooking.

The Capital – Roast beef, London

juillet 27, 2010

After a very good first meal here, it was time to have a look at how the roast beef they serve here compares to other restaurants in the city. The internet advertised the beef being carved from the trolley, which did sound intriguing and sparked my curiosity. Upon arriving the staff immediately recognised us and we were shown to our table. Throughout the enitre meal, the service proved to be as good as on the first time, maybe even more welcoming.

Wine-wise, the list still offers some incredibly well-priced finds, although a large number of interesting bottles have already disappeared (and been replaced by less exciting, much less friendly priced ones). We drank a 2003 Saumur “Breze” from Clos Rougeard. This wine is a legend, and I had looked forward to drinking it for quite a while now. It might not be what one usually drinks with a piece of beef, but the lady was eating fish, and I was smiling all over the place when I saw the bottle and the price. Hence we went ahead.  And boy was I glad I did! It showed beautiful concentration, a rather full body, rich floral and stone fruit aromas. I loved it. Chenin blanc probably does not get much better. Shame that this is rather rare and pricey nectar…

The roast beef menu is priced at £35 for three courses, and they omit the extras on this menu. No problem for me, as the quality of products was very high.

Roast scallops with curried lentils were the first course. The dish didn’t read very interestingly, but it surely was quite surprising when it reached our table: The scallops were huge, and seemed to have been prepared incredibly simply, without any unnecessary garnishes. The deep-fried fennel was a little on the fatty side, meaning that it wasn’t really perfect from a technical point of view. The lentils had just enough spice from the curry, to caress the scallops’ delicate flesh and add an earthy element. What really impressed though were the beautiful scallops. Of impressive size, they were perfectly cooked and seasoned and quite simply a joy to eat. Very good.

Now however, it was time for the beef. The trolley slowly approached our table,  and I was asked, if a pink or rather well done piece would be more to my liking. Of course requested a pink slice, which was cooked just as you’d want it to be. Portion-wise, it was generous as two thick slices were drowned in nice roasting jus, and were served with the best roast potatoes of my life, some very well cooked green beans and rather bland carrots. The beef was tasty, tender, and very enjoyable. It wasn’t a show-stopper, but was pleasant enough. The real stars were others though: The potatoes were stunning, and the Yorkshire puddings were even better than the Harwood’s (sorry guys). Another winner then,  Good for the beef, very good for the rest.

As a dessert I chose a Guanaja sponge, with caramelised white chocolate foam. This seemed incredibly daring for an establishment like the capital, but my choice was a good one. A rather neat composition allied many more elements than were listed on the menu, combining into an excellent dessert. The caramelised white chocolate foam was of particular interest, as one rarely comes across caramelised white chocolate. It added a more nutty, complex note to the often overly sweet chocolate, and proved to complement the other elements more than well. Very good.

So, after a good coffee, and a few very civilised hours, we moved back into the real world. Happy, sated and ready for the rest of the day. I must say, that this place really has charm. It’s small, rather relaxed, and has a great wine list, and a more than competent chef. He might not be among the more inventive cooks, but then you are in a very traditional environment here and something like Viajante would have a tough time fitting in. Whilst not being as charming as the Gavroche or something like that, the atmosphere in this dining room has something very comforting about it.

Sushi of Shiori, London

juillet 18, 2010

Sushi of Shiori is not the kind of place that looks like you absolutely have to have a look inside, when you walk past it. Rather, it looks very understated, very much like a Japanese sushi bar. The size is similar too, as there is space for something like 7 people at most. However, once you sit down there, you are immediately greeted by the owner who makes you feel most welcome directly. At the same time her husband is in charge of the cooking, which completes the list of the staff here.

A omakase menu can be pre-booked, which should be done in any case, as it is much more interesting than the regular a la carte. We specified to be on a budget of around £50, which got us a very decent variety of dishes.

Starting off, we had a bit of eel wrapped in thinly sliced cucumber. This little bite was to set the scene for the rest of the evening, as it was beautifully presented, very precise in terms of flavour and texture, and showcased products of great quality. The slight crunch of the thinly sliced cucumber worked extremely well with the quite soft, sweet/smoky meat of the lacquered eel. It was a match made in heaven, and a fantastic amuse!


After this arrived a very good Miso soup. It was tasty and warm, that’s all I can ask for in a cup of clear soup. Very good.

The first real plate was very thinly sliced Aji (Japanese horse mackerel). Served with a light ponzu sauce if my memory serves me correctly, it was fantastic. Not only the knife skills had to be applauded here, but also the quality of the fish, and the purity of flavours. It was a very good plate of food.

Next up came the sashimi selection, there was scallop dusted with uni (sea urchin) powder, a slice of scallop which was wrapped around a sea urchins tongue, some mackerel, tuna and salmon. First of all, the quality of the fish was again fantastic. I was most impressed to finally find a sushi place in London, which cares about the quality of the fish they serve, and prepare it with the needed attention and skill. Of course, the most decadent bites were the sea urchin and scallop preparations. The powder was a little less successful, as not entirely dry or crispy, thus one had a bizarre texture. But, flavour-wise it was phenomenal. The sweetness of the scallop worked beautifully with the dried sea urchin, which gave a very powerful iodine and rich flavour. However, even better was the piece which saw the sea urchin tongue wrapped around a slice of scallop. This brought out the contrast even better: The scallop sweet, and a little firm (due to the freshness) gave a contrast, both in flavour and texture, to the rich, creamy, iodine and “off-sweet” uni. It was glorious! Excellent.

Sushi was present in a large selection, with sweet shrimp, tuna, scallops, squid,… Notable here was again the quality of the fish, but also the rice, as it was cooked perfectly, and had just the right amount of seasoning to support and magnify the flavours of the respective topping. It was without doubt the best sushi in London. Excellent.

Finally came a piece of grilled wagyu sushi and an added piece of unagi sushi, which both were very tasty and indulgent. A great finish to the meal.

However, as dessert, we were offered an ice cream made with Sakura blossoms. Now, I have eaten a lot of ice cream in my life, but this was just a completely different story. It had a salinity, somewhat close to what one finds in a wine such as the very mineral Wnninger Uhlen from Heymann Löwenstein, but at the same time, this salinity was very subtle, hardly noticeable, but giving the sweetness a counterpoint, that made the flavour so much more complex. Also, the fact that entire cherry blossoms were introduced in the sorbet gave even more intensity to the flavour. If such cherry-petal ice creams can sometimes taste a little chemical, this had such purity of flavour, that it was outright incredible. If it was more of a sorbet than an ice cream in texture, it was the best sorbet of my life. Outstanding!!

Wow, this was quite a ride. The whole meal was exceptional. From the great welcome to the incredibly precise and tasty cooking, it was a perfect evening. Such a place is just hard to find, which makes one feel reluctant to give it away. All I can say is that I absolutely loved it, and can’t wait to go back.

The Square, London

juillet 11, 2010



Before getting into my exams and taking off to China, I decided to stop over at the Square for dinner, and say bye to the guys.

We let Phil chose what to eat, and drank superbly well. To get going, we had a half bottle (!!) of Selosse Blanc de Blancs, something, which is incredibly rare nowadays. The Champagne had a golden colour, which was rather pronounced and had a nose, unlike anything I have come across so far. It wasn’t pleasant, but not bad or anything like that. Just strange. However, a first sip was incredible. Boy, this was stunning stuff. I couldn’t believe it. it was pure Selosse, precise, concentrated for a Champagne, with intoxicating complexity and simply fascinating. I love his wines, and this one was no exception. We were in for a good start.

Next up came something enjoyable too: A bottle of ’04 Puligny Montrachet 1er cru “Les Pucelles” from Domaine Leflaive was just as interesting. Pucelles is said to be the finest of the premier crus in Puligny, and Anne-Claude Leflaive’s domaine’s wines are arguable the finest in the village. The wine proved this, as it was fantastic, despite it’s youth. After a while in the decanter it’s fruit came out, and started opened up, with beautifully integrated oak, and a lovely nose. It full-bodied, nor very rich, rather it had exemplary finesse and precision. Beautiful. Another of my favourite producers, so we were ready for the food to arrive.

First up came the only dish I had requested: Roast scallops with crushed Jersey royals, peas and Jersey royal foam. Simple and good. Visually, I really liked the look of this, and the taste confirmed that impression, Scallops at the Square are a safe option, as they always deliver. Excellent.

Following this came an interesting, very clever dish. Beneath a kind of crème-fraiche mousse lay a bit of wild salmon. The whole thing was dressed with crab and celery and a generous amount of caviar sat atop a quenelle of cream. It was another great dish, which paired masterfully with the wine. I loved it and was intrigued by the careful composition of it. The caviar and salmon were of fine quality, but that goes without saying in this house. Very good to excellent.

Next up was a composition, I had eaten a few weeks earlier, and absolutely loved: A tartare of venison with white radish and a kind of pesto. The presentation was even better this time, as the amount of crispy bread was slightly reduced. This is a great dish, which combines the venison meat with a truffled mayonnaise, and then wraps that “bon-bon” in a bit of pickled radish. The addition of pesto is ok, but I personally don’t really need it. I wish a slightly bigger portion of this was available. Great.

Before we moved into meaty territory, we started with a ’04 Gevrey Chambertin “Mes Cinq Terroirs” from Denis Mortet. A great wine, which has enough punch to accompany a number dishes, whilst having all that silky smoothness and finesse, one seeks in a well-made Pinot Noir. It didn’t reach the perfection of the previous wines, but was very good, to say the least.

First meat course was a piece of pan-fried sweetbreads with morels and a morel sauce. A few of my favourite products on one plate, well cooked, beautifully seasoned. Anything more? No, I’m fine. Very good.

A loin of lamb was crusted with herbs and served with potato puree and a few grilled spring vegetables was the main course. The lamb was good, but the fat-part wasn’t crispy, which would have made this absolutely perfect. The accompanying potato puree and vegetables were very good. A strong dish, here too, be it slightly less interesting than the previous ones. Very good.

Having run out of wine, I asked Marc if he had something by the glass, that was interesting. He came back with a bottle I know very well, a 2007 Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Auslese from St Urbans Hof. Still young, quite nervous and marked by acidty, it went very well with the rhubarb beignet and the rhubarb preparations in the glass. A good start for the sweet journey then. Very good.

Next up came the pear dessert, that I’ve had previously, and with it came a Monbazillac, which was too sweet and heavy for my taste. Well, the dessert was as good as last time. Excellent.

Following that came the cheesecake, which is always a winner.

Finally a tarte tatin came with a glass of Ice cider from Canada. Certainly nothing, I’ve had before, but interesting as such. It would have worked well, had the tarte been a little less sweet. That was in fact the only problem I had with it: an overpowering sweetness. Good.

A few coffees later, we were sated, and ready for bed.

It was another beautiful meal at the Square. This time, the starters were especially good. With all of them being somewhere between very good and excellent. The purity of flavours and clever composition that characterised all of them particularly fascinated me. Also the fact, that Phil had tweaked the venison tartare in the little while since I first had it shows how much work goes into a dish, even if it is already on the menu. The main courses were good, if less interesting tonight. The sweetbreads were pure comfort food, in the way the Square does it better than anyone else, but the lamb was not that inspired to my taste. In the dessert section, the only one I hadn’t known so far was the tarte tatin, which was a bit of a letdown I must confess. Otherwise they were as good as always, which means excellent. All in all, this remains one of my top 5 in London, and now that David left, it’ll be interesting to see how the black brigade will change the way it works. I still have to wait until I go back to London to find out.

Bar Boulud, London

juillet 4, 2010

Bar Boulud is an interesting concept: A French born 3* chef, who has the bulk of his establishments in New York opens a restaurant in London, serving traditional food from Lyon and other regions of France. That it is the only restaurant in London that does a serious saucisson brioche, gateau basque, and offers a nice selection of excellent terrines, is also interesting. After having read a few very favourable reviews, I decided it was time I have a look at what’s happening in the Mandarin’s basement. Boy, I didn’t think I’d be this enchanted by the food they serve here, the place itself and the service. There was only one problem: The wine list.

I don’t like to compare retail prices with mark-ups in restaurants, but if one looks at the prices here, and those, one finds in other restaurants in London, or Paris, it is rather frightening: To find, for instance, Jean Francois Coche-Dury’s village Meursault at a higher price than in the 3* Ducasse restaurant of the Plaza Athenée in Paris is frightening. But, there are also a few decently priced ones too: We drank a 2005 Coche-Dury Bourgogne blanc, which is always great, and wasn’t too expensive. There is a large choice of wines under £50, which is worth mentioning. On the whole, I thought that it was rather expensive for a bistro however.

Starting off, with a glass of Ayala Rose, we had a charcuterie selection. There was some cooked ham, a rosette de Lyon, a few terrines and pickles. All of the charcuterie is made in house, which shows in the quality. The tourte de canard, foie gras et figues was tasty, well seasoned and supremely satisfying. Just as the spiced leg of lamb, the braised beef cheek terrine and the pate grand-pèère. Excellent!

This was followed by a perfect cromesquis of veal head, served with a sauce gribiche. A classic, that was served in one of the best versions, that I have ever eaten. Glorious traditional rustic cooking, given a rather sexy contemporary look. What more do you want? The very fair price, £7 doesn’t seem over the top to me. Excellent.

A crab salad was a decent portion, featuring very fresh, perfectly prepared Devon-crab, which was served with artichokes and a few leaves. Just the way you’d like it, faultless and very well made.

Then came the sausage in a brioche (a more or less literal translation). A classic from Lyon, this dish is pure pleasure. It’s simple, but oh so very well made here. The brioche is warm, with a fine crust, and airy centre, whilst the sausage is amply truffled with pistachios and very tasty. Another winner.

But, but, but. The BEST part of the dinner was about to come: The burger. I haven’t ever had a better one. Even if I have limited experience with this American delicacy, I can hardly see how this could be made much better. The patty is made from the sirloin of beef, the bun is baked in house (three different buns for the various burgers), and the cheese from La Fromagerie. If you ask for it to be medium-rare, it comes as that, and not well-done, which is already much better than 99% of your burger joints can do. Finally, the fries are excellent: Crunchy outside, a little creamy one could nearly say inside. I’m already looking forward to the next one. Excellent to outstanding for what it was.

Desserts continued in just that direction. Perfectly executed, well thought out, and really really enjoyable as such. I enjoyed the chocolate and raspberry combo, which proved to be rather sophisticated, and very good.

A gateau basque was good, although the pastry wasn;t really what I have eaten in gateaux basques in the Basque country. That issue taken apart, it was a very capable tart. Good.

All in all, this was a great meal. Bar Boulud does what is say better than any other restaurant in London. That is, rustic French bistro food, with the perfect burger as a most welcome trans-atlantic addition. If you add the excellent service, and good if pricey wine list, you have a great new restaurant.

It seems on Sunday and Monday, the do the famous DB burger, now that’s good news…

The Fat Duck, Bray

juin 28, 2010

The Fat Duck lies in Britain’s richest village. At least concerning Michelin stars. Down the road lies another three star, the Waterside Inn. Still, despite having been in London for about two years now, I have never played with the idea of going to Bray. Too many people who are into their food gave me rather negative feedback from Heston Blumenthal’s cooking. Well, after having received the impressive big Fat Duck cook book a while ago, I was interested somehow. The approach to cooking here seemed genuinely different from most other restaurants I know. Therefore, three of us set out to have lunch in Bray.

The room is very pretty. It’s incredibly elegant, with some rustic features reminding you that you are in a listed building. It might well be one of the most attractive dining rooms in the UK. Service is great too. The brigade is faultless, knowledgeable, but at times, the explanations seem a little overdone. Some appear like being lessons, which are not really needed, unless you ask for it. However, I don’t let that spoil the fun, and fun I did have.

The wine list is a dream. Leroy, Domaine d’Auvenay, Coche Dury, Hirtzberger, Egon Müller,… are all present, and sold at decent prices. We started with a great Riesling from Franz Xaver Pichler, it was a Federspiel, meaning that it has a limited degree of alcohol. Those wines are light, fresh and incredibly easy drinking. The big show came next though: a 2005 Bourgogne blanc from Jean Francois Coche-Dury. Now, white generic Burgundy does not get any better than this. ’05 was a blockbuster year for the Cote de Beaune, and this wine was arguably the best money I ever spent on wine. Incredibly powerful, divinely balanced, with very subtle oak on the nose and palate, a delicate fruity structure backing the whole thing up and a fine acidity, which held things together. Wow, I adored it. If I ever am lucky enough to taste one of his village, premier cru or Corton Charlemagne, I’d be in heaven I suppose… Finally, we had another great wine: a 2004 Sotanum, from Vins de Vienne. This is a cooperative from three of the Rhone’s most talented winemakers, who produce absolutely gorgeous wines. This is a Vin de pays, but could well be mistaken for a fine Cote Rotie or so. Great stuff!

On to the food: First up, we had the obligatory Lime Grove, Nitro Poached Green Tea and Lime Mousse. What is effectively a meringue, flavoured with vodka and lime is cooked in liquid nitrogen and dusted with matcha tea. It’s fun, but doesn’t really taste of all that much I felt. It was very… subtle. Let’s get on to the next one.

Red Cabbage Gazpacho, Pommery Grain Moustard Ice Cream. The beautiful ice cream, and intensely coloured soup worked rather well together. Tasty they were, only a bit on the tart side of things. There was a bit too much vinegar or other acid in the gazpacho, which with the sharp mustard from the ice cream, created a moutfeel, which was dominated by this acidity. Otherwise, it was good.

So far no revelations, but here came the next course: Savoury Lollies, Waldorf Rocket, Salmon Twister and Foie Gras Feast. These appeared on the Feast series (the ‘70s episode), so it was quite funny to actually be able to see what it tastes like. I started with the rocket, which didn’t taste of very much. In fact it was impossible for me to detect any flavours there. Moving on came the salmon. This was perfectly nice, with a piece of decent salmon wrapped around a stick and covered in apple (?) and cream twists. It was good fun and tasty. The last bit however was phenomenal. The foie gras had the most luscious texture, and perfect spicing. It was coated in cherry jelly, which gave it just a hint of sweetness, and an incredible depth on the palate. Hhhhm this was the first moment, in which I could see those three stars shining very brightly. Mediocre for the first two, outstanding for the foie.

Jelly of Quail, Crayfish Cream, Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss and Truffle Toast (Homage to Alain Chapel). Apart from the mist, created by liquid nitrogen underneath the oak moss film, which was fun, this was a very tasty course too. The truffle toast was useless, but the quail jelly and crayfish cream with the peas were very good. Fully-flavoured, very tasty and hugely enjoyable, this was not only a clever, but also rewarding dish. Very good to excellent.

Snail Porridge, Jabugo Ham, Shaved Fennel. This was the first real highlight for me. Very comforting flavours, and really clever construction again here. I don’t see why the British public is always amazed by the combination, as it seems perfectly harmonious and natural when you eat it. However, the snails are perfect, the porridge very tasty and the fennel gives it a little crunch and freshness. Excellent.

Roast Foie Gras, Rhubarb Puree, Braised Konbu and Crab Biscuit. Another picture on a plate, this featured exquisitely cooked foie gras. If you want to know the recipe for cooking it, it’s in his book, and rather lengthy. Combined with the rhubarb fluid gel, and the crunchy biscuit (which was devoid of crab flavour), it was a more than satisfying mouthful. Great stuff.

Mock Turtle Soup (c. 1850), “Mad Hatter Tea”. Arguably the most refined, and clever dish of the entire menu, this really is crazy. The plate is filled with braised pork cheek, covered with truffle and lardo, a mock turtle egg, and a few bits of cooked truffle. You are then presented with your “golden watch”, which is in fact the mock turtle soup (beef stock), covered in gold leaf. This is diluted in hot water and poured over the whole thing. Apart from the gimmicky side, it is a satisfying, incredibly tasty dish. The beef consommé is amongst the most intense, I’ve eaten and the combination with the other elements works perfectly. Excellent to outstanding.

“Sound of the Sea”. Another rather complex dish was about to come towards us. The ipod is placed in front of you, you are instructed to put it on, and eat the dish at the same time. Even if the fish wasn’t of the highest quality, and brined, it was a really great dish. With great intensity, you had a variety of iodine flavours, present in many different forms. Absolutely great stuff!

Salmon Poached in Liquorice, Black Truffle, Artichokes, Vanilla Mayonnaise, Golden Trout Roe and “Manni” Olive Oil. Well, this was probably the worst dish, I’ve ever been served in a 3* restaurant. If you were trying to demonstrate how something can be completely free of flavour, this piece of salmon might be it. It wasn’t seasoned at all, and as there was no other salty element on the plate, apart from the roe, the dish was very “thin” in the mouth. I don’t know why this is served here, but if one would take away the liquorice and serve the fish nicely seasoned with the other ingredients, it wouldn’t be that bad at all. But, like this…unpleasant at best.

We were rewarded though with the next course: Powdered Anjou Pigeon (c.1720), Blood Pudding Cream and Confit of Umbles. Boy, this was a contrast to the previous dish! Here, you had great flavours, rich, powerful and extremely enjoyable. The black pudding cream worked very well with the pigeon, and I can only count this among the finer pigeon dishes of my life. Excellent.

The dish of the day was next: Braised Pork Belly, Black Truffle and Pearl Spelt. A piece of Portuguese black pig was slowly braised, and served with spelt, cabbage and an incredibly concentrated truffle-jus. I could have eaten tons of this, as it was unbelievably good. The truffle was present, the pork meltingly tender and packed with flavour, whilst the spelt accentuated the earthy elements. Cabbage cooked in such a way is a joy too, making the dish count among the finest for this year. OUTSTANDING.

HOT & ICED TEA. This is another of the more playful courses, where Heston plays with your expectations. The cup contains two different teas, one being warm, the other cold. It’s fun, but probably only once, as the novelty factor dies away after it.

Taffety Tart (c.1660), Caramelized Apple, Fennel, Rose and Candied Lemon. This was great. Light, fresh and perfectly executed, it was a dessert that you are not likely to find in many restaurants. Excellent.

Galette of Rhubarb, Neroli Scented Yoghurt and Rhubarb Sorbet. Yet noe more picture on a plate, this dish was equally light, fresh and tasty. Rather classical in the flavours again, it was incredibly light, being perfect after such a long meal. Very good, to Excellent.

The “BFG”, Black Forest Gateau. Also featuring on one of Heston’s TV series, this little jewel is incredibly complex, and can’t really be compared to the classic Black Forest gateaus in Germany. It is again incredibly light, whilst maintaining all of the chocolate’s intense flavour, and strking the perfect balance between the cherries and the chocolate. I loved it. Excellent.

Finally, the Not-So-Full English Breakfast, Nitro-Scrambled Egg and Bacon Ice Cream. An ice cream, made with an obscene amount of egg yolks, roasted bacon, cooked to a higher temperature than usual is prepared, using liquid nitrogen again. Paired with French toast, it is served atop of the latter, sitting on a bit of caramelised bacon. The only negative aspect here is the tomato compote, which is too intensive and somewhat doesn’t taste very nice here. Otherwise it’s a very nice dish, with a great ice cream, and a good French toast (not as good as Andoni’s though). Very good.

A few Whisk(e)y gums and a bag of sweets to take home make this experience complete.

So, what was it like? Uneven, like a ride in a roller-coaster really. There was great stuff, like the pork belly, the pigeon, the sound of the sea or the mock turtle soup, and there was tasteless rather bland food, such as most of the lollies, the salmon and the lime grove. However, I really enjoyed the meal. It was perfect in terms of technique, presentation and seasoning, if you take the salmon apart, and showed a really interesting cooking philosophy. What it failed to do, was to impress with product quality. The fish was rather mediocre in terms of quality, especially the salmon, which was watery in taste, and wasn’t quite the freshest piece around. For the world’s third best restaurant, it should be possible to get better quality of seafood. Apart form that, I can say that I will happily go back, not tomorrow, but give it a few months and hopefully a change in the menu and I’ll pop down with pleasure.

Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, London

mai 31, 2010

Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant doesn’t get a lot of good press. At least not from those, who eat in better restaurants rather frequently. Many claim that the food is too clinical, without any emotions, without much interest. I’ve had one lunch at this restaurant, about 18 months ago, when I ate a few of his classics. Those were all decent, without being moving at all. Would I pay £90 for three courses there again, not for the ones I ate last time. But, a friend and I decided to go back to see how things are around Royal Hospital Road. Lunch isn’t as pricey, at a mere £45 it must be one of the friendliest 3* lunch menus around (even if JG’s in New York is still cheaper).

One of the annoying points of my first visit here was the service. The famous Monsieur Breton was there at that time, and service was the stiffest, most annoying that I’ve ever had in a 2 or 3* restaurant. You were treated like you were an idiot, not knowing how one roasts a pigeon, or what polenta is. This time, it was refreshingly different. Robert Rose was running the show on our lunch, and he was doing it, as good as one can hope it to be. Service was efficient, friendly and there when needed. There still are some silly things like them announcing a surprise, especially prepared by the chef, when it’s a simple amuse bouche, but well, that’s how it is I suppose…

As it was a lunch, and I still had a dinner with quite a bit of good Champagne to look forward to, we decided to skip the apero, and go for a bottle of 2000 Scharzhofberger Kabinett Riesling from the truly amazing Egon Mueller (the IV. at this point in time). It was decently priced, amongst a list of rather erratic mark-ups. There were some steals, like this one, and some outright foolish, silly prices on there. The wine in question was stunning, for a Kabinett Riesling, you really can not expect any more. It’s concentrated, powerful, fruit-driven, if backed by a finely balanced acidity. Lovely, really, really lovely stuff.

We had a selection of nibbles, which were all decent, and perfectly harmless. I wouldn’t mind having a bit of it again, but I wouldn’t ask for them neither. This seemed to be like the stuff we had last time…

Bread was very good, I really enjoyed the black olive, and honey breads, which were made in Ramsay’s federal bakery. Very good.

The amuse today was a deep-fried frog’s leg with potatoes and a wild garlic soup. Now, the frog’s legs were really nicely cooked, quite tasty, but the portion was too small to really taste much of what was going on in there. The soup was decent, if not remarkable by any means. Compare this to the stuff one serves at other 3* restaurants, this seemed a little weak, Good.

To start with, I tried a version of Ramsay’s classic tortellino. This time it was filled with crab and prawns and drowned in a lemongrass consommé. Now this really wasn’t bad at all. Tasty, well-seasoned and featuring good pasta, I rather enjoyed it. It was already a notable step up from the previous bites. Very good.

Next up was a porchetta with lardo, confit tomatoes, olives and basil. Hhhhm, if you have a copy of Ducasse’s outstanding Grand Livre de Cuisine lying at home (either the haute cuisine, or Mediterranean) you’ll find a recipe which looks pretty similar to this one. This is not to say that Ducasse invented this dish, but to use rabbit in it, and serve it in this way is reminiscent of the way a certain Franck Cerutti used to serve it… However, I don’t really care about copies or not, this was the best dish of the day. It was tasty, beautiful, well made, and really enjoyable. This was a straight 3* dish, one which was great. Only thing I’d have liked was a mention of the fact that it was a rabbit porchetta on the menu. Excellent.

Next came two meat courses (the fish dish on the lunch menu looks not interesting to me). First was a beef cheek, braised in red wine, and served with a jardinière of spring vegetables. On the side came a great creamy polenta. It is always great to see things like this well made in a good restaurant. However, for a lunch menu it was pretty good I must say. What was great about it, was the Polenta. It was creamy, powerful in taste, and very deliciously fatty. That’s all a polenta should be, and that’s how I love it. Very good.

Next up was my second favourite dish of the day: A porky treat with fillet, black pudding (very nice), Saucisse de Morteau, and that outrageous smoked belly, they serve with the pigeon too. It came with Sauerkraut and a Madeira jus (hhhm sounds a bit funny nowadays). This one really was tasty. Everything was tasty, as pork often is, and perfectly cooked. The Sauerkraut worked well with it, and the sauce bound things together. With the rabbit, this was my highlight. Very good.

As a pre-dessert, we had a great little Eton mess. This one was very pretty, and very very good. I really enjoyed the various textures and preparations in this, and found the little Ramsay sticker on the ice cream sandwich rather amusing. Excellent.

Dessert came in two parts. First up I had asked for a pear tatin with Stilton and a walnut ice cream. Boy, this tatin was really great. Far, far better than the pretty poor tatin (sorry guys) at the Square a few days earlier, this had the perfect amount of sweetness, great puff pastry, and the right amount of caramelisation. The Stiltion wasn’t really added in big enough quantities, but gave the whole thing a little bit of saltiness. Excellent!

A rhum baba was decent, if a little over-cooked and therefore not all that great. The addition of the citrus fruits certainly was a nice idea, but couldn’t save things at the end of the day. Good still.

Petit-fours are funny, the little tree of chocolates is great, while the ice cream balls in liquid nitrogen seem a little bizarre in this restaurant. Looks like one is trying to suddenly be very modern. It doesn’t add anything to the dish, so the point of it’s use escapes me. They are tasty though.

Overall this was a faultless lunch, even if the baba was over-baked. Everything was perfectly executed and presented, the food was very good indeed, if that lack of emotion really could be seen as a valid point. What I found interesting was the close similarity to the Louis XV’s food. In terms of presentation and cooking, quite a few of Clare Smyth’s dishes really look like someone has tried to transplant that restaurant to London. It might not be the best of ideas in the long-run, as the Louis XV is what it is due to it’s location, and the products of the area. For me, this might be the only thing Ramsay and Smyth could work on a bit. However, I can see that this is a 3*, that is worth the rating despite the criticism.


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