Archive for janvier 2009

Foliage, London

janvier 28, 2009

On a depressingly grey London day I came to the very impressive (in a good way) Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge. Foliage, the Hotel’s restaurant was designed by Adam Tihany and is now the realm of Chris Staines. Staines worked with Marco Pierre White and with Nico Ladenis before coming to Foliage in the early 2000’s. 

During the last few months one didn’t hear a lot from this restaurant and Food Snob and I decided to see what they had on offer. At 12h we enter the room, are the first to be there and directly greeted by the excellent manager, Arno Liebscher.  After having been seated, we decide to let the chef decide, as we wouldn’t have been able to decide on what to have anyway.

To accompany our champagne we were served some salmon with ponzu jelly. Very good quality salmon, cut from the heart of the fillet slipped into a sheet of Ponzu jelly. A most pleasant little bouchee, which lets you see the philosophy behind Staines’ cooking: Very good products, faultless technical execution, clear, often strong flavours and very clean presentation.

 

Salmon

Salmon

Bread is delivered by Poilane, butter by Jean Yves Bordier from Saint-Malo, who also counts Passard, Ducasse and countless others as his clients. Both were very good, except for a walnut bread, sliced extremely thinly and a mediocre baguette.

The amuse bouche consisted of a lentil ragout, with shredded Peking duck, a cream of potatoes and croutons. Here again you had very clean, strong flavours, precise seasoning and a nice interaction between the individual elements.

 

Lentil/Duck

Lentil/Duck

The first course of our menu was Scallops/Orzo / Squid ink / Thai Curry. Hand dived scallops, perfectly cooked, with lovely firm texture sat on some delicious orzo pasta, cooked in squid ink in which some small squid pieces swam. It was accompanied by some almonds, who didn’t necessarily add much to the dish and a Thai curry foam. This was one of the best dishes of the day, the only point that isn’t quite to my liking is the fact that the scallops are cut in half. I only find this in England and don’t see the point of it. An excellent, comforting dish, that is just very pleasant to eat.

 

Scallops

Scallops

At the same time Food Snob was served Haddock Raviolo / Leeks / Herring Roe / Lobster Sauce. Notice that this is one of the few restaurants that knows that a single raviolo is called raviolo and not ravioli. That alone deserves to be mentioned. The raviolo was filled with Haddock and egg yolk. It was crowned with some Avruga caviar and lobster sauce. All in all a very nice dish, were the only problem was the egg yolk, which was too present. Because of the richness of the Haddock, the egg yolk and the Caviar, a slightly acidic element could have been a nice addition. But on the other hand it was just a very indulgent dish, that made you forgot the depressing British weather.

 

Haddock

Haddock

 

The next set of starters began with Calves Head / Piccalilli / Watercress / Speck. Here calves cheeks were braised and pressed into a terrine, covered with Speck (a kind of bacon/ham from South Tirol) and accompanied by some quintessentially British Piccalilli and pickled vegetables. This was another dish bursting with very strong flavours. The slightly sour vegetables were a great counterpoint to the rich cheek. If this dish couldn’t live up the the (extremely) high standard of the scallop dish, it was still most enjoyable.

Calves Head

Calves Head

 

 The highlight of the meal was one of the dishes, none of us would have ordered. Gnocchi / Mushrooms / Sage and Onion / Butternut Squash offered gnocchi of exceptional quality: Unbelievably light, fluffy gnocchi, which were nearly on par with some I’ve had at the Louis XV a few years back. To accompany them some fried onions and sage gave a crunchy note, whilst shimeji mushrooms gave a deliciously earthy flavour. To complete, parmesan added some salty touch. This was a real stunner, especially as we never had expected such masterfully executed gnocchi. Also, every element had a distinct role. With the scallops, the second dish that would have felt at home in most 3 star restaurants. Outstanding!

 

Gnocchi

Gnocchi

 

 As fish course, we were served  Sole / Parsley / Brown Butter / Capers. Here lemon Sole was steamed, which resulted in a very soft, flaky texture. It was then covered with some buttered breadcrumbs, which gave it an amazing richness. The sole package lay on a disc of white balsamic jelly and spinach. Around it were served crispy (excellent) capers, a very good beurre noisette emulsion and confit potatoes with trompettes de la mort. Another very mature dish, which, again, proved to be excellent. The only thing that I personally don’t really like is when Sole is slightly soft, but that is a matter of personal taste.

 

Sole

Sole

 

The second fish dish was Lobster / Curry Sauce / Mango Chutney / Pilau Rice. Here, perfect lobster sat on pilau rice, covered with red onion crisps and curry sauce. Mango chutney and sauce gave the whole a lovely, fruity freshness. The magnificent lobster was the star of this dish, the rice didn’t impress us particularly, but then, we both don’t really like rice that much. As long as it isn’t a risotto or paella of some sort. What was very nice, was the interplay between the firm, powerful lobster, the curry sauce and the slightly sweet, refreshing   mango chutney.

Lobster

Lobster

 

For mains I  started with Pork Belly / Macaroni Cheese / Spiced Pumpkin / Black Pudding. Now this was another highlight. A (unfortunately) small piece of braised piglet, with a divine crunchy crust was served with black pudding, spiced pumpkin puree and an interesting play on macaroni and cheese. Certainly very different from Heston Blumenthal’s macaroni and cheese, which he serves with his pork dish, this version was cold, with a very good jus and some buffalo mozzarella. All in all this was another stunning dish. As I’m a big fan of crunchy things, this pork was just heaven on earth, or very close to it.

 

Pork

Pork

 

At the same time Food Snob had a most interesting dish, of which he generously let me try some bits. It was Lamb Neck / Olive Mash / Sweetbreads / Pepper. Here again, one saw the interest Staines has in offal or not so common products. It was one of those very satisfying dishes, which surely don’t attract everyone, but do reward those who know the good things in life. Braised lamb neck, sweetbreads were the main protagonists in this play, in which the sweet/sour peppers and olive mash gave a feeling that you are somewhere closer to the sun. (No photo for that, sorry)

As third main, we had Chicken / Mushroom Puree / Broccoli / Gewürztraminer, which was another great dish. In this case I really enjoyed the very full flavour of the (British!) chicken and the remarkable mushroom puree. The chicken was served in two preparations, once the breast and the rolled leg, both with rich flavour and amazingly tender. Another outstanding dish.

Chicken

Chicken

 

To begin with the sweet world, as Ferran calls it, we had a Hazelnut Daquoise / Chocolate Mousse / Blood Orange and Cardamom.

The idea behind this was a deconstructed trifle. An excellent orange and cardamom sorbet and the hazelnut emulsion were the elements that stood out. It was a nice dessert, but not on the same level as the savoury courses we had enjoyed so far. Maybe there was just too much going on on the plate.

Orange/Chocolate

Orange/Chocolate

 

Finally, to conclude our meal, Food Snob had asked for Rhubarb Souffle / Pannacotta / Ginger / Streusel. Now, coming from « Europe » as the British call it, I find it strange to have rhubarb in January. Food Snob however, told me that in England one has found a way to grow winter rhubarb. The souffle was lovely, with a thin layer of Streusel and some interesting bits of rhubarb (?) in it. The sorbet, also rhubarb, wasn’t that successful. All in all I did enjoy this dish, even though it still didn’t fascinate me.

 

Rhubarb

Rhubarb

 


As petit-fours we were given some of the best madeleines I have coma across. The chocolate and lemon, vanilla and honey ones were so delicious that we asked for a second round.

 

All in all, I went to Foliage without very high expectations, wrongly so as I remarked after this remarkable lunch. This meal was definitely one of the best I’ve had in London so far. On the same level as ADAD, Pied a Terre and Darroze, maybe even more interesting in some points.  Throughout the meal, the service was excellent, which certainly helps you appreciate the whole lunch. The only « weakness » would be the desserts, which didn’t seem to fit in with the clear, very well thought out savoury dishes. 

This is definitely a place to visit when in London, even if not as popular as some other places. One will certainly hear a lot of Staines in the future, as this was a most promising meal.

      


 

 

 

Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester, London

janvier 21, 2009

 

After having tried a few dishes at Ducasses’s restaurant at the Dorchester in October, I decided to go back to celebrate my birthday. Just a few days before my visit I came across the new Michelin rating: Jocelyn Herland (chef de cuisine) was awarded two stars and marked as a rising three star! Amongst the foodie world a hefty discussion broke out immediately. Most have visited the restaurant directly after the opening 14 months ago. Back then Herland told me, the dishes they sent were not at all what he expected and the constant improvement is clear today. But let us not rush things…

The most friendly staff welcome you very warmly and champagne is offered to accompany those extraordinary Barbajuans, little fried ravioli from Monaco, and Gougeres. The Barbajuans are just as good as at the Louis XV, the legendary 3-star in Monte-Carlo. The Gougeres are also very pleasan, if a little mildly spiced for my taste.

Next up, we were offered bread, all three types were excellent accompanied by very good butter and Fontainebleau. The latter didn’t really excite me, but my companion enjoyed it.

When we finished our champagne the first part of our menu arrived: Delicate royale de foie gras et potiron, emulsion fumee. A wonderfully rich royale of foie gras which interacted beautifully with the diced pumpkin and the smoked tea emulsion. A great way to start a meal.

 

emulsion de foie gras

emulsion de foie gras

 The first « real » course of the menu were the grosses langoustines d’Ecosse en salade tiede, jus coraille. Lovely, crunchy langoustines with (considering that it was January) fully flavoured tomatoes, chicken strips, a anchovy/parmesan mayonnaise and a langoustine jus. A very pleasing, refreshing dish, that portrays the kitchen’s understatement perfectly: These chicken strips are in fact the legs, which are cooked, boned, de-veined, pressed and then covered with the skin. This little package is then pan-fried until crisp. This immense amount of work behind the different components doesn’t show, unless you know it, or have some knowledge of the cuisine here.

 

langoustines

langoustines

 

To continue, we were served a stunning adaption of a classic from ADPA:  Noix de Saint-Jacques dorees, pommes et coings en beaux morceaux rotis au beurre demi-sel. The scallops replaced the lobster here, and the dish was simply one of the best scallop dishes I had in a very long time. Perfect quality of the products, extremely precise cooking and great combination with the sauce and the garniture. Along with the Barbajuans the best dish so far.

 

Saint-Jacques

Saint-Jacques

After such a strong dish, the following one had a big problem: I had tasted the « original » version of it in Paris in September. At ADPA it was probably the best dish of my life, but here the dish was slightly less complex. Also the turbot wasn’t of the outrageously good quality as the one I had in Paris. However, it was still very good, with a lovely sauce and delicious gnocchi. Would I have not had the original, I would have loved this dish right away.

 

Turbot

Turbot

As you probably noticed, the lighting suddenly became much darker. It seems to be trendy in London to make restaurants so dark that you barely see what you have in front of you. 

The meat for me was another star of the night: Filet de chevreuil roti, potiron et chataigne, sauce Grand Veneur. Perfect venison in another great sauce. The only slight fault here was the mildly seasoned punpkin, but that is an affaire de gout. Excellent, nothing that will change your life, just comforting enjoyable food on the highest level.

 

Chevreuil

Chevreuil

 After the four (plated) cheese, which in general were fine. We came to the best part of the meal, that is the sweet stuff.

I had the Barre coco-caramel, sorbet citron-vanille. Ducasse restaurants are sure to deliver some of the best desserts around, if you go to the trendy Spoon, the not quite so brilliant Abbaye de la Celle or any haute cuisine restaurant, you can be sure that the desserts will be better than many you’ll get in some 2 or 3-star places. Here this doesn’t really change. Perfect execution, very well thought out tastes, all you need.

 

Coco-caramel

Coco-caramel

 

My companion was served the dessert I had at my last visit: Carre gourmand framboise et rose. This is an outstanding dessert. If there is one dish to be tried here it is this one. It is really on the level of the best restaurants in the world, that should be enough.

 

Framboise

Framboise

 

 

 

The petit-fours are on the same very high level. Macarons are simply irresistible and only Pierre Herme makes better ones. 

What can one say overall?

The evening was a real pleasure. This is partially due to my friend, but the food certainly played a role too. It was perfect throughout: excellent quality products, extraordinarily execution, mature, well constructed dishes and reassuring combinations. It is clear that you won’t find the most inventive, crazy cuisine here, but that should not be what you expect of Ducasse (or in this case Herland). It might not be able to deliver one oustanding dish after the other, but there are more than enough excellent ones (desserts, scallops, foie gras, barbajuans). What you get here is simple cooking somewhat between the simplicity and strong flavours of the Louis XV and the refined neo-baroque of ADPA. Herland’s brigade is running like a watch by now and really deserves the two stars. Overall this was much better than Ramsay for instance, or any restaurant in London I’ve tried.

Ledoyen, Paris

janvier 13, 2009

 

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Apres une tres belle journee passe en cuisine chez Alain Passard, ma deuxieme soiree a Paris a ete reserve au Ledoyen. Christian Le Squer a pu garder ses trois etoiles depuis quelques annees maintenant. Cote salle, il est epaule par le tres bon Patrick Simiand, qui lui dirige un service de tres haut niveau.
Le menu commence avec quelques tres bonnes bouches dont un carre de foie gras, passion et pain d’epice et le meilleur.
Apres ces mises en bouche vient un oursin prepare en coque. Un produit d’exception legerement entoure d’une creme, d’un « air » et d’une gelee, qui laissent exploser les differentes saveurs vegetales et iodees. Un debut tres prometteur.
  

 

Oursin

Oursin

 

 

On continue avec un autre plat de mer, qui est particulierement chere a Monsieur Le Squer (qui est Breton, il faut le dire). Deux preparations d’huitres belon. Une juste gratinee, quelques autres en tartare avec un chip d’algues et une mousse d’huitre. Encore une fois une fraicheur remaquable au niveau des saveurs qui est juste agreable. Un plat qui est excellent, sauf peut-etre le fait que la huitre gratinee avait trop d’eau, c’etait trop liquide.

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Un dernier plat de poisson met a l’avance un des produits favoris du chef: L’anguille. Ici elle est posee sur un « toast », recouverte d’une sauce au jus de raisin et vin rouge. Apres le foie gras et l’oursin un deuxieme grand moment. L’anguille est traitee parfaitement, la sauce et le toast en font un delice qui reunit le fondant, croquant, l’acidite, une legere douceur et un ton legerement fumee. Elle est accompagnee d’une pomme de terre remplie d’une creme, qui elle n’a pas grand interet. A part de cette derniere petite pomme, ce plat est superbe.

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En plat de viande on me propose un des grands classiques de Christian Le Squer: Le ris de veau caramelise, salsifis etuves, jus d’herbes. Un ris de veau d’exception pose sur de tres bons salsifis. La sauce par contre, n’est pas sur le meme niveau: Elle est beaucoup trop forte, a une saveur qui derange un petit peu. Dommage, car accompagne d’un jus de veau legerement epice ou truffe ce plat aurait pu etre genial.

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Les fromages ont la meme qualite que les autres produits, notamment un camembert d’une rare qualite. Les pains proposes tout au long du repas, ainsi que les pains speciaux pour le fromage sont eux aussi tres bons. Cependant, il est interessant, que c’est le premier plateau de fromage, qui n’a pas de comte, beaufort ou autre de ce genre.
 
Le premier dessert est un autre classique, qui me laisse un peu froid. Ce croquant de pamplemousse aurait pu etre tres bon, mais une gelee beaucoup trop dure gache le plaisir.

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Le deuxieme dessert etait a base de caramel, lait fume et chocolat. Tout court: Un plat extraordinaire!

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En general ce repas fut parfait: les produits d’une qualite exceptionelle, les cuissons d’une tres grande justesse, un service a la hauteur et un cadre qui est luis aussi rare.

Si on veut critiquer un point: Quelques petites fautes techniques (sabayon liquide, sauce d’herbes trop forte, gelee trop dure), qui ne sont pas graves mais qui sont un peu genantes a ce niveau la.

Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenee-II

janvier 8, 2009

Ma premiere visite de ce temple de la haute cuisine s’est faite en septembre et pour commencer l’annee rien de mieux qu’un passage a Paris pour (re)-decouvrir quelques grandes tables.

Lundi soir, j’entre encore une fois dans ce restaurant, qui je dois le dire est maintenant mon restaurant prefere! La cuisine de Christophe Moret est tout simplement magnifique. Les traditions sont bien presentes, mais aucun plat ne semble demode. Un diner ici peut commencer avec les fameuses langoustines au caviar, qui sont toujours sublimes. Ce soir la, j’ai commence avec une coupe d’araignee de mer qui m’a coupee le souffle. Une royale d’araignee surmontee d’un delicieux ragout de ce meme crustace et de legumes. Le tout recouvert d’un onctueux sabayon; c’etait DIVIN. C’etait encore meilleur que la version que j’ai mange en entree lors de mon dernier passage car le sabayon est bien plus riche en gout que l’emulsion. 

Si l’on enchaine avec les St Jacques a la Grenobloise on peut se dire que c’est un tres bon choix car ce plat est tout simplement extraordinaire. Il combine de facon exemplaire la tradition et la precision et technicite de nos jours. Les elements de la classique Grenobloise accompagnent la St Jacques a merveille avec le croustillant des croutons, l’acidite du citron, l’onctueux de la creme de choux-fleur et la vivacite des capres. Seul remarque ici, si l’on est vraiment tres, tres attenftif: Il y avait peut etre quelques capres en trop sur mon plat. Tout de meme un plat d’exception.

En plat une volaille de Bresse, sauce Albufera, tartufi d’Alba peut definitivement vous emporter vers le paradis. Une poitrine de volaille cuite a perfection est genereusement nappee de sauce Albufera et accompagnee de legumes glaces et d’une petite quenelle a base de foie gras et de cuisse de volaille (divine!). Sur le tout est rapee une belle portion de ces magnifiques truffes blanches d’Alba qui completent ce plat legendaire. On ne peut pas s’imaginer quelque chose qui peut etre meilleur que ce que l’on vous sert ici! C’est tout simplement hors de classification.

Apres un festin pareil, servi par la brigade acceuillante et parfaite (encore une fois) de Denis Courtiade, une barre chocolat/framboise, souffle fort en chocolat peut cloturer la fete merveilleusement. un souffle d’anthologie, un vacherin a mourrir et une « barre » choco/framboise qui vous laisse bouche b.

Que peut on dire apres un deuxieme repas si parfait, extraordinaire dans cette maison?Ici tout est parfait, sans etre froid, il y a une vrai generosite on se sent bien tout simplement. Peut-etre que l’univers de Monsieur Ducasse est un peu a part du reste des autres, car ici la perfection semble bien exister…