Archive for octobre 2010

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…

Jing’s Residence, Pingyao

octobre 25, 2010

This post will be unique. At least it should be for quite a while. Why, you may ask? Well because Pingyao is not exactly conveniently accessible for anyone. This fascinating city, which is part of the Unesco’s world heritage sites, lies in Shanxi. This province is not exactly the most prosperous, but it has an awful lot of history. So does Jing’s residence, a Relais & Chateaux residence, right in the city centre.

Whilst this hotel might not have many rooms, it certainly has an awful lot of charm, and combines the best of western and Chinese cultures. The rooms are of a refined, understated luxury, and are best described by pictures.

The food however was surprising for such a backwater. Most of what we had was tasty, simple and loyal to the region’s culinary traditions.

Take for instance the Pingyao beef. Boiled and pressed, then served cold with vinegar, it is a tasty if chewy starter. Such cold meat starters startled me in all of China, as they were often dry, and without much interest, at least for an ignorant westerner.

Already much better were deep-fried rings of some kind of cereal. These had an intriguing texture, intense flavour, and were delicately spiced with chili and coriander. It was the dish of the night, as it was technically faultless, and highly interesting. Very good.

Also good, and equally simple were green beens, pan-fried with pork paste. Enriched by some chili oil, this was intensely tasty, and gave a healthy punch of umami. This was again a treatment of vegetables, that makes some French restaurants look old. Very good.

Whilst the food here is far from being spectacular, some dishes are well worth mentioning. Throughout the meal there will be dishes that are simply useless, such as prawns with mushrooms. Those were clearly of poor quality, and deep-frozen. With such dishes one wonders why a hotel and restaurant committed to serving something authentic is serving such dishes. However, as this place feels special, one is willing to not be too critical. Maybe because of the beautifully simple style, or the location, one thing is sure, such gems are rare, and should be explored. Funnily enough, despite being a good 10hrs away from Beijing, the board members of a large German automobile firm were scheduled to come here for a meeting a week after we left. Well, well…

Ulysse Collin Blanc de Noirs

octobre 17, 2010

Sometimes you are taken by surprise. Drinking this wine proved to be one of these occasions. After I read lots about Olivier Collin’s wines, I had very high expectations, but when I tasted this bottle, I knew better… This was absolutely glorious juice! It was a powerful wine, one with tension, but which had a complexity and delicacy one rarely finds. It was rich with lots of fruit coming through, just the way I like it. However, there was more to it, a freshness, and clean-mineral note that one gets in very few Champagnes. Dare I say it made my day. Absolutely terrific stuff!

Sad to know that I have only one bottle left… Well not for long I hope.

Schloss Berg, Nennig

octobre 14, 2010

As my regular readers will know, Schloss Berg is amongst the 5 best restaurants in Europe and I try to return as often as I can. Over the summer I had the chance to have two meals here, both of which were simply superb. What is striking with Christian Bau’s food, is how far he goes in perfecting every single element of the individual dishes. Take for instance his china. Whilst having been among the first to use the beautiful Hering plates, he now considers them too common and has ordered a series of plates from a Japanese artisan. Can you tell me other restaurants that go to such lengths in order to manifest their individuality?

However, it doesn’t stop there. The food has (mostly) become more pure and elegant too. Apart from a tuna dish, which was still rather complex, it now seems even more reduced and direct. One rarely gets dishes as powerful as his gamberoni with rice broth and cauliflower. Here, the product really speaks for itself, and all Bau does is create an altar for it. This particular dish must be among the finest to be had in European 3* restaurants at the moment.

Another fantastic creation was an artichoke variation. The vegetable was presented in a multitude of textures and structures (the latter is his description), resulting in a real firework of flavours. Here one really gets an idea of innovative vegetable-based cooking. He doesn’t simply serve a slice of tomato, or beetroot, but takes the simple artichoke and elevates it to something quite precious. A gem of a dish.

During both meals I was able to try a turbot dish. The first time it was paired with soft shell crab, leeks, citrus fruits and crab jus. Boy, this was good. The deep-fried soft shell crab on its own would be worth a trip. A little bowl of those would satisfy me! But, the turbot was of course not bad neither. No. It was fantastic as it usually is here. With the jus and puree it was another remarkable dish.

His new turbot dish combines a few favourites of his with a new « prima ballerina ». Iodine-tapioca, carrot chutney and Thai-asparagus create a magnificient background for a tranche of beautifully cooked wild turbot. This is cooking at the highest level, which one does not find in all that many places.

One cannot repeat it often enough: Christian Bau is undoubtedly one of Europe’s best chefs, and the fact that he is still relatively unknown outside of Germany (and even within it) shows how little quality and talent have to do with popularity. For anyone who has a serious interest in food, a trip down to the Mosel is in order!

Ding Ding Xiang, Beijing

octobre 13, 2010

Ding Ding Xian is easily the most luxurious and perfectionist of the hotpot eateries in Beijing. Thanks to the generosity of a good friend, I was able to lunch there during my stay in the city. A number of things thoroughly impressed me here, as I only knew the hotpot as a very basic home-cooked meal.

First of all, I was baffled by how good the products were. From the sea cucumber, to the geoduck clam, prawns up to the lamb and beef, everything was of fine quality. The seafood was mostly presented alive before being sliced or killed so that one could cook it in one’s own little hot pot. In European top restaurants one rarely gets presented with living fish or crustaceans (apart from lobsters maybe), which is a pity. Somehow the Chinese seem to manage this a little better than we do…

Another great feature of this place is that every patron has their own pot, which allows them to adjust the stock’s intensity, spice and flavour as a host of different stocks are on offer. Even if it might take away a bit of the social element of having a hotpot, I quite enjoyed this way of doing things.

Images can say more than words, therefore I simply conclude by saying that this was another impressive restaurant in Beijing. From the room, to the service up to the food I very much enjoyed it, and warmly recommend anyone to try and visit this place when they can. It is good fun, and something you won’t get in Europe, at least not this good.

Late-summer night’s dreams, Luxembourg

octobre 7, 2010

Summer is coming to an end. With it’s end are coming a great deal of superb  products. Take for instance the great cepes, freshly picked from the Cevennes. I just sliced them and served them with carabineros from off the Majorcan coast and a bit of toasted bread. Simple it was, but oh so good!


Mind you the pic above is the raw product, simply sliced with a bit of cepe, Roscoff onion and burned bread it was simply a glorious match with the Selosse Rose.

Following this, I served the same carabineros simply roasted in their shells with roasted cepes, and aubergines. The jus was spiced with vanilla and Piment d’Espelette. It was a simple dish again, but a very successful one.

On a different occasion, I served the same prawns with a 1987 Puligny villages, which was great. Pure, fruity, fresh and vibrant, the wine was the perfect match for the food. Simply steamed with ginger, the carabineros were a good partner with the aubergine compote and consomme.

As mentioned above, we drank a Selosse Rose with the previous dishes. It was tight and thin at first, but opened up beautifully after a little while. Quite rich, dense at full of flavour it was one of the better roses I have had in my life. Still, I am no fan of rose, but this was one to make me think. Very good indeed.

The latter dish was eaten with the Leflaive. Whilst the wine was still vibrant and fresh, it was a bit thin, something that is quite common, since Anne Claude Leflaive produces a lot of her wines with rendements close to the legal maximum. This being said, it was a fine wine, and matched the broth beautifully.

Dôme, Antwerpen

octobre 3, 2010

Julien Burlat’s CV reads like a dream for any chef, or food-lover: He has worked with Pacaud at L’Ambroisie, Ducasse and Gagnaire. You will have trouble finding a chef, who can boast more highly-renowned chefs as his previous employers. However, when eating in his beautiful restaurant, Dome in Antwerp, one has trouble seeing the craziness of a Gagnaire, the baroque classicism of a Pacaud or the very precise, bold cooking of Ducasse in his food. What struck me was the very simple, nearly rustic approach to the dishes here.

Take for instance a mackerel starter. Served raw, a piece of fish came with nothing else but a few beets and some slivers of fresh hazelnut. Now, that is what one can call minimalism, real minimalism. Whilst having been « warned » about the food’s simplicity, I did not expect it to be that pure. However, seeing that it was a beautiful match with the wine, and marked a delightful start to the menu, I was more than happy to be eating dishes such as this.

The next dishes were in the same style, one that I very much enjoy, but one that can shock you if you are expecting food in the modern and complex style of most other serious Belgian chefs. One cannot cook for everyone and Burlat serves assertive and rather clever food that is a dream come true to wine lovers and purists at the same time. The combinations always work, the flavours are there, and the products are of very fine quality. The best example of this was a plate of shrimp with tomatoes and a pistou. Basically it was a tomato salad with prawns. However, what made it work was the fantastic quality of prawns. These are delivered alive to the restaurant, and thus have a fantastic flavour and texture. It is because of the product that this rather risky style of cooking works at Dome.

The tastiest plate of food, by far, was a roast pigeon from the Vendée, served with girolles, sweet peppers and Jabugo ham. Here you had very autumnal flavours that were incredibly pure and bold. The pigeon was beautifully cooked, with intense flavour and good accompanying elements. There was a charred note, that I absolutely adored, and the few drops of pan-juices were quite simply perfect for this rustic dish. Fantastic.

After such great dishes, came a real treat: Burlat’s version of Pacaud’s famous chocolate tart. Light as air, with a delicate crust it was pure heaven. After having eaten this, I can only imagine how divine the « original » must be. It was a perfect end to a perfect evening.

I loved Dome, the food is simple, without false pretense and simply gorgeous.  The service was fantastic, friendly, warm, and very relaxed the brigade provides you with a great experience throughout the evening. Finally, another reason for coming here would be the wine. Wouter de Bakker is a young, extremely talented and passionate sommelier (best sommelier of Belgium after all!). One like not very many, and one that works very hard. He constructed a wine list to die for here, with a lot of natural wines, and a few classics, that are priced more than friendly. We decided to go with the matching glasses, but I couldn’t resist ordering half a bottle of 2005 Chateauneuf du Pape blanc from Clos des Papes. Whilst not all of the wines of the wine menu were to my taste, they all had character, were very individual and interesting. By far the best (apart from the stunning Chateauneuf) was a Crémant du Jura from Stéphane Tissot. This is a wine, which is not even on the market, and here you can drink it by the glass. Fantastic!

All in all, I loved my dinner here. Whilst I would say that the food was a little too simple for more than 1*, I thought that it worked beautifully with the wine, the ambience and the whole feeling of the place. It was a special evening, one which I will not forget for a long time, so I’d recommend anyone to try this place as quickly as possible. After all, stars are not really all that important, and this place shows you why. To conclude, one can think of a French proverb, which says: Sometimes making a simple thing is the hardest to do…