Posts Tagged ‘Michelin 2*’

The Square, London

avril 30, 2010

It was time to go back to the Square, which I find to be among the very finest restaurants in London. I won’t write anything about the general background of the restaurant, but I will just mention the food and wines we had, as I have written enough about this place before already. Service was of course brilliant, as it always is here, with David and the team looking after us really well. We were five, so I had asked Marc Piquet, the great sommelier, to organise a few courses around a couple of wines. We started with a very good bottle of 2002 Larmandier Bernier Vieilles Vignes de Cramant, which was beautiful, and really had a great depth and concentration for a 100% Chardonnay Champagne. Next up was a bottle of Selosse’s Exquise which was outstanding. Note, that this was one of the old bottles, which still have the old label. This means, that the wine has aged in the cellars of the restaurant for quite a while and was absolutely terrific. Rich, whilst not overly sweet or generous, it evolved throughout the whole night. By the end, it drank like a very well made, very fruity white wine. Gorgeous and unforgettable. Next up, we ran out of white wine, and therefore got a glass of 2002 Pulingy Montrachet Clos de la Garenne from Louis Jadot. This was merely alright, but I much more prefer, say a Carillon Pulingy villages from a less good year than this, as it was thin, pretty pale and uninspiring. Next up was another bomb though. A 2001 Grange des Peres. Not quite as good as the 1998, I had tried at the Harwood Arms a few weeks earlier, but definitely in great shape. It was serious wine, and all I can say, is that it really made me quite happy. The final blow was a great wine too: A 1995 Kracher Scheurebe No.6. Also dressed in one of the old labels of Kracher, this wine was incredibly intense, concentrated, oily and very well balanced. This was stunning stuff, and great with the desserts we tried.  All in all, we drank superbly well this night, and the food was to be just as interesting.

We started with the selection of amuses, which were very enjoyably as usual. However, I can only say again, that the prawn stick was a little dry again. Apart from that, these amuses are playful, fun and well made. Very good. After this we went straight into very serious territory. A nice Isle of Orkney scallop was placed atop a wild mushroom compote and pumpkin puree. This was topped with grated black truffles. Wow! I can hardly recall a better dish at the Square. Without doubt this was a very fine dish: Even better than the Cauliflower dish I had on my birthday.  Excellent to outstanding.

Next came the famous langoustine, which is always on top form here, and still the best quality of langoustine I have found. Excellent to outstanding.

Next came a fish course: Turbot with truffles, morels and gnocchi. Very good quality in terms of turbot, the cooking time was also perfect, as were the accompaniments. Another very successful dish here. Very good.

Our first main course was a beautiful venison with beetroot and other root vegetables. A dish, which played with smoky, sweet and sour elements, this was a very fine plate of food again. The only thing I found a little annoying was the beet root puree, which was a tad too sweet for my taste. However, with the other elements it came together quite well. Very good.

The second main course was a pork chop with rhubarb and a croustillant of the head or trotters. The croustillant was absolutely amazing, whilst the chop was cooked very well too. The rhubarb was quite a welcome addition here, as it brightened things up, both visually and in terms of flavour. Very good.

After a delightful pre-dessert, with that fabulous beignet, we were ready for dessert.

I chose a crushed pear with truffle ice cream. Very simple, but incredibly nice. The dessert was served luke warm, and had quite warming, earthy flavours. Not bad at all. Excellent, and a worthy partner of the Kracher.

The second dessert was just as good, a rhubarb based plate, it featured a whole number of things, all of which were very good. Excellent.

All in all, we were extremely lucky today. The wines were magnificent, apart from the Puligny maybe, and the kitchen was on top form too. There was hardly one dish, which lacked some kind of interesting twist, and all were perfectly executed. After the slightly less successful meal on my birthday, this was the Square back on top form. In terms of modernised classical food, one is very safe here.

Publicités

Les Ambassadeurs, Paris

juillet 21, 2009

 

La Salle I

La Salle I

Les Ambassadeurs benefits of a location that is absolutely unique in this world. Right on the place de la Concorder, facing the famous Obelisque, a stone’s throw away from pretty much anything that is in relation with luxury or power in Paris. Since a couple of years, Jean Francois Piege, formerly chef at Alain Ducasse’s Paris restaurant, is in charge of the cooking for  the restaurant, and the rest of the hotel. In the gastronomic restaurant, which holds 2* (MIchelin) and 18/20p in the Gault Millau, he proposes old recipes done with a modern twist. After all, he titles his carte: Histoire de cuisine

 The restaurant is located in the old ball room of the Hotel de Crillon, and as the pictures might suggest, has a bit of an austere atmosphere. Not to say that it isn’t interesting, it certainly is quite spectacular, but it doesn’t have any warmth, nor does it create the feeling of intimacy (due to the countless mirrors on the walls). Compared to equally, if not more opulent rooms like those of Louis XV, ADPA or Ledoyen, one doesn’t feel as good or comfortable here. However, the decor can be as charming or cold as it wants, I came for the food, which I remembered to be fantastic.

 

La salle II

La salle II

The service somehow managed to be nearly as cold as the room. It was a big difference to that of ADPA, where I had dined the day before. Someone was always there, when needed, but there was no interaction, no warm welcome nor did a relaxed atmosphere reign. It was a pretty stiff affair, one that doesn’t make you feel more at ease in that room. 

 

La salle III

La salle III

The table is elegantly dressed, with the glasses being Riedel and Baccarat, the China mostly from Bernardaud and the cutlery from Christofle. A funny little thing is the menu holder. A little socket holds the menu, which is attached to a plexiglass stick. Also, the wine list is the best-designed I have seen so far. It is light, compact and lists an impressive number of nearly exclusively French wines. Prices are equally impressive, but in Paris, one doesn’t expect anything else anymorre these days. 

 

La table

La table

Bread is made in house (2 types) and butter comes from Bordier. The bread has fantastic crust and is absolutely delicious. 

 

les beurres

les beurres

The meal starts, and this hasn’t changed since my visit a year and a half ago, with the famous sur l’idee d’un plateau tele. This amuse bouche is certainly good fun, but a little seasonal change wouldn’t hurt. The first part is a carrot salad, which comes as a lemonade. I do not think that this is a particularly clever idea, as it tasted a little odd. The salad was too acidic, and tasted a little thin. The second part was, something, that I wouldn’t prepare if I was making a TV platter, a royale de foie blonds, ecrevisses with an emulsion of Parmesan. To be fair though, this was a winner, with strong tastes and a delightfully creamy royale. A fantastic combination of flavours that worked beautifully. Following it, the best part of the composition was the cromesquis d’une brandade de morue. A little ball filled with a soup made out of a brandade if then deep-fried and really explodes in your mouth. This is absolute perfection, and was as good as I had remembered it. Moving on, a tube filled with a mousse jambon/cornichons. Fine, but a little under-seasoned for my taste. The last part was much better than last year (in February): A truffle bonbon. This time the truffle had real power and was delicious if spread on the toasted baguette. The whole was a little inconsistent, but generally pretty strong.

 

Plateau

Plateau

The meal started with a spider crab dish. The hot part was based around a royale, a little crab meat and was sauced with a pretty light bisque. On top of it, was thrown a croustillant of peanuts. The royale was certainly very good, as was the crab meat, but the bisque could have been a little stronger. It tasted a little diluted, not to say thin. However it was well seasoned. The only problem with this hot part was the croustillant, which became soggy just after the having touched the bisque. The other, cold, part featured a crab salad with wild fennel and a little salad leaves. This could have been great, if it had not come straight from the fridge. It always startles me how a restaurant as serious as this can’t think of tempering such a vital part of a dish. Overall it was much weaker a dish than Moret’s araignee de mer en chaud et froid. Very good, but could have been excellent if the croustillant would have stayed that way and the cold part wouldn’t have been that cold.

 

Araignee

Araignee

Second course was a Foie gras de canard des Landes en feuille de chou/lard fume; En bouillon coriandre/gingembre. On my previous visit here, the foie was one of the better ones I have eaten. This time however, the story wasn’t quite as rosy as that. The two soups (!?) were radically different, but remained two soups. I can’t see why one would serve foie in two soups, but well. The bacon cream, which came with the mi-cuit foie was delicious. It is just the kind of stuff you long for on a cold winter day, when coming back from the slopes. Considering that it was pretty hot outside, I wasn’t too sure, if this is what people want to eat in summer. The foie in that soup was very good, creamy, with a little resistance to it, well seasoned- all one expects from it. The other version, which contained poached foie gras was a little less successful. The foie was dry on the outside, had no distinct flavour and didn’t really do much. The accompanying bouillon was equally forgettable. It was hardly seasoned, and it must have been the first time in a very long time that I had to reach for the salt on the table. This seemed an odd dish both in terms of construction and in terms of execution (it might have been a bad day or something). Very good for the bacon half, pretty mediocre for the other.

 

Foie (pre saucing)

Foie (pre saucing)

The main course came as quickly as the other courses (after a good 45mins I was already at the 3rd course, not counting the amuse. That is much too quick for a place like this one). Ris de veau moelleux/croustillant/carottes/citron vert/coriandre was  most certainly the stand out dish of the day. This was a serious 3* dish. The sweetbreads were fantastically cooked, of very good quality and worked beautifully with the few garnishes. What struck me most was the absolutely perfect jus. This was packed full of flavour, with a lovely consistency and simply put: fantastic. The carrot emulsion served on the side was very nice, well-seasoned, airy and creamy. One could argue that Piege uses too little vegetables in his cooking, but I guess it’s a matter of personal taste. Excellent.

 

Ris de veau

Ris de veau

Strangely enough, the cheese here was to be the absolute highlight of the meal, It is all supplied by Bernard Antony and is in pristine condition. The 7 cheeses I tried were absolutely beautiful. The comte was « only » aged for 36 months, but already had those crunchy salt crystals, which make these old specimens so special. The camembert was easily the best I have had so far, and will be remembered for a long time. Unlike ADPA, the bread for the cheese course was a little dull. The one type, they offered, had a chewy crust and didn’t really impress me. Outstanding cheese.

 

fromages I

fromages I

 

Fromages II

Fromages II

Dessert is often my favourite part of the meal and I was hoping for a highlight here, as the patissier (Jerome Chaucesse) is a bit of a shooting star in France. The first one was Cerises de pays en foret noire a notre facon. What this really was, was a pretty classical black forest cake, with a new wrapping. The base was a soft chocolate cake filled with a mascarpone cream and studded with poached cherries. The outside was then covered in different “feuilles”. It was very pretty, tasty, well made, but hardly mind-blowing. In a place like this, one could expect a little more innovation or new ideas. Very good.

 

Foret noire

Foret noire

The second one was already much more interesting: Riz Carnaroli facon Imperatrice/ gelee de framboise. A base of milk rice was topped with raspberry jelly, caramel, popped rice and star anise ice cream. This was fantastic. The mix of textures and flavours was expertly balanced and every single item had a distinct role. Excellent.

 

RIz

RIz

The mignardises. Were equally good. Macarons, Chamonix, palmiers, rochers and other goodies were fantastic and disappeared quickly.

 

Eskimo coco

Eskimo coco

 

Mignardises

Mignardises

 

Mikado

Mikado

 

I left this place with a strange feeling. It must have been the first time that I left a restaurant thinking, I had better not gone in the first place. Why?

The meal had some highlights: The sweetbreads, the rice dessert and cheese. Those were all very good to excellent. However, the rest was pretty forgettable (with the exception of the spider crab). Also, the service got on my nerves. You felt being watched constantly, as those who weren’t doing anything at the moment gathered behind the tables and stood there like a couple of policemen guarding the Elysee palace. Furthermore, they served the meal way too quickly. I had left the place only 2 hours after having come there. At ADPA, where I had eaten one course less, I spent the double of that. It might be question of personal taste, but I like to enjoy my meal, if I go to a place like this. I felt rushed, which doesn’t work in a « temple », where one should forget all notion of time.

The thing is that in a place like this, the whole experience should be considered as a Gesamtkunstwerk. One should leave a restaurant like this feeling as happy as one possibly can. Today, that certainly wasn’t the case.

These things taken aside, what I found really frustrating was the fact, that Piege, who is one of my favourite chefs doesn’t seem to progress at all. All of the dishes I had today (the desserts taken aside) were pretty much the same construction as those one could find a year ago, and even longer ago. The garnishes or condiments changed a little, but it was the exact same pattern. It might be that he is frustrated by not getting the third star, but unlike last time, this meal did not deserve it at all.   

If one judges the food alone, I would say that the 2* are a realistic measure of the cooking here. The foie and black forest dishes just seemed a little lazy, not really worth a third one. The sweetbread, rice dessert and possibly spider crab (if it had been served at the correct temperature) could have merited a third, but the overall was just too inconsistent.

 

La salle IV

La salle IV