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Not The World’s 50 Best Restaurants..

Not the world’s 50 best restaurants..

Had I but world enough and time, trotting the globe to eat wouldn’t be such a crime. I am a self-confessed World’s 50 Best Restaurants junkie. I find it commendable that the list is streamlined towards unearthing innovations where (occasionally) no ordinary foodie has reached. There is a catch, though. “Innovation” does not always guarantee “satisfaction”, and no “satisfaction” often means a “waste of time”. But, who am I to judge? I am an amateur eater, have made it to only 21 out of 50 of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2012 and some other odd ones that are now off the 2012 list. Also, given the effort chefs and the restaurant teams have put in to make their establishments a success (and the fact that everybody has his/her own preference), it would have been too mean to publish my carefully selected top 10 “waste of time” list. (Personal email exchange is welcomed).

So, I am having this instead – a very personal “Life-Changing 10″ restaurants in an alphabetical order. These places have somehow changed my personal view on cuisine at different points in my life and I have no hesitation to return to these places.

(NB: To understand how my preference works, I’m pro innovation, hate over-complication and I also love food that retains a touch of comfort. I am usually inclined to appreciate subtle and no-fuss flavours).

- AQUA -
Wolfsburg, Germany

Visited: Winter 2011/12
Why: Chef Sven Elverfeld not only refines but redefines what humble German cuisine is to firework effects. In Chef Sven’s hands, “Candy Apple” was made entirely of sugar crust and shattered with a touch of a spoon to reveal ethereal yogurt foam (precisely as sour as a Granny Smith) and caramelised pecan core. The watery essence of apple underneath bound the dish together. My meal at Aqua was full of these brilliantly executed, non-alienating surprises.
On #Worlds50Best: 22
More photos here.


Paris, France

Visited: Winter 2010/11 & Winter 2010/11 (Twice)
Why: Not that I don’t love red meat but it is chef Alain Passard’s take on vegetables that is a classical revelation. I still remember my plate of root vegetables with cous cous and argan oil at L’Arpege – the exuberant crunch, the acidity and sweetness from multi-textured root vegetables cooked by various means. This is innovation but this is also firmly grounded in classical French techniques.
On #Worlds50Best: 16


- Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare -
New York City, USA

Visited: Spring 2012
Why: Chef Cesar Ramirez rocks this tiny space, an appendix to Brooklyn Fare supermarket. He not only has fine eyes and unlimited budget to fly in the premium fish in the world but he also has the greatest and most creative mind, with huge respect to Japanese sensitivities, to dazzle 16 odd diners with (arguably) the BEST seafood in the world. I still recall Red Snapper served sliced with rich but cleansing ponzu sauce and toppled with crispy snapper scales or utterly rich and creamy sea urchin with yuba, wasabi and dill. As CTBF runs a no photo policy, I was only naughty enough to snap a shot of chocolate truffles at the end. (Lame, I know).
Not #Worlds50Best (This is unbelievable!!!)


- Faviken -
Jarpen, Sweden

Visited: Winter 2011/12
Why: Youthful and talented, chef Magnus Nilsson makes the most of his adverse environment to create a spectacular “real food” meal, paying respect to the raw beauty of the produce, the ways flavours should naturally be maximised, and the gastronomic timelessness as opposed to flashy and fashionable cooking. Cod “lightly brushed with honey and fried in a dry pan” had the burnt sweet crust that immersed itself with the firm sea-sweet fish. The pairing of carrot cooked in “almost burnt sour milk” and spruce and alcoholic vinegar jelly was striking and effective. Apart from the food, the setting at Faviken – embraced by sleepy mountains and a tranquil lake – is purely magical.
On #Worlds50Best: 34
More photo here.


- Hedone -
London, UK

Visited: 5 times since its opening
Why: My first meal at Hedone was not successful but there was this minimal but otherworldly piece of mackerel (with salad and Japanese dressing) that enticed me back to try more of chef Michael Jonsson’s cooking. This is the place to go for upper-crust produce prepared minimally to enhance its natural flavours. Chef Michael’s approach, I’d describe, is French with a touch of Scandinavia, where he originates, while his best of dishes range from Cevenne Onion with Pear, Scallops with Radish and Squid Ink and Venison with Foie Gras and Chestnut Veloute.
Not #Worlds50Best (I foresee Hedone to be on the list in just a matter of years).
More photo here.


- Mugaritz -
San Sebastian, Spain

Visited: Spring 2011
Why: My overall meal at Mugaritz was deceptively simple and with the unmissable regional Basque influences. “Fake Saffron Rice Just Rested” looked like juicy pumpkin seeds and was served in rich saffron sauce and toppled with white bread crouton. “Nails and Flowers” featured a crystalised sugar cone as translucent as a raincoat, with milky ice cream, chocolate nails and edible flowers. The topicality does not stop the meal to resonate the universality of emotion, and by the end of the meal, the ‘techno-emotional’ cuisine of Andoni Luis Aduriz left me in a nirvana of sort.
On #Worlds50Best: 3 (I was rooting this to be no.2!)
More photos here.


- Nahm -
Bangkok, Thailand + London, UK

Visited: 3 Times in Bangkok, Countless in London since 2008
Why: For a Thai who has grown up and become jaded with Thai food, Chef David Thompson is an inspiration. His delicate touch and stubbornness to the long-standing tradition both preserves and revolutionises Thai cuisine. While meals at Nahm London are, at times, inconsistent and restricted by means of daring audiences, its Bangkokian flagship pushes boundaries to the max. Say, a refined version of Pla Rah Song Kreung (rotten fish) for upper-class urbanites. In London, Nahm is the only restaurant where I can find the rarest of Thai desserts cooked to absolute perfection. Next year 2013 in Singapore it would be interesting to see how Nahm fares on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants.
On #Worlds50Best: 50


- Noma -
Copenhagen, Denmark

Visited: Spring 2010 & Autumn 2011
Why: I first went to Noma with zero expectation or knowledge about the restaurant (before #Worlds50Best fame) and the meal ended in subliminal reverence. Chef Rene Redzepi is a nationalist genius and his creations are well matched with taste, imagination and artistry. I don’t think I need to say much else.
On #Worlds50Best: 1
More photos here.


- Pyongyang Hae Dang Hua -
Beijing, China

Visited: 4 times since 2010
Why: This is the ultimate North Korean restaurant of the finest produce and the most impeccably trained kitchen brigade. Pyongyang Hae Dang Hua stands for the opulence of the old world unpolluted by globalisation (one of the very few things that closed countries such as North Korea benefit from). While the kitchen does not intentionally push boundaries, the culture in which we live in and our familiarity with the modern world makes this meal something of a rebellious, retrospective experience. Snapping Turtle was dissected, reassembled and simmered in medicinal ginseng stock, while Dog Meat Hot Pot featured braised roulade of dog’s legs toppled with some ground nuts, spring onions and an infusion of tomato and chilli sauce.
Not #Worlds50Best


- Shinji by Kanesaka -
Singapore, Singapore

Visited: Winter 2011
Why: I have never embarked on a proper gastronomic adventure in Japan and having been on this side of the world (where good Japanese food is scant) I lost interest in such cuisine. Shinji by Kanesaka (praised by my much better eating friend) in Singapore rekindles my faith in prime Japanese produce with premium sushi-making skills to match. I still dream of Oshino-san’s Uni Risotto, which involved a mashing of sea urchin with sushi rice (an estimated 2:1 ratio) until the rice turned creamy and golden and a toppling of chopped tuna belly. The pure, savoury, sea-like custard-y thing passed through my nose and throat at every spoonful – simply the raunchiest bowl of food I’ve ever eaten in my life.
Not #Worlds50Best
More photos here.


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Relae, Copenhagen

Can’t afford Noma?

Copenhagen isn’t necessarily the city for wealthy gourmets, and Relae is one of the prime examples for wallet-friendly eateries. Situated in one of the city’s farther hoods, this was a casual, well-buzzed bistro. Wooden minimalist and exposed brick walls. Open kitchen. No table cloth. No waiter. The menu, the cutlery and the napkins were securely placed in a drawer at your table. There were two four-course “Tasting” options on the menu – vegetarian or none of that – each conveniently priced at 345kr (£39 approx). The meal was speedy. Your chefs played knowledgeable servers. And you could add alcohol, though the wine list was very brief.


Superlative innovations..

There were, of course, compromises on ingredients. For roughly a tenner per course, I wouldn’t be expecting anything exotic. The key features were a lot of humble root vegetables (as it was winter time) and cheaper cuts of meat. To counter this was Relae’s superlatively cutting-edge approach to cooking. Jerusalem Artichokes as ‘amuse bouche’ were expertly baked and finished with a smearing of lemon balm on top. The sugary creaminess of the ‘chokes was well enhanced by the perfuming citrus-y dressing. The bread could easily rival Noma. My first course of Mussels and Potatoes was flawless. The gently poached mussels were brought to life by the seaweed broth. The latter was not aggravatingly seaweed-y but retained mild acidity. Potato allumettes – prepared two ways as poached for an al dente effect and deep fried – added texture contrast and sweet flour-like consistency. I also liked Carrots, Rapeseeds and Chenin Blanc, the centrepieces of which were chunks of roasted carrots coated in toasted rapeseeds and toppled with crispy carrot skins (who needs crispy bacon!?). The carrot puree, infused with Chenin Blanc reduction, oozed delectable fruity-ness. Quite a sweet dish. Veal Tongue and Anchovy was comfort with a touch of genius. Gelatinously meaty veal was moist and boast carnivorous forte. The ‘grilled’ jus was given a twist of anchovy infusion, rendering the jus itself more robust in taste, while the petal-shaped slices of salsify roots injected appetisingly bitter freshness to counter meaty richness. The dessert was truly exciting. Vibrant mandarin oranges were segmented and granita-ed; the buttermilk sorbet appeased the former’s tangy-ness; the raw egg yolk (yes “raw egg yolk”!!) clouded by the icy elements wasn’t too acquired a taste. Rather, it helped create a gel-like body for the dish. Interestingly, the dish was balanced and there was not much foul taste coming from a raw yolk. The coldness might be instrumental in numbing my palate a little. It worked.

So… the bill did not bring tears to my eyes or bring “Declined” to the credit card machine. And for those who can afford Noma but don’t feel like ceremoniously numbing your bums for 3-4 hours, Relae is also a cheerful alternative ;-)


GO FOR: Thoughtful, relaxed and affordable innovations.

(read about new rating here)


Jægersborggade 41
2200 Copenhagen

Tel. +45 3696 6609

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Aamanns “Smørrebrødsdeli”, Copenhagen

Best known after Noma?

Smørrebrød is, after Noma, the ultimate definition of Danish cuisine. This is a national open top sandwich, made of buttered rye bread and whatever that goes on top, and served cold. While you can find this sort of things anywhere in Copenhagen and any Scandinavian towns and cities, I am particularly besotted by the posh interpretation of smørrebrød at Aamanns.

The Aamanns

There are two Aamanns in Copenhagen, one a cafeteria-like deli and the other a casual restaurant. Situated next to each other and just a few minute’s walk from Copenhagen’s main shopping street, both Aamanns are owned and run by Adam Aamanns who has been nationally and internationally praised for making Danish smørrebrød exciting. I popped into the deli for some late breakfast bite. The interior was quirky but wooden, a lot of design that would be much valued by such magazines as Monocle. I liked but did not fall in love. The staff, on the other hand, was lovable and helped look for an English menu for me. (I arrived at the minute they unlocked the door).

On the menu were many kinds of smørrebrød freshly prepared using carefully sourced regional ingredients. Cheese and meatballs were also on the menu. A piece of smørrebrød was priced between 50 – 65 Danish Kroner (roughly £5- 6). Fried Pickled Herring with Spices, Sour Cream and Pumpkin Compote was flavoursome. The meaty herring oozed light acidity, well complimented by the creamy pumpkin and the vibrant crunch of red onion rings. There was a delectable note of orange zest in the background. Rilette of Pork was less impressive. While very finely prepared, the pork flavour wasn’t big enough for my liking. That said, I did enjoy the contrast in texture and taste from mildly pickled sauerkraut and crispy crackling crumbs. My favourite of the day, however, was this Beef Tartare with Tarragon and Egg Emulsion, which looked like an Ankylosaurus but neatly armoured with crisp discs and spiky gherkins. The proportion of beef was generous for £6 and was spot on for its fresh robustness. The garnish – tarragon, egg, capers, onions – played a very good supporting role and did not aggravate the beef. I loved it. I could eat a few more..

How many pieces would you need? One or two, I’d say. The pieces were big. The toppings were generous. The dark rye bread was customarily heavy. I could manage a piece and a bit and was obliged to discard the rest (as I was on my way to eat at another place). One smørrebrød could easily count as a starter. All in all, a very good, quick ‘n cheap meal. Inventive and all..

GO FOR: Fancy bread.

(read about new rating here)


Øster Farimagsgade 10
2100 Copenhagen

Tel. +45 3555 3344

Noma: 3 Days Before the World's Best Restaurant
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Noma: 3 Days Before the World’s Best Restaurant

On 13th April 2010 I walked into Noma, Copenhagen, Denmark, not knowing that three days after it would become the World’s Best Restaurant.

Here is what so good about it..

The name “Noma” derives from “No” as of “Nordic” and “mad” meaning food. Head chef Rene Redzepi and his team, obviously, serves Nordic cuisine, though in some heavily and innovatively brushed up forms. The restaurant makes it clear that their approach to fine dining isn’t about an abundance of foie gras, caviar and truffle but innovative Nordic cuisine and shared heritage. This gastronomic stance isn’t at all alienating to us foreigners whose knowledge on Nordic food stretches no further beyond Gravadlax and IKEA meatballs. Why? Because with every dish comes the chef (who meticulously prepares it) to our table patiently and kindly explain away the ingredients and methods of cooking. They spoke fluent English too..

I opted for a Noma Nassaaq, a 12-course tasting menu that fused Noma’s classics with new inventive dishes.

(Amuse Bouche)
These were two of five amuse-bouche: chicken skin crackers with lumpfish roe and herb crackers with vinegar dust. Prior to and between these two were Pickled Roots, Savoury Salmon Cookies, and Radish with Edible Soil. This was followed by freshly made bread with goat’s milk curd and pork fat. Every dish tasted refreshing and NEW!!!

(1) Beetroot, Sorrel and Rapeseed Sauce

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