All posts filed under “Eastern European

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41° Experience, Barcelona

41° Experience

There is so much brilliance I can recall about this meal, but I have decided not to put all into writing. Lazy blogger, no. Necessity, yes. The “elements of surprise” are crucial, according to FAQ. When it was first launched, 41° Experience (or 41 Grados) by El Bulli-famed Ferran and Albert Adria was meant to be just a cocktail bar for the annexed Tickets. But it has morphed.. into a 16-seat, tasting-menu-only restaurant, most recently alleged as one of the most difficult to get reservations in the world.

Briefly. There is no reservation line. The booking is made via their website and partially requires payment. There are some drinks included in the €200-per-head tasting menu. You can order a separate alcoholic pairing at €45. Blah. Blah. The venue is a decent-sized bar space, dimmed and dark. There were more FOHs than diners. Above me was a nebula of eclectic images – a kind of modern pop art featuring disparate cultural items around the world – being played in slow motion. And soothing trance-like music..

Not so briefly. The fun at 41° Experience kicked off with a stubbornly square, neatly crafted “41°” ice cube which chilled a smoky liquid substance. Along came a jar containing drops of green olive, preserved in oil. Just your typical jar of olive – but the molecularised EL BULLI style. The liquid olive essence was entrapped in a gelatinous skin. Fragile, it rolled for an escape on the tongue and burst into a taste of what would have been like if I stuffed my mouth with 10 olives in one go. I have never made enough effort to be at El Bulli and I am – or was – never convinced by molecular gastronomy. BUT. That was some alchemy that I highly recommend.

Through my first 3-4 courses, I departed from Barcelona – the 41° latitude as the name of the restaurant portends- wandered through Italy, France, Russia, Asia and many more. Ferran and Albert Adria not only know so much about cuisines but also cultures, wherein lies humourous anecdotes and stereotypes. All these are re-interpreted into all the 41 dishes served at 41° Experience. Some were more successful than others. Some got me to physically interact and/or contemplate intellectually; others made me LAUGH OUT LOUD. (Something about France, of course. And Rene Redzepi might be on the menu). That said, as the concept of the menu relies very heavily on the elements of surprise, of not knowing what comes next and which country where you will end up, it is best not to do so much telling (or display any sharp and clear images). The cooking was exquisite but a complement to the concept. SO.. if you are a global character, know a lot about cuisines and cultures, you will be having a very good time at 41° Experience. If you are averse to internationalism, there is a high risk that you might not get the “jokes”, which are the best part of the meal.

Life-changing? No. But this meal reversed my eagerness in life and I felt happy, giggly.. as if I became a child again :-D

 

(Sorry. Can’t help not telling you of my most favourite dish – a re-constructed Peruvian “causa”. A thick slice of super fresh and firm yellowtail/hamachi marinated in lime, chilli and garlic was served nigiri-style on a velvety ball of spiced-infused mashed potatoes. The dish paid homage to the Japanese influences in Peruvian culinary tradition and taste-wise it was a bomb of citric umami).

PS Don’t hate me for doing this >_<

 

 

RATING: 5/5

41° EXPERIENCE

Avinguda Paral-lel, 164
08015, Barcelona
Spain

www.41grados.es


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Delaunay: Old World Station in Aldwych

Old world..

Everybody will have different views for Delaunay. The Michael Winner type will probably feel besotted even before stepping their feet in, and so it seemed with many suited gents and Mulberry-ed ladies that dined side by side me today. You know, it’s Jeremy King. You know, it’s (nearly) the exact replica of The Wolseley (where if you ask the doorman for taxi and don’t tip, he will bark at you). A kind of comforting place for those getting bored of their maid’s cooking or those aspiring to have a live-in maid. For middle class food enthusiasts with hard-earned money, however, it might be a different story. They may discreetly cringe at the dark mahogany dining room, the elegantly stiff, waistcoated FOH, and even more so, the menu that reads “prawn/crab/lobster cocktail”. This very painfully ancient world still exists..

I should not be mean; I was well looked after at Delaunay, starting with an array of daily newspaper for lone diners, to the waiter’s combing the crumbs despite the fact that I didn’t touch bread. When I inquired about the absence of Battenberg (my Wolseley favourite) from the menu, I was kindly told the cake was reserved for afternoon tea but they would be happy to take my special request next time I popped in. Yes.. you do need to speak a bit of the Wolseley language.

Eastern European galore

The menu was distinctive in its Austrian – Eastern European accent – borsch, goulash, schnitzel of many kinds, frankfurter, kasekrainer – still with a Mayfair price label. The rest was comfort. They also did Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pud on Sundays. Jumping right in.. my prawn cocktail (£13) lacked a taste of success. Despite the fresh ingredients – prawns mixed with avocado cubes and finely shredded lettuce – I found the dressing to be inadequately boozed and spiced. The acidity also came mainly from the lemon juice, and not much so from the Marie Rose. Goulash (£7.25) was generous in meat content and made its appearance with a feisty aroma of pepper and paprika. It tasted accordingly, yet not relinquishing the intense beef stock flavour. Schnitzel Wiener (£10.75) was a thin but vast sheet of veal fillet, deliciously crumbed, fried and jus-ed. Just the way it should be. No unpleasant aftertaste of oil. You need to order separate sides; I didn’t. My meal ended with a very rich Sachertorte (£5.50). I loved the profuse blending of chocolate, the way it clouded and disintegrated on my tongue. That said, the Sachertore came on its own without the traditional garnish of whipped cream. Considering how oh-so-moist the cake was, it didn’t need any..really.

Very briefly, my meal at Delaunay was not bad, but it was, like my post writing today, verged on being quite dull and uninspiring. For many (refer to the “type” above) this will become the destination, in ways that The Ivy, The Wolseley, Caprice, J Sheeky are. I am not fussed over that “type”, so I don’t mind returning when in sheer mood for comfort food. And that’s about it.

 

GO FOR: Eastern European. Old school comfort. Affluent scene.
RATING: 3.5/5

(read about rating here)

DELAUNAY

55 Aldwych
London
WC2B 4BB

Tel. 020 7499 8558

www.thedelaunay.com

The Delaunay on Urbanspoon

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Shinok, Moscow

We decided to take a detour to Shinok because we wanted to take the piss out of it. This, we heard, was a “fake” farm restaurant where you could pet animals.

Not clear enough?

While it’s not extraordinary that Russians do love theming their restaurant, they – the restaurateurs behind Cafe Pushkin and Turandot – have gone extra miles in simulating a typical Ukrainian peasant farmhouse. We arrived at this dungeon-like tower, walked up the stairs to a dimly lit dining room which looked positively medieval (Do Ukrainians still live in the Middle Ages, who knows?), and there were windows, many of them, and a wall seemingly made of mud enclosing this little farm. The sun gleamed through the barely polished glass. I looked out. There was an old lady in a dress – unbeknownst to contemporary fashionistas – knitting hiding herself from the sun ray in a little thatched terrace. Around her I saw a chicken pecking for corn, a peacock perching on the wooden gate and a cow – yes A COW!!! – mooing and wagging its tail perhaps unhappily at its negligent tender. I was thrilled.. all the animals (and the only human being) seemed undisturbed by us the diners.

On a second glance.. ermmm was that really sun light? No. Were they really trees and wood? No. The “natural” farm-like surrounding was thoroughly – how shall I put it? – PLASTIC!!??!! The animals were real and cohabitating with these fakeries… my comment ended here as this staring peacock did not like me making judgments on her “home”…

The food..

Despite Shinok’s ludicrously gimmicky peasantry, our meal there turned out rustic-fantastic. My other bib’s eyes jumped right into the dish billed as “Finest Selection of Lard” while I settled for a less spectacular Herrings in Fur Coat. The lard turned out a lavish orchestra of cured pork, bacon and fat. Served with a garnish of herbs, chilli, garlic, rye bread and piquant mustard. My clothed herring was sensational and the best of its kind. The pungent pickled flavours of the herring swam through layers of velvety sweet mayo and beetroot. The yolky cream on top smelled as fresh as a (real) farm yard. We also had a Borsch to share. Intensely beefy stock with a universe of rustic trimmings – beans, beetroot, etc. It’s also the BEST borsch both of us had ever eaten. And we ordered a dish called “Vareniki” which were traditional dumplings stuffed with beef and baked in cheese. Looked meh but tasted gorgeous.

For mains.. there was this Chicken Kiev. Whole chicken breast remade to appear a gigantic drumstick as big as a 5-year-old’s arm (in case you misread this I never eat a toddler). Lightest ever batter and when I cut it was like a dam of liquid butter had been broken. The pork meatballs were also good. Came with mildly acidic tomato sauce and sauteed wild mushrooms and nestled in silky mash. It lacked the wow factor the other dishes had though.

And.. the dessert of what-I-didn’t-take-note-what-it’s-called (perhaps Caviar Girl can help?). Basically it was a paper-thin pancake deep filled with ground poppy seed and drizzled with what I made out to be condensed milk. A pleasantly gummy skin with a lot of grainy nuttiness inside. We liked it but couldn’t finish. My other bib also ordered a sorbet..

The meal concluded with the bill that as we recalled wasn’t shocking (considering how much we had ordered). Around £80. Food-wise, there was no bad dish and many bordered on being paired down but sensational. I love Shinok. It’s gimmicky – the setting, the waiter’s costume, everything – but it paid off so well at the end of the meal. Interestingly I seem to have made an acquaintace with a colourful bird who looked bemused at what I was eating. I love Shinok and if I return to Moscow it will also be the place I go back to. On leaving I tried to wave at the old peasant lady who had moved on to tending the cow but she did not take note of me and us. Into her character? Maybe just in a universe of her own…

PS The restaurant next to Shinok called Manon looked quite mental, too. But there is no farm animal there so we’ll give it a miss.

Enough said,

My head rating says, “10 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “9 out of 10″.

SHINOK

1905 Goda Ulitsa 2/1905 Года ул., 2
Moscow
Russia
123100

Tel. +7495 651 8101

www.shinok.ru

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Vogue Cafe, Moscow

Restaurants in Moscow fall into two categories.. roughly. They are either heavily themed (I’m talking big trees, farm animals or a recreation of the Versailles!) or merely “places to be seen” (I’m talking mafias swinging luxury watches that could bail out Greece economy). Vogue Cafe, just opposite Moscow’s prestigious department store Tsum (imagine classy, spacious Harvey Nichols with even more affluent shoppers), is a good categorical compromise..

… and the food was alright, too.

This is an Arcady Novikov restaurant. Mark the name if you have never heard of it. He’s probably Russia’s most powerful restaurateur with strings of aggressively successful high end eateries (we are talking 40+ venues) and a handful of bustling restaurant chains. He is soon to open his first venture in London in late summer, just opposite Nobu on Berkeley Street. Some design here.

Back to Vogue Cafe. You are greeted by fruit macaroons of neon colours while entering the restaurant. Two rooms. One serves as a cafe; the other the restaurant. Off white walls adorned with vogue memorabilia. Framed photography by world’s most renown shooters. High-comfort chairs befitting three Michelin starred establishments. Minimalism gave way to relaxed ambiance. The website describes this place as where “all the guests are star” and they bloody are. Loaded businessmen, models, fashionistas.. not everybody in sight wore jewelleries that did not match or carried a handbag that did not shout “if you steal me, my bodyguard will make you disappear from the face of the earth”.

The menu devised by head chef Yury Rozhkov speaks volumes about the restaurant. Safe. A wide selection of Russian and European comfort dishes, Russian “sushi” and a lot of fruit and cakes (not necessarily served together). Fabulously luxurious ingredients.. a lot of cep mushrooms, Kamchatka crabs, and of course, Beluga! Bearable price tag. An average is about 700-1000 rubles (£15- 22) per dish. There is no pressure to get a three-course meal and indeed the millionaire-looking ones next to me were only eating sliced watermelons!! The wine list with a snooty man on front also speaks volume that could be summed up as “if you don’t have money, don’t bother picking me up”..

Dishes..

Very chilled gazpacho with Kamchatka crab (1). Seriously refreshing. Subtle hint of peppery aftertaste. Very aromatic thanks to chopped basil leaves. Sweet fluffy crab with crunchy cucumber cubes, basil and light cream dressing worked well together. Warm crab and tuna roll (2). A Russian take on sushi. Mayo-dressed crab tightly hugging the Maguro strip. NO RICE! Wrapped again with cucumber sheets and fresh seaweed and deep fried in tempura batter. Sounds laborious but the result was astonishingly good. Oozing mayo creamy goodness and all. Crispy skin.. clear in taste. Came with dipping sauce for tempura, not the usual shoyu. Pan fried cep mushrooms (2). Verged on dullness. Chunky ceps sautee with onions and dill. But as far as summer ceps go (a different kind from the “autumn” ones), theses were the superb quality ingredients but they (naturally) did not have big flavour. Nothing to write home about.

Desserts..

Wild strawberry tart (4). Expensive. All fraises des bois dishes are. Not a stunner. Glossed in its own syrup the ugly – you must admit they look hideous! – strawberries were pearls of gorgeousness but let down by this clod of custard and a soggy base.

To be honest I’d rather buy them strawberries off the street and have them on their own..

Oh! I did. 300 rubles per pint. The price can easily triple in the UK.

Not a food destination restaurant but one you can stop by for some nibble and crowd-watching. All that was not too bad an experience. The casualness of Vogue Cafe would definitely vouch me another visit. The pricing is, as said, bearable and will not bankrupt you if you order wisely. Perhaps no cep or wild strawberries.

And the best of best?

It is opened from morning till very, very late!

Enough said,

My head rating says, “7 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “7 out of 10″.

VOGUE CAFE

Кузнецкий мост, 7/9
(Kuznetsky Street)
Moscow
Russia
107031

Tel. +8 495 6231701

 

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Quince: The Feast of Fragrances

Many paparazzi were awaiting my arrival at the May Fair Hotel.

 

NO..

 

They were there for the first night of Silvena Rowe’s Quince?

 

NO…

 

After spending two years living next to the St Martins Lane Hotel I learned Paparazzi only feast on celebs. The May Fair Hotel itself is a prime spot. It is not only London Fashion Week ‘s official sponsor but a gossip-star infested venue, the fave of Paris Hilton (Does she not stay at the Hilton?), to begin with. Thanks to the Glamour Award 2011, there were plenty – from JLS, the Saturdays, to Usher, Rosie Huntingdon-Whiteley and the women intended for the next X Factor judge panel – for paparazzi to maul this evening.

I was, however, after another kind of food done up by Silvena Rowe.

There was much anticipation when I looked at the Quince website. I recalled watching the Bulgaria-born chef and her metallic blond hair on the telly. To me, she stood out a lot more than the Saturdays. Rowe’s food is an inventive combo of Eastern European cuisine with Turkish influences. The menu sounded promising.. indeed so promising I thought it wouldn’t live up to my expectations. This time I was proved wrong.

Ordering.. many small dishes to share as starters. The price here fluctuated between £6.50 to £21. The average would be around £9. We asked for a few and ended up with more than we actually ordered.

(1) Aubergine £7, (2) Borek “Cigars” £7.50, (3) Spiced lamb cutlets £14.50, (4) Crispy Fried Baby Squid, Quince Aioli £9.50, (5) Borek Bites £6.50, (6) Duck and Foie Gras £10.50 and (7) King Prawns, Pomegranate Butter £21…. and there were only two of us.

Why so many?

Two dishes were comp’ed. The Borek Bites were complimentary of the kitchen. And a minute after my non-courteous photographic session with my “cigar”. Ms Rowe walked over and outed me a blogger. (Infectious personality she has and very passionate. The kind of chef you want to converse with rather than send back to the kitchen). Checking our order, Rowe insisted we had the King Prawns and Pomegranate Butter.

Her signature dish, she said, so how could we say no?

Dishes. We smelled them metres before they reached our table. Frangrances of fresh meat and spiced exoticism. “Different” and risky dishes for its Mayfair location. (Do people in this area actually go anywhere else but overpriced Italian restaurants?). Never mind.

All dishes came with modern twists. Pronounced smoky aubergine paste and tahini rendered with fruity acidity from intense pomegranate juice. Not the smoothest paste but this first cooling taste married well with feisty babaganoush. The Borek “Cigars” were the labour of 10+ hour cooking of lamb in seven spices – cardamom, coriander, to name a few – in crispy pastry. A deceptively delicate dish. The Borek bites of feta cheese and leeks provided gummy bursts of fresh cheese and natural sweetness from the leeks. A big, greaseless bowl of crumbed baby squids. There was a lot of cumin-chilli-cardamom coating going on but the spices were well-balanced and enhanced the flavours and texture of the squids. Subtle sweet note from the quince aioli. The duck and foie gras came in filo pastry. A bigger kind of cigars. Tender shredded duck moistened by foie gras. No distinctive pieces but the livery flavours in the oil were so clear. The dusting of icing sugar and cinnamon added sweetness that worked oh-so-well!!! The lamb cutlets, though nicely cooked, were forgettable. The charred smell overshadowed the luxury of the truffle in this case.

And the prawns..

Perfectly cooked. Enhanced with this drizzle of glossy pomegranate butter made from pomegranate juice concentrate. Sour with gentle sweetness. Pebbles of pomegranate seeds became juicy surprise. Interestingly there was such clarity to the dish. The prawns – taste and smell – were not lost in this rather rich, delectable dressing. £21 was a hefty price tag but as the flavours posit themselves on the Michelin-starred level I dare say it’s worth it!

 

To be honest, I could just finish myself off with a dessert at this point and was mortified by the thought of what to follow.

THAT WAS…

Pulled lamb for two (£18.50 per person) with rosemary salt. Labelled Ottoman style, the shoulder of lamb was slow-cooked for 12 hours. Came in two chunky pieces and was later shredded to our pain/pleasure at the table. The fragrance permeated the air when the lamb landed. In this sous-vide age when food seems lacking in smell, Rowe’s hearty, deliciously scented affair is just what I have been looking for. Lamb was so moist and tender I hardly needed to bite. I had this with side dishes (£4.50 each) of Rice Pilaf, Blueberries, Pistachio and Lemon Balm and Labneh (yogurt cheese) with Paprika Oil and Nasturtium Flowers Za’atar. Clean, minimalist flavour enhanced by the fruity rice combo and the heavenly thick, creamy yogurt with a kick of paprika.

This surely was a feast.

I was stuffed. Period.

We settled with Orange Baklava and Pistachio Ice Cream (£7.50). Baked to order, hence 20 min wait. This was not the baklava I used to but a fluffy croissant-like roll with generous pouring of orange-infused syrup and crushed pistachio powder. Very light. But – let me admit – after that lamb I couldn’t quite taste anything else!

Both of us love Quince for its difference and find the idea of sharing works in this jovial context. Refreshing food. No compromise on flavour, ingredients and portion size. Rowe’s dishes are refined but do not trim down excitement and theatricality. That said, there is no compromise in pricing either. If you don’t order like me, you’ll end up paying around £60+ including drinks.

Worth it?

That’s debatable as Eastern European + Turkish food is yet to be registered as luxurious fine dining. But, bear in mind here as the good is definitely in the food.

GO FOR: Comforting Turkish with modern twists. Celeb spotting.

RATING: 4 out of 5

(read about new rating here)

QUINCE

The May Fair Hotel
Stratton Street
Mayfair
London
W1J 8LT

Tel. 020 7845 8680

www.quincelondon.com

Quince on Urbanspoon

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Tbilisi

I was astounded walking down Holloway Road at about 7pm and seeing advertisements of value meals starting at £2. Was I really in London? Was this really part of London? The road, as well as the shops on both sides, appeared positively foreign. Tbilisi, my destination tonight, did not make me feel any less alienated. This was a restaurant in a shophouse, one of many on Holloway Road, obscured by its frosted entrance. There was only a red light sign indicative that this place did exist.

As the name suggested, the restaurant was one of the very few Georgians in the Big Smoke. The menu seemed authentic – meaning a lot of foreign terms for food and dishes I didn’t quite know – but it was also descriptive. I settled for a starter for two called Kolheti, which consisted of cheese bread, beetroot puree and aubergine with walnuts and herbs. The cheese bread was a cross between a pita bread and a focaccia, with soft cheese in the middle. Gorgeous. The sweet, herbed beetroot proved a worthy company to the lightly salted bread, while the soft aubergines were mellow but with occasional bursts of fresh pomegranate. The overall flavours were well rounded, unlike many other Russian or Central Asian treats I had come across.

The main courses were also stellar. My Khinkali – gargantuan steamed pork and beef dumplings – was meaty and perfectly seasoned. The dish was quite similar to a Chinese Siu Long Bao but larger and with less soupy content within. Also, there was more bite to the casing of Khinkali than a Siu Long Bao thanks to its thickness. My other bib went for Chanakhi, which was a dish of spicy lamb and aubergine baked with potato, onions and tomatoes. The sweet and mild acidity of the tomatoes came in nicely making the stew quite rich but not aggressively heavy. The lamb chunks were tender and scented.

The puddings were interesting. I asked for Pelamushi, a traditional Georgian dish made from grape juice, sugar and corn flour. It was quite like a cake with a sticky texture. Flavour-wise, there was a nice juxtaposition between acidity and sweetness from the grape juice. The one at Tbilisi was served with a dollop of chocolate sauce and a sprinkle of crushed walnuts on top for texture contrast. Quite heavy, I must say. The Baked Green Apple with Honey, Walnuts and Yoghurt Filling my other bib ordered tasted a bit less foreign. Mushy texture with the intense sweetness and fresh apple flavour combined. It was, say, interesting..

The meal at Tbilisi brought me almost as close to Georgia as I could from London. The dishes were different but very well cooked and not altogether bizarre. All you’d ask for in a meal was there – depth, dimension, texture, and so on. Let’s admit, Georgian food would not become big soon enough that you could brag about your meal to others. That said, I’d highly recommend Tbilisi – and Cigansky Ray around the corner – for those daring to venture beyond their own gastronomic comfort.

And, o!, did I forget to mention the Georgian wine?

It was one of the finest in the world. We shared this bottle of Pirosmani. The fruitiest red I’d drunk and tasting very low alcohol content. Loved it!

Enough said,

My head rating says, “8 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “8 out of 10″.

TBILISI

91 Holloway Road
London
N7 8LT

Tel. 020 7607 2536

Tbilisi on Urbanspoon