All posts filed under “Foraging

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Leandro @ One Leicester Street

The start of something (utterly) exciting..

Where do I begin? The word “supper club” has been a distant memory, and being subjected to a communal table in the middle of an unpopulated dining room daunted me. The glimmering kitchen was my hope. So was the name Leandro Carreira, a chef who held senior positions at two of the world’s most inspiring kitchens Mugaritz and Viajante.

Leandro or Leo is at One Leicester Street for 3 months (until mid-June, I guess), doing what seems an understatement, a “supper club”. This is an 8-course menu with beverage pairings (by Talented Mr Fox) at £88. Chefs are keen to exchange thoughts and diners are encouraged to nose around in the kitchen. The cuisine is innovative – an epiphany both of taste and of thought process.

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Koya & Koya Bar: The Japanese Restaurant(s) That Will Re-Define Soho

A rather loyal customer.. ?

I love udon. I love delicious, honest cooking. And I spend at least 2 of my meals per week at Koya.

Koya – for those still unfamiliar with the concept – is a very traditional, walk-in only udon-ya (udon restaurant). The menu is dominated by one Japanese food category. Udon, that is. This type of thickly cut, white noodle is made from wheat flour, salt and water. It is, then, boiled, washed, and when needed, re-heated. The cooking is an interplay of simplicity. You need good noodle, good dashi and good toppings.

The udon dishes at Koya are served in many ways (i.e. “hot udon in hot broth”, “cold udon with hot broth”, “cold udon with cold sauce to dip” and “cold udon with cold sauce to pour”) and with a good range of toppings to choose from. The udon noodle is made fresh daily at the premise. There is also an inventive “Daily Special” blackboard that utilizes the best of ingredients at budget price, keeping me on edge.

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Restaurant Story: Youthful Innovations by Tom Sellars

Young, et al.

Age, in my opinion, is an arbitrary factor. Chef Tom Sellars is young. He is, to be specific, 26 years old and is now heading the reportedly exciting kitchen of Restaurant Story. When Tom turns 30, the age factor will hopefully have been dropped (by PR and the chef himself) and the more contemplative talk about his creative gastronomic identity will surface. I am 28 years old. I eat around. And when I turn 30, I will definitely not let anybody talk about my age. I might also have accumulated an experience of taste that turns me into a snob and exempts me from enjoying ordinary innovations. And this is my concern about recommending Restaurant Story – an experience of taste on diners’ part.

Let’s begin. I liked the look of Restaurant Story. Most efficiently, it utilizes its location, which was once a public loo, to emulate the grand view of the Shard. Two tasting menus – a £45 six-course and a £65 ten-course – are being operated. Like the design of the restaurant, the dishes are precise and appealing to the eyes. The taste, however, needed work and the majority of my 6-course menu were derivatives from more mature restaurants elsewhere. In other words, if you have pretty much been there and eaten that, you might not find this retold Story a revelation of taste or innovation.

 
My 6-course menu kicked off with a parade of amuse. Nasturtium Flower was piped with greenish oyster emulsion. The proportion was wrong and the taste was indiscernibly peppery. The very light Cod Skin with benignly creamy cod emulsion was not so cloddish and exhibited skills. The potential can also be tasted in fried Rabbit Sandwich, which married the warm rilettes-like savouriness with colourful pickled carrot discs. The tarragon note was subtle. Moving on to the beef wax that was shaped into the candle, I became less impressed. While the idea – of lighting a beefy candle and letting it melt to become dipping oil for the bread – was fun, the actual experience of sitting through a beef fat candle dribbling, smelling profusely but unpleasantly, and congealing countered the enjoyment of what that followed. The crusty bread to sponge up the fat, though freshly baked, was uneven in texture and at times stodgy. To go with the bread, I was also given another side of veal tongue with apple and celery. The latter ingredient dominated the dish. Burnt Onion was served with gin, apple and thyme. In my opinion, to create a spectacular dish of humble-sounding ingredients, you need to ensure premium quality of humbleness that subverts diners’ perceptions. In this case, my onion – tender and nicely caramelised – still tasted just like any onion. The gin broth verged on being very boozy, and this unbalanced concoction with thyme left the dish with a bitter aftertaste. Scallop, lightly cured in elderflower vinegar, was an alchemical departure from a Noma signature. I found the spring-y crispness of the scallop, achieved by the curing, delightful to the tongue, while the balls of dill-scented cucumber (a few of which were ash-coated) provided refreshing contrast. The horseradish cream, however, was too glue-like and would fare better with dainty lightness. Lamb – sous-vided and seared – did not leave any impression for taste. More worrying was its garnish – best summed up as variation of raw lettuce – that was so rich in chlorophyll it could freak out vegans.

As desserts arrived, there appeared a disparity of *theme* in the meal. While the green-ish, foraged-ish taste dominated the savoury, the desserts were fun-led and less wild. Rhubarb compote was layered with vanilla custard and egg white foam in a school milk bottle. Very Tom Aikens. The consistency was thick and not easy to be sucked through a straw. The layers were also separated in ways that I was unpleasantly hit by the sharp acidity of rhubarb compote before being led into thick lovable lushness of custard. Three Bears Porridge was cute, and at first, *fun* to eat. We were encouraged to try three servings of honey-laced oatmeal porridge and pick whichever tasted “just right”. Unluckily, the fun quickly left the table, as I chanced into the inedible “too salty”, then spooned up the “too sweet” and finally cringed at the “too bloody sweet”. Rose-perfumed teacakes were enjoyably redemptive.

There is potential, still. And I don’t want to write my experience at Restaurant Story off completely. Certain individual components in a few of my dishes are skilfully prepared. As with all start-up restaurants – this being one – they will get better with age. There, too, are wonders that young talented chefs can bring, but at present, from a point of view of a presumably slightly more aged and more experienced diner, I prefer my meal to be more mature in execution and balance.

 

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RATING 3/5

RESTAURANT STORY

201 Tooley Street
London
SE1 2UE

Tel. 020 7183 2117

www.restaurantstory.co.uk

Story on Urbanspoon

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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.

 

- L’ARPEGE -
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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MY 2012…

Happy New Year to You All ^_^

My 2012 started with a cancelled holiday, a lukewarm winter, a depressingly lukewarm washer-dryer, a cat that shuns me and no bloody decent restaurant opened during those festive days. No resolutions. Not too much to look forward to in 2012, apart from the grand opening of Pitt Cue Co., the arrival of Barrafina in Covent Garden and a handful more of restaurants, such as Mari Vanna, Dabbous, Lima, and Bubbledogs. I predict the street market scene prevails, and very much so for burgers, steaks, and quite possibly, fried chicken. There will be more veggie-oriented places to counter that trend. Small portions will still be in. Fine dining chefs will serve less jus and will plate their food in the same manner as Rene Redzepi. Ethnic food – Asian in particular – will never move away from being stereotyped and Asian supper clubs will be the ones (for me) to look out for. That said, I feel Latin/South American might be the new thing for 2012.

There will be more trips (for me). I have kindled interests in Russia, Central Asia and towards the East. Moscow, St Petersburg, a few places in Japan, China, Vietnam and Burma are on my agenda. I look into wandering into North Korea, too. For Europe, I will be scouring not-so-mainstream regions and exploring more of Scandinavia, Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany. By the end of 2012, I will try making it to all The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. There will be more trips, weirder food .. and The Skinny Bib will (fingers crossed) metamorphose into “something”.

2011 in Few Words..

Before all that to happen, this is my quick 2011 round-up..

To start. I ate dogs. I ate cocks. I ate raw chicken. The latter came from Bincho Yakitori, the super restaurant that dares push all the boundaries for those up for it. I caught my own fish, sampled blowfish and found the taste not at all deadly. I made friends with a great handful of amazingly cool food enthusiasts. I even woke up early to travel with one. The “woke up early” will not happen again. I also had the fabulous opportunities to stuff myself at CC and many world’s destinations. I have learned to book tables a year ahead, though I spent 10% of my life on auto redialing but failed to snatch a table at Keller’s popup. I also spent another 5% of my life figuring out a new and less confusing rating system but only came out with this lame one. I still insist on being among the first reviewers of restaurants.

… it was definitely an eye-opening (or mouth-opening?) year and it would have been a lot less fun without you lot to share all these exciting things with  >__<

I’d also like to extend my best wishes to these 10 eateries that, despite their being old or new, I consider (un)advertised powerhouses of my London existence and have made my 2011 a superlatively indulgent year…

In no particular order…

Roganic… exciting food. Excitingly friendly flocks. And, mind those ceiling lamps!!
Opera Tavern… inventive food. Relaxed glam. Hot boys. Greatest neighbours. And don’t forget the Iberico Foie Burger :-9
Sushi of Shiori… an out-of-this-world sushi gloryhole. Thoughtful creations. If walking in is not possible, there is a takeaway option.
Big Apple Hot Dog… the hot dog pimp that gets London well stuffed. Now mobilizing between two locations.
Gauthier Soho… bonker chef + cute French twinks = comfortingly gay elegance. Also London’s most budget Michelin starred.
Barrafina… a real Spanish bustle that never dies down since its first opening. Best tortilla.
Dinner by Heston… a place that oozes warmth and charm. Occasional celebrities. No pretense.
Beirut Express… the BEST Sherwarma and many other great things. (Just turn blind eyes on service).
Hawksmoor Seven Dials… the best burgers & lobster roll in London in my book.
The Heron… uncompromising Thai (with distracting karaoke and horrifying retro disco look).

Apart from this, I instantly crave for Beijing Dumplings from Jen’s Cafe, Beef Pelmini and Truffled Salad Olivier from Bob Bob Ricard, Mac & Cheese from Spuntino, Wagyu & Truffle Sushi from Zuma, Duck & Foie Gras Borek from Quince, Pickled Herrings from Goodman’s, Eggs Benedict from The Wolseley, Madeleines and ejaculating Custard Doughnuts from St John, Wagyu Slider from CUT, Afternoon Tea from Espelette/The Connaught Hotel, Peking Duck from Min Jiang and Chicken Rice from Old Town 97. And, before I sound like I do not eat vegetable, I love Mushroom and Walnut Miso Udon from Koya very much.

And the most exciting of London 2011!?

Alex McKechnie!!… the superstar mixologist who came up with many super quirky, innovative cocktail and food pairings at Viajante Bar. (He has left, but Viajante & The Corner Room still rock). There will be more coming from Alex so check his site..

 

 

2012.. BRING IT ON  :-D

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Mugaritz, San Sebastian (2)

This is the continuation of my Part I at Mugaritz. Make sure you have a peek of what came first here ;)

And my experience continued with another cross-culturally familiar item: Kuzu bread (10). Made from starch flour. So white it looks as if plastered up with ceramic. Sponge-y but dense. Quite heavy (yes I lifted the bread after the guy left!!). I was told not to eat the whole of it as it would kill my appetite for the meal. Tore up a piece and in my mouth. There was this distilled sweet creamy-ness in my mouth. The artichoke and bonemarrow ragout topping was glistening and densely meaty. Grainy artichokes – a joy to bite – with a rich note of greasy marrow.

Also risked killing my appetite by finishing the bread..

 

Pork Noodle with “Arraitxiki” Extract & Toasted Rice (11). An alchemist work.. I took the noodle for poached pork under-skin. Similar gelatinous texture. Udon-sized but not as lengthy. Could be found in northeastern Thai salad! Sea bream extract loosened up the noodle and made it slurp-able. Not the stellar dish and I found the texture more memorable than the taste.

Grilled White Tuna Fillet with “Piparras” (12). Pan seared fatty tuna (I deducted) was slightly raw within. Delicate stripes of onions and peppers revived the fish with a polite kick. The waiter told me to leave the skin alone but I found it nicely crispened up and agreeably edible (unlike the fatty tuna at Arzak!). That said, this was my least favourite dish of the whole menu. There wasn’t enough freshness to balance off the oily meat.. perhaps some acidity?

Textures of Coastal Fish (13). Chunks of rock fish on top of smaller chunks of rock fish. The smaller bites boast a more crispy coating. Very minimally seasoned. Salt to bring out the natural flavour and herbs for dimensions. Also scantily garnished was Piece of Beef, Grilled Steak Emulsion, Salt Crystal (14). Tenderest slices of beef. Served quite rare and tasted aggressively beefy. The colour was theatrical, too. The “Grilled Steak Emulsion” was indeed made from cartilage fat and milk. Silky texture. Quite salty and with a hint of smoky-ness. A more refined version of steak with bonemarrow.

Iberico Pork Tail, Crispy Leaves, Toasted Sweet Millet Oil (15) Best way to describe this? STICKY!!! While the condensed Iberico flavours were rushing through my mouth, I felt as if I could not force my lips apart EVER again. The sauce in which the flattened tail submerged had this deadly delicious super glue texture (not taste). The “skin” leaves were perfectly light and providing biteful contrast.

My waiter came back to signal the end of the savoury delights.

.. HOW WAS IT? ..

I said, “Very sticky! Could do with some more.” .. *licking lips*

Lemon Cream with Daikon Radish and Unsweetened Sugar (16) washed away the stickiness at first bite. The acidity was mild but pronounced, working well with the cuddling string of crunchy daikon radish. But it was Broken Walnuts (Toasted and Salted), Cold Milk Cream, Armagnac Jelly (17) that wooed me over. Not only that I liked its abstract architectural shape but also the refreshing milky-ness and the conniving walnuts that were cracklingly alcoholic.

Right. The end!

“Nails and Flowers” (18) Was there any cultural thing about nails that I missed? “Nails” also made their appearance on Arzak‘s petit four. Never mind. This one.. crystal sugar cone as translucent as a raincoat, with chocolate nails and edible flowers. Similar(?) milk ice cream as the penultimate dessert. It felt an extenuate pleasure, not a course on its own. Loved it though.

DONE..

..

I

would

like

to

prostrate (not prostate)

myself

at

ANDONI LUIS ADURIZ..

..

His gastronomic innovations surpassed everything I have tried and tasted in my life.

..

Mmm… too bold a claim?

.. Let’s say I’d rate Mugaritz as highly as Noma. The experience, of course, was not interchangeable. Mugaritz was more thought-provoking and playful. (Noma more serene and peaceful). Minimalism, tangibility and the take not only on ingredients but on diner’s emotion – Aduriz labelled his philosophy as “techno-emotional” – I believe will win everyone over. I also found the transmission of ingredients and cooking – the Orient and the Basque – at Mugaritz was arguably the smoothest and most successful. I forgot L’ Astrance, Gagnaire, and whereever else I had been that attempted eastern combinations.

That’s it.. it was a flash.. I submitted..

..

.. I FORGOT EVERYTHING..

I loved my meal at Mugaritz so much. It’s like culinary nirvana. I contemplated cancelling other restaurants I booked. I knew nothing – nowhere – would rival this experience of mine for a long time.

Cabbie back to hotel. A long nap to wake onto my living dream.

<3 <3 <3

Enough said,

My head rating says, “10 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “10 out of 10″.

MUGARITZ

Otzazulueta Baserria
Aldura Aldea 20. 20100
Errenteria
Gipuzkoa
Spain

Tel. +34 943 522 455  or  +34 943 518 343

www.mugaritz.com