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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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L’ Avant Comptoir, Paris

(Sorry, folks, for NYC and London blog interruption! This is a quick post for the “family” who’s on the way to Paris).

The easiest is the tastiest..

L’Avant Comptoir is a hole-in-the-wall “tapas” bar attached to Hotel Relais in St Germain des Pres, Paris. Unlike the hotel’s popular but booking-essential bistro Le Comptoir, you can just walk in at L’Avant pretty much any day and any time you’d like. The menu featured a decently priced wine selection (French, of course) and a joyful range of charcuterie (€4-€22) with a few tapas-sized cooked dishes (€3-€7). The majority of the menu were laminated and hung loosely on the ceiling of the bar. You need to be able to read a bit of French or make some random guess from the printed photos as to what these dishes are.

Boudin Noir (€3.50) was flash grilled for a moreish effect and presented sandwiched by soft and sweet meringue discs. A bloody (pun-intended) brilliant savoury macaroon. The platter of Jambon Noir de Bigorre de Pierre Matayron (€22) was generous in size and divine in taste. I liked a touch of fat, a hint of salt and a pronounced porky flavour but I loved the fact that it was also thinly and expertly sliced. Tuna Tataki (€4.50) – a chunky piece of tuna torched on both sides and served with acidic puree and cress – was less successful. My issue was not so much about the tuna but the  redundant olive oil underneath. Grilled Scallop with Jambon (€LostTrackOfPrice) was just cooked but could have done with more snoozing on the grill for a charred effect. Deliciousness was restored by Roast Beef (also €LostTrackOfPrice). The roast beef was paper-thin and a little pink in the middle. The light dressing of pepper and parmesan helped bring out the genuine beauty of the beef.

By far, the meat dishes were very commendable..

Oh my crepe!!

I rounded up my meal at L’Avant Comptoir with their OTHER great thing: a creperie stall at the front window (!!). My Ham+Cheese+Egg below (made from buckwheat flour) was a killer and could have been a meal in itself. Good quality ham; gooey Emmental cheese (I assumed); unctuous egg yolk; a note of black pepper; and the crepe base that achieved a good balance of soft and crispy texture. While this was not the best crepe I’d ever eaten in Paris, it was a well-conceived one.

RATING: 3.5/5
GO FOR: Heavy (or light?), porky bites.

L’ AVANT COMPTOIR

9 Carrefour de l’ Odeon
Paris
France
75006

Tel. +33 144 27 07 97

www.hotel-paris-relais-saint-germain.com

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Sur Mesure, Paris

The new address..

Thierry Marx is no new chef on the block. Often labelled “French Andria Ferran,” this possessor of two Michelin stars from Bordeaux is widely known for his molecular approach and iconoclastic take on French gastronomy. This I found very exciting, especially when the Paris top (Michelin) dogs – Gagnaire, Passard, Robuchon, or even Barbot – often serve up innovations that rarely defy French culinary prestige.

At the brand new Mandarin Oriental Paris, Marx conjured a scene of total chicness. A creamy minimalist enclave, well padded walls on which were hung immaculately patched cloth sculptures by Patrick Jouin spoke volume of its fashionable location, rue St Honore, just opposite rue Cambon where Chanel opened her first boutique. Sur Mesure – the name of the restaurant meaning “tailor made” – reflected this.

Molecular, french… and Oriental?

The menu at Sur Mesure, however, was not quite “tailor made” as its name suggested. Diners followed patterned tasting menus of either six (€145) or nine (€180) courses. There were, certainly, the French pride of foie gras and truffle but the culinary promise seemingly lay in Marx’s imaginative (or sometimes perplexed) coupling of eastern ingredients with French techniques. Say, beansprout risotto with truffle!?

The meal commenced with something not quite mind-blowing. Crisps of oriental seasonings – nori, curry powder, and sesame in that order – were discernible in flavour. I enjoyed the seaweed-ed one most and thought the curried verged on being bitter. My real issue was that for €180 per person I should not be breaking these crisps to share. “Carotte Structure & Destructure” arrived as three bowls of amuse-bouche. The first – made from turning grated carrots into a block  and was half way between sandy and mousse-y – escaped me in taste. Another was carrot puree on a crispy disc with a line of balsamic vinegar. Fruity acidity worked well with the fine velvety carrot. Full of texture, too. I also enjoyed the last offering of red and white carrot wrapped in roasted meat and served with mustard drizzle. Fresh peppery-ness of grated carrots brought life to the tender, albeit muted, beef. Very Japanese and sushi-like.

“Oeuf Translucide” was the dish both of us would not mind having another go at. Two textures of an egg – a slow-cooked gelatinous yolk toppled with an agar-like blanket of egg white – were creatively garnished with Parmesan cheese. On the bottom was a curd-y Parmesan layer; then, Parmesan foam; then, Parmesan infused biscuit; and then, crusty Parmesan sand. The minimalistic interplay of these two ingredients (both of which are my favourite) resulted in a dish rich of, well, egg and Parmesan comfort. On the one hand it was a joy to lick protein-filled gooey-ness off the spoon and delighted in cheesy intensity. On the other, this was, in all honesty, much ado about nothing.

Also comforting and interesting was “Presse de Foie Gras, Anguille Fume ‘Terre et Estuaire’ “. This brought to my mind the exceptional smoked eel and foie gras dish I had at Martin Berasategui. At Sur Mesur, a firmly pressed finger of foie gras found a new companion in smoked herring. This arrived thinly glazed with apple on top. The fruity caramel injected a typical sweetness required in a foie gras dish, while the herring – there was not much fish in sight – contributed an aroma of saltiness. I enjoyed the wafer thin toasts very much.

“Semi-Pris de Coquillages, Longuet Caviar” was a chilled dish of many disparate components, starting with jellied fish emulsion, pickled beetroots, shallot cloud with chopped razor clams and a finger sandwich of chicken mousseline with caviar. It all looked so pretty but along came the frustration of how to eat this dish properly. Should I hop from point A to B to C, jelly to foam to sandwich, or to put all in my mouth at once. The taste, however, reminded me of spring and was well worth the frustration. The vibrancy of the sea elements and distilled sweet cloud of shallot clarified the depth of the mousseline sandwich and caviar.

I also found “Risotto de Soja aux Huitres, Truffe Noire” uniquely and utterly mind-blowing for many reasons, but first and foremost was the fact that I paid for an €180 menu to eat beansprouts. The French waiter instructed me to put the spoon in my mouth. This was not entirely patronising as the spoon contained a spill of black truffle oil, which I could otherwise have mistaken for a spoon uncleaned for a Michelin-star standard. One spoonful (after my truffle oil licking) revealed unrivalled excitement. These translucent pearls of chopped up beansprouts tasted exactly like beansprouts. From an Asian point of view, I was really intrigued by the method but completely underwhelmed by the taste. Beansprouts themselves are crunchy but quite watery and are usually cooked with ingredients of a more solid texture. To pair them with something so light as truffle infused oyster foam, in my opinion, was to underplay the texture contrast and what was left was just.. beansprouts. That said, I found the additional ingredient of oyster (not Oyster Sauce, or else I would be shouting profanity) springy and doused in sea richness to have worked wonders. I was glad I had this dish and had to give credit to Marx for being very brave, though.

“Coquille St Jacques, Ananas/ Cardamome” was a deconstructed curry and suffered from an excruciatingly linear presentation. On my far right was pineapple emulsion, curry powder (?), yuzu foam, cardamom-scented scallops, some unidentifiable green thing, and coconut cake. The sweet dimension from pineapple, coconut and cardamom dominated the dish and came in play with subtle layers of tangy acidity. I found myself surprisingly besotted to this – very much like eating a rethought bowl of Annasi Maluwa curry.

Less outrageous in interpretation was “Cochon de Lait Confit/ Croustillant, Salsifis/ Chataignes” (The Other Bib’s dish). Expertly confit sucking pig was moist and exuberantly jus-ed. The juxtaposition between creamy nutty-ness of salsify and chestnut was successful but nothing to scream about. I did scream, however, when I spooned the side of Boudin Noir with chestnut mousse and crispy chestnut in my mouth. The infiltration between sweetness and porky depth was sublime. My “Boeuf Bearnaise, Pomme de Terre”, compared to the pig, became a dish of nonchalance. Just a good piece of beef with a thick Bearnaise sauce ball (again a Much Ado About Nothing) and truffled mashed potatoes that resembled dried out gnocchi.

“Sweet Bento & Ylang- Ylang” was a block of beauty. First was Pistachio Cake with Cherry and Almond Mousse – so fluffed up and delicate as if eating cloud. It was followed by an obscene piece of dark chocolate mousse with toasted rice. Then, a trio of petit four. My favourite was the toffee-like hazelnut biscuit. And, the zingy Guacamole and White Chocolate Foam and Ganache. The bigger plates of “Foret Noire” and “Tatin Spirit” were delicious but redundant. If the meal had ended with the Bento, we would have feel sufficiently and satisfyingly fed. While I liked the cherry intensity coupling with ethereal mousse in Foret Noire, I couldn’t bear the multi-layered apple-ness of Tatin Spirit. Cider jelly, apple millefeuille, apple ice cream, apple this and that…boiled down to my memory of uncomfortably sugary dessert.

As unique as it gets..

I (and The Other Bib) liked Sur Mesure, generally.

Marx, in the context of France, is undeniably different. The most of my meal at Sur Mesure was interesting and unique. This also owes much to my recent Parisian gastronomic experience. The new “hip” addresses in Paris seem to be employing Arpege and Gagnaire alumni as head chefs (which isn’t at all a bad thing). The result, I feel, is that the innovative approaches become quite studied and sustained within the marriage of those two schools of cooking. Marx, definitely, fills in the niche. That aside, I also find Marx’s intercultural viewpoints daring and inspiring. Not everything works, but, say, the beansprout risotto, though not the most delicious thing I have ever eaten, will stick in my head and my taste bud for a long, long time.

However, to place my meal at Sur Mesure in a broader restaurant context, I couldn’t help feeling Marx’s level of innovation – especially in regard with molecular gastronomy – borders on being dated. Martin B but around year 2006? The dissected approach to plating which one needs to hop from one ingredient to another is a burden of eating to diners and constituted a soul-less exploration of flavours instead of a joyful gastronomic encounter. There will be time for me to fall in love with molecular cuisine (and maybe Thierry Marx) but it was not there or now.

Go for: Innovation. Hip ambiance.

RATING: 3 out of 5

(read about new rating here)

SUR MESURE

Mandarin Oriental Hotel Paris
rue St Honore
Paris
75001

Tel. +331 70 98 78 88

www.mandarinoriental.com

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Aux Merveilleux de Fred, Lille

The destination..

Aux Merveilleux de Fred was not my intended destination.

But, thanks to my poor map reading skills (and perhaps good eyes for finding food), I stumbled into this little sweet boutique instead of the train station. This, as my luck had it, was the superstar patisserie of Lille. With a handful of Parisian and Belgian outposts, the Lenotre-trained patron chef Frederic Vaucamp is coming to be known as France’s meringue moderniser.

Marvellous boobies

To be honest, these plump, shapely hills of cream with a little dot on top appeared not too dissimilar to boobies. They are, in fact, known as “Les Merveilleux” – meringue enrobed with chocolate-y whipped cream and rolled in shaved dark chocolate. For some, they were very foppish looking; for others, they looked as if having been dropped on floor and carelessly reassembled. Taste-wise, there was an awful lot of aerated cream and sugar involved. All dissolved at a kiss and was very addictive.

At Aux Merveilleux de Fred, these babies came in different sizes – D Cup, F Cup. I didn’t like them big so I only grabbed the A Cup ones. There were also variants of white chocolate (with a black squeezing of dark choc Chantilly cream on top) called “Les Incroyables”. The coffee-flavoured ones called “Les Impensables” were also available.

Leaving for the train station, I did also ask for a Flan Nature to take away, and I immediately fell in love with the expertly jellied custard. Such a guilty pleasure…

ahhhh!!!!

Enough said,

My head rating says, “8 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “7 out of 10″.

Aux Merveilleux de Fred

67 rue de la Monnaie
Lille
France

Tel. +33 320 51 99 59

www.auxmerveilleux.com

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L’ Agape Substance, Paris

The best of Paris!

Bursting into this well-mirrored, stylishly intimate enclave, I had no idea I was in for something unimaginably special. As I was sinking my wearied bums, I began to feel, second by second, what soon became the most memorable Parisian experience of my lifetime…

This “experience”, to my regret, did not take place in the dining room of L’ Agape Substance, but in its restroom, where I encountered a pristine, mega multifunctional toilet bowl, one of those much popularised in Japan. Firmly secured on my left was a complex function board, and given the right combinations, this bowl could do you many pleasurably life-changing things – sprinkling, caressing, blow(dry)ing and maybe (in a fantastical loo-niverse) rimming?

Toilet bowl aside

L’ Agape Substance – led by undeniably talented 30-something chef David Toutain formerly of Mugaritz and L’Arpege – was a sleek addition to the chic quarter of St Germain des Pres. Pomp was stripped to the barest in this small dining room. Just one massive bar-like table, one side of which was joined with the kitchen’s pass. A sort of chef’s table experience. A kind of supper club, where diners perched on stools. There were also a few counter tables for two that appeared uncomfortably crushed into the wall. This minimalist decor (I conjectured) was to reflect the “Substance” philosophy; foodies could focus only on the food and renounce the excess of restaurant-going.

 

Size matters

The menu at L’ Agape Substance was innovative and tasting only. It arrived a cardboard of French terms. Very cryptic. At lunch, there were options of 3, 4 or multi-course “Carte Blanche” menu, priced respectively at €39, €51 and €65. The price tag got sombre at night, €99 for the “Carte Blanche” and €169 for the most extensive “Substance” menu.

The usual procession of bread came with distinctly seasoned seaweed butter. Very soon after, the dry bush of “berce” (hogweed in English) at the table became the tangible illustration of my amuse bouche, Hogweed Sponge & Yuzu Balm. Sadly, the portion was barely a spoonful and I could only sniff mild citrus from yuzu. Also nonchalantly small was King Crab & Grapefruit. Three buds of loosely pressed king crab were as fresh as crab could taste but appeared no bigger than the tip of my pinky. Yet, it was exuberantly flavoured with a piece of tangy confit grapefruit that saved the prawn consomme from becoming too Chinese.

 

Champignon de Paris & Egg Ice Cream had more depth than the previous offerings but was again stubbornly minuscule. I enjoyed the earthy rawness of mushroom together with the chillingly yolk-y ice cream very much. The rather thick artichoke emulsion was brought to the table in a test tube to be spunk all over my plate. Despite the obscene spilling, the emulsion had a mild bean-y taste expertly complimenting the dish. I also adored the inventive threesome of Courgette, Clementine & Brown Shrimps. The foamy clementine was a lascivious binding, which with the barely cooked, crunchy but meek courgette, created a new zingy, fruity taste combination. The brown shrimps, full of natural sea saltiness, made the dish come alive.

I got excited at the arrival of Sea Urchin served in shell. The excitement, unfortunately, did not last long. The urchin roe was nearly non-existent and anybody would require a magnifying glass to discover it. That said, the combo of pumpkin sauce and verbena foam was tremendously, disturbingly amazing. Vibrant and aromatically herbed, it would have worked oh-so-well…

I nearly screamed in mirth when presented with this Scallop & Parsnip as it was H-U-G-E (when compared to what preceded it)!!!! Tasting it, I became ecstatic. First, there were layers – ethereal milk skin (its consistency was more akin to Chinese beancurd sheet), white chocolate-infused parsnip puree which was deliciously muddy, dense and bulb-y parsnip and carpaccio of premium quality scallops. The sweetness worked wonders and the texture was something to behold. The little thoughtful touch of lime zest provided dust-like acidity and playful fragrance; it stopped the dish from becoming just creamy and sweet. The other root vegetable dish of Carrot & Galangal made my meal worthwhile. Here I found the pungent gingery-ness of galangal foam very interesting. It coated and muted the carrot (which was minimally prepared to retain natural crunch). The other element – my wildest guess – either of pumpkin puree with some unidentifiable acidity or of “coing” interjected mouth-watering sourness. Very edgy. Very memorable. All made sense on the plate.

Monk Fish & Leek restored the balance of comfort food, which had been lacking in this meal. The fish was roasted to perfection and creatively paired with spelt risotto that was cooked with tonga bean milk. Very buttery, and I wouldn’t mind reprising this dish. The same could be said of Pied Bleu Mushroom with Girolle Foam, though the way the dish was plated up halved my expectation of excellent flavour.

The last of my savoury course was this still-not-big Veal. (At this point I gave up hopes for a decent tasting portion). It was smothered in black olive tapenade and sous-vided. Despite its tenderness, the veal lost its distinctive scent and tasted quite watery. The nutty quinoa had pleasant acidity, while the smoky aubergine paste was robust enough to become the tour de force, though its texture was too sooty for my liking.

To cut this post short, I was ambivalent with the desserts at L’ Agape Substance. This fine pumpkin cube was nicely paired with some malty, flowery ice cream, whose name in French escaped me. BUT it barely comprised a spoonful. Texture of Chocolate was satisfying in taste but not extraterrestrial as an innovation.

Stuffed and happy.. I was NOT!

I am not, by any mean, writing L’ Agape Substance off. In fact, I found many dishes revelations of the taste bud. The kitchen masterly combines unique heart-racing cooking with Zen-like subtlety and precision. Toutain’s molecular approach dictates the dishes to be light, with the preference for foam and oil over heavy-handed jus, while the presence of many obscure ingredients makes my meal a unique experience. I could also taste Passard‘s influences quite vividly and sense the Mugaritz-style open-minded exploration of obscure ingredients.

The flaw at L’ Agape Substance, however, lies in the skint portion. For me, studiously fiddling from one micro leaf to another nano seed takes away the joy of eating, of being able to spoon the food up and to fork the meat. I felt I had that privilege deprived, and though L’ Agape Substance had recently become the hip address in Paris, I still walked away with snoozed satisfaction and a hollow stomach..

GO FOR: Trendy, innovative food. No hassle ambiance.

RATING: 4 out of 5

(read about my new rating here)

L’ AGAPE SUBSTANCE

66, rue Mazarine
Paris
France
75006

Tel. +33 143 29 33 83

www.agapesubstance.com

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Le Dauphin, Paris

Praises sung

Praises have been sung and we have all heard too terribly well about Inaki Aizpitarte and his Chateaubriand, the best of France according to The World’s 50 Best Restaurants List, for its innovative, tremendously reasonably priced, ever-changing tasting menu. The thing is, when I was there, I only found my menu of that day hit-and-miss and left nowhere near the edge of satisfaction..

Le Dauphin, neighbour to Le Chateaubriand, is Inaki’s second addition into Paris’s booming “bistronomique” scene. It follows the formula not otherworldly from its brother restaurant. Innovative dishes, jovial ambiance, and no website. The only difference is that Inaki scrapes off the tasting menu format and institutes a tapas dining menu of over 30 dishes, excluding cured meat and cheese options. The price per dish fluctuates between €6 and €20, with the average being €11-14.

The place looks a quirky coupling of wooden tables, granite floor, a lot of mirrors and stark white fluorescent lights. There is an island of wine bar in the middle and an ad hoc wine glass chandelier. Booking at Le Dauphin is, of course, essential but the reservation line isn’t so much a pain in the arse. You can call all day, as opposed to Le Chateaubriand’s line only taking calls from 12-2pm. Walking in after 9pm is also possible, and you can sit+eat at the bar.

A meal of no boundary!

This tapas bar format means liberty. (A lot of it).

I ordered some few dishes, topped up my meal with some more, and more. Food can land on the table as one dish at a time or all at once, depending on the kitchen. (I rearranged the sequence below in order of what I think it should be).

Oursins, Navet & Citron Caviar (€13) was a dish to behold. This was a chilled broth of lemon carpaccio, pickled radish and sea urchins. Very clean and refreshing taste that merited from an acute layering of acidity. The subtle sea aroma from curd-y urchins was pleasantly juxtaposed by seaweed dust and sea purslane. Ravioli Grilles (€6) was delicious gyoza with a twist of shallot & red wine vinegar dipping sauce. The casing was expertly done – delectably chewy and crispy – while the filling oozed very well thymed meaty-ness. St Jacques & Panais (€16) was one of the most memorable dishes of the evening. Here two succulent scallops surfing on a wave of sweet parsnip puree were seared to heavenly crispy-ness on one side while the other was left raw and naturally, exuberantly silky. The pickled turnip discs added zingy pleasantness and the parsnip crisps bitefuls of mild medicinal bitter taste.

Poireaux, Oignons & Oeufs de Truite (€10) featured charred leeks and perfuming onions. The latter was slow-cooked for an intensely sweet and moreish effect. Trout roe provided accidental pearls of fishy salty-ness. That said, it’s not one of the most rave-worthy dish of the evening. Risotto a l’Encre (€11), however, was the quintessence of luxurious comfort. In this dense and glossy pool of squid ink, the al dente rice grains did not float or sink, but were suspended in between the surface and the bottom. The cheese-infused ink had miraculous consistency to do just that. The taste was rich and sublime, but more liquidified than its Spanish counterpart of Arroz Negro. I could lick this bowl clean over and over and over and over and over again!!!!! Marquereau, Persil & moules (€11) was, by no means, less impressive. The fillet of mackerel was pan fried for an exceptional crisp and served minimalistically with parsley puree and watercress. Grassy herb sauce lubed up the oily, nicely salted fish and implemented flavours not short of being explosive and cleansing. Good acidity from the pickled radish, and the perfectly poached molluscs injected an oceanic scent to the dish.

(Half way to my finishing line of writing this post. I can’t believe I had eaten this much!!!)

Meat!

Demi Pigeon de Paul Renault, Coing & Figues (€14) arrived with a crispy skin but still blood-leaking pink. Game-y, very game-y. The pairing of sharp quince and mellow sweetness from roasted figs was a touch of genuine uniqueness. “Paul Renault” referred back to the farmer who bred the bird (and I can assure you he did a bloody good job at that). That said, my preference went directly to Wagyu, Aubergine Fumee (€15). The majestic beef was just seared. Just! One bite into this led to carnivourous robustness., which the very, very smoky aubergine and the rich dehydrated black olive powder worked to intensify. And to balance this off, there were rings of grilled sweet red onions. Simply gorgeous…

Sweets…

Glace au Lait Ribot (€5) was translated into fermented milk ice cream. The flavour, however, was mild, like a smooth paste of non-fat yogurt ice cream. Big peppery kicks from olive oil. I liked Tarte aux Fruits Rouges (€8) more. The crusty biscuit played a boat for fresh raspberries and strawberries and spiky Italian meringue. Vibrant and expertly assembled flavours. There was a note of lavender in the background, too.

<3 <3 <3

That’s it!

I had 10 dishes at Le Dauphin, all of which delivered. The evening felt unrestrained (unlike at Le Chateaubriand), and the place got more bustling at night break. Le Dauphin is seriously where I don’t have to take myself too seriously, when I know and can rest assured that the food I eat is taken absolutely seriously. While I wouldn’t make so bold a statement that this was one of the best meals in my life, it was, along with L’ Arpege, the best and most exciting meal I had in Paris. The bill wasn’t as explosive as the flavours. €100 including a glass of wine and a bottle of water seems a fair price for such a big meal, high quality ingredients and innovations.

Enough said,

My head rating says, “10 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “10 out of 10″.

LE DAUPHIN

131 Avenue Parmentier
Paris
75011

Tel. +331 55 28 78 88