All posts filed under “Spanish

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Michelin Guide London (2014 Results)

The most controversial yet?

2 stars – Dinner by Heston Blumenthal and Greenhouse.

1 star – HKK, Angler (South Place Hotel), Outlaw’s at the Capital, Story, Ametsa with Arzak Instruction (seriously!?), Brasserie Chavot, Bo London, Lima, Social Eating House.

One Leicester Street retains its star after the transition. Yeah!!!!

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elBulli: Ferran Adrià and The Art of Food

I went to 5 Guys and Shake Shack..

..but I decided to write down thoughts on the elBulli exhibition instead.

Currently, Somerset House plays an amazing host to a mixed media exhibition elBulli: Ferran Adrià and The Art of Food. The exhibition, occupying two floors of Embankment Gallery West, is an insight into the universe of once “world’s best restaurant” elBulli. There are, however, two parts to this story. The first is an emotional narrative about the German couple Dr Hans Schilling and his wife Marketta who settled at this little spot in Costa Brava in 1965 and opened a restaurant (and a golf course) that would become the world’s gastronomic destination a few decades later. The term “Bullis”, as the exhibition unfolds, is the nickname that Marketta gave to her troop of French bulldogs.

The second part belongs to Ferran Adrià. It commences from the start of his career as elBulli as head chef in 1984, his years of innovative sparks and consolidation of creativity, to the gratification in forms of Le Clé d’Or from Gault Millau and 3 Michelin stars. The exhibition does not end on 30 July 2011 when elBulli closed doors but continues with a sculptural brief on elBullifoundation.

This is neither an art exhibition nor a rigid and indoctrinating documentary about the restaurant or Ferran Adrià. It is a heart-felt piece of culinary history retold creatively through various platforms of media (e.g. moving images, audio recording, compilation of memorabilia and artifacts). The context of European gastronomy, especially on the inauguration of Gault Millau and “nouvelle cuisine”, is also provided but does not divert the attention away from the main story that is elBulli.

In short – yes – I enjoyed my time there very much.

Two thoughts

Two irrelevant thoughts (or stupid questions?) – not directly related to elBulli – sprang from my head.

(1) the importance of having a concept in Western VS Eastern cuisine(s)

At the exhibition one striking analogy to explain the importance of conceptualizing cuisine is made through a comparison to the invention vis-à-via the popularization of miniskirts. (I don’t want to go into detail about this as it might spoil your excitement to the exhibition). Let’s say, in Ferran’s opinion, conceptualizing (or deconstruction and reconstruction of what that has already existed) is important. Gastronomic creation is as much a creation of new taste as a creation of the “concepts and techniques that would be capable of making diners ‘live’ an experience”. In other words, through concepts, cuisine will therefore become a new language that signifies more than just the act of and the pleasure that derives from eating. (Think “techno-emotional”, or using techs to boost emotional interaction). The exhibition seems to suggest that Ferran thought cuisine up to that point was void of a language. There was no vessel to contain it, and that’s what elBulli came right in and hit it bull’s eye (pun intended). This, if I construe it correctly, will posit Western gastronomy in direct opposition to Eastern gastronomy. (Eastern/Western = very bad generalization of cultures but never mind). I feel the cuisine(s) of the East, especially the Far East, already has a vessel that contains itself. This vessel is often led by philosophical or religious development. Say, Zen Buddhism that transpires wabi-sabi in Japanese cuisine and culture. (Check out an excellent piece of writing about Miyamasou in Fool #3, which tackles the Zen philosophy in Japanese haute cuisine). As I am not from the West, my biggest question is whether, in the West and before Ferran spoke of the importance of having a concept, did a concept (or a school of philosophy) that governs the act of eating exist as such? (If you know, please answer).

(2) the taste

The only thing left undiscussed at the exhibition is taste. Taste, to me, seems more temporal than concept/philosophy. Or, is it not? The techno-emotional school of cooking, which epitomizes contemporary Spanish gastronomy, puts concept ahead of taste. You’d leave, presumably, remembering the *experience* of dining rather than the actual construction of taste. This is not to say that the food doesn’t taste very good but it is played up and blitzed to become something memorable but not. This brings me to my own experience. I did not have a chance to eat at elBulli but when I ate at 41 Grados I remembered the laughter-filled experience of hopping around the world across 41 dishes to be bloody incredible. The taste was also bloody incredible. But, I couldn’t single out a taste that I can vividly recall. The same could be said about my thoughtfully orchestrated meals at Mugaritz and Arzak a couple of months back. (The experience was highly memorable). Or… the way we remember an experience is different from the way we remember a taste? Whatever that is, this techno-emotional approach makes Spain one of the most unique regions for dining.

That’s it X

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elBulli: Ferran Adrià and The Art of Food

5th July – 29th September 2013

Embankment Gallery West, South Wing
Somerset House
London
WC2R 1LA

www.somersethouse.org.uk

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London Round Up: Little Social + Brasserie Chavot + Ametsa + Outlaw’s + Sketch (Lecture Room)

AMETSA WITH ARZAK INSTRUCTION

Ametsa with Arzak Instruction on Urbanspoon

RATING: 2/5

Replacing David Thompson’s Nahm at the Halkin Hotel is Ametsa, a spin-off restaurant by 3-Michelin-starred Arzak from San Sebastian, Spain. The team, comprised of Veuve Clicquot Best Female Chef Elena Arzak (2013), is in London on an “Instruction” basis – whatever that means. My lunch experience at Ametsa, however, was not indicative that it was a restaurant with good instructions.

I went for a la carte options (starters at £14.50-16; mains at £27-39; desserts at £12.50). The nibble of rockfish – salted, mousse-d and encased with crispy rice crackers – was finely seasoned but its fishy scent was just too intrusive for my liking. Goat’s cheese was infused with tumeric and turned into a “Puzzle”. The taste – of an ordinarily processed kind of cheese – and the texture – of an extraordinary processed kind of cheese – were both puzzling. Soup of “Quickly Changing Squid” (£16) contained four square parcels made from butternut squash and painted with squid ink. When the lukewarm broth of squid was poured over, the color of the soup *quickly changed*. Yeah (read with low voice). Theatrical attempts aside, the dish did not do much in term of taste. The soup itself lacked depth and once the squid ink paint was diluted into the broth, it created a texture combination that stole away some liquid smoothness. The filling of butternut squash parcel was gummy, sweet and nutty, a taste that was jarring, rather than complementary. Hake with Clams and Ham “Salt” (£27) did not go swimmingly. The fish itself was watery and had a taste that could be any white fish. The clams that leaped and remained on top of confit potatoes smelled. I found the modern twist on Spanish green sauce – parsley and olive oil here – daunting but not delicious. The grating of dried Jamon as “salt”, though a nice touch, did not make any impact to the dish. The desserts were a little more palatable. “French Toast” (£12.50) featured mangoes that had been re-textured into sheets. The sheets were then used as wrapping for something that was vaguely identifiable as “Toast”. The dish was then finished with milky coconut soup and a scattering of broken pistachio nuts, dried petals and lime zest. The taste did not translate into the joy of eating an actual Spanish “Torrija”. “Moon Rocks” (£12.50) was the most likeable of the bunch. These chocolate pebbles were filled with orange flavored Cointreau. One bite into my mouth. Popped liquid… Bill.. Please..

Overall, this was a meal that disappointed at many levels – unskilled execution, unsuccessful taste combination, poor quality produce. But it might just be me thinking this? You may, of course, opt for their tasting menus (£52 at lunch; £105 at dinner), which might promise a better result.. (or not).

 

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BRASSERIE CHAVOT

Brasserie Chavot on Urbanspoon

RATING: 4/5

Brasserie Chavot at the Westbury Hotel marks the return of 2-Michelin-starred chef Eric Chavot (formerly of The Capitol Hotel) to London. The fare here is not fine dining but a French brasserie with some very polished front of house. As typifying a French brasserie, you may expect a menu that is utterly uninspiring – snails, steak tartare, choucroute and something meaty from the grill. The price tag (starters at £8-15; mains at £16-24; sides at about £3.50; desserts at £6.50-7.50) fits and does not exaggerate its prime Mayfair location.

My lunch at Brasserie Chavot was a delight. Selection of Charcuterie (£9.50), (not all French as there was chorizo involved), was of very good quality. I particularly enjoyed the “Pate de Campagne” which oozed liver-y goodness. Steak Tartare (£9.50) was appetizing. The chopped steak was fresh and served pleasantly chilled; the concoction of chopped capers, shallots and gherkins with mustard dressing packed real zing but not intrusively acidic; the soft boiled quail egg was lush and precise. (In my opinion, for London, this version is only second to BBR’s Imperial Tartare). Ricotta and Parmesan Gnocchi (£16) was a vegetarian dish that I wouldn’t mind repeating on a regular basis. (Obviously not for a health benefit). The gnocchi were skillfully prepared – soft, fluffed but not too gummy – and the cheesy combination was distinct. (Think a kink of Parmesan followed by the smoothness of ricotta). The sauce – a refined white sauce and an exuberantly juicy tomato sauce – was reminiscent of lasagne and brought quite a smile to my face. The smile did not fade away with Baba au Rhum (£6.50). Though this was not the lightest baba I had eaten, it was perfectly synchronized in taste and price. There was a clarity between the spongy cake, the perfuming citric glazing and the coy dose of rum. The marinated and thinly shaved pineapple – neither too ripe nor too anemic – foiled well with the freshly whipped Chantilly.

I will be back.

 

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OUTLAW’S AT THE CAPITAL HOTEL

Outlaw's at The Capital on Urbanspoon

RATING: 3/5

Now resident of The Capital Hotel is British chef Nathan Outlaw, who has gathered loyal followers from his 2-Michelin-starred seafood restaurant in Rock, Cornwall. The outpost at the Capital Hotel also showcases the menu that is seafood led. The price (starters at £12-16; mains at £26-32; desserts at £10-12) verges on being high. The vibe is formal and quite Knightsbridge.

My lunch (I just don’t seem to go out for dinner!?) at Outlaw’s was nice. The nibble of mini salted cod croquette was tasty. The quality of the fish used was not skimped. That said, I found its garnish of herb mayo (mainly garlic and parsley) too strong. Scallops with Hazelnuts, Saffron and Jerusalem Artichokes (£16) was not life-changing. The herb and hazelnut crust was soggy; the puree of Jerusalem artichokes was sticky and sweet; the drizzling of saffron oil, despite its wonderful aromatic contribution, was excessive and intrusive for its glossy texture; the pickle-y dimension did not find itself much tasted. The identically formed medallions of scallops, however, were of decent quality, but their taste was not aggrandized enough amidst the garnish. Hake and Cuttlefish with Braised Lettuce, Red Pepper and Ink Sauce (£26) was more promising. The very fresh hake was excellently sourced and perfectly cooked. The garnish was individually lovable but disparate as a combination. I loved the sun-kissed richness of the red pepper but thought the cuttlefish ink cried for more depth. As a result, the ink failed to bind the whole dish. Equally nice was Lime and Chocolate Tart (£12). The construction, though deceptively minimal, was a successful maneuvering of different temperature and texture. The cocoa-infused tart crust and the silky chocolate mousse – both at room temperature – encased the sharp and zesty lime sorbet. The proportion of taste could be more finely tuned. I found the sugary content from the chocolate to undermine the sorbet.

 

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SKETCH (THE LECTURE ROOM AND LIBRARY)

Sketch Lecture Room and Library on Urbanspoon

RATING: 3.5/5

Brainchild of maverick French chef Pierre Gagnaire, Sketch The Lecture Room and Library is now a holder of 2 Michelin stars. The best way to *sum up* this restaurant is that you need to know how much a meal there can cost before walking in, otherwise you will feel f**ked. (It is also advisable that you tell your companion how much a meal there can be, otherwise he or she is also f**ked). In a more polite manner of phrasing, the 6-course tasting menu at SLRL is billed at £95. The price for a la carte dishes is dearer (starters at £33-42; mains at £43-55; desserts at £13-25).

If you wonder why THAT much money, the Sketch townhouse complex is laboriously designed and periodically revamped. Pretty much a club for *cool* and wealthy kids (and adults). The FOH was pristine and meticulous. Together with Gagnaire’s cuisine and serving style, this is the place that excessive pomp is stubbornly encouraged. (This means, you might need to spend extra ££££ for your outfit for the occasion so that you won’t feel *humbled* by the place).

Let’s talk food, and for the sake of food, I quite like Sketch. Japanese influences are implicit in Gagnaire’s cooking, and his thought process was a breath of fresh air for London. Also, Gagnaire’s style of serving is unique. Say, my starter of “Scallops” was accompanied by 4 other mini dishes. The taste of each dish did not jar but together they ascertained a luxurious procession rather than harmony. The highlight was Mediterranean sea urchin with oyster granita. The freezing snow of oyster-scented iodine amalgamated the taste of yolk-y sea urchin. The other dishes in my collection of “starters” faded a little in comparison. For example, the scallops – thinly sliced, assembled into a shape of flower and pan-seared – came with loose, jam-like persimmon fruit. While there were some fresh dices of persimmon to contrast, I found the dish too rich for my taste. Both persimmon and scallops were well matched in (excellent) quality. “Simmental Beef” as a main course was good but not exemplary. The beef lacked robustness; the peppercorn jus was moderately neat; the crisps were deliciously fragile. Vanilla Souffle was very capably risen. The texture was ethereal. The quality of the vanilla used was a statement in itself.

(Honestly speaking, I did not know the price of this meal (but it was within the guided price of what I mentioned above) because my friend took (not “took care of”) the bill.

Go, if you are curious and think you can handle it..

The full photo album is on my Facebook here.

 

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LITTLE SOCIAL

Little Social on Urbanspoon

RATING: 4/5

Over the last couple of years Jason Atherton has opened quite a handful of restaurants, in London, Singapore and soon, Shanghai to great acclaim. Little Social, a tiny restaurant right opposite his Michelin-starred flagship on Pollen Street, is one of them. The den-like design – of leather booth, brick walls and neon lights – is cozy and impeccable. The menu is a clever mismatch of comfort and inventiveness. The price tag (starters at £8.50-11.50; mains at £17-22; desserts at £7) is not wallet-blowing.

My meal at Little Social was acutely prepared and outstandingly delicious. Cauliflower and Crayfish Risotto (£9.50) was just GOOD. The correctly al dente risotto was doused in cauliflower cream and finished with robust crayfish essence. The aroma from beautifully roasted cauliflower was unmissable, while the shavings of raw cauliflower lent great taste, texture and temperature contrast. Halibut “BLT” with Portebello Mushroom and Sauce Bois Boudran (£22). The fish was brilliantly roasted; the “Bois Boudran” sauce – chopped tomatoes, mustard, balsamic, parsley and tarragon (I think) – was refreshing and accomplished; the lettuce (again I think) was braised with the chunk of bacon and absorbed its meaty goodness. The latter was the star – smoky, voluptuous and melting in my mouth – adding mature depth of saltiness to the delicate halibut. Personally I thought the mushroom, situated behind the bacon, was redundant. Eton Mess (£7) was upgraded with poached rhubarbs, rhubarb sorbet and velvety ginger ice cream. It was a joy to eat.

(Again) I have no doubt I will return.

 

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AMETSA WITH ARZAK INSTRUCTION

The Halkin Hotel
Halkin Street
London
SW1X 7DJ

Tel. 020 7333 1234

www.comohotels.com

BRASSERIE CHAVOT

41 Conduit Street
(The Westbury Hotel)
London
W1S 2YF

Tel. 020 7078 9577

www.brasseriechavot.com

OUTLAW’S AT THE CAPITAL

The Capital Hotel
22-24 Basil Street
London
SW3 1AT

Tel. 020 7589 5171

www.capitalhotel.co.uk

SKETCH THE LECTURE ROOM AND LIBRARY

9 Conduit Street
London
W1X 2SG

Tel. 020 7659 4500

www.sketch.uk.com

LITTLE SOCIAL

5 Pollen Street
London
W1S 1ND

Tel. 020 7870 3730

www.littlesocial.co.uk

 

 

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Burnt Enz + Rita’s Dining: The Cool New Breed(s) of East London Pop Up

East.. of London

East London is home to many cool people and happenings. In Elizabethan England actor-entrepreneur James Burbage found success in The Theatre (before dismantling it and moving on to inaugurating what is now known as Shakespeare’s Globe). In Victorian England, Jack the Ripper found whores to murder in the environ of The 10 Bells. Emily Pankhurst, in the early 20th century, found an office in Bow to put into actions her suffragist ideals. After WWII, multinational immigrants found home in London’s East. A few decades later, thanks to those immigrants, artists Gilbert & George found a restaurant that has ever since become their daily dining spot. Most recently we found the inconvenience of London 2012. And I have found joy in Eastenders and two cool spots to eat..

BURNT ENZ

RATING: 4/5

Burnt Enz is a grill restaurant that pops it up at the uniquely laid back Climpson & Sons Roastery, and it has, by now, won raves from London’s food enthusiasts and prompted wicked collaborations with UK’s best young talents (i.e. Junya Yamasaki of Koya, James Knappett of Bubbledogs& and Ben Spalding formerly of Roganic). The project itself is manned by Dave Pynt, who comes from Australia, via the internationally acclaimed kitchen of Asador Extebarri, off San Sebastian (Spain), and has been instrumental in the setup of Nuno Mendes’s The Loft Project.

At Burnt Enz, Dave does nothing but grill. (Well, he may, allegedly, help clean up). You may expect very little grilled things (say, scallops) to very massive grilled things (say, a whole turbot or a suckling pig). And Dave’s philosophy is to stay true to Spanish “asador” spirit, where the grill is done over charcoal fire and the flame is masterly adjusted according to the ingredients.

Burnt Enz operates an a la carte menu at weekends and/or pre-paid “Thirty Thursday Feast” dinners. (My meal below – £45 & BYO – was part of the latter system). The dishes on offer change regularly, on the basis of best available British produce. I was greeted with fresh oysters and lime, and once seated, a platter of charred fennel bulbs was served alongside torn burrata and orange-infused oil. The fennel was gently grilled in low heat and achieved tender but biteful texture. The aroma from the applewood char and the fennel’s very mild aniseed-y taste married pleasingly with the citric orange essence. The burrata, loosened up by the heat, was melting-ly gorgeous. Then came the huge stack of bone marrow with watercress salad and lightly toasted bread. This was a testament to Dave’s highly commendable grilling skills. The bone was well encased by heat but not to the point that the marrow melted. The results were the perfect wobble (when the marrow was forked out) and the delightfully burnt gelatinous skin. The beefy grease from the marrow was nicely countered by the peppery leaves.

Sea breams were also grilled to divinity, boasting the crispy skin that separated and the meat that flaked beautifully. The salsa verde provided herbal acidity that elevated the breams’s natural juicy sweetness. The side of courgettes – also grilled – came with fragrant burnt enz (pun intended). Watery. Sweet. And explosive. They cleansed the palate well. The parade of savoury dishes concluded with lamb shoulders that were as big and buffed as Louise Smith’s. (Sorry I can’t find as fitting a comparison. And sorry for having no photo of either). The heat-blasted skin and trimmed fat (of the lamb, not the gymnast) was crackling. The meat within was robust and moist. It found finishing touches in a comfortingly good mint sauce, lamb jus and broan beans.

Burnt Enz may be finishing its pop-up period at The Climpsons’ Roastery very soon. (Dates here). But Dave and his flame will still be the ONE to watch!




RITA’S BAR AND DINING

Rita's Bar and Dining on Urbanspoon

RATING: 2.5/5

Rita’s Dining, currently taking residence at Birthdays in Dalston, is a collaborative food-and-drink project by REAL GOLD, Jackson Boxer of Brunswick Cafe, Gabriel Pryce and Missy Flynn. This venue is an industrial sort of bar. Think a cluster of low tables and a mismatch of metallic and vintage school chairs. (To feel comfortable when sandwiched between those two items, you will need either flaccid thighs or small balls). No air-con. Raging degrees of hipsters, really. It was a fun crowd, nonetheless.

The food served was redone South American – fried chicken rolls, tacos, beans and some patty melt. The price range was kind, between £4-£6.50. After a lengthy wait I settled for Patty Melt (£5), Ox Heart Taco (£5), Fried Chicken Roll (£6.50), Green Chilli Mac&Cheese (£5), and Pulled Pork & Duck Heart Baked Beans (£5). The Patty Melt filling of minced beef laced with bone marrow and finished with cheese and onion jam could have made a lovely foil against toasted bread. The patty, in my case, was lacking in quantity and therefore did not have much of a melting effect. For the taco, I enjoyed the zingy dressing, but the ox heart was overcooked and the homemade tortilla wrap (authentic tasting) was quite thick and doughy. The chicken roll, arriving in a Rita’s-stamped paper bag, was SUBLIME. The chicken was expertly coated and even more expertly fried. The crumb-y coating was grease-free, crispy and toothsome, while the meat inside oozed heat but retained perfect moisture and tenderness. It was served encased by a white crusty, with a smearing of cayenne pepper infused mayo and shredded iceberg lettuce, to taunt my palate with filthy, saliva-induced piquancy. UTTER BRILLIANCE. Sadly, this redemptive moment did not last long. The kitchen seemed to have missed chilli and cheese in my Mac&Cheese. The result was dry macaroni with quite a bit of oil. The baked bean dish was also left in the oven for far too long, and all the elements landed in front of us dry and overcooked. TOB fiddled with them a little, and we agreed to order one more round of the fried chicken roll. Overall, Rita’s showed promises, but the execution during my visit was flawed.

 

 

BURNT ENZ

The Climpsons’ Roastery
Arch 374
Helmsley Place
London
E8 3SB

www.facebook.com/BurntEnz

 

RITA’S BAR AND DINING

Birthdays
33-35 Stoke Newington Road
London
N16 8BJ

www.ritasbaranddining.com

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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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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.