All posts filed under “Tapas

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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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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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Ceviche: Zingy Peruvian Tapas Draws Crowd in Soho

Tiger’s milk?

My limited knowledge of Peruvian food derived via Nobu, and I became utterly intrigued by a “tiger’s milk” marinate printed on the menu of Ceviche, a little charming Peruvian bar/restaurant in Soho. Was it “tiger’s milk”, or literally, tiger’s milk? Can we milk a tiger? What would animal right activists say to this? It sounds wrong – dangerous – I wouldn’t dare milk my cat. Luckily, the cross-cultural fumble was explained away that “tiger’s milk” was indeed just a marinate of fish juice, lime, onion, chilli and salt. No milk or tiger was involved.   *relieved*

Ceviche is the new small-plate upstart to make its way into Frith Street’s swanky restaurant scene. At the entrance, I walked through a slick Pisco bar where I could also perch and eat. The dining room boast a wooden glow from the mix-and-match of high and low tables; teplicas of vintage posters on the off-white walls added a vibrant rush of colours; the FOH was immaculately dolled up in Levi and Van; the music was thumping. Effortless. I loved it already.

Ceviche

The kitchen at here specialised in ceviche (pronounced “seh-bi-cheh”), a cold dish of raw fish or seafood with zingy citric marinate. There were about 7 different variations on the menu. The other half of the menu was dedicated to salad and hot dishes. All was served in a tapas portion. The price was roughly at £6-7 per dish and the most expensive did not soar above £12.50. You are advised to order around 3-4 dishes each, which with a drink, should come to just £35 per person per meal. Sakura Maru (£6.25) – a salmon ceviche – was ambiguously Japanese. I liked the fresh slices of salmon and the crunchy salad but felt the sweetness from mirin (Japanese sweet wine) dominated the subtler citric satsuma and the aji limo chilli heat. Alianza Lima (£7.50) – prawns, squid, octopus and fish of the day – was far more superior. Big tangs from tiger’s milk bedazzled by rocoto chilli punch. The marinate changed the texture of the seafood mix excellently, while the gigantic corn kernels gave chalky sweetness to the dish. I did not heart the beef heart (here billed as Corazon at £6.25). Despite its being nicely prepared – distinct charcoal scent, tenderised texture – I found the accompanying aji amarillo chilli sauce lacking dimensions. The sauce – ideally similar to a loose spicy, zingy mayo – was only piquant and would do better with more acidity. Choclo Cake (£4.50) was a pleasant corn cake and would have been perfect if the portion had been enlarged. Here the crumble-y mix of feta and corn worked together nicely but it lacked fluffiness that would make the dish oh-so-wicked. Jalea (£11.50) was pretty much a fritto misto with salsa criolla (AKA a lot of red onions). Nothing was wrong with it. No greasy taste. But nothing was exciting about it either. Ensalada de Quinoa (£3.75) was, for me, the best dish of the meal and the best quinoa I’ve ever eaten. I loved multiple textures from tickling quinoa to crunchy shallots and dense butter beans, all complimented by the hot vinaigrette burst and the perfumed coriander. I also found joy in Arroz con Pato (£12.50) but more because the dark beer rice with salsa criolla tasted remotely like a westernized Thai green curry. A bit of creaminess and a slap of herbal chilli. The confit duck was cooked to tenderness with coriander and crisp-ed up. That said, I was not over the moon when both elements were paired. And I finished with Lucuma ice cream (£5.75). It was made from lucuma pulp and shared a taste of maple syrup and sweet potato. SOOoooo good! I doubled my order as I didn’t want to share it with my dining companions. They are amazing and all that but when it comes to things I love sharing is a definite no-no   :-P

So.. I really liked Ceviche – exciting menu, exotic flavours, greatly relaxed ambiance – and will be back in no time ^_^

GO FOR: Cozy latino buzz. Light vibrant tapas. Exciting stuff.
RATING: 4/5

CEVICHE

17 Frith Street
London
W1D 4RG

Tel. 020 7292 2040

www.cevicheuk.com

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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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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

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Copita: Spanish “Bistronomique” in Soho

My new haunt..

I didn’t want to rave about Copita for many reasons. First, I loved its intimate ambiance of high wooden counters and stools. I could stand, sit, perch, perv, do whatever I like. Second, I loved its “No Reservation” policy and the carefree tag line on its website reading “Dinner 5.30pm to Close”. Third, I liked it very much today that I was the only diner there. No queue. Dishes arrived at a highly appetising pace. So tranquil and perfect…

I would hate for punters to flock Copita. I wanted to keep this place to myself!!

Back to reality of London restaurants, Copita offered something truly endearing and adequately inventive. While such repetitive terms as “small”, “sharing”, “tapas”, etc. could easily kill my culinary excitement (for the fact that the concept has been done, redone and undone to buggery in the last couple of years), this little Spanish tapas gem stood out. Say, a decent sized menu with prices hovering between £2.50 – £7.95 with the exception of Jamon de Bellota (40g) at £13.50. Dishes were, of course, as lilliputian as the prices. I could demolish one in a matter of less than 3 spoonfuls.

The twists?

The twists were the raw beauty and precision that accompanied these small plates. Ajo Blanco with Beetroot (£3.95) was this coy almond soup. I was blown away by the subtlety of flavours. Served chilled, the soup was milky and sweet. Little pearls of grapes rested alongside cubes of beetroot and chopped almond rendering not just multi-dimensional sweetness but a maelstrom of pleasurable texture, while the courageous topping of dill brought it all to life. A good note of vinegar-y acidity in the background. Razor Clams & Chevril Roots (£3.50) was no less beautifully created. Lightly cured and sliced razor clam was pleasantly springy and served on a bed of olive oil-infused potato puree and garnished with nano-cubes of potatoes and smashed chevril roots. Creamy and delicious (though I think some more acidity would have made it even more stellar). I was also in love with my Baked Duck Eggs, Girolles & Summer Truffle (£5.95). The just congealed and faintly salted egg yolk added sumptuousness to girolles, peppers and sorrel. There was some truffle dust but hardly any aroma. (They could have cheated with truffle oil).

My next dish was John Dory & Shrimps (£5.95), which featured this pretty and fresh JD fillet and bulb-y, shelled shrimps braised in parsley, garlic, chilli and white wine sauce. It was packed with sea flavours but verged on having too much salt content for my liking. Less distinct in deliciousness was Lamb Sweetbreads & White Asparagus (£4.50). While the sweetbreads were wonderfully crispy outside and sponge-y within, I found the flavour combination to be ordinary. White asparagus puree did not have much taste and the sourness – from the fresh scattering of sorrel leaves and the pickle-y sharpness of the capers – was intrusive. An okay dish, nonetheless. Squab Pigeon, Pear & Chocolate (£4.50) brought the grin back to my face. The meat expertly done at medium oozed robust goodies. The layering of fruity garnish, from pear paste, sugary roasted figs and (if I didn’t get it wrong) tangy dehydrated redcurrant (if not, Goji berries), proved that the inventiveness of the kitchen had paid off.

Desserts were less inspiring. Nata (£2.50) was curd-y and delectable, though the pastry was not as immensely flake-y as them ones at Fernandez & Wells. Olive Oil Ice Cream Choc Ice (£4.95) arrived very much a Magnun ice cream. The milk chocolate coating was lightly salted and made my mouth water insanely. The down side was that its richness overwhelmed the silky ice cream inside. I couldn’t taste olive oil as billed but detected some vanilla note. Not bad but again not how I envisioned the taste of an “Olive Oil Ice Cream”.

Stuffed!

I was.

My meal at Copita made me feel as if mopping up a superbly constructed tasting menu rather just tapas-ing. It brings to mind two disparate dining experiences that I love – say, hip tapas bars in Spain + Parisian bistronomy! This is food that is playful and inventive without negating comforting honesty. Risks are, certainly, paid off. (I hope the kitchen will be able to deliver precision and consistency during its busy hours).

Last question.. did the nano portion bother me?

Not one bit (this does not mean some others might not have issues). Flavours at Copita were bold enough to make themselves tasted and loved in a few bites. Be careful about the bill, though, as it could mount!

But, as it happens, I bloody love the place and can’t wait for a reprise.

Enough said,

My head rating says, “8.5 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “9 out of 10″.

COPITA

26-27 D’ Arblay Street
Soho
London
W1F 8EP

Tel. 020 7287 7797

www.copita.co.uk

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