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Restaurant Sat Bains, Nottingham, United Kingdom

December 26, 2011 Leave a comment

My UK geography must be worse than I thought – for some reason I thought it’d be a perfect idea to stop over in Nottingham en route from Scotland back to London, as I thought that’s just over the half-way point. It’s only when I figured out the mileage from Scotland to Nottingham that I realised that I might as well drive all the way back to London. Still, it’s “north of Watford” and I thought it’d be a good idea to have a nice meal at Sat Bains and also stock up on the meat at one of my favourite butchers in the UK (JT Beedham in Nottingham). Just by pure coincidence, my friend Val has just moved to Nottingham from Sussex, and it was a perfect opportunity to meet up with her after not seeing each other for years.

The amuse-bouche was Sweetcorn Chowder with Pop-Corn – this was a variation of the same dish from my first visit to Sat Bains. I loved the intensity of the sweetcorn flavour, and the contrast of the crunchy pop-corn worked well with this dish.

Sweetcorn Chowder with Pop-corn

(1) Although I’ve had the famous “Ham, Pea and Egg” a few times now, since Val has never had it, it was only fair for her to try it; and it would be torturous to just watch her eating it, so we all had one each. Although there were a few modifications to the dish, it was still impressive – simple ingredients all come to life in a magical way really.

Ham, Pea and Egg

(2) Pressed Pigs Head with Smoked Haddock and Pickled Vegetables – a rather vibrant colourful dish that looked so much like a piece of modern art that it seemed a shame to eat it. I was half expecting this dish to be heavy on flavour but to my surprise was rather light and refreshing.

Pressed Pigs Head with Smoked Haddock and Pickled Vegetables

(3) Salcombe Bay Crab with Sea Vegetables, Peanuts and Lemon – this was served with a very intensely-flavoured crab bisque. It’s a truly outstanding dish: the rich bold flavour of the bisque was balanced with the sweetness of the peanut brittle; and the contrasting texture of the crab meat and peanut brittle also worked surprisingly well.

Salcombe Bay Crab with Sea Vegetables, Peanuts and Lemon

(4) Oxtail with Pearl Barley and Smoked Bone Marrow – I was not so keen on the presentation of this dish, though it tasted wonderful.

Oxtail with Pearl Barley and Smoked Bone Marrow

(5) Ripley Estate Mallard Duck “Waldorf Flavours” with Stilton and Chicory – I’m not a fan of Stilton cheese but it seemed to work well with the duck, which was cooked beautifully.

Ripley Estate Mallard Duck "Waldorf Flavours" with Stilton and Chicory

(6) “The Crossover” – Buttermilk curd with rocket and tarragon granita. The green colour resembled Japanese matcha, but the curd with the granita worked so well together. I could quite happily eat another bowl of this.

The Crossover

(7) Chocolate with Yoghurt and Cumin Caramel – I was most curious about the cumin caramel and it’s probably one of those things that I’d either like it or hate it. Fortunately it’s something I really liked.

Chocolate with Yoghurt and Cumin Caramel

(8) The Bramley – the caramelised apple with apple sorbet, cider granita and custard worked so well together that I wouldn’t even mind eating this for breakfast and still feel healthy and good about it.

The Bramley

Restaurant Sat Bains continues to deliver exceptional food, and with this high quality I was not surprised to see that in October 2011 it finally gained the long-awaited second Michelin star that it deserved. Now I just need to plan my next visit to Nottingham in 2012.

Address: Lenton Lane, Nottingham, NG7 2SA, United Kingdom
Telephone: +44(0)115 986 6566
Website: www.restaurantsatbains.com
Opening Hours: Lunch: Tuesday to Saturday 12:15 onwards (Chef Table only) ; Dinner: Tuesday to Saturday: 19:00-21:00

Food: 9/10
Ambience: 5/5
Service: 5/5
Total: 19/20 [Based on visit in November 2011]

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L’Enclume, Cartmel, United Kingdom

December 25, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s pure coincidence that I returned to L’Enclume exactly one year after the last visit in 2010. It just seemed to be a perfect half-way point to stop over for the night before heading up to Scotland from London.

The menu has changed so much in one year – is it good news or bad news? Well, it’s bad news for me in the sense that I had to decide whether to go for the 8-course or 12-course menu, or even opt for the new vegetarian menu. However, it’s good news that even by choosing the 12-course menu again, the dishes would all be different. So it’s like a brand new dining experience again.

Once we’ve got the champagne ordered, the snack was brought to us: Duck crackling & duck skin crackling. OK, it was not the healthiest thing on earth, but then it was delicious, and I would happily trade part of my health in for the enjoyment of my taste buds.

Duck crackling & duck skin crackling

There were two different amuse-bouches as a prelude to the 12-course meal:

(a) Smoked mackeral with cream cheese and garlic leaves – although all the ingredients came in a small mouthful of pastry cup, I could taste all the individual ingredients, and then the flavours all blended together nicely in the mouth, with a spicy kick of the raw garlic at the end.

Amuse-Bouche - Mackeral

(b) Mayonnaise with fried cod tongue – It was a nice quality piece of fish, though at one point it reminded me of McDonald’s filet-o-fish (still no idea why that would be the case – the quality couldn’t have been further apart) – perhaps I would not have dreamt up this unfortunate association if the batter was slightly finer.

Amuse-Bouche - Cod Tongue

(1) Beetroot and mozzarella, celery and dill – there were layers of surprises as you dug deeper into it – all the contrast of textures and flavours, finishing with a sweet beetroot flavour with a vibrant colour at the bottom.

Beetroot and mozzarella, celery and dill

(2) Caramelised parsnip with mousse of meadowsweet, duck sweetbread and black mustard – the sweetbread was fried beautifully and worked well with the parsnip, give a sweet flavour with the mousse. The black cabbage leaves, while giving the whole dish an extra dimension of the flavour at the time, were rather too strong and there was a lingering bitter taste in the mouth well after I finished eating.

Caramelised parsnip and meadowsweet, duck sweetbread and black mustard

(3) Grilled salad smoked over embers, Isle of Mull cheese, custard, cobnuts – there were a variety of thinly sliced roasted vegetables including cauliflower, black cabbage and broccoli etc. The smell was very pleasant, esp on a cold winter evening, though the strong mustard-like taste of the black cabbage was a little too overpowering in the whole dish. It was interesting to have the sweetness added to the dish with “custard”

Grilled salad smoked over embers, Isle of Mull cheese, custard, cobnuts

(4) Marinated scallop, toasted seeds, red cabbage and wild sorrel – I usually love dishes with contrast of taste and texture: while this dish offered a mix of soft scallops and “a bed of” crumbling mix of toasted seeds, with a red cabbage sauce, this dish was not something I liked too much as I find the texture of the seeds actually too hard for the scallops – a bit like biting on sand.

Marinated scallop, toasted seeds, red cabbage and wild sorrel

(5) Jerusalem artichokes, Ragstone cream, tarragon, malt – This dish had a good balance of the strong malt taste, and a clean moorish texture of the Jerusalem artichoke.

Jerusalem artichokes, Ragstone cream, tarragon, malt

(6) Roasted snow crown with young squid and elderberry vinegar – the snow crown was cauliflower “on a bed of squid ink”. For some reasons L’Enclume really loved using the phrase “on a bed of….” to describe their dishes, and it became a bit of a running joke with my friends. Still, this was a very impressive dish, with the rather soft and bland cauliflower contrasting with the squid, mixing in with the more salty flavour of the squid ink – this combination really worked well.

Roasted snow crown with young squid and elderberry vinegar

(7) Kohlrabi baked in salt, parsley, chicken offal, bristly ox tongue – I found the chicken offal very greasy and salty, to the point that the dish became a bit too heavy for a 12-course meal. The kohlrabi did help to neutralise that greasiness and gave the dish the much needed breadth of freshness.

Kohlrabi baked in salt, parsley, chicken offal, bristly ox tongue

(8) Roasted monkfish in our spices, chervil root and wild watercress – the monkfish was slightly overcooked and on the dry side, but nevertheless had a nice taste. The raspberry coulis gave the dish a pleasantly sweet flavour in addition to the parsnip puree.

Roasted monkfish in our spices, chervil root and wild watercress

(9) Shorthorn short ribs cooked for 72 hours, smoked marrow and butternut – Instead of the hogget, I requested to have the short ribs from the 8-course menu. The piece of beef was very tender, and that was not surprising considering that it was cooked in a waterbath for 72 hours. I could cut into the meat with minimal effort, and it just melted in the mouth. The sauce was rich in flavour, and the presentation of the dish was sensational with the various colours – I was glad to have opted for this, even though I was struggling with finishing this dish because my stomach felt rather heavy and full, probably due to the lingering effect of the rather greasy chicken offals earlier.

Shorthorn short ribs cooked for 72 hours, smoked marrow and butternut.

The hogget dish was: Yew tree farm Herdwick Hogget in mulled cider, baked celeriac and pennywort – I had a little taste of that…. it was good but I still preferred the short ribs

Yew tree farm Herdwick Hogget in mulled cider, baked celeriac and pennywort

(10) Chestnut, honeyoats, anise hyssop, apple – this was a rather refreshing and light ice-cream. A very welcoming dish to come down from the heaviness of the last few savoury courses.

Chestnut, honeyoats, anise hyssop, apple

(11) Fig and malted cream, Williams pear ice – the first mouthful of the pear granita was very cold, but as my mouth got over the initial shock the various ingredients worked really well together. The whole dessert was not too sweet either, and I could easily have another one.

Fig and malted cream, Williams pear ice

(12) Mellilot yoghurt with nuts, Cartmel grapes, brown sugar – another very deliciously light dessert. It just seemed unbelieveable that there would be locally-grown grapes even if they were grown in green houses, as the November evening just seemed so cold to even think about the area getting warm in the summer.

Mellilot yoghurt with nuts, Cartmel grapes, brown sugar

I was glad when the 12th course ended, and I couldn’t even consider having any tea or coffee afterwards. Still, the staff brought over the tiny ice-cream sandwich for us to finish the meal with.

Ice-Cream

I left the restaurant with my stomach feeling rather bloated and heavy like a lead balloon, a contrast to the year before when I felt that I had eaten a lot without this less-than-pleasant feeling. Still, the meal was nice and I was glad to have returned to sample a whole new array of dishes. With a sister restaurant Roganic opened in London earlier this year, there’s always bound to be comparisons – for me, I actually prefer Roganic (with the added bonus that it’s in London rather than 300 miles away in Cumbria).

Address: Cavendish Street, Cartmel, Nr Grange over Sands, Cumbria, LA11 6PZ, United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)15395 36362
Website: http://www.lenclume.co.uk
Opening Hours: Lunch: Wednesday to Sunday: 12:00 – 13:30 ; Dinner: Monday to Sunday: 18:30-21:00

Food: 8/10
Ambience: 4/5
Service: 4/5
Total: 16/20 [Based on visit in November 2011]

Fatty Crab, New York City, United States

September 23, 2011 Leave a comment

When hurricane Irene struck New York City during the last weekend in August 2011, New York went into an unprecedented shutdown. Not only did the public transport system closed down that weekend, most shops and restaurants decided to stay shut the whole weekend. I’d hate to think the amount of business lost during that weekend, especially when the weather improved dramatically by Sunday morning.

Still, because of the transport limitations and I was staying near Columbus Circle, I decided to go somewhere not too far away for dinner. Fatty Crab on Upper West Side announced on Twitter that they were open on Sunday evening, so that seemed to be a good place to walk to for dinner.

The restaurant was not a typical Malaysian restaurant – the decor and music was very much appealed to the younger trendy Western crowd. The food was “inspired” by Malaysian cuisine (as the restaurant said so on the website) and other neighbouring South-East Asian countries.

Because of the hurricane, it was a reduced menu, but there were still plenty of choices on there. So to start, we opted for Jalan Alor chicken wings, and pork steamed buns. The belly of pork sandwiched in the steamed bun was divine – the flavoursome meat was served with a sweet soya and chilli sauce, with boiled eggs and coriander as garnish.  The chicken wings were coated with a rich glaze of soya sauce – maybe a bit too much sauce but the dish did satisfy my craving for chicken wings that evening.

Pork Steamed Buns & Jalan Alor Chicken Wings at Fatty Crab Upper West Side, New York City

The next dish was Bobo chicken satay with lontong cakes, red onion, peanut sauce. The chicken unfortunately was somewhat too burnt on the outside and without any proper marinade, a bit bland and dry inside.

Red curry okra at Fatty Crab Upper West Side, New York City

For the main courses, we chose Fazio Farms Fatty Duck, with pickled mustard greens, gula jawa, thai chili; red curry okra and rice. Unfortunately the duck, which was deep-fried, was so tough and greasy that after two small bites I already felt that I’ve had enough. The okra was somewhat overcooked and just did not look very appealing to go into the mouth.

Fazio Farms Fatty Duck at Fatty Crab Upper West Side, New York City Red curry okra at Fatty Crab Upper West Side, New York City

 

The meal started on a high with the pork belly in steamed buns and then gradually went downhill from there. Service was warm and friendly without being pretentious – that’s a major plus. The place was vibrant and certainly would make a fun night out with friends, as long as quality of food was not high on your list.

Address: 2170 Broadway (Between 76th & 77th Street), New York City, NY 10024, United States
Telephone: +1 (212) 496 2722
Website: www.fattycrab.com

Opening Hours: Monday to Wednesday: Noon to Midnight ;  Thursday & Friday: Noon to 02.00am ; Saturday: 11.00am to 02.00am;  Sunday: 11.00am to Midnight

Food: 5/10
Ambience: 4/5
Service: 4/5
Total: 13/20 [Based on visit in August 2011 ]

Momofuku Ko, New York City, United States

September 15, 2011 Leave a comment

Momofuku Ko entrance, New York City

Luck must have been on my side with my visit to Momofuku Ko. This tiny 12-seater restaurant only opens the booking at exactly 10am Eastern Time in the US 1 week in advance for dinner and 2 weeks in advance for lunch on Fridays to Sundays, and the reservation can only be made on its website. On the Friday two weeks prior to my NYC visit, I kept reminding myself to log on to the site at 3pm in London to see if I could book for lunch, and if I failed to secure the booking, then at least I would have a few more days subsequently to try again. My brain inevitably drifted to think about other things – 3pm came and went without my realisation. At 3.15pm I suddenly realised what I should have done, so I logged on, and found that there was still availability on Friday lunchtime, so I made the online booking straight away.

If I had gone for lunch or dinner on the following Saturday or Sunday, even if I could have secured the booking, I would not have been able to enjoy the meal there, as hurricane Irene hit New York that weekend, and the place was closed over the whole weekend. So I’d always remember this meal as the lunch before the hurricane weekend.

I have heard a mixture of positive and not-so-positive comments from various people – I kept an open mind, with no expectation whatsoever even at a staggering price tag of USD175 for lunch.

The restaurant entrance was probably one of the least attractive ones I have seen – with the metal grid, it looked like it’s closed down, and it’s easy to miss it unless you specifically looked out for the logo of the peach! We went in and showed the piece of paper with the reservation details, and were swiftly led to the seats at the counter (there’s no table as such) facing the open kitchen. There were already 4 diners there enjoying their lunches. While it’s interesting to sit at the counter and be able to watch all the dishes being prepared and converse with the chefs, it was uncomfortably warm for me.

We were soon joined by customers no. 7 and 8, and then the 3-hour lunch began. Here’s a run-down of the dishes. (In case you are wondering why there’s no picture of any dishes, the restaurant does not allow any photography. Also there’s no menu so the description of each dish is what I have noted down):

(1) Palm souffle with dill mayonnaise and American caviar – These resembled mini spring rolls: crispy fried pastry filled with delicious smooth mayonnaise. The roll was light and airy.

(2) Rib-eye beef with pickled okra, mint and dried jalapeno – A small but tender piece of beef served on a Chinese soup spoon, with the various flavours visiting the taste buds in turn: first the pickle, then the mint, and finally a sweet flavour from the sauce.

(3) Kushi oyster with sweet potato vinegar – This was OK but nothing distinctive to write home about I must admit.

(4) Grilled octopus with avocado wasabi cream and dried olive – The strong kick of the wasabi failed to disguise the slightly fishy taste/smell of the octopus. Not really sure if the combination of ingredients worked that well.

These first four appetisers were presented one after another in quick succession, to the point that I started to worry that either the meal would finish in an hour or we would have ended up with 30+ dishes at that speed of service.

(5) 4 types of sashimi – Long Island fluke with black bean and daikon, Hamachi with water chestnuts and peppers, Bream with chopped chives and bonito flakes, Spanish mackeral with beetroot – the four different types of fish and preparations were presented as four little portions on a long plate. The one with the best flavour was the bream.

(6) Mixed vegetable platter – Roasted carrot with rice cracker, summer salad of green beans with homemade XO sauce, Grilled Shishito pepper – The carrot was slightly too hard and would have given it a better contrast of texture with the rice cracker if it had been cooked a little bit more. The salad was refreshing with a good spicy kick of the XO sauce. The shishito pepper had a nice flavour without too much seasoning.

(7) Mushroom salad with cilantro and jalapeno dressing – another dish with spicy taste to it, and while it was interesting to see a wide range of mushrooms gathering on the plate, the jalapeno left a rather strong spicy after-taste that it just lingered in the mouth for quite a while afterwards.

Up to this point, I found that there was a higher-than-expected proportion of dishes with spicy taste and I must admit I got a bit fed up with that. While Russell was not keen on mushrooms, that mushroom salad was his favourite dish up to this point. But we both agreed that, after an hour of eating, we found that the dishes were nice but nothing that was truly outstanding.

(8) Puffed egg with bacon dashi, sliced konbu and chives – Just as we thought the meal lacked the surprise, here we were presented with one of the most pleasant surprises of the whole meal. When we saw the earlier diners being served this gigantic “matzo”-ball look-a-like dish, we were wondering what it was. The size and the look of the ball put me off because it looked like a rather stomach-filling dish. Then we discovered that this was in fact beaten egg from the whipped cream charger, and then boiled for a minute or so, before serving on the soup dish, with a bacon broth. The egg-and-bacon flavour came through so well in the dish – it almost had the same magic as Fat Duck’s famous bacon and egg ice-cream.

(9) Bento box: Halibut broth with spinach and beansprout, Grilled quail in barbeque sauce and squash slaw, Charred bak choi with black sesame, Grilled rice roll with pork fat and coarse sea salt. Instead of serving these in a proper bento box, they were served in individual dishes but arranged on the counter as if it’s a bento box. The broth had a spicy taste to it (yes, again, spicy!) but at least it had a clean and refreshing taste to it. The quail tasted like roast quail in a typical Chinese restaurant but nevertheless it had an excellent flavour and the meat was tender. The bak choi was non-descriptive and did not even look that appealing – OK, it may be supposed to look like pickled vegetable. The rice roll was delicious with the guilty pleasure of pork fat.

(10) Ravioli stuffed with sour cheese, mushroom, chorizo, pickled tomato, sweetcorn and lime – Yet more spicyness introduced into another dish! The ravioli skin was rather thick, and the dish had a strong Mediterranean flavour that I thought for a moment that I was at a tapas bar!

(11) Maine lobster with lobster mushroom, cauliflower mushroom, daikon, charred ground bean and saffron sauce – the lobster was cooked sous vide but it came out slightly too chewy which was a shame, as the dish had a very interesting mixture of flavour and texture that could have worked so well.

(12) Rabbit pate, smoked cured lamb, smoked pig face, with pickled red onion and pickled cucumber mustard – a small platter of charcuterie, with spicy taste creeping in once again.

(13) Deep fried short rib with 2 cubes of watermelon compressed with rose wine, fried eggplant with red miso, and eggplant puree – The beef was nice and tender, if somewhat too greasy because of the deep-fat frying. Luckily the watermelon cubes (looked like gigantic red dice)  were refreshing and a welcoming addition to the dish to cut through some of that grease of the meat.

By this point I was already so full that the sight of another large piece of beef (for the last 4 customers) being prepared in front of me made me feel a bit nauseous.

(14) Goat cheese sorbet, with little layered jelly cubes of pomegranate, earl grey tea, honey and milk – while I was not a fan of goat cheese at all, this dish was rather pleasant and I enjoyed it. Maybe it’s because the sorbet did not have a very overpowering taste of goat cheese, and the chewy jelly cubes with the intense flavours really made the dish stand out.

(15) Shaved Hudson Valley foie gras with lychee and pine nut brittle, riesling wine jelly – it’s one of the signature dishes of this restaurant. I was not convinced that it worked – while I liked all the ingredients individually, together I didn’t think it was a happy combination. The strong flavour of the wine was competing with the other flavours also.

(16) Pineapple sorbet, with frozen pineapple slice, dried pineapple, and house-brewed root beer – this was refreshing, with the various textures of pineapple in this dish.

(17) Toasted rice cone with miso ice-cream, sticky rice and mochi – It was light and a nice way to finish the meal.

(18) Onigiri with kim chi – this was given to us to take home, but unfortunately I only rediscovered the onigiri about 3 days after the meal, so I did not dare to eat it.

On the whole, the meal was an interesting journey of flavours and combination of ingredients, and it’s a roller-coaster ride of impressive dishes to the “nothing-to-write-home-about” dishes. I was glad to have visited the place nevertheless. The final bill, including a small bottle of sake and tips, came to a whopping USD500 for two – I am still pondering whether it’s worth this much.

While the chefs were friendly enough and did take some opportunity to chat to us briefly when they are not busy preparing the dishes, the service from the restaurant manager was colder than liquid nitrogen. While I don’t expect the staff to be ultra-friendly, but a little smile wouldn’t hurt. The thing that left a bad final impression was that when we were leaving, she just initiated a social conversation with her colleague about  3 feet away and did not even acknowledge our departure, let alone saying farewell – not something I’d expect from a Michelin-starred restaurant. Rude?

Address: 163 First Avenue (Between 10th and 11th streets), New York City, United States
Telephone: No telephone
Website: www.momofuku.com/restaurants/ko

Opening Hours: Friday-Sunday: 12:00pm-12.45pm, Daily: 6.50pm – 10.00pm

Food: 8/10
Ambience: 3/5
Service: 2/5
Total: 13/20 [Based on visit in August 2011]

Degustation, New York City, United States

September 11, 2011 Leave a comment

One of my ex-colleagues in Boston shares the same surname as me (and no, we are not related) and she loves her food, so there was a running joke in the company that we were the London and Boston representatives of Chow With Chau guide on the company intranet. She is now living in Manhattan. So when I was out there visiting, I thought I’d meet up with her for dinner, and let her decide on the restaurant. After consulting some of her friends, she informed me that she’d made a reservation at Degustation in East Village, based on the recommendation from a friend of hers that “it was the best meal I’ve had in NYC”.

Open kitchen at Degustation, New York City

The restaurant was smaller than I expected, and it’s basically an open kitchen with customers sitting at the bar (though we were sitting on chairs and not bar stools). Having experienced the rather “warmer-than-average” open kitchen setting at Momofuku, this one was a lot more pleasant. As our reservation was rather early in the evening, the restaurant only had a small handful of people in there, though we were still “asked” to wait at the tiny reception area for a minute, for no apparent reason, before we were led to the table.

The menu contains a selection of small dishes, a bit like having tapas really. We were told that we could either order a la carte (in which case, we’d order about 3-4 dishes per person) or go for the 5-course or 10-course tasting menu. We decided to go for the 5-course menu, as I was still quite full after a heavy lunch earlier in the day.

The first course was Ajo Blanco with cherries and fine herbs: the white garlic gazpacho was creamy and a welcoming soup for a humid summer evening (it was the evening before New York City went for a complete shutdown due to hurricane Irene – so the outside was rather stuffy). The cherries gave a bit of extra sweetness to the taste of the soup.

Ajo Blanco, Cherries, Fine Herbs at Degustation, New York City

The next course was marinated sardines wrapped in nori and served with salmon roe – the thin slices of sardines were sandwiched between the seaweed and then deep-fried to a very beautiful crispy and light texture. This was probably the best dish in the whole meal.

Marinated Sardines, Nori, Salmon Roe at Degustation, New York City

The third course was sturgeon with vegetable caviar and sea beans – the vegetable caviar was essentially tapioca, which was nicely cooked. However the sturgeon was verging on the tough and dry side. While the taste was nice, the texture and presentation was a let-down.

Sturgeon, Vegetable Caviar, Sea Beans at Degustation, New York City

The fourth and last savoury course was flank steak on rye, sauerkraut and served with a spicy mustard – I was not keen on this dish at all.  The flank steak was cooked to a pastrami style: unfortunately it was rather tough and even with a good steak knife it was still a bit of an effort to cut through the meat. The spicy mustard had a very strong bold flavour – maybe a little too strong if more than just a little dab of it was used with the meat.

Flank Steak, Rye, Sauerkraut, Spicy Mustard at Degustation, New York City

There were two choices for the dessert: Caramelised Torija or a chocolate pudding with vanilla marshmallow and granary cracker. I was going to opt for the chocolate, but then they could not tell me what chocolate they used, so I thought to be on the safe side, I’d go for the former. It turned out to be a good choice – the torija was like a brioche-based bread and butter pudding, with a nice thin crust of caramelised sugar on top.

Caramelised Torija at Degustation, New York City

By the time we finished the meal, the restaurant was completely full and there were already customers on the second seating. It’s a nice cosy restaurant and a fun place to take a friend or two to for dinner. However, due to the layout, it’s probably not a good idea to go with more than 4 people as you can’t really have a conversation with everyone without shouting across. The waitress was friendly and very helpful in explaining some of the dishes.

If I didn’t have such a big lunch a few hours before, I’d probably have happily gone for the 10-course tasting menu. Ah well, there’s always next time!

Address:  239 East 5th Street, Manhattan, New York City, NY 10003 , United States
Telephone: +1 (212) 979 1012
Website: www.degustationnyc.com

Opening Hours: Daily: 12.00pm to 2.30pm; 7.00pm to 9.30pm

Food: 8/10
Ambience: 3/5
Service: 4/5
Total: 15/20 [Based on visit in  August 2011]

Six Michelin Stars (and more) in one meal

I was in Hong Kong for a short 4-day visit in March 2011. On the Saturday evening, my cousin Raymond asked me when I could have dinner with him, and I said that I would be leaving the city on Monday night. He’s well into good food also, and he said “right, let’s do both Lung King Heen and Caprice for lunch on Monday then!” I said “yeah right, it’s as if we could do these two three-Michelin-starred restaurants on the same day, let alone just securing table for one of the two.”

Somehow he managed to do this, and so on the day I was returning to London, I had the rare opportunity to eat at two top restaurants in one meal, without leaving the building as both restaurants were housed in the top Four Seasons Hotel in Hong Kong.

I met up with Raymond and his wife Judy at Lung King Heen, where we started the first part of the lunch with dim sum. This was the first Hong Kong Chinese restaurant to be awarded 3 Michelin stars. It had an absolutely unbeatable view of the Hong Kong harbour.

The first two steamed dim sum dumplings were steamed shrimp dumpling with morel mushroom, and steamed lobster and scallop dumpling. Both were exquisite and stuffed with a generous amount of ingredients that tasted pretty nice.

The next dim sum was baked whole abalone puff with diced chicken – the abalone was tender enough and topped with a rich glaze. And extra marks for not having soggy pastry.

We then sampled the soup, which was superior chicken broth with shredded chicken – it was very rich in chicken flavour.

Before we left the first three Michelin stars behind, we tried the chilled coffee pudding layers – it was a twist to the traditional layered coconut pudding, with the use of coffee. It looked more interesting than it tasted – somehow I did not think that the coffee worked well in this.

By this point I was nearly full, but we had to go up two floors to Caprice – the other three-Michelin-starred restaurant in the hotel. I was not prepared to have a full-blown three-course meal, so I asked the restaurant manager to recommend his favourite dish. He said that the langoustine ravioli with veal sweetbreads and wild mushrooms in shellfish bisque emulsion. It was rich in flavour but the langoustine was on the slightly chewy side. The dish was well-executed but lacked any form of excitement.

My cousin Judy had Tourteau crab tiramisu with fruity marinade and tandoori spices – the dish looked colourful and playful, and it was very refreshing with the various ingredients. Contrasted with the rich langoustine ravioli which would be more suited to the cold weather, this dish was more in line with the hot weather and the stuffiness of the city of Hong Kong.

I wasn’t going to have a dessert but Judy and Raymond insisted that I tried the Napolean cake, which was millefeuilles with raspberries. Again while there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with it, there was nothing memorable.

 

I found the noise level at Caprice a bit too much for a restaurant of this calibre – whether it’s due to the open-kitchen design or the rushing around of the staff (apparently because of the hectic life in Hong Kong, there’s a rule at Caprice that they must be able to serve a 3-course lunch in an hour to allow the customers to get back to work, though there’s nothing stopping you having a slow lunch).

And if you would have thought that this would be the end of a crazy lunch. No! Raymond then decided that he wanted to show me the next hottest spot in Hong Kong, so he took me to a new Japanese restaurant called Sushi Ta-Ke in Causeway Bay. The restaurant was a collaboration with the famous sushi chef Sugiyama in Tokyo, and the raw fish was flown from Japan daily. We tried a few dishes, including sweet shrimp, sea urchin, clam, tuna tendon – all very fresh and tasty.

   

While we were just going to have a little bit of sushi to sample, Raymond once again insisted that I needed to try the Wagyu beef. It was tender and tasty enough.

By the time we finished this third restaurant at lunchtime, it was already past 3pm. I had to go for a stroll to walk off some of the food, before heading back to the hotel to collect my luggage and then headed to the IFC mall in Central for dinner at 7pm. It was at the one-Michelin-starred Lei Garden. The restaurant was busy and somewhat disorganised – in fact to the point where I was wondering how it managed even a single Michelin star? The service was chaotic: there was a steamed aubergine dish that obviously dried up before the aubergine was even cooked (we complained, and we got a much improved replacement); and then we asked for some rice at least three times and still none appeared. Avoid.

So it was either 6 Michelin stars in one lunchtime meal, or 7 Michelin stars in one day…. Either way, it was a fun thing to do though I would not have wanted to do it again, especially just before a 13-hour long-haul flight to London. One definite advantage was that I did not have to suffer any in-flight meals. Would I go back to the restaurants? Well, I would go back to Lung King Heen – whether the three stars are equivalent to ones in the Western world is debatable. For Caprice, there’s no reason for me to go back. Sushi Ta-Ke would be interesting to go back for a proper meal and sample their cooked dishes. As for Lei Garden, they won’t see me again which is a shame as it’s so convenient for the airport express train and it could have easily become a restaurant to serve my pre-flight dinner in Hong Kong!

Roganic, London, United Kingdom

July 17, 2011 2 comments

Roganic - Interior

So far this year we have seen the openings of restaurants by a few prominent chefs: first Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, then Pollen Street Social by Jason Atherton, and then in May The Gilbert Scott by Marcus Wareing. And most recently, it’s Simon Rogan (from the Cumbrian one Michelin-starred L’Enclume ) who opened the restaurant Roganic in Marylebone. It’s a two-year “pop-up” restaurant venture – meaning that it will be gone in two years time, when the lease is up.

I knew I would plan to visit this place at some point later on this year, but I certainly did not expect to pay a visit only three weeks after its opening. It was a rainy Saturday, I had not done my food shopping for the weekend, the fridge was completely empty (most unusual) and I just couldn’t be bothered to face fighting my way round the supermarket. So the next hard task was to decide where to go for dinner. I didn’t expect any tables available at Roganic but I thought I’d try my luck anyway – and I was glad to have made the phone call as there was a table for two the same evening.

The restaurant was not huge – seating for approximately 20-25 people. The decor and setting reminded me very much of L’Enclume, and maybe a little bit warmer and more cosy than L’Enclume – but then my last visit to L’Enclume was in November 2010, when Britain was hit by the heavy snowstorm and extreme cold weather.

After ordering some Philipponnat champagne, the amuse-bouche was brought to the table: Rosemary and chickpea with aioli on crisp bread. The vibrant colours certainly made it memorable in terms of presentation, and it tasted just as nice as it looked – the garlic aioli flavour did not overpower the freshness of the other ingredients, and the mouth was left with a surprisingly refreshing aftertaste.

Roganic - Rosemary and Chickpea aioli on crisp bread

Just like L’Enclume, there was a wonderful array of bread. This evening we were presented with potato bread, spelt bread and pumpernickel bread, fresh baking hot from the oven. A massive dollop of butter was placed on the stone on the table – and at first I thought “what a waste of butter”. But then when we tried the butter, we couldn’t get enough of it – the butter was churned to a soft whipped-cream texture at the restaurant, with Maldon salt added to it to give that slight saltiness and crunch.  It was so delicious that we ended up eating 11 bread rolls between us and had a second helping of butter during the whole dinner.

Roganic - Potato, Spelt & Pumpernickel bread Roganic - Butter to die for

The first two courses were broad bean and hyssop, fresh curds and beetroot; and Rubin turnip baked in salt, smoked yolk, sea vegetables and wild mustard. Both courses were so colourful and presented so beautifully that they looked like pieces of art that I could just look at and admire for a long time. In terms of taste, the beetroot and curd in the first course went surprisingly well together. The smokey egg yolk in the second course was cooked perfectly – still warm and slightly runny, and with a very distinctive smokey flavour to it.

Roganic - Broad bean and hyssop, fresh curds and beetrootRoganic - Rubin turnip baked in salt, smoked yolk, sea vegetables and wild mustard

The next course was seawater cured Kentish mackerel, orache, broccoli and warm elderflower honey – the sweetness of the honey balanced well with the oily strong-flavoured fish, which was perfectly cooked. The thinly sliced dried broccoli and the pattern on the plate augmented the look of the dish – it looked as if the fish was swimming in between the coral reefs in the sea.

Roganic - Seawater cured Kentish mackerel, orache, broccoli and warm elderflower honey

At this point I was already impressed with Roganic – I didn’t expect the food to be this good when it’s only opened for three weeks, and the dishes were not that straightforward to put together.

The next course was shredded ox tongue, pickles and sourdough paper – it was interesting, with the ox-tongue that sandwiched between the sourdough paper reminding me of potted meat that I used to have when I was young.

Roganic - Shredded ox tongue, pickles and sourdough paper

The next course was probably the biggest surprise of the evening: flaky Crab and mallow cream, young squid and cucumber. It was refreshing and had a pleasant aroma that transported my mind to the seaside – it was as if I was eating this dish at an open-air restaurant by the sea. The squid ink croutons gave the crunchiness to the perfectly-cooked pieces of crab meat and squid. It was a truly memorable dish.

Roganic - Flaky Crab and mallow cream, young squid and cucumber

The next course was one of the very few dishes that featured on both L’Enclume and Roganic menus: vintage potatoes in onion ashes, lovage and wood sorrel. This was supposedly to be one of the signature dishes, but I must say that I was not that keen on it – as much as I liked onions, the dehydrated onion with the onion oil drizzled around the potatoes was just too strong and had a taste that reminded me of something I was not keen on when I was younger.

Roganic - Vintage potatoes in onion ashes, lovage and wood sorrel

The 7th course of the evening was roasted monkfish, chicken salt, mushroom and fennel leaves. While the monkfish was cooked slight a bit too much, it was made up by the bold and intense flavour of the stock and the salt made from chicken skin. The mushroom puree and the fennel leaves provided another dimension of strong taste to the dish. Overall a combination of flavours that worked well together.

Roganic - Roasted monkfish, chicken salt, cockles and ruby chard

The last savoury course was Cumbrian hogget, artichokes and chenopodiums. A rich flavour of the hogget with the sweetbreads on the dish, but it was just too salty for my liking – to the point where it left a bitter salty taste after finishing the dish (and so thirsty on the way home that I couldn’t stop drinking water).

Roganic - Cumbrian hogget, artichokes and chenopodiums

For the desserts, the first one was sweet ciceley with strawberry, buttermilk and verbena – the macerated strawberries were refreshing (very welcoming after the previous dish) and went well with the strong perfume flavour of the verbena and mint.

Roganic - Sweet ciceley with strawberry, buttermilk and verbena

The finale was warm spiced bread, salted almonds, buckthorn curd, smoked clotted cream – I was dreading this dish because I didn’t like the buckthorn at L’Enclume. Each ingredient on its own sounded (and actually tasted) a bit ghastly, but together they were like match-making in heaven. It was a bit like the magic bacon and egg ice-cream at The Fat Duck. The dish was not too sweet and was a good finish to the meal.

Roganic - Warm spiced bread, salted almonds, buckthorn curd, smoked clotted cream

Afterwards we were brought the Douglas Fir & Pine milkshake with Douglas Fir flapjack. The milkshake was something I had at L’Enclume. The flavour of this one still reminded me of some medicine I had when I was young – but it was not at all unpleasant.

Roganic - Douglas Fir & Pine Milkeshake, Douglas Fir flapjack

To finish off this suprisingly good meal, we ordered some tea that was made specially at the restaurant, using a mixture of verbena, douglas fir, and other herbs. To go with the tea, the petit fours were some mini Victoria sponge cakes topped with raspberries.

Roganic - Petit Fours Victoria sponge with raspberries

On the whole, it was a nice meal – apart from the hogget which was too salty for my taste, the rest of the dishes were nicely flavoured, and there were some very memorable dishes. There’s always going to be a comparison between Roganic and the older brother L’Enclume – while some people might claim that L’Enclume was more adventurous and experimental, personally I found that at Roganic the food was less salty (apart from the hogget), and a slightly warmer decor and service. For Londoners who can’t be bothered to venture all the way up to Lake District, Roganic is certainly a well-worthy alternative. It’s a place I’d certainly be back – now I just need out-of-town visitors to give me my perfect excuse to return to this restaurant in the next two years.

Roganic - Entrance in the evening

Address:  19, Blandford St, London, W1U 3DH , United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)207 4860380
Website: www.roganic.co.uk

Opening Hours: Tuesday – Saturday: 12.00pm to 2.30pm; 6.00pm to 9.00pm

Food: 8/10
Ambience: 4/5
Service: 5/5
Total: 17/20 [Based on visit in July 2011 ]