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Soto, New York City, United States

January 1, 2013 Leave a comment

My first visit to Soto, a Japanese restaurant in Lower Manhattan, was actually in April 2012. It was so impressive that I went back with the “usual suspects” of food friends in October, the Saturday before that superstorm Sandy hit Manhattan.

The restaurant was not easy to find, as there was no sign or name outside to indicate the location of the restaurant. So if you do ever visit this place, remember it’s number 357!

The menu was extensive and served a whole range of dishes that sounded delicious enough without even sampling them! The four of us decided to pick with the dishes we really wanted to try, and then go for another round of ordering afterwards – if there were any dishes in the first round of ordering that were really exceptional, we could just ask for another portion in the second round.

(1) Fluke Ponzu (Thinly sliced fluke with chive, shiso leaf, ginger shoots, scallion, under mizore ponzu sauce) was fresh and worked well with the citrousy ponzu sauce.

(2) Goma Tofu (Black sesame and white sesame tofu, served with wasabi soy sauce and soy form) had a silky smooth texture with a rather delicate soy sauce.

Fluke Ponzu Goma Tofu

(3)  Uni Tempra with Uni Powder (Deep fried sashimi quality sea urchin in tempura batter, flavoured with home-made uni powder)  was interesting with the sea urchin just melting in the mouth. A first dish that won our hearts and got a repeat in round two of ordering.

(4) Sea Trout Carpaccio (Cured sea trout with black truffle sea salt, chive and caviar, served with watercress with miso mustard sauce and sesame) was so fresh it was almost like eating by the sea. Another dish we simply had to repeat in the second round.

Uni Tempra with Uni Powder Sea Trout Carpaccio

(5) Chawan Mushi (Traditional organic egg custard soup with shrimp, chicken, shiitake mushroom, mitsuba, gingko nuts and yuzu zest) tasted a little bland at the start but the flavour grew with every mouthful of it, and finished off to a very nice memorable taste.

(6) Botan Ebi Tartare (Chopped botan ebi sweet shrimp with fresh ginger, topped with uni served with shiitake dashi broth) had the expected sweet taste of the shrimp. However there was too much of a ginger taste.

Chawan Mushi Chawan Mushi

(7) Uni and Yuba (Black soy bean milk skin with finest uni, served with shiitake broth)  was one of the very few disappointing dishes – a lack of flavour of any kind.

(8) Tuna Tartare ( Chopped big eye tuna with pine nuts, asian pear, cucumber, scallion, sesame seed in spicy sesame sauce) was like a fish version of the Korean Yuk Hwe (raw beef), and it was delicious with a nice hint of spiciness.

Uni and Yuba Tuna Tartare

(9) Uzaku (Broiled fresh water eel with tosa vinegar and sweet eel sauce, garnished with japanese cucumber) was the third winning dish for us. The sweetness of the sauce coupled with the delicious eel meant that we simply had to order another one to make sure it was that good – and it was!

(10) Steamed Lobster with Uni Mousse (Layers of steamed Maine lobster and uni mousse in lotus wrap, garnished with smoked uni and caviar) was so beautifully presented that it left us staring at the dish for quite a while, wondering who would have the courage to ruin the piece of edible artwork in front of our eyes. However, the meat of the lobster was a little too cold (maybe we should have stared at the dish for longer to let the meat warm up a bit more) but the sweetness of the uni mousse really lifted the flavour of the dish.

Uzaku Steamed Lobster with Uni Mousse

(11) Uni Ika Sugomori Zukuri (Sea urchin wrapped in thinly sliced squid with shiso, served with quail egg and tosa soy reduction) was interesting enough though it lacked the flavour somewhat, which surprised me because I was expecting the sweetness of the sea urchin and the soft-boiled quail egg would really come through in this dish.

Uni Ika Sugomori Zukuri

(12) Tartare Tuna Roll (Spicy tuna tartare with asian pear, cucumber, avocado, sesame, pine nuts, scallion wrapped in white kelp) had an extremely creamy texture and easily one of the best tuna rolls ever.

(13) We also had a few pieces of nigiri sushi: Maguro (blue fin tuna from Massachusetts) and Zuwaigani (snow crab from Nova Scotia) were good but not that impressive, while the Anago (sea eel from Nagasaki) had a very slick texture and was absolutely delicious.

Tartare Tuna Rol Maguro Zuwaigani Anago

(14) To finish the meal off, it’s a selection of ice-cream mochi. Pleasant and light enough as a dessert.

Mochi

For a restaurant of this high calibre in the middle of Manhattan, the price was not ridiculously expensive. If anything, even with sake thrown into the meal, it cost no more than USD100 per person which was very reasonable indeed. I usually find Japanese restaurants that are Michelin-star-rated in the Western world rather disappointing, but Soto has proven that this is not always the case – if anything, it has become one of my favourite restaurants in New York City for sure.

Address:  357, 6th Avenue, Manhattan, New York City , United States
Telephone: +1 (212)-414-3088
Website: www.sotonyc.com

Opening Hours: Monday-Saturday 5:45-11:45 pm

Food: 9/10
Ambience: 5/5
Service: 4/5
Total: 18/20 [Based on visit in October 2012]

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]

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]