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Fine Dining

438 King’s Rd
London SW10 0LJ
Opening Hours: All days 12:00 – 10:30pm

Happy Diners_DSC8844

We went to Medlar Restaurant on my trip to London in February, on the back of some very strong recommendations by friends and family. Like any careful diner, I googled the restaurant just to be sure. Now, most of the time I use Jay Rayner of the Guardian as my touchstone for all things food related. This is not even to mention that I am insanely envious of what he does for a living, that I covet his job, and I aspire to write as well as he does. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had his tongue insured for its weight in platinum – the man has a palate as finely tuned as his wit is sharp.

Crab Raviolo, Samphire, Dry Shrimp, Bisque_DSC8831

Jay is normally a rather morose sort of person (watch this wonderful video of him introducing his new audiobook The Man Who Ate the World), but for Medlar he breaks with his usual dourness and has said some uncharacteristically bubbly things about the place.

The starter of crab raviolo, brown shrimps and samphire in bisque sauce was pure culinary brilliance. I think my brain went into a gustatory meltdown on first bite and I find myself at a loss to describe that wondrous glop of flavour that I vaguely remember sliding down my throat. A few words come to mind which I shall struggle to wrangle into a sentence: fishy; smokey; smooth; creamy; rich. Now, imagine a combination of those flavours and textures being conveyed to every corner and cavity of the inside of one’s mouth, and then picture yourself chewing happily on a nice fat Italian dumpling, with every bite releasing a gurgling gush of crab utterly saturated in that really agreeable seafood cream. That’s a happy thought, isn’t it?

Scallop Sashimi, Oyster Tempura, Ponzu Dressing_DSC8834

The other starter of scallop sashimi was a more zen-like affair, dipped in a ponzu dressing and topped with delicate oyster tempuras. It wasn’t so much explosions of rich seafood bliss as it was lullaby of soft supple sensations.

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The mains were classic French – generous servings of venison and cod complemented with plenty of carbo and greens, an approach that Joe Merce Nairne, part-owner of the restaurant, took with him from his days at Chez Bruce, another favourite eating place of ours (review to follow shortly!) All the meats were done to perfection, but here there was an indication that Medlar still has some way to go to match the innovation coming out from more bemedalled competitors like the Ledbury, which has become our gold standard to British fine-dining.

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Desserts were enjoyable. A soft passionfruit cheesecake with a pineapple slice on the side was a safe way to end, but which lacked the oomph to close the meal in as brilliant a fashion as it had started. But hey, I like my cheesecakes, so I was happy enough to snarf it all down. The passionfruit ice-cream topped with a blackberry compote and mini meringues was largely the same sort of thing.

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Medlar does not have a full degustation menu, which has allowed the kitchen to focus on churning out a rockingly consistent a la carte at an affordable price. The restaurant hasn’t gotten its Michelin star yet, but we suspect that if it follows the same sort of trajectory as Chez Bruce, that will just be a matter of time. The 3 course menu stays the same but the price changes depending on when you visit (from £26 for weekday lunches to £45 for dinners), so based on what we have had, this would easily be one of the most value-for-money set lunches in London at the moment.

8 Pollen Street
London W1S 1NQ
United Kingdom
Nearest Tube Station: Oxford Circus

While we were in London last month, we visited Pollen Street Social to celebrate our anniversary. Pollen Street Social is owned by Jason Atherton, a pupil of El Bulli’s Ferran Adria and an ex-Ramsay protege. Pollen Street Social has been making the rounds since opening its doors in 2011. It was awarded its first Michelin star in the 2012 Michelin Guide and was also named London’s best new fine dining restaurant in the Time Out Eating & Drinking Awards 2011. Outside of the UK, Jason has also had a busy year, opening up Pollen, Esquina Tapas Bar and Keong Saik Snacks in Singapore.

We visited for lunch, and as first impressions go, it made a pretty good one. Despite its proximity to bustling busy Regents Street, Pollen Street exudes an unhurried, laid-back vibe quite uncommon to central London. The restaurant shares this oasis of urban serenity with several independent, franchise-eschewing cafes.

Like its esoteric neighbours, Pollen Street Social’s philosophy to food is an inclusive one. As with any Michelin-starred outlet, strict standards are observed, but the restaurant stays close to its social ethos by striving to keeping prices sensible. Jason Atherton’s new cookbook: Gourmet Food for a Fiver is an extension of this philosophy, and is chock-full of recipes for people living on a shoestring budget.

The restaurant interior is relatively large and was awash with natural lunch-time light. There was space enough for two bars:  a reception-cum-cocktail bar up front and its signature dessert bar at the back of the main dining area and overlooking the kitchen. Service was warm and attentive, and we liked how staff had room to show off their personalities. The sommelier noticed us toting cameras and asked if we wanted to take some shots in the kitchen, which was really nice of her!

Truffled hen’s egg, London cured salmon, smoked salmon & watercress soup

The dining experience at Pollen Street Social was an enjoyable one, but the food was a mixed bag. We had the set lunch (£24/2 courses, £27/3 courses) and the main of lamb from the ala-carte. The meal started with a truffled hen’s egg and cured salmon in a watercress soup, topped off with a dollop of creme fraiche. It wasn’t an attractive plate of food. Salmon-pink and water-cress green have never been the best companions in terms of colour. The dish tasted like the way it looked – an unappetising salty-creamy-slimy mulch that didn’t go anywhere.

18-hour braised Angus feather blade, baked celeriac, marrow crumbs

The Angus feather-blade tasted woefully normal. The 18 hours of braising gave the meat a good texture but the flavour in the beef was simply lacking. The dish also looked like it had been hurriedly put together, consisting of a formless piece of celeriac, and a glop of fast-separating jus that pooled around unceremoniously on the plate, and garnished with a sad-looking unidentified green object.

Rack of salt marsh lamb, braised shoulder, creamed spiced aubergine, savoury & black olive reduction

Our visit wasn’t a complete gastronomic disaster. In dramatic contrast to our tragically off-target set lunch was the salt marsh lamb rack ala-carte (£27.50), served with a subtly balanced black olive reduction and a gorgeous cumin paste, a reminder of Beijing’s ubiquitous lamb skewers (chuanr) that we once nursed as our artery-choking guilty pleasure. The black olive and cumin blended with the natural fattiness of the lamb chop to deliver savoury redemption upon our taste-buds.

Selection of sorbets & ice-creams

We then adjourned to the dessert bar for our final course. We were attended to by a trio of dessert chefs, working with manifest purpose but with wits enough to welcome and have a short chat with us. Pre-desserts included a scoop of passionfruit and blackberry sorbets (pictured above), and nitrogen-frozen strawberry panna cotta with matcha powder.

Nitrogen Frozen Strawberry panna cotta with matcha powder.

The panna cotta was was an interesting and not unpleasant marriage of sweet-and-sour-and-bitter, with the frozen strawberry and matcha playing games on our taste buds. So far, so promising.

Autumn Kent apples slow cooked in London stout beer caramel, stout sabayon, vanilla ice cream

The set lunch’s slow-cooked Kent apple in beer stout packed a good boozy punch, and the vanilla ice cream and sugared pastry crisps prevented the beer from becoming altogether overwhelming. The ala-carte mango dessert presents mango done three ways, in different textures and in a variety of chemical states: solid, liquid and gas via aeration. We found the freeze-dried mango powder quite fun to eat. The trick is to coat it around the yoghurt and the pudding, let the powder stick to the roof of your mouth and then lick the fast-melting remnants off for added kick. It’s like having fun fair candyfloss, just cooler and mango-flavoured.

Asian mango pudding, mango sorbet aerated yoghurt, freeze dried mango

Fastest fingers first

Now, we have to say that the food at Pollen Street Social was not the best we’ve had. The ala-carte was fine but the set lunch was a let down. However, the restaurant deserves notable mention from us for its down-to-earth service and general lack of pretentiousness. We enjoyed our time there and we’re sure you would too. But if you’re going for lunch, please consider getting the ala-carte instead.

Iceland is a beautiful country, and we’d like to recommend anybody vacationing in Europe to make a detour here.

As with most tourists, we based ourselves in Reykjavik and made small day tours to nearby attractions by car. This entry will read a little bit like a food trail – we’ll focus on how to go about feeding yourselves without blowing too big a hole in your wallet .

There were sheep everywhere

Iceland is blessed with some of the best meat and fish produce in the world. The waters that surround this raw and beautiful island are rich in fish, and the interior of the country is essentially one big sheep farm. There were sheep everywhere we went. Reykjavik central is populated by a fair number of fine-dining restaurants where you can sample some of this wonderful local fare. Tripadvisor and the local tourist guidebook will have a catalogue of all the well-known names.

Seafood Grill
Skolavordustigur 14,
Reykjavik 101, Iceland
http://www.sjavargrillid.is/en/Welcome

Fish Company
Vesturgotu 2a
Grófartorg,
Reykjavik, Iceland
http://www.fiskfelagid.is/

Lobster and Monkfish at the Seafood Grill

We can tell you a little bit about the Seafood Grill and the Fish Company. Both restaurants are staffed with friendly waitresses who will mother you into blissful submission with warm bread, local skyr butter (Yum.) and tap water so fresh it puts Evian and San Pellegrino to crying, burbling shame. Food-wise, Icelandic fine-dining really tries its best, but our impression is that their methods are a little dated. All the dishes we ordered were smothered in one sort of seafood foam or the other. We also took issue with the Seafood Grill deep-frying one of their lobster medallions in a hard, salty batter. Mother Lim also found the salted cod to be way too salty. We thought it was a matter of personal intolerance at first, but afterwards even we were forced to concede that she was right. There was enough salt in the fish to preserve it for milennia. This was a pity. The Seafood Grill could have gotten more out of its ingredients by doing less.

Lamb at the Fish Company

The Fish Company was better. The lamb was served a smokey jus and complemented with a lovely beetroot ketchup. We thought the sweet-and-smokey mix quite pleasant, although Father Lim did grumble about a lack of mint jelly and tabasco sauce. Clearly he preferred his traditional lamb and mint pairing more. Su-Ching liked her plaice and scallops main a lot, and we had no complaints there.

Difficult to eat with gloves on

We recommend having one of your meals at one of Reykjavik’s fine-dining establishments, just to see what the dining scene is like. Starters are normally start from 1500 ISK (~15 SGD) and main courses are about 5000 ISK (~50 SGD). However, not all your meals in the country need to be fancy-schmansy lobster gobbling affairs. Fast food in Iceland is equally celebrated.

Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur
Tryggvagotu 1,
Reykjavik 101, Iceland

Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, roughly translated: Best Hot Dogs in Town!

Your first pit-stop in Iceland should be Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur along Tryggvagotu, Iceland’s world-famous hot dog stand. This humble purveyor of lamb hot dogs has the accolade of serving Bill Clinton when he was touring Iceland on behalf of UNICEF in 2004. Have your hot dog (250 ISK) with crispy fried onions, ketchup and a cup of coke. There aren’t many better ways to warm your stomach on a windy Reykjavik evening.

The Sea Baron
Geirsgata 8,
101 Reykjavik, Iceland

The interior of an archetypal seafood shack

Further down the road from the hotdog stand is Reykjavik’s Old Harbour, the home of yet another world-famous restaurant. Some 3-star Michelin restaurants may admittedly serve more complex lobster bisques, but the Sea Baron’s lobster soup (1250 ISK) offering stands out for its simplicity, honesty and generosity. The man behind the soup is a good-natured octogenarian ex-seaman. He may be found most days perched behind the counter of his restaurant. The broth is thin but full of that splendid, distinctive lobster flavour. Each soup cup also comes filled with substantial chunks of lobster meat.

Looking at this makes me hungryMonkfish Skewer (2200 ISK)The Salmon (2000 ISK) was fresh, but we liked the monkfish more

Also consider getting the monkfish skewers. Fresh monkfish has the same bouncy texture as lobster but goes for a third of the price. The monkfish at the Sea Baron is the freshest we’ve had. Ever. We honestly don’t think a stay in Reykjavik would be complete without a visit to this far-flung outpost.

The Burger Joint
Geirsgata 1  
101 Reykjavik, Iceland

If the lobster soup and skewers have not quite filled you up, the Burger Joint is your place of final resort. For 1250 ISK per burger value meal it is not the cheapest fast food around. But they do give you free refills on your coke, which is brilliant. The burger itself is very close to the soft-bunned American variant (think Shake Shack). The patty is moist and finely minced, although we do prefer our mince slightly coarser.

Noodle Station
Skolavordustigur 21a, 
Reykjavik, Iceland

If you tire of Scandinavian cooking altogether, the Noodle Station along Skolavordustigur represents great taste and value for money. It is located along the second busiest thoroughfare in Reykjavik and shouldn’t be too difficult to find. A bowl of ‘Thai-style’ kway teow noodles is 1000 ISK (SGD 10) for the chicken option, and 1200 ISK (SGD 12) for the stewed beef.

A saviour comes along to redeem our home-weary palate

The soup is a brown, sweet, thick broth. The beef must have been either topside or shin and the texture and taste compares really well with what one can get closer to home. Have it with a generous topping of ground peanuts, bean sprouts and chilli powder as well!

Right. So that concludes our brief guide to eating in Reykjavik. If we manage to save you a few dollars on your prospective trips to Iceland, then this guide has done its job. A word of advice though – whale meat has the texture of beef but tastes like fish. Eat at your own peril!

Other restaurants worth eating in Reykjavik (unreviewed): Kitchen Eldhus, for Nepalese and Indian food – for simple, not-too-expensive Indian cuisine along the Laugavegur shopping street. 

17 Bruton Street (Mayfair Branch)
London W1J 6QB
020 7907 1888

8 Hanway Place (Tottenham Court Road Branch)
London W1T 1HD
020 7927 7000

Welcome to the wonderful world of Hakkasan

When people think of dim sum in London, the places that immediately pop to mind are the restaurants along Gerrard Street in Chinatown; Shanghai Blues at High Holborn with their Sunday half-price offer; one-star Yauatcha at Soho; and (horror) Ping Pong on your neighbourhood high street. Admittedly, some of those places are decent for a budget-conscious diner, but pssst, we’ve got something better for you now.

Hakkasan is better known as the more expensive and up-scale cousin of its dim-sum dinky little brother Yauatcha. That’s true for its ala carte and dinner offerings, but with a little strategy you can get away with minimal damage on its very very tasty dim sum (from 11am – 3.30pm) menu. Hakkasan has a more limited selection compared to Yauatcha, but whatever they have, they do better. Their venison puffs are a case in point.

We were going to write you a list of all our favourite stuff that you had to order, but were a little sad to find out they overhauled their menu in August. Some dishes like the excellent King Crab Noodle Roll and the Fried Mango and Prawn Salad Roll had been taken off the menu, much to our dismay.

Thankfully, other stalwarts survived the cull. Before we give you a pictorial guide to our must-eat dimsum at Hakkasan, here’s a tip: visit as a trio/trinity/threesome, or in multiples thereof. Most of the items are served as such, so it’s easier to share that way. It should add up to around £20 a person for conservative eaters, and £25 for gluttons. Also consider ordering from their selection of fine teas. The Classical Beauty brew is our favourite.

The Scallop Shumai and Har Gau are excellent. The full-sized scallop topping the shumai is particularly indulgentChar Siu Cheung Fun is smooth, fragrant and the meat is tender. Also try the Three Mushrooms Cheung Fun if you have the chance (and stomach space for it)Chilean Sea Bass Mooli Roll – a triumph. The balance of flavour in its soya sauce base is near perfect, complementing the succulent seabass chunk and the mu-er’s crunch’s exceedingly well Venison Puffs – Sweet, salty, fluffy, lovely.Corn Fed Chicken Soup – Gloria’s favourite for good reason. Dense and fragrant. The result of many, many hours of boiling and distilling stock. We salute the many chickens that died to make this soup.

Went back to Dinner by Heston for lunch, and tried their relatively affordable £38 set menu. We shan’t go too much into the details, except to say it is an attractive price-point for people on a fine-dining budget. The mains of the Blackfoot Pork Collar and the Cured Salmon were conventional taste-wise, but excellently prepared.

We’ll just leave you with the photographs for now. For a fuller review of the ala-carte, you can find our previous entry here.

Salamagundy – basically raw tomatoes and vegetables. The tomatoes were fine, but we found the purple radishes a little weird…Ragoo of Pig Ears – sticky, stewed, with a bit of a cartilaginous crunch. Not for everyoneMeat Fruit, not on the set menu, but made for a really pretty picture under the lunch-time light.On to the mains – cured salmon with samphire and peas – delicate and moist, a result of 2 hours of slow cooking, as opposed to the more traditional and expedient pan-searing/frying methodBlackfoot Pork Collar with Meat “Ketchup”. Tastes the same as the Blackfoot Porkchop on the ala carte, with a lovely salty-sour tang to itRoasted white peaches with yoghurt, meringue and peach sorbet – didn’t find it exceptional.Tipsy Cake – not on menu, but definitely worth ordering to share round the table anyway. Might be too sweet for some.Waiter and the Heston’s Awesome Liquid Nitrogen Hand-Crank Vanilla Ice Cream Machine of Doom (our name)U-Jin and his cone of ice-cream

127 Ledbury Road
Notting Hill,
London W11 2AQ
Tel: 020 7792 9090

The Ledbury made its name this year when it stormed to 14th place on the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, behind Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner and The Fat Duck in the UK. Whilst we still believe the list is essentially a contest of who has the biggest budget to drink reviewers under the table with, the top 25, maybe 30 restaurants are a good guide to some of the best up-and-coming dining venues right now, if not of all time.

The restaurant has delivered outstanding quality and consistency on every occasion, with glowing reviews all around. Australian chef Brett Graham has brought his exquisite Sydney palate to the table, and we very much agree with the brightness and boldness of flavour in his dishes. Lobster with fennel and elderflower? Who would have thought, but yum. Venision of fallow deer with a massive dollop of bone marrow crowning each slice? Double yum.

Roast Scottish Scallops with Brassicas and Seaweed –  probably the best value starter on the menu that day. Juicy!

Hampshire Buffalo Milk Curd with Saint-Nectaire, Truffle Toast and a Broth of Grilled Onions

Heritage Tomatoes with Fresh Goat Cheese, Green Tomato Juice and Herbs

Notably, Brett does vegetables really well. The heritage tomatoes with fresh goats cheese and herbs is the restaurant’s signature, deceptively simple but good enough to trick the taste-buds of our tomato-phobe friend Freida momentarily. We also admired his ability to wrangle goats cheese into a form palatable to non-cheese connossieurs, re: mostly everybody in the world.

Mille Feuille with Mango, Vanilla and Kaffir Lime

Blueberry Cheese Tartlet

Passionfruit Souffle with Sauternes Ice Cream

For desserts, we sampled everything, and everything was good, but the standout for the night was the passionfruit souffle topped with sauternes ice cream – soft, delicate and very very airy. Brett is touted as a mean maker of souffles, and ours tasted superb. The preceding season’s raspberry souffle was ranked by the Fortnum and Mason’s guide as the third best dessert in Londontown (1. Marcus Wareing’s custard tart; 2. Dinner’s tipsy cake).

We like the Ledbury. Its location away from the bustle of central London was really welcome. We appreciated their flexibility in letting us have the largest table on the main dining floor. Ordinarily a group of our size would have had to pay significantly more to use the private room. They were also nice enough to prepare a chocolate tart dessert with the words “Congratulations” written on it to celebrate my graduation that evening. Service was warm, if a bit forgetful (they neglected to clear the crumbs on our table after the bread appetisers), but on the whole that didn’t detract from what was after all a wonderful meal.

45 Brook Street
London W1K 4HR
Tel: 020 7499 0099

Lest one be confused from the glut of choices available within London’s fine-dining scene, a way of cutting to the chase is to choose a restaurant with the chef’s name in it. This might not necessarily guarantee he/she is cooking in the kitchen but it does serve as a stamp of quality of sorts. Lunch at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant at Claridge’s Hotel was pleasant, with front-of-house service well worthy of its two Michelin stars.

Smoked Haddock Tartlet and Poached Egg, Creme Fraiche and Caviar

We had the set-lunch (£30) that day. There wasn’t anything terribly wrong with the way things tasted, but the execution was slightly shaky. The haddock tartlet and poached egg starter came out with the egg “well-done”. Some of us had it sent back. It came back in a much better shape, with the richness of the cream and molten yolk blending superbly with the smoked fish.

Gloucestor Old Spot Pork Loin with Primavera Vegetables and Apple JusPan Fried Fillet of Bream with Mussels, Courgette and Saffron VelouteLeg of Cumbrian Lamb with Tomato Tart Tatin, Swiss Chard and Onion Jus

The rest of the lunch went on without a hitch. The pork loin and apple jus was a marriage of classic flavours and the fillet of bream in saffron veloute was rich and indulgent. The Cumbrian lamb spoke for itself in terms of freshness.

Lemon Tart with Creme FraicheDark Chocolate with a honeycomb sphere and milk chocolate sauceLavender and White Chcolate Creme Brulee with Lemon Madeleines

Dessert was more spectacle than food. The lemon tart was garnished with pretty summer flowers, and the dark chocolate sculpted into an orb, melted down by pouring hot milk chocolate sauce onto it. The creme brulee sported a rather nice touch with the lavender accent in it. Otherwise, the dessert tasted like you would expect them to taste, so don’t expect anything too innovative! Go to Dinner by Heston for that 😀

Diner en Blanc has been getting all sorts of coverage in the news recently, so we aren’t going to talk much about what it’s all about. The event was held outside the ArtScience museum at Marina Bay Sands, which made for some really nice pictures! We’ll leave you with some we took that night. Maybe we can convince you to go for the event next year 🙂

A word of advice for the men: get your white pants early to avoid unnecessary panic.

18 Xiaoyun Road,  霄云路18号, Beijing
Tel: 6595-5135 www.flo.cn

There is nothing exciting about Brasserie Flo. The food is predictable and reminds you a bit of your mother’s cooking. But that isn’t always a problem, is it? Sometimes you go to restaurants not to be excited or titillated, but to treat yourself to a familiar experience. Flo is a chain of upscale eateries originally from Europe, setting up shop in Beijing in 1999. It prides itself on serving classic French food in an oriental capital and does so with confidence. Also signature to the restaurant is its seafood counter, replete with air-flown oysters from France, fresh and plump as a baby’s bottom but never mind the carbon footprint.

Oysters

All this familiarity is a major selling point, especially with its recent move to spanking new premises along Xiaoyun Road, the heart of the diplomatic district in Beijing. The vaulted interior, spacious booths and ceiling-to-floor glass panels give a real sensation of space and a European charm.

Foie Gras, Plum Jelly, Fig Toast (not pictured)

We went for the Classic set menu (RMB 298), a selection of the restaurant’s best-sellers. The escargots were decent, meaning they were drowned in a lip-smackingly tasty herb butter, but not a terribly value-for-money dish. A much better option was the foie-gras, which was perfectly matched with fig toast and plum jelly.

Beef Tournade, Plum Tomatoes, Potatoes and Greens

Suckling Pig, Truffle Mash, Plum Tomatoes

The conservative ethos of the kitchen was clearly evident in its main offerings. The beef tournade was a simple and elegant plate of food. The meat came perfectly done (medium), with the plum tomatoes adding a splash of colour and freshness to the dish. The suckling pig was brilliant. The Chinese really know their pork belly, and Flo’s was some of the best we’ve had. The truffle mash actually had discernible slices of the black treasure in it, and went well with the pool of pork jus that had been cleverly “ponded” in the middle.

Belgian Waffles, Chantilly Cream, Strawberries

To end it off, Gloria had a slice of the Belgian waffles with Chantilly cream and strawberries. The waffle had a slightly chewy bread-like texture, not really what we’re used to but pleasant as well. The crème brulee, like the escargots, was good but not terribly value-for-money.

Of course there are better restaurants around, but one will find comfort in Brasserie Flo’s attentive service and ambiance. For a more affordable alternative, go on a weekday for their set lunch and power lunch options. (128 and 148 RMB respectively)

Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park
66 Knightsbridge
London SW1X 7LA

Some friends and I celebrated the end of finals with a celebratory dinner at Heston Blumenthal’s newest London outfit, Dinner, last week. The food is a walk-through of traditional pub food through the centuries, revived in typical Heston pizzazz –  liquid nitrogen, sous-vide et. al. Dinner is the place to go to if one is looking for an introduction to Heston’s unique dining experience, or if the Fat Duck is too out-of-the-way.

Meat Fruit (c.1500) – Mandarin, chicken liver parfait & grilled bread

The meat fruit has been much talked and blogged about. If you think about it, it really is just a chicken liver spread that has been prettily wrapped up in mandarin flavoured jelly. It wasn’t so much the chicken liver but the idea of combining it with the jelly that did it for me. 10 points for presentation and a pleasant starter all around.

Roast Marrowbone (c.1720) – Snails, parsley, anchovy & mace, pickled vegetables

 Deep-fried sweetbreads with asparagus

For the uninitiated, sweetbreads are spare parts of the calf or lamb that have been soaked in salt water, dipped in milk, breaded and deep-fried. These were incredibly smooth and rich, with a faint taste of iron that lingers at the back of your tongue (much like the taste of liver). I liked it a lot, but it might not appeal to everyone.

Powdered Duck Breast (c.1670)

This was duck breast prepared in the sous-vide method. It essentially involves vacuum wrapping a piece of meat and throwing it into a controlled low-heat (typically 55 degrees celcius) water bath to cook for a long period of time. The method is intended to ensure the meat is cooked evenly without overdoing the outside. If I had 24 hours to prepare my dinner I’d sous-vide everything too!

Black Foot Pork Chop (c.1860)

      Spiced Pigeon (c.1780) – in ale

I didn’t order this myself but I did filch a sliver off my friend Belinda’s plate. I liked the pigeon’s gamey taste and the slight acidity in the ale-infused gravy.

 Tipsy Cake (c. 1810) – with spit roasted pineapple

This was probably the highlight of the night. The spit-roasted pineapples were on display behind a glass panel separating the kitchen from the dining room. The juices had been lovingly teased out from within and the caramelised coating on the outside of the pineapple sliver provided the fruit with a pleasant crunch. The cake in its cast-iron pot was warm, soft and well-risen, more bread than cake. A perfect complement to the pineapple slice. We weren’t sure about the tipsy part of the dessert though. I was fairly certain there wasn’t any alcohol in it.

 Brown Bread Ice-Cream (c. 1830)- Salted butter caramel, pear & malted yeast syrup

This was a really nice and complex dessert- the ice cream was malty, salty, sweet and crunchy. Together with the tipsy cake it thoroughly completed the evening.

Quaking Pudding (c.1660) – Pear, perry, caramel & lime

I really liked this dessert. It reminded me of those adorable jelly cups I grew up with in childhood. It was mildly amusing watching it quake and quaver (as the name suggests) when the waiter brought it to the table. Aesthetics aside, the pudding was smooth and consistent, and the sauce that it was drenched in was mellow and not too sweet. I’ve always had a thing for stewed fruits as well, and I enjoyed the pears very much.

Liquid Nitrogen-Hand Crank Ice Cream Machine

We didn’t order this but the table next to us did. It involves pouring a flask of liquid nitrogen into a ice-cream machine whilst turning the hand crank to flash-freeze vanilla ice-cream. You have to order it by the table, £8 pax.

Dinner was an enjoyable night out – we were treated to good service, a pleasant dining experience and some delightfully whimsical food, as is Heston Blumenthal’s style. We were in rarefied company that night as well – Marcus Wareing, a two-star Michelin chef himself, was having dinner at the table next to us.

Strandgade 93, Copenhagen, 1401
Tel:+45 3296 3297
Nearest metro: Christianshavn
www.noma.dk

So, Noma restaurant in Copenhagen has been named the best restaurant for the third year running, and we thought this would be an appropriate time to share with you some of the pictures we took during our visit there. Glen’s brother Shaun managed to get a reservation after some reservations-hotline camping and we were immensely lucky to have gotten the booking when we did. Copenhagen was bright and sunny when we arrived, and the waterfront in Christianshavn where the restaurant is couldn’t have looked any cheerier. The food itself was an experience. Noma doesn’t really follow the traditional Michelin restaurant mould, which has always been partial towards the French-style dining and the hundred million cooking processes it subjects its food to. Contrarily, Noma subscribes to a forager’s philosophy, and head chef Rene Redzipi likes serving his food as fresh as it can get. The restaurant still has two Michelin stars, which is an ample testament of its service standards and quality.

Anyway, enough with words. We will let the pictures do the talking, with explanatory captions along the way just in case you don’t recognise certain things as being actually edible.

The meal started out with a series of about 7 or 8 appetisers, each of them more fantastical than the other, but all incredibly tasty. Noma pretty much is the cutting edge of fine dining today, and we think you’ll see why in a bit.

That’s my brother Shaun. The thing he’s putting in his mouth is an edible stem. There was a hummus dip that went together with it. Very fresh, very raw, somewhat refreshing.

We thought the leafy vase above was a tabletop decoration. The brown coloured “stem” nestled within the foliage is actually a bread stick. And it’s edible. Tasted wheaty in our opinion. Intriguing to look at nonetheless.

Remember our warning about how some things on the plate might not look edible at first sight? If the waiter hadn’t explained that the planting pot he had put on our table was raw radish in edible (avocado) soil, we would have been bewildered indeed.

Gloria eating the radish. We felt like herbivores, chomping down on raw leaves and organic dips. This is fine dining at its healthiest, not something you can say about Noma’s more traditional counterparts (Cream! Butter! Sugar!). The soil itself was a crunchy ground cookie, and it went really well with the avocado dip and the radish.

We’re not really sure what this was, but the waiter did mention something about ‘deer mold’. Can’t be certain if he was talking about what it was served on or the actual brown edible thing itself.

Like the preceding appetisers before it, it tasted organic and was neutral in flavour. The texture of the mold itself was quite nice though.


Small savoury tarts.

Pickled hawthorne served with pickled rose petals. Readers from Singapore might be familiar with those coin-sized hawthorne wafers that Chinatown grocery stores sell. This is exactly it. We didn’t think we’d find a childhood candy snack so far away from home!

Herbal tart with a deep fried chicken skin on top.

Smørrebrød, which is a danish open-faced sandwich. The ritual rugbrød base has been placed on top with chicken skin at the bottom and hay-smoked cheese blended with dill and lumpfish roe in between. It sounds as good as it tastes.

Smoked quails egg on a bed of hay. We recommend putting the entire thing in your mouth and chewing at it slowly. The scent of smoked hay has a lovely way of percolating through the nostrils and the back of the throat.

And that concludes the appetisers. You can imagine that by this time we were all well sated and waiting for the main courses to arrive.


Razor clam in parsley gel and dill sauce


The breakfast of Viking champions: Air-dried scallop and watercress, biodynamic cereals and beech nuts

Danish Beef Tartare and watercress leaves & pea puree

Juice pairings to go with the meal. This was a revelation, and really good for us because 3 of the 4 of us at the table that day don’t drink! (from left: Apple and Pin; Kiwi; and Lingonberry juice)

Langoustine Tail with purple Icelandic salt (söl) dust and mayo

This dish was creatively called the “Oyster in the Ocean”. It was served in a small cast iron pot with rocks and seashells, the point being to bring the scent of the ocean to you as you ate the oyster.

White asparagus smoked in pine leaves. As much as we would love to have tried what pine leaves taste like, we were politely advised against doing so. The asparagus was lovely though.


More juice (from the left: Celery and Hawthorne juice)

Onion done 3-ways – beer and honey, buttered, and blanched with tapioca pearls and cheese

Veal sweet meat in new shoots and peas.

Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs! Duck Eggs with herbs, put together at the table under the guidance of trained Noma staff. What could possibly go wrong?

Textured carrots and wild hawthorne parfait. As desserts go this was an innovative use of ingredients. We weren’t really expecting to see carrots and leaves in our ice cream at any point. However, we couldn’t really get ourselves fully behind this dis – it just tasted too raw to be a dessert.


Pine leaf ice cream and a rhubarb quencher –  a really refreshing palate cleanser. Now this was more like it!

Beetroot compote topped with air dried blackberries. This was so nice we were halfway through eating it before Glen realised he hadn’t taken a picture of it yet.

The meal ended off with the petit fours, including a caramelised gum served in the middle of a piece of bone. The chocolate cake and the wafer chip were nice ways to end off the meal as well.

Nice cup’o tea.

We hope you liked the pictures! Noma is a place we’d recommend to the discerning diner. It is not your typical fine dining establishment, in that some of the flavours and techniques used is not conventional to traditional cooking. Noma is an gastronomic experience, and it is possible that some people might not find it entirely to their fancy. Nevertheless, it is a place to go to explore your dining horizons and be treated to something truly special.

Thanksgiving is a wonderful time of the year to be in New York. When we visited in November 2010 we couldn’t help but be infected by the joyous cheer in the air ourselves, with the festive feasting helping us along the way. I certainly waddled back home feeling chubbier and happier than whence I came. We had the pleasure of having some gastronomically curious friends on the trip with us, with spot-on recommendations of reaaa-lly good places to eat at.

Jojo
160 E. 64th St., New York, NY 10021
nr. Lexington Ave.

Thanksgiving Day itself was spent at Jojo. There was a traditional turkey carving + stuffing option on the menu, but the beef medallion was just too good to pass up.

Kyotofu
705 Ninth Avenue (Cross Streets West 48th Street)
New York NY 10019

I have an incurable sweet-tooth, with an especially soft spot for soya beancurd desserts. The dessert trio that my friends ordered satisfied my craving perfectly. The black sesame biscotti and the miso-caramel cream thing with the chocolate cake were particularly inspired.

Balthazar
80 Spring Street
New York NY 10019

Balthazar is worth a visit on its own for a look at its interior decor. We can’t really say much about the food as we only went there for pastries, croissants on coffee. They were nice. The premises are big, with the bakery and the restaurant situated in different sections of the restaurant. To an extent the place reminded me of the grand cafes and konditoreis Gloria and I visited in Austria recently, where one must not simply be seen to eat, but moreover to eat in style. It was a pity I wasn’t allowed to take more photos of the dining room – shortly after I took the shot below the manager came scurrying over to tell me photography wasn’t permitted on the premises.


Even the waiter was nattily dressed.


Hungry munchkins, all of them.

If I had to choose a photograph that I took in New York that sums up the trip for me, it’d have to be the one I took of Gloria somewhere along Noho. We hardly get to spend time in the same country together, and since London wasn’t that far away, it was nice to squeeze in some time with her whilst she was on this side of the globe.

Glen just got back from London for Easter break and we have been wanting to go out for a dinner date. We were fortunate enough to receive complimentary vouchers for dinner at Les Amis. We spent four hours eating and talking about every thing under the sun. It’s been a long time since we last did that and it felt great doing so again.

Pumpkin butter and sea salt to go with bread

The butter kernels and salt made for a pretty picture, but it was the pumpkin butter that piqued our fancy. Pumpkin has always had a buttery texture in it, and it’s a wonder that no one had thought of infusing it into a butter spread earlier! The bread platter, a selection of focaccia and sourdough was pleasantly warm. A sprinkle of salt atop had us slavering for more.

Amuse Bouche

There wasn’t a description to go with the amuse-bouche, but at its simplest it was a slice of fish carpaccio-style served with a pickled tomato, and a really interesting savoury green powder that melted on the tongue. This was a promising start to the meal.

Warm Marine lobster salad pickled Muscat pumpkin and Austrian pumpkin seed oil

When the menu had described our first course was a lobster salad, what we had in mind was slivers of lobster hiding amidst a green sea of vegetables. What we did get was a pleasant surprise for us. The lobster slices were nice, juicy and chunky, lightly cooked and coated in pumpkin seed oil to help it on its way through our happy, agreeable gullets.

Lightly smoked eel “tiede” crispy pork crouton, horseradish and Dijon mustard

Our waiter informed us that this was one of the head chef’s headline dishes that we would be encountering tonight. It was easy enough to see (and taste) why. In Gloria’s words, the combination of smoked eel, salty crouton, horse-radish and mustard was a burst of umami delight in our mouths.

Whole roasted baby monkfish on the bone and Maitake, spinach and saffron emulsionAnother of chef Armin’s signature dishes. The monkfish had been roasted in a potpourri of thyme, garlic and a host of wonderful (and secret) ingredients, making for a really tasty fish dish. The whole fish was presented for inspection as above, and was taken away shortly after for carving.

Char-grilled Wagyu rib eye cooked in hay sweet corn, lettuce and truffled French fries

The wagyu was the bellringer dish for the evening. The fillet haunch had been grilled on a bed of hay, infusing the meat with a very smokey, grassy aroma. As with most smoking techniques, the resulting flavour complements buttery and smooth textures the best, and all that effort did not go to waste on the wagyu at all. The meat retained all the flavours that had been painstakingly worked into it, but in its own right, it had a fulsome flavour and a lovely silken texture that can only come from only the best quality meats that one can eat.

The evening ended on a sweet note, starting with a deconstructed lemon tart, a dessert and cake selection, and two cups of tea to clear the palate and wash it all down. The heart shaped sugar lumps were a sweet touch, we thought.

A fancy lemon tarte thyme icecream

Tea & some dessert

And, that’s us, feeling full and blissful.

“Umami, also known as savoriness, is one of the five basic tastes together with sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. Umami is a loanword rom the Japanese umami (うま味) meaning “pleasant savory taste”. -Wiki

Denmark is a small country as a matter of population. A nation of slightly under 6 million people, it is remarkable that the country is a world-beater at many things. Of late, this foremost bastion of industrial and aesthetic design has turned its creative attentions toward food. Umami is one of a few establishments that have sprung up in recent years to challenge and tease your culinary palate.

Taking its inspiration from its namesake, this Japanese-fusion restaurant does everything within its culinary arsenal to evoke the fabled 5th flavour on your tongue. There was a healthy dose of kelp, tomato and seaweed in our dishes, a natural approach to a flavour that we normally associate with the ubiquitous MSG found in all sorts of Chinese cooking. Umami was perfectly competent in its conventional Japanese dishes such as the unagi and it’s sushi and maki platter, but it is to its innovations that we shall turn to.


The salmon and deep fried kelp was a revelation of sorts. The savory one-two punch that the salmon and kelp dealt to my tongue left us gobsmacking our lips in delight, nibbling away at the crispy ends of the delectable seaweed like umami addicted squirrels.

There was a clever use of edamame beans and baby tomatoes in the vegetable dish we ordered, once again a combination of flavours and textures to tickle and tease the tongue. However, the foam that covered the foregoing dishes left us somewhat bemused – tasty, no doubt, but a little bit of a retrospective-throwback to the nineteen-nineties, when Gordon Ramsay as a chef was still worth his salt.


The restaurant itself is separated into the bar and lounge area downstairs, and the main and private dining areas upstairs. It is a wonderful place for a social or business drink, greet, wine and dine occasion, and a swanky night out for people of Copenhagen to see and be seen.

2 Stamford Road, 70F
Swissotel The Stamford
Singapore
Tel: +65 64315679

Jaan has been around for a long time, but it was only in recent years that it made its name as a stalwart in Singapore fine-dining. We were curious to see how the local scene stacked up, and if the good repute of the restaurant could persist after Andre Chiang had left. So we ventured forth to let the new chef on the block, Julien Royer, feed us.

Julien did not disappoint. As degustation menus go, there were some bright points and some less so. For the sake of brevity, we shall focus on the stand-out dishes for the night.

Amuse bouche – Cep sabayon, wild mushroom tea, walnut and lovage

Amuse bouches are fantastic. They are the unadvertised freebie first course of the culinary world, and a licence for chefs to experiment new creations on patrons in a perfectly legitimate manner. Even if it was meant as an experiment of sorts, the ceb sabayon and wild mushroom tea came to us as the finished product. The presentation of the dish was polished and the flavours sublime. The mushroom tea itself was incredibly smooth, as teas should be, with the walnut and cream complementing the saltiness of the tea with a classic nutty flourish.

Atlantic Halibut – Summer vegetables, Shellfish Ragout, “Potee”Broth & Iberico di Bellot

The halibut in ‘potee’ broth pulled at my homecooked heartstrings a little. My father is Teochew, and fish soup was a big dinner feature when growing up. When I tasted the dish I half expected to find a sng buey (sour plum) floating around in the dish somewhere. The dish was tasty and I liked the clarity of flavours it presented. What I found surprising was how a chef so recently off the boat from London (in September 2011 when we visited, Julien was only 2 weeks into the job) could incorporate elements of local flavour into his dishes. Quite impressive for a chef as young as he was. I think the man was only 30. One thing I must say  – I was not very sure what contribution the Iberico pork slices on the plate at the side added to the dish. My opinion is that it should not have been there.

Bresse Pigeon – Ay Roasted Breast, Confit Leg, Pickled Matsutake, Organic Corn, Jus ‘D’ Abats

The thing about pigeon, and game meat in general, is that there is really nothing much you can do to make it taste any different from what it really is. Also, it is possible for you to have too much of it, as the marginal satisfaction you gain from eating it decreases rapidly past a certain point. I made the mistake of ordering a whole grouse at a restaurant once. That was clearly too much. That said, I liked what I saw on my plate – Goldilocks-portioned pigeon meat, supplemented with some lovely corn mash and matsusake mushroom. The salty, sweet and mushroomy combination was lovely – I was tempted to have another portion, but I know better now.

Petit Fours

Finally, the dessert. We were first served Choconuts – consisting of Jivara Mousse, Peanuts & Macadamia Nut Icecream. Unfortunately we did not manage to get a picture of it. It was in my mind a classic pairing of two familiar culinary bedfellows. There really is something about chocolates and nuts that make grown people regress into adolescence, and to attack the contents on their plate with childlike abandon. I liked the dessert for what it was –  a classic chocolate creation.

The petit fours, pictured above, provided us with an aesthetically pleasing conclusion to the meal. Taste wise, I favoured the soury-tangy sponge cakes more than I did the chocolate tidbits. The apricot slices in a jar, while pretty, did not make much of an impact on the overall concept of the dish. It would have been nice if there had been a palette cleanser of some sort to wash down the chocolate dessert that preceded it.

Jaan is great for special occasions – an anniversary, a birthday dinner, or a festive occasion. Being at the Equinox complex at The Stamford certainly gives the restaurant a selling point that other establishments do not possess. The view of the Singapore skyline, the level of privacy and service accorded to you will make you glad you chose the place to begin with.  If your plan was to spend a quiet evening with your partner over a meal, you can not do better than Jaan.

Some of the other dishes we had:
Langoustine – Limequat Marinade, Old Radish Species, Wild Fennel & Aquitaine Caviar
Trumbetta Zucchini – Burratina, Basil, Almonds & Black Olives
Ravioli – Organic Hen Egg, Artichoke, Melanosporum Truffle & Canta
Landes Foie Gras – Chestnut Honey Glaze, Confit Beetroot, Rhubarb Fondant & Wild Watercress

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