Thursday, March 21, 2019

Épicure Éric Fréchon - 2nd 'visit'

2019 is a special year for restaurant Epicure and its illustrious chef Éric Fréchon. This year, he is celebrating his 20th anniversary as the Executive Chef of Hotel Le Bristol. Chef Fréchon rapidly led the restaurant to attain the 2-star Michelin in just 2 years after arriving here, however the elusive 3rd star did not come until 2009. Clearly, he has cherished the passion, hard work and sense of his achievement at Epicure and it's truly well-deserved. There was a time when I came to this restaurant only because most of the other elite dining places were closed (such as Easter Monday and Sunday lunch). Despite that, the "2nd team" of restaurant Epicure did perform at a high level during those public holidays. At the end, slowly but surely ... I really like this top palace-hotel restaurant. Early this year, I made a conscious effort to reserve a meal here for dinner on the weekdays when the best staffs (both in the kitchen and front of the house) are likely to work.

Épicure is a kind of restaurant that's quintessentially French. The execution of the food, carving / plating some dishes table side, a parade of cheese and petit fours with trolleys, charming service, an elegant dining room were some of the qualities that I'm glad they keep meanwhile more and more restaurants nowadays prefer preparing things less elaborate and 'too clean/healthy'. That being said, Eric Fréchon's sincere love towards his profession has pushed him to always strive for the best everyday. Compared to my last visit, I learnt that Epicure served a different bread, in fact only one kind - homemade country bread. This new bread was prepared fresh daily in the hotel and created from various natural & top quality wheats such as emmer, khorasan, barbu and so on. To achieve bread perfection, thanks to the hotel's unlimited support, Chef Eric installed a working stone flour mill (designed by Roland Feuillas, a bread master). Diners do not come to Epicure and pay for the bread, but Eric Frechon believes that a good bread at the beginning is crucial and could set the positive tone for the rest of the meal experience. Salute for the continuous improvement!

As soon as I was seated, the staff brought in some nibbles and kougelhopf. Then come the new wheat bread served with creamy butter. Since this would be my last dinner in Paris for this trip and due to a good experience the last time I encountered with the sommelier, I decided to go for the wine pairing. All of Benjamin's recommendations were pretty much spot on. Let's dive to more details below regarding my dinner on the last day of January this year ...   

LANGOUSTINES ROYALES juste cuites au thym-citron, condiment « oignon-mangue », bouillon des pinces aux agrumes et coriandre (Large Langoustine slightly cooked with lemon-thyme, served with « onion-mango » condiment, broth of the claws with citrus fruit and coriander) - The fresh langoustine (from Le Guilvinec) was lightly cooked and succulent.  It was beautifully served with the orange buttery sauce made of the prawn jus, yuzu and coriander. An elegant dish with the 'sweet' broth that was balanced by the onion-mango; it was particularly refreshing & light given that we were in the deep Winter season. I ordered a half-portion for the opening

Accompanied by wine: Alsace Riesling Grand Cru 'Pfingstberg', Domaine Valentin Zusslin 2014 - aromatic and concentrated with smooth texture; rich on the palate with long finish. An elegant riesling (dry & crisp) was a good match for this scampi  course

POT-AU-FEU DE BOEUF AUX TRUFFES NOIRES 1er service: Royale de moëlle, purée de céleri-rave et truffe noire (Beef Pot-Au-Feu with Black Truffle part 1: “Royale” of marrow, celeriac mousseline and black truffle) - The creative work of Chef Frechon interpreting a traditional home-made French dish. It came in 3 parts and the 1st one was soft and savory marrow with celeriac mousse ... they're contrasted to the crispy croutons and earthy truffle cubes. The kitchen added poultry jus to make this dish more flavorful

POT-AU-FEU DE BOEUF AUX TRUFFES NOIRES 2eme service: Pot-au-feu de boeuf, légumes, truffe noire et foie gras de canard (Beef Pot-Au-Feu with Black Truffle part 2: Beef pot-au-feu served with vegetables, black truffle and duck foie gras) - I thought it was the best part of the dish. The delicate and nutty marrow on top was again paired with pungent Winter truffle; they're accompanied by the "millefeuille" of beef, duck liver and vegetables (carrot, turnip and cabbage). The superb produce was harmoniously tied together by the aromatic and delectable beef consomme. Each byte was a pure bliss!

POT-AU-FEU DE BOEUF AUX TRUFFES NOIRES 3eme service: Bouillon infusé à la truffe noire et au shiitaké en montgolfière (Beef Pot-Au-Feu with Black Truffle part 3: Broth infused with black truffle and shiitake) - The last part of the "pot on fire" trio was a clear soup covered by puff pastry. As I pierced the pastry, there was a pleasant fragrance coming out of the broth. The pastry would soak many flavors of the delicate soup - it was really divine when the celery, Perigord truffle, foie gras, shiitake etc. were integrated altogether.
Dividing this course into 3 small dishes and savored them one by one was indeed the "best" way to serve and enjoy this unique pot-au-feu dish ... stunning, filled with plenty of texture and taste variations. Glad to have ordered it

Accompanied by wine: Rioja Reserva Vina Tondonia, Lopez de Heredia 2004 - cherries & berries aroma yet savory, round & crisp with subtle acidity, medium concentration and complex finish. The finest Spanish wine I've ever tasted and it could be even better in the next couple of years. A hearty red that went long well with my beef stew     

TRUFFE NOIRE DU PERIGORD cuite entière au gros sel et senteurs de sous-bois, mousseline de topinambour, croûtons dorés à la moelle (Whole Black Truffle from Perigord cooked with coarse salt and underbrush aromas, served with Jerusalem artichoke mousseline and croutons cooked with bone marrow) - Out of curiosity and the fact that it's one of Eric Frechon's Winter-only specialties, I decided to order this deluxe dish. It would be my maiden experience to eat the whole cooked black diamond 'naked' as opposed to the more common truffle shaving / cut into small pieces or covered by pastry. It's only possible with Perigord version as the Italian and Australian summer truffle do not have the same aroma and flavor strength when compared to the French counterpart.
As I cut the truffle (like a steak) and put it in the mouth, there was a perfect combination of firm & rather crunchy texture, strong & sensual? perfume as well as rich & intensive taste occupying my palate - truly ecstasy for the fans of Perigord truffle. The kitchen brought the dish to the next level by preparing light yet deep sauce made from truffle jus and chicken consomme. For the side dish that actually also elevated the experience, Chef Frechon and his team provided naturally sweet & tasteful artichoke mousse combined with egg white, croutons, egg yolk and bacon on top. An extra portion of the mousse served in the small cup was available too on the table and I 'devoured' it together with the cooked truffle. A unique and sublime dish ... the presentation (or my picture) might not look that inspiring, but it's certainly a masterpiece     

Accompanied by wine: Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Domaine Charvin 2013 - elegant nose of red & black fruits, rich but silky with good finish, and nice minerality. Given the proximity of Perigord and Rhone valley, perhaps it should not be surprising that a red Chateauneuf-du-Pape and a cooked truffle dish (having more intense flavor) were an excellent pairing

TRUFFE NOIRE émulsion de noisettes torréfiées aux éclats de cazettes, glace à la truffe noire, sauce au chocolat « gianduja » (Black Truffle dessert served with Roasted hazelnuts foam with “cazette” and Black truffle ice cream with “gianduja” chocolate sauce) - The cute dessert mimicked the real black truffle shape. The black truffle amount was just sufficient and the ice cream was pretty delicate in both aroma and flavor. With sweet chocolate sauce + fresh hazelnut in liquid form, crunch hazelnut + cookie underneath, it still tasted like a normal (choc-based) dessert. Don't worry ... you would not be overwhelmed by the Perigord truffle. I really liked the texture (crisp vs soft) and flavor (sweet vs earthy) contrast here. The portion was quite generous, but it was pretty easy to clean it up

Accompanied by wine: Niepoort, Porto 20 Year Old Tawny N.V. - creamy, sweet & delicate on the palate with some intense fruitness, smooth with pure finish ... a relatively easy port to drink. A good match indeed with any chocolate-based dessert

Prior to the main dessert, the kitchen delivered yoghurt sorbet with blueberry jelly as the pre-dessert. I skipped the cheese course. At the end, I had the petit fours for take away to be consumed with the coffee. There were 8 different flavors of fresh and fine macarons (as far as I could remember them, they were salted caramel, dark chocolate, coconut, lemon, chocolate with hazelnut, pistachio, cassis, and raspberry); a good balance of right chewiness and sweetness - one of the world's best macarons at the moment. From start to finish, my dinner was a haute cuisine experience at a very high level: innovative and meticulous cooking with top-quality ingredients and combinations resulting in dishes with superb flavors and perfect textures. Excellent food was balanced by flawless service under the leadership of Remi Segui, Director of restaurant Epicure. Whenever engaged in a conversation, in genuine smile and with full attention, he  would try to make it meaningful - not simply a lip service. Remi was assisted by his capable right hand man, Thomas Pfeiffer who was in charge of my section. Thomas would not be afraid of giving his insights about the food in particular and restaurant industry in general. For example, he warned me about some similarities between beef pot-au-feu and whole black truffle dish. I appreciated this kind of opinion though I still decided to go ahead and loved my choices. In addition, most of the staffs at Epicure were outgoing, spoke fluent English, and cordial with good sense of humor. For example, when Mathieu de Matteis, the junior maitre d', approached me ... I congratulated him that he's no longer in the beige uniform. He happily smiled and (on purpose) spoke rather loudly towards Remi and Thomas that soon / next he would get the same suit as them; read "take over their positions" :-) From the past experience, the staffs were also good in creating some dramas (a little fight or mock one another) among themselves for the sake of entertaining guests. That being said, the service, gesture and explanation were always performed consistently at the 3-star level.

If I had to be picky, the only 'downside' of the meal was that I prefer the lunch atmosphere to the dinner ambiance. The dining room with marble floors, red & thick curtains and plush upholstery was as opulent and elegant as ever. However, it lacked views and natural lights from the big glass window during the night, thus guests could hardly see the hotel's lovely inner French garden. Anyway, it was a minor thing. Épicure par Éric Fréchon quickly rose to the top 5 among my favorite restaurant in Paris and this meal ranked as the most memorable I've ever had here. Could you do better in the future Epicure? I hope so. Only a handful restaurants in Europe that I had the privilege to visit at least 5 times and now Chef Fréchon's temple of gastronomy joined that "exclusive" group. If you want to see the pictures, check the following link: Epicure Jan '19

Food (and Wine): 97 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 96 pts

Overall: 97/100

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Odette Julien Royer

Ever since the closure of Joel Robuchon Sentosa and Restaurant Andre, Odette is arguably the best restaurant in Singapore in terms of serving modern French cuisine; Les Amis should be the island's finest delivering classic French fine dining. Odette, opened in the late 2015, was the collaboration of its patron chef, Julian Royer with the Lo and Behold group. It took me some times to have a full meal here because as I observed online, the dishes served at Odette were very similar to the ones Chef Royer created during his days at Jaan. I expected a few years after the opening, Julien Royer would establish his own style given the freedom / power that he has as the owner of the restaurant. I was invited for a business lunch (it was satisfying) earlier in the Spring of 2017, then more than a year later, that's when I decided it's time to have a dinner to savor supposedly Chef Royer's "most proper meal".  

Restaurant Odette is named after Julien Royer's maternal grandmother who taught him a lot about respecting top produce / seasonal ingredients and cooking fundamentals. 5 years has passed since my dinner at Jaan ... I found Chef Royer was more confident and the cuisine has evolved. Nowadays, his cooking received some influence from Japanese cuisine and he often used Japan's top ingredients. In addition, he was more bold about taking advantage of utilizing Asian spices on the dishes. Julien Royer (still) liked to start the meal with the 'same' amuse-bouche: mushroom tea with Cep sabayon and Cep brioche. It was consistently good, creamy and tasty with earthy mushroom flavors and rather flaky brioche. For the bread, I tried 3 flavors - onion chestnut, black truffle brioche and sour dough - they're accompanied by normal butter as well as butter with pork lard and pancetta. Odette provided 2 tasting menu and I picked the non-vegetarian one. Below was more details info about my meal: 

The Tasting Menu

Hokkaido Uni served with Spot prawn tartare, Mussel cloud and Royal Schrenckii caviar - Prawn tartare and sea urchin have been proven as a potent combination, however the highlight for me was more of the airy and creamy mussel cloud that delightfully balanced and held other elements together. On the side, there was squid ink toast with uni on top - I truly tasted the sweetness of uni here more than the one inside its shell; a wonderful appetizer with plenty of umami flavors.

Trondheim Bay Scallop served with Horseradish, white balsamic, Pickled onion and dill - The fresh bay scallops were sliced and served a la sashimi accompanied by seaweed butter & rice cracker. The green 'sauce' below was horseradish while the dill oil was on top. It was simple and clean with a little sweetness; an interesting dish but would not be my favorite way to prepare scallops.

Heirloom Beetroot Variation served with Salt-baked beetroot, Stracciatella 'artigiana', and Honey - Eating a better beetroot than the one served at L'Arpege was nearly impossible. However, the kitchen played smart by presenting differently and adding more elements. For instance, the soft and silky Stracciatella gave some sweet and milky flavors that somehow worked well with the beetroot. The combination of honey, pomegranates and smoked beetroot were quite tasty. The frozen & gelato beet were not as bad as I thought. Overall, it was a very satisfying and well-deserved signature dish though I don't necessarily want to repeat it for the next time.

Organic Egg Capellini served with Light Comte cream, Hokkaido uni and White Alba truffle - It has been a trend for many high end restaurants recently to ask for supplement for dishes involving truffles; Odette practiced such method as well. The positive consequence was that the Alba truffle shavings were usually generous. Moreover, it was of good quality in terms of both flavor and aroma. The pasta was solid with decent taste, somewhat al dente but unfortunately really 'sticky'. The sauce consisted of 24-month old Comte cream and a little hint of chicken jus was light and delicious whereas the sea urchin was barely noticeable (perhaps only as an accent to the dish). A rather sophisticated pasta dish with satisfying flavors but with a little issue on the capellini's texture.

Foie Gras 'Comme Un Pho' served with Jade tiger abalone, Bbq eel dashi and Yuzu - The eel was torched in front of the guest; the abalone was so little that it's "almost irrelevant". The variations of clean & light dashi with several vegetables (such as spring onions, mints, coriander, tarragon, nasturtium leaves etc.) induced the idea of pho. The soup with fragrant veggies and a few layers of textures was my favorite part of this dish while the duck liver in a hot soup, made it less 'fatty'. Chef Royer seemed to like serving foie gras inside some kind of broth even several years ago in Jaan.

Wild Atlantic Turbot served with Butternut squash, Yari ika and Thai veloute - The beautifully cooked Turbot was kinda tasteless / under seasoned but it had flaky & lovely texture. The tender squid was slightly sweet and the mussel was alright. The main flavor of the dish was mainly derived from the moist Thai veloute and a little mussel jus. Many high quality ingredients were good but I did not find they worked too well together with the (strong Asian-influenced) sauce here.

Pigeon 'Beak To Tail' served with Jerusalem artichoke, Kampot pepper and Black garlic - This dish has always been the pride of Julien Royer. It was sourced from Brittany, specifically from Fabien Deneour. The bird was first grilled, then smoked. It was meticulously cooked with pepper, rosemary and garlic. After a short presentation, the kitchen would later prepare the pigeon in 3 ways.
The breast part was perfectly executed - tender and flavorful. The addition of delicately aromatic and mildly spicy/sweet Kampot pepper covering the meat made it almost ethereal. The crisp leg confit was tasty as well. Lastly, the liver parfait with a little sherry vinegar, pigeon jus as well as Jerusalem artichoke completed the overall enjoyment of this remarkable dish. It was even better than Chef Royer's hay roasted Bresse pigeon in the past.

Lemon Tart served with Sable breton, Meyer lemon and Basil - The crunchy Sable breton became the base for this dessert. The pleasant & tangy Meyer lemon curd was a bit sweet. The Basil could be detected on the white foam and sorbet. It might not reach the high note of earlier dishes, but it was a decent dessert to close the degustation menu at Odette. 

The service at Odette was above average when compared to other restaurants at similar level in Singapore. The front team managed to strike a balance between being formal and friendly; the staffs (even at the junior levels - the ones without any jacket/blazer) were warm and sincere. When explaining the dishes, they were confident and not robotic. The conversation sometimes involved the personal view / sharing from the team, indeed a few small details often made a difference. The wine selection was quite good. Since I usually only drank 2 glasses, my concern was more about the "pairing". I had a glass of 2016 white Sancerre and a glass of 2013 red Cote Rotie.

Besides JR restaurant under Chef Danzaki, I think this was my most delicious French meal in Singapore - technical-wise, Andre might be more superior, but I was more fond of the taste at Odette. I might not love all of them, but the signature dishes here such as the pigeon, beetroot and uni caviar were remarkable. The problem was probably that if Julien Royer is unable or unwilling to make changes and create new dishes that are at least equally flavorful, I would hesitate to return anytime soon as I usually like trying new items. It's not wrong to keep the same dishes over the years (including mushroom tea, rosemary smoked egg etc.), but I'm afraid the current state might not be sufficient to earn the 3rd Michelin star. For the pictures, please click Odette Autumn '18

Food (and Wine): 95 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 94 pts

Overall: 94.5/100

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Hajime Osaka

Hajime, located in Osaka, is possibly the most famous Japan's restaurant outside Tokyo. It's consistently ranked in the top 50 of the world best restaurant, according to the restaurant magazine. The restaurant was quite small and there were only 2 tables occupied on that Monday evening - mine and another local couple celebrating something. Despite this fact, the restaurant still strictly insisted on banning the use of any form of cameras. The decor was minimal with relatively high ceiling. Haijme Yoneda, the chef-owner, was an engineer and a good painter. There were clearly reflected on his innovative and artistic creations: the dishes, on the one hand, were intricate and beautifully plated and on the other hand, (they) were precisely executed in which the location of the sauces and side dishes were carefully placed down even to the millimeter. 

Nature and earth were the main themes of Chef Yoneda's culinary creations. The presentation was no doubt one of the finest I've ever witnessed with strong emphasize on the "right" texture and temperature. However, the dishes sometimes lacked in flavors / being delicious. The kitchen often put on one too many combinations where one might have difficulties to appreciate the 2-3 main ingredients per dish. The amount of work and effort put on each dish was incredible. For this dinner, I went with my mother. We shared the standard menu; I also ordered the non-alcohol drink pairing.

Menu chikyu tono taiwa (Dialogue with the earth) - Summer 2018

Note that: since pictures were strictly prohibited in Hajime, I could not remember much details for each dish

Natsu no hoka (Forget the summer heat; cool) - Corn and vanilla. The opening featured various small items such as baby corn in which the "hair" could be consumed, delicate corn bread as well as cold and tasty corn soup

Seimei (Small lives) - Hirame chips, kazunoko and ayu in the sphere 'bread' form.

Iso (Rocky coast; sea forest) - Oyster, kelp, murukai, quinoa, broccoli etc. The sea-flavored oyster went well with sour cream and cucumber; there was uni with broccoli, unusual; fresh blue mussel was combined with tomato and olive oil. The last small bytes from the menu

Mizuumi (Lake; school of fish) - Biwa trout, mango and sorrel. The cooked trout was very soft. The fish was integrated with bitter sorrel and refreshing & sweet mango + apple
Drink pairing: balanced ginger ale mixed with various spices 

Chikyu (Planet earth) - Spinach, komatsuna, burdock, okra, buckwheat, white radish, butter squash, dill, yuzu, sweet potato etc. There were more than 70 different vegetables-grains-herbs used, served with shellfish foam - the only non vegetarian aspect. Hajime's signature dish and the presentation was indeed spectacular. Since there are so many different ingredients, the enjoyment was more about texture variations and plenty of subtle flavors. It was interesting and very good, obviously inspired by Bras' gargouillou
Drink pairing: extracted essence from mild flavor of ripened tomato

Umi (Sea; flow and relation)
Flow - Nodoguro, coriander and egg plant. Pleasant fatty blackthroat seaperch with seaweed dashi
Drink pairing: refined gyokuro with sweet umami flavor

Relation - Langoustine, uncured ham and suppon. Delicious big prawn & mantis shrimp served with a few different sauce showing the chef's French technique
Drink pairing: abstract vegetables flavor, in which carrot was the most noticeable

Hakai to douka (Destruction and assimilation) - Foie gras, hazel and pumpkin. Creamy liver, simple and flavorful
Drink pairing: fragrant extraction of ancient brown & red rice

Kibou (Sprouts for life; hope)
Dew - pine. Bitter pine sorbet to clean the palate

Mother earth - Beef, beet and parsnip. Lean Hiroshima beef, cooked on one side only; solid
Drink pairing: sparkling hinoki water

Sky - Quail, black garlic and wild rocket. The quail was tender with more assertive flavor than chicken; decent
Drink pairing: blackcurrant that's supposedly mimicking red wine

Shinryoku (Fresh leaves; wild flowers) - Milk, olive oil and yellow carrot.
Drink pairing: Koshu grape with a mixture of sour, tannin and sweet flavors

Tsuyu (Rainy season; rain sound) - Grapefruit and sake. Refreshing and slightly bitter grapes on lotus leaves

Ai (Love; spread to the world) - Strawberry, raspberry and peach. Flavorful with some crunchy textures
Drink pairing: coarse tea in golden yellow color with some bittersweet taste

The drink accompaniment worked kinda well and was thoughtful - it's especially more challenging to do it without any alcohol. The cooking technique applied at Hajime was meticulous with elaborate presentations. I found the meal to be thought provoking and satisfying intellectually but it did not affect me emotionally or made my sense of taste really joyful. That being said, it's a good and sophisticated meal experience. The service was polite and professional but rigid, rather cold and kinda robotic. It worked similarly when I met the chef ... Yoneda-san shaked my hand with smile, that's it. He did not even ask about how the meal had been. If I got to choose for another creative meal from the same city, probably Kahala was a slightly better option with warmer and more sincere hospitality from the host and staffs + the food produced more flavors in the mouth albeit technically not as stunning as the one generated here.

Food (and Wine): 94 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 93 pts

Overall: 94/100

Monday, January 7, 2019

Alain Ducasse at Morpheus

Alain Ducasse, a successful chef and restaurateur, is currently the world's most decorated Michelin star chef alive (if not mistaken, he's holding 23 stars). After a while, finally this Monegasque chef opened a gastronomy place bearing his name in Asia around mid 2018. This meant serious business and usually, he would aim for a 3-star award. Under the leadership of Ducasse veteran, Pierre Marty (chef de cuisine), Alain Ducasse at Morpheus (ADM) received two Michelin stars from the latest Michelin guide Macau 2019. I happened to be visiting Macau last Summer and found out about this restaurant. As a fan of Alain Ducasse fine dining institutions, I decided to book the restaurant albeit some doubts given the restaurant would be in operation for just a couple of months.

Ever since Alain Ducasse successfully carried Le Louis XV to become the first hotel-based restaurant winning the three Michelin stars in the early 90's, he has established all of his flagship and top restaurants at elite hotels. This time, Alain Ducasse gastronomy place is located at Melco resorts' main hotel named Morpheus, impressively designed by Zaha Hadid. The hotel structures were free of columns and internal structural support. I found the hotel's exteriors were more amazing its interiors. Whenever possible, Chef Ducasse would make his signature restaurants to be unique and different from the others. The decors for Macau featured hundred of splendid crystal chandeliers in bar-shaped suspended at the ceiling. The falling white lights were supposedly mimicking waterfall. There were plenty large tables, lavish arm chairs / sofa booth and lush carpet - as expected, they're of high quality and immaculate. It could comfortably served 30+ diners.   

As far as the food's concerned, I noticed that (unfortunately) the food at Alain Ducasse at Morpheus was kind of the copy cat of Ducasse Monaco with some Asian influence. Initially, I had been excited if Alain Ducasse would've done something new for the cuisine in his Macau restaurant. The meal began with some canapes: a small basket of barbajuans, some kinds of fried puff pastry that also regularly served at Le Louis XV. These pleasant small bites were stuffed with Swiss chard, ricotta cheese as well as some herbs. Then, there were marinated sea bass on thin rice cracker with seaweed powder; fresh and light. For the bread course, the staff churned the butter from Beillaviere, Loire Valley.

Signature Menu

Mediterranean gamberoni served with delicate gelée and gold caviar - The stunning premium 'raw tiger prawn' was naturally sweet and filled with Riviera flavor. It was enhanced by generous serving of savory Kristal caviar, delicate bouillon of chilled rockfish gelee, and tiny pinch of high quality salt & pepper. It was beautiful and delicious, easily the best dish of the evening. I could not imagine it could be better even when prepared in Ducasse Monaco ...

Steamed duck foie gras served with cherry-rhubarb and toasted brioche - Perhaps to cater the local clienteles, Ducasse decided to have the duck liver steamed. The result was foie gras having more delicate texture and flavor. The more intense taste was derived from the liver's juice and the side dishes - it was solid and less sinful, but I generally prefer the 'pate' style or pan-seared preparation
Line-caught sea bass served with violon courgettes, redcurrant and cooking jus - This (Ikejime) Atlantic sea bass was grilled quickly and then put in the oven. The result was moderately firm fish with delicate taste and slightly dry. Its jus and sauce helped to moisturize the sea bass as well as improve its flavor. With the vegetables as the supporting produce, they made this dish more enjoyable

Saddle and rack of Pyrénées lamb served with raw and cooked artichokes - The lamb (served with its jus) might not look pretty, but it had exquisite taste and texture. The tender meat was complemented by plenty of crunchy / nutty artichokes, piquant capers and a bit bitter arugula. It did not disappoint and I liked it better than the fish

Assortment of French cheeses - The savory cheese (36-month old comte, tomme, blue cheese etc.) was good. It was accompanied by crackers and a few other condiments. The portion was just right

Strawberry and raspberry served with fromage blanc sorbet - The red fruit was not as sweet as I initially expected while the sorbet was creamy with nuanced tart flavor; alright

Coffee and chocolate from our Manufacture in Paris served with toasted buckwheat - A pretty presentation in which all elements were carefully arranged inside the huge cocoa bean pod. There were different degree of bitterness and intensity yet the overall flavor was light and not overly sweet. It has become one of Ducasse classic (chocolate-based) desserts

The dinner ended with chocolate bar filled with buckwheat in the shape of ADM's symbol, sour raspberry granite and some seasonal fruits. If the food principally was "derived from" the Le Louis XV, the key service staffs were led by the former team of Alain Ducasse at Dorchester. For instance, Chris Bothwell (restaurant director) and Romain Chery (assistant manager). Christopher used to be the head sommelier at Ducasse London. Like in many Ducasse fine dining places, the service was impeccable, friendly and attentive - I sneezed once, and immediately the staff brought me a box of tissue. It might seem more formal at the beginning but things went more relaxed as the meal flowed and staffs / diners were more familiar with one another. Most, if not all, staffs were in fact spoke decent English as some of them used to work in Europe. The wine collection was comprehensive and I ordered a few by the glasses. The sommelier also recommended non-French / cheaper wine to pair with the food; I drank wines from Portugal and Germany.

It has been an enjoyable meal for a relatively new restaurant. ADM is certainly a good addition for Macau's dining scene especially with regards to the restaurants serving French cuisine. I like this restaurant better than the Tasting room by Fabrice Vulin. The 2-star awards is justified IMHO. I don't mind returning here should I visit Macau area again in the future. Here are the pictures of my dinner: Ducasse Morpheus Summer '18

Food (and Wine): 94 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 94 pts

Overall: 94/100

Friday, November 23, 2018

Amber Richard Ekkebus

Richard Ekkebus and Amber, the flagship restaurant of the luxurious Landmark Mandarin Oriental, are inseparable nowadays. Executive Chef Ekkebus has been holding this role since 2005 and under his guidance, Amber was awarded 2-star Michelin and has retained the award for a decade. What brought me to this fine restaurant serving modern French cuisine was when I had found that Amber would be temporarily closed in the Summer of 2018 for several months (it has since been postponed to operate until end of the year). The news also cited that Chef Ekkebus intended to start afresh and make it as if he would open a brand new restaurant. Before it eventually happens, Amber would possibly for the last time serving its signature dishes to the (loyal) customers. When I was in transit at Hong Kong last May, I did not waste the opportunity to return to Amber for dinner. My first meal here was lunch in 2013.

The meal began with a series of small bytes having different flavors with the aim to awaken the diners' palate. In my case, the kitchen served: Celery with black bean (salty); Lemon meringue (sour); Campari orange jelly (bitter); Jerusalem artichoke (sweet); and Egg custard with tomato compote (umami). For the more serious courses, as expected, I ordered the restaurant's "old creations"

Amber Classics Menu

Foie Gras (Duck Liver) in the form of chupa chup with beetroot & raspberry topped with crispy gingerbread & sea salt - The first "real" dish but in amuse-bouche portion. The lollipop of foie gras terrine was thick and rich but still velvety. The liver was nicely complemented by sweet & silky beetroot as well as raspberry coating - tasty and fun.

New Zealand Scampi in organic tomato & watermelon ‘nage’ with espelette chili & coriander - The big and succulent prawn was lightly torched to give a hint of smokiness. The dish was served chill with refreshing and fruity 'broth'. The addition of olive oil caviar, coriander, edible flowers etc. produce a mixture of flavors and aromas - playful and light, filled with natural oceanic taste.

Hokkaido Sea Urchin in a lobster jell-O with cauliflower, schrenki-dauricus caviar & crispy waffles - This was certainly Chef Ekkebus's most famous dish; it had a better portion of (more) caviar this time - a luxurious and scrumptious dish. Sweet and smooth uni and umami lobster jelly were in harmony with creamy cauliflower and buttery, full-body caviar. It would've been 'perfect' had the kitchen doubled the sea urchin's portion. I used the waffles as my blini by putting cauliflower and caviar on top since these were the most abundant ingredients here. Would it be the last time I savored this iconic dish?   

Kuro Awabi (Black Abalone) with a spiced chickpea compote, stewed tomatoes, crunchy celery stalk, braised pork chin & crispy pancetta - The presentation was colorful and it was more complex than your normal abalone dish. The Fukuoka Awabi, cooked sous-vide, was tender with its subtle and natural taste. Then, there were plenty of 'international' produce influencing the overall flavors: spiced chickpea (Indian), pork chin (Chinese), tomatoes & cured pork belly (Italian) - interesting though at times, these many variations distracted rather than enhanced the abalone. Pretty good and a rather unusual way to prepare an abalone 

Hakoo farm Miyazaki Wagyu beef, the Strip Loin part; dusted with dried red onion skin & dulse seaweed powder, red pearl onions with black currant in a shiraz reduction - The beef was perfectly cooked medium-rare, a bit charred on the outside, and having the right amount of buttery & melt-in-the-mouth taste. The jus + fatty A5 wagyu were balanced out by the acidity from the red cabbage and black currant shiraz as well as a little sweetness of red onions. An elegant beef course!   

Abinao 85% Chocolate Souffle with cacao sorbet - The most famous dessert (it's always been on the menu) at Amber, created by its Chef Patissier - Michael Pretet. It was rich and decadent with flawless execution. The temperature contrast of hot souffle and cold sorbet, bitter and (slightly) sweet flavor in this pure delicious chocolate finale was very comforting. This chocolate was special because of its intensity and long-lasting flavor. I would possibly order again if somehow I still see this dessert on the menu of "Amber volume 2"

The meals ended with some decent mignardises: banana & yuzu tart, ginger chocolate, carrot jelly and cucumber-apple sorbet. The service was friendly, attentive and professional under the leadership of the current manager - Yannick Kiefer. He has been around for more than 4 years and handled many things with confidence and ease. The local staffs might lack charmed, but they did the basic things right and well. Lastly, Amber was also famous for its dining room decor, designed by Adam Tihany. As the name suggested, amber shades (and something similar) dominated its interior color including the walls, carpet and chairs. The most outstanding piece, instead of big chandeliers, was thousands of golden bronze rods suspended from the ceiling. I was wondering whether Amber would keep them post renovation. To enhance the dining experience, only the best tableware was used such as the ones manufactured by Christofle, Bernadaud and Riedel.  

It was a very satisfying dinner at a solid 2-star restaurant. One would taste the ingredients exactly how they're supposed to be and more sometimes. Culinary director Richard Ekkebus often added some twist and unexpected elements yet they're not too complex. Wish him and the whole Amber team all the best with the project! My feeling that they would re-invent themselves with the hope of gaining the 3rd star one day and given the red guide book Hong Kong's standard, I think it's not impossible. Dishes' pictures could be seen here - Amber Spring '18

Food (and Wine): 94 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 94 pts

Overall: 94/100

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Nihonryori RyuGin Tokyo

Thinking back to the year of 2013 when my wife and I did our gastronomy trip to Japan, initially RyuGin was among the top choice. However, as I did deeper research somehow the choices leaned towards the more exclusive Japanese dining places that had no sister restaurants anywhere. After 5 years delay, eventually we had to opportunity to have a dinner at the famous Nihonryori RyuGin in which Seiji Yamamoto, the iconic chef-patron himself overseeing the kitchen. The Ryugin's food concept was not totally foreign to me as I visited Tenku Ryugin a few years back. Still, I kinda look forward to having the dinner. In addition, I learned that our meal would be the last Summer of Roppongi Ryugin - as of now, they already moved to a more modern location at Midtown Hibiya. 

At first, Seiji Yamamoto was recognized for his avant-garde cooking in which he was capable of integrating modern and traditional cooking techniques as well as using local and (some) foreign ingredients. Chef Hamamoto of Ki-sho Singapore told me that period had been the most fantastic time of RyuGin Tokyo. Then in early 2010's onwards, (maybe in order to gain Michelin 3rd star) Yamamoto-san decided to change the direction of his flagship restaurant by exclusively using seasonal local produce and he would showcase more dishes that were grounded towards "traditional" kaiseki tradition - his creativity thankfully could still be seen from times to times. Yamamoto-san liked updating his omakase menu monthly, so for the regulars I suppose, it's very possible not to repeat the same dishes twice.

The menu was presented in the envelope with a stamp showing how many years the restaurant has existed (14 years in our case). Without further ado, our meal was as follow:
Summer Vegetables and Grilled Sweet Corn Soup - The beginning of the meal containing hot and cold 'sensations':
-The hot item was a bowl consisting of 7-8 different kinds of vegetables such as radish, fava beans, bamboo shoots, shiitake etc. plus pine nuts dressing. A variety of flavors and textures with tangy and nutty sauce
-I liked even better was the smooth and chilled soup with concentrated flavor and balanced sweetness from the corn. A pleasant start

Kesennuma Shark Fin and Abalone served with baby corn, mountain yam and egg yolk - A luxurious appetizer showcasing the "fukahire" whose taste was, I believe, an acquired one; the more prized aspect was its gelatinous and stringy textures. In addition, there was a bouncy awabi with subtle taste. The main flavor was derived from and tied together by the chicken stock 'sauce' while nagaimo's slimy texture provided an interesting accent - opulent & good

Seasonal Tradition of RyuGin (Ichiban Dashi): Awaji Pike Eel served with Kamonasu Eggplant, Water Shield and Green Yuzu - Soup and its dashi usually were the main test for the skills of elite Japanese chefs. Here, Yamamoto-san utilized the best seasonal Hamo in the owan. The dagger-tooth pike conger's white flesh was pretty, 'bloomed' like a flower. The fish beautifully absorbed the dashi's flavor. To add more depth and in contrast to the soft Hamo, the kitchen prepared: junsai having thin taste and jelly-like texture, gooey okra, juicy & tasty kamonasu and zesty yuzu. A well-executed soup with delicious dashi as well as hamo

Grace of Ocean Delicacy in 2 plates (from the Coast of Japan)
Part 1: The sashimi item was more creative than normal one. Here we had Akagai with Bafun Uni and Kamonasu. The marinated eggplant was quite flavorful; the short spines sea urchin was rich with umami taste albeit slightly bitter and lastly the ark shell clam was tender with subtle sweetness providing different texture and flavors. A hint of slight wasabi on top did not hurt ...
Part 2: There were a few layers here: at the bottom was Tougan, followed by Kuruma Ebi and Hotate jelly on top. By itself, the Ash gourd did not have much taste; instead, it soaked the sweet flavor of Tiger prawns and refreshing Scallop jelly. It was alright

Summer Festival of Japanese Cuisine - Swimming Ayu Fish highlighted the coming of Summer season. The Sweetfish was char-grilled and simply seasoned with salt; it's served with sauce made of watermelon, vinegar and some herbs. First, savor the crunchy and sweet head, then the crisp body with slight bitterness from the guts / innards - the sauce gave an extra punch to its flavor. Sweetfish could be consumed from head to tail, including the bone. Ayu was highly prized and I enjoyed it here though it's not my favorite kind of fish

Shima-no-Hikari Somen Noodle served with Amber Beef and Onion - The Somen (the thin noodles) was almost translucent; they provided solid 'support' for the Omi beef cheeks. The aged Amber beef was braised for a few hours resulting in stringy / soft texture and sweet flavors. The onions reduced any potential cloying taste ... the only protein coming from the meat in this dinner

Charcoal Grill "Unagi Eel" - Slowly grilled Unagi (from Binchotan's flame) were prepared meticulously - perfect with smoky & aromatic; crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. Large Eel was another Summer classic. At RyuGin, we could consume the Eels with a few options: tsume sauce (dark and sweet), shio salt, and citrus sudachi. There were also wasabi, to draw out more of Unagi's flavor, as well as egg-yam as a side dish. By itself, the Unagi was already pleasant

Awaji Pike Eel Rice served with "Chrysanthemum" soup and five colors Pickles - Japanese rice was very good; the deep-fried Hamo still had tender & tasty meat at the inside. My spouse and I managed to finish the whole Pike eel rice. The Shiso leaves might be underrated but quite essential to enhance the dish with their unique taste & aroma - grassy and some spearmint + basil flavors. The miso soup contained soft tofu in the shaped of Japan's national flower. The pickles (radish, coriander etc,) were ordinary

Luscious Desserts
Part 1: Roppongi Pudding with Wasanbon sugar and ripe Mango - The pudding was smooth and sweet, combined with mild caramel ice cream and some Wasanbon sugar, supposedly the finest sugar in the nation. Plenty of sweetness in different degree with delicate textures
Part 2:
-Oyaki Souffle with Fig and Blueberry. The souffle was beautifully executed with light / feather-like texture having the right amount taste of fig and blueberry
-Yogurt ice cream and Oiri. The soft ice cream with crunch 'rice cracker' nicely complimented the souffle. Above average desserts by the standard of Japanese kaiseki restaurants

Both of us shared a small portion (1/4 bottle) of cold sake - Kokuryu Gin no 18 Junmai Daiginjo from Fukui prefecture. We enjoyed it very much. The sake was smooth, not overly rich, with elegant and distinct flavor. The wine and sake list were comprehensive for a non-French restaurant standard but as expected very pricey. RyuGin's dining room catered to serve 20+ diners at once and a few seats were used for 2 seating. The decor was simple with not-so-high ceiling and the dining room felt a bit hot in the Summer. Despite the minimal interior, one would enjoy plenty of valuable ceramic plates / china used to serve the dishes. The service was efficient and professional with relatively fast pacing - 5 min. with no food on our table almost never happened. Most staffs spoke fluent English as a few of them used to live in Canada & Australia. They were friendly and helpful but lacked of any personal touch. Thankfully the warm and amiable Seiji Yamamoto with whom I had some chats towards the end "improved" the impression of the restaurant's hospitality. 

Nihonryori RyuGin was my only Japanese kaiseki meal for this trip. Overall, I liked this meal experience with plenty of delicious and quite creative dishes though nothing truly stood out or blew my mind. Perhaps, after 3 years of not returning to Japan, this meal (temporarily) satisfied my palate and crave of a 'real' kaiseki. For comparison, my meal at Tenku Ryugin was only marginally inferior to this dinner. Seiji Yamamoto managed to keep high standards towards all of his Ryugin restaurants. That being said, I would not mind returning here especially in the late Fall or early Winter when the restaurant has some special produce and knowing that as long as the restaurant opens, it's a guarantee that the legendary Yamamoto-san would lead at the kitchen. Here are the pictures, RyuGin Tokyo Summer '18 

Food (and Wine): 95 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 93 pts

Overall: 94.5/100

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Les Prés d’Eugénie Michel Guérard

One of the most respectable French chefs alive that not many people talk about as much as they should be is Michel Guérard. He began his career as a pastry chef and became the head of the pastry section at Le Crillon in '56. A couple of years later, Chef Guérard received the prestigious and notoriously rigorous Meilleur Ouvrier de France award for pastry. Despite his background, Chef Guérard was actually also versatile in cooking "normal" food and Michelin recognized this when awarded 2-star to his own restaurant named Le Pot-au-Feu in the early 70's. Michel Guérard's career path changed after he had married Christine Barthelemy, the heir of the current hotel and spa - Les Prés d’Eugénie. In 1974, Michel magically transformed the place into a grand and world class hotel, restaurant and spa; 3 years after that, his restaurant was awarded the Michelin's highest award and he managed to keep it until now. Last year, Les Prés d’Eugénie even received a rare distinction palace status. The pursuit of excellence by the Guerard's family has basically been very fruitful in every aspect.     

Getting into Eugénie-les-Bains, a tiny community in the southwest France well-known for its spa, was very challenging. It took me nearly 3 hours from Paris (flight + car). It was supposedly Spring but when I arrived it was still freezing as if it's still a Winter season and raining all day long; fortunately the weather improved the day after. Les Prés d’Eugénie was essentially a vast 8-hectare estate with green gardens in which most of the trees and plants were beautifully pruned and manicured. The 2 major buildings were: the Ferme Thermale, a serious spa with many water facilities as well as several doctors and specialists, and the main hotel building designed in colonial-style architecture housed most of hotel rooms & suites as well as Michel Guérard's gastronomy restaurant. I spent some times walking around the pretty estate and a small town outside the hotel. One drawback I noticed was that the gym and the pool were small given the huge spaces it had.

The (first) evening finally arrived. I was excited for my dinner. Given the difficulties to reach the place, I decided to stay for 2 nights so that I could have 2 meals in the legendary restaurant. (A casual lunch at La Ferme aux Grives should not be missed). My dinner began with several nibbles and I had different ones on both days. The bread selection (olive, lemon, brioche and sourdough) was good; even better was the Le ponclet butter having creamy texture and bold flavor to accompany the bread. For the dishes I ate, please see the following ...     

Dinner day 1 - Menu Palais Enchanté (with an additional appetizer)

Le Zéphyr de Truffe ‘‘Surprise Exquise’’ Comme un Nuage sur une Délicate Vichyssoise (‘‘Surprise Exquise” Truffle Zephyr as a Cloud on a Delicate Garden Soup) - To elaborate further, it essentially was a 'Floating island' white cream filled with black truffle coulis and underneath, there were light & yellow vegetable 'cold soup' made of creamy leek, onion and potato. This appetizer was as good as its description: the soup had deep flavor. Moreover, the ile flottante was airy, snowy and stunning, having textural contrast with truffle slices & crisp parmesan tuile, fragrant black truffle etc. It was indeed a delicate, ethereal and flavorful dish and yet not overly rich. The first few bytes were simply unforgettable ...   

L’Oeuf Poule à la Coque Grand Cru Cristal Kaviari Affiné 180 Jours (Tsarina Egg Dressed in the Shell served with Grand Cru Cristal Kaviari Aged 180 Days) - It was served with white Armagnac whose sophisticated flavor was useful to balance the rich egg flavor. Inside the shell, there were smoked eel, asparagus, mackerel jelly & celeriac to 'improve' the scramble egg and layers of caviar taste. On the sides, there were creamy baked warm potato with light sour cream as well as toasts on which we could mix the egg, caviar and potato together. Luxurious, interesting and enjoyable 

L’Oreiller Moelleux de Mousserons et de Morilles aux Asperges de Pays Une Symphonie Végétale et Soyeuse, Imaginée en 1978, Retour d’un Voyage en Chine (Soft Pillow of Morels and Wild Mushrooms - A Silky Symphony Created upon Returning from China in 1978) - The perfect example of Chef Guérard's cooking which he often described as silky and smooth. The delicate ravioli was filled with pre-dominantly earthy Morels and some Girolle mushrooms. In addition, this wonderfully rich and creamy soup contained asparagus spears / tips as well as black truffle spreading its intoxicating aroma. Everything was perfectly cooked, well-seasoned and worked harmoniously. The classic of the restaurant; this dish is always available all year round and deservedly so

Le Demi-Homard Rôti, Légèrement Fumé à l’Âtre Oignon Confit au Four (Half of a Lobster, Roasted and Lightly Smoked in the Hearth served with Country-Style Sweet Onion) - The lobster was perfectly prepared (the meat was lightly poached, then put back in the smoked shell) and covered with butter & herb sauce resulting in tender and delicious flesh, but alas the portion was very small. Not inferior to the lobster was the sweet onion. The 'gratinated onion puree' was roasted shortly, then integrated by glazed peach mousse and parmesan cheese giving complex and balanced flavors of sweetness, depth and slight acidity. It's perfectly complemented the lobster and I had difficulty to pick which one is better between the lobster and the sweet onion

Le Filet de Bœuf sur le Bois et sous les Feuilles Jus de Viande, Jus de Raisin Pommes Crémeuses et Pommes Soufflées (Wood Fired Beef Basted in Grape Juice, served with Creamy Potatoes on the one hand and Grande Tradition Souffléed on another) - The AOC beef was from Aquitane region. The preparation (wrapped and grilled in leaves and grapes) made the beef become moist, aromatic and smoky. The black choarcoal-like covering the beef was actually breadcrumbs with squid ink giving textural contrast to the meat. The beef medallions, cooked medium (rare), was dazzling having deep flavor and tender texture. The sauce, made from its jus, was very precise and tasty. It was accompanied by remarkable potato souffle (crisp, light, slightly salty), creamy & buttery potato mousseline, as well as rather sweet shallot confit with red wine sauce

Le Gâteau Mollet du Marquis de Béchamel et la Glace Fondue à la Rhubarbe Un Compromis Sensuel entre Soufflé et Crème Renversée (Marquis de Béchamel Soft Cake with Melted Rhubarb Ice Cream) - This dessert looked like an ugly souffle (done on purpose) with some creme caramel in it. It was served chilled. The soft bechamel cake with caramel sauce was in good 'matching' to the sweet / sour raspberry fruits and coulis as well as sharp rhubarb ice cream. Overall, the flawless combinations of textures and flavors made this dessert memorable. The portion was generous and I struggled to finish all - left nearly a quarter of it at the end

Dinner day 2 - Menu Jour de Fête (with two extra dishes)

Le Foie Gras de Canard et d’Oie Fermière Cuit au Coin de l’Âtre Tastou à la Truffe Trois Gelées en Camaïeu (Home-made liver of fattened Duck and Goose Smoked in Aromates Woody Tartine and Verjuice from our Vineyard) - The maitre d' was kind enough to allow me to try both foie gras. Both were good having smooth texture. I did not really prefer one over the other. Generally, I get used to eating duck liver (having beige-orange color) more which was rich and creamy; the goose liver (more of pink color) was delicate and refined with more subtle flavor. The livers were accompanied by jellies of mushroom, duck and wine. As with any terrine, it's often better to consume it together with some bread - toasted sourdough with truffle. Neither liver was cloying. I suppose if one's in Landes region, one had to eat foie gras

La Langoustine et le Rouget ‘‘Tire Ficelle’’ sur le Gril Jus de Coquillages (Scampi and Red Mullet on the Grill served with Red wine and Seashell Juice) - The big prawn was gorgeous with elegantly sweet flavor. The fish was nice with some kind of (very) intense Hollandaise sauce mixed with anchovy - a bit too much for me. There was also the Red Mullet skin with smoky and unique flavor infused by the 'fish's carcass' - classically French; an interesting pair of sea creatures

Les Belles Saint-Jacques Toastées au Sautoir Beignets d’Agrumes et Fondue de Chicorée au Beurre de Mer (Splendid Meunière Scallops served with Citrus Fritters and Melting Chicory in Sea Butter) - I thought serving scallops in May seemed to be out of season until I saw someone ordered it the night before and they looked awesome. Well, it was the right decision; somehow the kitchen managed to source and carefully take care of these shellfishes. 3 plump and beautifully cooked scallops were meaty with their pleasant and naturally sweet flavors. It was enhanced by the lovely and delicious buttery brown sauce and balanced by the 'stir fry' onions & somewhat bitter chicory. The slight sourness derived from the citrus fritter provided a nice accent to this dish. I liked it more than my previous seafood dish

L’Opulente Pintade de Chalosse sur les Braises Salpicon de Ris d’Agneau, Morilles, Quenelles, Truffes (Chalosse’s Opulent Guinea Fowl on the Embers served with Fine Stew of Lamb Sweetbreads, Morels) - The high quality herbs-stuffed Pintade was both meaty and moist, thanks to the sauce - the best part when consumed with the guinea fowls skins. What made this dish better was that it came together with tender sweetbreads stew, earthy morels, fresh peas & their emulsion as well as little black truffles. Commonly boring bird was transformed into creative and tasty dish, kudos to Chef Guerard!

La Pêche Blanche au Naturel, une Quenelle de Glace Crémeuse à la Verveine et le Coulis de Framboises d’Eugénie (White Peach on Verbena Ice Cream served with Coulis of Eugénie’s Raspberries) - The white peaches were splendid (sweet, juicy and a little tart), the raspberry coulis were tasty and fresh, the verbena ice cream was delicate with subtle sweetness, and lastly the leaves generated good smells. For someone who's not a big fan of peach and verbena, it was a stunning dessert. Why did I still order it then? I simply wanted something fresh & a bit acidic for my palate and it turned out to be a good choice

Le Palais Feuilleté au Chocolat Crème Légère au Café (Sumptuous Chocolate Millefeuille served with Light Coffee Cream) - Michel Guérard was the MOF of pastry, so trying an extra dessert was no brainer. The desserts here were glorious and I thought this one was somehow even better than Passard's chocolate Napoleon. The delicate pastry combined with light and a bit bitter coffee cream, rich and decadent chocolate & sorbet, and lastly the Armagnac cream sauce was light & sweet - magnificent flavor variations with different degree of intensity yet felt smooth and balanced. Hands down my favorite dessert at Les Prés d’Eugénie

Like the desserts, the quality of sweets were also excellent. My wine drinking was rather minimal this time. Somehow, I did not take detail notes ... I had a couple of glasses of white Burgundy (chardonnay) and a glass of red Pomerol. The list was, as expected, extensive with plenty of Petrus vintages. The service was generally immaculate - attentive, relaxed, and smooth. A little drop was noticeable on the second day when the restaurant managed to cater to more than 60 people assisted by about 4 sommeliers. However, I did not "suffer" the negative that much since I came quite early when the dining room was still half-full. It was not bad per se but just not as refined as the hospitality of Parisian palace during peak period. One lady wearing specs in particular delivered outstanding service in both evenings. The more senior maitre d' wore tuxedo with tails. Lastly, the master chef Michel Guérard, dressed in plain white (without the MOF tunic), would walk around the dining room and amiably greeted as many diners as possible

Michel Guérard was known to be one of the founders of nouvelle cuisine, a movement to lighten the traditional French cuisine and reduce the cooking time to keep the produce's natural flavors. Additionally, Chef Guérard was the inventor of la cuisine minceur and sante (slimming and healthy cooking to reduce weight). I would say at least 1/3 of the guests eating in the restaurant underwent some kind of diet programs such as detox / weight loss. They had specials off the menu items catered to their needs. Some of the dishes looked decent and a few them got to enjoy a dessert or two. However, what impressed me was certainly chef Guérard's gourmet cuisine where he was able to bring out the best flavors & textures out of the superb ingredients to create delicate and unassuming food that was absolutely delicious and perfectly harmonious. His ability to create sauce and season the ingredients was difficult to match. At the age when most people already retired, Michel is still striving to create new dishes when the seasons change or the menu is updated. It has been a huge pleasure to have a couple of memorable meals here and the hard work to reach this place was not in vain; 3-star restaurant, Palace status resort and world class spa - was this some kind of heaven on earth? The pictures can be found here Guerard May '18 

Food (and Wine): 98 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 94 pts

Overall: 97/100

Sunday, August 19, 2018

L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon Hong Kong

While I might not be old enough to eat at Jamin, Joël Robuchon's legendary restaurant prior to his early retirement in 1995, I have been fortunate to have visited several of his formal gastronomy restaurants in particular the ones in Asia. On the contrary, I rarely ate at his more casual restaurant - the L'Atelier - a concept Robuchon created upon his "comeback" in 2003, inspired by the sushi counter / tapas bar. In this 'workshop',  the setting was more relaxed with an open kitchen, emphasizing more direct interaction between the staffs (including the chefs) and the customers. The food was generally still serious but the atmosphere was more convivial. The tradition of gold and white in classical and luxurious French gastronomy was replaced by the bold colors of red and black. One of the main reasons I eventually came this place was because L'Atelier JR Hong Kong has been in operation for more than a decade and somehow managed to gain and keep the 3-star Michelin for 10 years or so albeit HK Michelin is 'very generous'. I thought perhaps there's something special here, therefore I decided to have a meal here in March this year.

It has been a while for me to dine and be seated in a counter for eating non-Japanese food. I already made up my mind that I would order the tasting menu (I often "study" the menu a few days before visiting any gastronomy restaurant) as I have not tried more than half of the dishes there. The meal began with the staff brought a bread basket, freshly baked daily in the premise. The variety and quality were actually about on par with the ones found in JR restaurant served in the trolley. To ensure I could fully enjoy my degustation menu, I only tried a few of the bread such as cheese, tomato, spinach and bacon baguette. Following that, the kitchen delivered an amuse-bouche. That night, it was a bowl of white asparagus espuma served with chorizo, bell peppers, croutons, asparagus, and basil. It was refreshing, light yet full of (early Spring) flavors. Then come the 'real' dishes below,

Menu Découverte (Discovery Menu)

Le Caviar Imperial de Sologne servi en surprise (A surprise of Sologne Imperial caviar) - A meal at any Robuchon's restaurant would almost always start with a caviar dish. It was a familiar plating of Sologne caviar served in a tin; underneath the salty roes was predominantly lobster jelly. There were also some cauliflower cream and a little Alaskan crab. It was good though I found the ratio of the jelly vs crab meat was not balanced (too much gelee) and I slightly preferred the one in the past when served with (plenty of) fennel cream and perfumed by star anise

La Saint-Jacques la noix juste poêlée au coulis chaud de truffe et ses graines de potiron en cristalline (Pan-seared scallop with black truffle coulis and crispy pumpkin seeds) - The Hokkaido scallop was perfectly cooked, sweet and a bit raw inside. It was beautifully complimented by slices of the earthy Perigord truffle, musky and rather intense truffle coulis, as well as creamy + savory pumpkin sauce. It was an elegant dish displaying 'late' Winter specialty - the black truffle 

La Truffe Noire sur un œuf coque sans coque doré et nacré aux copeaux de parmesan (Soft boiled egg on golden pearl rice with black truffle and parmesan shavings) - Another and more serious Perigord truffle dish. The egg was perfectly cook and its runny yolk was in harmony with earthy and pungent shavings of Tuber melanosporum and crisp sticky rice cake. The parmesan, a little lemon juice and spinach provided accents to this delicious dish. To let the black truffles shine, a simple course was often better

Accompanied by wine: Ruinart brut Rose NV (tasty and round champagne with fine structure, soft & creamy; fruity, fresh and vibrant with pretty pink color)  

Le Homard cardinalisé au beurre salé, petits pois princesse et baby bok choy, escorté d’une bisque épicée (Grilled Maine lobster with green peas and baby bak choy) - My picture of the dish was probably not as good as its taste. The beautifully salted grilled lobster was firm and savory; even better when you put the lobster with the rich, piquant and creamy bisque (+ saffron taste). The flavorful dish was balanced by the fresh & sweet peas, thick & mild bak choy and cabbage + squid ink tuile. Meticulously cooked lobster with wonderful sauce ... that's all you need for a very comforting dish

Le Black Cod ravigoté au poivre noir de Malabar et son émulsion au lait de coco (Black cod with Malabar black pepper sauce and coconut emulsion) - The cod, previously marinated in miso, was succulent and flaky. It was the kind of fish that people easily fell in love with. The pepper sauce and coconut emulsion made this dish to be even more flavorful and rounded. Delicate fish served in the right size - an a la carte portion would be too much for me

Accompanied by wine: 2016 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, Clos de L'Oratoire (relatively young white, full body, delicate, apple and pear aroma, good minerality, nice pairing with the black cod)

Le Bœuf japonais tranché, mitonnée d’asperges vertes et oignons nouveaux (Pan seared Japanese A3 Wagyu beef with green asparagus and baby onions) - A3 was sufficient for me and I thought it's more ideal for a steak. The beef (sirloin) was still tender and a bit burnt on the outside. By itself, the meat was alright - would be better when combined with the sauce made of black pepper and the beef jus. Good and safe main course though not necessarily memorable ... perhaps, I should opt for the La Caille in the future

Accompanied by wine: 2013 Chianti Classico, Il Grigio Gran Selezione (refined red fruit & intensity, smooth and elegant in the palate, balanced in tannin & acidity; an awesome Italian red wine and it's even enjoyable to drink by itself as it's already 'mature')

Coco des Iles gelée de citron vert, croustillant de riz soufflé, sorbet noix de coco (Exotic-fruits with coconut mousse and sorbet) - The fruits (jelly) were mango and passion fruit; both were a little acidic on the contrary to the sweet coconut stuffs. A light creation that could act as either a dessert or a palate cleanser

Le Chocolat en bavarois à la Williamine et chocolat “JR~10~HK” crispy de Peta-Zeta (Pear compotes with Williamine, “JR~10~HK” chocolate shell and Peta Zeta) - I enjoyed the dark chocolate part - good flavor and texture. The pear was delicately sweet and a bit crisp, good by itself. The combination of the two ... more of interesting rather than a 'match in heaven'. I expected a better / more sophisticated dessert creation by Chef Robuchon  

The meal would include mignardises and non-alcohol digestive in the end. The petit fours were nice; I had vanilla macaron, banana chocolate, chocolate tart and madeleine cake. It was accompanied by an intense and good quality hot chocolate. The wine list was remarkable as the restaurant also owned by the Lisboa group whose collection in Robuchon Macau receiving Grand Award from the wine spectator's - of course matched by high price tag. The wine by the glass also showed an array of choices; as per above info, I drank 3 glasses. The food was overall well executed, flavorful, and presented in an elegant way. The simple but still felt opulent ambiance created a sense of comfort. The front of the house staffs were warmed, discreet and helpful, these made the experience even better. Adriano Cattaneo, chef de cuisine, as well as Anthony Au Yeung, the restaurant manager also made efforts to entertain me. I think I was one of the customers who left the latest. I may have preferred the Joel Robuchon fine dining food, but all aspects considered, I truly enjoyed my meal in this chic restaurant. I hope the L'Atelier and all other Robuchon restaurants would still be able to perform at the high level even after the master himself passed away earlier this month. Picture of the dishes: Robuchon HK Mar '18

Food (and Wine): 94 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 95 pts

Overall: 94/100

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Epicure Éric Fréchon

My official review for Epicure, the flagship restaurant of Hôtel Le Bristol, has been long overdue. This restaurant is actually somewhat special for me since it was the first gastronomy dining place I ever visited in Europe. It was a lunch in the Easter Monday of 2006 when it still held 2-star and used separate dining rooms depending on the season. I ate at its Winter dining room whose decor was very classic and French displaying old-style luxury. My degustation menu was enjoyable though it was not in my top 5 among Paris finest restaurants, even after re-visited in 2010 when finally Éric Fréchon gained his 3rd Michelin star one year earlier. In 2011, Hotel Le Bristol completed the EUR 300+ million transformative renovation including its signature restaurant. A few years later, I noticed people began to discuss more and very favorably towards Epicure such as it become the top Paris restaurant according to Tripadvisor and received several awards as the best hotel restaurant in the world. However, it was not until early Autumn of 2017, I eventually made a return to this temple of gastronomy.

After the Le Bristol upgrading work, Epicure occupied one permanent space that was its Summer dining room. It was the first time I entered this place last year. Unlike the past Winter venue, the interior design here was more modern but still very elegant and timeless. It featured marble fireplace, beige marble floors with onyx, oil paintings, tall drapes and a few bronze chandeliers. I was seated at the spacious red sofa while most of the tables were paired with the tartan-patterned chairs. Nearly all of the tables overlooking the expansive views of the hotel big & beautiful garden as well as outdoor terrace. I liked this dining room better than the old one; it was grand (seated about 40 people) yet felt intimate and exclusive at the same time.  One thing does not change here was that all gentlemen was required to wear a jacket. The restaurant happily lent the guest if he happened to forget not wearing one. Personally, I was in favor of this old school custom. As far as the food's concerned, I have learnt that the secret of many top French gastronomy restaurant best dishes coming from the a la carte menu albeit they're generally more expensive. One more thing, I happened to dine at Epicure twice in the past 8 months - for the 2nd visit, "thanks" to the SNCF French rail strikes that prevented me from going to Reims. There were not that many choices among multiple star restaurants in the city of light opening on Sunday. 

AUTUMN Lunch in October 2017

Artichauts de Provence, rôti à l’huile d’olive et truffes blanches d’Alba, poudre d’œuf haché et chips d’artichauts aux noisettes (Artichokes from Provence roasted with olive oil, served with white truffle from Alba, egg powder and artichoke crisps with hazelnuts - small portion) - A generous gift from the kitchen to everyone on that day. The artichokes (leaves & hearts) were light with distinct taste & aroma. They were enhanced by the luxurious Alba truffle, crispy chips, nutty hazelnut and mild egg. It was precise and balanced 

Caviar de Sologne et mousseline de pomme de terre ratte fumée au haddock, croustillant de sarrasin aigrelette (Caviar from Sologne served with "ratte" potatoes mousseline smoked with haddock and buckwheat crisp with a slightly sour dressing - demi portion) - One of Eric Frechon's signature dishes available all year long. The smoked haddock was infused to the ratte potatoes to give the mousse sophisticated taste so that when consumed together with the caviar, the firm texture and intensity of the Sologne caviar would shine. There were mild nutty finish flavor with light mousse and soured cream taste (from the stick) in the background. As long as the caviar was still around, it was a fantastic appetizer ..

Accompanied by wine: 2012 Simon Bize Savigny-lès-Beaune 1er Cru Aux Vergelesses (some acidity, medium finish, blend of cassis & dark berries, full body with a nice balance)

Noix de coquilles Saint-Jacques, gnocchis de pomme de terre à la truffe blanche d'Alba, jus de cresson de fontaine au beurre noisette (Sea Scallops served with potatoes gnocchi with white truffle from Alba and watercress juice with brown butter - demi portion) - The perfectly seared scallops were tender and sweet. They went along well with the rather soft gnocchi whose flavors mainly derived from the nutritious watercress sauce. The powerful Alba truffle (in aroma and taste) gave extra punch to this wonderful and classic Autumn dish at Epicure. I wish there had been more shaved truffles on this dish ...

Homard bleu rôti en coque, sauté de légumes du Sud à l'huile d'olive, encornet, chorizo, anchois, piment doux et basilic (Blue Lobster roasted in its shell served with sauteed Southern vegetables with olive oil, squids, chorizo, anchovies, sweet peppers and basil) - The plating of the dish was beautiful. When asked, Chef Frechon said it was the first time he created a lobster dish without any 'sauce'. The Brittany lobster was cooked until firm; a few was stuffed with the chewy squid. The highlight was the natural delicious flavor of the lobster however I was not too fond of the unusual taste from the side dishes + their seasonings. I don't find these combinations really helped elevate the awesome roasted lobster

Accompanied by wine: 2012 Domaine M. Chapoutier Hermitag Chante-Alouette (dark yellow, tropical fruits nose, medium body, decent acidity, medium finish and quite rich on the palate)    

Citron de Menton givré au limoncello et citron confit, aux saveurs de poires (Lemon from Menton frosted with Limoncello, served with pear and preserved lemon) - A special dessert at Epicure created by its legendary pastry chef, Laurent Jeannin. This frosted lemon was truly fragrant; every spoon I put in my mouth, my nose also enjoyed the aromatic lemon scent. The "lemon meringue", covered by limoncello, was pretty, delicate with pleasant acidity. When the 'lemon was broken', there were some cold pear, lemon and a little herbal taste. In addition, it was fun to savor a few different textures - soft snow & jelly - altogether in cold temperature. An excellent dessert!

SPRING Lunch in May 2018

Homard Bleu rôti au beurre demi-sel, jus des têtes pressées, polenta moelleuse aux asperges vertes et truffe noire (Blue Lobster roasted in its shell with salted butter, juice of pressed heads, creamy polenta with green asparagus and black truffle) - The 'homard breton' was perfectly cooked (turned beautifully red) and meaty / delightfully firm with succulent flavor. The tasty sauce was the jus from the lobster head. It was accompanied by crisp green asparagus, asparagus mousseline with mild black truffle flavors. It was a pure indulgence from start to finish - no wonder this dish was considered as Eric Frechon's specialty 

Accompanied by wine: 2015 Sancerre Domaine Gerard Boulay "Clos de Beaujeu" (pale lime color, fresh citrus and floral in both nose and palate, good minerality, medium body, long finish and clean - nice for the sunny day)

Carre D'Agneau de Lait doré au sautoir à l'ail et fleur de thym, chips de basilic, condiment d'épinard au citron confit et anchois (Rack of milk-fed Lamb pan-fried with garlic and thyme flower, basil chips, condiment of spinach with candied lemon and anchovies) - The well-seasoned and precisely cooked Aveyron lamb was really juicy, delicious and melt-in-the-mouth. Beginning from the skin, it was slightly broiled until brown / a bit crunchy, then there was small but heavenly lamb's fat; comes to the meat, it's simply tender and flavorful. Eat with your hand to "clean up" the lamb (except the rack, of course). The only down side ... small size and 'too' few pieces
The light potato souffles with spinach anchovy inside were lovely, mildly salty with earthy potato flavors. The side dishes of lemon, spinach condiment and a little cheese were in harmony with the lamb rack and its intense jus. One of the tastiest lamb I've ever had and this was done when Chef Frechon was not in the kitchen!

Accompanied by wine:
-2011 Margaux, Chateau des Eyrins (deep ruby color and dense, currant scent, dark berry flavor and earthy. Not the best red for this lamb dish, but enjoyable to drink by itself). I did not quite like it, but the assistant sommelier was kind enough to comp. this glass, thus I ordered the 2nd one
-2013 Champin Le Seigneur Côte-Rôtie, Domaine Jean-Michel Gerin (bright purple, refreshing, soft yet deep & complex, velvety tannins with oak finish). A great pairing for the flavorful and not-so-intense lamb

Cerises "Burlat" en sucre soufflé, crème de pistache de Sicile, giboulée de cerises flambées au kirsch (Burlat Cherries blown in sugar, flambéed with kirsch, and served with pistachio cream from Sicily) - It was a fabulous dessert! The sweet red cherries were soaked with kirsch, then flambeed. In addition, there was a rich & creamy cherry sorbet as well as crunchy crust pistachio nuts on the sides. The "huge cherry" was a big blown sugar of burlat cherries filled with cool, tasty and nutty of superb Sicilian pistachio. The interplay of texture and temperature contrasts were wonderful. All elements were in harmony and the overall impression of the flavors was intense yet still light at the same time - impressive!

I thought the cooking of Éric Fréchon has improved since my last visit 7-8 years ago. Dishes' seasoning and execution were very precise. The technical aspects were excellent, for instance the sauce reduction was flawless and the food was clearly structured. These occurred in both meals, therefore the consistency of the refined food in all aspects was very high. Note that during my '18 visit, Vincent Perrin (chef de cuisine) led the kitchen as Sunday was Chef Frechon's off day. Epicure was a Wine spectator's Grand award winners; it's of no surprise that the wine list here was abundant in particular with the French selection. The wine by the glasses was also quite a lot; even better was the wine service. When I 'wrongfully' selected a red Bordeaux that did not perfectly match my lamb dish, the assistant sommelier recognized this from my face expression. He kindly offered me a better option - the red Burgundy - while still allowed me to keep the initial red free of charge.

Epicure is blessed with tremendous resources. There are nearly 40 people (one of them is MOF Franck Leroy, Eric Frechon's right hand man) working in the kitchen while the dining room's service team was staffed by more than 20 people. With 1 waiter serving 2 guests ratio, the service was exceptional and efficient. During my first visit, per my request I could finish my meal slightly over 2 hours but never felt rush and the pacing was just right. The staffs were cordial and knowledgeable; they easily adjust their manners according to the clients' cultures. Overall, they moved around beautifully as if it's choreographed. For my 2 visits, I was served by nearly different teams. Although I might slightly prefer the "first team" (Remi, Matthieu and Thomas), the "second team" (Stephane and Alicia) also delivered a great service. It was very difficult to find faults at Epicure. Things guest's not happy with were probably more about different tastes instead of the restaurant failed to deliver something. Delicious food and elegant presentation, matching wine pairing with plenty of selection, terrific service and everlasting ambiance were the strong traits of the superb high-end French restaurant. I hope Eric Frechon could become the (last) defender of French cuisine and its tradition as long as possible.

For the pictures that would include nibbles, amuse-bouches and petit fours, please check out the following links: Epicure Oct '17 and Epicure May '18

Food (and Wine): 95.5 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 94.5 pts

Overall: 95/100

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Cheval Blanc Peter Knogl

Switzerland is a developed country known for its high quality stuffs in many aspects - competitive & efficient, world class infrastructure, top notch education and health care etc. Logically, it should be  like Germany in terms of the food too with ten or more 3-star establishments or at least half of them. In reality, there were only 3 of them and the latest one was Cheval Blanc which received the red guide book highest honor in the 2016 edition of the Switzerland Guide. It's been a 'trend' that more and more of top dining places are located in the hotel. Cheval Blanc is the flagship restaurant of the hotel Les trois rois (a member of Swiss deluxe hotels). The fate of the restaurant turned around in 2007 since the arrival of the gifted chef de cuisine named Peter Knogl, the son of a Bavarian farmer. Chef Knogl cut his teeth in Munich and Aschau im Chiemgau under the tutelage of the German-Italian chef Heinz Winkler. He patiently and slowly rose in the kitchen's position. There, he learned a lot about using only the finest produce, discipline, develop his style in which the ingredients should not change their taste.

I went to Cheval Blanc for lunch with my spouse during the early Autumn. The restaurant was located on the ground floor. As we entered the hotel, we could easily recognized the hostess and she escorted us to the main dining room. We were the first guests to arrive so we had the time to admire the Cheval Blanc's interiors by ourselves. The lavish dining room was not overly large with a very high ceiling; there were only 10 tables or so that could cover about 30 people. The dark wooden floor was partially covered with carpet; it was complemented by several classic crystal chandeliers, white and tall candles at each table and fine paintings on the wall. The large purple drapes (the chairs were covered in purple color too) were opened to allow natural lights entering the restaurant while at the same time, guests could enjoy the view of the Rhine river. Consistent to the grand hotel, the Cheval Blanc dining room also radiated an old-style luxury. As far as the food's concerned, both of us ordered the full tasting menu while I also added some dishes from the a la carte menu. The bread, baked daily in house, was good especially I liked the olive and tomato bread.   

Le Menu des Rois (+ a few extra dishes*)

Amuse-bouches for Culinary introductions

Huîtres creuses / ponzu / pomme vert (Crinkled-shelled Oyster with ponzu and green apple) - The briny and juicy oyster was complemented by soy-flavor & sweet ponzu as well as sharp green apple. A tasty, balanced and refreshing amuse-bouche.
Macaron / foie / orange / Garam masala (Duck liver in macaron shape with orange puree and garam masala spice) - The foie gras was flavorful; it went well together with delicate & 'warm' masala and rather acidic orange. One small byte but full of enjoyment.

Espuma jalapeno / Carabinero (Jalapeno mousse with Scarlet shrimp) - The subtle peppery jalapeno foam was beautifully combined with fresh and 'sweet' carabinero - neither element was too dominant, just nice! 
Textures de champignons / Pata negra (Mushrooms in different textures with Iberian ham) - The mushroom cream was intense and earthy in contrast to crisp tuile as the base and subtle marinated mushroom. The pata negra crunch was savory and smooth - generated some texture differences; another tasty nibble.

Foie gras de canard, confit de figues, gelée de thé Earl Grey et cassis (Duck foie gras served with fig confit, jelly of Earl Grey tea and cassis) - Creative duck liver dish in a small portion is always good. The foie gras was smooth and delicious; it was balanced by the sweet fig confit and slightly acidic cassis. Spread this delicate foie gras on the light brioche to fully enjoy this tasty appetizer. The preparation might be different, but there's almost always a foie gras dish on the menu.

Noix de Saint Jacques, carotte et Vadouvan (Scallops served with carrot and Vadouvan) - The lightly cooked scallop was of outstanding quality: plump, tender and naturally sweet. It was accompanied by fresh carrot and seasoned with vadouvan (fermented spices) having interesting + complex taste & aroma. A very good classical dish with modern touch.

*Hamachi Japonais, radis, avocat et miso (Japanese Hamachi served with radish, avocado and miso) - I didn't usually like a cold appetizer, but this one was different. The carefully seasoned and fresh Japanese yellowtail kingfish was moist, clean & buttery. It was beautifully enhanced by the crisp radish, nutty avocado & savory miso. The combination of the sides produced plenty of vibrant flavors with pleasant texture contrasts - really refreshing! 

*Ravioli au jaune d'œuf, épinards à la crème et truffe blanche d'Alba (Egg yolk ravioli served with spinach cream and white Alba truffle) - Obviously a very Italian recipe; egg yolk with shaved white truffle were delightful. The runny orange yolk inside the thin pasta was in harmony with the warm & creamy spinach. The Alba truffle was truly an indulgence - pungent, earthy and delicious - brought this simple ravioli dish to the next level. Glad that I ordered this extra dish ..

Filet de Rouget, écailles croustillantes, safran, ail noir et vinaigrette de tomates (Filet of Red Mullet and its crispy scales served with saffron, black garlic and vinaigrette of tomatoes) - The red Mullet flesh was juicy, a bit firm and nicely absorbed the saffron sauce and vinaigrette; the scales were enjoyably crunchy whereas the garlic's cream and aroma gave this dish an extra 'dimension' - a terrific dish with Asian influences.

*Ris de veau rôti, yuzu, poivre et crème de champignons (Roasted Sweetbread served with yuzu, pepper and cream of mushrooms) - The sweetbread was cooked until golden and a bit crispy on the outside; the result was a tender texture with mild flavor. It was enhanced by a sauce made of veal jus and yuzu. There were shiitake mushroom and 'bok choy' on the sides - a very decent dish with some acidic notes. I picked this because ris de veau was one of Chef Knogl's favorite ingredients.

Selle de Chevreuil de la Styrie, mousseline de céleri et sauce Rouennaise (Styrian saddle of Venison served with mousseline of celery and Rouennaise sauce) - The thick Austrian venison was slightly firm but still smooth, earthy and a bit gamey yet tasty. The celery mousse would carefully tone down the richness from the concentrated Rouennaise sauce. Overall, a solid (red) meat course.

Chariot de fromage frais et affiné de Maître Antony à Ferrette (Selection of soft and hard cheeses from Maître Antony in Ferrette) - I had Saint-Nectaire (fruity aroma and slightly sweet), a cheese from Bernese Jura (from raw milk with a hint of nutty flavor),  Tamie (soft, creamy with robust taste) and Abbaye cheese from Pyrenees (firm and mild). The cheese was accompanied by dark & rye bread - a decent cheese variety.

Poire, nougat et cacahuètes (Pear, nougat and peanuts) - Fruity, soft and fresh ice cream was combined with something sweet and thick (nougat) as well as nutty and crunch (peanuts). Easy to eat dessert and enjoyable especially after some intense red meat.

*Café, muscovado et framboise (Coffee, moscovado and raspberry) -  The Mauritius sugar was probably the most interesting one - unrefined, complex and rich. It was brought together with some aromatic and bitter coffee mousse as well as tart, fresh and rather sweet raspberry sorbet. Although not spectacular, it was a good and fun dessert.

The petit fours were superb especially the mousse on a spoon (mango with passion fruit and lemongrass) and some chocolate truffles (yuzu, caramel and dark). Our degustation menu was accompanied by half-bottle of a local red wine: 2013 Vinattieri Ticinesi Ligornetto Merlot - Medium body & acidity, balanced, fruity (cherries, plum and blackberries), a bit spicy with medium finish. A nice local merlot that went reasonably well particularly with my venison and sweetbread. Overall, the service at Cheval Blanc was good but somewhat uneven at times. For example, the sommelier (might be the assistant) seemed to be confused and not too focused during our lunch; in a couple of occasions, our glasses were not refilled when the volume was low and once when he poured, it dripped a bit on the outer surface of the glass. Then, there was another waiter who claimed that he used to work at one of Alain Ducasse gastronomy restaurants ... from the body language and communication, this full-size man lacked finesse and elegance usually shown by the staffs at any Ducasse fine dining places. I went to the restrooms twice and both times, my napkin was never replaced with a new one. On the other hand, there were 2 charming gentlemen, who also often took care of our table, delivering excellent service with good sense of humor and not overly formal but very professional. Furthermore, they displayed genuine interests to the guests without being obtrusive. Near the end of our lunch, Peter Knogl came out and greeted every table, spent sometimes with the guests without being rush to return to the kitchen. 

With this meal, I managed to complete all of the Switzerland's 3-star restaurants within one week. If I had to pick one place in this land of milk and honey, in terms of the food only, Cheval Blanc was actually my favorite dining place (marginally better than Restaurant Crissier). Peter Knogl's classical style generally fit my taste well. Not only that, he also modernized his cuisine a bit by adding some international flavors such as some Asian influences or mild Mediterranean. His cooking was all about the perfect balance among finest ingredients, authentic inherent flavors of the produce, and elegant skills + technical finesse ... all of these culminating to delicious dishes with astounding sauce. It's never about following the latest food trend in instagram. "Simple" and consistently (nearly) perfect! Ideally, it would not be the only time I savored Chef Knogl's creations. For pictures, you can see at this link: Cheval Blanc Oct '17    

Food (and Wine): 96 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 93 pts

Overall: 95/100

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Ta Vie Hideaki Sato

Ta Vie, from its inception in mid 2015, has become the talk of the town. It should be no surprised because Ta Vie's head chef and part owner was the former chef de cuisine of Tenku Ryugin (2-star) named Hideaki Sato. Ta Vie's name was translated as "Your Life" in French and "Journey" in Japanese. It's Chef Sato's intention from the beginning that his restaurant will be the place for the people to interact while enjoying the journey and exploration of his creations, mainly using Asian high quality products. Ta Vie is probably different than many other fine dining restaurants owing to Sato-san's strong background in both Western (French & Italian) and Japanese cuisine. In addition, he was also skillful in baking bread, making pastry as well as a qualified sommelier. Thus, Hideaki Sato is the main 'brain and muscle' of Ta Vie. The attention to details was applicable in all aspects. For instance, there was a bottle of Azumino mineral water (soft, mild and natural) from Japan with ta vie's label. Furthermore, the homemade sourdough bread (soft inside with good crust outside) and churned butter (pleasant) were made daily in the kitchen. With regards to the main attraction, there was only one degustation menu but, of course, guests were encouraged to share their dietary restrictions upon making the reservation (if any).

Tasting menu featuring Asian produce

Caesar salad topped with Hotaru squid served with Hotaru squid caesar dressing - Hotaru Ika is one way to say that "It's Spring". The Firefly squid was tender and bursting inside with an oceanic & acquired taste. This concentrated umami flavor (also from the dressing) was a good combination for the crisp romaine lettuce, fresh mountain vegetables, parmesan cheese and some croutons. An interesting and tasty dish; quite a strong beginning I would say

"Clam chowder" served with whelk "Matsubu" twist clam and peas with chef's twist - Another unique interpretation of a famous dish by Hideaki Sato. The hot clam soup was light (not too intense); this way, the ingredients inside could shine such as the crunchy and sweet Tsubugai, earthy green peas, and fresh Spring vegetables. You will not feel heavy at all ...

Homemade pasta with "Aonori" sauce and Hokkaido Uni - It was an extra dish from the kitchen and one of Chef Sato's specialties. My main issue here was the texture of the pasta and it seemed deliberate that it's made to be uncharacteristically soft instead of al dente. However, the green seaweed sauce and creamy (Bafun) sea urchin was well-absorbed by the pasta, thus make this dish flavorful. Overall, I still enjoyed this delicate creation

White strawberry and Chioggia beetroot served with fruits tomato tossed with Thai basil and Burrata cheese - This 'intermezzo' was surprisingly tasty - juicy & aromatic pineberries, rather sweet and earthy Italian beetroot, fresh and savory tomato - were good combinations, The soft & milky burrata with aromatic basil + balsamic vinegar acted as the "sauce" for these fruits. Awesome!

"Civet" braised abalone covered with "Abalone shell" - The abalone 'shell' was edible and tasted like crackers. The awabi and shiitake were nicely intertwined in their meaty texture and a contrast of earthy & sea flavors. The caramelized onions and brown sauce (prepared with cognac & madeira) provided more depth to the dish's overall flavor - a winning creation

Japanese langoustine with pork tail, Yunnan ham and langoustine broth - I think it's the first time I consumed Tenaga-ebi; the size was large with elegant flavor and firm texture. The perfectly cooked langoustine was enhanced by the broth to make its flavor more complex yet still balanced. On the side, this langoustine was accompanied by a cabbage dumpling filled with pork tail as well as Yunnan ham to enrich the taste; the 'chicken consomme' also contained some flavor from the long-armed prawn. One of my favorite dishes for the dinner

Beef tongue stew served with onion nouveau and fresh Yunnan morel - The beef tongue was actually thick and carefully cooked with Chinese yellow wine. The back part was tender & fatty (hence more delicious) while the front part was meaty / crisp. The Yunnan morel, having sponge-like texture, was decent though the taste was not as intense as its French counterpart. The best part here was the sauce - a perfect old school French saucing resulting in rich and delightful flavor

Almond ice cream with meringue Served with fresh strawberries & scent of Sakura blossom; covered with fragile candy glass - A beautiful dessert for Spring. It was the feast for the senses: cool plating, pleasant & refreshing scent, soft vs hard texture contrast, a few flavors worked altogether - sour, sweet, nutty. Enjoyable ..

Caramelized French toast served with black truffle toffee, golden Oolong tea ice cream with salted egg yolk - I found these dessert had different degree of flavor intensity. The french toast, topped with shaved cashew nuts, was probably the best one - soft & tasty. The black truffle toffee was very strong with predominantly truffle flavor; on the contrary, the oolong ice cream was delicate with a hint of grated yolk (to reduce any cloying taste). It was quite good

After the dessert, I opted for a tea (pandan, mint and lemongrass) as my digestive, accompanied by light mulberry jelly. For the drinks, I had a combination of cold Hakurakusei sake (subtle & delicate with nice aroma) in carafe and 3 glasses of tea tasting, served chilled, consisted of Yunnan Pu'er, Yame Gyokuro and Jinxuan Ginseng. They were interesting and satisfying in general. Ta Vie is located in the 2nd level of a boutique hotel Pottinger at Central. The atmosphere was intimate, charming and quiet. The dining room tended to be dark combining Asian and European styles. It may not be as luxurious as the like of Caprice or Amber nevertheless well-designed with spacious tables and comfortable sofa / chairs. Ms. Hiromi Takano, Hideaki Sato's wife, is the restaurant manager - the same role she had at Tenku Ryugin. Under her leadership, the service was well-paced and efficient. She and another female staff were friendly, passionate and knowledgeable. Overall, it was a very good diningg experience - innovative and delicious food, solid drink selection, discrete and amiable service, elegant dining room. A return here is probable; preferably in different season so that I can try Chef Sato's different creations. The pictures of the dishes can be found at Ta Vie Mar '18

Food (and Wine): 94 pts

Service (and Ambiance): 94 pts

Overall: 94/100