RyuGin (Tokyo, Japan)

RyuGin
Side Roppongi Bldg, 1st Floor
7-17-24 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0032
Dining date: 10/20/12

RyuGin exterior

RyuGin was close to the top of my list of restaurants to try in Tokyo. The modern kaiseki restaurant garnered three Michelin stars in the 2012 guide and is ranked #28 on the 2012 World’s 50 Best Restaurants list (while I don’t really believe in this list, it’s hard to ignore). In addition, I feel like everything I’ve read about the restaurant has been nothing but positive.

Chef Seiji Yamamoto blends traditional Japanese kaiseki with modern Western influences. While an a la carte menu is available (after 9pm), diners are steered towards the tasting menu aka “Gastronomy Menu.” Priced at ¥23,000, it contains around 11 courses (though many of the courses have multiple components).

RyuGin interior

Given its accolades from the Western world, the restaurant seemed well-equipped to accommodate customers from around the world. While there was Japanese spoken at some tables, English appeared to be the dominant language in the dining room. One neighboring table was even communicating seamlessly in French. While all of this often calls into question the authenticity of a meal in Japan, I’m confident that the food at RyuGin maintains its hold on its Japanese roots. As with any kaiseki menu, the food is highly seasonal and local, with a focus on the artistry of the whole plate (the Japanese have been doing it way before it became cool to do so in America).

Variation of Autumn Vegetables with Pine Nuts Dressing

Variation of Autumn Vegetables with Pine Nuts Dressing

The server said there were 12 different vegetables in the dish from whatever was found at the market. I could detect various mushrooms, bean sprouts and mushrooms in the texturally-dynamic dish. To bring it all together, it was dressed with a tasty pureed pine nut vinaigrette. I thought it was a very well-balanced first course.

Soft Simmered Abalone and Blue Crab with Wakame Seaweed and Apple Vinegar Jelly
Abalone Broth Hot Soup

Soft Simmered Abalone and Blue Crab with Wakame Seaweed and Apple Vinegar Jelly

Soft Simmered Abalone and Blue Crab with Wakame Seaweed and Apple Vinegar Jelly

Abalone Broth Hot Soup

Next was a duo of abalone, presented in-shell. The abalone, apparently simmered for 10 hours, was tender with just a little bit of chew – delish! Blue crab completed the shellfish tandem, while an apple vinegar jelly provided some bright acidity. To subsequently wash it down, the chef served a comforting soup made from the same abalone.

Premium Sea Urchin from Hokkaido in Lace Wrapping Deep Fried Rare with Edamame Beans Paste
Grilled Mushrooms Cold Soup

Premium Sea Urchin from Hokkaido in Lace Wrapping Deep Fried Rare with Edamame Beans Paste

Grilled Mushrooms Cold Soup

Next, this was quite a sight. Uni and seaweed were fried rare in some type of light rice flour batter. It was as good as it looked, with a delicate crunch and warm, oozing uni on the inside. So good! A cool mushroom soup provided an earthy contrast which was also quite nice.

Ichiban Dashi Soup with Grilled Seaperch and Matsutake Mushrooms in Autumn Presentation

Ichiban Dashi Soup with Grilled Seaperch and Matsutake Mushrooms in Autumn Presentation

A very moist, light piece of sea perch sat in a bowl of dashi. I was worried the fish would overcook in the soup, but that wasn’t the case at all. The fish was delicious, as were the tender slivers of matsutake, while a dashi broth brought a soul-satisfying warmth to the dish.

Today’s Assortment of Sashimi RyuGin Style

“Sashimi” Dish RyuGin Style“Sashimi” Dish RyuGin Style“Sashimi” Dish RyuGin Style“Sashimi” Dish RyuGin Style“Sashimi” Dish RyuGin Style“Sashimi” Dish RyuGin Style

The assortment included squid, spanish mackerel, two sea bream preparations, a type of shrimp (ebi), and a cup of ikura with autumn vegetables. These were all pretty good, with the most interesting being the spanish mackerel with a smoked hay condiment providing a ton of depth. My favorite was probably the salty ikura with earthy mushrooms and greens.

Autumn Colors on a Plate: Grilled Thorn Head Fish, Eggplant, Chestnuts, Ginkgo Nuts

Autumn Colors on a Plate: Grilled Thorn Head Fish, Eggplant, Chestnuts, Ginkgo Nuts

Autumn Colors on a Plate: Grilled Thorn Head Fish, Eggplant, Chestnuts, Ginkgo Nuts

Next was this plate with a grilled white fish and thinly sliced fried mushroom. The fish was perfectly cooked, moist with a crispy skin. An accompanying mixture of chestnuts and chrysanthemum provided a cool and refreshing bite while a slice of peach, lightly pickled with ginger, was an interesting flavor combination.

Simmered Presentation: Soft Octopus and Lightly Fried Sea Scallops with Autumn Vegetables

Simmered Presentation: Soft Octopus and Lightly Fried Sea Scallops with Autumn Vegetables

Here, octopus was paired with a still-raw fried scallop. I liked the texture between the crispy scallop and slightly chewy octopus, paired with simmered spinach and turnips.

Chef Yamamoto’s Specialty: Charbroiled Large Wild Eel with Kinome Leaves in Don Style
Shrimp Broth Red Miso Soup

Chef Yamamoto's Specialty: Charbroiled Large Wild Eel with Kinome Leaves in Don Style

Chef Yamamoto's Specialty: Charbroiled Large Wild Eel with Kinome Leaves in Don StyleShrimp Broth Red Miso Soup

This was also one of the most memorable dishes of the meal. This was my first time having eel in Japan and I was thoroughly impressed. The eel was cooked in a way that it had a delightfully crispy skin, while keeping a juicy interior. Loved the texture and it was so delicious. It was served don-style, atop some brown rice. Lightly pickled egg, beans and a root vegetable sought to provide a slight acidity to counter the eel, while a shellfish-based miso soup was a wonderful finisher to the course.

Following the last savory course of the meal, I was asked if I was still hungry; if so, the chef could prepare an additional course of either fresh soba or chicken rice (inspired by his time in China). I sort of misunderstood and ordered both…given the success of the meal at this point, I wasn’t going to reject anything coming out of the kitchen.

Chef Yamamoto Remembering His Childhood with Chinese Chicken Rice

Chicken Rice

The first “extra” was this one. This is similar to a rice dish I eat every Thanksgiving and Christmas, a Chinese sticky rice (nuomi fan) with tiny diced mushrooms, carrots and chicken.

RyuGin Original Homemade Cold Soba Noodle with Yuzu Flavor

RyuGin Original Homemade Cold Soba Noodle with Yuzu Flavor

I was told one of the sous chefs was making this fresh in the back. Soba is everywhere in Tokyo and I haven’t had a bad bowl (except the hit soup ones!) but I was very curious if RyuGin could elevate it. This was easily the best soba I’ve had so far with a superior, addicting chewy texture. The yuzu zest was a nice touch, but I didn’t really need it.

Two Grapes

Two Grapes

Two Grapes

The first dessert of the evening was this duo of grapes. The first was a grape imbued with CO2 (I think), which resembled champagne when it burst in the mouth. Pretty cool. The second was a concoction frozen quickly via liquid nitrogen, cracked and topped with a grape jam. The interior of the grape had something like pop-rocks, leaving that familiar sensation in the mouth. The flavors were good, though I’m not a huge fan of the whole pop rocks sensation.

Grilled Ginjou Sake Oyaki Souffle with Egg Soft Cream

Grilled Ginjou Sake Oyaki Souffle with Egg Soft Cream

The final dish of the evening was this dessert, the chef’s take on a souffle-style oyaki. It was prepared with sake, which I could taste in each light and airy bite. A rich, eggy soft cream….kind of like a thick froyo, provided a sweet, creamy contrast.

Matcha

matcha

To pair with dessert I had a bowl of hot matcha. Bitter and slightly thick, I really enjoy this with dessert or as an end-of-meal drink.

I had a nearly flawless meal at RyuGin, which lived up to the hype in my opinion. There wasn’t as much molecular gastronomy flair or “tricks” as I thought there would be, which I was actually pleased with. Instead, the preparations seemed to be relatively simple and straightforward, focusing on great ingredients and excellent execution. Service was impeccable, something almost always expected at a Michelin three-star, but it often fails to impress. Even though I still have a lot to eat in Tokyo, I think this will be close to (if not at) the top at the end – I may even drop in one more time before I go. Easily one of my best meals of 2012.

L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon (Tokyo, Japan)

L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon
6-10-1 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0032
Dining date: 10/15/12

exterior

L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon was on my list of Tokyo restaurants early on, largely because I’ve had fairly consistently good meals here, but also because I think it’s been fun to compare them across the world (I’ve been to the Las Vegas, Paris, London and now Tokyo locations). For a sort of welcome dinner for our team in Tokyo, I was tasked to find a suitable restaurant. Ultimately this was the choice, given its English-friendliness (the Roppongi area is frequented by many foreigners) and approachability to Western tastebuds.

The restaurants present Robuchon’s refined cuisine in a more casual setting, full of counter seating. I think I read somewhere that Japan’s sushi bars were the inspiration behind the counter-centric nature of L’Atelier restaurants, so it was interesting to see it come together in Tokyo. Similar to the London and Paris locations, the Tokyo restaurant shares a Michelin two-star rating.

counter

counter2 counter3

A tasting menu and an a la carte are available, as well as a number of prix fixe menus with a variety of options. Most of us went with the latter; the below captures some of the other dishes but I’ll only comment on the ones I ate.

Pork Rillette on Crostini

amuse

We started with an amuse from the kitchen. Even though the description was in English, we still couldn’t quite capture what this was. It was sort of a pork rillette simmered with white wine. Simple yet tasty.

I’ve always enjoyed pretty strong bread service at Robuchon establishments, and this was no exception.

bread

Next up were the first courses, including this impressive presentation.

Le Saumon tasmanian salmon tartare with shiso flower buds

Le Saumon tasmanian salmon tartare with shiso flower buds

Le Crabe snow crab served with an avocado mousse and apple

Le Crabe snow crab served with an avocado mousse and apple

I went with this dish, a light starter with sweetness of the pear and crab mellowed by an avocado mousse. The shellfish gelee was a nice touch too, providing a lot of depth.

Next were the second courses.

Le Bulbe de Lys lily bulb cream soup with vanilla accompanied with a stuffed shrimp

Le Bulbe de Lys lily bulb cream soup with vanilla accompanied with a stuffed shrimp

Les Ravioles foie gras ravioli in a warm chicken broth with herbs and spicy cream

Les Ravioles foie gras ravioli in a warm chicken broth with herbs and spicy cream

Les Ravioles foie gras ravioli in a warm chicken broth with herbs and spicy cream

I couldn’t resist a foie gras ravioli, my first bites of the liver since the California ban. A rich chicken broth with herbal shiso accents provided the backdrop to the ravioli with its delicate chew and creamy unmistakable foie gras interior.

Next up were the main courses.

Le Boeuf sliced wagyu beef ribeye with wasabi flavored spinach and harlequin vegetables

Le Boeuf sliced wagyu beef ribeye with wasabi flavored spinach and vegetables arlequins

Le Boeuf wagyu ribeye with truffled mashed potatoes

Le Boeuf ribeye with truffled mashed potatoes

Le Caille caramelized foie gras stuffed free range quail served with mashed potatoes

Le Caille caramelized foie gras stuffed free range quail served with mashed potatoes

I opted for the quail, which the waiter said was a specialty across Robuchon restaurants. I’m glad I did, as this was an outstanding dish. The quail itself was moist and succulent, complemented by a subtly sweet glaze. The breasts were separated from the bone and stuffed with a creamy foie gras filling – so luscious. Delicious. Robuchon’s trademark uber-rich potatoes came along with it, while some herbal greens brightened things up a bit.

Lastly, we had the dessert courses.

Le Raisin fresh grape covered with a red wine jelly served on a light mint cream

Le Raisin fresh grape covered with a red wine jelly served on a light mint cream

La Tendance Chocolat araguani chocolate ganache served with a cocoa sherbet covered with bitter biscuit powder

La Tendance Chocolat araguani chocolate ganache served with a cocoa sherbet covered with bitter biscuit powder

I didn’t realize it when ordering, but I had something really similar to this at the London location earlier this year. My thoughts on the dessert remain unchanged; it’s a fine dessert, sure, but I found it rather one-note on the chocolate.

A plate of mignardises completed our meal, but we were too full to finish all of it.

mignardises

I found this to be a very good meal, highlighted by the quail stuffed with foie gras. In fact, I enjoyed the food here more than my London experience, though Paris remains the clear standard-bearer for me. I found service’s attentiveness to be rather inconsistent during this meal, with some courses brought to the table without a description and our server seemingly changing mid-meal without notice. Service-wise, I expected something more from a two-star. Still, this was an excellent starter meal for our stay in Tokyo.

Patina (Los Angeles, CA)

Patina
141 S Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Dining date: 8/23/12

patina exterior

Patina is one of those restaurants that seems like it’s been around forever and always will be. I first ate here on my 21st birthday; I don’t remember much specifically but I remember it being a good meal. Even though I’ve lived within walking distance for the past four years, it took me just over six years to return. I never had a sense of urgency, perhaps because the first meal did not leave a very strong impression.

A couple of my coworkers recently had a private dinner at Patina to kick-start the launch of their new nonprofit (see: Edo Foundation). Coincidentally, it was also around the time of a chef transition, as outgoing chef Tony Esnault was replaced by sous chef Charles Olalia. My coworkers loved the meal and raved about it; six years was far too long – I was ready for a return visit.

patina interior

A la carte as well as a three or four-course promotional market menu (which may or may not be extended) are available, as well as a seven course tasting menu. It’s not cheap by any means, but its $115 price point was less than I thought it’d be.

Le Citron Rose absolut citron, chambord, lemon sour
Bourbon Brillant bourbon, grand marnier, fresh grapefruit

cocktails

We started with drinks; I swear they tasted kind of watered down, not unlike a meal I had earlier in the week.

Sweet Corn Soup crostini, corn, chive oil

corn soup

We began the meal with this amuse bouche, a chilled soup showing off the natural sweetness of corn. Chive oil provided a little bit of the grassy herb flavor while tiny bits of toasted crostini provided the texture.

A trio of breads were served: wheat, olive and baguette. The first one I had was the baguette, which I found to be very chewy and rather hard to eat, kind of terrible. The olive, which came hot out of the oven later, fared much better displaying a crispy crust, airy interior and subtle olive flavor.

bread

Dungeness Crab FraÎcheur champagne mango, avocado, tomatoes

Dungeness Crab FraÎcheur champagne mango, avocado, tomatoes

Crab and avocado were wrapped in thin slices of mango in a beautiful display. I thought the flavors were pretty well-balanced, though the mango may have overshadowed the crab a bit. Tomatoes provided a different kind of sweetness to pair with the mango and crab, while bits of crostini (soaked in tomato juice) provided the texture.

Poached Farmed Egg peas, kalamansi, arugula

Poached Farmed Egg peas, kalamansi, arugula

Poached Farmed Egg peas, kalamansi, arugula

Hard to go wrong with a perfectly poached egg; here it was paired with a duo of peas in puree form and freshly shucked. The runny egg yolk brought everything together, adding a welcome richness, while arugula provided a little bit of a countering bite. For the third course in a row, the same small pieces of crostini provided the texture.

Fancy decanter.

wine

Seasonal Glazed Vegetable Mosaic ”jus de cuisson,” lemon oil

Seasonal Glazed Vegetable Mosaic ”jus de cuisson,” lemon oil

Seasonal Glazed Vegetable Mosaic ”jus de cuisson,” lemon oil

A signature dish of former chef Tony Esnault – this was the lone course kept on the menu through Chef Olalia’s transition. It was a beautiful dish, featuring whatever was fresh at the market, and each vegetable was cooked separately to coax out their natural flavors. Indeed, I think each vegetable’s flavor stood out on its own while the savory jus and lemon oil brought everything together.

Black Cod Confit tarbais beans, piquillo pepper, green almond

Black Cod Confit tarbais beans, piquillo pepper, green almond

I think this was my favorite course of the evening, with a black cod that was first steamed then poached in olive oil. The cod itself was cooked perfectly, moist and succulent, while tarbais beans provided some earthy creaminess. Waxy green and yellow beans, sweet piquillo peppers, and a warm sauce rounded out the plate.

Colorado Lamb Loin courgette, porcini, farro, lamb jus

Colorado Lamb Loin courgette, porcini, farro, lamb jus

Colorado Lamb Loin courgette, porcini, farro, lamb jus

The last savory dish was a duo of lamb, presenting a roasted loin portion and a basteeya preparation. Both pieces of lamb were delicious, particularly with the jus – I wanted more. The basteeya, a savory Morrocan pie of sorts, featured tender confit lamb in a crispy, flaky pastry. Quite nice. However, the accompanying piece of eggplant was terrible, having an off-putting astringent flavor that was shared among all four of us dining.

Harry’s Berries Strawberries crème fraîche, buttermilk ice cream, basil granité

Harry’s Berries Strawberries crème fraîche, buttermilk ice cream, basil granité

The first dessert featured the well-known and reliably sweet strawberries from Harry’s Berries. Seriously, those berries are always delicious. Here, they were paired with a buttermilk ice cream, chopped nuts, and creme fraiche custard. The balance of tart and sweet was a successful one, while basil provided some depth of flavor.

Chocolate Moelleux dacquoise, passion fruit, hazelnut sorbet

Chocolate Moelleux dacquoise, passion fruit, hazelnut sorbet

The last course of the evening had a few chocolate presentations. Chocolate in a meringue and crisp paper form were accompanied by extra chocolate in the form of a nutella sorbet. A passion fruit sauce really brightened things up.

Peach and Cassis Pate de Fruits, Peanut Butter Fudge

petit fours

Lastly, some sweets were brought out to finish the meal. Both were good; my favorite was the fudgey peanut creation.

I found Patina to be a good meal, meeting expectations. Execution was mostly on point with a broad array of colorful and flavorful presentations. Having said that, I’m not sure I would rank Patina in the top few restaurants in the city. There weren’t any dishes that particularly wow’ed, and a few bad missteps (baguette and eggplant come to mind) really didn’t help. Still, it’s one of the few real fine dining restaurants going strong in this city, so I suspect it won’t take me quite as long to return next time around.

Melisse (Los Angeles, CA)

Melisse
“Foie for All”

1104 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Dining date: 6/30/12

melisse exterior

June 30 was the last day to legally serve foie gras in California (although some loopholes do exist). Melisse has been at the forefront against the ban and, combined with the fact that it’s one of the best restaurants in the city, I thought it would be the ideal spot to do a ‘last meal’ of sorts. For a number of months now, Melisse has been offering a “Foie for All” tasting menu featuring the ingredient in about 8 courses. Knowing that others would likely follow suit (and indeed, it did appear to be a full house), I made this reservation in the beginning of April and eagerly awaited this dinner.

We ordered a few drinks to start (pictured from left to right, top to bottom). We previewed the new cocktail menu (consulted on by Pablo Moix) at the 5×5 Collaborative Dinner in April, so it was interesting to see the final list here.

Pimm’s Rickey pimm’s, fresh pressed lime, topped with soda
Cameron Coup jameson irish whiskey, famous grouse scotch whiskey, orgeat almond syrup, lemon juice
Citrine el tesoro plata, aperol, grapefruit and lime juice

cocktails

citrine

My favorite of these was probably the Citrine with its grapefruit/lime flavors balancing out the aperol nicely. The Pimm’s Rickey tasted slightly watered down.

Grape, Pistachio, Goat Cheese

amuse

We began with Melisse’s signature amuse. The juicy sliced grape, covered in a thin layer of goat cheese and pistachio, was a well-balanced bite – sweet, savory, nutty. The spherification of grape juice provided the same flavors, albeit in a very different vehicle.

Bacon bread, olive bread, ciabatta, brioche and french breads were on offer this night. My first serving was of the latter two.

breads

bread butter

Foie Gras Cromesquis

Foie Gras Cromesquis

Next up was another small bite, our first of foie gras. It was a crispy croquette filled with a warm foie gras liquid. Warm and comforting, it was very similar to the one I had at the LudoBites foie gras dinner.

Foie Gras Royale Blackberry Gelee, Foie Gras, Caramelized Buttermilk Mousse

Foie Gras Royale Blackberry Gelee, Caramelized Buttermilk Mousse

Next we had a layered treat with blackberry, foie gras and buttermilk. We were instructed to get a little bit of each layer in every bite and were awarded with sweet notes from the blackberry complementing the foie gras mousse. Subtle but present flavors.

Terrine of Foie Gras Seasonal Flavors and Toasted Whey Bread

Terrine of Foie Gras Seasonal Flavors and Toasted Whey Bread

I really enjoyed this terrine with its creamy foie gras and a layer of sweet cherry. While the flavors were ones I’ve had before, they really seemed to shine on this plate. I liked being able to add my own salt & pepper to taste, as well as the nuts for texture. These were all spread onto the toasted bread to make some tasty bites.

Truffled Foie Gras Agnolotti Crisp Chicken Oyster, Summer Vegetables, Toasted Pistachio Consomme

Truffled Foie Gras Agnolotti Crisp Chicken Oyster, Summer Vegetables, Toasted Pistachio Consomme

The pasta was very nice with a slight chew and creamy foie gras center. The broth had a subtle nuttiness, and the grilled summer vegetables were a nice accompaniment. Even with the foie gras, this plate managed to feel rather light and really showcased the season. Beautiful colors too.

True Day Boat Scallop “Rossini”

True Day Boat Scallop “Rossini”

True Day Boat Scallop “Rossini”

Scallops, foie gras, and black truffles sounded like a dream team on a plate. While the combination of components was good, I don’t think they all came together in the ideal way. The scallop was on the smaller side and was slightly overcooked, while the one sliver of shaved truffle got lost in the mix. Still, the foie gras was seared perfectly and I liked the charred cipollini onions; the truffle and leek puree was a nice accompaniment too.

Foie Gras and Dover Sole Sweet Corn Pudding, Porcini Mushrooms, Brown Butter

Foie Gras and Dover Sole Sweet Corn Pudding, Porcini Mushrooms, Brown Butter

This was an excellent dish with a sweet corn pudding being topped with a light sole and poached foie gras in a brown butter sauce. The flavors were well-balanced and really worked well, but I found the textural interplay to be strong too between the silky foie gras, meaty fish and creamy corn pudding.

Liberty Duck Breast Cured and Whipped Foie Gras, Leeks, Peaches, Hawaiian Heart of Palm, Toasted Macadamia

Liberty Duck Breast Cured and Whipped Foie Gras, Leeks, Peaches, Hawaiian Heart of Palm, Toasted Macadamia

potato mousseline

Our last savory dish of the evening was a duo of duck, if you will. The duck breast was cooked a nice medium-rare, juicy and tender. Small bites of duck confit, hearts of palm and the creamy mashed potatoes were all excellent. The difference-maker was the foie gras though. It was whipped and frozen in a long tube form, and grated like truffles onto the plate. Pretty cool. The liver slowly melted when in contact with the heat of the duck and sauce, permeating the dish with its flavor. Again, I enjoyed the side of salt and pepper to play with the seasoning.

“Strawberry Shortcake” Foie Gras Ice Cream

"Strawberry Shortcake" Foie Gras Ice Cream

Our last proper course was a play on strawberry shortcake. Two layers of thin cake sandwiched a foie gras cream and fresh sweet strawberries. The foie gras was present but not at all overpowering, blending seamlessly into the dish. The foie gras ice cream was very subtle in flavor; balsamic vinegar gelee provided sharp acidity.

Canelés and Chocolate Chip Cookies

canele chocolate chip cookies

Tropical Tea Macarons and Foie Gras Macarons

foie and tea macarons

Lastly, we were presented with some sweets to close out the meal. My favorite was the tropical tea macaron, exuding a flavor similar to a passion fruit iced tea with a perfect chewy texture. The foie gras macarons were a nice touch too, indeed bringing the foie flavor one more time.

Overall I found this to be another good meal at Melisse. While we had 9 different tastes of the ingredient, at no point did I feel tired of foie gras, a compliment to the varied preparations. The liver was incorporated in a way that it didn’t dominate any single dish; rather, it was worked into each plate in tandem with the other principal ingredients. Flavors were, for the most part, bold and well-balanced and the execution was also strong (though not perfect).

I suspect foie gras won’t be too difficult to obtain in California even though the ban is now in place, but I still found this to be a very fitting send-off!

Other recent foie gras dinners:
LudoBites: Best of Foie Gras
C.H.E.F.S. Dinner @ The Royce

The Fat Duck (Bray, UK)

The Fat Duck
High Street
Bray, Berkshire SL6 2AQ
Dining date: 5/25/12

fat duck door

I recently attended an extraordinary four-day wedding in India. On the way back, I wanted to capitalize on the fact that I was halfway around the world and stopover somewhere interesting to explore/eat. Options throughout Asia piqued my interest but my friend Shawn proposed that I visit him to spend a couple of days in London with the main reason being to dine at The Fat Duck. He’d been wanting to go but hadn’t had a chance to yet – I didn’t need much convincing.

Opened in 1995, The Fat Duck has become a world-renowned destination (~30 miles outside London), having been bestowed 3 Michelin stars each year since 2004 and being named the best restaurant in the world in 2005 in one particular survey (it consistently held a spot in the top 5 until dropping to #13 in 2012). The chef, Heston Blumenthal, is known for modernist cooking (and a lot of molecular gastronomy) and a wild sense of imagination when it comes to his cuisine. Needless to say, I was very excited for this one – this would be one of those rare meals where I walked in expecting a meal that I would remember for a lifetime. It wouldn’t disappoint.

DSC_0402

The Fat Duck is tasting menu only, around 14 courses for £180. The first thing that came to our table was this trolley filled with cold champagnes. Dining at the Fat Duck seemed like a festive occasion in itself, so we kicked off the meal with a glass.

DSC_0104

DSC_0112

AERATED BEET ROOT Horseradish Cream

aerated beet and horseradish cream

The first dish to hit our table was this amuse bouche. Looking kind of like a macaron (and having a texture similar to one), the shell exhibited a strong beet flavor, while a subtle spiciness crept up in the cream.

NITRO POACHED APERITIFS Vodka and Lime Sour, Gin and Tonic, Campari Soda

NITRO POACHED APERITIFS

NITRO POACHED APERITIFS

NITRO POACHED APERITIFS

Three choices of cocktail aperitifs came next. Some type of powder was frozen tableside with liquid nitrogen, resulting in a light and airy shell that melted once it hit my mouth. I had the campari soda and, indeed, it did taste pretty darn similar to the real thing.

We decided to start with a lighter white and progress to something bolder later in the meal.

DSC_0150

RED CABBAGE GAZPACHO Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream

RED CABBAGE GAZPACHO

RED CABBAGE GAZPACHO

The mustard ice cream was the most pronounced flavor in this dish, which was both refreshing and mildly spicy. The red cabbage gazpacho itself was sweet, balancing out the ice cream nicely.

JELLY OF QUAIL, CRAYFISH CREAM Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss and Truffle Toast

JELLY OF QUAIL, CRAYFISH CREAM Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss and Truffle Toast

JELLY OF QUAIL, CRAYFISH CREAM Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss and Truffle Toast

JELLY OF QUAIL, CRAYFISH CREAM Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss and Truffle Toast

JELLY OF QUAIL, CRAYFISH CREAM Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss and Truffle Toast

I had seen a picture of this dish ahead of the meal and was very curious how it all worked; it’s easily one of the most memorable presentations I’ve ever seen, resembling something like a foggy forest floor. Dry ice is hidden under the grass, and a dense fog billows out as water is poured over. Food-wise, we started with a film that we placed on our tongue – the film gave off a smoky/woody essence on the palate. The two main edible components were the truffle toast and layered quail jelly, crayfish cream and chicken liver parfait. An odd combination of ingredients, but they worked well together to make some delicious savory bites.

SNAIL PORRIDGE Iberico Bellota Ham, Shaved Fennel

SNAIL PORRIDGE Iberico Bellota Ham, Shaved Fennel

The porridge itself was tasty with a rich creaminess. Tender chunks of escargot were a nice pairing too, as were the thin slivers of fennel. I didn’t think the jamon iberico was too pronounced though.

For the next dish, we had the option of the foie gras from the tasting menu or a special scallop dish that day. Three out of the four of us decided to stick with the foie gras.

ROAST FOIE GRAS Barberry, Braised Kombu and Crab Biscuit

ROAST FOIE GRAS Barberry, Braised Kombu and Crab Biscuit

The foie gras itself was cooked perfectly, topped with a sweet fruity topping. It was good, but I thought the flavor profiles were a bit “typical,” especially considering our previous dishes.

Our fourth did really enjoy his scallop, though.

scallop supplement

MAD HATTER’S TEA PARTY (c.1850) Mock Turtle Soup, Pocket Watch and Toast Sandwich

MAD HATTER'S TEA PARTY (c.1850) Mock Turtle Soup, Pocket Watch and Toast Sandwich

MAD HATTER'S TEA PARTY (c.1850) Mock Turtle Soup, Pocket Watch and Toast Sandwich

MAD HATTER'S TEA PARTY (c.1850) Mock Turtle Soup, Pocket Watch and Toast Sandwich

MAD HATTER'S TEA PARTY (c.1850) Mock Turtle Soup, Pocket Watch and Toast Sandwich

MAD HATTER'S TEA PARTY (c.1850) Mock Turtle Soup, Pocket Watch and Toast Sandwich

Our next dish brought back the whimsy with its tower of sandwiches and a teapot. We were presented with gold pocket watches (presumably the Mad Hatter’s) which were placed into the teapot. We were instructed to stir gently and marveled at how the watch disintegrated and ended up turning the liquid into a sort of rich bouillon. Crazy. A quail egg and some caviar accompanied the delicious soup, which we ate with toast sandwiches….as in, crispy toast in between slices of bread. So cool, and tasty too.

DSC_0297

“SOUND OF THE SEA”

"SOUND OF THE SEA"

SOUND OF THE SEA

The assault on our senses continued as a sea shell was brought to our table. A small iPod was in each shell and we listened to sounds of the sea/beach as the next course came. A selection of fresh sashimi including mackerel, halibut and cured abalone were accompanied by tapioca sand and a seawater foam. I can’t say for sure that the sounds elevated the flavors, but this was another fun dish. The fish was good, as was the strong sea flavor of the foam, and I found the texture of the tapioca sand to be addicting.

Given I had flown in from Mumbai this morning (the 7:30 dinner began at midnight Mumbai time), I needed a bit of a pick-me-up. Three espressos definitely did the trick.

iced double espresso

SALMON POACHED IN A LIQUORICE GEL Asparagus, Vanilla Mayonnaise and Golden Trout Roe

SALMON POACHED IN A LIQUORICE GEL Asparagus, Vanilla Mayonnaise and Golden Trout Roe

The poached salmon was cooked rare with a surprisingly subtle liquorice flavor. The salty trout roe and excellent asparagus may have overshadowed the salmon itself.

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POWDERED DUCK (c.1860) Blood Pudding, Umbles and Apache Potato Puree

POWDERED DUCK (c.1860) Blood Pudding, Umbles and Apache Potato Puree

POWDERED DUCK (c.1860) Blood Pudding, Umbles and Apache Potato Puree

Our last savory course involved the restaurant’s namesake ingredient (there had to be some kind of duck served in this meal right?). It was a tasty and succulent piece of duck breast, though the skin was disappointingly a bit limp. I enjoyed the potatoes and blood pudding though, and the duck spring roll was a fun way to present the duck, as well as provide texture.

HOT AND ICED TEA

HOT AND ICED TEA

An intermezzo of sorts, I was very amused by this one. We were advised to drink this as soon as possible and were awarded with distinct warm and cold liquids. Aside from the playfulness, it was a good cup of tea too.

MACERATED STRAWBERRIES Olive Oil Biscuit, Chamomile, Coriander, Jelly and Ice Cream Cornet

MACERATED STRAWBERRIES Olive Oil Biscuit, Chamomile, Coriander, Jelly and Ice Cream Cornet

MACERATED STRAWBERRIES Olive Oil Biscuit, Chamomile, Coriander, Jelly and Ice Cream Cornet

The first dessert was this creation – an earl grey ice cream cone followed by this macerated strawberry dish. The strawberries were very sweet, balanced by a sort of savory olive oil biscuit. Everything on the plate was edible, including the picnic tablecloth look-a-like.

THE “BFG” Kirsch Ice Cream and the smell of the Black Forest

THE "BFG" Kirsch Ice Cream and the smell of the Black Forest

THE "BFG" Kirsch Ice Cream and the smell of the Black Forest

We progressed into the richest and final dessert of the evening. The server sprayed the aroma of “Black Forest” into the air just as we began to dig in. I can’t say the aroma consciously did much, but the gateau was a good one, with cherry and alcohol notes working in tandem with the chocolate. Chocolate crumble was crucial too in adding just a bit of crunch.

The cheese course supplement was a relatively reasonable £15 (given it was a generous portion); two in our party decided to partake.

cheese

cheese2

WHISK(E)Y WINE GUMS

WHISK(E)Y WINE GUMS

WHISK(E)Y WINE GUMS

Next to arrive at the table were these gummies. SO cool! These were gummies of various whiskeys (reminded me of the Haribo happy-cola bottles) from around the world. They packed a punch too, having a strong whiskey flavor…as they should’ve. Maybe I was just pretty full or buzzed, but I had a difficult time distinguishing the nuances between the whiskeys.

“LIKE A KID IN A SWEET SHOP”
AERATED CHOCOLATE Mandarin Jelly
COCONUT BACCY Coconut Infused with an Aroma of Black Cavendish Tobacco
APPLE PIE CARAMEL with an Edible Wrapper
THE QUEEN OF HEARTS she made some tarts..

"LIKE A KID IN A SWEET SHOP"
"LIKE A KID IN A SWEET SHOP""LIKE A KID IN A SWEET SHOP""LIKE A KID IN A SWEET SHOP""LIKE A KID IN A SWEET SHOP"

Lastly, we were left with a bag of sweets. Of course, these were fun and whimsical too, particularly the pop tart-like Queen of Hearts.

I do not hesitate in saying that this was one of the most (if not the most) unique and imaginative meal I’ve ever had. The creativity, the whimsy and the execution of these plates combined to make something pretty extraordinary. Having said that, when people ask if it’s the best meal I’ve ever eaten I don’t think I can say yes to that. While there were a number of delicious dishes, none of them made me think “this is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.” Still, I thought the meal spanned a wide variety of ingredients and flavors, all of them working pretty well. This was an excellent all-around meal and easily one of the most memorable I’ve had; it’s surely a destination worth visiting when in London.

Full picture set can be found here.

L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon (London, UK)

L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon
13-15 West Street
London WC2H 9NE
Dining date: 5/25/12

l'atelier de joel robuchon exterior

I arrived in London pretty early on a Friday morning upon the completion of a red-eye flight from Mumbai. One of my friends was working and another would be arriving later in the morning, so I was on my own for lunch. After thorough research, I chose this place: chef Joel Robuchon’s lone UK restaurant and a 2-star Michelin.

I’ve been to L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon a few times to two locations: Paris and Las Vegas. The former was one of my most memorable meals to date. While part of me wanted to try something new and London-specific, this branch drew me in. Much of it was due to the casual atmosphere and counter seating; since I was dining alone I felt much more comfortable in this environment.

While I was tempted to do the full tasting, the £125 menu translated to $200, way more than I wanted to spend. Plus, I didn’t want to over-eat; 14 courses at The Fat Duck were waiting for me at dinner. A 4-course £40 lunch option sounded like a pretty good deal for London standards, and much more manageable for my stomach. I put my hands in the server to guide me through some of the restaurant’s more popular dishes.

napkin

Seats at the counter provide a full view of the kitchen (awesome!), a staple at all of Robuchon’s Atelier establishments. I could easily see Executive Chef Olivier Limousin slice off a few slivers of jamon iberico for my first course.

kitchen view1

kitchen view2

foie gras cappuccino

foie gras cappucino

The kitchen sent out an amuse bouche to start with. The light custard inside was pretty light with a strong foie gras flavor. A thin layer of a port wine reduction provided sweetness to complement the rich liver flavor.

les asperges blanches warm salad of white asparagus with nuts and ‘iberian’ ham

les asperges blanches warm salad of white asparagus with nuts and 'iberian' ham

This was an interesting myriad of flavors on a plate from the rich fatty ham, sweet caramelized hazelnuts, peppery arugula and a cool mustard seed vinaigrette. Surprisingly sweet and juicy asparagus was at the center of the mix of well-balanced flavors.

l’oeuf soft boiled egg on a “piperade” with parsley oil

l'oeuf soft boiled egg on a

l'oeuf soft boiled egg on a "piperade" with parsley oil

As expected, the poached egg was cooked perfectly, breaking apart and running over the rest of the plate with a gentle poke. To absorb the yolk, the egg was placed atop a sweet piperade of tomatoes, green peppers and onions. I thought the mix of flavors was a good one, while a little bit of parsley oil provided another dimension of flavor.

le cabillaud roasted cod bouillabaisse style; mashed potatoes; carrots and fennel with tumeric

le cabillaud roasted cod bouillabaisse style

robuchon mashed potatoes

fennel, carrots, tumeric

I went with this cod bouillabaisse as my entree, and the kitchen graciously gifted two additional side dishes. The cod itself was moist and flaky, delicious when dipped into the rich saffron and shellfish-flavored sauce. I loved the mashed potatoes, something I’ve often requested at any Joel Robuchon restaurant. They’re just so rich, creamy and decadent…some of the finest mashed potatoes I’ve had. A vegetable side of carrots and fennel with tumeric was another strong side, making this dish feel almost healthy.

le chocolat-tendance creamy manjari chocolate, bitter chocolate sorbet and oreo cookie crumb

le chocolat-tendance creamy manjari chocolate, bitter chocolate sorbet and oreo cookie crumb

Finally, I went with this chocolate dessert. Layers of chocolate were presented in this cup, with the creamy manjari chocolate at the forefront. There were small crunchy chocolate balls dispersed throughout; I enjoyed the textural crunch but found them to be overbearing at times. Overall I initially liked the dessert but quickly found it slightly one-note and tiring.

In all, I had a very good lunch at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. I wouldn’t say it reached the highs of the meal I had at the Paris outpost, but that was a completely different meal (given that it was the tasting menu at dinner). Execution was top-notch and the atmosphere fun and convivial, it’s always fun to be able to watch and interact with the kitchen. It was an excellent start to my stay in London…dinner on this evening would be even better.