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  1. Basel’s Cheval Blanc is a rather underrated 3-star restaurant in Switzerland. It’s housed inside the city’s most opulent hotel, but like many other dining places whose chefs were confident with their skills ... they “believe” that excessive marketing / promotion is unnecessary. After all, the capacity of the restaurant is limited. In January this year, I happened to be in Zurich. When doing the plan, I immediately thought to make a return to arguably my favorite among Swiss’ fine dining. As the day approaching, initially I had a little doubt whether it’s worth the effort – a total of 2+ hours of a round-trip in the evening / night in the middle of cold Winter. Then, there are the Restaurant and Ecco (both of them holding 2-star Michelin) that I’ve never visited yet. At the end, I decided to stick with my original plan. Since I had to return to Zurich before midnight, I gotta be punctual. In short, including the ordering of the dishes and payment of the bill ... I had less than 3 hours for my meal – not too ideal when one wants to indulge himself. I learned a simple lesson here: stay overnight in Basel if I want to have a dinner at Cheval Blanc. That being said, the restaurant was aware of my time constraint and did its utmost best to accommodate me; the restaurant manager & the head chef kindly allowed me to “arrange” my own Le menu de rois so that I could try several new dishes. Beyond that, I had another stellar meal. I consumed fewer courses when compared to my maiden visit here, but quality-wise both meals were about equally wonderful. For this dinner, some courses I loved were: -Thinly sliced of fresh and sweet Scallops carpaccio (presented lukewarm) were perfectly paired with fragrant lemon sauce and nutty + buttery caviar. It looked simple yet sophisticated & delicious; the warm feeling and (natural) sweetness derived here was really comforting - wonderful! -Creamy but not overly rich foie gras was in harmony with heavenly artichoke espuma and plenty of pungent & earthy Winter black truffles. To fully enjoy the dish, scoop from the bottom to top to experience different layers of flavors and textures – exceptional. A perfectly executed ‘classic’ dish I selected these 2 items from the a la carte options -Chef Knogl’s signature dish of Bresse pigeon with Moroccan flavor was up to its reputation. The stunning pigeon was tender and delicious (the breast was succulent while the drumstick was tastier & more complex). The sauce was special having Moroccan flavors with curry + cumin aroma ... essentially, it was veal jus with wine and some other spices. The creamy carrot puree and a little lime juice balanced any rich flavor. Lobster with bergamot; Sole (petit bateau) with black truffle; both of them were really good as well. The only ‘average’ dish was possibly the smoked eel appetizer – not bad but rather pale in comparison to the others It was not even full 2 years since my first visit ... so Giuseppe Giliberti, the maitre d’hotel who spoke 3 major languages used in Switzerland fluently, still remembered me. Thus, I felt I received better service during this visit – more attentive and amiable. The kitchen managed to pace my meal accordingly. And lastly, I finished my meal the earliest that evening where most diners were still either in their fish or meat courses (It was a full house evening) ... yet that did not prevent Peter Knogl from coming out of the kitchen to meet me and bid farewell near the hotel’s entrance. Moreover, he expressed his appreciation that I re-visited his restaurant; quite a rare feat from the head chef of multiple star dining places located in major cities. While I might ‘like’ my first meal here because of the company (I had lunch with my wife without any time constraint), objectively, this Winter dinner overall experience was a little bit more superior because of the hospitality – the food was equally great. Given the food’s quality, ease of booking, and accessible location ... Cheval Blanc Basel is one of my favorite restaurants in the world that I would love to go again in the future. Pictures of the meal: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157678272006667/with/32896429957/
  2. To say Lung King Heen is the most famous Cantonese restaurant is (probably) an understatement. Ever since Michelin came to Hong Kong and awarded its highest accolade to LKH, the first one among ‘Chinese’ restaurant … in an instant, the restaurant became the main talking points among foodies. Thanks to its big capacity, making a reservation here generally has not been too difficult. Having been here for dim sum with family for a couple of times and trying its seasonal tasting menu for dinner, last year’s Fall, I ultimately went for what many considered the restaurant’s “best” – traditional canton degustation menu. Nothing really changed with LKH’s understated décor and relaxed atmosphere. Families with small children especially during (weekend) lunch were often encountered. The service has been consistently good – affable, polite and attentive. Given its reputation and location at the luxurious Four Seasons hotel, there were plenty of foreign diners. The staffs get used to this situation and handled them comfortably. While the often-found dishes such as deep-friend crab stuffed in shell or braised abalone with cucumber were well executed (as expected), I was surprised by how well the kitchen prepared more humble dishes. For example, -Superior pottage was thick, fragrant and rich. There were some shredded chicken and small amount of fish maw, carrot, and scallions provided some extra layers of textures. The first few bytes might be intense, but it felt more enjoyable and easier to consume afterwards; complex but tasty -Braised Australian spinach was mild and soft, accompanied by the tender and fragrant bamboo mushroom as well as crunchy maitake. The clear and clean stock nicely tied all of these ingredients altogether The restaurant’s famous fried rice was the last dish prior to the dessert in every tasting menu offered here if not mistaken. Looking back to my past meals … I think I always have this seafood fried rice every time I have a meal at Lung King Heen and it never disappointed. The seafood was generously served, producing fragrant and flavorful ‘main course’ with distinctive rice grains. By a small margin, among all my meals here - this was my favorite one at LKH … nevertheless, consistent to my past experiences it’s never reached the height of some 3-star dining places I experienced in Europe and Japan. In my notes, the food has been performing at a (very) good 2-star level with good harbor views and professional service – comforting and safe; I doubt anyone would have any bad meal here. Meal photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/sets/72157708512946794 More detailed review: https://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspot.com/2019/05/lung-king-heen-chan-yan-tak.html
  3. This meal was unplanned as initially I was supposed to leave Paris on that day. One way or another, then I got something to do around the golden triangle area but the appointment finished earlier. The thought of visiting Sur Mesure (another maiden meal at Parisian 2-star) came out, so yeah … it’s “almost” a walk-in. As you enter the main door, the décor of the restaurant seemed to be disconnected to the Mandarin hotel’s overall interior designs. The most striking aspect was space-like white cocoon with several artistic drapes, also in pure white. The only non-white things were beige chairs and a small yellow light on the table. Jouin-Manku had the honor to design this minimalist and stylish dining room. I arrived around 7:30 PM and it was really quiet. Only another table with Asian guests came earlier than me. The locals, mostly, arrived after 8 PM and by night, about 20 people dining here. I had baguette and rice roll bread to open the meal with some nibbles in similar color and textures such as crispy beetroot, red cabbage and red shiso + pomegranate. As the name (Sur mesure aka Made to measure) suggested, guests had 12 dishes they could choose from when indulging in a 6-course menu. The restriction was that 2 of the dishes were fixed namely Soy & oyster ‘risotto’, the specialty of Thierry Marx as well as Sweet bento, inspired by the chef’s passion towards Japanese cuisine. As far as I know, Thierry Marx was the only Parisian chef with multi-star Michelin award whose cooking was (very) contemporary – many experimental parts in terms of textures and temperatures, to the borderline of molecular gastronomy. From the beginning, I was aware that this kind of cuisine was not my cup of tea but I was impressed with the food at Fat duck. Even coming with an open mind and curiosity, I would still leave the restaurant with ordinary feeling – nothing memorable / wow yet no disastrous dishes either. Well, the ones I enjoyed were pressed foie gras mixed with smoked eel; Japanese charred beef roll with some wasabi inside. I thought even if Sur Mesure were located in Hong Kong or Singapore, it’s unlikely to ever be a 3-star dining place … just my 2 cents. To give fairer assessments about this place … my neighbors on the left of me seemed to like their meals. With my limited French, I overheard that the “old” uncle told his wife that he never ate the beef tasted this good. When the staffs collected the plates, not single dish that was not finished. There was a group of 6 at the corner … they ordered different kind of appetizers at the beginning, but when come the meat course, to my surprise all of them picked the Challans duckling dish. I also had it. However, similar to my other dishes, the sweet & sour duck was “only” good in taste with more interesting presentation and preparation than being spectacular. Therefore, it meant many people probably liked this place so readers don’t get too discouraged if you want to come here. Know what your taste / preference is like, then decide for yourself. The info and pictures from the link below maybe helpful for your own judgement. Pictures of the meal: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157704563702232/with/46868937974/
  4. In fewer than 2 years, I already made a return to this beloved restaurant. What “new things” can be said about my experience? I’m likely to repeat some of my past writings but hopefully, they it be minimal. My last meal at Gagnaire Balzac was exceptional in which the master Pierre Gagnaire (PG) himself was leading the kitchen. However, I felt a bit rush during that lunch due to my afternoon engagement and therefore, this time (in the height of January Winter) I came for dinner instead. PG and the restaurant director Parmentier were not available this time, but not too worry since Executive Chef Michel Nave was in charge of the kitchen and I usually liked the hospitality of the junior staffs / mid-level managers more. It has been ages that I never ordered the tasting menu at Gagnaire Balzac. Ever since I tried the a la carte dishes here, I became addicted to them. However, this time I opted the degustation menu again. Most the dishes were executed at high level - either very good or outstanding. A few that I want to mention are: -The vegetarian dish appetizer. The kitchen cooked the soup underneath the pie. The “Japanese” hot dashi was delicious + umami. Some of the veggies: cooked sweet yet savory & juicy turnips (appear golden) as well as sweet and nutty parsnips. In addition (in different plates), there were tarte quince jelly in harmony with salty gorgonzola and pear ice cream; the pie crust with shredded celeriac added crunchy texture. Confused or not clear? Just see the pictures yourself -One of my main courses. Having travelled and dined (mainly) in Europe for more than a decade, I could not recall to have seen or tasted the ‘humble’ French traditional veal stew at multiple Michelin star restaurants. Gagnaire’s culinary has always been innovative yet he never forgets the past tradition. The blanquette of veal consisted of tender and tasty veal chunks, enriched by velvety and refined sauce having deep flavor. To make it even "better", the cooking team added slightly sweet radish & mildly bitter and spicy taste from romaine. It was a comforting and elegant veal stew. The side dish was white polenta galette with sweet small bulb onions on top -The sweet part. There was an occasion when the PG’s glorious Le Grand dessert generating many “extreme flavors” – too bitter, too sour, too sweet etc. I was glad for the mini grand dessert this time; things were balanced / harmonious. The ‘mont-blanc’ was not overly sweet with an addition of earthy mushrooms; cassate with moistened Menton lemon and blood oranges produced pleasant acidic flavors; extra virgin olive oil + passion fruit cream contributed a gentle bitter taste and so on. (there were 2 more small desserts) I don’t think I should flood you with more dish’s descriptions; you can check out yourself from the link below. In short, the brilliant Michel Nave and his brigade did fantastic cooking and delivered arguably my best meal (yet) at Gagnaire Balzac. I knew my dinner would be great but exceeding my previous one when PG was around in the kitchen … unbelievable! Michel has been working together with Pierre for 30 years or so, no wonder he truly understood the essence and execution of PG’s cuisine. After all, Chef Nave normally is around in the kitchen more than his boss. The last part I want to mention was the restaurant’s hospitality. The service was immaculate. The assistant manager took care of my orders and once the menu is settled, a young, friendly and patient female maître d’ was responsible for my table most of the time. Staffs were knowledgeable, but when things were not so clear – they would always find ways to get the answer. The basic of re-fill the water, good pacing of the food, escorting guests to the toilet or upon returning to their tables – all of these were executed effortlessly. The only “issue” might be that I don’t usually see these staffs anymore 1-3 years later when coming to this place again. I’m not sure how long it has been … there was a unique feature about the service here that I noticed in my last 2 visits. Fine dining meals usually last several hours. In both cases, probably my meals were longer than my maître d’hotels’ shift … about 5-10 min before these staffs’re supposed to finish working, they would actually come to my table expressing gratitude for dining here, the chance to serve me etc. then apologizing for not being able to stay until the end that they had to excuse themselves. Then, they would introduce other staffs who would mainly be in charge of my table. Normally, we would not notice about the change of staffs but, I thought this simple and kind gesture of showing sincere respects to the guests should be noticed and applauded. Ambroisie, Arpege and Gagnaire Balzac are among my top 3 best restaurants in Europe (if not in the world). The more often I eat there, the more difficult for me to decide which one is my favorite in particular PG vs Bernard Pacaud (strange huh? I love the cuisine of the chefs whose cooking was often perceived as ‘polar opposites’) – the dishes were consistently excellent and both places often exceed themselves in delivering memorable meals. A “4-star” dinner experience – c’est parfait! Meal photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157680057457088 More detailed review: https://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspot.com/2019/05/pierre-gagnaire-paris-6th-visit.html
  5. Pierre, situated on the 25th floor of the legendary Mandarin Oriental, was the only Gagnaire’s gastronomy restaurant outside Paris that I’ve ever been. However, it has been more than a decade that I have not returned here. Thus, in the late Oct last year, I decided to return here. As far as the hardware was concerned, everything was still the same especially some of the eye-catching chandeliers. There were plenty of seats with harbor views. In short, most of the things were still in good conditions; kudos to the maintenance team! However, the clienteles profile changed … more wealthy diners from mainland China could be observed while only 1/3 or less of the guests were Caucasians For the food, I ordered from the a la carte -blue lobster whose tail was chopped off into smaller pieces, served with some Asian flavors such as mango, grapefruit and lime. As expected, the lobster was tender and flavorful, thanks to its jus mixed with some seasoning and fruity taste. There were buckwheat pancakes and ricotta that I thought did not really improve the lobster’s overall enjoyment. Regarding the side dishes, I found the bisque mousse was a bit too thick & rich. I prefer the buttery avocado served with delicate taste of the claws -I played ‘safe’ with the main course + was curious how top French chef would prepare Japanese beef. The main item was a thick, juicy and rich ‘beefy’ fillet. It came with dark & quite sweet sauce and served with nutty Chinese artichokes and green cabbage. Well, no spectacular presentation; simply a well-executed and delicious piece of beef … for some people, it might be “boring”. The more interesting part was the crisp marguerites potatoes with smoky marrow to accompany the Japanese beef whereas the cold beef consommé was light and refreshing; balancing any intense flavor HK people may not be known for their friendliness but somehow the hospitality at the 5 star hotels / high-end restaurants there was usually very good. I was taken care of by Kevin? who has been around at the hotel, mostly at Pierre for a dozen year or so. Surprisingly, in Hong Kong, I often encountered not few locals were willing to make the jobs at the restaurant industry as their careers. Kevin delivered sincere service with confidence; he pretty much was familiar with every service aspect of the restaurant. The rests of the staffs were alright, they showed good effort to please the guests. Jacky Tauvry, chef de cuisine, came out to greet some guests towards the end. Nowadays, more and more celebrity chefs like Robuchon, Gagnaire or Ducasse would entrust their restaurants to their “young” (under 40 years old) brigade. As a ‘regular’ and big fan of Gagnaire Balzac, well … Pierre HK still lacked in terms of food when compared to the Wizard’s flagship restaurant but possibly Jacky and his team should still be able to hold the 2-star for a few more years. Pictures of the meal: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157707696280024
  6. Restaurant Uberfahrt is one of German’s 3-star restaurants. Given its stature, it’s relatively “quiet” – generally not on the people’s top recommendation lists when asked about the country’s ‘must go places to eat’. Similar to another Bavarian’s 3-star restaurant, Uberfahrt is also located inside the luxurious hotel – Althoff seehotel. However, it was not in major city … instead, it was hidden near lake Tegernsee (about 1 hour from Munich by Bob train). I went there alone this January during a cold day with rather heavy snow. It was a slow lunch; only 4 people eating there including 2 persons dining solo. The dining room was relatively small and not that spacious, far from the opulent ambiance that we usually encounter among Michelin multi-star institutions. There were 2 degustation menu and I picked the longer one. Guests could order any dishes as a la carte as well. Except the cheese and dessert courses, the portion of the dishes was kinda small. Some dishes that I liked were, -“the cube” was one of Christian Jurgens’ specialties. Essentially, it was potato with hidden egg yolk inside that was carefully shaped into a yellow cube. The flavorful potato & yolk was surrounded by sweet, pungent and delicious mousseline infused with black truffle as well as Madeira sauce. I loved this dish - rich and deep in flavor yet not overwhelming, served with the right texture and temperature. It was the best thing I ate during my short trip to Germany this time. -the meaty back Turbot with edamame and mustard seeds did not disappoint. The white flesh was mild and firm. The roasted onion 'soup' with some greens (such as parsley, chives and greens) gave bolder and deeper overall flavor to the Turbot. -I also enjoyed the main course of tender and flavorful duck served with some spices and its jus. The main side dish was soft burned cabbage having plain taste, a little smoky and absorbed some of the spice jus flavor. A creative approach of Bavarian cooking. You’re welcome to see the rest of the dishes from the links below Most of current German elite chefs in their 40’s or so were usually trained by either Heinz Winkler or Harald Wohlfahrt. Christian Jurgens learned from the former. These days, there’s hardly elite German chefs cooking pure classical French cuisine … Chef Jurgens was of no exception. He preferred to create and deliver refined and contemporary French-based haute cuisine with Bavarian characters. He did not want to complicate the dishes, but the flavors remained sublime based on the freshest produce. The quiet publication was probably justified. Although it was my best restaurant in Bavarian region and I slightly liked this more than Atelier, it’s not (yet) at the level of Aqua or Vendome. Uberfahrt was a 2 ½* restaurant in my note. Meal photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157690798662093 More detailed review: https://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspot.com/2019/04/restaurant-uberfahrt-christian-jurgens.html
  7. Restaurants having multiple-star Michelin often means foodies would come after them. These days, there’re many of them that will also aggressively doing marketing for the restaurants. However, not all of them doing that – those which choose to remain quiet usually are confident with their own cuisine and (I believe) one of them is Le Clarence. Given the grand mansion-like building housing the restaurant and knowing the owner of the restaurant – Prince Robert of Luxembourg, Le Clarence could easily promote itself but instead it prefers to be under the radar. Opened a few years ago, it quickly rose to receive 2-star award. It should not be surprising, consistent with Michelin’s way … Christophe Pele, the executive chef, already held the 2-star when running La Bigarrade nearly a decade ago. Food-wise, Le Clarence seemed like the symbiosis Astrance and Gagnaire. It had no a la carte menu; only tasting. Guest simply need to choose how many courses they want to eat and mention dietary restriction (if any) … the lunch price was comparatively reasonable given its luxury dining room and it’s Paris! I came rather late and settled with the middle tasting menu consisted of 4 courses. Some highlights were: -The appetizer focused around scallops. Probably inspired by his past mentor – Gagnaire, Chef Pele cooked the scallops in 3 different ways: lightly roasted served with buffalo milk cream, mushrooms and tangy capers. Next, poached scallop with delicious & deep duck broth, creamy sea urchin and mild daikon (sublime – my favorite one from the 1st course). Last but not least, raw scallop accompanied by feta cheese, tuna sauce and bitter chicory; the sauce was a bit too much for me -The main course was very good. Chris Pele prepared superb grilled quail having deep flavor, served with nutty celeriac puree, earthy black truffle and tasteful cuttlefish ink. Simply meticulously executed. It came with 2 side dishes: mushroom ravioli with cheese foam and sweet bread; radicchio salad with a little black truffle and Italian’s old vinegar as the dressing. More info regarding the fish course and desserts, you could see from the link’s below. The snacks, amuse, homemade brioche … all of them was also well executed and tasty Initially, I thought Le Clarence would be one of those 2-star places in Paris where I could put a check mark from the list. However, this lunch proved otherwise. It has become the restaurant that I am likely to return again in the future. With competent & smooth service, top wine list, opulent & tasteful dining room and delicious & balanced food under the watchful eye of quiet but talented chef Chris Pele … my hunch said this would likely be the upcoming 3-star restaurant in France - French gastronomy is not dead. It has a lot of potential to be better and I wish I could’ve eaten the 6 or 7 creations from the kitchen here. The restaurant was full with most guests speaking French. Pictures of the meal: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157679189066998
  8. Since it’s only less than a year ago, I wrote my review about meals at Epicure par Eric Frechon, I would ‘try’ to be brief this time 😉 Epicure slowly grew in me: delicious food with warm service – both consistently performed. Then, I was in Paris … again in late Jan this year, time to re-visit Epicure for dinner during the weekdays. Dinner in the deep Winter meant I could not see the beautiful French garden from my comfortable seat; without any natural lights, the atmosphere was less exciting but that’s the only downside. The rest of the dinner experience was delightful Instead of a few different bread (some from the 3rd party), nowadays Epicure only served one kind – homemade country bread. Eric Frechon installed a stone flour meal, guided by Roland Feuillas, in Le Bristol. To create this ‘living bread’, Chef Frechon mixed specific and high quality natural wheats. Freshly baked daily, this wheat bread was awesome having perfect crust. The nibbles, amuse and mignardises were pretty much the same (for a few, the sweet cart alone was probably good enough reason to come here). Some of my dishes were: -lightly cooked and succulent large langoustine from Guilvenec (half-portion) was served with buttery & tasty broth and onion-mango; refreshing … I thought I would only see this kind of dish in the later Spring or Summer -whenever you found a traditional French dish at the fine dining menu, normally it would not be not your usual one. At Epicure, the beef pot-au-feu was served in 3 different ways separately. My favorite was the 2nd preparation … "millefeuille" of beef, duck liver and vegetables (carrot, turnip and cabbage) served with delicate bone marrow, pungent Perigord truffle on top of thin toast. The aromatic beef consommé put all these produces together in harmony The last service was puff pastry with clear soup. The pastry would nicely soak the delicate soup flavors containing celery, duck liver, shiitake and black truffle – similar but not inferior to Bocuse’s famous VGE soup. You’re welcome to see the rest of the meal from the link below. What made Epicure is loved by numerous of its clienteles, locals and international alike, is that this institution is able to not only create delicious food, but also deliver top-notch service. Ever since the young & talented Remi Segui (the director) was fully in charge of the service at Epicure, I noticed the hospitality became more relaxed yet still professional. Staffs were warm, knowledgeable and friendly as they should be … in addition, they were easy going, had good sense of humor and could adapt to different cultures accordingly. Often, they made “jokes” or mock one another; maybe on purpose sometimes to entertain guests. For instance (during this dinner), when I asked Thomas (the manager) whether Stephane looked like Federer (both of them near my table), Thomas looked closely to his colleague and then burst into laughter saying: NOO Wayyyy! And Stephane, pretending to be upset, replied: Thomas was jealous of me because nobody ever said he resembled someone famous. On another occasion, the staff served petit fours to a large group of Chinese guests, about 6 of them. When the guests said they’re full and wanted to have 1 macaron each + a few chocolates, the chef de rang would act surprised and disappointed. Then he pointed to my table – “look at him, he had 8 macarons … all for himself!”. At the end, the Epicure staffs would serve more than 10 macarons and even offered to take away to these diners … generally, the restaurant is generous with the food. It’s just a few examples of “extra” points that differentiate Epicure from other Parisian multiple star restaurants In short, it was a fantastic meal. The finest one I’ve ever had at Epicure. For the 1st time in my notes, my meal at Le Bristol’s flagship restaurant received a (very) high score that I would categorize it as “absolutely 3-star” (97 pts or above). Bravo Epicure team, both the kitchen and front of the house! Meal photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157679319628788 More detailed review: https://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspot.com/2019/03/epicure-eric-frechon-2nd-visit.html
  9. Thank you for reading and glad that you like it. Hope this will be "useful" to others as well ...
  10. It was ‘only’ nearly 3 years ago that I went to Germany and I did not really expect to return to the country famous for its bratwurst & pretzel so soon, but I did. Early this year, I happened to be in the Bavaria area (staying in Munich to be more precise) for a couple of days and as a foodie, it made sense to visit 1-2 restaurants in the region. Not exactly sure why … during that period, somehow many of the multiple star restaurants in town were very busy, even my already confirmed reservation at Werneckhof geisel was suddenly cancelled due to the private events 1 or 2 weeks prior. In spite of that, I was still fortunate to be able to have a dinner at the German’s latest 3-star dining place called Atelier, located inside the old & luxurious hotel Bayerischer hof. There were 2 tasting menus offered at Atelier and I opted for the longer one. Right from the snacks until the desserts, Jan Hartwig and his team displayed the passion of creating dishes that showed variations in flavors, textures, and temperatures / aromas. Diners usually could observe 1 main produce with 5-6 other ingredients supporting it – generally it’s complex but balanced. The fundamental technique and execution were French but the flavors and ingredients were international. A few dishes I would like to highlight were: -Flaky and delicate john dory with sauerkraut sauce & jelly, dill and bacon. The fish was also enhanced by crunchy croutons and sweet cabbage. The dish looked complicated but put everything together, they tasted good in the palate. That being said, tart was the most noticeable flavor here. In fact, it’s the consistent flavor theme throughout the evening as I later found out that Chef Hartwig actually loves sour taste. -Supposedly, that weekend was the last period for the region deer hunting and my maître d’ said that the kitchen had truly recommended this dish. The suggestion was indeed spot on – the Polting estate’s venison saddle was executed well with tender texture, good seasoning and deep flavor. The veal sauce & venison jus, creamy polenta, brussel sprout and vinegar jus balanced the meat’s intense flavor. Jan was not only creative / innovative, but he’s also capable of executing a traditional dish to nearly perfection -Dining in Europe’s elite restaurants during Winter, it should be the norm to see a couple dishes with Perigord truffle. However, at Atelier the only dish having black truffle was at the cheese course … to be more exact, it’s creamy brie beautifully enclosed by the pungent and nutty winter truffle. As expected, the kitchen put more things here – sweet / sour pear and sherry to tone down the truffled cheese intensity. A nice cheese course albeit a little cloying; it’s better than the dessert -The end part of the meal at Atelier was unfortunately kinda unforgettable. An average pre-dessert followed by a below par dessert. Yes, there was another sour taste accompanied by sweet white chocolate. I was not a fan of white choc. to begin with but usually a restaurant could “cover” it with other elements but here I also did not really like that other components. It’s not bad per se but nothing when compared to the savory dishes. The only positive aspect was that the pastry team made world-class chocolate praline and macarons as part of the mignardise The restaurant was not that big (covered 20+ people only); all tables were occupied. The décor, by fine dining standard, was rather normal with low ceiling. However, the table, covered by crisp white cloth, was big and the distance between tables was spacious so it’s still quite a comfortable dining room. The service team, predominantly ladies, delivered an outstanding service – attentive, sincere and friendly. I saw they made jokes with some local diners too. The general impression was that I had a satisfying meal. The food might not reach the high level of restaurant Vendome or Aqua (yet) but I believe Jan Hartwig and his team would not stop improving and creating new & better dishes in the future – hopefully, some of them will not be (too) sour / acidic … Meal photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157706840969154/with/40052227403/
  11. Andre Chiang and then Julien Royer … the management of Jaan restaurant indeed has the sharp eyes in approaching talented chefs. Like Andre, Julien (finally) owns and runs his own restaurant – in partnership with Lo and behold group. However, unlike Mr. Chiang, Chef Royer decided to name his restaurant Odette after his beloved grandmother, from whom he learned tremendous things about seasonality and respecting top quality ingredients. The restaurant opened in late 2015 and as expected, it immediately became one of the hottest tables in Singapore. I did not eat there until in early ’17 for business lunch – you will find many new creations but less meticulous. In last year’s Autumn, I eventually had the opportunity to savor the full menu of Odette. Even after having been in operation for 3 years or so, Julien Royer still kept plenty of his signature dishes from his Jaan’s days on the menu such as mushroom tea, beetroot, egg with rosemary, and pigeon. Even the foie gras pho and lemon tart have been around but experienced evolution from time to time. Given that I have not had Chef Royer’s classics for nearly 5 years … I would not mind repeating them again. Odette only offers tasting menu – normal and vegetarian. I picked the normal one and some of the highlights were: For Royer’s classics -I think the pigeon dish was even better than before. It’s really well seasoned and the addition of kampot pepper coating the tender breast part improved its flavor. The liver parfait with sherry and artichoke showcased the kitchen’s ability to execute “traditional” French cuisine. It’s a must-have dish for first-timer -The heirloom beetroots in different textures and forms were both playful and tasty. The addition of stracciatella, honey, pomegranates etc. made what could’ve been ‘boring’ beets became more pleasant and interesting. Oh, the presentation was also pretty (Whereas) for Julien’s newer creations -It’s normal to combine prawn tartare and Japan’s sea urchin nowadays. The kitchen did not stop there; they integrated the already top produce with creamy & light mussel cloud as well as elegant caviar having some sea tang flavor. I wished the portion were bigger … -Instead of repeating the rosemary smoked egg with potato, I opted to try the seasonal pasta with truffle. The Alba truffle shavings were generous and of superb quality this season (due to more rain); the comte cream sauce was delicate yet flavorful. Simple and good – could’ve been perfect had the capellini’s texture not been sticky, a little difficult to separate The rest of the dishes were decent but did not reach the “high” of the ones I mentioned above. Odette’s dining room was modern and kinda minimalist but still very artistic and comfortable (thanks to the high ceiling and well-spaced tables). Service was sincere, concise and friendly. It’s not often to find this kind of hospitality in Singapore fine dining that tended to be ‘too’ formal and lack personality. When the staffs explaining the dishes or any questions, they did it with ease & confident; they did not seem to only memorize the info. My dinner meal at Odette was really satisfying – a very good 2-star in my notes despite Julien Royer’s absence that night. However, the repetitive dishes possibly prevent me from returning here anytime soon. Perhaps the kitchen should take more risks in order to become the island’s 2nd 3-star dining place – I assume Chef Royer and his team have this ambition. More detailed review: http://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspot.com/2019/02/odette-julien-royer.html Pictures of the meal: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/sets/72157676283091897
  12. The name of Alain Ducasse has been synonymous with luxurious French fine dining producing excellent service, having opulent dining room and using high-quality ingredients. The presence of his “flagship” restaurant in Asia seems to have been long overdue. In late Spring last year, finally he opened a gastronomy dining place carrying his name at the hotel Morpheus, dubbed as the most expensive hotel ever built in Macau with outstanding architecture and interior designs. I think it makes sense to open here since Chef Ducasse would have the full support of the Melco group’s owner – this way, it’s unlikely to suffer the fates of Joel Robuchon sentosa / Guy Savoy marina bay sands. Alain Ducasse normally created “unique” cuisine for each restaurant bearing his name. However, this time he simply pretty much copied the concept of his Monaco dining place adding a little Asian touch. The signature (tasting) menu was relatively not too expensive by his standard. He did not enter Macau with a loud bang, but rather low profile; probably learning from the Ducasse Essex house experience. Did Ducasse put his ‘best’ chefs in Qatar (Idam)? Romain Meder led Plaza athenee Paris after working there. Now, Pierre Marty (Ducasse Morpheus chef de cuisine) was also an alumnus of Alain’s middle east restaurant The cooking here seemed to be simple. You could clearly see and taste the main ingredient accompanied by 2-3 side dishes and well-executed sauce. My favorite was the first appetizer: superb gamberoni with its natural sweet flavor was enhanced by savory caviar and delicate rockfish gelee – refreshing and delicious; nearly perfect. With such a high note, it’s very difficult to expect the next ones to be better. I also enjoyed the juicy and tender Pyrenees lamb. In contrast, the kitchen prepared crunchy artichokes and piquant capers. Lastly, the classic chocolate from Paris manufacturer made it here too. The combination of aromatic coffee, bitter chocolate, crisp buckwheat and not so-sweat ice cream served on a huge cocoa pod was wonderful, delicious and pleasant. You can check the rest of the dishes from the links below. While the head chef “coming” from Qatar, the core service team of Ducasse Morpheus led by staffs formerly worked at Ducasse dorchester London. Chris Boothwell, the leading sommelier, is the restaurant director; Romain Chery who also used to work at Alleno Ledoyen becomes the assistant manager. Some of the local staffs here were very fluent in English since a few of them actually was working in Britain. One of the highlights of hospitality at Alain Ducasse top restaurants was the attention to details. For instance, I sneezed once and immediately the lady staff brought me tissues in less than a minute; the staff provided bar stools to put my bag. However, when they saw I also had a camera, she gave me the second stool – simple but somehow, I did not often experience this kind of treatment elsewhere. The restaurant was only operational for a few months when I had this dinner last Summer. The food was good and with some tunings, it could be even better in the future. I was not surprised when it received Michelin 2-star in the latest Macau guide edition; consistent with my own judgement and experience. More comprehensive review: http://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspot.com/2019/01/alain-ducasse-at-morpheus.html Meal photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/sets/72157704695029175/with/46326847081/
  13. Joel Robuchon Restaurant This review is unlikely to be useful for the readers, but it served well for me as a memory (a good one) about the last meal at the only 3-star Michelin restaurant in Singapore. Ever since its inception, Joel Robuchon restaurant at RWS was arguably one of my most frequent-visited fine dining places in the island. In fact, the finest French meal I’ve ever had outside France took place here 4 years ago (https://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspot.com/2014/03/joel-robuchon-singapore-2nd-visit.html) when Tomonori Danzaki was the executive chef. Then, I had other couple of meals here under Chef Michaelidis – they’re fine but never reach the height of the previous chef. Near the end of 2017, JR Restaurant Sentosa once again had a new head chef – this time was Kim-Joinie Maurin who’s only in his mid 30’s but has been at the restaurant from the opening. I’ve always wanted to try Joel Robuchon’s Beef Chateaubriand with foie gras in “Rossini style” for some times but it’s always part of the full degustation menu that I felt I no longer has the appetite for such a big menu. I proposed to have this classical main course as part of the prix fixe upon making the reservation and thankfully the kitchen agreed that it’s possible to do such thing albeit with some supplement. Initially, I was on the waiting list for the weekend dinner, but we’re cleared in the early afternoon. I noticed that since JRR became 3-star restaurants, the business improved quite dramatically despite the price increase. During this dinner, I observed there were around 30 people and more than half of the tables ordering the full tasting menu. Thus, it’s a pity that this restaurant had to be shut down in end June ’18 – then, the legend himself passed away in August of the same year; a rough year for the JR family & business group. I came hungry and ate more than half-dozen of freshly-baked breads. Some of my favorites were: olive oil swirl brioche (aka ‘escargot’), baguette with melted Comte (pain au fromage), mini baguette with bacon, sesame bread with walnut & cranberry. In terms of balance quality and quantity, the bakery selection at JR restaurant was simply one of the world’s best. After that, we’re served 2 amuse-bouche: -Waffle filled with flavorful langoustine and a little of sea urchin -Refreshing cherry gazpacho with sheep ricotta and Sicily pistachio For the real food, we ordered the smallest and cheapest menu (again). Our first appetizer was the signature caviar dish of Robuchon that’s visually stunning. The shellfish jelly and cauliflower cream were more velvety and more delicious this time whereas previously under Michel, the jelly texture was too “gelatinous” with rather plain taste. The generous caviar and mix crabs were the main reason why this opening dish was really enjoyable. The 2nd appetizer were alright in which I found my spouse one was better. I had chilled lobster over not too sweet emulsion and covered by thin turnips. My wife’s seasonal & juicy white asparagus with tasty miso and smoky pepper was more interesting. Similar to our last visit, the kitchen kindly gave us an extra (fish) dish. This time, we had a satisfying crispy amadai with crispy scales and soft flesh, served on bouillabaisse & rich rouille sauce. Finally, the main star of the evening – beef tenderloin seamlessly paired with duck liver. The beef was Australian wagyu – succulent and delicious; it was perfectly cooked on a bed of aromatic herbs. There were more wagyu than the liver, loved this ratio. It was served with light potato souffle, watercress salad as well as the buttery mashed potatoes where I could still clearly savor the potato flavors. Probably the finest tenderloin I’ve ever had outside Japan. Since we ordered it as an “a la carte”, each of us had 2 servings. The dessert trolley was inviting as always. However, we missed the chocolate cake (perhaps we came too late). I had some “tasting desserts” (tried 5 of them) and I liked: the millefeuille, lemon tart and raspberry tart. Ever since Michelin came to Singapore in 2016, this was my favorite meal at JR restaurant. However, alas when I thought my taste fit better with Chef Kim’s style then this place closed for good. I was glad that I still had the chance to dine here for one last time. Actually, by the time we had this dinner, it’s already in the news that Robuchon Singapore were closing down … It has been a pleasant 7 years, perhaps it’s time for me to dine somewhere else when in the island Pictures of the meal: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157704040202834
  14. Amber is a reputable gastronomy restaurant in HK serving modern European / French cuisine with some innovative twist and recently it’s been using plenty of Japanese ingredients as well. I had a chance to have a lunch here about 5 years ago; it was a good meal but somehow kind of forgettable in the sense that it’s hardly on my radar whenever I return to Hong Kong. So, what changed? Sometimes in March this year, I read online that Amber would close temporarily at the end of Summer for a major renovation. The big deal? Post-renovation, it will be a brand-new restaurant and probably all of the old dishes would be no more. I happened to be in transit in May and as I had 7+ hours to ‘waste’ plus the fact that the airlines’ food generally mediocre, I decided to leave the airport and have another meal at Amber – this time for dinner. Nothing changed as far as the elegant and opulent design of Amber’s dining room interiors. The light was a bit dimmed; amber color shades dominated the room in contrast to the crisp white table clothes. As you may have guessed, I ordered the restaurant’s classic menu. I repeated 2 dishes … -the most popular dish at Amber that I think should be called cauliflower (cream) and (schrenki) caviar as both were the most dominant ingredients at the dish. Surprisingly, it was even better than the first time I ate because the kitchen put more caviar, a more balanced proportion with respect to other produces. The uni was sweet & smooth but I think its portion should be increased for better ratio especially towards the amount of cauliflower. A lot has been said about this luxurious and scrumptious dish -usually, I’d like to try a new dish whenever possible but I felt that I had a good memory towards this dessert that’s always been on the menu ever since created. The chocolate souffle was (rather) special here because of the intensity and long-lasting flavor of the Valrhona Abinao 85. To me, it was delicious and comforting with minimal sweetness & more of pleasant bitterness For the Amber regulars or fans, the other dishes were probably familiar … -Duck liver lollipop covered by beetroot & raspberry coating -(Charred) Scampi in fruity nage These were a few examples of Richard Ekkebus’ creativity instead of simply serving classical French dishes. Sometimes, I found it to be a bit “too complex” and distracted such as in the case of an abalone dish. The black awabi was tender and naturally tasty. Ist was integrated with spiced chickpea (Indian), pork chin (Chinese), tomatoes & cured pork belly (Italian); well, very international flavors – interesting but it did not truly elevate the kuro awabi. The main course of the classic tasting menu was actually quite new (created last year): the strip loin of Miyazaki beef. In the past, Amber used Kagoshima – both were top quality wagyu. Thankfully, it’s a winning dish with good combinations. The beef was perfectly cooked at medium-rare and having the right amount of buttery & melt-in-the-mouth taste. The fatty A5 beef was balanced out by the acidity from the red cabbage and black currant shiraz as well as a little sweetness of red onions. If the Michelin inspectors only ate Amber’s classic dishes, by HK standard … my dinner at Amber was more superior to my meals at Bo Innovation and Lung King Heen (on par with Atelier Robuchon). The service was more refined probably because the restaurant was only half full. The current manager, Yannick Kiefer was quite involved in the operation. He visited many tables, served & explained the dishes, as well as liked engaging diners without being obtrusive. The locals, while lack charmed, did their best to get the basic right – clearing dish and re-fill water regularly etc. It was a very satisfying dinner, slightly better than my first meal here. In the end, I wish all the best to Richard Ekkebus and his team in preparing the next stage / challenge of Amber volume 2 in 2019! Detailed review: http://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspot.com/2018/11/amber-richard-ekkebus.html Pictures of the meal: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157697857844780
  15. While Nihonryori RyuGin is not the best restaurant in Tokyo, it’s one of the most well-known dining places in the Japan’s capital. Its chef-patron, Seiji Yamamoto is often considered as Asia’s finest chef … at least according to the Le Chefs’ ranking. I already knew Ryugin for sometimes, but never actually had the chance to visit due to the stiff’s competition at a city with the most Michelin-starred restaurants – meaning I ended up going somewhere else in the past. In early Summer this year, we had a ‘sudden’ plan to go to Japan with my parents and kid so with slightly over one-month notice, these days visiting a few elite restaurants in Tokyo proved to be a difficult task. With plenty of theme parks on the schedule, I did not have many days to choose from. In addition to Narisawa, I managed to secure a table at Ryugin – it was the last Summer meal for Yamamoto-san at the Roppongi. As far as non-vegetable produce’s concerned, Summer in Japan means you would eat Ayu, Hamo, Unagi etc.; that’s exactly what I found for my dinner menu at RyuGin (you should find something similar at other elite kaiseki restaurants). -Sweetfish, whenever I ate this, was often grilled and usually seasoned with salt. It might not be my favorite kind of fish but since I didn’t often eat Ayu – the fishes tasted good. The head was crunchy and rather sweet; the body including the guts / innards was crisp and slightly bitter. To enhance the enjoyment, Chef Yamamoto provided sauce made of watermelon, vinegar and some herbs -The Pike eel was prepared in 2 different ways. The first one as the main ingredient for the owan. The hamo’s quality was top notch with the white flesh bloomed like a flower and absorbed the tasty dashi’s flavor. To add more depth and some texture contrast, we found: jelly-like junsai, gooey okra, juicy kamonasu etc. The second preparation was for the main rice dish. The daggertooth pike conger was deep-fried; crispy at the outside while the meat inside was still tender. The rice was fragrant, the shiso leaves gave some grassy / spearmint aroma. Inside the miso soup, the soft tofu was cooked beautifully in the shape of “Chrysanthemum”; taste-wise was alright. The pickles were quite average -The freshwater eel was slowly and carefully grilled – smoky, aromatic with subtle flavor. To enhance the Unagi taste, you could use the tsume sauce, shio and sudachi. By itself, the unagi was already pleasant. For more details of the kaiseki menu, you’re welcome to see from the link below. In general, the food was good and creative though no particular dish truly stood out. RyuGin might not (yet) reach the level of Kyo Aji or Matsukawa, but somehow, I was happy with my meal. Maybe because I’ve not had any real kaiseki for nearly 3 years (aka long time not returning to Tokyo) and I only have Ryugin as my only kaiseki meal at this trip otherwise I might have eaten the same ingredients with similar cooking / preparation that would diminish the “return” of my enjoyment. I put this meal on par with my dinner at Ishikawa and Yukimura; among these 3, Ishikawa had the best service probably because we were seated at the counter and experienced direct interaction with Hideki Ishikawa-san himself. The RyuGin’s dining room could accommodate about 20 people at once. My wife and I came for the 2nd seating at around 9 PM. Besides the black and white dragon painting, the interior of the dining room was pretty simple with low ceiling. Service was fine; many staffs spoke English well and have been working here for a few years. Taking pictures of the dishes, except with your mobile in silent mode, was discouraged. Seiji Yamamoto himself would give diners a warm send off. He’s really friendly, full of smile and very passionate when asked about food and his work. Whenever, RyuGin opens, it’s a guarantee that Chef Yamamoto would lead his team in the kitchen. It may not be so soon, but I got a feeling I will visit Ryugin at midtown Hibiya one day. More comprehensive review: http://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspot.com/2018/11/nihonryori-ryugin-tokyo.html Meal photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157675226288358
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