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  1. Guy Savoy

    Along with Le pre catelan, restaurant Guy Savoy is among the Parisian 3-star places where I may not have much enthusiasm. Not because it was not good, but the competitors were simply much better (L’Ambroisie, Pierre Gagnaire etc.). This should explain why I only visited this place once, nearly a decade ago. However, it caught my attention again when Guy Savoy announced that his main restaurant will move to a much better space – hotel de la Monnaie. Since then, I also kept reading many favorable reviews about this place and ultimately La liste recognized it as the “best restaurant” in the 2017 edition. These are sufficient excuses for me return here in the Spring. I did not see any dishes attracted my attention, so I ordered the restaurant’s set menu. It’s been a while … except the famous artichoke soup, I was pleased to know that I would eat mostly new & different dishes compared to my 1st visit when Guy Savoy was still located at rue Troyon. The basics / ingredients were similar but different preparations: I could still find dishes with oyster, caviar-based, lobster as well as seasonal vegetables. The ingredients were superb, the kitchen performed high level cooking and the dishes tended to be more flavorful and sometimes concentrate this time around. I could appreciate the chef’s creations more and very much enjoy the turbot and lamb dishes (sadly I forgot to take a picture of the lamb). But, the part that elevated my experience this time in terms of food was the dessert – it’s better than the entrée & plat principal – I hardly encountered this kind of situation. The vanilla millefeuille (about as good as the Passard’s version) and dark chocolate parcel (pure chocolate lovers would adore this) were outstanding. The dessert trolley was, as usual, awesome in particular the rice pudding. I am happy to see that Guy Savoy finally got a much grander dining room. He’s among the most respectable chefs in France and Europe and I always think his place of flagship restaurant should reflect that as well. The restaurant was divided into at least 5 (big) salons; each room has a very high ceiling and large windows. The color was predominantly black, in contrast to the white tablecloths and some colorful tableware. Oh, you would still find many of Chef Savoy’s art collections from rue Troyon – paintings and sculptures. In this new place, the restaurant could accommodate 70 or so people, very big for a 3-star restaurant standard and it’s almost full. Given that it’s “only” on Tuesday, it looks like business-wise, Guy Savoy is doing very well. The consequence of this was that the service could not be as charming and personalized as before. The affable staffs still worked hard to make the experience to be fun and comforting, but I understood that they had to move fast clearing and brought in dishes – just imagine at least 40 people ordering the set menu (10+ dishes) plus a few diners asked for vegetarian options … no wonder the friendly and usually agreeable Hubert immediately said no to any tables who wanted a mix (different dishes) of a la carte and degustation menu; realistically the kitchen would have a hard time to cope with such demands. Even this time, I did not see the chef-owner to be around near the entrance or visit guests in the dining room like what he usually did in the past. The overall experience here has always been consistent: delicious food (though nothing blown away, the closest one would be the dessert), comforting and generous environment; warm, attentive and friendly service (felt this early when the restaurant was not that busy). If all aspects in the dining are important, Guy Savoy is your right place but if you’re very picky about having fantastic food … maybe not. After this meal, Guy Savoy still didn’t make the cut of my top 10 or 20 restaurants in the world. But, if you’ve never been here, please come once – Guy was a living legend in the French gastronomy and a great person More detailed review: https://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspot.com/2017/11/guy-savoy-paris.html Meal photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/sets/72157665737434069
  2. Le Gabriel Paris

    Selecting where to dine at 2-star Michelin in Paris could be tricky sometimes. Based on my experience, it’s often hit (Taillevent / old Le bristol) and miss (Rostang / Carre des feuillants); well the miss was not too bad but I often expected more. When I was in Paris with my wife, I tended to try a new restaurant and if possible having a beautiful dining room as she loves taking pictures. From the recent visit, my choice fell into the “relatively” new restaurant in town – Le Gabriel. It’s the flagship dining place of La Reserve hotel, one of Parisian palaces. The executive chef, Jerome Banctel was the former head chef of Senderens. His (contemporary) French cooking was often influenced by Japanese cuisine; he also likes using Asian spices. Therefore, I thought the food would be suitable to her palate. It was a dinner and since we would be leaving Paris the following day, I selected dishes from the a la carte menu. We split the appetizers and main course. I loved the succulent roasted lobster with butter served in fruity emulsion; moist and delicious Bresse hen thigh with its crispy skin in yuzu vinaigrette sauce; and the side dish of the 1st serving from the chicken: excellent girolles - meaty & firm, nutty and rather sweet. You can see the rest of the dishes from the link below. Some of the combination might not always work unfortunately. For instance, the chewy artichoke heart, the most popular dish at Le Gabriel, was nice served in a complex and intense sauce (the salty, sour, buttery flavors all ‘bursting’). It was good for a couple of bytes, but became kind of cloying as you ate more and more – probably since we had it as an a la carte and the fact that it’s vegetables, the portion was generous. Another example coming from our ‘neighbors’; the American couple ordering tasting menu and their main course was pigeon marinated in miso. When the staffs explained the dishes to me, I already imagined and had doubts whether this combination would work. I did not order it, but I saw my neighbors had this pigeon (another house specialty) as their main course. They did not finish them – the wife ate more than half, the husband savored nearly 1/3 of the portion – well, they politely told that they’re full when the staffs asked. However, I overheard from the discussion that they’re not too fond of the pigeon dish. The fact that my wife and I sometimes can effortlessly heard other people conversation … yes, it’s correct if you guessed that it implied the distance between tables was not too spacious. The tables and chairs / sofas were comfy though. It’s just that the dining room was quite small – fit in about 30 people. For a new luxury place, I was surprised that Michel Reybier did not go for a grand dining room. The room was filled with black and brown color – it looked quite dark in the evening nevertheless the interior was elegant and rather chic. At first, I wanted to order a bottle of “house wine” – probably due to my limited knowledge, I did not expect that the bottles carrying owner’s label would be very expensive (> EUR 200). Hence, I ordered something else It was a Friday evening and the restaurant was full. Staffs were chatty, enthusiastic and busy. Once in a while, our wine and water were not promptly topped up but the napkin was always changed to a new one. Le Gabriel was a young restaurant compared to many gastronomy places in Paris. However, chef Jerome Banctel and his team worked very hard; he was ambitious, developed his own style and wanted to attain the ultimate goal of receiving 3-star Michelin award for Le Gabriel … perhaps one day. As of now, I think 2-star was more suitable and I got a feeling that this restaurant could be one of the most exciting restaurants to watch in the city of lights. I expected plenty of new creations by chef Banctel in the next 3-5 years. Pictures of the meal: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157690444216526/with/38183680682/
  3. Sushi Tokami, Hong Kong

    Like Singapore, Hong Kong has been blessed with numerous high quality Japanese restaurants. For the summer visit this year, I decided to have lunch at Sushi Tokami, tucked away inside an Ocean Centre – a bit unusual to find a top sushi-ya in the shopping mall. In Tokyo, Sushi Tokami is relatively new but quickly rising among the favorites in the past few years especially among the fans of ‘progressive’ edo mae style. Similar to the one in Tokyo, the HK branch also received the 1-star Michelin. This Sushi-ya is very famous for its maguro as the chef-owner’s family has been running a shop dedicated to tuna in Tsukiji market named Yamasachi for 2-3 generations. You can find their maguro in plenty of Tokyo’s elite sushi-yas In addition to the ‘best’ maguro, to keep the high quality of the place … Sushi Tokami even paid particular attention to the water - only Japanese spring water was used to prepare for its shari (for better texture and rice flavor). The rice was none other than ‘Tanada-mai’ from Niigata that’s rich in minerals and seasoned with red vinegar that has been fermented with sake yeast. During this lunch, my Itamae was not Taga-san; the replacement looked quite young and has been working in Kyubey flagship restaurants for several years, thus actually a capable one – he handled nearly 10 guests with ease I ordered the omakase menu consisting of 8 otsumami (including the maguro temaki) and 12 sushi (excluding tamago, tuna collagen soup and fruit dessert). For the appetizers, my favorite were: -Chopped tuna neck handroll, the specialty of the house; generous, buttery and flavorful with crisp nori, wasabi and well-seasoned rice -Steamed awabi and cooked tako often went together in any top sushi-ya. The mushi awabi was thick, tender (a bit bouncy) and delicious but the liver sauce was not as creamy & delicious as the one at Sushi Yoshitake. The tako was sweet, tasty and chewy – it took me a while to finish it, but an enjoyable ‘activity’ in the mouth The rests were quite good but nothing memorable. The weakest ones were probably = the eggplant with miso sauce was not too impressive while the shiro ebi was fine but the sauce (made of the stomach of tai and snapper) was too overpowering, hence spoiled the enjoyment. For sushi, anything with maguro (the usual trio and the soup) was indeed really good. My favorite one during lunch was arguably the Akamutsu; Rosy seabass has fatty flesh and oily that were nicely balanced with its red vinegar shari. Any (bafun) uni fans would love this place; in addition to its creamy and sweet uni, the ratio of uni vs shari in gunkan style was 3:1! Honestly, I barely tasted the rice … maybe trivial, but the nori used here was always crisp and delectable. Lastly, the tamago was more dense (& sticky) than “normal”, its texture was more like a cheesecake but still flavorful. You can see the others from the pictures below – not every piece was really refined / in perfection, it’s still a work in progress for this place. The staffs spoke good English, Japanese and Cantonese. The service has been good and consistent; my hot ocha was pretty much hot most of the time. They also provided a cover for my camera and notes – a nice gesture. Despite its location, inside the dining room, the atmosphere was calm and peaceful with sufficient light. Another solo guest next to me (Japanese who keeps talking with the Itamae) seemed to love this place a lot. He probably consumed 20+ pieces as he asked for more and more including awabi sushi after he saw me eating the mushi awabi. Pictures of the meal: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157687537040494/with/37398599276/
  4. Da Vittorio

    Family restaurants have always been part of Italian (strong) tradition. After having visited and had wonderful meals a few years ago at the places of Alajmo and Santini families, this Spring I had a memorable lunch at the Cerea family restaurant named Da Vittorio. Similar to Dal Pescatore’s location, reaching Da Vittorio was quite challenging but at the end it was worth it. Da Vittorio, located at Brusaporto (not too far from Bergamo), was founded by Vittorio Cerea. It took off faster when his sons – Enrico and Roberto Cerea – ran this place and ultimately receiving Michelin 3-star in 2010. The food was mainly traditional with more emphasize on Lombardy tradition; innovative technique was used sparingly. Since there’s no “Classic dishes tasting menu” here, I opted for menu Carta Bianca and it was truly magnificent. The kitchen prepared more than a dozen dishes. Da Vittorio was well-known for its seafood and fish; the pasta was also great. Some of my favorite things I ate were: - Egg "a la egg" - It was served in a martini glass and there were many layers of indulgences: chives, potato, fish cream, scramble egg, salmon roe and generously served Beluga caviar etc. Scoop it from top to bottom to savor several delicious and heavenly produce altogether. Briny, earthy, fragrance, and many other good qualities were inside this glass. An excellent dish! - The risotto was beautifully cooked and delicate; it's combined with flavorsome of artichoke cream, sweet shrimp, slightly bitter mandarin and distinct smell from the squid ink powder. It was a scrumptious dish especially the many extra 'toppings' to accompany the rice - "Vittorio style" paccheri pasta was the signature pasta of the house using the special recipe of its founder. The paccheri pasta (large tube shapes) was served with 'special' tomato sauce mixed with carrot, onion, garlic, aged parmesan and most importantly fresh and high quality tomatoes. It was simple and delicious; the sauce was balanced with lovely flavor while the pasta was al dente - Deconstructed scorpion fish, stewed and raw. The raw one (tartar style) showed the fish's natural mild flavor and tender texture inside the tasty fish broth. The stewed one, mainly the cheek part, served with pak choy and lemon grass sauce (revealing Asian influence) was moist and more flavorful. A delightful experience ... a bigger portion should be better I will let you see the rest through the links below. If I had to pick the ‘problem’ … I would say the dessert part was possibly the main weakness though I was not served any “safe” choices such as tiramisu or chocolate-based item. I said this because Da Vittorio’s mignardises such as cannoli and panettone were actually really good. The service was exceptional – professional, highly attentive and amiable staffs. Bobo Cerea was in charge of the kitchen and he visited me and other guests a few times. He also cooked the pasta a la minute next to my table. His presence was important to ensure that everything was fine; he was more than willing to listen to the customer’s comments as well. Despite its ‘location’, the dining room was actually large with elegant, (quite) luxurious setting and decorated with plenty of flowers. The restaurant was not that busy – the most noticeable things, there were 2 big groups: 15 local guests ordering special menu and a group from China (10 people) – a nice surprise. I never expected that the Chinese people (from mainland) would be willing to travel this far to a ‘remote area’ for food as staying, eating and shopping in Milan should generally be perceived to be more practical and comfortable. Generally, I may like Calandre’s dishes a bit more … however, the combination of food and service I experienced here was arguably the best one I’ve ever had in Italy. More detailed review: https://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspot.co.id/2017/09/da-vittorio-roberto-cerea.html Meal photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/sets/72157686122029590/with/36937353431/
  5. Berlin Restaurants

    The first time I visited Berlin was more than 10 years ago when one of my best friends still studying there. Then I made a return here (1-night transit) last May … I thought Berlin has undergone the biggest improvement among major cities in Germany in terms of top restaurants, hotels etc. (both quality and quantity). I didn’t really expect such dramatic ‘upgrade’, so it was not that easy to pick where to go for my only dinner opportunity here – note that there are currently 7 2-star Michelin restaurants in Berlin. Tim Raue would be the most popular and common choice but I skipped it since I found the food was “too (Southeast) Asian” – given I’m from that region. I prefer something more German/international and the choice fell into Lorenz Adlon Esszimmer as it’s also strategically located near Brandenburg gate area. The dining room of Lorenz Adlon was small (could accommodate at most 30 people) and divided into 2 rooms; I was seated in the ‘inside’ room, designed like a private library, near the corner and far from the window. The ceiling was not too high but the interior exuded luxury and intimacy; the space among the tables was comfortably distanced. The restaurant was nearly full; perhaps it’s of no surprise given the food quality and the fact that it only serves 4 dinners a week … even more “relaxed” than L’Astrance! The meal began with a pour of sparkling wine (sans alcohol), complimentary from the house. The bread had gorgeous presentation (served among the colorful stones inside a big bowl) and they’re delicious, pretty much all of them – pretzel, honey muffin, thyme roll and sourdough. The bread was served together with truffle mayo and chives salted butter. For the meal, I ordered a longer tasting menu but without the cheese (7 courses in total). The cuisine was a combination of traditional German with French technique and contemporary flavors using top produce. I found many of the appetizers often used too many ingredients on the plate hence lacked focus, but I admired the chef’s boldness. I liked it better when he put fewer things on the plate and let the main ingredient shine such as what happened in the main courses. The baked pork’s chin was flavorful, crispy outside and tender inside; it was nicely complemented by the glazed onions and potato cream. Likewise, the beef filet was perfectly executed and enhanced by the ‘yellow’ sauce and dark gravy containing its jus. Maybe since Hendrik Otto, chef de cuisine, is still “young” and has been here in less than a decade, he would still need to tweak the recipe and try to find his perfect style. The service was warm, friendly, and professional even though I was never served by the manager. Although at first, the basic was similar to what I often experienced in Asia (Singapore, Hong Kong); I generally liked the hospitality I received in Europe better. Probably, it’s the tone, the body language and the face expression of the staffs here that I found to be more genuine, passionate and smooth instead of being robotic despite the young age of the staffs taking care of me. By the way, I also received an equally impeccable service by young gentlemen at Aqua. Overall, it’s a satisfying 2-star meal; great service and tasty food. I think Chef Otto’s creations were still work in progress … one day maybe he will receive the 3rd star? Pictures of the meal: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/sets/72157688387502275
  6. Le Grand Vefour

    My journey to visit more 2-star restaurant in Paris last spring continued with a dinner at Le Grand Vefour (GV), one of the oldest restaurants in which chef Raymond Oliver made his name as one of the best in France especially during the mid-50’s until late 70’s. These days, the restaurant is probably more well- known because of its history and beautiful dining room. Under the current chef-patron Guy Martin, he tried to make the food to be more up-to-date such as the use of foam and re-interpret some traditional dishes. Initially, I was tempted to order “menu plaisir” but after learning that it’s not necessarily about Guy Martin’s classic and it had nearly 10 dishes … I decided to go for an a la carte. I ordered 2 half portion appetizers, 1 main course and 1 dessert. My favorite was the main course: the whole pigeon (Prince Rainier 3) – no way to serve this as part of the tasting menu; also another excuse to skip the degustation menu. The bird was deboned and stuffed with foie gras, black truffle and veal forcemeat. I thought the pigeon’s meat, with its jus and truffle sauce, was delicious whereas the additional stuffing was ‘too much’ for me and I could not finish them. It also came with some seasonal vegetables + tasty mashed potatoes. You can see the rest of the dishes from the link’s below – there were generally above average but nothing memorable. I’m afraid that Le Grand Vefour, at the current state, would never re-gain its status as a 3-star restaurant The restaurant was quite busy filled with the locals and foreigners alike (the table next to me was 2 couples from the US; there were also a big group of Japanese occupying the private room upstairs). So, business-wise, this institution was doing fine. Guy Martin didn’t come to the kitchen until after 8 PM. In spite of the elegant dining room, many people were (surprisingly) dressed casually – some were in jeans, or shirt with folded sleeves and no jacket. Except the hostess, all of the service staffs were men dressed in black. Like the food, the service experience overall was ordinary. Water was often not refilled until I raised my hand, napkin was not replaced (or even folded) after leaving the table – not sure if I have to “blame” this because I was seated at the far corner from the entrance and the dining room was kind of tight / crammed. Apparently, I have similar taste with the Michelin guide. Among the 2 star places (Rostang, Roth’s Espadon, Carre des Feuillants etc.) I’ve visited in the past decade; only at Le Bristol (in ‘06) and this year’s Taillevent I found the meals to be really satisfying. That being said, I will possibly still continue my quest to visit more of Paris 2-star restaurants particularly the ones I’ve never dined there before. Pictures of the meal: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157685496596633/with/36655086416/
  7. Alain Ducasse -- Plaza Athenee

    In general, I like the restaurants that Alain Ducasse owns and runs especially the ones bearing his name. Although I was not too impressed with his dining places at Le Meurice and Dorchester, I always had wonderful experiences at Plaza Athenee (I have not dined at Le Louis XV for nearly a decade now). No doubt that the restaurant’s cordial service and my friendship with Denis Courtiade, the recipient of many hospitality awards including “Le 1er Prix de la Salle lors des Trophées Le Chef”, made a different. I returned here again last May – it’s been a while that I’ve never eaten at Ducasse Plaza during Spring. It would also be the 2nd time I savored Ducasse food under the new concept of ‘Naturalness’ The food, once again, was delivered and executed at the high level. I ate a few half courses dishes and really loved the following: -Gelatinous and pleasantly chewy vesiga (Sturgeon bone marrow) served with nutty + grainy chickpeas and briny + high quality caviar. All of these elements worked together in harmony. Alain Ducasse was very good indeed when creating a caviar-based dish -Besides the one at Taillevent, I was spoiled with another spectacular Turbot dish for this trip. The thick turbot ‘filet’ (perfectly cooked with the bone) was fabulous, having succulent + flaky flesh and deliciously fatty. The fish was accompanied by sea cucumber, fresh & sweet peas and beans. Outstanding! I opted to try cheese this time and was pleased with the selection (3-year old comte, stilto, salers and sheep cheese). Denis also recommended me 2 excellent desserts: natural and iced Rhubarb with fennel cream and cake, also consisting of tart acidic rhubarb & versatile fennel. The other dessert was a deep & bitter dark chocolate with nutty barley and (quite) intense whisky-flavored sherbet The service was, once again, exceptional and even better than the food (seriously). The (large number of) staffs delivered attentive, amiable, polite and discrete service. I didn’t have any particular assigned maître d’ this time, but anyone who served me was professional and knew what he/she was doing. I did not arrive until 9 PM and truly appreciated when Mr. Courtiade was waiting at the entrance. He came to my table nearly every hour; even we chatted and walked around the hotel when I left the dining room to take a break. Before midnight, we were talking one final time and then he said that he had to finish up his paper works at the office and would not return to the restaurant again for the day. I was glad to return here to have a wonderful meal with delicious food and superb service. Thanks to Denis that the house gave me free drinks, including a few glasses of wines. The restaurant was full house even though it was on Monday. I was told that the return of Ducasse Plaza in the top 50 best restaurants list this year might have been the reason. A couple or a group of people who celebrated special occasions; the restaurant gave them instant pictures they could take home (some kind of polaroid photos). A new thing I noticed here was that Ducasse gave bigger opportunity for female staffs to hold important positions at his flagship restaurants such as the current head pastry chef and the assistant sommelier were women. 5th visit to this restaurant is certainly not impossible. Given, Alain Ducasse’s habit to always evolve / find something new, perhaps I should not be surprised if several years down the road, the content of my meal at the Plaza Athenee would be filled with something very different. More detailed review: http://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspot.co.id/2017/08/alain-ducasse-au-plaza-athenee-4th-visit.html Meal photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/sets/72157683893786741/with/35551069350/
  8. Nearly every 2 years, I made an effort to visit Joel Robuchon Restaurant (JRR) in Singapore. I think it’s arguably the best French restaurant in the areas and I am (still) in the quest to savor Chef Robuchon’s specialties as many as possible in particular the main course served for 2 – normally presented and carved table side. Earlier this year, I re-visited the JRR with my wife. The ‘biggest’ changed I noticed was that the price had been increased dramatically (by 20% or more) – the negative effect for the customers from a restaurant receiving 3-star Michelin; it seemed to be almost automatic for JRR to get the 3rd star for his fine dining places (not l’atelier) all around the globe. Similar to our last visit, we ordered the least expensive menu since we know the restaurant offered lots of delicious bread selection and dessert + sweets trolleys. The kitchen generously offered us an extra dish in the form of crispy Amadai. The main reason we came here: La Canette (the duck was from a special farm in Malaysia) and it was superb. The slices of duck breast were of good quality, tasty and relatively tender. It was enhanced by its jus, sweet honey, crisp and a bit spicy coriander as well as the flavorful rounds of glazed turnips and foie gras. The 2nd preparation was also solid. Sauté duck thigh / leg (lots of meat) were served on lettuce with coriander seeds. They were really flavorful. The hot broth would neutralize any unpleasant / excess 'oily' stuffs. I believe it would’ve been even better had the restaurant used Challans duck. I will let you see the link below for the rest of our meal. The wine list was insanely expensive. While I get used to a mark-up of 2-4x, here most bottles (across the spectrum) can be 5-7x pricier than you would find outside. I just had a glass of Bordeaux red wine (2012 la dame de montrose) The service at JRR has been in decline when Thomas Raguzzi left; Fabien, the sommelier and acting manager during the transition period, lacked in communication skills and did not seem too passionate when serving the customers. Fortunately, the RWS decided to recruit Sebastian Noyelle to be in charge of the hospitality of both Robuchon restaurants. He’s an excellent replacement for Thomas – friendly, knowledgeable, easy going – made guests always at ease. The downside was that somehow most of the current staffs (many of them from Malaysia) were (too) relaxed and casuals. As I used to live in Singapore and am familiar with the island service culture and style, I had no problem to adapt and relate to them – in fact, my spouse liked this kind of ‘flair’. However, foreign visitors who often expect more professional, a bit formal and refined service at 3-star level restaurants might be (slightly) disappointed. Overall, it was a satisfying meal. The food quality has improved when compared to my first visit of JRR under Michael Michaelidis. He was very confident and comfortable when talking to us during the kitchen tour. His skills, passion and desire to please the customers will be the key to the success of the restaurant drawing more customers and making regulars coming back. Safe some money and I don’t mind returning here again in the future. That being said, I still could not say that it was an absolute 3-star quality meal especially when compared to my experience in Europe. 2 ½* experience in my note but given Chef Michaelidis talent and young age, his cooking should be better and better … Pictures of the meal: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157683794778986/with/34534285582/
  9. Among the “big 4” fashion capitals in the world … Milan rather lacks in terms of top fine dining restaurants; there were no 3-star Michelin dining places and in the past several years, no new restaurant there that could catch the attention of ‘hard core’ foodies. However, things changed about 2 years ago when Seta, located inside the new and fashionable Mandarin Oriental hotel, opened and led by the talented Antonio Guida. Within 2 years, Seta was among the most talked about (new) restaurants in Italy and Europe. More importantly, it received 2-star Michelin and this was a good excuse for me to visit this place when I was in the area this Spring. Seta’s cooking is undeniably Italian but don’t really expect to see the traditional preparations. Chef Guida loves to re-work and re-fine the classic dishes; also whenever possible he would use local ingredients from nearby areas. As someone who used to work under Pierre Gagnaire, he applied some unusual produce / combination at his dishes – a few of them worked well. I opted for a la carte this time and my favorite dishes happened to be served at the beginning and at the end: -Roasted blue lobster with mushroom zabaglione, cardoon and trompette powder. This was most delicious thing I ate during this dinner. The perfectly cooked lobster was tender and delicious; it was enhanced by light / airy but flavorful mushroom sabayon and cardoon (having artichoke-like flavor). An excellent appetizer -Liquorice parfait with crystallised Kentucky tobacco leaves, spiced pear and coffee cream. All elements worked together in harmony; well-balanced of sweet and bitter flavors. It was also fragrant, velvety and smooth. Seta has a very solid pastry team under the guidance of Nicola di Lena. A big fan of sweets should probably sample 2 desserts or more here As this is in Italy, ordering pasta is a “must”. I had 2 half portions of ‘risotto’ and sagne (Puglia pasta) – inventive but not as good as I expected. My main course was suckling pig – well executed & flavorful but the side dishes did not work too well with the pork. You could see them from the pictures at the link below The service was arguably the best one I’ve ever experienced in Italy. Staffs were attentive, friendly and knowledgeable. My maître d’ patiently helped and explained the menu - it took me sometimes to decide what to order. He used to work in London (Gordon Ramsay and Le Gavroche) and hence spoke fluent English. I think Seta’s 2-star was somewhat justified; the 3rd one may not come very soon but it should become the most probable candidate in Milan to receive the red guide’s highest honor (IMHO better than Cracco and Aimo Nadia) Pictures of the meal: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157682467296622
  10. Gastronomy in Germany … it’s known for to have the most 3-star restaurants in Europe after France; there are 10 of them. In the Fall of 2008, I went to eat the creations of Dieter Muller and Joachim Wissler (Vendome was excellent) – then, didn’t know why, I just never return to Germany until last month. Although initially, I intended to visit the black forest area, the logistic of the biz trip made it easier for me to go to the “upper” Germany and this how I ended up having dinner at Aqua, the first 3-star Michelin in the Northern region. Aqua’s location is unique, inside the Ritz Carlton hotel that was situated in the Volkswagen autostadt ‘theme park’. It was not too secluded and can be reached quite easily by a fast train from a major city like Berlin. It was a small restaurant whose capacity was only around 30 people and it was very busy that evening. Surprisingly (or not?), there were plenty of French people occupying 3 different tables. I liked the minimal décor creating a relaxing atmosphere and there’s full windows providing views of old factory, water and the lawn. The table was big and widely spaced between tables. Nearly all of the German top restaurants have strong French influence in their cooking and in fact all of the head chefs are skillful in executing French cuisine technique. For the case of chef Sven Elverfeld, he belongs to the “young” chefs of the New German school. Additionally, his cooking was playful, and full of surprises. He likes deconstructing and distinctly re-interpreting traditional dishes in modern ways. These can be seen from many of his creations. For this dinner, I ordered the middle option of the grand journey menu. Some memorable dishes were: -velvety and scrumptious ‘chilled’ foie gras was balanced by grapes’ tartness, ice cream & goat cream cheese. The crunchy walnut was in contrast to the creamy liver. An outstanding beginning and awesome foie gras dish especially coming for someone who arguably never ordered any foie gras dish from the a la carte menu ever -the kitchen prepared 4 different fish dishes that evening (unfortunately with zero seafood item) and I had 3 of them. Among these, my favorite was a superb Brittany Sole that was carefully executed and covered with tasty pistachio-hazelnut butter. The salsify, with its vague oyster flavor, nicely supported the fish flavor -my main course was a wonderful local saddle of wild Venison (covered with thin ‘crumbs/batter’). It was slowly cooked at low temperature resulting in succulent and delicious meat without any unpleasant gamey smell / taste. The jus was also flavorful and the venison was served with cabbage, mustard and berries. It seemed that Germany may have different (and longer) hunting period than France There were plenty of innovative and tasty dishes that readers could see from the link below. Moreover, at the beginning, we’re given 5 small snacks and at the end, the pastry team delivered 3 mini sweets after the dessert. Service has been friendly, charming and almost flawless. My waiting staff was always ready to do his job yet often not visible to ensure guest’s comfort and ‘privacy’. Food and service were at high levels and very precise – a typical of German engineering finesse. Aqua, along with restaurant Vendome, easily becomes my best restaurant in Germany and the 3-star award was not surprising at all More detailed review: http://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspot.co.id/2017/06/aqua-sven-elverfeld.html Meal photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157682545862183
  11. Le Cinq in the George Cinq

    Le Cinq is a new but old (experience) for me. Even though I’ve been visiting Paris every other year recently, I have never visited this grand restaurant. Yet, as I entered the restaurant, I’m familiar with some aspects: I ate at Christian Le Squer’s Ledoyen before, in fact twice - hence, I also somewhat recognized nearly half of the dishes in the menu. Moreover, I saw Patrick Simiand (a former restaurant director of Ledoyen) leading the dining room that evening. Initially, I was convinced that I would order the degustation menu here. Unlike in Ledoyen, the tasting menu is not exclusively about Le Squer’s classic all the time such as langoustine with ‘mayo’, turbot with potato, sweetbread as well as the grapefruit dessert. Somehow, as I reached the restaurant, I did not feel too hungry and was a bit tired. Thus, I went for a la carte. After learning the menu, I could not find new stuffs I really wanted to try. I went for relatively safe choices and they turned out well -Being a Breton chef, Chef Le Squer was really good in cooking seafood. So, for my ‘appetizer’, I had blue lobster with creamy coral emulsion. The well-executed lobster was tender and flavorful. The creamy sauce was somewhat tangy and lingering pleasantly in my palate. This dish also had some vegetables on the side. I wish the staff would pour only half of the sauce, and put the rest on the table (see the picture, then you will understand what I mean) -I hardly repeat having any dish especially for an a la carte when dining at a high end restaurant. But since I could not see any appealing new dishes by Le Squer, so I ordered his signature dish again: Spaghetti timbale with ham and morels. It has always been a superb dish and that night was no exception! Delicious ingredients, impressive sauce (black truffle + veal reduction), and beautiful presentation. Everything simply worked together in harmony. I think this spaghetti nest was one of the best dishes in the entire Parisian world of haute cuisine Dessert and (pre-dessert) was also really good here but the mises en bouche were forgettable. The hospitality was professional though nothing truly special about what I experienced. However, I was impressed with how my maître d’ handled diners next to me. Although based on my observation and how I saw the husband’s expression, the staff was not really wrong – he never blamed the madame and did his best to communicate with the kitchen to solve the issue and fulfil her wishes. Too long to tell all; essentially the wife wanted to create her own tasting menu in which for each serving is half portion divided by 2 (yes, you’re right if you think it was ¼ portion or smaller per person) Do I need to say about the opulent dining room? Well, plenty has been said and you can see a picture with the description below. While my meal here might not reach the high of the previous meals at Ledoyen, given that Le Cinq opens 7 days a week and Sunday is Christian’s off day, it’s a very satisfying meal. My 2 a la carte dishes were fantastic. I think I will return here … someday Pictures of the meal: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157682233271833/with/35303633516/
  12. Taillevent vs. Grand Vefour

    Taillevent is a dining landmark in Paris and has been respected for years, even now. However, people hardly talk about it anymore ever since this iconic restaurant lost Michelin’s 3rd star about a decade ago, albeit it’s still quite reputable and managed to maintain the 2-star awards. I visited Taillevent, located not too far from Champs-Elysses, last May. The restaurant used to be a private mansion and it has a classy entrance and elegant dining room design. I was seated at the Lamennais dining room – the one with plenty of wooden panels and some modern artworks. The atmosphere was comfortable and soothing; the dining room was only half filled and I was seated in the sofa during my lunch. I was told that it was the last week of morels season and I decided to order a seasonal tasting menu focusing on asparagus and morel mushrooms ingredients. They did not seem to be too ‘heavy’ as there was no meat course. I was impressed with: -Anjou green asparagus (crisp yet tender and delectable) served on acidic verjus jelly (like a fine ‘vinegar sauce’) and with briny caviars. The presentation was exquisite -My main course was a perfectly executed turbot. The fish was cooked by keeping the middle bone and fat; this way added unique and delicious flavors. The sauce was also tasty, made of white wine & fish bone. As expected, the side dishes were asparagus and morels but the Turbot simply outshone them -I also liked the gougeres served at the beginning. Possibly the best one I’ve eaten since the old days of L’Ambroisie The food was generally very good although Alain Soliveres was not in the kitchen that day. The 2-star is certainly well deserved. It may get 3-star one day if the Michelin inspectors were in good moods during their secretive visit … The service was smooth, respectful and polished. The staffs, all gentlemen, were always around whenever you need something; most of them spoke good English. More detailed review: http://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspot.co.id/2017/06/taillevent-alain-soliveres.html Meal photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/sets/72157682059513233/with/35223664866/
  13. Kashiwaya, Hong Kong

    This will be the last part of my HK short trip in Nov last year. I had a lunch (by having a dinner set menu) at Kashiwaya, a relatively new Japanese restaurant. Followers of Japan kaiseki should immediately recognize the name – it’s indeed the first overseas outlet of the Kashiwaya Senriyama, one of a few 3-star Michelin restaurants in Osaka. The reservation was a bit challenging: to guarantee it, guests had to fill in the form and give your CC numbers / pictures as well as your signature. I was a bit lucky to make it here because the day before (Hideaki Matsuo, the chef-patron had an event in Macau so he brought his HK team along) and the day after (Jun Takahashi, the executive chef of Kashiwaya HK would attend a Michelin ‘party’) my lunch, Kashiwaya was apparently closed. I perceived it that the restaurant wanted to make sure whenever they open, they would serve the best food to their customers by having the full team around. Kashiwaya is located on the 8th floor at the On Lan Street, Central (the same building as Arcane and ON dining kitchen). The restaurant is carefully decorated and the interior was designed as if you’re transported to Japan – from the karakami sliding doors to walls painted by Japanese artists etc. The atmosphere was elegant, comfortable and discreetly ‘lavish’. I was the first customer to arrive and there were 2 others seated at the counter. However, the main dining hall was full – occupied by more than 10 people from mainland China (how did I know? From their Mandarin and accent of course; they’re also loud and carried plenty of shopping bags J). Thus, for the relatively new dining places with minimal marketing, Kashiwaya HK seemed to do quite well. Upon making a booking, the restaurant would ask you which menu to have as the kitchen got to prepare the ingredients a few days in advance. I picked the middle menu with 10 courses. Like any other overseas branches of Japanese restaurants in HK, the price here was expensive. Jun Takahashi and his team worked hard to “compensate” for it. All of the dishes were labor-intensive and carefully prepared by using premium, fresh and seasonal ingredients. Presentations were generally beautiful and the taste was delicious. I might not eat any spectacular dishes, but they’re consistently good and served at the high level. If I had to pick my favorite, a few of them were: -Nimonowan: The Amadai was carefully sake steamed resulting in tasty and tender fish; the Matsutake was meaty and delicious. The most important part was the perfectly balanced dashi with clean & umami flavor that held all elements (sweet potato, carrot and green vegetables) together. An awesome soup! -Yakimono: The grilled & marinated Ibodai was juicy, rich and delicious. The sweet potato, surprisingly, complemented the fish well. At first, I suspected they would be too strong when consumed together; the portion was also nice -Kae: 2 small dishes served concurrently. The first one - The sweet soy stewed Ayu fish and Uni brought richer tastes; they're balanced by rather mild mozzarella cheese and wasabi. The second part - The marinated Maguro was good; they're integrated by creamy ‘wild’ avocado, radish and uni as well as firm Shiitake mushroom. The dishes were meticulously executed using premium ingredients and they were satisfying For those who want to know more about what I ate, you could check out the links below. I noticed that at least half of the kitchen and dining room staffs were Japanese (including the lady manager); to ensure authenticity and the experience delivered at the high level. My hot ocha was constantly re-filled and anytime I need something, it was not difficult to find helpful staffs. The junior cooks plated many dishes at the counter, so asking any question about the food was not difficult when you’re seated at the counter. Overall, it was a very pleasant experience. I very much liked my Autumn tasting menu though I cannot say for sure that I will definitely return here on my next visit to Hong Kong due to its steep price and the fact that the island had ample of dining options. I think the 2-star Michelin awarded to Kashiwaya is a well-deserved one. More comprehensive review: http://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspot.co.id/2017/04/kashiwaya-hong-kong.html Pictures of our meal: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157679096852003
  14. The name Les Amis among foodies in Singapore (and those who’re familiar with the island’s dining scene) is identical with an old and respectable fine dining institution. Desmond Lim, with a few capable friends such as Justin Quek and Ignatius Chan, started it as a ‘lone’ gastronomy restaurant more than 20 years ago – a period when haute cuisine was not common in Singapore. Now, Les Amis group have grown as regional dining empire. Yet, the flagship Les Amis still stands tall, if not stronger than ever. Since the time when Chef Gunther was Les Amis’ executive chef, roughly I have been coming here for lunch or dinner roughly every 2-3 years. The last one took place in Nov ’16; this was also the 2nd time (if not mistaken) I ate in which Chef Sebastien Lepinoy leading the kitchen. Lepinoy was very particular about outsourcing his ingredients; he wanted the best produce (from Europe mostly) and has had a good relationship with elite supplier from his native country, France including the access to Le Ponclet butter. Some of the highlights of my degustation menu that evening were: -Pan seared of Erquy (Brittany) scallop was of high quality, plump and perfectly executed – the chef managed to keep its sublime texture and flavor. It was served with juicy clams, balanced scallion sauce and briny caviar. A very good dish -I also liked the Roasted Sea bass: tasty, meaty yet rather delicate; served with baby leeks, sweet muscat grapes and versatile sauce. The verjus du perigord sauce was mildly acidic and fruity. It worked well with the fish and its side dishes. A well prepared French cuisine -Eating a decent game dish in Singapore was a rare opportunity. Firstly, Asians usually were not too keen on the “hunting animal’s” smell, and then AVA was very strict about importing it. I was surprised and pleased when I saw Chef Lepinoy served game pie in the menu. It was a small one containing (chopped) foie gras, pheasant and served with its jus. The tourte was crisp and buttery with intense flavors of the duck liver and the bird’s meat. It was alright until I ate them together with sipping a red Burgundy (Puligny-Montrachet ‘07); the pairing was excellent. The wine cut through some ‘fat’ and enhanced the dish overall flavor -The main course was a tender and flavorful Aubrac veal tenderloin, served with mashed potatoes and caramelized onion. -Cheryl Koh was a creative and talented head pastry chef of Les Amis. Her desserts were consistently good and tasty but somehow I’ve never overblown by them. For the evening, I quite enjoyed the poached Williams pear – beautifully arranged. Inside the pear, there were caramel custard and thin biscuits The rests of the dishes (not mentioned here) were also solid and pleasant in general, but not as good as the ones described above. You can see those dishes at the link below. Similar to my meals here in early 2014, I find the food to be well executed, rather conventional, and tasty by using top products. However, I hardly experienced “wow” / memorable dishes that made me long to return here more often. Anyway, consistent with my previous dinner, this meal was at 2 ¼* level. Thus, I think the Michelin 2-star was justified but I’m not sure if it could go to the 3rd one anytime soon – certainly not in my notes I almost forgot to mention that Les Amis underwent major renovation a few years ago, especially a big ‘face lift’ at the kitchen: the customized Charvet island made the kitchen safer and more efficient (a very not-so-elaborate explanation). The dining room could fit in more people, thanks to the additional and bigger private rooms. The main dining room takes advantage of the high ceiling and well-spaced tables arrangement. The service has always been professional and amiable though sometimes mechanical when explaining the dishes especially when done by ‘junior’ staffs Meal photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157680875546676/with/32826562550/
  15. 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo, Hong Kong

    Often claimed as the best Italian restaurant outside Italy and the fact that it was November (meaning the season of white truffle) – these were adequate “excuses” for me to have a dinner at 8 ½ Otto e Mezzo when I was in Hong Kong last year. Actually, I visited this place several years ago for a quick lunch; ordering a few a la carte dishes and I thought they were tasty and well executed though I didn’t think the kitchen delivered 3-star level of food. It was a dinner on Wednesday evening and the restaurant was packed (Otto e Mezzo has been doing very well to fill their 55 seats daily). Probably, that’s why the reservation process was easy – via email and they did not ask for any CC for guarantee. I arrived nearly 8 PM and most of the diners were already there. I was determined to have a couple of dishes with white truffle at first, but ended up ordering more. Given how generous the managers and their assistant when shaving the precious fungus, I did not regret my decision. My meal started with good focaccia bread served with high quality extra virgin olive oil and not-so strong balsamic vinegar (per my request). The amuse-bouche already had white truffle in it: warm and creamy potato soup with wild mushrooms. After that, my first appetizer was roasted Hokkaido scallop; the bigger one was pan seared and the smaller one was lightly battered. Scallops were tender and sweet. I also liked the crunchy raw porcini on top, the mushroom sauce was pleasant. Now for the Alba truffle parts: In line with Chef Bombana’s principle to prepare dishes in such a way that they will highlight the intensity of the truffle’s flavor and aroma, I ordered one egg dish and one pasta dish. -Organic taiyouran egg was naturally sweet with its pretty bright orange yolk. The egg’s delicate flavor went well with the generous sliced of earthy and garlicky “fragrance” of the white truffle -Homemade tagliolini, cooked al dente, was served in the butter and parmesan sauce (the pasta nicely absorbed the not-so-strong sauce). Again, a simple dish would make the Alba truffle’s pungent smell and unique flavor shine. Another classic matching Despite the busy schedule (entertaining the media and ready to go for the HK Michelin ’17 ‘party’ in the night), chef-owner Umberto Bombana spent some times visiting and talking to diners. I had a short discussion with him regarding which main course to order. For the meat, he recommended the Fassone veal. Initially, I thought because it was part of white truffle dish but it turned out that the veal itself was indeed superb. The thinly coated Piemontese (breed) tenderloin, though relatively lean, was very tender, delicious with lingering flavor. The clean taste of the meat was integrated by more intense truffle. Lastly, for the dessert, I ordered truffle gelato with some crisp, sweet and creamy things found in Chantilly, nougat and chestnuts. The gelato’s flavor was not intense but there were plenty of sliced white truffles (again). The petit fours were also well prepared and with good variety Unlike the classic design of Toscana (Chef Bombana’s previous restaurant), the décor of Otto e Mezzo was modern, chic and sleek. There was a bar with a few tables and as you walked further, you would reach the main dining room with long windows panel, some mirrors, and some paintings. The tables and their distances were quite spacous. Asians were, unfortunately, not known to be fantastic maître d’. Here, the restaurant (in addition to the manager) employs a few others Italians (I noticed 2) to run and serve at the dining room. Generally, the service was relaxed, friendly and attentive. Some of them made effort to have a chat with me who dined solo. I was very pleased with this meal and as I saw my notes, I gave 96/100 for the food (2¾ *). This apparently ranked as the best meal I’ve ever had in HK/Macau – better than my meals at Sushi Shikon, Robuchon au Dome or Lung King Heen. I certainly would not mind returning here especially during the Fall / Winter season More comprehensive review: http://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspot.co.id/2017/02/8-otto-e-mezzo-hong-kong.html Pictures of our meal: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/sets/72157679964086015