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Bu Pun Su

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  1. Nearly the first decade ever since I discovered fine dining (around 2006), my gastronomy adventure was filled with regular visits to Arpege (chez Alain Passard). It was indeed my most favorite restaurant in the world. As time went, especially after 2010 I found restaurant was getting “heavier” on vegetables. In addition to the expensive earth & sea tasting menu, Arpege introduced another pricey vegetarian degustation menu. As regulars, I began encountering similar or the same vegetable medleys over time in both normal tasting menu and/or carte blanche lunch that’s been transformed into gardener’s lunch. I felt less excited over time; the gardener’s lunch did not get any cheaper but the protein dish was slowly removed / became unpredictable. Even, I heard that some guests claimed they’re asked to pay extra should they want to savor any fish or meat dishes. The downside of seasonal eating for Arpege in which the greens and fruits are exclusively coming from Chef Passard’s 3 gardens was that it’s normal if you have to consume the same ingredients on multiple dishes such as beetroots, asparagus etc. At least for me, that’s not how I would enjoy my meals at any Paris elite institutions. Consequently, I decided to stop coming here temporarily near after 2015/16. After 3+ years of hiatus, I returned to L’Arpege in the Winter early this year. I knew what I had in mind but I still carefully “studied” the menu. Things still went as planned – a la carte only dishes. Moreover, at an institution known for its greens and fruits, I ordered no vegetable dishes. I joked with Ms. Helene Cousin, the restaurant manager, about it – hope Alain Passard did not notice this 😊 well, all along what I loved about Chef Passard’s cooking was his fish / shellfish / meat items. By the way, for some dishes … the restaurant would be more than happy to accommodate demi-portion. After the usual superb tartlets with veggie mousse and hot-cold egg amuse-bouche, my “real” dishes arrived: -Grilled Sole … beautifully cut and cooked with firm texture and mild flavor. The taste was enhanced by high quality sweet & hot smoked paprika powder. The side dishes were carrot mousse, sweet potato and brussels sprouts having their optimum natural taste. A very good fish dish with minimal seasoning and sauce -Stunning and plump scallops were lightly seared – pleasant texture with their sweet flavor. It was accompanied by tasty & delicate vin jeune sauce, cabbage and pungent & earthy Winter black truffles. Another winning dish -Several years ago, Alain Passard created chicken-duck duo and last year, he did something similar – the “chimera” of lamb rack and pigeon; inspired by one of the artworks of Thomas Grunfeld. The lamb was ‘inside’ of the bird. Both meats were well-seasoned and simmered with some herbs such as thyme and sage. The results were delicious dish with deep flavors and a bit gamey. There were a few vegetables side dishes to balance the main ingredients’ intense flavor – creative and delectable at the same time -Instead of the normal cheese course, sometimes Arpege did an extra mile. I picked the always stunning 4-year old sliced Comte in the form of a dish with crunchy potato spaghetti. As we’re in the deep Winter, the addition of pungent Perigord truffle was an excellent choice … at least for me -After having ordered pretty much all “new” dishes, I chose something safe for the dessert. The Millefeuille here was still the best in the world – flaky and crispy ‘thousand layers’ and the pastry cream for the day was nutty and not-so-sweet hazelnut. There were also cream caramel and delightful verbena ice cream; always the right choice … kinda the equivalent of picking chocolate tarte at Ambroisie One of the things that has amazed me of having dined here in the past 10+ years or so, I almost never encountered a situation when the restaurant was not busy. This lunch was another full house with at least 30 people eating at the main dining room (and some more in the “hidden cave” downstairs). Consequently, it felt rather cramped and was not always convenient. However, staffs were courteous and friendly most of the time. Since I ordered a la carte, the dishes were quite unique and the pacing was good. For many other tables, I occasionally noticed a long wait or staffs were not so sure to send the dishes where especially in the middle of lunch and for (many) tables of 2 or 3. The charming Alain Passard, I believed, helped and improved the service feeling tremendously. He visited every table, had some chats and took time for photos with his clients. Probably, a few annoyed guests could tolerate some “imperfection” during the meals when they could meet and shake the hand of the legendary and down-to-earth chef. Food wise, for my case … I think there’s a little doubt from descriptions above that I thoroughly enjoyed my lunch. It reminded me of the best days of my previous Arpege’s meals. When I observed some other tables, “my concerns” still continued: the same dishes, repetitive seasonal ingredients in more than 2 dishes and 1 or no protein dish for guests ordering the gardener’s lunch. I could understand why recently Arpege has become more and more binary / divisive – some like it very much while others hate their experience (especially lunch). I’m sure it’s less of an issue if the guest had ordered the terre & mer full menu but of course not everyone would be willing to fork out that much even for me as I already tasted at least half of the written dishes. Carefully managing the details of my meals, I think, was the key to have memorable experiences at Arpege … sorry that, “omakase” will not yield as much satisfaction anymore Meal photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157710996964717 More detailed review: http://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspot.com/2019/10/larpege-alain-passard-9th-visit.html
  2. Sushi Saito Tokyo is one of the most famous sushi-ya in Japan. Reservation has been notoriously difficult. Following the steps of Kanesaka-san and many other sushi masters, Takashi Saito (finally) opened his first overseas venture in 2016. The surprising part at that time was that he chose Kuala Lumpur instead of the ‘usual’ Singapore or Hong Kong … well, there’s a Saito HK now. The menu was supposedly mimicked the one offered in the flagship restaurant – several otsumami, followed by nigiri sushi. Saito’s specialties such as mushi awabi and tako were superb. My favorite of the evening was probably the seasonal ankimo; served generously, it was creamy, smooth and delicious! The sushi part was also very good with airy shari and a good balance of vinegar and wasabi. Some pieces that I had were kinmedai, shima aji, ama ebi etc. The anago and even tamago were flavorful with nice texture while the portion of the uni, served gunkan style, was rather stingy. Overall, it was a very good experience. I did not expect to see high quality and well-prepared ingredients such as herring roe, monkfish liver, shirako etc. in Malaysia. In the current environment, if you have access to top produce, you should be able to produce good meals almost everywhere. I’ve never been to Saito Tokyo. All I could say that my meal at Saito KL was comparable to my experience at top sushi-ya in Singapore and Hong Kong. Taka by Sushi Saito is located inside the St. Regis hotel. Thus, one could expect the décor to be much more opulent than the standard Japan’s sushi-ya … very high ceiling, large space, nice hinoki wood, state-of-the-art kitchen equipment and so on. Masashi Kubota, the head chef, handled nearly everything. The local staffs helped him with a few cooked items or other not-so-critical tasks. I was the only client that night … Pictures of the meal: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157710586373687/with/48607446536/
  3. anyway, thank you for reading kayb maybe one day you can do it ...
  4. Bu Pun Su

    L'Ambroisie

    L’Arpege is still the restaurant I’ve visited the most often in Europe, but in the past 5 years I think that ‘title’ belongs to L’Ambroisie. I wrote plenty of review about the one and only Bernard Pacaud’s restaurant, so let’s go straight to the food. Sorry for the long delay of this report; maybe it would be useful to those who wants to come to Paris this upcoming Winter. The new dishes I had for lunch were: -soft and tasty frog legs with sauce diable and balanced by the parsley mousse – half portion was sufficient for me. In addition to this place, I believe Robuchon’s restaurants were the other ones that usually still serve the grenouilles -Chef Pacaud had his own “recipe” when preparing gooey and nutty mont d’or cheese with black truffle, adding some complexity – very good cheese course Repeating proven dishes, I ate about 10 years ago was actually a good idea though if possible, I usually try the ones I have not eaten before -the Lozere lamb racks were amazing – tender and delicious with deep flavor; the outer layers of pepper coating, lamb's skin and thin layers of fat were outstanding ... tasty and complex; rather sweet and a little spicy. It also came with salsify. Among the ‘always available’ meat dishes (Pacaud would prepare pigeon, sweetbread and lamb all year long) at Ambroisie, lamb is arguably my favorite -black truffle puff pastry with foie gras was extraordinary. Unlike my first taste of this dish, as if it’s possible, this time dish famous dish actually tasted even “better”. The execution was as flawless as before, but the difference was I ate lighter stuffs and no heavy black truffle dishes prior to savoring this feuillete. My mouth was ‘clean’ and my stomach was less than half-full … thus, it was ethereal and I enjoyed every bite of it. Perfection by the master Repeat guests / regulars would be treated more as friends. Staffs were well-dressed, but following the recent evolution, the service was not as formal as my first few visits here. Chef Bernard and wife, Mr. Pascal and Christophe … they’re always be around for both lunch and dinner. It was relatively quiet, probably this made the pacing of the food was good. I noticed that scallops with truffle emulsion was the most popular dish during this lunch. This should be brief as I reviewed this Parisian dining institution many times before and the food has consistently been splendid! Meal photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157710346554741 More detailed review: https://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspot.com/2019/08/lambroisie-bernard-pacaud-8th-visit.html __________________________________________________________________________________
  5. Ledoyen under Christian Le Squer was one of my favorite fine dining places in Paris. After having moved to Le Cinq, I only visited once. The good thing about being the flagship restaurant of Four Seasons, Le Cinq opens 7 days a week for both lunch and dinner. I arrived in Paris on the early evening – I liked coming to Paris on Sunday as the traffic was usually milder. I didn’t reach the restaurant until approximately 9 PM and given the hotel’s international reputation, Le Cinq was already nearly full with a balanced number of diners between locals and foreigners. Since it’s already ‘late’, I was thinking to go for the a la carte though the maître d’ kindly informed me that ordering the 8-course (cheese was additional nowadays) of Epicurean escape was still possible. After having done this ‘passion / hobby’ for more than a decade, somehow, I tend to prefer eating dishes in a la carte portion these days. Sometimes degustation menu felt like “mass production” ready-to-wear items vs the “haute couture” of dishes from the a la carte … I know it might not be a good (food fashion) analogy 😉 anyway, I was impressed with the following things I ate (this dinner took place more than half-year ago by the way): -plump, juicy and sweet grilled scallops served with salsify, other root vegetables (texture contrast with the scallop) and earthy black truffles – typical of a simple but delicious dish utilizing Winter ingredients -superb & delectable Turbot with tender flesh was cooked a la plancha. It was ‘creatively’ accompanied by smoked mustard, watercress and pear. This dish was not as complicated as Le Squer’s classic of Turbot with ratte potatoes, but by no means inferior -the most intriguing dish for my dinner was the puff pastry brioche containing cooked black truffle and duck liver … meticulous execution, top quality produce, burst of flavors in the mouth - in short outstanding! The closest to the Bernard Pacaud’s ‘perfect’ feuillete bel humeur. Cannot help to make some comparison: Pacaud’s: the foie gras was sandwiched in-between by the Périgord truffle, the black truffle sauce was coarser and in lesser amount, the salad was in small portion as an intermezzo (perhaps) Le Squer’s: only one layer of thick black truffle was paired with the duck liver, the black truffle sauce below was more liquid in the form of ‘common’ sauce / jus in French cooking, the salad could act as its own dish with a mountain of black truffle shavings Different ways to “carve” the puff pastry but both were fragrant and buttery with the right texture and thickness. Which one better? Incredibly hard to answer … quality wise, perhaps Ambroisie one was winning by a tiny margin … however, the one at Le Cinq gave better value for money as in “cheaper” and you would notice “more generous” truffle shavings Not clear enough? Just see and compare yourself from my reviews and / or pictures. The most ordinary thing I ate for this dinner was the dessert – light cheesecake meringue with fresh herbs & cream as well as refreshed berries. Next time, maybe I should just stick to the Christian’s classic creations such as the grapefruit sweet. Service was professional and friendly. Staffs got used to handling and facing international clients. I felt comfortable in spite of not knowing any of them … Patrick Simiand was the only one I recognized in the past but I heard he’s already retired. The dining room with high ceiling and facing the courtyard was grand. The flowers were probably the most elegant among any dining room’s decoration in the whole Europe. Lastly, the food was as good as my best meal during Le Squer’s glorious days at Ledoyen. And it’s achieved even when Christian himself was not around (Sunday is usually his resting day) and executed by his most trusted man – Romain Mauduit, with whom Le Squer has been working together for at least 10 years. The best thing about Japanese top restaurants is that you will see the chef-owner all the time (the establishments were often closed if the head chefs could not be present). The great thing about French gastronomy places is the system with strong & trusted no 2 or 3 (chef de cuisine or sous chef) that would allow the restaurant to still perform at high levels even though the head chef sometimes is not available. Another restaurant in which I experienced the “absolute” 3-star level meal during the last Winter trip. With Epicure and Le Cinq … well, who said that you could not eat well on Sunday in Paris? Pictures of the meal: More detailed review: https://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspot.com/2019/08/le-cinq-christian-le-squer.html
  6. In addition to Cheval Blanc, I also had the opportunity to return to Restaurant Crissier this early Jan. Had the logistic part not been challenging, I would’ve loved to dine again at Andreas Caminada’s castle too. One significant change I noticed at l’Hotel the Ville was that I could see the big name of Franck Giovannini at the entrance. Apparently sometimes in (late) 2018, Chef Giovannini bought out the shares of Mrs. Brigitte Violier – consistent with the tradition of this restaurant that the executive chef would be one of the main shareholders / owners as well. I was pleased that my travel schedules this time allowed me to stay over at Lausanne, hence I had sufficient time to enjoy the full menu of Chef Giovannini’s Winter creations. Although the head chef himself was not present that evening, the kitchen brigade was capable of executing the dishes on the menu with high precision. Some of the highlights from this meal were: -high quality and juicy Oleron’s lukewarm oysters with crisp leeks & celery, butter champagne sauce and nutty caviar -(pulled) pig’s trotters meat and ris de veau hidden inside the “crepine egg” was wonderfully complemented by glazed with Porto + Madeira and black truffle sauce. The leeks would reduce any intense taste while the fragrant potato enhanced the dish. Mixed everything together and it was truly delicious - a perfectly executed French classic These 2 dishes were considered as the signature dishes of the restaurant; the pork was Philippe Rochat’s creation which would always be available every Winter. For the more ‘modern’ dishes, I liked the seafood here: -plump and sweet scallop was lightly seared; it’s served with delicious shells tasty juice + Chasselas wine. Then, there’s small amount of luxurious caviar on the side -superb and fatty of caramelized wild Turbot’s back … glistening and well-seasoned flesh perfectly absorbed the delicious (a bit salty & tart) sauce. The salsify had an enjoyable firm texture - a fantastic dish! I will let readers found out the rest of the dishes / details from the links below Service was spot on and well-orchestrated. Dirty napkin was changed, water was regularly re-filled, staffs had detailed knowledge about pretty much every dish. The dining room’s décor did not change … elegant and ‘clean’ a la Swiss and embellished by a few modern paintings. Kids were also welcomed even during dinner. While Cheval Blanc may still be my favorite restaurant in Switzerland, I think this dinner (strictly for food only perspective) might be the best I’ve ever had in this country … by a small margin difference. Both the food’s quality and quantity at restaurant Crissier were incredible Meal photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157709695778217 More detailed review: https://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspot.com/2019/07/lhotel-de-ville-franck-giovannini-2nd.html
  7. These days, there are plenty of good sushi-ya(s) in Singapore serving Edomae sushi … yet only one of them was rewarded 2-star Michelin. It’s Shoukouwa. This tiny sushi place hidden in One Fullerton, near the iconic Merlion park. Masakazu Ishibashi is no longer the head chef of Shoukouwa (He returned to Tokyo to open his own sushi place). Now, the chef de cuisine in charge of day-to-day operation is Yoshio Sakuta, a chef with stylist haircut. However, above him, there’s a more senior chef Junya Kudo of Sushi Ikko as the partner / consultant for Shoukouwa. Shoukouwa managed to keep its high standard of serving otsumami and nigiri sushi. Now, the flow of the meals was clearer – no “mixtures” of nigiri and cooked food during my meal. To keep the price level until now, the sushi-ya reduced its quantity into: 5 appetizers, 10-11 sushi and 1 fruit. A few things I really enjoyed from this meal were: -bright pink of poached Kinki fish had buttery texture and delicious fat; it’s served with refreshing ponzu sauce. -tender and delicious komochi yariika was grilled and stuffed with the squid egg, creamy uni and grated wasabi The steamed abalone was still there (not-so-thick slices this time), but instead of the matcha-like sauce, it came with the more traditional liver sauce For the nigiri part, I was impressed by the kinmedai, akami, kamasu and nodoguro. The black throat seaperch one was rather special. The chef grilled a rather large nodoguro piece with crisp skin and buttery flesh. It’s served on a small bowl with shari underneath – fragrant, a bit acidic with burst of flavor in the mouth (easily ‘dissolved’). The rests were at least good … I encountered no bad nigiri piece, even the tamago was decent I’m not sure whether Shoukouwa is truly on-par with the 2-star meals I ate in Tokyo’s sushi-ya but I could say, the (food) standard remained high – dishes were prepared carefully and meticulously. Desmond acted as the manager currently as Genta already left. In contrast to the more reserved Sakuta-san, Desmond was chattier and tried to put diners at ease. While I doubt Shoukouwa will gain 3-star, this place and Ki-sho are probably my favorite Japanese dining places in the island. Pictures of the meal: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157709611809182/with/48202545167/
  8. Bu Pun Su

    L'Astrance

    My pursuit of 2-star Michelin continues – but this one was unexpected / ‘wrong’. When I reserved a couple of months before (circa Nov ‘18), Astrance was still a 3-star place. However, about a week before my lunch, I found out in the news that the restaurant had been demoted. It’s not a ‘new’ restaurant for me. I know what to expect and still somewhat believed that it should at least perform at the level of my previous visit in ’16. I read somewhere that the demotion of Astrance seemed to be ‘celebrated’ by a few foodies who probably suffered from bad or below par meals in the past while some other people were surprised with the lost. They accused Michelin of making “controversial” decisions (including the demotion of Auberge de I’ll) to sell the guides. Anyway, enough for the gossip Business-wise at that time, Astrance did quite well. The restaurant was nearly full with a couple of big groups from Japan and Korea during my visit. Half of the guests spoke French, so they’re likely to be locals. Among Parisian 3-star restaurants … this place was the least extravagant one. The dining room was not big; it could accommodate no more than 30 people (25 was more ideal). The kitchen was relatively small too. In short, compared to the other elite restaurants in the French capital, Astrance operated with “minimal / tight” staffs in both the front and back end. Hence, Pascal Barbot was always hands-on; not much privilege to simply wait, stand and check as the quality controller. With spontaneous concept cooking, things became even more complicated and challenging. For instance, guests had certain dietary restrictions; they prefer to drink red wine only; or sometimes Chef Barbot might not know what ingredients coming to his place until several hours before the service begins – he’s known to be supportive of his suppliers and often willing to take “whatever” items sent and somehow magically still he managed to incorporate those produce in his dishes. As far as I know, Christophe Pele (Le Clarence) was another head chef performing at 2-star level or higher in France applying the carte-blanche only menu for the guests, but Le Clarence’s resources looked to be much more than here I ordered menu Astrance. Some things never changed such as (arguably) one of the most famous / often-photographed dishes … the millefuille of foie gras and white button mushrooms – it’s always good. Then, there were potato mousse with vanilla ice cream and white cheese, jasmine eggnog, honey chestnut madeleine. The new dishes I liked this time, -buttery croque monsieur filled with melting st. nectaire cheese and cooked pungent truffle; every byte was heavenly. Hands down, it’s my best croque monsieur and it’s (much) better than Rostang’s truffle sandwich -the pie of colvert and duck liver. The meat was meticulously cooked with the right texture and taste; it was dense & rich yet not heavy and flavorful & deep yet not cloying. It was rightfully accompanied by sauce containing duck jus and some black truffle. The salad with light dressing + generous Perigord truffle shavings would add some complexity as well as tamper any intense flavor. Pascal Barbot’s cooking often perceived to be (very) international but here we could see that he’s capable of preparing a traditional French dish. If Pacaud’s tourte du canard during the game season was 9.5-10 (out of 10 pts), then this one was at least 9 -Inspired by Japanese cuisine, the kitchen prepared a dish of steamed mild John dory having flaky texture. It’s served with ‘brown sauce – a mixture of beurre blanc and soy sauce’. The side dish was vinegar-seasoned of fluffy Koshihikari rice with little citrus. Light, refreshing and tasty You could find out the rest of the dishes from the links’ below Consistent to its casual dining room, the service at Astrance was relaxed. Despite being busy at lunch, once in a while the staff tried to entertain guests. The restaurant manager, Christophe Rohat could recognize some of its repeat guest – me included. If you’re staying nearly 3 PM or so, then it’s almost certain you would see the friendly and gracious Pascal Barbot coming out of the kitchen to greet and talk to as many tables as possible. In the end, he would linger and entertain picture taking requests. Losing a Michelin star was definitely disappointing, but Astrance’s team was committed to work rigorously and hopefully could regain the 3-star. One of the challenges was Astrance’s culture to employ young staffs and give them plenty of freedom to do things – sometimes mistakes can happen and we all could learn from them but … Michelin’s highest standard demands ‘perfection’ all the times In addition to Pascal Barbot’s cooking talent, Astrance was known to be strong in the wine pairing. The wine preparation: whether the sommelier would open a bottle in advance, decant the wine, the glassware quality (Astrance used Zalto) etc. was carefully done. The ‘alcohol-matching’ was reasonably priced here because sometimes the restaurant likes using less-famous producer yet its quality to beautifully match with the dishes was never compromised. Something funny about my experiences here … every time I have a meal at Astrance, somehow, I always encountered a new sommelier – Alexandre Jean, Alejandro Chavarro, and Alexandre Ceret. There you go; these indicated how many times I’ve been to this place but it’s the first time (see below) I wrote a proper review about my meal at Astrance. It’s a 2-star now but I think I like the food here better than the one served at Pre Catelan or Guy Savoy Meal photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157709019999907 More detailed review: http://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspot.com/2019/06/lastrance-pascal-barbot.html
  9. Along with Le Louis XV, Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenee (ADPA) remains the legendary chef’s finest restaurants. There are more restaurants bearing the chef’s names such as the ones at Le Meurice, Dorchester London and Morpheus Macau but none of them was comparable to both restaurants mentioned above. Ducasse Paris flagship restaurant needs little or almost no introduction as I covered it before. I guess let’s dive directly into the food … While the natural cuisine concept seems to entail only vegetables, cereals and seafood, the restaurant menu actually was quite comprehensive; it has more than 20 dishes and only about 1/4 – 1/3 of them was permanent. The kitchen kept creating new dishes / preparations although the main ingredients might not vary that much – lobster, seabass, turbot etc. Jan ’19 marked my 3rd visit to ADPA ever since it re-invented itself. As the diners read the menu, slowly the staffs brought in plenty of stuffs … here were the usual drill: vegetal drink (this time pear & white hibiscus), focaccia black olives / rye cereal bread with butter, 2 nibbles (biscuit with monkfish liver; pumpkin with spinach & seeds) and 2 amuse (mussels with rucola; chickpeas with seabream) – the details would be different, depending on the season. For the main food, after the classic langoustine appetizer, I managed to try 3 new dishes: -Thick Sole (the back part) was of high quality; it was carefully cooked until moist yet still firm with delicate flavor. The flatfish was accompanied by nutritious sauce - fermented goat’s milk with bitter endives - and black truffle. I personally enjoyed the Sole more without the sauce -Fresh Provencal octopus was tender with pleasant chewiness. It was carefully marinated and served with grilled soft beetroots (in contrast to the mollusc texture) and sweet & clean liver sauce. This “tako” was nearly as good as the octopus I ate at top Japanese sushi-ya -A simple, rather soft and well executed corn tagliolini was in contrast to the crunchy flakes’ texture. It was served with buttery & creamy ‘dressing’ as well as some shavings of earthy & pungent Winter truffle Denis Courtiade, my favorite restaurant director in the world, kindly served me 3 different kinds of desserts (I never ate any of them) and my favorite was: light and “feathery” soy milk mousse with crisp & buttery toasted Pyrenees peanuts as well as not overly sweet caramel. To complement it, there was soy milk peanut ice cream – the taste was better than the picture / my description. You could see the other 2 from the link below … I had another chocolate dessert and it was (again) new, at least for me. Then there were small portion of rhum baba, seasonal fruit (this time was sweet & fresh kiwi), a bar of cereal chocolate and I picked an infusion tea for my digestive. Lastly, there was a take away gift presented as you left the restaurant - classy The restaurant was not that busy (only half full); 2nd half of Jan and Feb were generally a low season in Paris. As always, Denis was friendly and chatty with a good sense of humor. However, I noticed a slight drop by ADPA standard regarding the rest of the service teams – for instance, the junior staff lady attending my table was not as refined as the one I used to encounter; not that “fluid” and looked kinda tense sometimes. The young sommelier gave good recommendation and helped quite often with the service (Laurent Roucayrol was absent). I think that’s all I want to share … 2 ¾* overall experience by Michelin standard in my notes Pictures of the meal: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157709242608307/with/48124761677/
  10. 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/
  11. 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
  12. 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/
  13. 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
  14. 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
  15. 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
  16. 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
  17. 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
  18. Thank you for reading and glad that you like it. Hope this will be "useful" to others as well ...
  19. 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/
  20. 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
  21. 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/
  22. 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
  23. 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
  24. 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
  25. When I came to HK in Summer this year, initially making a return to Caprice was not in my mind … until I found there’s a shake up at the top of kitchen’s leader of the restaurant. Guillaume Galliot, the former’s Tasting room chef de cuisine, is heading one of HK’s top French restaurants. Several years ago, I ate at Chef Galliot’s Macau restaurant and he showed solid execution of French cuisine techniques. However, what I found from many reviews … his cuisine has changed and become more modern and bolder at Caprice. That made me curious and I decided to go for lunch I ordered the shortest and cheapest Lunch set menu; besides the cheese, the gazpacho, the quail and even the (free) dessert were decent but no way these dishes would bring back Caprice to be a 3-star level. Thus, I also decided to try a couple of Guillaume Galliot’s specialties in tasting portion and I was pleased to have done that. Here they’re: -Beef tartare with oysters and caviar. A rather unique approach of the usual delicately sweet beef tartare. The smart move was to add fresh and briny oysters though not much, they contributed subtly and naturally. Then, there were plenty of caviars with pretty textures; egg yolks and parsleys added some complexity while the gold leaves made the presentation more appealing. A "complete" dish that tasted delicious and was well-presented -Laksa par Chef Galliot. A creative interpretation of Singapore's traditional dish but there were no noddle and broths here, however the taste was as authentic or even better for me since it's flavorful and elegant yet not cloying. Here, the chef put plenty of snow crabs, chopped hazelnuts, a few lobsters, egg yolk, coconut, coriander and a little lime. Most ingredients worked together nicely inside the aromatic and smooth yellow-orange "sauce". Scoop slowly to savor the taste and texture variations of this fun and tasty dish ... I might have said this before that it’s nearly impossible to judge the ability of multiple star restaurants’ kitchen by only having ordered the set lunch. Had I done that, I would’ve concluded that Caprice food was in decline. Outside the food and the chef, many things were pretty much intact here. The dining room was elegant and spacious; the service was smooth and friendly. I noticed some new (foreign) faces in the front of the house … oh I should’ve mentioned that the head sommelier of Caprice has changed too – a tall order to fill in the shoes of Sebastien Allano That would be it for the review. In short, currently the food is more fun, interesting and creative under Chef Galliot. Taste wise, it suits my palate better than during the tenure of Fabrice Vulin Pictures of the meal: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157696720453300/with/44683580014/
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