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  1. Hello, this are my thought on my meal here in May. Please click here for full commentary and photography: http://bit.ly/iWI4Jw ‘Is it right that I force my customers to kill a chicken at their table before I cook it for their dinner?’ This was how Magnus Nilsson, flushed with excitement, accosted me one afternoon during February’s Omnivore food festival in Deauville. ‘A couple of Russian ladies just asked me this during an interview,’ he gushed. ‘This is what people are saying about me’. Although these two journalists were in fact incorrect – Mr. Nilsson insists on doing any killing himself – their spurious speculations were still testament to two truths: many people were now talking about somewhere where some special things were happening in northern Sweden; and that very few people actually knew what these special things really were. Lying literally on the navel of the Nordic peninsula, on a line of latitude (big number° N) seemingly shared solely by the likes of little villages in Iceland and Alaska and a few hours from the nearest non-domestic airport, Mr. Nilsson does not reside in the most readily accessible of regions. Without doubt, today it is increasingly acclaimed as a destination with the international press talking up and flocking to faraway Åre just to visit it, but it was only a year or so ago, when Fäviken Magasinet was really merely a whisper on the lips of well-informed Swedish diners who spoke of some distant, new place north of Stockholm – the best restaurant in the country, maybe, they would mumble. Soon enough though, such murmurs became more and more material. A name and address were added to rumours before finally, at Cook it Raw Lapland, Magnus Nilsson met the world’s food media and Scandinavia’s best-kept secret was a secret no more. Now, this young chef is winning cooking competitions abroad (Qoco 2010 in Italy, for instance) and is a regular on the food festival circuit – he was invited to Paris des Chefs, Identita Golose, Omnivore, Flemish Primitives…all in just the first three months of 2011 – whilst the restaurant, in an area inhabited, on average, by a single person per square kilometre, boasts a two-to-three month waiting list. Indeed, gastronomy has not always been the first priority at Fäviken. Whilst the actual estate upon which the restaurant sits has some history – dating from the late eighteen-hundreds and once one of Sweden’s very largest privately owned properties before being divided into two and slowly trimmed down to its current 10,000 hectare size – Fäviken Magasinet itself has only been open a fraction of that time. Since 1986, to be exact. Furthermore, whereas recreational outdoor activities have been attracting guests to these grounds since the nineteen-sixties, it was not till the present owners, the Brummer family, took it over in 2003, that it was decided that this eatery ought to be anything more than a canteen. Yet even then, it was not until February 2008, when Magnus Nilsson started here, that things really started to happen. Born and raised in the nearby provincial capital, Östersund, the teenage Magnus had to pick between two passions – cooking and marine biology. Clearly he choose the former – though he maintains an interest in the latter – and, straight out of school, joined Pontus in the Greenhouse as a pastry chef whilst spending the summers before and after at Kattegatt Gastronomi och Logi. At twenty, he left Sweden for France and an internship at a small, new venture in Paris, run by a pair named Pascal Barbot and Christophe Rohat. The place was l’Astrance. Completing this, that spring he traded one Michelin star for three and a permanent position at l’Arpege. But barely three weeks later, he had been fired. It was a language issue: Passard spoke French; his then head chef, Mauro Colagreco, spoke Portuguese; and Nilsson spoke neither. He went home to Sweden, intending to stay there, however before long Barbot offered him a raison d’être to return to France. By Christmas 2003, he was in Paris again. The switch was successful and Nilsson went on to spend the next three years there. It was a dramatic and exciting period: soon after, the restaurant had a second star; in two more, it had three. His relationship with Barbot was a rewarding one too and he credits the Frenchman with teaching him the value of impeccable ingredients – a lesson that has ordered his own approach. Ironically though, once he had left l’Astrance and was cooking in Stockholm, the young Swede started to recognise that it was becoming increasing difficult to separate his own style from Barbot’s. It was a realisation that led him to leave the kitchen altogether and, in 2006, he enrolled on a year-long oenology course. Subsequently, Mr. Nilsson was hired at Fäviken – but as its sommelier, working under the then-incumbent chef, Hans Erik Holmkvist. It was a situation that did not last long. On 1st November 2008, at a tender twenty-six, he took over the kitchen too. By replacing Holmkvist, he was left the restaurant’s lone employee and therefore, for the first year of his charge, had to double up as chef and front of house. To make it work, he served one sitting at dinner for at most eight diners altogether on a communal table. Still, in those early days, on some nights, even eight customers was eight more than he could find. He was not discouraged. Although Mr. Nilsson had arrived intent on never cooking again, soon the allure of the stoves proved simply irresistible. The lush lands of Järpen and natural richness of the surrounding area gave him a new lease of life and allowed him to exercise again the diversions of his adolescence that had been impracticable in Paris – fishing, farming, the chase. Even constrained as he was there, Barbot was quickly able to appreciate this side of him: ‘he is a born botanist, hunting is in his blood’; whilst Nilsson admits that ‘most of my inspiration in the kitchen comes from nature and the unique circumstances at Fäviken’. The grounds around the restaurant are indeed the model set for this young chef. Seven-hundred-and-fifty kilometres north of Stockholm, the estate entails thousands of hectares of woods, waterways and undulating meadows resting on the eastern slope of Åreskutan alongside Lake Kalljön. It is an area comprising more game animals than people with streams and lochs loaded with local char and brown trout. It is even covered in a calcareous soil that encourages the growth of rare mosses and other plants. Nestled amidst these moors and meres, assembled about an old grain barn built in 1745, there is a small collection of cottages that form Fäviken Magasinet Restaurang och Logementet. There are seven lodges in all. Of the newest four – all coloured cream and maybe subtly more rococo in appearance (provoked by the style’s brief popularity in Trondheim during the eighteenth century perhaps) – one is privately owned, another houses a fully-equipped spa and the two remaining are made up of very handsome guestrooms. The oldest buildings, discernible by their traditional Falun red timber facades, are also the largest; one is a renovated warehouse and office whilst the other holds the games room, some accommodation and is where guests dine. The latter is divided into two separate spaces entered through different doors. To the left, there is a large salon boasting leather settees and a beautiful snooker table; this is the eye’s natural focus, but the horde of various animal’s heads, stuffed and mounted on every one of the very tall walls, vie for one’s attention too. An adjacent staircase leads to bedrooms upstairs. The building’s other half contains the kitchen, lounge and dining room. Betraying its original barn function, inside the walls are made up of wooden beams and bear no windows; instead light comes from gas lamps and a fireplace. The talking piece is suspended near the doorway – the only item left behind by the former owner: a tailor-made, hundred-year-old coat fashioned from the pelts of four wild wolves. The downstairs drawing room, where today guests enjoy aperitifs and snacks, was in fact Fäviken’s first dining room during the initial year that Mr. Nilsson took over. As the restaurant’s reputation improved and he was able to expand to twelve covers, the meal was moved upstairs and a maître d'hôtel taken on. This was Johan Agrell who was once a promising chef himself before becoming a manager at Esperanto in Stockholm. The new salle does have some windows albeit small, spherical ones that are again supplemented by lanterns and a little fire. There are more tables now, but these still number only ever three or four and are arranged along three sides of the room. As decoration, large hocks of ham dangle from the exposed rafters of the roof. Classical Swedish folk music completes the scene. Dinner is served promptly at seven in the evening and there is one menu, which Mr. Nilsson decides and everyone eats in chorus. Apéritif: Fermented Rhubarb Juice and Gin. Upon sitting down downstairs, Miss Roth prepared each diner a drink of ten-year old rhubarb juice and Hendrick’s gin. This sherry-like juice from Bengt-Johnny and Jan-Anders in Öster-övsjö was originally intended to be sold as rhubarb wine, but the pair had made it before acquiring the proper licenses needed to trade alcohol. It took the two almost eight years to get these and even then they were not certified to sell the pre-licence juice… Amuse Bouche: Fermented Arctic Char ‘Rakfisk’ with Sour Crème. A cube of coral coloured, brine-cured Arctic char sitting atop sour crème came in a long wooden spoon atop a stone slab. Salted and stored for months underground, this small piece of fish had punchy odour, but surprisingly mild and subtle savour; its dense yet yielding texture and mouthfeel were most agreeable. The cream underneath, tangy and unctuous, was an excellent and classic counterpoint to the char. A terrific start. Amuse Bouche 2: Wild Trouts Roe served in a Warm Crust of Dried Ducks Blood. Baby-sized ebony baskets of desiccated duck’s blood bore bright burnt orange bubbles of unsalted trout caviar. The fragile, charred crust, flavourful and savoury, seasoned the superbly fresh roe that burst with a slightly sweet taste that was more of egg than of fish. Some sauce of cheese, cream and more blood, secreted inside, imbued each warm bite. Amuse Bouche 3: Crispy Lichens with Dried Egg Yolks and Smokedried Fish, Lightly Soured Garlic Cream. A couple of stone tablets were presented with two different types of foraged and lightly fried lichen prepared in two distinct ways. Upon one, reindeer lichen was served with shavings of lightly cold-smoked trout; on the other, Icelandic moss was covered with cured egg yolk. The former, named for reindeer’s fondness for it as well as its similarity to the same animal’s antlers, is the most common and commonly eaten kind of lichen. Each a small, celadon construction of compacted, crispy branches, they were rather mild themselves, but enlivened by the smoky trout on top. The latter have long been used in Iceland and other Arctic regions as medicine and to supplement grain in the local diet; there they are consumed as candy, soup and mixed with dairy. These darker morsels of Icelandic moss – a misnomer – were flatter and resembled seaweed; they were brittle and bitter, but worked well with the salted and dried yolk. The garlic sour crème alongside had great texture. Amuse Bouche 4: Shavings of Old Sow and Wild Goose. Cerise slivers of home-cured pork, taken from the plumpest sow and hung since Christmas 2009 in a dry room, arrived with glistening segments of wild goose coloured carmine and fringed with a nice skirt of ochre fat. Aged for nine months, the goose pieces were pleasingly meaty, complex and intense – almost beefy – with an agreeably gamey and lingering aftertaste. Bröd och smör: Tove’s Bread and the Very Good Butter. As the bread was brought out, an old kneading trough was shown off. It was served with a story. This was the same tray that once belonged to Magnus Nilsson’s grandmother and her grandmother before her; it still harbours traces of the same sourdough culture she used – now over two hundred years old. The family connection does not end there: with this ancestral starter, flour from Järna near Stockholm and from an island in lake Storsjön processed together at a mill in Östersund, he uses his wife’s recipe to bake a pain au levain loaf that possessed a thin yet crunchy crust and dense, dark yet moist and fluffy crumb. It was simply excellent. The very good butter (its official name here), from close by Oviken and with a texture like melting cheddar, was superb too. Förrätt: Scallop ‘I Skalet Ur Elden’ cooked over burning juniper branches. A triangle of sizeable scallop shells sat closed atop straw and leafy stems at the centre of the table; a small lump of coal sat smouldering amidst them. The scent stemming from this burning birch charcoal – woody-sweet and smoky – was a catalyst, at once awaking the senses and agitating one’s appetite. One of the sea’s most evocative symbols, suggestive of the setting sun, of Venus, pilgrimage, femininity, fertility and more, each shell was an incomparable intermingling of pale pinks, creams and pastel greens. After admiring their gentle geometry, the covering carapaces were removed to reveal bronze splashs of scallop jus surrounding the shellfishes’ muscles whose burnt rose hues matched the hints tinting their alabaster coffers. An impeccable Norwegian scallop had been cooked alive above branches of fresh juniper and birch coal. As it started crackling, it was taken off the heat and its contents emptied. Nothing was discarded nor additional added. The scallop was replaced immediately whilst the skirt and insides strained then returned too. This whole process took no more than ninety seconds. It is a seemingly simple system, but the results were brilliant. Eaten by hand, the shellfish itself, satisfyingly firm to bite yet barely cooked through, was succulent and sea-sweet. Drunk straight out the shell, the strong, iodic juices were just as delicious. Förrätt 2: Langoustine, Toasted Grains, Sprouting Barley, Mature Cheese, Vegetables Stored in Whey since last Autumn and Almost Burnt Cream. A single substantial langoustine, inset with a sprig of birch, dominated the dish; a small mound of muesli mounted with vegetables, hard cheese and barley sprouts, along with a spoonful of reduced cream, shared the plate. Lightly pan-fried till lustrous orange, the shellfish separated nicely into its individual, luscious filaments whilst the toasted grains, tasty and savoury, tendered welcome crunch. Almost burnt cream, full of dairy flavour yet clean, was well met by the acidity of the roots, which had been pickled in whey for almost nine months. The inclusion of mature cheese was a nice nod to the native Swedish custom of eating crawfish with Västerbotten. Förrätt 3: Slices of Cod Lightly Brushed with Honey and then Seared in a dry pan, Rutabega Roasted Slowly in the Good Butter, Alcoholic Vinegar, Green Juniper Berries and a Cream of Duck Eggs and Gammelost. An ivory ingot of cod, caramelised perfect persimmon colour yet its centre still nearly translucent, sat skirted on one side by a long wedge of slow-roasted swede that was straddled with some vivid green juniper-infused vinegar and whose own orange shades mirrored those of the fish, and on the other by an immaculately rounded drop of cream; each piece was placed on the dish at parallel diagonals bearing from bottom to top. This could be the best cod that I have ever been served. The fillet’s quality was immense and it had been handled and cooked extremely well too. The juniper vinegar was also impressive. Upon touching one’s tongue, this substance turned from an innocuous jade liquid jelly into unadulterated electric currant that disseminated through the mouth and animated every taste bud. Whilst the al dente rutabaga was decent, this sizzling sauce and cod alone could have been enough. The cream, which was actually a mix of Gammelost – old Swedish cheese – and duck eggs, was rather a little rich for me. Förrätt 4: Raw Mussels, Very Fresh Cheese and Very Light Broth of Beef Filtered Through the Spring Forest Floor. A bowl was brought bearing a bed of fresh cheese, above which a brace of raw blue shell mussels laid level, side by side, sprinkled with almost raw baby blades of nettle; at the table, a delicate beef broth was poured in from a leaf-filled teapot. Not normally seen served so rare, these tender, tubby North Atlantic bivalves, did not remain so for long – the consommé gently warmed the mussels, carefully cooking them. Made to order literally five minutes before being plated, the cheese beneath resembled tofu in terms of taste and texture. The nearly raw nettles – again something rarely seen – offered some easy bitterness and pepper whilst accentuating the grassy notes of the crystal clear and subtle stock. Having been resting with mosses, replete with their roots, and other random forest flora, the contents took on a tea-like quality with an aroma as well as flavour instantly evocative of the forest floor. Förrätt 5: The First Foraged Vegetables of the Year Wilting on a Plate, Sheep’s Cream Whisked with Vinegar Fermented Beer and Ground Cods Roe. A considerable, curved dish, its surface flat, was set down. Across its centre, a bundle of assorted greens rested delicately arranged – they appeared as if freshly cut and still moist with the same morning’s dew. At symmetrical spots either side of these could be found a porcelain-like spoon of sheep’s milk cream and some dried cod’s roe grated in a small gamboge heap. The minimalism was imposing. The vegetables, which really had been foraged that very morning from a nearby verge just behind the restaurant, were each toothsome and distinct. The coiled, plump fiddlehead ferns were mildly nutty and bitter (akin to asparagus), the fireweed similar if a little sweeter whilst the ground elder, crisp and refreshing like celery. The cream, made with vinegar-fermented beer, immediately reminded one of malt vinegar; a reference to Kalles kaviar maybe, the homemade roe was the smoky seasoning. Förrätt 6: Dices of Cows Heart and Marrow, Grated Carrots. Mr. Nilsson and his sous chef ascended the staircase and marched into the middle of the dining room. They had not come empty-handed. They carried with them a large, already-grilled thighbone, which was placed upon a pedestal standing in between the three tables. Here, they sawed the bone open. Whilst stacks of toasted sourdough and vibrant clusters of lovage salt were handed out, Nilsson mined the soft, pinkish marrow out of the bone and onto awaiting plates of raw beef heart tartare and rough-chopped carrots. The instinctively self-made open-faced sandwiches that inevitably ensued tendered rewarding, contrasting chews of cool, tender meat; warm, melting fat; and deliciously sweet, crunchy carrot. Förrätt 7: Ribeye of a Pensioner Milking Cow Dry Aged since early January, Panfried and then Rested on the Charcoal Grill, Sour Onions and Wild Herbs, Fermented Mushroom Juices from last year. A carving of dry-aged rib-eye, its crust chargrilled and centre burgundy, came fringed with a nice bronze border of fat; colourful wild herbs covered a mass of caramelised onions whilst dark dots of mature fermented mushroom juice punctuated the plate. The beef, from a seven-year old, retired dairy cow, had been dry-aged by Nilsson himself for five months – from Christmas till summer almost. It was exceptional. Melt-in-the mouth tender, the meat was full of smoky, charred savour. Its unctuous adipose was especially toothsome whilst pungent like good cheese. The moreish, creamy-crisp onions were a great complement; having been cooked in reduced whey, their sour-sweetness cut the steak well. Year-old mushroom jus packed a punch. Efterrätt: Wild Raspberries Ice; Fermented Lingonberries ‘Vattlingon’ Thick Cream and Sugar. As a pre-dessert, sugared ‘lingonberry water’ with cream and some wild raspberry sorbet were presented on a pair of wooden spoons, nostalgic of those that the first snack arrived on. The latter was fresh and fruity-tart whilst the former a more intricate, but finely balanced bite. Traditionally Swedish/Russian vattlingon that originated when sugar was so expensive that these berries were preserved by simply storing them in bottles of water at room temperature for a year or so. Efterrätt 2: Sorbet of Milk, Whisked Duck Eggs and Raspberries Jam. Once upon a time, the barn within which Fäviken Magasinet now rests was a dairy school. Consequently, when Mr. Nilsson moved in, he found, amongst other things, a 1920s ice cream maker and it is with this that milk sorbet is made à la minute in the dining room for the last dessert. A bright white quenelle of it is deposited, semi-submerged, in a foamy sabayon. Immersing one’s spoon into the snow-shaded, ersatz crust, a cache of raspberry jam reveals itself. It is an easy-to-eat, classic marriage of milk and berry. Petit Fours: Pine Tree Bark Cake, Buttermilk; Dried Berries, Meadowsweet Candy and Tar Pastilles. A selection of different sweets awaited diners with their coffees and teas downstairs. Alongside them, three interesting homemade liquors were also ready: raspberry, duck egg and sour milk. Atop a block of rock rested ebony pieces of dried blueberry and blackcurrant, separated by a peachy streak of meadowsweet candy pearls; a small wooden treasure chest held tar pastilles too. All these were precise in flavour and somewhat addictive – especially the liquorice tar, which is apparently an acquired taste. Brought out shortly after the drinks, some excellent pine tree bark cake with buttermilk was warm, moist and tasty. The wines were all very good and matched the food well. The delicious 2008 Schwarzhofberger Riesling Kabinett from Egon Müller was the standout, but it was also great to see the inclusion of Fäviken’s own Pale Mead from Bengt-Johnny and Jan-Anders in Öster-övsjö on the menu. Service, directed by Mr. Agrell and assisted by Miss Hanna Roth, was first-rate. Efficient, elegant and humorous, we were entertained and tended too superbly well. Agrell especially was engaging and very knowledgeable about the cooking, beverages and the restaurant, regaling us with many interesting stories about both Fäviken and, much more amusingly, Mr. Nilsson. Although it was literally only the two of them running the front-of-house, one never had to wait for anything nor was it ever any effort attracting someone’s attention. Furthermore, timing – of food and wine – was expert. The dining room itself is the romantic incarnation of a fairytale imagination. It completely lived up to expectation. Rustic and quaint, it was warm and charming. If there was anything that could be described as imperfect, it was dinner’s soundtrack: this local folk music was sometimes a little distracting during the meal’s quieter moments. Nilsson and his team made several appearances throughout the meal in what has almost become de rigueur in these parts – service à la nordique, if you will. A couple of courses also entailed à la minute elements completed in front of the guests, including the sawing of the bone and churning of the ice cream. Where possible, some sort of family style interaction was encouraged too: snacks and sweets were served from shared plates, as were the scallops and additional cuts of beef. Dinner made an impression. From the first morsel of fermented arctic char – a seemingly simple, small square, maybe enough for a single mouthful – it was evident that this meal might be something special. This minimal nibble was in fact full of flavour and surprise: its pungent musk initially misleading one into assuming something quite intense and powerful, it actually seduced the tongue with subtlety and its instantly recognisable quality. This was quickly succeeded by a series of delicious tastes that showed off Mr. Nilsson’s persistence and patience. Wild goose that had been curing since last August, fatty sow from Christmas over two years ago – such forethought and consideration were remarkable and certainly delectable. The courses proper, preceded by fantastic bread and butter, started with arguably the finest dish, the scallop. More on this shortly. Next, the langoustine and cod really revealed the wealth of amazing ingredients that Nilsson has to hand. Later plates boasted restraint and delicacy, prior to the matured, beefy main that reminded the diner once again of the chef’s providence and planning. Desserts were nice, but arguably not as notable as what came before. My abiding thoughts from Fäviken are focused about the produce and the personality of the cuisine. The ingredients were incredible. The shellfish especially were some of the best that I have seen – the scallop and cod perhaps both new benchmarks. The beef here could also include this restaurant in the number of places that I would return to just to eat this meat. It was almost as good as that of Asador Etxebarri and Japan. The repeatedly praised bread made from carefully sourced flours and the wickedly moreish butter deserve yet one more mention here. The eggs do too. Upon arriving at the estate, we were able to visit one of the chef’s suppliers – the increasingly famous Mr. Duck, Peter Blombergsom. This gentleman breeds half a dozen organic and free-range varieties of duck and chicken whilst providing Nilsson with his eggs and bird blood; he has also recently expanded into snail farming. The eggs are certainly of a high standard and I was privileged to try them once more a week later at his newest (and second) customer, noma. The exceptional wild trout roe that arrived super fresh and unsalted must be singled out as well. Nothing in Nilsson’s kitchen comes from more than two hundred kilometres away. Meat is from Fäviken; vegetables are from the estate too, grown by gardener Magdalena Engberg; the seafood is from Trondheim; with only sugar, salt and wheat sourced from southern Sweden. One might suppose such geographical concentration a constraint – especially considering that snow covers this land six months out of twelve – but not this chef who confides that he has ‘never worked with better produce than here’. He is in a fortunate position. Upon the restaurant’s own grounds, he is able to hunt for moose, grouse and hare; fish in its lakes; and forage for berries, mushrooms, moss and lichen. ‘Of course we could buy vegetables from somewhere else during winter,’ Nilsson declares, ‘but by using our own produce and preparing it in the way that used to be necessary to survive, we force ourselves into thinking in new ways’. Mr. Nilsson’s own attitude towards ingredients is simple: the initial step in every new recipe must be finding the ‘perfect raw material’. The second step is maximising that product’s potential. The chef enjoys focusing on one principal protein when building a dish, keeping it as intact as he can and altering it as little as possible. It is in the garnish that spicing and additional flavours may augment that of the main meat/fish/vegetable. The prime example of this is the scallop ‘i skalet ur elden’. This course corroborated Nilsson’s argument that the ‘combination of the perfect ingredient and the perfect cooking technique' negates all need for extra seasoning. It is a total eating, drinking, sensory event where everything you taste, all that you taste is scallop – it is the essence of scallop. Stunning and memorable, it conjured up similar sensations as René Redzepi’s iconic langoustine dish did the first time that I ate it. The chef himself admits that his wish would be a menu composed of a dozen such dishes. ‘Time and place’ is an expression that is becoming more and more established – and important – in the average eater’s everyday lexicon. Fäviken has both in abundance. It is a terrific illustration of where the eating experience is the essential digest of what one sees and feels around them filtered through the imagination and intelligence of the chef cooking their meal. Accordingly, this is an immensely personal cuisine. Nilsson explains it best himself. ‘We do things as they have always been done on Jämtland’s mountain farms: we follow seasonal variations and existing traditions. We live with the community. During the summer and autumn, at the peak of each ingredient’s ripeness, we harvest what grows on our land and refine it using methods that we have discovered from our rich traditions or which we have found through our own search for quality. We build up our provisions ahead of the dark winter months; we dry, salt, jelly, pickle and bottle. The hunting season starts after the harvest and is an important time, when we take care of the exceptional food that the mountains provide us with’. This restaurant could not be anywhere except in Jämtland. And its chef could not be anyone but Magnus Nilsson. Besides the fact that the restaurant relies nearly fully on its surroundings to fill its stores, many of the techniques and routines of the kitchen are informed by indigenous customs of preserving, curing, fermenting and the like. Rightly so then that the chef is a native too. More than that, he fulfils all the expectations of a Jämt given that the etymological root of the word derives from the Proto-Germanic term meaning persistent, efficient, enduring and hardworking. Indeed, no shortcuts are allowed. This is one expression of the old-school ethos here – that there are no thermometers and all the cooking is judged by touch are others. As is the open charcoal fire in the centre of Fäviken’s kitchen, which the chef enjoys using as much as he can and where he experiments with the flame and different kinds of wood. These are responses to Nilsson’s childhood and reminisces over the wood-fired oven at his grandmother’s farm. Other idiosyncrasies of the chef are easily distinguishable too. For example, Mr. Nilsson has a sweet tooth and fondness for candy, something that the petit fours, a choice of different confections, are doubtless indicative of. There is also an uncommon incidence of dairy during the meal, which is actually acutely reflective of where one is eating: in Jämtland, there is a strong appetite for milk and thus many milk products, especially cheese, as it is the easiest way to conserve milk. Consider it carefully and this food reveals Nilsson’s terroir, upbringing, personality, tastes and even those that have influenced him too. It is in such ways that the chef articulates his own character and thus colours his cuisine with individuality. The chef that has made the greatest impact on Nilsson is Pascal Barbot. This is from whom the Swede has learned the most. The striking minimalism, optimistic use of colour, seasoning style and indifference to saucing of some of the courses all intimated that this is someone who might have spent time with the Frenchman, but it was really the cod that was the single largest clue of this. The cut, cuisson and even caramelisation of it reminded me immediately of Barbot. That being said, this is not in any way an implication that this is imitation in any form. Not at all. This is clearly Magnus Nilsson’s food and one of his greatest gifts is his originality. His methodical approach and his curiosity are two more of this chef’s strongest qualities. These are perhaps the automatic manifestation of Mr. Nilsson’s scientific mind. Like a scientist, he has an innate affection for researching and testing new techniques and ingredients. Such keenness might be behind one of dinner’s most interesting items: the juniper-infused vinegar. This is basically alcoholic vinegar – the same that is used to clean dishes – yet in such small amounts, it was superbly effective. There was also a logic and attention to detail here that was at times so subtle that it might have been missed. My favourite demonstration of this was with the Icelandic moss. These lichen possess a bitterness proven to whet the appetite and stimulate hunger – hence, they are inherently ideal as a snack. Another symptom of this mind-set is his insistence on an evolutionary process with new dishes rather than a saltational one: ‘the menu is changeable, when one ingredient runs out, it needs to be replaced by another. We never replace dishes ‘just because’, instead we would rather wait for a new ingredient, idea or dish that is actually better than the one being replaced. Much of what we serve has its own lifespan and remains on for a long time, slowly becoming something entirely different to the original, despite having the same name throughout its existence’. Magnus Nilsson sums up his philosophy as Rektún food. Real food. ‘[The] literal meaning is very simple, but for me it has a lot more values than that. We respect our raw ingredients for what they are, what they look like and where they come from. We strive to monitor production of each ingredient from seed to plate. We accept nature’s own choices as the primary factor and apply our own knowledge in order to maximise every product’s potential before we select the ones we are going to use. We concentrate on harvesting, preparing, cooking and then serving it in most thought through and exact way possible. We present every single ingredient in a manner that conveys feelings that arise in the process to create rektún food…We don’t follow trends. We serve what we want, when we want. Respect, control, selection, concentration, presentation. [This is] rektún food’. It is inevitable that similarities will be drawn between noma and Fäviken. Both restaurants reside in the same region and both limit the ingredients they cook with to that area too. This is enough for many to conclude that they are essentially the same. This is wrong. Where the two overlap is only on ideology, geography and thus some basic foodstuffs and methods. Whilst the raw materials might be similar, the results are certainly not. For one, at Fäviken there are three in the kitchen; at noma, there are thirty more. Redzepi has the resources to create perfectly complete new dishes quickly and in quick succession; Nilsson pursues a more measured pace where recipes evolve over time and with the seasons. Here, the cuisine is a little simpler, more straightforward and direct – and rightfully so. But it is not just about what is on the plate. When leaving Fäviken, one departs with the most abiding, brightest conviction of a potential immense and not yet met. The chef is refining – still cultivating – his craft and even now discovering what is realisable with what he has still waiting, unearthed, around him. To see the impending consummation of such a beautiful ideal as his is compelling enough reason to return. Today, terroirism is trendy and sexy. Thanks to the adherents of new naturalism, eating natural, local food has become cool again. Chief amongst these is indeed René Redzepi, who has shown chefs worldwide – and instilled within them a confidence – that cooking what is native to each is a realistic ambition and, more than that, meaningful and worthwhile. It is not a new idea, but a forgotten one remembered again. When Magnus Nilsson arrived at Fäviken, it was not with a calculated mission to cook with ingredients as immediate to him as possible. His superlocavore attitude was an intuitive, subconscious – and eventually self-fulfilling – impulsion that grew from an increasing intimacy with the natural world directly around him. It was a slow, steady success and it was not without stress. However, it is Redzepi who Nilsson cites as the one who showed him that it was not a futile effort, but something fundamentally valuable and actually viable. Food is currently fashionable and the greatest interaction that the average urban individual now has with nature – real, raw nature – is arguably with what they find in their refrigerator or on their plate at a restaurant. Thus, what chefs like Magnus Nilsson and René Redzepi are doing – though doing differently – is incredibly relevant. They are changing how people eat. They are renewing man’s relationship with nature. Fäviken Magasinet 216 83005 Järpen Sweden Tel: +46 647 401 77 www.favikenmagasinet.se
  2. Food Snob

    la Grenouillère

    Hello, These are my thoughts on my meal last November. Please click here for full commentary + photography: HERE March 1979 proved a prolific month for Roland Gauthier – within ten days he had acquired not just a restaurant, but a son too. Gauthier junior was born in Boulogne-sur-Mer into a Jura family who found themselves in the Pas-de-Calais after his father became chef de cuisine at the Château de Montreuil. By taking over l’Auberge de la Grenouillère however, Roland had made a decision to plant roots in the region. They have remained there ever since. Alexandre, the son, spent summers at Rochefort-sur-Nenon with his grandparents before following in his father’s footsteps and enrolling in the école hôtelière in neighbouring Le Touquet. ‘I grew up in a restaurant; c'est tout naturellement que j'ai suivi le chemin de mon pére. I was not done for studies. La cuisine, it was practical and exciting.’ Upon completion, the young Gauthier carried out a couple of stages in nearby Arras, at la Faisanderie, and at London’s Buckingham Hotel ahead of starting at the Hôtel Westminster back in Le Toquet under William Elliot – thereby beginning both a career that would take him around France and a relationship that endures today. Next he headed to the Auberge et Clos des Cimes to work with Régis Marcon prior to moving further south to Olivier Brulard’s Résidence de la Pinède in Saint Tropez and, afterwards, west to La Rochelle and Restaurant Coutanceau « les Flots ». Then, at nineteen he relocated to Paris and Lasserre with Michel Roth. This domestic tour was also interspersed with international stages at Beijing’s Péninsula Palace, Hôtel du Lac (St Moritz) and the Institut culinaire in Palermo. Back home, on the other hand, hard times had befallen his father, culminating in 2001 with the loss of the Michelin star that la Grenouillère had held since 1936. Thus, in 2003, at Roland’s request, the son returned. Alexandre immediately set about resurrecting the family’s restaurant – a regional institution. Even though he was only twenty-four, Roland took a back seat and allowed him to work as he wished. It was a great opportunity for the young man – ‘it's huge what happened to me,’ – as well as a real challenge. But challenge was something this chef thrived on: the child, once an able scout, had grown into an avid adventure-sportsman – scuba-diving, rugby and mountain-climbing being some of his pursuits. Recognition came rapidly. In 2005, Alain Ducasse invited him to Plaza Athénée to cook at Fou de France – an event showcasing promising French talent. That same year Gauthier also achieved a life long ambition by scaling Mount Kilimanjaro. Subsequently, infamous French food critic François Simon singled him out as special amongst Génération C chefs (a movement embracing world flavours) whilst even Gordon Ramsay garnered him with praise. Most recently, the chef has become a favourite of Omnivore too – a fixture at OFF, he took part in both 2009’s ‘four f****** dinners’ and 2010’s ‘four friendly dinners’ in New York City as well, cooking at Momofuku Ssam Bar and then Roberta’s. He also now owns a casual eatery, Froggy’s Tavern in Montreuil, with William Elliot. Despite being asked to run a restaurant at such a relatively early age, he has no regrets. Nearly. ‘I just wish I had time to work with Gagnaire, a brilliant madman, and Michel Bras, for the purity of his cuisine and incredible technique.’ He has succeeded regardless and in 2008, he regained la Grenouillère’s missing star, puting Montreuil back on the map gastronomique. Amidst the listless landscape that comprises Calais’ hinterland, Montreuil-sur-Mer lies upon the banks of the quiet Canche. Even if ironically most famous for what was in fact a fictional role in Les Misérables, it is also an ancient settlement that boasts fortifications constructed by Vauban. On the bounds of this town, balancing on the brim of one of the river’s easy meanders, the restaurant resides in a typical Picardy farmhouse. Dating from the nineteen-twenties, the main structure is nearly hidden behind low-sweeping trees and large shrubs that although appear as if allowed to grow capriciously about the building, are actually carefully kept. A tall, conspicuous conifer, leaning at a seemingly unfeasible angle, bows across a small, gravel courtyard littered with white, wrought-iron garden furniture. The entrance can be found on the far side of this terrace whilst guestrooms rest to its right. Carved into the stucco, ivory façade, itself interrupted only by latticed, shuttered windows and crowned with light brown, thatch roof, it is a small, unassuming doorway singled out only by a suspended, heraldic shield that spells the auberge’s appellation. Once within, the guest is immediately greeted by a little foyer that feels as if it could even perhaps pre-date the building. Along the back wall, several shelves lined with liquor bottles hang behind a large bar sculpted from deep, red wood. An iron fireplace stands to one side whilst buffets, the other. The floor is closely checked, black and white tile; large wooden braces criss-cross the ceiling; whilst the wallpaper is pale peachy-orange and decidedly floral. Trinkets are strewn over all the surfaces with frog figures featuring foremost. To the left and right of this space are two rooms holding fifty-five covers whilst the drawing room and kitchen are straight ahead. However, it should be noted that things are likely to change a little in early 2011 with the redesign of the kitchen, hotel and grounds by architect Patrick Bouchain. The main dining area is decorated in the same warm shades outlined with dark wood that forms the windowsills, faux half-timbering along the walls and beams above; several carpets are ornately red and deep blue. An antique brick fireplace complete with pendent copper pans and fresh logs sits betwixt the entry and kitchen door; atop it, inscribed upon a broad panel, is ‘la Légende de la Grenouillère’. Girdling the whole room there is also a ring of hand-painted frescoes, drawn by American humorist Frank Reynolds in the thirties and depicting merry scenes of frogs eating and drinking at dinner tables as well as illustrations from such famous fables as those of la Fontaine. Together with the considerable number of frogish figurines, these make certain the restaurant lives up to its name. Tables are comfortably spaced and draped with immaculate linens. A small sedimentary tablet acts as both cutlery prop and bread plate whilst the only added adornment is a porous stone ingrained with twirled strands of wild grass. Amuse Bouche 1: Riz frites, sauce hollandaise. Two tumblers came crammed with stubby chips inlaid in some hollandaise sauce spiked with ginger. These golden, glistening twigs were not actually fashioned from potato though, but from fried glutinous rice, thus they had a very interesting waxy texture as well as toothsome savour – underlined maybe with a little cheese. The vibrant emulsion was light yet velvety and vivid. Amuse Bouche 2: Tasse d’eau de mer. A small glass held slivers of rouge-tinged raw sea bass, oyster, steamed spinach leaf, olive oil and sprigs of chervil and basil. Into this, a dram was dispensed from a bottle plugged with a shot-measure pourer and containing mineral water infused with wakame, nori, lemon and sel gris de Guérande. The bottle, with its cloudy contents, looked as if it had been filled straight from the ocean – and it tasted like a shot of the sea. The aquatic aroma struck first, giving way to the briny savour and distinct textures of fish and oyster, each enlivened by salty spinach and lightly acidic lemon. A final bite of basil and chervil left a refreshing linger on the palate. Les Pains: Pain blanc et de seigle. Two whole loafs of homemade bread – one white, the other rye – were placed on the table upon their own colourful stone serving slabs, each replete with a block of local beurre demi-sel askew set and already inset with wood-handled Opinel. The blanc was soft, fluffy and had nicely open crumb whilst the seigle was firmer and crustier. Entrée 1: Mauvaises herbes…crevettes grises. Onto a plate, empty except for a smear of pressed herb jus and signature sprinkling of white pepper, a sterling silver ring mould was placed. A meticulously assembled mass of green herbs emerged from this collar which, when removed, also revealed a tightly packed circular stub of brown shrimp. These small, tasty crevettes, covered in the same jus, were an excellent match for the ‘lowly’ salad of nicely lemon seasoned wild herbs – a well chosen collection of aniseed-like chervil; salty purslane; crisp carrot tops; and fresh salad burnet. Entrée 2: Saint-Jacques, radis noires, blanc neige. A diminishing daub of blanc neige, semi-covered with cubes of raw scallop and wispy ribbons of black radish, ran tangent to the dish’s inner rim; over all, a little grilled peanut oil was drizzled. The presentation was a picture – everything white and cream disturbed only by the faintest black lines that once formed the vegetable’s exterior. The creamy shellfish were of real quality, their natural sweetness reinforced by the tenacious foam and radish; the nutty oil also had surprising presence. Nevertheless, overall this course was somewhat unbalanced – the different components hitting not necessarily a discordant note, but not an accordant one either. Entrée 3: Oeufs de caille, choux de Bruxelles, raisins. Upon a bed of crushed Brussels sprouts were set two small quail eggs overlaid with single sprout shells; grated garlic, scattered with tiny squares of diced grape, covered these. The cabbage with its delicate sweet nuttiness, complemented by the mild garlic and grape, was enriched by the brace of bright, white soft-boiled eggs. The still runny, intense yellow yolks also worked well texturally and visually with the green and grainy mash and crisp sprout skins. Entrée 4: Saint Jacques brûlées, pleurote vapeur. The middle of the plate was peppered with burned and broken chips of potato stained with squid ink; off to the right, the large, central sliver of a pleurote supported some seaweed and a strongly caramelised scallop surrounded by an emulsion of its own cooking liquor. The presentation was poignant, suggestive of a scene from the aftermath of a fire. The debris-esque potato added crunch and roasted savour to the pleasingly meaty, steamed mushroom and sweet, soft scallop. A marine theme was maintained throughout too by the ink, shellfish, seaweed and oyster mushroom (even if with the last it was only nominal). Entrée 5: Gnocci aux citron et epinards a la beurre. A trilogy of golden gnocchi, steeped in lemon butter, arrived almost obscured by a couple of large, overlapping leaves of nearly raw spinach. The tense, barely bitter blades tendered relief to the acidity of the lemon and crunch against the soft graininess of the light pasta. These three, simple ingredients tied together superbly. Plat Principal 1: Homard Genièvre. A barely perceptible pink coil lay secreted within scentful shrubbery. Separating the stems exposed a whole lobster nestled like a foetus. Poached for forty-five seconds it had been smeared with juniper butter that had already melted. This blue lobster had tremendous sweetness whilst the cuisson – it had really merely been warmed – was incredible. The shellfish retained its moisture and suppleness and, eaten with one’s fingers, was messy satisfaction. The bittersweet juniper was a lovely counterpoint: some of the charred berries, still attached to the boughs, tendered hearty bursts of flavour. Plat Principal 2: Encornet, figues. In one corner, a whole pan-fried squid, its beheaded head prone besides its standing bottom half brimming with its tentacles and sprinkled with fresh chive, was placed upon a purée of fig. Vivid scarlet, this last element made it seem as if the bisected shellfish had bled over the porcelain. Albeit whimsical in appearance and individually agreeable, the squid (pleasingly tender) and the fig (gently sweet and touched with spice) failed to strike a successful chord altogether. Yet, it might be worth mentioning that the original recipe called for pig’s blood sauce instead of this fruity one – the substitution being the forced result of dietary requirements. Ahead of the next course, a tray of fantastic fungi was delivered. Larger than life, richly (but strangely) coloured and so very rustic-looking, these dotted stem boletes truly possessed the air of something fabulous about them. Once shown off and the largest left behind, the maître d'hôtel, Pascal, proceeded to amputate part of its trunk. Upon slicing, to add to the mystery already around these mushrooms, the exposed flesh fast became blue… Plat Principal 3: Bolet à pied rouge, pomme de terre crue râpée, jus de veau. Half of a much-smaller bolet was ultimately served accompanied by a portion of the cap of a larger one, raw shavings of potato and a tableside spoonful of veal jus. The pan-fried mushroom – a beautiful specimen comprising almost every shade of orange from flame to tenné to dark brown – was plump and succulent with subtle, sweet relish. Uncooked potato was an uncommon addition, but brought crunch and some refreshment against the meaty sauce. Plat Principal 4: Vachette, purée d'ail grillé. A thin, sheet-like slice of entrecôte from a young cow had been spread over a splash of grilled garlic mash; a single, pristine rocket leaf lay over the beef. Sourced from a neighbouring farm, there was more to this meat than initially met the eye – it had been charred on one side, but left raw on the other. This gave an additional dimension to the tasty and juicy cut. Bearing hints of barbecue, the garlic was a classical companion to the steak whilst the green, welcomingly peppery. Pre-dessert: Gâteau de miel avec citron. Two thick tiers of honeycomb, dripping with honey made by bees living off local blossoms, were delivered by Pascal, who then toured the table, portioning off a waxy morsel for each guest, dousing it in lemon before allowing it to be taken. This did well, cleansing one’s palate before desserts began. Dessert 1: Chataigne-pain brûlé. A small, wooden chest of cracked-open chestnuts came next, out of which, one was set standing afore each diner. The spiky, brown shell sat stuffed with slightly charred chestnut meringue speckled with crunchy chestnut pieces. Delving beneath this brim exposed a smooth ice cream centre around broken bits of the caramelised nut. Dessert 2: Boule chocolat/chircorée. A delicate sugar-glass sphere encased milky chocolate ice cream and sat adjacent to a scoop of thick yoghurt; chicory had been grated over both. Easily smashed open with one’s spoon, the sugar melted in the mouth, contrasting well with the barely bitter-citrus herb. Meanwhile, the yoghurt and chocolate – sour and rich respectively – made excellent counterpoints. Dessert 3: Coing-pomme. Dense crème, semi-wrapped with quince jelly came bestrewn over with nearly dehydrated, diced Boskoop apple peel: the lightly-coloured cream was set off by vibrant orange-red gelée that was paralleled by the apple’s rusty skin. The quince, reminiscent of membrillo, was good quality and partnered the dulled sweet-tartness of the juicy Dutch apple very nicely. Dessert 4: Boule oseille. A plate was presented bearing nothing but a single bright blade of sorrel – the top of its stem dangling over the dish’s edge – prior to Pascal’s appearance with a platter of green ice cream-filled globes. Ready with a pair of tongs, he approached and prepared to place each of these before each guest. But suddenly, whilst still half-a-metre or so from the table, the first ball fell from his forceps and smashed against the centre of the almost empty ceramic. Whilst the startled guests all gasped, he calmly continued delivering this last dessert this manner. The effect was immense and the ice cream itself was light yet satisfying, brilliantly poised between sweet and acidic. Petit Fours: Meringue et ananas guimauve. If the preceding course shocked, the final surprised. One of the staff produced a hammer and small chisel with which he proceeded to break open the piece of porous rock that had remained idle and long-forgotten in the middle of the table that entire evening. What was assumed simply something cosmetic was exposed as in fact crumbly, moreish hazelnut meringue. Lines of luminous pineapple candy were a tart supplement. Pascal, who runs la Grenouillère’s front-of-house, was excellent. Attentive, engaging and more than convivial, he was a superb host. He was also supported by a team of friendly and efficient staff whilst the atmosphere at the restaurant was certainly absorbing: there was an ambient warmth to the comfy dining room with its soft lighting and tongue-in-cheek furnishings. Together with the relaxed service, everything was ready for an easy, smooth experience. Furthermore, the traditional yet enduring surroundings were a stark, but charming contradiction to the contemporary nature of the cookery – although, given that the chef’s approach pends on contrast, this inclusive juxtaposition is nothing if not fitting. First to arrive were snacks of riz frites, sauce hollandaise, ahead of the chef’s autograph amuse, tasse d’eau de mer. With these consecutive couple of dishes, Gauthier demonstrated an essential detail of his cooking: it is a cuisine founded on the local and punctuated by the exotic. Crevettes grises and their abettors of oft-leftover (and so fancifully hailed ‘moody’) herbs exhibited his humorous side, whilst the all-alabaster Saint-Jacques, radis noires, blanc neige showed a keen and engrossing attention to appearance. From blank and white to bright green, the subsequent oeufs de caille, choux de Bruxelles was perhaps the tastiest course yet. The visual continued to delight with the simple seeming gnocchi that were really quite satisfying, after which came the immensely gratifying homard genièvre before the weakest plate of the meal – encornet, figues. However, disappointment was spared by the vachette, purée d'ail grillé, which was both toothsome and interesting at once. Desserts did not demean the standard already set. Chataigne-pain brûlé, amusingly meted out, was very good and the coing-pomme, even better. Whereas, the final sweet, the boule oseille, and especially the way in which it was served was a delicious moment. Without doubt the most outstanding and exciting characteristic of Alexandre Gauthier’s cuisine is his willingness, his eagerness to explore things unfamiliar – to question what others readily accept as absolute. These traits were manifest predominantly in two respects – presentation and ingredient/flavour pairings. Both in assembly and on arrival, dishes were designed to attract attention and incite curiosity. With regards to delivery, the chef went beyond conventional, straightforward service and the customary tableside addition of saucing to bring another feature to courses. One standout instance of this was the smoking juniper bush – its smouldering boughs laden with succulent lobster – whose enticing scent worked to arouse one’s appetite ahead of the food’s actual appearance. Even more memorable was the advent of the last dessert; the utter unexpectedness of the smashing sorrel ice cream and the fleeting, funny confusion amongst those at the table that followed remains unforgettable. Gauthier’s distinctiveness does not end there: the plating is definitely – defiantly – different too. The chef’s signature is obvious: minimalist servings concentrated on a single part of the plate. It is an approach so simple yet so striking. Whilst nearly every other recipe, everywhere else revolves around a dish’s centre, Gauthier, by merely moving the focal point to one corner or side and condensing the course into only a few squared centimetres of space, immediately intensifies all the elements’ effect. It is as seditious as it is cheeky. As alluded to earlier, the chef also enjoys teaming native and foreign ingredients together. ‘Why be satisfied while others have olive oil, zucchini flowers or pomegranates? This is unfair!...I live in the north, where it’s not so rich in products. Va faire une salade d'endives extraordinaire...for me it’s about finding tangents. I do not constrain my cooking. My kitchen is constructed by adding to, subtracting from the tastes of my father…then, I focus on the technical implementation. J'aime ça. Ça rassure, la rigueur.’ Even so, he is proud to present the best of his region – local butter and milk, fish from Boulogne-sur-Mer, pigeon from Licques – whereas he rejects the term ‘terroir’ considering it confusing, preferring ‘territoire’ instead. Thus he toys with old recipes, reinventing established formulas with worldly flavours. One such dish with which the chef won himself renown was clams et couteaux cuisinés à la grenade et à la mangue, which he presented at the Fou de France. Although examples of this today were plenty too: sauce hollandaise, traditionally a complement to tall spears of asparagus, instead partnered sticks of sticky rice; quail eggs and Brussels’s sprouts were mixed with morsels of raisin; squid was smeared with fig; and indigenous apples shared the plate with exotic quince. Nonetheless, such colourful collages as these sat on the same menu as the tasse d’eau de mer that tasted like a sip of the nearby English Channel – or at least its essence, distilled down – whilst the subsequently served crevettes grises that joined the close-by-picked mauvaises herbes could have been plucked from the very same waters. As far back as medieval times, as far away as England, Montreuil-sur-Mer was famous for its juniper-infused woodcock patés; here, Breton shellfish was imbued with the savour of this same local scrub. Whilst the wild mushrooms, sorrel and potato are all also synonymous with the area. ‘My advantage is having many learned chefs with whom I worked, but by whom I have not been 'formatted’.’ Gauthier does offer something unique indeed. His creations rely on rigorous technique, but appear simple and are easy to eat. After my first taste of his cooking, I did feel a small measure of scepticism over whether his aesthetic approach could maintain one’s interest over an entire meal – but it did. It is something of a stroke of brilliance – a compelling and witty challenge to what the experienced diner takes for granted. Presentation was confrontational yet plates possessed confidence and energy. ‘I just want the relevant,’ the chefs declares and he cuts straight to the essential with dishes powerful, precise and to the point. It is a cuisine that dares. Alexandre Gauthier describes himself as testing the boundary between ‘pertinent et impertinent’. Walking such a tightrope however carries an inherent hazard – and this meal will bear testament to that fact. Sometimes dishes failed to come together, but these were minor and forgivable for when those risks did come off, the results were terrific. A mischievous talent and a cuisine différente…une cuisine délurée.
  3. Food Snob

    L'Astrance

    My first meal at Passage 53 was a dinner in September last year. Lunch that same day was at l'Astrance. At the end of the night, I felt pretty much the same way. I have returned to Passage 53 three more times. The second visit was excellent; third, very good; but my last, shortly after they won their much-deserved first star, was quite bad and very disappointing. The food was so different to what I had tasted there before... I will go back again though, hoping that that fourth meal was a one-off.
  4. Food Snob

    Noma

    I added the link at the start of the post... Here it is: http://foodsnobblog.wordpress.com/2010/03/16/noma-6-years-2-meals-1-day/
  5. Food Snob

    Noma

    Hello, These are some thoughts about the day I 'spent' at noma... Please click here for full photography + commentary: HERE This will be a one-off post, a special entry – special to me anyway – as it concerns a special day, a special experience in every sense. For that reason, I shall abandon all the little rules, conventions and obsessive compulsions that have come to order my work. That means less script, more feeling and, as can be read already, writing in the first person. This is the story of a day spent at noma. One entire day at a restaurant to which I have returned many times, but of which I have written only once. My original lunch was an enlightening event that changed how I eat – how I live. Successive visits have been equally as influential and have, without doubt, included the greatest meals of my life. I have, however, felt unable to share them – although not for a lack of wanting to. I filled that first post with (what I believed was) the best I had, with all my facts, thoughts, with every impression, inspiration – with everything. 6,633 words of everything. Another sentence, an additional word I feared would merely be redundant, repetitive or worse, might blunt what went before. This may have been miserly, neglectful…égoïste even, but it was nonetheless completely true. True until the 16th of March 2010 that is. That third Tuesday of March saw the release of Michelin’s Main Cities of Europe 2010 guide, relevant to Copenhagen and the rest of the Continent’s major cities. In anticipation of the announcement (although in fact after any excuse at all), I made two reservations for the same day – this day. It was a triply thrilling notion: lunch then dinner at my favourite restaurant plus an opportunity to eat at the world’s newest three-star… The night before the big day was an anxious one, heavy with a similar nervous excitement to that which comes about each Christmas Eve. At the same time though, it was also bizarre to be even having those sorts of thoughts myself – as someone unconnected to noma – but then again, such is the contagious effect that Redzepi and his team have: they enthral, they charm, they make you feel as if you too are part of something more, part of something together. The morning prior to the pronouncement was almost worse. And, as history would have it, it was also anticlimactic. Nothing for noma. This time. That meant an awkward entrance at the restaurant – mostly for me than for anyone else there. The staff, their composure immaculate, seemed utterly unaffected; I, on the other hand, was uncertain how to act and so just attempted to follow suit, ignoring the earlier news. Soon enough I was seated, ready to start. I was – maybe even more so than ever – eager and intent, excited to see what untried dishes would be tasted today, curious as to how they would structure the two meals. But I was not left ignorant for long. Moments later, the chef came to the table to explain… With a typical puff and characteristic caress of his boyish wisps, Redzepi revealed how the day would unfold – for table four at least. He had a theme devised... …for lunch, every dish will be over three years old; for dinner, each would be less than three weeks old. Save for an impulsive if less than eloquent, ‘cool, OK’, I was left at a loss for words. Speechless. As I alluded to previously, this post will be full of fewer words than ones past. Instead, I prefer to let the photographs speak for themselves. Please scroll slowly… Lunch – Then – Only dishes created over three years ago... Forret 1: Boghvede crepe med rygeost og löjrom. Buckwheat crepe with smoked cheese and bleak roe. Forret 2: Kammuslinger, kogt porre og ‘tør mayonaise’. Scallop, cooked leek and ‘dry mayo’. Forret 3: Kartoffelmos. Mashed potatoes. Forret 4: Kongecrabbe og muslinger. King crab and mussel. Forret 5: Blæksprutte og kartofler; mayonaise og brunet smør. Squid legs and potatoes; mayo and brown butter. Hovedret 1: Søtunge og blomkål, honningkager og enebær. Brill and cauliflower; gingerbread and juniper. Hovedret 2: Torsk; syltede svampe. Cod; pickled mushrooms. Hovedret 3: Stegt terrine på kalvehaler og færøske jomfruhummer. Fried terrine of veal tail and Faeroese langoustine. Hovedret 4: Farseret vagtel med løg i forskellige teksturer. Stuffed quail with onion textures. Dessert 1: Fåremælk yoghurt med mynteolie og Granola müsli. Sheep’s milk yoghurt with mint oil and granola muesli. Dessert 2: Geleret kærnemælk, malt og roeiscreme. Buttermilk jelly, malt and sugar beet syrup. Dessert 3: Æble og hasselnød. Apple and hazelnut. Dessert 4: Valnødde pulver og is. Walnut powder and ice cream. Petit Fours: Flødebolle med yoghurt; chokolade kartoffelchip med fennikel. Yoghurt flødebolle; chocolate potato crisp with fennel. Dinner – Now – Only dishes created in the last three weeks… Snacks 1: Havtorn læder og syltede hyldeblomst. Seabuckthorn leather and pickled elderflower. Snacks 2: Småkage med kogt kalvekød og solbær. Veal speck cookie with blackcurrant and sorrel. Snacks 3: Rugbrød, kyllingeskind, stenbiderrogn og rygeost. Chicken skin sandwich with lumpfish roe. Snacks 4: Syltet og røget vagtelæg. Pickled, smoked egg. Snacks 5: Radiser, jord og urteemulsion. Radishes in a pot. Snacks 6: Æbleskiver. Æbleskiver. Snacks 7: Toast, vilde urter, torskrogn, eddike og andeskind. Vinegar dust toast. Forret 1: Rødbeder; Havesyre og rapsolie. Beetroot, sorrel and rapeseed sauce. Forret 2: Rejer og søpindsvi; Fløde og strandurter. Shrimps and sea urchin; cream and beach herbs. Forret 3: Tørret kammusling og karse; Biodynamiske gryn og bog. Dried scallops and watercress; Biodynamic cereals and beech nut. Forret 4: Unge grøntsager og torskelever; Løg bouillon. Søren Wiuff’s baby vegetables and cod liver; onion bouillon. Forret 5: Østers grød; Muslingeskaller og søl. Oyster porridge; mussels and søl. Hovedret 1: Blæksprutte og havesyre; Brombær og slåenbær med æggeblomme. Squid and sorrel; blackberry, sloeberry and egg yolk. Hovedret 2: Årgangskartoffel og valle; Løvstikke og . Vintage potato and whey; Lovage and Prästost. Hovedret 3: Ramsløg og hvidløg; Timian. Ramsons; thyme. Hovedret 4: Spejlæg; Svenbo og Gotland trøffel. Fried egg; Svenbo and Gotland truffle. Hovedret 5: Oksekæbe og julesalat; Syltet pære og jernurt. Ox cheek and endive; Pickled pear and verbena. Dessert 1: Bladselleri og knoldselleri. Celery and celeriac. Dessert 2: Mælk og Gammel Dansk is; Dild. Milk and bitters ice cream; dill. Dessert 2: Jordskokke; Æble og malt. Jerusalem artichoke; apple and malt. Petit Fours: Flødebolle med yoghurt; chokolade kartoffelchip med fennikel. Yoghurt flødebolle; chocolate potato crisp with fennel. The service at noma is incredible. Since I have expressed many more thoughts more fully elsewhere, I will try to be brief here. The front-of-house staff are delightful and amiable, brilliantly attentive and expertly coordinated. Servers move in flawless synchronisation, still always smiling. They are led by Lau and Pontus – two gentlemen of whom I could not think more highly or ever praise enough. Furthermore, engaging with the youthful, exuberant chefs as they surrender the plates they have just put together with their own hands, enhances the entire event immeasurably and is an idea that has already been revolutionary – restaurants literally around the world now do likewise. To quote what I scribbled afore: ‘breaking down any imaginary boundaries between customer and kitchen, there is also something very emotive and effective about this approach. Chefs, as they proudly present them before the diner, describe their dishes with the natural affection that the maker has for what he has made – and rightly so. After all, what they are achieving with these is worthy indeed: with each, they are giving back Nordic cooking its identity.’ One of the numerous little details that made lunch great was how the kitchen and staff shared in the experience. Only René and Torsten had cooked these dishes before whilst no one but Lau and Pontus had served them. Thus, there was a tangible and manifest animation and enthusiasm from everyone as each course was created and delivered. This was coupled with the nostalgia and clear sentiment of those for whom it had been some time since they had last seen them. Emotional moments - as the source and significance of the recipes were explained tableside by noma’s nestors – littered this meal. It was truly touching. This also happened to be my first dinner here and it never ceases to surprise how different the same restaurant can be during the day and at night. Dining seems a near impossible choice between the two. At lunch, there is the vitalising light that sweeps in through the many windows and washes the room with brightness and energy. Evening, meanwhile, has its own charisma. Sunshine is traded for candlelight, intensifying the intimacy and making the room rather romantic. The waxy illumination adds something indefinable yet snug and quintessentially – and there really is no other word for it – Scandinavian. Both meals were beautiful. I am almost too abashed to admit that during the day’s first couple of courses, I was so unstrung and skittish that I was nearly unable to enjoy the food properly. Maybe it was the adrenaline from earlier or the consequence surrounding the occasion, but I did have to take a pause ahead of the next plate. From that moment onwards though, it was easy… Each serving was one of quality and creativity; of alluring aesthetic and ethereal appeal. A delicate crepe concealing smoked cheese started the meal. This was proceeded by the kartoffelmos, an amusing deconstruction of a traditional Danish dish, that was light-hearted and toothsome; its colourful assembly suggestive of some child’s plaything. Then, after a superbly poached piece of king crab paired with quail eggs and mussels in many forms, a sequence of four fantastic courses followed, commencing with the delicious blæksprutte og kartofler, an instantly recognisable noma classic. The tender squid tentacles, teamed with various textures of potato and enlivened with vinegar tapioca, were outstanding. The søtunge og blomkål that arrived with a small burning branch of aromatic juniper was one of – to my mind – most Nordic things I have ever tasted; the gingerbread’s spicy-sweet inclusion here, inspired. Next came the immensely satisfying slow-baked and tasty cod perked up with pickled mushrooms. Stegt terrine på kalvehaler was another stunner. The 2004 Årets Gericke winner comprised sweet, supple langoustines together with a rich morsel of veal tail, all seasoned nicely with mustard seeds and balanced with bitter endive. Desserts too were excellent. They began with a lovely sheep’s milk yoghurt that played very will with minty oil and crunchy, subtly sweet breakfast muesli. Buttermilk pudding implanted with malt tuile wafers and surrounded by raisins imbued with aquavit and a drizzle of sugar beet syrup was sublime. Æble og hasselnød, painting-like in its design, was a delectable ending. I did not know what to expect from these older dishes. I suppose that deep down, if pressed, I might confess to assuming that they might not live up to the exceptional standard of today’s ones. However, any such presumptions were proven foolish – and not surprisingly so. After all, these were the plates upon which noma made its name, earned two Michelin stars and forced its way into every aware eater’s consciousness. Dinner picked up were lunch left off. The composition of snacks that one starts with has changed a little – evolved – since my initial visit and are still very much my favourite series of amuses anywhere. Subsequent to these, two of the traits that separate noma’s cuisine apart from that of the crowd’s were displayed with the rejer og søpindsvi foremost and then tørret kammusling og karse immediately after. The former, something simply stunning to receive, was evocative, intriguing and boasted raw shellfish combined with dairy. In fact, since tasting Redzepi’s blæksprutte og grønne jordbær; fløde og dild, I have been almost incapable of enjoying uncooked squid, oysters, mussels, etc without a similarly creamy complement. For me, this is one of the most genuinely intuitive of ingredient pairings – and, having first found it here, it is one I now inseparably associate with this kitchen. The dried scallops and watercress, alternatively, highlighted another asset altogether. Every time I have eaten at noma, entirely brand new taste profiles have been revealed to me. By this, I refer not to simply sampling the unusual, like a cloudberry, beach mustard or woodruff, for the first time – all unknown to me themselves yet with an essence essentially familiar (tart, pungent, sweet) – but something broader. Dishes show off a whole scale of flavours utterly unrecognisable – without frame of reference – and irritatingly difficult to articulate into text. More remarkably, Redzepi consistently creates such courses. Lissom octopus legs, entwined amidst acidic sorrel stems and sat in swirls of sharp sloe and blackberry with rich egg yolk, left behind another lasting memory ahead of an amazing act of table theatre. A small wooden tray carrying Danish cheese, grater, goat’s milk butter, oil and felt-tip tattooed egg was placed before me. This odd arrival was eventually accompanied by a sizzling hot iron pan as well as a set of specific instructions: oil the plate; crack the egg; add the butter; shave the Svenbo. The splendid smells along with the hiss and sizzle of the cooking captivated and entertained the entire room. This was a frugal dish in a fine-dining setting – until the final flourish. When the egg was just about ready, the chef reappeared and ladled Gotland truffle purée around the finished plate. Delicious. And I had made it myself. The meal’s terrific rhythm continued with a real climax – oksekæbe og julesalat; syltet pære og jernurt. Since June, the main course has improved every single time I have been back and this was definitely the best yet. Ox cheek, tender and intense, rested under a canopy of pickled pear slivers that, alongside redcurrant wine-infused endive and lemony verbena sauce, cut the meat’s richness impeccably well. At the risk of relentlessly repeating myself, desserts too were tremendous. This is another part of the carte that seems only to have become better during my time. A refreshing mix of celery and celeriac was succeeded by tantalising milk and bitters ice cream sprinkled with sharp lingonberries and dill. The final sweet may have maybe been even better. A scoop of Jerusalem artichoke ice cream, in a shallow pool of apple sauce punctuated by ink-like spots of malt oil, sat smothered with super-thin slices of the same fruit and studded with matching ebon discs made of malt oil – these biscuits being addictively good. I cannot say which of today’s two meals I enjoyed more; it is too difficult a thing to decide. However, what I can comment on is how lunch and dinner differed; how the cuisine has changed – and how it has stayed the same. The clearest distinction was that during lunch it was arguably possible to see some external influences on the cooking. Any such inspiration was very subtle and perhaps only observable as these older dishes were juxtaposed so directly against dinner’s newer ones. Those earliest plates featured, for example, more el Bulli-esque foams whilst the farseret vagtel smacked strongly of something classical - something more likely to be found on Kong Hans’ menu than noma’s. In contrast, the evening’s recipes seemed to have had any such residues removed – these were incomparable to anything that I had seen before. The kitchen had clearly and markedly improved and matured over the years. Although, of course, development over time is to be expected everywhere. What is so special here is the pace and the product of this progress – a cuisine supreme and singular. Some of the most distinct dissimilarities were seen during desserts. Those at lunch were noticeably sweeter whilst crafted from a wider range of raw materials; the geleret kærnemælk, for instance, contained now-uncommon alcohol (aquavit-suffused raisins). Wary of satiating diners and keen to leave them feeling comfortable at the meal’s end – plus the chef’s personal preference and pursuit of something distinctive – afters have become seriously more savoury and almost strictly vegetable-based. Further observations may be less significant, but were nonetheless interesting. They included the occurrence of scallops, which I had not yet seen at noma; that portions, if not larger, were more substantial; and the incidence of some products at the restaurant’s start that continue to be employed today – the crispy potato ringlets, various fish roes and vinegar tapioca amongst these. As well as using some of the same signature components, some of the original style of plating has also still survives even after six years; examples being same-shaped smears and swirls; entire, intact stems; and upstanding vegetable cylinders. Individuality and unbroken betterment at noma is undeniable, but it is not limited purely to this one restaurant. It is endemic to Copenhagen. Initially, it was indeed René Redzepi that drew me to Denmark, but what I have found whilst there is a dining scene unequalled by any other anywhere else. It is my favourite city to eat in. Sure enough, I do have my most regular tables – MR, Paustian v. Bo Bech, Sollerod Kro – but there exists here a whole host of ambitious places teeming with potential including the Paul, Kiin Kiin, Mielcke & Hurtigkarl and Herman to name but some. Not only is the standard so high, but the style at each so individual. And – just like noma – they are not standing still. In merely the last ten-or-so months, I myself have seen an evolution at many of them – Paustian v. Bo Bech and Sollerod Kro especially. I must also single out another place that has impressed me considerably: Restaurant AOC. Only opened last autumn, the huge strides made between my two meals – the foremost straight after its launch, the second six months later – are astonishing. Its momentum is simply immense and it is one of the city’s most exciting kitchens. Nor is it solely me who thinks thusly – it has already made headlines and been recognised by Michelin with a first star (coincidentally on this same day). Recently, the results of the annual San Pellegrino World’s 50 best poll were announced in London. The next morning, the world awoke to realise that noma had become its best restaurant. It was a suspicion shared by many beforehand with Redzepi long-accepted as one of the most influential chefs cooking today. The consequences of what he has accomplished at the Grønlandske Handels Plads are overwhelming and can be sensed in kitchens and dining rooms worldwide. The tables have indeed turned: it is now his cuisine that inspires those of others. Nonetheless and although totally deserved, the attention that this latest acknowledgment has brought with it has still been incredible and, more so than any earlier, pervasive – ordinary people now know the name noma. And now that they know noma, it is my own hope that they will learn about all of Copenhagen as well… noma changed my life. It changes it still. As I have explained, I owe those there for the introduction to Nordic cuisine, but my debt is decidedly deeper than that. In countless visits to the Danish capital, I have met many new people – people whose instant acceptance and warm affability have quickly compelled me to consider them friends. There are few places now that I am more comfortable – few places I miss more. Although I do suffer a certain affection for it, I remain a relative newcomer to noma, having missed its first five years. Therefore, to be allowed a day like this and be given a glimpse of into the restaurant’s history was a most amazing thing and spectacular present. It was an experience I cannot compare to anything else – just like with René’s cooking, no reference points exist. I am sure that anyone for whom noma means anything will understand and appreciate the significance and relevance of these meals. Finally, I must end with some mention of the enormous gratitude I feel towards René Redzepi. I exaggerate not when I write that he amazes me anew every time we meet and too few are those about which such a thing is true. He is the best man I know. And that’s enough about him. An incredible tale of six years told in one day, in two meals, in smashing thirty-five courses. It was a gesture unexpected, a gift undeserved.
  6. Hello, These are my thoughts on my meal last autumn. Please click here for full photography + commentary: HERE Almost all are aware of the Sydney Opera House, but nearly none know the name of the man whose vision it was. He was Jørn Oberg Utzon. Even though a masterpiece – although arguably the most famous monument in the southern hemisphere – its construction and the near scandal that surrounded it, resulted in Utzon’s resignation and early return home shortly before the project’s finish. Having left Australia, his reputation somewhat besmirched, he continued working with success yet never again landed another major civic commission. What was perhaps the world’s loss was the Danes’ gain – one Dane’s especially. Furniture magnet, Ole Paustian, hired Utzon to design his new waterfront showroom in Nordhavn where supply ships from Norway unload and reload whilst luxury yachts rest lazily. It turned out to be the architect’s last undertaking on native soil and, inspired by Denmark’s beech forests, was completed in 1987. An adjacent restaurant and office were added two years later; the former run as a reputable, local café under Erik Geppel until 2004 – until Bo Bech took over. Bo Bech was a late beginner – but a quick bloomer. He had earned a university degree, been a salesman for General Motors and served as a soldier overseas all before he had even chosen to cook. ‘Italians and French,’ he asserts, ‘like to say that they learned to love food from their grandmother or something. Actually I have no idea when it begins. But all of a sudden, it’s there. And it feels right.’ Having not grown up with such ambitions, he considers himself ‘almost an accidental chef’. After his studies, Bech craved a career wherein he would see instant results. He tried working at GM, but did not find what he sought there. Compulsory military service – a stretch in former Yugoslavia with the Danish Royal Guard – followed. It was then that he decided to try his hand at cooking; it was not clear how or why an interest in food started, but as soon as he realised it, ‘it was a revelation!’ Thus, at twenty-four, he joined Frank Lantz’s Krogs fiskerestaurant in Copenhagen, his hometown. ‘The norm was then to begin fourteen to sixteen year olds, so even from the outset I was a little behind in points,’ he remembers. Still, his eyes were immediately opened: ‘it just said, ‘boom! You’re home. And then it just takes off.’ Eager to make up for lost time, Bech set off on a two-year tour abroad. Moving first to London, he worked at le Gavroche then Marco Pierre White’s The Restaurant. He describes the last as ‘very crazy. But often when you learn the most you don’t know it. Often it’s because it looks very hard. When you leave, when you look back, you see the change in you for the better.’ Paris came next with eminent spells at Lucas Carton with Senderens and l’Arpège under Passard. Returning to Denmark, short stints at Kong Hans Kælder with Thomas Rode Andersen (Copenhagen), Michel Michaud’s Marie Louise (Odense) and Petri Pumpa for Thomas Drejing (Lund, Sweden) ensued. It was not till 2000 that Bech eventually (briefly) settled down as head chef at Jan Hurtigkarl & Co. in Ålsgårde. Hurtigkarl was a ‘good teacher’ and he thought his experience there rewarding, but by the end of three years, the chef felt himself confronted with a choice – ‘should I continue in the direction I have right now or should I be independent?’ He wanted to go solo so left in October 2003. At that stage, however, all he had was an idea and desire; he needed a restaurant and he needed money. After some shiftless months – ‘one cannot build credibility lying on the couch and fifty kilos heavier’ – it was Paustian that finally ‘found him’. To purchase its lease, he approached the bank, but they refused to lend him the necessary cash. His response was to set up a stall in front of it and cook for the employees. It worked. Restaurant Paustian v. Bo Bech opened in 2004. Three years later, it was recognised by Michelin with an espoir. Right away, the chef wanted more. And he got it. One year on, Bech won his first star. ‘It happens very rarely that I cannot control my body, but I must admit I cried for one hour when they called.’ It meant much: ‘it’s like getting three rockets in the ass – extra. This is a tribute to my whole team.’ Throughout this period though, the free-speaking and forthright chef had not stood still having also gained fame as the presenter of Denmark’s equivalents of Kitchen Nightmares (Med kniven for Struben) and Masterchef (Kokkekampen) as well as creating a stir in April 2009 when he opened his own bakery on Grand Kongensgade. The store had no name, no phone, no credit-card machine – and sold a single style of loaf. ‘To bake is quite simple – water, flour and salt, but it’s still crazy hard… [And] we want to make the best bread.’ Its launch was really a dream come true for him and to celebrate he had a Tagliavini-kiln furnace – ‘[it’s] an Italian Ferrari of an oven’ – specially imported for it. Whilst the bakery is set in Copenhagen’s centre, the restaurant resides further north within Nordhavn – the recently reclaimed nineteenth century dock that is now the intended subject of Scandinavia’s most ambitious city development scheme, the Nordholmene Urban Delta. Specifically sitting in the part of the port known as Kalkbrænderihavnen – where limestone was once the chief custom – Bo Bech is directly opposite the imposing, industrial Svanemølleværket thermal power plant, each on either edge of Denmark’s largest yacht harbour, the thousand-berth-strong Svanemøllehavnen. Bold, black vertical letters spell out Paustian down one entire face of the furniture-shop and are visible from nearly any angle around the marina. Standing just before the store, but accessed through the same building, is the actual restaurant. Two sets of double-doors lead on from the entrance, the second of which bears the work of celebrated Danish artist John Kørner. Once through, guests are greeted by a larger-than-life statue of a dog in the small, red-light reception that borders a blossoming herb garden. Straight ahead, there is the open kitchen where Bech does his business. On the right, divided off by a row of dense columns, is the dining room. A series of sizeable windows rim its three bright white sides, although the inner walls themselves are significantly inset, in effect making each casement a bay. Above these, and separated by graffiti-like skyline illustrations of Copenhagen, London, NYC and Berlin courtesy of the OEPS Crew, is another array of smaller apertures. The twenty-foot high, subtly slanted, purple ceiling creates an ample and dramatic space that revolves around a central serving station composed of open and closed rectangles and adorned with seasonal flora. Clusters of light bulbs dangle on long leashes from the roof, individually encased in irregular and oversized orbs that seem as if sculpted from spun sugar. The newly renovated room has been furnished by Paustian and boasts less than a dozen tables – one of which carries wheels of cheese and another, a great lemon-coloured champagne bath. Those that are used are bare bar varying small organic ornaments such as a fresh herb pot, whole squash or cauliflower. Staff are in casual uniforms specially made by Vilsbol de Arce. Bo Bech offers a lunch carte of two to five courses as well as two extended, spontaneous tasting menus – the poetically entitled, Alkymisten (Alchemist) and vegetarian Klorofyl (Chlorophyll)… Amuse Bouche 1: Dag gammelt brød med efterårs trøffel. The fragrance of freshly grated autumn truffle was this meal’s earliest sensation. It arose from a round, mesh cracker composed of day-old breadcrumbs over strewn with the shaved tuber. Stale bread – something commonly binned or, at best, fed to the birds – had been reconstructed as a medium for one of man’s most valuable foodstuffs. Amuse Bouche 2: Råkost af rødbeder med grov sennepsmousse. A trinity of small mitre-like, burgundy beet bundles, bejewelled with plump flavescent beads of mustard seed, formed a crescent around a sculpted scoop of speckled coarse mustard; punctuated by drops of balsamic vinegar, a little mustard oil sprinkled the plate. There was a keen and careful balance here. The three varieties of mustard custom-mixed into one had sweet-heat that was cooled by the raw ravioli comprising crisp beetroot skins wrapped about the vegetable’s earthier mousse. The balsamic was syrupy-sharp whilst the seeds added pungent notes as did the oil, those of nut. Amuse Bouche 3: Svampebouillon. Poured at the table, a mushroom bouillon was next. From auburn to ochre to bronze, the wide, white bowl meant that the still, reflective surface of the soup seemed to change colour with the crockery’s depth. No cutlery came. Instead, one was obliged to lift the bowl to their lips and sip; the effect of this – besides obviously being able to taste the broth – was the extra emphasis on its aroma as it neared the nose. Made from morels, girolles and button mushrooms, this was toothsome and heartening. Brødet: Porøst maltbrød, surdejsbrød og kærnemælksbrød med lakrids. Swart malt bread wrought as a long rectangle, its sides convex, was brittle and verged on bitter; Bech’s signature sourdough, baked at his own bakery, was crusty, firm and flavoursome; but the small buttermilk bun, thinly painted with subtly sticky Pakistani liquorice powder, was deliciously addictive and the favourite. Set in austere ebony holders, two types of butter were provided: a lightly Læsø-salted organic standard from Denmark’s oldest dairy, Åbybro Mejeri; and a beurre noisette one made from the former, which had at first been caramelised then allowed to cool before being whipped into something moreish. Entrée 1: Lameller af avocado med let saltet caviar og mandler. A perfect square – nine by nine centimetres – constructed from super-thin strips of avocado, their inner ends intertwined alternately and overlapping each other, came lightly laminated with almond oil, a little lemon and crowned with a black cluster of caviar. The presentation was superb: each lustrous lamella of the Has avocado had a unique hue that in concert acted as a single brilliant and bright sheet upon the perfect alabaster bed underneath; the cushion of glistening, ebon eggs lay in its centre. Buttery and mildly nutty, the fruit’s taste was accentuated by the almond oil; the Rossini ‘Baeri’ caviar was the condiment, offering a salty counterpoint. Entrée 2: Æstetiske jomfruhummere i vilde grannåle parfumeret med røg. A considerable piece of cracked and peeling spruce was presented at the table; a small chalice holding smoked salt was placed alongside. Almost at once, the floral, woody scent of smouldering lumber was sensed. The lid-like top layer of bark was lifted to reveal a charred mass of the same tree’s leaves; further inspection unearthed a single, warm langoustine secreted within the charred sprigs. Spiced well by robust traditional Viking salt, the pan-seared then smoked shellfish was succulent and tinged with the flame’s flavours. Entrée 3: Braiseret porre med saft af grønne jordbær og limfjordsøsters. A braised leek, sliced into equal, little lengths, was peppered with diced oyster leaf from Gotland and laid over an oyster mousse that rested in the juice of unripe strawberries. The mellow and tender vegetable had an instant affinity with the elemental leaf and excellent paste – the last of which was made from Limfjord molluscs, which some consider the finest anywhere. The surrounding strawberry jus had an interesting, subtle acidity that complemented the bivalve and leek very well. Entrée 4: Råstegt sort hummer med knuste kartofler og vilde krydderurter . Danish ‘asparagus’ potatoes, boiled with skins intact then crushed, came arranged in an interchanging ring with pan-fried local black lobster; over everything, an almost unseen crust of hay-smoked cheese was stretched across, itself garnished with various young greens. Within this circlet, what had at initially appeared another potato was actually a poached hen’s egg. The herbs – fennel, sage, spearmint, nasturtium, coriander – left fresh and minty bitter-sweetness that offset the richness of the smoky-sweet hø-ost and sticky egg. The soft, surprisingly delicate yet rustic kartofler were well-seasoned as was the juicy shellfish. Entrée 5: Røget ål med cremet peberrod og havesyre. A smear athwart one half of the plate started intense myrtle and finished chiffon coloured. Upon the converse side, a spruce sorrel stalk sat dusted with dried eel; beneath the blade was a filet of the smoked fish itself. This last element, whence emanated an enticing scent, was delicious and full-flavoured. The lemony leaf was a first-rate foil whilst the spicy, creamy horseradish and refreshing parsley were classic combinations. The chalky crumbs atop the sorrel – cured eel commixed with maltodextrin – added a touch of sweetness and imparted a pleasing mouth-feel. Plat Principal 1: Vesterhavspighvar med bløde tomatnuancer. The restaurantchef presented a plump tomato tableside, which he proceeded to press with a yellow plastic lemon squeezer. His task done, a deep dish, empty except for a roasted tranche of turbot, was delivered; into this, different types of tomato cooked in a sauce made from the tête de turbot and their own jus were ladled before the just-extracted juice was poured in. The west coast fish was terrific – nicely-caramelised, thick and firm, it was very tasty. The fresh tomato sauce, instilled with the liquor from the fish’s head, had serious savour whilst the peeled fruit, some pickled and others not, in assorted shades, were lovely and warm, delivering agreeably sweet acidity. Plat Principal 2: Trækuls grillede oksemørbrad fra Farsø med syltet purløgsblomster. Upon flat, white porcelain lay nothing but what looked like a lump of coal and specks of coarse sea salt. Cutting into the jagged, jet-black brick exposed a cerise-coloured core of char-grilled Farsø beef tenderloin atop a pickled chive flower-bed. Although the meaty filet was decent and moist, it was really the stinging ash coating the beef that made this worthwhile and the vinegary-sweet mini blossoms that kept one’s attention. Plat Principal 3: Grydestegt med efterårs trøffel og smørvalle. Service in five phases entailed the arrival of a sizeable autumn truffle and grater, followed by the advent and unveiling of a large cocotte containing an entire cauliflower head covered in the finely shredded fungus. Step three, a plate appeared, furnished in advance with some truffle cream coated in frothy butter whey; four, the vegetable was apportioned; before a final shaving of more tuber over everything. The pot-roasted cauliflower shared an innate bond with the butter and truffle and also proved a suitable counter for the appetisingly subtly sour whey. Plat Principal 4: Brissel, hale og bryst af kalv med stuvede morkler. Surrounded by shallow jus de veau, three morsels – thirds of a single sweetbread – amidst a threesome of morels, each set arrect and stuffed with veal tail muscle, stood in alternating sequence, a wreath of fried veal breast fibres overlaying all. These threads melted on the tongue, releasing meaty relish. Plump, stewed mushrooms resembled sponges while the braised meat within them was tender and distinct. Creamy-smooth sweetbreads had succulence and the sauce, satisfying strength. Plat Principal 5: Lammekollagen med kastanie. A trio of chestnut-encrusted lamb cheeks were planted aslant the lip of a plate, loosely tracing the edge of a small maroon mizzling of jus d’agneau. The braised nuggets were rich and well-grained, if a little dense; the ground nut glaze was a great complement to the meat as well as the potent lamb jus. Pre-dessert: Oxideret rugbrød med bitter ale og frossen mælkeskind. A pale goldenrod dome was the pivot point around which the crockery’s rim swirled skywards. Rupturing this burnished frozen milk-skin revealed milk mousse and oxidised rye bread crème underneath it. This rye was velvety and slightly astringent; the Funs dark beer it has been blended with, quite malty with tones of toffee; whilst the milky, cool middle, the sweeter contrast. This was a modern twist on a Danish classic – øllebrød or bread porridge. Dessert 1: Kandiserede bagte vilde brombær med blåbær. A large, deep cylinder of candyfloss was served crowned with a cardinal quenelle of blackberry. A wild forest fruit coulis was subsequently issued over this fluffy drum. Immediately it melted. But, as it vanished, it exposed a bundle of baked berries – raspberry, blueberry, blackberry – that had been bunched beneath it and now sat semi-submerged in vibrant scarlet sauce. The candy had become a nearly invisible sheet of sugar with enjoyably gritty texture that married well with the viscid, tartly-sweet fruits that it swathed. The superb sorbet also contributed to the differing degrees of consistency here. Dessert 2: Karamelliserede Fransk toast med vanille og skrøbelige bobler af brunt smør. A thick, bulky cube of caramelised French toast was topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a cloud of brown butter ‘bubbles’. Adeptly fried, the pain perdu was sweet and soft whilst the foamy beurre noisette emulsion augmented its deep savour, which the ice cream – that kept its shape even though the bread below was quite warm – helped temper. Dessert 3: Imaginære landskaber af chokolade med aromatisk hasselnød. A field of raw hazelnuts, cocoa butter and baked white chocolate formed a slack square; a liberal spot of sugar beet syrup lay in one corner and a boule of hazelnut ice cream, opposite. The clustered array of crumbs was crunchy and creamy: baked white chocolate was brittle and sweet; cocoa butter – the natural fat of the cocoa bean and what becomes white choc with milk and sugar – had melting texture; and hazel, nuttiness. The sorbet was mild; the beet syrup, like honey. Petit Fours: Petit fours og kaffe. An overflowing tray held a tower of orange zest-freckled candyfloss that was fragrant with hints of citrus. A small chocolate slab was actually an airy yet compacted macaroon whilst a button of synthetic soya tasted intense and smooth. Lastly, a bowl bore confit English liquorice black olives. This fascinating flavour pairing was startling and, although these were somewhat strong, they were rather addictive too. Service, whilst professional remained relaxed throughout with all the staff possessing an easy, affable mien. They were also diligent, attentive and had a precise knowledge of the food and its preparation. Despite being a relatively new and youthful team, led by Patrick, there was yet a fluent cooperation and certain enthusiasm amongst them. In addition, a special mention was earned by Julie’s remarkable memory. The open kitchen allowed both the welcome hubbub of frying pans and bubbling pots to be heard as well as the opportunity to observe Bech in action. As a television personality he perhaps better understands/feels the desire of/importance for many customers to see him there themselves, actually working – and he does indeed cut a poignant figure as he cooks on his own, composed and in total control. That being said, it was also clear the chef was not, in such a way, seeking the attention of an audience – diners are regularly seated with backs towards him. Thus, instead of acting as the star upon some stage, his role rather resembles instead that of a conductor, studying his guests’ reactions and re-acting. This meal was of a superior standard. Time and again, amuses are illuminating moments. Today it was no different. Even though each of the dag gammelt brød, råkost af rødbeder and svampebouillon individually demonstrated specific aspects of the chef’s cuisine, together they also showed one more – this would be a lunch unpredictable… These snacks started with a consummate contradiction: leftovers and luxury. It was a statement: ‘we will spoil you, but we are going to have fun doing it.’ Nor was that the end of the antonyms evoked by this teaming together of stale bread and truffle – here was super-crisp and soft; fragile and dainty against rough and carefree; old versus fresh. Next, the raw beet ravioli revealed that, when it comes to realising recipes, Bech possesses a strong intuition for arresting aesthetic as well as a feminine touch that allows him to assemble dishes calling for delicacy and deftness too. Lastly, the wild mushroom bouillon exhibited the chef’s consciousness of how all one’s senses contribute to an experience as well as proof that he is comfortable and confident enough in his cooking to serve even the simplest looking offerings. The menu serious commenced with the chef’s signature: lameller af avocado. This was what Bech admits redefined his cooking. This was the recipe that revealed to him the delights of creating conflict within a dish, the amusing satisfaction achieved through curious contrast between rich and poor products. His representation of this concept was pristine and refined yet restrained and discreet; it resembled a work of art. Succeeding this was the æstetiske jomfruhummere, whose arrival was made even more emphatic for its juxtaposition with the previous course. Rustic, dramatic and engaging, this was nearly a challenge to the avocado and caviar before. Lunch moved into another gear with the braiseret porre; once again attractive, this also demonstrated easy, effective balance betwixt excellent ingredients. It was followed by råstegt sort hummer. Bo Bech enjoys working with the primitive potato, ‘…it may be everything. [They] are something we can use every day without giving them a second thought. Potatoes are neutral and can weave themselves into every meal.’ Here, the luxurious lobster and simple spud had been made to seem the same – still in their skins, to touch, both were yielding yet supple. The medial egg, masquerading as another tater or even perhaps some shellfish, was further manifestation of the chef’s typifying subtle – sometimes sneaky – wit. Smoked eel with creamy horseradish and sorrel was a classic combination of products in a new way – whilst also mingling the modern with the natural. After a dish northerly in origin came one more southerly in style. North Sea Turbot with soft nuances of tomato was a definite, delicious highlight; its fresh colours and vivid savours making this a very memorable course. The tableside rendering of its sauce was also novel and nice. Next to really make an impact was the sweetbread, tail and breast of veal with stewed morels – the 2009 Årets Gericke winner. Intense and satisfying this created a climax to the carte. Sweets met the savouries’ high measure. A very traditional Danish treat – Øllebrød – was deconstructed by Bech with his recreation, although unrecognisable on sight, at once familiar in flavour. The kandiserede bagte vilde brombær, so whimsical in its delivery, verged on spellbinding with a taste and mouthfeel just as successful; karamelliserede Fransk toast was a tasty and technical achievement; whilst imaginære landskaber af chokolade, a fulfilling chocolate finish. This extended menu informed – this writer at least – of four clear-cut fundamentals upon which Bo Bech’s cooking is built. The most marked tenet of this quartet is what the chef himself describes as ‘friendly conflict’ and which has already been implied above a propos the lameller af avocado. From the first amuse – earlier-termed leftovers and luxury – a pattern was established. Avocado and caviar; leek and oyster; potato and lobster; tomato and turbot; cauliflower and truffle; and offal with morels continued the trend. Bech confesses to being fascinated by such contrast and revels in being able to elevate the most modest of produce to the level of those more appreciated. It is something he does so well: instead of a forced or harsh mishmash, it is a jestful struggle shaped by humour and intelligence and consummated with superb and nimble balance. One aspect of the chef’s creations that interests and stirs utmost is his cultivated sense of aesthetic. Each course was pleasingly picturesque. From those most straightforward and simplistic appearing – the svampebouillon, for instance – to the more complicated – say the brissel, hale og bryst af kalv med stuvede morkler – there remained an alluring harmony of hues and dramatic candour. Another notable detail was the seamless association between plate and presentation with the chef’s use of the crockery and his ability to sculpt the recipe to suit it some of the best I have seen. Furthermore, Bech is able to fashion dishes that have diners almost simultaneously assuming how effortless they are whilst trying to understand just how their composition were even possible. In partnership with this expert arrangement was well-thought out delivery: nature’s introduction into the dining room with the æstetiske jomfruhummere; the visible juicing (upon a luminous, plastic squeezer no less) for the vesterhavspighvar; the showing off of the large cocotte carrying grydestegt blomkål (instead of something likelier like a classic stew); and, foremost among these, the amusing, evanescing kandiserede bagte being the most special such instances. In nearly all these, as well as others (trækuls grillede oksemørbrad, råstegt sort hummer…) there was also the afore-alluded to clever and sharp comedy. A small, but acutely apperceived point was the easy discernment of a definite and deliberate segue between courses and certain culmination to the meal itself. It felt as if the order of what came was given real consideration with the intention to lead the diner leisurely through their experience. ‘We are doing everything we can to get people to relax and enjoy themselves,’ Bech explains. There was a genuine sensation of savours progressing in intensity throughout lunch too. Finally – and hopefully not a total negation of what has already been written – there are no rules: you simply could not guess what would be served next. In this single meal, French, Italian, Spanish, and naturally, Nordic influences were evident. Yet each of these differing inspirations were materialised with instinctive skill in impeccable manner. The surprise was also not limited to geographical location, but extended to technique; traditional means were met by modern. Just as John Utzen took as his muse the homemade houses of Morocco, ancient Mexican plateaus and temples, Arabic tents and so on, Bech draws on his travels too. Encouraged by his favourites – l’Arpège and Mugaritz included – as well as where he was worked, the chef has articulated his own specific expression, unbounded and uninhibited: ‘I have no prejudices about what one can and cannot do with food. On the contrary, I desire that everything should be tested.’ ‘There is nothing wrong with the ordinary, but I love to explore new avenues.’ Indeed in years past, Bech did indulge his appetite for experimentation and molecular was the marker with which his cuisine was decisively stamped. If true then, it is false today. To label his cooking as MG now would be simply incorrect and not do the chef justice. Reading accounts of older meals, it is apparent that this is a cuisine in a state of evolution. A critical shift can be seen from a scientific base onto one organic with the former a term he no longer wishes to be ring fenced by; ‘I do not think we focus on [it]. It’s just a tag with many uses because they find it hard to put me in a box creatively. In reality, it probably scares more than it really attracts.’ This does not mean Bech has abandoned all his avant-garde habits, however when developing new dishes, it is legumes he ponders first. Perhaps recalling his days at Petri Pumpa, a vegetable kitchen, in Lund, he declares, ‘every meat can be loosely identified. It can, for example, be hard to taste the difference between calf and beef. On the other hand, green matter in its own natural form is easy to recognise. Nothing can be compared with celery, carrots or leeks.’ Moreover – and to conclude this issue – the very phrase, molecular gastronomy, feels cold, detached and inaccessible – in other words, everything Bech is not. Technically exacting he is, innovative too and fond of pushing borders, but scientific is a title that simply does not sit well. After all, this is a chef – un cuisinier – preparing food with emotion, reflection and respect. Rather than systematic, clinical and unemotional, it is abounding with affection, tenderness and sensitivity. ‘Most food is not hard to do, it is the love that it’s made with that makes all the difference,’ he insists. Bo Bech is able to weave together the diverse influences and varied themes that dominate his style into a distinctive and exceptional cuisine, into a unique and exciting interpretation of splendid ingredients. It is a thoughtful and suggestive approach that is direct, clear and clean, bright and prepared with patience, sincerity and grace. Employing relatively few elements and with a healthy focus on vegetables, the chef creates plates plush with colour combined with immaculate and meticulous minimalism that are never as simple as they seem. The result is surprising and entertaining, provocative yet richly personal. Enfants terribles is how the Danish press have dubbed Bech along with fellow chef and friend Paul Cunningham. This is because he cooks how he wants – without confines: ‘I just think that I do what I like. My strength lies in the fact that I am not trying to please everybody.’ Dining here, this is clear. At Bo Bech’s, you never know what you will get… …but in the very, very best of ways.
  7. Food Snob

    MR, Copenhagen

    Hello, These are my thoughts from my meal last August. Please click here for full commentary + photography: HERE Once upon a time, Mads Refslund wanted to be a writer. As a child he enjoyed penning fantasy fiction pieces – short stories about princes, princesses and unicorns. However, having finished school, he decided to abandon books for another interest – cooking. Refslund had first begun dabbling with the culinary arts aged just eight. At twelve, a pizza he had made impressed his mother so much that she framed a slice and hung it on the wall until it rot. Later, he lived with his ‘father, who worked at night for Politiken, packing. He slept all day…and was often so tired that he gave me permission to go into the refrigerator and knock something together for dinner. It was often spaghetti and meat sauce, but I was eager to make the perfect sauce…’ His studies complete, he enrolled at the Hotel & Restaurant School where he met and became instant friends with René Redzepi, who ‘opened the door to the Michelin world for me’. His friend had trained at Pierre André and so Refslund followed in his footsteps with an apprenticeship at the Gentofte Hotel. In 1999, ‘making my way into the world’, he landed at Formel B, one of Copenhagen’s hottest restaurants at the time, working with Paul Cunningham and Pernille Skjødt (Soren Gerickes’ daughter) under Henrik Boserup. ‘I could not get better teachers. Paul taught me how to get food to actually taste of something and Pernille taught me about light, feminine cooking – how food should be refreshing. It is probably only now I really understand how good she was.’ Having left Formel B after two-and-a-half years there, he busied himself with brief stints at the Hotel d’Angleterre, Plaza Sofitel, le Sommerlier (stage) and Restoration, reuniting with Paul Cunningham at the last. Both then moved to Coquus in 2002, but soon departed as Cunningham had plans for his own restaurant The Paul in Tivoli the next year; as they awaited its opening, Refslund completed a stage at Mitt. However, shortly after its launch, Redzepi and Claus Meyer approached him. They were just about to start their own project – noma – and offered him a partnership. He accepted. The trio embarked upon a three-month research tour of the Nordic region; it was an enlightening, life-changing experience. Upon their return though, the two friends soon discovered that they could not work well together. Refslund therefore left noma six months after joining, but he did so with no regrets and a friendship still strong. After a short spell in early 2004 under Mathias Dahlgren, then at Bon Lloc in Stockholm, the Dane took over the kitchen at Kokkeriet. A year on, he received a call from a would-be investor wanting to set up a new restaurant. Refslund felt that ‘he was looking for a little bit of a famous cook’, but having drifted around so much heretofore, he was looking to settle down himself. ‘Coming here, I said, 'I want to build it my way.’ And so he did. MR opened in spring 2005 to immediate acclaim. Within one year, Michelin had awarded him an espoir; within two, Refslund had won his first star. Domestic recognition was just as ready – no one in Denmark has received more annual prizes (Årets Gericke née Årets Ret) for their dishes (2007 dessert; 2008 starter; 2009 starter). Nevertheless, trouble was brewing behind the scenes. The silent investor – car service company, Totempo – had filed for bankruptcy in January 2009. Moreover, unbeknownst to the chef, the concern that owned MR was already straddled with liabilities left over from a previous failed venture. Soon the interest on their debt exceeded revenue and, within a few months, the business could no longer afford to pay for wages and taxes. Refslund was forced to close his restaurant on 1 April. It was a painful experience: ‘I’m really sad that it came to this, because everything was going so well. It isn’t a good feeling when you can’t pay your suppliers and employees…being bankrupt is horrible. I was treated like a criminal and creditors stood at the neck of one another to get their money.’ ‘I am MR and I will not let go,’ was Refslund’s instant reply. He reacted quickly and within only three months had found ‘three new investors with hearts in the right place’. He also negotiated with his former partner to keep the same name and contacted Michelin to inform them of the situation and assuage any anxieties they may have had. On 30 June, MR reopened. During those dark, spring months though there had been a fundamental change – meat had been removed from the menu. The chef’s intention was twofold: first, tired of working with flesh, he wanted to fulfil a slow-burning yearning to focus solely on what would be the ‘three keys to the kitchen’, fish, seafood and vegetables; and secondly, because he saw a niche – ‘there is a f****** shortage of seafood restaurants in Copenhagen, there's basically only Krogs Fish Restaurant’. However, he was hardly happy to be simply another fiskerestaurant; he wanted to revolutionise the notion. ‘MR swims against the tide of battle against ‘drowned fish’,’ asserts their website. ‘Visit even the best traditional restaurant and you'll probably get served…fish or shellfish buried in butter or fried hard in sauce until natural taste, texture and health qualities have evaporated. You leave sated, but with a heavy feeling better suited to a steakhouse.’ To achieve this, the chef has established relationships with Jutland fisherman able to provide him with diverse types of fresh fish whilst additionally securing a Greenlandic agreement supplying a huge range of raw shellfish. Refslund – a media darling anyway – has won over many critics since the transformation and MR is now only one of two Michelin-starred seafood restaurants in all of Scandinavia. Whither once the general public went to buy coal for their fuel, discerning society now seeks ‘fish that swims against the tide’. MR resides in a little red house on the southern side of Copenhagen’s arguably most central square, Kultorvet. The restaurant occupies the top three levels of the building, but the ground floor holds one of the city’s oldest and most popular pubs, Tavern Hvide Lam, which dates from 1807. The raised entrance, marked by an ivory door and little else, leads onto a small corridor that links into a long reception room. Pristine white panelling; hansa yellow hued wallpaper embossed with what could be cream lines of fleurs-de-lis; flowing rich burgundy drapes that fall upon the hard, dark wood floor; a vintage iron stove and pipe; and sleek, blonde low seating give the impression of an old-fashioned, unpretentious and elegant clubroom. Multi-coloured candles, amber and crimson flower-bulb chandeliers and soft jazz are more bohemian touches. A staircase trails the inner wall and directs the diner to the main dining area on the first floor in front of the kitchen. Opposite the stairway a golden banquette borders the wall whilst an extended serving station stands alongside it. To the left, is the most spacious, more open half of the room holding the largest tables. The décor is minimal. Eggshell-shaded walls are skirted by big alabaster boards; tables are thickly laid with immaculate white linen; and the only adornment about the room is a bulky section of blanched tree bark upon one side as well as more amber flower-bulb lighting. The black and pearl carpet bears a pattern best described as resembling a backgammon board. The contrast between the quaint interior and Refslund’s contemporary cooking is a subtle and clever one; ‘a meeting of history and modernity’ is how he himself terms it. Additionally, there is an enchanting and comfortable air to the entire restaurant, which for many locals evokes the feel of a Danish fairy-tale. As for this meal’s story though, it began with… Amuse Bouche 1: Agurk og laks; Rugbrød, røget ål og æble; Stegt banan med karry; og Sprøde fiskeskind med eddike. A gruffly hewed ebony granite slab carried skinny strips of delicate local salmon entwined within curls of cool cucumber and sprinkled with fragrant flowers of leek; a small club-sandwich of diced apple and smoked eel betwixt brittle slices of thin rye bread; and chips of thick, fried banana infused with curry and crackly cod skins dusted with pleasantly tart vinegar, all accompanied by a liberal streak of smoked cheese littered with lime zest. Amuse Bouche 2: Blomkål couscous, varm mayonnaise og dild. A small, straw basket was brought to the table. Within, amidst cluttered sprigs of fresh hay, lay a single hen’s egg. Its crown already cropped, inside aromatic nutmeg and dill rested upon temperate mayonnaise, which in turn formed a mantle over a secreted cluster of crumbled cauliflower florets in their own purée. Creamy, silky then crunchy, this comforting and deliciously deep mouthfeel also delivered salty-sweet earthiness, making this something decidedly moreish. Amuse Bouche 3: Østers i sake; grøn peber. Belon oyster, shucked and swimming in sake along with a lone green peppercorn, sat atop a hot rock. The craggy, bright white chalkstone from Gotland baked the mollusc’s shell, which heated the alcohol and thus the shellfish itself. The consequent shot was strong, spicy and, in my opinion, maybe overpowered the oyster. Brødet: Manitoba, hvedeklid og maltbrød. Homemade breads comprised soft, yeasty wheat bran wedges; dark, crusty malt; and mushroom-shaped rolls of Manitoba that were crunchy outside and fluffy inside. In conjunction, a light and lively blend of organic Danish butter whipped through with crème fraîche and buttermilk in-house was served. Entrée 1: Makrel; Stikkelsbær. Atop an almost lucent layer of ripe green gooseberry gel, three morsels of raw mackerel were arranged in a small triangle together with precisely placed hibiscus petals, cress, French sorrel, croutons, the meat of mature red gooseberries and dribbles of cold fresh cream. The fish, nicely clean, was mild, but not too meek for the sour and lemony combination of leaves and fruits although the dairy did act as gentle ointment. The grainy bellies of the red berries were also a good foil for the firm mackerel. Entrée 2: Rå jomfruhummere & foie gras; Valnødder & citron. Langoustine tartar and raw foie gras sat side by side in two broad bars. One light, the other dark, they were jointly dressed with chickweed, lemon, fresh walnuts and a drizzle of oil from the same nut. Separate glass saucers offered extra lemon and sea salt. The foie, frozen beforehand, had been grated upon the plate then allowed to thaw so that once at the table it was already velvety smooth and ready to melt in the mouth – the last effect mirrored by its sweet langoustine neighbour. The citron and succulent chickweed helped mete the richness of the former whilst the milk-poached walnut pieces added dull crunch. Entrée 3: Pinocchio kartofler; Oste suppe med mandler og kammuslinger. A brace of scallops, seared a soft blonde that almost matched their chiffon-coloured surroundings and basically submerged, were barely visible in a bowl of Vesterhavsost soup. Overtop, unripe basil flowers floated together with yarrow leaves whose laciness loosely mimicked the effervescence of the surface. More was buried below this frothy cheesy face – namely delicate almonds and miniature ‘Pinocchio’ potatoes that tendered substance and contrast to the dish. The Vesterhavsost, from the Thise Dairy in Jutland, was salty and satisfying whilst the scallops, sea-sweet. Lemony-mint and bitter hints came from the basil and yarrow respectively. Entrée 4: Asparges pocheret i saltet smør; Luftig vinaigrette af peanut olie. A quartet of green asparagus tops stood upright in the plate’s centre; pickled crudités of white asparagus snaked around these spears while spoonfuls of lime espuma encircled them. The vegetables – the green poached in salted butter and white marinated in elderflower vinegar – both came courtesy of Søren Wiuff and were both terrific examples. Even if the lime foam and grilled peanut oil vinaigrette were each difficult to detect, the acidity of the baby sorrel and elderflower made a decent attempt to offset the vegetal sweetness. Entrée 5: Tun; Syltede tomater med olivenolie og eddike. Two strips of tuna, just kissed by the frying pan, were plated with multiple preparations of three strains of tomato as well as char-grilled courgettes. These were all adorned with bright red blossoms and dark green blades of nasturtium; frozen vinaigrette of tomato juice and olive oil was ladled over tableside with dramatic result. There was discernibly deliberate contradiction between this colourful Italian collage and the more sober, Danish Royal Copenhagen china it came in. The tuna, though meaty, was rather mild and hence performed but a minor part overall. Raw and pickled, unripe and mature various varieties of tomato brought differing degrees of tangy-sweet-juiciness with them while naturally linking well with the fruity French olive oil and peppery herbs. Plat Principal 1: Brændende område; Aroma og teksturer af brændende områder. It was whilst at his Samsø summer home, watching the local farmers that once practiced (now-outlawed) prescribed burning as a means of preparing their fields for fresh planting that Refslund was long ago inspired to create this dish. It follows in the long line of vegetable-based signatures begun by Michel Bras and his gargouillou, but rather than simply replicating the Frenchman’s translation of Aubrac’s terroir, the Dane delved much deeper, literally: instead of concentrating on what the countryside shows off, he reveals what it conceals, what lies beneath the soil. A glass bell jar, so densely filled with smoke that its contents had become obscured, was set down. The cloche removed, the cloud disbursed and immersed the table in enticingly smoky aromas of burnt hay before at last exposing the entire plate. Rings of red onion, tender carrots and turnip, parsley root, celery, chips of golden beet and more, marinated beforehand in a mixture of peanut oil, lemon, horseradish and acacia honey and blanched ahead of some quick charring, were served with one immaculate, baby red radish, its sprouts still intact. Toasted Jerusalem artichoke mayonnaise mingled amidst these vegetables, which had been assembled over pommes purées; crumble of dried potato skins, roasted peanuts, button mushrooms and muscovado sugar; as well as a dark daub of Gotland truffle crème shaded with sepia. The symbolism was self-evident: the truffle was the soil; the potato-peanut-mushroom powder, ash and embers; whilst the singed roots were the remains after the flames had been snuffed out. Consistent with such a fantasy, these last items had been cooked simply and served in their entirety – scorch marks their only affectation; just as if they had been really found in a fire’s dirty aftermath. Each element achieved an astonishing effect. Although the overall taste adjusts with the season, what stays constant is the strikingly realistic, remarkably authentic acidic-sweet-smokiness. So powerful, so precise, this has the potential to transport the diner somewhere far from the dining room. Plat Principal 2: Hummer; Urter fra stranden og løg. Pearl, spring and young red onions teamed with Danish black lobster, its tail split into two segments and glazed with its own oil, were served strewn with onion-chive vinaigrette, pourpier and beach mustard. The lissom and flavoursome shellfish tallied excellently with the sweetly pungent array of onions, whose succulence tempered the intensity of the lobster oil, which verged on bitter. Poupier were crunchy and saline whilst beach mustard introduced bracing sharpness. Plat Principal 3: Aborre; Vild brøndkarse med porre. A pair of fair-sided, golden-crested loaves, lined up lengthways and overlaid with curly shoots of watercress, also had the herb’s sauce poured onto one side during its service. At first, the two ingots appeared identical, but on closer inspection, proved not to be so. One was in fact pan-fried perch and the other, leek. The former, crisp and salty, and the latter, fibrous and sweet, complemented well the fresh crunch of the stems and toothsome watercress jus. Dessert 1: Gulerødder; Honning og havtorn. Sea buckthorn and honey ice cream, coated in milk and honey mousse, was covered in bright pastel granité of carrot; wafer-like slithers from the vegetables’ centres, leaves even attached, sprung forth from the cool mass. Even though the berry ice cream was quite sour, the roots were equally sweet; the milky medium amid them was pleasingly milder. Dessert 2: Røde bær; Yoghurt og melasse sukker. A deftly laid trail of red berries, dotted with tiny meringues and wood sorrel whilst mizzled with molasses sugar syrup, was bordered by a cloud of yoghurt whey sorbet. Odd cuts of strawberry and whole blackberries, blueberries, blackcurrants and redcurrants were pleasingly tart and moist. Molasses sugar, concentrated and toffee-like, was met by the delectable sorbet, lemony herb and seasonal fruits. Dessert 3: Skov; Aroma fra skovens træ. It was only apt that a dessert celebrating the forest to actually arrive upon a solid oak cross-section. Sponge-like chestnut cake and a scoop of birch ice cream, straddled with pine granita, dominated its display. Underneath these, oak caramel, toasted hazelnuts and pine chocolate were also present over homemade nutella that had been painted over the plate. Together, these components formed a natural accord that was refreshing and interesting. There was dull sweetness from the birch, more from the chestnut, an uplifting sense of pine and subtly woody oak in addition to a small measure of fulfilling chocolate. Nonetheless, a minor criticism may be that this chocolate, chilled by everything else, eventually became too cold to dissolve away on one’s tongue. Petit Fours: Kaffe trøffel med mandler; og peanut trøffel med mælkechokolade. Two chocolate truffles meant the meal’s end. A smaller peanut and milk choc was buttery, nutty and smooth whilst a larger one of coffee and almond had roasted savour and delicate bite. Service was relaxed yet still retained some formal structure. There was a restaurant manager and sommelier who tended to the clients on a continuing basis, but – in Nordic fashion – dishes were carried out from the kitchen and, as required, plated at the table by the chefs themselves. This team, consisting principally of Mads, Jesper and Asbjørn, were each extremely well-natured, friendly and generous company. The building certainly had charm and character while the ambience was a tranquil and serene one, which suited the rather handsome and understated setting. Furthermore, there was a keen and captivating juxtaposition between these surroundings and what was served. Refslund’s more modern recipes as well as his sense for efficacious tableside theatre and appealing presentation often made for an interesting comparison with this aged milieu, which perhaps actually added a certain consciousness and/or deeper gravitas to the experience. One especially conspicuous externality of this dim and calm dining room was evinced when the kitchen door slid open: for a few brief moments, there was a sudden, curious din from within and a burst of bright light whence the chefs, swathed in white, enter. It was an eloquent image. This meal impressed. The earliest amuses bouche were, on the whole, very good. They were also meaningful. Besides such local staples as salmon, smoked eel and cheese, fish skins and rye comfortably sat curry, sake, banana and lime. Although all things Danish had their place – pride of place – here, MR was clearly not a closed kitchen. Then, suggestive of a gift with its winsome and dainty delivery, the cauliflower couscous egg was luscious and lasting. Conversely the østers i sake that followed was the only item of the day that I did not like. Rå jomfruhummere & foie gras is a Mads Refslund classic. It was easy to discern why. To begin with, the plate was simply very easy on the eye: dark and light, tanned and white, the two principle parts carpeted over with golden walnut and brilliant green. Then, of course, there was the taste. Just a few herbs plus a squeeze of lemon were necessary to attain an instinctive and absolute balance between meat and marine. The chef’s fondness for clean flavours and lightness appeared, at least on paper, contradicted by the next course – pinocchio kartofler; oste suppe, effectively cheese and potato soup. In his hands, however, this heavy-sounding recipe was really something surprisingly modest and graceful yet full of savoury relish. Afterwards, in spite of being one of the weaker servings, asparagus in salty butter still bore incredible ingredients – specifically those of Søren Wiuff from Lammefjord. Actually, for what it is worth, this farmer’s asparagus are the finest I have ever had. When asked to articulate his approach, Refslund has responded, ‘I don’t know if it's typical Danish, but I use a lot of Danish things, almost all Danish things, Scandinavian things. But…I just wanted to throw in some Mediterranean accents and…I love olive oil from Italy.’ The tun illustrated that. On the pridie of August, he would not let geography for geography’s sake intervene with this seasonal selection of choice tomatoes, courgettes and olive oil. And then. Brændende område; Aroma og teksturer af brændende områder. Burning field; Aroma and textures of burning fields. It is a title far too practical for a thing so poetic; too literal for something as romantic; far too efficient for anything this expressive – it is an economical name to express a moment of whimsy. This is in fact one of the best dishes I have eaten anywhere. Presentation, performance, suspense, savour, illusion even and then some more stem from this. As the aroma captivates, the tastes tingle and tease the tongue and lips whilst the astringent, dusty, pasty textures smother and gently dry them out. A stunningly successful and convincing course this was. Dinner continued with the excellent lobster; beach herbs and onions. This was an accomplished example of marrying mer avec terre – or hav med land; of bringing out subtle and balancing strong flavours. Next, the aborre; vild brøndkarse med porre was capable, but – considering its place as the final savoury – did not surpass what went before it. On the other hand however, one can argue that after the high arrived at with the burning fields, the fairly robust lobster and then cleaner, lean and lighter perch offered an easier landing and softer shift into desserts. Plus, the chef’s visual ruse with the fish and leek was rather cute. In the main, savouries were more memorable than desserts. Forest fruits (skovbær), such as those in the røde bær; yoghurt og melasse sucker, are in Denmark customarily boiled down into a compote called rødgrød and teamed with cream (fløde). Refslund’s reworking comprised the same fruits served whole with yoghurt sorbet. Lastly, skov; aroma fra skovens træ demonstrated one final time the chef’s panache for plating and flair for finding stimulus outdoors. ‘Bonding rawness’ is how Refslund explains his philosophy. This concept entails a closer assessment of produce, extending to its quality and freshness, but essentially going beyond that. Raw materials are ‘visualised and chosen for their intrinsic values’; the aim is the ‘highest expression that nature produces’. The consequence is a cuisine ‘seeking to sustain ingredients’ natural and original flavours and ‘not to pollute [their] pure taste with excessive preparation or cooking’. A sensible consideration of Refslund’s style maybe ought to begin with his concentration on the ‘three pillars: fish, shellfish and vegetables’. In this regard, the restaurant’s reopening was a reincarnation – and perhaps a renaissance. For the chef, the transition was commonsense – ‘the last two years I have been very eager to work with fish and vegetables and the closure [was] a good chance to change things completely.’ He even ‘considered [working] exclusively with vegetables, but I was afraid’. He goes further to justify his decision: ‘quality and freshness are deep in our DNA; in Denmark, it’s our privilege that marine animals grow more slowly in a cool climate, which gives them time to develop more savour – the same applies to vegetables, longer in the soil. Since we’re largely surrounded by sea and fields, everything we need is within reach; we…can therefore also keep CO2 emissions to a minimum.’ Given my own proclivities, this new approach is one I can sympathise with. Refslund’s creations are emphatic on arrival. He has a canny sense for presentation and production, equally able and effective with the subtle and cerebral – recall the mental contradictions with the tuna – as well as with the dramatic and explicit – remember the hay-smoke-seeping cylinders served at the table. Nature is the chef’s first inspiration and one of his strongest talents is his ability to realise in the kitchen and on the dish ideas derived from his environment – ‘the sea, forest, field and so on’. The egg sitting in straw as if freshly laid, oyster seemingly washed up upon a stone and forest-flavoured sweet things sitting atop a slice of oak were all just some example of this today. As for the chef’s plating, there is also a distinctive pattern. At its essence, it is quite simple, clean and minimal with just two or three core components, although over these there is routinely some sprinkling of herbs, stems, leaves and flowers that make things seem busier on first sight. Such fresh garnishes add colour, vibrancy and life. He is also strongly inclined towards keeping ingredients intact and uncooked. Actually, raw food is something he is particularly partial to – ‘[there] is the purity that I love. It tastes like what it is’ – whilst cumbersome saucing is something he is very much not: ‘...people are tired of the heavy, Francophile cuisine. There is no reason to cook when a great many things taste so good with virtually no preparation.’ His thoughts on ‘drowned fish’ have been mentioned... Refslund certainly has a reputation for innovation – Redzepi describes his friend’s restaurant as ‘like el Bulli meets the north’. It is an invention rooted in tradition: ‘I like to experiment with old recipes, handed down from my grandmother. The ingredients are distinctive and you recognise the taste immediately. This is pure nostalgia. And we love that’ – as demonstrated today by the red berry dessert. He also draws heavily on Nordic culture, which ‘gives me moments of profound insight that I strive to capture and transcribe,’ citing here his fascination with smoke. As an interestingly aside, in a number of ways, Mads Refslund rather reminds one of another – Pierre Gagnaire. Any similarity is not so much with respect to their food itself, but relates to their manners, methods and mentalities. Both are capricious characters, who work well on impulse and whim. Both are modern chefs who like not to restrict the worlds within which they work with geography or ideology. And both of their spontaneous styles are deeply personal ones. The benefits of this can be immense – meals can be revelations riddled with moments of magic – but there are inherent risks too. Chiefly, their absence, although not necessarily detrimental, might at least mean a different experience for the diner. In MR’s case however, sous chef Jesper’s ability and dependability have been proven already as it was in fact he, not Refslund, who cooked tonight. The two have also been criticised for the lack of consistency and flow within their menus. In my experience, even if there were dishes this dinner that were only decent (personal taste will always play a part, I suppose), constancy in terms of quality and execution was definitely not a concern. Indeed, it might be fair to say that this meal seemed more a succession of great plates rather than a deliberate progression to some point – I am not sure whether I even know if I prefer one attitude over the other. But what I do know is that of both Refslund and Gagnaire, I am a fan. Seemingly sealed off from the rest of the city, Refslund has sought to create a reflection of himself at MR: ‘I have put my mark in every nook and cranny.’ No one takes themselves too seriously here and there is an irresistible spirit that translates into a dynamic, engaging, entertaining yet intimate experience: it is simply so much fun. Ironically enough, ‘I am actually afraid of deep water,’ confesses Copenhagen’s foremost seafood chef. ‘I probably have too much imagination; if I can not see the seabed… I can only swim because my mother forced me to learn.’ It is an illuminating remark seeing as creativity and fancy are abundant at this ‘hothouse for the art of cookery’ as the chef calls MR – where a cuisine founded upon natural, Nordic fundamentals is exercised instinctively with grace and good-humour by someone who appreciates aesthetic and theatre, has comfort and confidence in his own cooking and owns an intuitive understanding about ingredients. Moreover, some measure of talent and even more potential does Mads possess. Mads, the mercurial.
  8. Some suggestions to start you off... the Sportsman #1 (outside LDN, but worth the trip...) Viajante the Ledbury St John River Café Franco Manca Antepliler le Gavroche
  9. I hardly tend to agree with the rankings (maybe one of my top five restaurants anywhere is even in the top50), but I still think it's difficult to deny that the list has use. It is decided by people within the industry after all and is some sort of indicator of what's popular - what's hott. I also think it does matter to many restaurateurs; perhaps not the majority of three stars, but to 'smaller' ones and those places outside the established foodie centres… Ps. @polarbear would love to see that.
  10. Well, it's clearly possible to find analogies to make each of our points.... How does one decide which restaurants the jury can vote on then? There is already the condition that one must have eaten there in the last 18(?) months...which means, whatever happens, in a couple of years el Bulli will perhaps no longer even be in the running. 'At the end of the day the whole concept of a 'best restaurant in world' is fundamentally flawed, it's like comparing oranges and apples to see which is best' Of course, but it's still interesting to read...
  11. I understand your point, but I don't know whether it would be fair to make el Bulli and FD 'retire'. If they deserve to be first, etc, then they should be no matter how many times they've been first before. Looking at it in another context, Michael Schumacher won how many World Championships? It wouldn't have been right to force him to stop racing just because he had won too many races... I think Fat Duck will drop down. Noma ought to go up. There will probably be more Japanese and maybe Australian restaurants in there too.
  12. The awards ceremony takes place in a couple weeks in London. What are people's expectations?
  13. Hi, these are my thoughts on my meal at rue Balzac last July. Please click here for full commentary + photography: HERE ‘There was a hard, dark side to my family,’ begins the chef whose face is now synonymous with a smile. ‘[My father] was an introverted man, not at all expressive. He was orphaned and had been brought up by a strict and authoritative grandmother.’ Jean-Claude Gagnaire, an Apinac native, ran a one-starred restaurant in Saint-Étienne. ‘The motto in my family was do your duty…I was the eldest in the family of four and I knew what I had to do.’ Thus Pierre Gagnaire feels he ‘never had any choice, I just had to be a chef. I put my foot inside the system – and couldn’t get out of it,’ and so, although he had enjoyed his time at school, where he ‘discovered the pleasure of books’, by fourteen he was already an apprentice in the pâtisserie of Jean Vignard’s Chez Juliette, one of Lyon’s leading restaurants. A couple years subsequently, he was at another of the city’s institutions, Tante Alice, prior to a summer internship in 1968 at Paul Bocuse – ‘I was frightened by him. I was too impressed by him to ever work for him.’ He then spent a year at the casino de Charbonnières-les-Bains and learned the art of rotisserie after which, just as another prominent Parisian chef, Pascal Barbot, would do similarly years on, Gagnaire completed his military service as a cuisiner-amiral on board le Surcouf; ‘I loved it,’ he recalls. In 1973, he returned to France and Paris, working at the Intercontinental before the legendary Lucas Carton, but he was abroad again two years later as he set off on a petit tour du monde, focusing on the New World. It was not until 1976 that the chef eventually returned to and took charge of the familial restaurant, le Clos Fleury, in industrial Saint-Étienne. ‘It was like being given a car with no papers. By this time I had realised that cooking was how I could express myself, but with my father in the background. I could not do what I wanted.’ In spite of retaining his inherited star, he describes the four years he was there as ‘a bad experience…a mess’. It was a testing time indeed – customers were even unhappy that their French chef had married a German. It was only in 1980, when Jean-Claude retired, that he was able to close le Clos Fleury and open his own venture, Aux Passementiers. In only his first year he had won his first star and, in 1986, his second. By 1993 he at last had all three. Nevertheless, even this supreme reward was not enough to save the restaurant from the ultimate embarrassment, bankruptcy, three years later. ‘I lost absolutely everything in one day, all I’d worked for and built. But I would have lost my soul if I’d stayed there and adapted to the taste of the bourgeoisie.’ He needed a clean start. Therefore, six months on, he moved to Paris and took over the Italian, Bice, in the Hôtel Balzac. He retained two of his stars. ’It was a rebirth,’ and it took the chef just another two years to redeem his third star. The turn of the century brought with it further reward. In 2001, Gahnaire began working closely with ‘the father of molecular gastronomy’, Hervé This, a professor at the Collège de France – an affiliation still strong today. A string of restaurant launches has ensued since: Sketch, London (2002); Gaya Rive Gauche, Paris (2004); Pierre Gagnaire, Tokyo (2005); Pierre, Hong Kong (2006); Hôtel « Les Airelles », Courchevel (2007); Pierre Gagnaire, Seoul (2008); Reflets par Pierre Gagnaire, Dubai (2008); Twist, Las Vegas (2009); les Menus par Pierre Gagnaire, Moscow (2010); and most recently, the reopening of a Pierre Gagnaire in Tokyo after the closer of the former in 2009 (2010). But rue Balzac remains ‘mon cœur’. A few moments uphill walk from the Champs-Elysées stands the nineteenth-century luxury hotel at the crossroads of two roads named for famous writers: rue Balzac and rue Lord Byron. Bright but basic red plaques spelling out the chef’s name and the iconic π symbol are the only suggestions that the restaurant resides within the same building. Once inside, Pierre Gagnaire’s entrance is on the right of the glamorous, gilded lobby. A dim, drawn-out corridor leads past the bar and onto a double-decked dining room most recently renovated in 2004 by Michèle Halard. Several, sizeable circular tables cover the lower level whilst half-a-dozen smaller ones line the two raised levels either side of the main space. The ceiling is sombre grey; walls light, lacquered wood; and carpet, a narrow-pinstripe of greens and browns. Large, latticed windows look out upon the street outside yet, concealed without with ivy, maintain the interior’s privacy. Pieces of abstract art, some on loan from Galerie Lelong and flower arrangements by Christian Tortu are scattered around the room and a glass-faced wine cellar fringes the furthest wall. Belle Époque details abound in the cerulean-coloured insets stencilled in ebony floral patterns, suspended chandelier, black-capped table lamps and soft jazz playing in the background. Well-spaced tables are laid with white piqué linens, contemporary crockery from Feelings (Bernaudaud, Raynaud and JL Coquet arrive later), little π pebble and a silver vase with short yellow canna lily. The carte is not a curt affair. Along with a menu du marché and lengthy, seasonal tasting menu that evolves over the period, there is an extended ALC listing short, succinct subheadings (parfums de terre; jardin marin; turbot, kokotchas & carabineros…) followed by several lines of occasionally purple detail. It was as I perused these scripts that Gagnaire entered the dining room to greet his guests. When he came to my table, unexpectedly he recognised me from my last meal at Sketch. After a short conversation, the chef kindly volunteered to cook for me himself – needless to say, I indulged him… Amuse Bouche 1: Collection de la croquette et sablés; pâte à filo curcuma et huile d’olive de Toscane avec thym frais, côte de romaine, crème d’anchois; un plat de cercles rouges. The first set of amuses totalled a trio of separate servings. A tray of canapés carried three spherical nibbles: a petite croquette de béchamel, sablé au fromage and a sablé aux amandes. The croquette, warm, crumbly, creamy and mild, was the start of a series of increasing nuttiness and textural solidity which – via the crackly, nutty-sweet vieux comté biscuit – ended with the hard, almond cracker. Next, a small bowl bore a raised shot glass that held a pâte à filo curcuma chip and sprig of fresh thyme sitting together in shallow Tuscan huile d’olive. The curried stick and thyme went well with the peppery, herby Italian oil whilst a cut of romaine rib glazed with anchovy, balanced on the brim beneath, was cooling and salty. Subsequent to these came a circular study in reds. Atop a wide white plate, rippled with easy etchings, sat a threesome of varyingly round items. The largest – a dipped dish containing rust-coloured chestnut tuile, topped with pointe de thon rouge, that concealed a grainy carrot velouté – rested slightly off-centre. On the far left lip, a tall, oversized thimble filled with syrupy fruit ratatouille was capped with a thin beetroot crisp and crowned with a tiny brick of its jelly. Finally, almost opposite, lay a little ladle cradling a spiralled gelée of lemon balm over a disc of watermelon reposing in its juice. Les Pains: Baguette, pain brioché et tuile croustillante aux olives noires. Miniature brioche loaf was faintly crusty and hardly heavy; sharply-pointed baguette had more crunch and tore nicely; and brittle black olive crisp had good flavour. Two butters – both Bordier – were brought out on their own tableware: a silver coaster of unrefined beurre demi-sel; and a green saucer with a brick of beurre aux algues. Amuse Bouche 2: Glace de navet daïkon au raifort, feuille de bière blanche; crème d’oignons doux des Cévennes, gruyère Etivaz au mac-vin; râble et foie de lapereau en saupiquet, pistaches fraîches; groseilles, gnocchi noirs, melon au poivre et pursha; et infusion de lisette au chardonnay - roquette, comcombre et ciboulette. The second array of amuses arrived in five parts. A squared central dish was found in the customary spot as four smaller, differently-shaped ones were dealt out in a semicircle around it. One began with horseradish mousse mounted with a jellied layer of white beer and quenelle of daikon ice cream spiked through with balsamic vinegar and finished with a wafer of raw radish. The raifort’s spiciness played well against the sweetness of the bière – a theme mirrored by the balsamic that agreeably pierced the smooth, tasty glace. A cup of Cevennes onion compote scattered with Macvin-soaked Etivaz Gruyère succeeded this. Here the creamy, potent cheese failed to alleviate the savoury-sweet crème d’oignons, fortified with jus de boeuf, which was just too strong for my liking. A self-standing spoon offered a bite of the Burgundian classic, baby rabbit in a creamy wine and vinegar sauce. The pretty pink and green stack of shredded saddle and liver mixed with grated fresh pistachio and garnished with reine des prés was, together, tender, mellow and mildly sweet. A colourful mélange of melon and squid ink gnocchi dressed with Persian lime and peppered red currant sauce was sweet, sour and salty at once. Lastly, lifting the lid of a small ceramic crock revealed a rosy-fleshed, glaucous-skinned morsel of baby mackerel swimming in its dark chardonnay-infused bouillon; this very clean fish was of clear quality. Entrée 1: le Rouget. A large silver tray with two bowls was delivered tableside. The smaller of these was shown off before its contents – filet of pan-fried red mullet broken apart into its individual filaments and mingled with peeled almonds, parsley and golden prunes from Iran – were spooned into the larger, whose base was already lined with thick tomato bisque. Scarlet red tomato jus formed a rich, reflective surface around the collection of pink, alabaster and yellow that had been assembled in the plate’s centre. This gazpacho-esque sauce was full of bright, almost tangy savour whilst the denser paste beneath had an agreeably coarse consistency. The tasty mullet had innate accord with the tomato as well as the nuts that tendered their subtly sweet crunch. The inclusion of the Iranian prunes was inspired; gently warmed, they were faintly firm while simultaneously strongly sharp and sweet, thus complimenting and contrasting the flavours already afforded by the other elements. Entrée 2: Agneau de Lozère & Saint Jacques. Removing the cloche revealed a cluster of roughly-chopped salicorne and mange tout that together resembled the grassy sheet over a small knoll. This verdancy was interrupted by the matted ivory shimmer from a sprinkling of diced scallops and the sneaking appearance of pasta underneath. Sweeping away the greens unveiled a single, sizeable cannelloni of lamb confit mizzled with its own jus and chives. The pasta was just substantial enough for its presence to be felt whilst the sauce, concentrated and intense. Crisp and salty-sweet vegetables alongside the caramelised scallops were a lovely foil to the rich, meaty filling of shredded lamb from Lozère. Plat Principal 1: Le Boeuf: Origine Française; cube de riz Basmati au thé vert; thon rouge enrobé d’un caramel d’oseille au cassis; l’abstrait… This course encompassed a principal plate and three smaller ones. At first concealed below a loosely-laid silver cover, slices of braised beef, resting in a ring, had been drizzled with deep maroon cherry jus and arranged with lightly steamed leaves of lettuce overtop. The tender pieces of peppered French meat from boucherie Nivernaise were animated by the tart-sweetness of the full, robust fruit sauce as the succulent greens provided relief as required. Additional dishes included, in turn, two squares of fatty mi-cuit red tuna coated in sorrel syrup, rounded off with sorrel leaf and very good duck skin crisps and accompanied by caramelised blackcurrant; a lettuce-raviole of warm, velvety basmati rice, cooked al dente, and glazed in a light olive oil-matcha cream; and small cuts of more beef and slithers of onion topped with a pinkish cube introduced as ‘l’abstrait’. This last item’s ingredients were difficult to identify – creamy in texture and barely bread-like in taste, it was also somewhat sweet and smoky whilst possessing umami. Soon it was evident though that this was actually the chef’s intelligent jesting: even if its makeup may have been initially uncertain, in savour and semblance it was unmistakeably familiar – it was meant to be bone marrow. …As it happens, this mock marrow was composed from a mixture of smoked mousse, beef consommé, bread and kanten. The savouries over with, Le Grand Dessert de Pierre Gagnaire started. Although titled in the singular, this comprised a succession of ‘desserts inspirés de la pâtisserie traditionnelle Française; elaborés à partir de fruits, de légumes de saison, de confiseries peu sucrées, de chocolats…’ some arriving alone, others together. Dessert 1: Salades de fruits. Melon pieces in fruit syrup were placed under a crunchy, fennel tuile upon which a slice of mango, made to look like an egg yolk, came covered with yellow passion fruit seeds and pulp. The bitter liquid below balanced out the mildly acidic-sweet maracuyá. Dessert 2: Pain perdu. Peach ice cream sat surrounded by poppy jelly containing diced peach chunks and a small square of French toast was seated on the plate’s rim, garnished with a leaf of lemon verbena. With its unique, perfumed sweetness, the ice cream was very pleasing, however the poppy rather faint and soft pain perdu, whilst well-made, did not seem to sit naturally with the rest. Dessert 3: Fraises à la crème. A solitary strawberry, its end tipped in slightly viscous cream, was set in the centre of a saucer of rose sugar. This course’s constituents all shared an easy affinity with each other, but ultimately this was a portion more memorable for being pretty than it was for being tasty. Dessert 4: Granité à la framboise et cerise. Another serving in the most romantic shades of red and pink entailed juicy raspberry and cherry granita over lemon crème; blanched almond halves were propped atop while a brace of lemon balm blades were affixed to the bowl’s side. Even though some sloppy plating meant that the glue attaching these leaves was still visible this Sicilian reinvention was, nevertheless, simply delightful. Dessert 5: Gateau au chocolat. Over red fruit coulis stood a jenga-like tower of pâte sablée, pistachio mousse, hazelnut biscuit and at last génoise au chocolat – all in equal squares, but of unequal depths and different colours; liquid chocolate truffles, one light and another dark, lay either side of the confectionary column, which was drizzled with warm, runny chocolate sauce at the table. This near-deconstruction of a cake was just decent with each slice proffering varying textures and distinct tastes. The two explosive truffles were highlights. Dessert 6: Verrine cassis. A martini glass brought blackcurrant in three ways: at its base could be found sweet, cold compote, above which a crisp blackcurrant wafer held separate a frothy top of fruity-tart foam dressed with a pansy flower. This was a refreshing, clean finish to the desserts. Petit Fours: Roulé au chocolat blanc avec citron; ‘cerise’ de pâte d'amande; pâte de pistache; ficelles à la rhubarbe; cigarette au chocolat menthe; roulé au chocolat noir avec kirsch; et bâton de chocolat ivre. A long ceramic semi-cylinder that appeared with the first of the sweet courses carried several dainties. There was a sharp white chocolate roll filled with lemon curd; marzipan shaped like a cherry, but really encasing spicy blackcurrant; strong, firm pistachio paste; delectable, sharp threads of rhubarb; bitter choc stick flavoured with mint; dark chocolate with kirsh; and a sticky, fruity cocoa tube imbued with alcohol. Mignardises: Truffes de la maison. Coffee was complimented by three types of chocolate: a milky Tonka bean palet d’or and monogrammed dark and light truffles. It is a little difficult to comment on service. On the whole, the staff were friendly, able and efficient. The maître d'hôtel, Hervé Parmentier, seemed diligent, attentive and amusing – replete with a moustache well-suited to a British sergeant major, he appeared almost as eccentric as his chef and twice as frenetic. However, I did have a gripe, but it related to something specifically concerning my meal and an issue that would, under normal circumstances, most likely not have arisen. At least, I shall assume so. What troubled me a little was that my serveuse was almost utterly unable to explain any of the dishes. Typically such a trifling dilemma might be disregarded, but I found it especially demanding happening here – at Pierre Gagnaire. This is because this chef, more than most, has a penchant for quite quixotic ingredients, particularly herbs and spices, which might make a huge difference to a dish. Without the serveuse’s aid, it required more effort on my part to attempt to discover and distinguish these, thus diminishing my ease. Furthermore, her inability to assist fully seemed to also make her more uncomfortable and maybe nervous, which did not benefit either one of us. Fortunately, this flaw in service did not frustrate my enjoyment of the food. Of the entire two sets of amuses, little stands out as memorable. The ratatouille, glace de navet daïkon au raifort and râble et foie de lapereau en saupiquet were the only notably nicer moments whilst the crème d’oignons doux des Cévennes the only one to which I took a dislike. Additionally, although the butter was very good, the bread was unremarkable. Finally, desserts followed in the same vein as amuses: many were simply forgettable with just the granité de pêche et cerise and verrine cassis more than fine. Nonetheless, although it may sound as if riddled with shortcomings and so less than successful, this lunch was nothing of the sort. First, these aforementioned ‘unremarkable’ and ‘forgettable’ courses were still decent, even if less than exceptional – and certainly not unpleasant (except for crème d’oignons doux des Cévennes that is). Secondly, the dishes proper – specifically le rouget and agneau de Lozère & Saint Jacques – were simply stunning; but before focusing on these in more detail, I will comment further on what came prior to them. Even if the amuses were not delicious to my mind, there were still entertaining. Given that these plates were prepared ahead and with more time (unlike the improvised entrées and main), they painted a better picture of Gagnaire’s intellectual approach and the deep thought that he applies to structure in his cuisine. For instance, regarding the very first snacks offered, there was their already-explained order and rationale. This principle extended to that whole course: those nibbles had the heaviest of flavours and densest of textures; the pâte à filo curcuma et huile d’olive de Toscane that followed was lighter in both respects; whilst one finished with soft and fruity items. Additionally, this last collection of bites showed the same sort of keen consideration. Each element matched sweet and savoury as well as smoothness and crunch – and again, the final watermelon-verveine morsel was the lightest and most refreshing, almost cleansing the palate. The second series of snacks was just as deliberate. At a glance, one could immediately discern that every dish was of a special shape whilst the content of each was also of another colour. The distinction did not end there as all the plates presented a different foodstuff – vegetable, dairy, meat, fruit and fish. Lastly, each element’s temperature was taken into account: one commenced with the coldest (the ice cream) and ended with the warmest (bouillon). With the rouget, the chef’s intentions were more open to contemplation. He was obviously teaming together tastes typical to the Mediterranean – red mullet, tomato, almond, dried plum – but, as far as I am aware, in an unfamiliar permutation. The recipe resembled something Italian, Spanish, North African and maybe more all at once. Could he have been attempting a play on paella, wherein the almonds represent grains of rice? Or was this Gagnaire’s reinterpretation of a gazpacho or even a bouillabaisse? The motivation might be unclear, but the result was certainly something excellent. The agneau de Lozère & Saint Jacques was another lesson in flavour pairing. Whilst many may be surprised to see lamb and scallops reside side by side, Gagnaire made them seem the most natural of couples and, aided by the sweet and salty greens, the two remained in refreshing and tasty balance. After all, he has been quoted saying, ‘God put all those ingredients on Earth…why not use them all?’ Furthermore, whilst many may be nearly offended to observe these Saint Jacques cut into small pieces and not kept whole, such concerns fail to even register with him. Thus did this plate illustrate an important detail of the chef’s cuisine: there are no rules. Random combinations of produce, unusual treatments of products, the introduction of science into cooking…Gagnaire utilises all such practices without prejudice. Actually, the only limits he appears to allow himself to accept are those surrounding the quality of his ingredients and a desire to pursue a more organic direction in molecular gastronomy. To help him realise the latter, he teamed up with bio-chemist Hervé This. Their collaboration has become famous and its fruits can be tasted through the würtzs, liebigs, abstances and, as was the case today, abstraits, that litter the menus of his restaurants. Indeed, even though Pierre Gagnaire is considered one of the most progressive and modern of chefs, there remains a distinctly classic stroke to his style. Regularly deemed as baroque, there are aspects of his meals that resemble those from the eighteenth century. This is most identifiable in the delivery of his dishes. Two to three hundred years ago, it was the custom of the French royal court to serve à la française – all at the same time – and hence create drama and excitement. At the same time, there was also a flourish in the crafts industries with new serving vessels created to add to this spectacle. Gagnaire exercises such tactics himself. From the very onset, the diner is subject to a flurry of small treats that arrive altogether or slightly staggered – each served in crockery unique to it. The effect of this is three-fold. There is the same visual thrill; a generous notion of the kitchen engendered; whilst one is also left a little intoxicated – maybe even intentionally overwhelmed – by the multitude of assorted savours and aromas. Naturally, Gagnaire being Gagnaire, nothing stays as it is. Courses will drift between service à la française and à la russe – individual dishes – at the chef’s command although amuses and the plat principal do tend to be multi-plate events whilst desserts are delivered usually singly yet in quick succession. Such is the nature of the cuisine. Surprise, shock, intrigue…are essential elements of dining here. The chef himself likens cooking to jazz with its inherent improvisation whilst regarding it as also ‘more like an intellectual game’. In his own words, his is a ‘lively approach which takes risks and, as my critics say, occasionally goes overboard. I trust that these people will forgive my over-enthusiasm!’ ‘His cuisine is hard to classify because it is guided by inspiration. It's modern, it's baroque, it's self-taught. You get the feeling he's there with his ingredients enjoying himself and if you chose the same dish on two consecutive days, it would be slightly different’, explains Troisgros, trying to articulate the essence of eating here. ‘My style,’ says Gagnaire himself, ‘is joyous, immediate and tries to tell a story. I want to make people dream and bring them somewhere they don’t know’. These notes seem almost incomplete without some mention about how others regard Gagnaire or at least visits to his establishments. He is undeniably someone who seems to divide opinion: diners love his food or hate it; his meals are incredible or terrible. Considering that he is somewhat of an agitator, someone who seeks a reaction from his guests, the fact that attitudes about him lie around the extremes is hardly startling. From my own appraisal – which comprises two occasions at Sketch, London and this one at rue Balzac wherein, admittedly, I was fortunate enough to have him cook impromptu for me himself – I must confess that I have been very impressed. Effective, colourful and intimate, his is a cuisine that I find especially attractive and deeply personal. However, this being said and really for this very reason, I feel that I would not eat at any of his restaurants were he not in the kitchen that day. His cooking is so ingrained in his personality and mentality that was he not at the stove, I cannot believe that my assessment would be the same as if he were… Genius is not a label I bandy about very willingly - there is indeed one chef, although increasingly I am recognising it in another, whose talents I sincerely ascribe that term to. However, Gagnaire is an exceptional character. ‘Wizard’, maniac, mastermind, alchemist, the ‘Matisse of cooking’, are just some of the titles bestowed upon him. In all fairness, each is probably as accurate as any of the others…and to my mind, he is as much a chef as he is an intellectual; as much an artist as he is scientist; as mad as he is brilliant. A strict classical training has given him the tools and techniques whilst a childlike curiosity has equipped him with almost an unrivalled repertoire of ingredients. Led by his artistic impulses and liberal enthusiasm, informed by his friendship with This and directed by a methodical and meticulous manner, Gagnaire expresses himself unreservedly with great precision and poignancy whilst delivering an experience for the senses, full of gourmandise, and always anything but pedestrian. ‘My goal is to infuse my cooking with feeling and intelligence. People need poetry, tenderness and well-made things…and being 'good' means opening up the range of emotions.’
  14. Maybe we're straying away from a discussion about ADAD and into one about Ducasse's restaurants generally or into an exercise in word play / argument on semantics. I completely agree that one ought to have a 'wonderful' meal at a three-star restaurant. However, I feel that that ought to be really the only predictable aspect of the experience. Additionally, I don't prescribe to the notion that all classical cuisine is boring...and I generally don't go in for molecular gastronomy (I haven't even been to the Fat Duck yet)... My issue with ADAD is that neither of the meals I have had there were delicious. There are simply many other restaurants where I would rather spend my money - restaurants at which I can better guarantee my enjoyment. p.s. That's nonsense. Of course I am still capable of being surprised. Just as I am still curious... if I were neither, I'd imagine it somewhat depressing eating out at all…
  15. Hi Sethd, What makes food exciting or boring is a very personal thing, in my opinion - and that is why I wrote that 'I find it' not 'it is' boring above... That doesn't make articulating what I find exciting any easier though... One of the most important factors I suppose is predictability. At Ducasse's restaurants I can be fairly confident about what I am going to get with respect to dishes, flavours, ingredients, etc... At the restaurants I eat at most often however, I never fully know what to expect. All that I can be sure of relates to the quality of the chef and his produce... Additionally, I am sure that ADPA and Louis XV especially would be superior experiences to ADAD. If the objective at a Ducasse establishment is to cook wonderful ingredients brilliantly than these two have a natural advantage over London as they should have far better access to these wonderful ingredients in the first place. ...none of the products from my meals at the Dorchester actually stood out.
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