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sunbeam

Restaurant Magazine's World's 50 Best '08

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Two things. I visited "Manresa" last February and the first dishes were outstanding but then it went all downhill from there. And they showed us the squab (BTW, I hate squab) we were to eat later covered in salt except for the head and the feet...borderline disturbing. I do not think I will ever go back when visiting Palo Alto/San Fran.

I have been to "Etxebarri" twice now and it is, probably, the best food I have ever eaten. Best steak, best "gambas" and best oysters. Nothing fancy, just incredible good food. But, it is not a restaurant experience like some of the other restaurants in the list. For example, do not go there and expect good service, expect a very real experience. And you know what a real experience means when traveling.

l

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If you want visceral reactions to cooking technique, more than half of the crustacea cooked at Extebarri are alive when they put them on the hot coals. I agree, stunning and delicious food.

The salt presentation at Manresa is very old school. It seems odd for you to classify the presentation of an ingredient you hate as borderline disturbing as indicative of a restaurant, and so reason for you not to return. I personally found the squab to be ethereal. Considering how much of Kinch's food is based around his garden now, I would hope you would give it another chance in the may - september period. Though, obviously, his food won't be for everyone.


"Gimme a pig's foot, and a bottle of beer..." Bessie Smith

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"111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321" Bruce Frigard 'Winesonoma' - RIP

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The problem with Japan is that the "best" restaurants are usually for members only, and even top Western gourmets often miss the point of Japanese food. It is a whole other language, and it is a long apprenticeship to learn properly. I feel like I am just on the verge of breaking in to the top places, and even as a Japanese speaker it has taken me 10 years. I think a deluge of Michelin-stoked restaurant tourists will make it even harder to for a foreigner to get a seat at the top tables. Good thing Michelin seems to have missed most of the good spots, but they did a better job than the 50 Best list.

My brother-in-law who married a Japanese lady and living there for good few years now, claims that the vast majority of Japanese could and would never sample a true Japanese Kaiseki or ‘high-class’ meal. Him and his Japanese family incuded. I'd always thought he was exaggerating but from your experience it looks like this level of exclusivity is actually a reality. This is real exclusivity not the artificial sort generated by commercial branding or by inflated prices (though I’m sure they are not cheap).

So you think even if The List did try to start involve Japan more like Michelin has. Gastro-tourists start to flock there in greater numbers it would actually become more difficult for them to get to the top tables. In fact what you are saying is that panel members of The List (or Michelin inspectors for that matter) would not even know where to start to look to find these places let alone knock on the door. Fascinating! Are you able to us more of this elusive world? You say that you are on the verge; if you give the game away will you snapped back to reality?! Forbidden to gaze upon it’s face ever again…. :smile:

In the words of Robert Hanssen, I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you :raz:

Actually, it's really a question of paying your dues, getting to know people, and making connections. Like any other endeavor, really. Food in Japan is actually cheaper than in Europe for the most part. The breakthrough is that now my husband is opening a luxury business there, so those connections will hopefully multiply.

I am astonished how hard it is to find out what the top places really are. They are closely guarded secrets, and they want to stay that way. High-end guides don't really exist in Japan simply because the restaurants don't want to be listed in them, and most people can't get in anyway. The head of another top European guide once tried to get me to reveal my list, but I know better than to talk to strangers. I remember that in the 80s, there were rumors of similarly exclusive secret Japanese restaurants in NY.

There are other reasons for maintaining inaccessibility, which is of course the foundation of exclusivity. Most of these places are used for political insiders or "executive business entertaining," which is not necessarily very reputable. My Japanese friends and family are shocked about the places I have been--just with my husband. Husbands and wives don't often eat out together in places like this. I am often taken for a high-class prostitute, maybe even a yakuza moll, but I see that as part of the dues I am willing to pay.

Actually, Japan is all about commercial branding in the mass market. Your average Joe may not be able to get into the exclusive kaiseki restaurant, but he can get into one of the far inferior "branch" restaurants under the same name in practically every major city in Japan. (some of them get stars in Michelin!) He can also buy their ready-made branded foods, some of which may not use the high-end ingredients advertised. Last year, there were a ton of food scandals shaking out the industry.


Edited by Culinista (log)

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Ohhh... Now how fascinating does this all sound!? Good stuff Culinista. Just as I "wouldn't want to join any club that would have me as a member" the converse is absolutely true - The more they pull up the drawbridge the more I want in!

Though I have never been to Japan I have long been fascinated with it's culture - particularly story-telling, technology and design - mostly thanks to a nerd-boy videogame upbringing (worshiping the SNES, manga, insane games such as Legend of the Mystical Ninja and the god-like Shigeru Miyamoto).

Having latterly applied by nerdishness to the world of gastronomy my interest in Japan has remained unabated. I remember Chandos Elletson did a fantastic piece on food in Japan for Restaurant magazine about six years ago but this is another level. Genuinely I think the whole idea of a shadowy clique of top-notch Japanese restaurants that even Michelin can't pierce is brilliant.

There must be a non-fiction book in there somewhere? Or a Hollywood screenplay...

If anyone has touched on this subject in literary form then point me in the right direction; I want to know more.

Cheers

Thom


It's all true... I admit to being the MD of Holden Media, organisers of the Northern Restaurant and Bar exhibition, the Northern Hospitality Awards and other Northern based events too numerous to mention.

I don't post here as frequently as I once did, but to hear me regularly rambling on about bollocks - much of it food and restaurant-related - in a bite-size fashion then add me on twitter as "thomhetheringto".

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If anyone has touched on this subject in literary form then point me in the right direction; I want to know more.

Cheers

Thom

I suppose Bourdain's writing on Japanese hi level dining would be a start. He actually writes rather well if you can put up with the H.S.T wannabe bits. Made me hungry at any rate, which must be the test of any decent food writing.

S

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I suppose Bourdain's writing on Japanese hi level dining would be a start. He actually writes rather well if you can put up with the H.S.T wannabe bits. Made me hungry at any rate, which must be the test of any decent food writing.

S

Thanks Sunbeam. Is that in A Cook's Tour? I don't remember a Japanese bit but to be honest I am not sure I ever made it to the end. It didn't grip me like Kitchen Confidential did.

In fact now I come to think of it I have shameful gallery of culinary books I have started but never finished - Heat by Bill Buford, Stuffed by Patricia Volk, The Perfectionist by Rudolph Chelminski...

Considering that these are good books, and that I am a food/restaurant nerd and one of the most voracious and omnivorous readers I know I can't really explain my repeated failure to clean my literary plate.

Any-hoo, I'll look back at A Cook's Tour, and I think Jay also has a Japanese bit in his latest tome (plug plug).

Cheers

Thom


It's all true... I admit to being the MD of Holden Media, organisers of the Northern Restaurant and Bar exhibition, the Northern Hospitality Awards and other Northern based events too numerous to mention.

I don't post here as frequently as I once did, but to hear me regularly rambling on about bollocks - much of it food and restaurant-related - in a bite-size fashion then add me on twitter as "thomhetheringto".

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There must be a non-fiction book in there somewhere? Or a Hollywood screenplay...

There's always Kami no Shizuku (The Drops of the Gods)

http://search.japantimes.co.jp/rss/fg20080411a1.html

Don't worry too much about impenetrability amongst Japan's restaurants, Michelin hardly touched on what's available and didn't necessarily pick out the 'best in class' of what they did sample

For instance Okina in Ebisu got in but none of Tokyo's truly great soba restaurants got a mention.

And then there's places like Aronia de Takazawa which were overlooked entirely.

http://travel.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_a...0and%2520Travel

The anomaly is that we get to read about this place in English, who knows how many other gems like this are hidden away in Tokyo's warren of streets, and new restaurants are constantly being opened - competition is fierce.

Tokyo has been keeping me happy for several years as I can eat like a princess there for a fraction of the price of what an equivalent might cost me in London. For instance, before Michelin released their guide I went to Chez Tomo for a wonderful lunch (I found out about it from a Japanese blog I couldn't even read). Several courses cost me about 15GBP. Here are the photos that got me interested http://torutoru.cocolog-nifty.com/blog/200.../post_31aa.html - part of my choosing to eat here was that the location was convenient

An hour out of town and there's the hauntingly beautiful Ukai Toriyama http://www.ukai.co.jp/toriyama/ where a multi course dinner in a semi-private setting can be had for 20-25GBP (or more).

Best dinner I ever had in Japan was part of a Matsutake Ozen feast in the most ordinary of inns, a place for workers and retirees of a Nagoya prefecture area. Dinner, bed and breakfast was 60GBP each. There were four of us served in our own hall. The portions of matsutake were so generous we woke up smelling of the mushroom next day (much nicer than it sounds). I've eaten at Nobu, Nobu didn't even come close.

More expensive doesn't necessarily equate better, just as a meal at the Ivy isn't necessarily going to be better than that at a gastropub. But I don't doubt that those 'in the know' with deep personal or company pockets have access to staggeringly good food. My point is that, if you know where to look and how to appreciate it, everyone else has a good shot at it too.

It's entirely possible that you might consider a ¥630 bowl of noodles at Kururi, 3-2 Ichigayatamachi (near Ichigaya station MAP ) to be one of the best meals you ever had in your life. The passion and attention to detail lavished onto the speciality here is as focused and dedicated as that of any of the world's leading chefs. By somersaulting over people like this to concentrate solely on getting into more exclusive and supposedly more rarefied establishments you end up missing out on many of the culinary world's greatest offerings.


Edited by MoGa (log)

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Don't worry too much about impenetrability amongst Japan's restaurants, Michelin hardly touched on what's available and didn't necessarily pick out the 'best in class' of what they did sample

Tokyo has been keeping me happy for several years as I can eat like a princess there for a fraction of the price of what an equivalent might cost me in London.

It's entirely possible that you might consider a ¥630 bowl of noodles at Kururi, 3-2 Ichigayatamachi (near Ichigaya station MAP ) to be one of the best meals you ever had in your life.  The passion and attention to detail lavished  onto the speciality here is as focused and dedicated as that of any of the world's leading chefs.  By somersaulting over people like this to concentrate solely on getting into more exclusive and supposedly more rarefied establishments you end up missing out on many of the culinary world's greatest offerings.

I've never tried Kururi, but I agree with this point wholeheartedly. There is staggering quality at all ends of the price/snob scale, particularly among places that specialize in one thing only. It is a waste of time and effort to try to break in to the most difficult places if you are a complete novice in the basics of Japanese cuisine anyway. Most first-timers don't even know where they are, let alone what they are eating.

Tokyo has so many great soba shops alone that they would require a 50 Best list of their own. However, the most unforgettable soba I've ever had cost ¥4000 (ok, very expensive for noodles but worth every yen) in an odd restaurant in the Japan Alps that serves only 20 customers a day (the only exclusive thing about it is its remote location). They are served with wild mountain vegetables so intense that I felt my bloodstream and brain had been purified by magic. I've never had sansho twigs in tempura before, but what a sensation... The water was so good that they didn't want to ruin it with tea.

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I'm off to el bulli myself next month, haven't been yet. Any tips? I'm thinking, stay off the bread and stellas before dinner?

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Yeah, cancel your reservation and eat at Rafa twice, at least that's what I wish I had done.


"Why would we want Children? What do they know about food?"

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Also stash some meat back at your hotel, you'll feel a huge desire to chew on something properly once you have left.


"Why would we want Children? What do they know about food?"

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I'm off to el bulli myself next month, haven't been yet.  Any tips?  I'm thinking, stay off the bread and stellas before dinner?

I'd just say plan your travel and accommodation well in advance. Don't make the mistake some do and assume it's near enough Barcelona that you'll be able to return there after your meal (apart from the distance involved, the winding coastal roads are death traps in the evenings)

There are dedicated threads for El Bulli in the Spain forum. Why not enquire there?

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Not one of the world's top 100 restaurants in Japan???

Yeah... right! :rolleyes:

I know!! And, how is it that Extebarri makes it onto the Top 50 for the first time this year?

Are you saying that it shouldn't be on there? I haven't been myself, so i can't say one way or the other, however, its reputation has grown dramatically over the past couple of years, so I'm not surprised that it is now on there.

I think (s)he's saying is that it's nuts that this is the first year on the list. this place is certainly one of the finest dining destinations in europe today.

By all accounts that I have read and heard, this is true. Etxebarri is one of a handful of restaurants at the top of my list of destination restaurants I desire to get to try along with Mugaritz, Noma and Ryugin (not on the list), however, the increased awareness of Etxebarri as a great restaurant is relatively recent with probably relatively few judges having been there themselves. If the reports I have read are true, the restaurant will no doubt continue to climb further on future lists.

lunch at extebarri on sunday was a good experience but certainly not earth shatteringly brilliant and one i wouldn't be bothered about repeating. Full tasting menu of whatever they had in, the smoked caviar was very good (and especially with a 99 dom perignon- it's a hard life) as was a smoked potato dish. the steak was good but unfortunately not appreciably better, if at all, than the lunch we had on saturday at an assador in bilbao called Ripa.

Also although we gave them free rein on the menu i was a little shocked to be charged 200e for 4 portions of Elvers, which only two of the party of 4 ate. To put it in context the steak was 50e......


you don't win friends with salad

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i was a little shocked to be charged 200e for 4 portions of Elvers, which only two of the party of 4 ate.

Yes, thank you Gary, you're a very generous dining companion :laugh:

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yes i managed 3 elvers, scott managed 3 bowls of elvers.

now if they'd given us 4 bowls of the caviar and 4 spoons of elvers there would have been no complaint!


Edited by Gary Marshall (log)

you don't win friends with salad

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i was a little shocked to be charged 200e for 4 portions of Elvers

Tendido Cero, Old Brompton Road. Four big slices of garlicky toast absolutely heaving with hot elvers. £6.

Not saying it's better. But it's cheaper and much less of a fag to get to (the C1 bus goes right past the door). Therefore, using Top Trumps theory, TC becomes the 44th best restaurant in the world.

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Surely not real at that price? I forget what they use as fake elvers but why would you sell something that just cost you hundreds of pounds a kilo for just a few quid?


"Why would we want Children? What do they know about food?"

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Surely not real at that price? I forget what they use as fake elvers but why would you sell something that just cost you hundreds of pounds a kilo for just a few quid?

I was wondering that myself. But they were damn tasty so didn't appear to be those fake things made of moulded surimi gunk. Perhaps they were using the specials board to shift a batch that failed to move at their posher restaurant across the road. (Scarfing huge piles of baby eels doesn't seem to be acceptable in Kensington, judging by the reaction of horror at neigbouring tables.)

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. But they were damn tasty so didn't appear to be those fake things made of moulded surimi gunk.

i must admit they did taste quite good, but it was the little black eyes. and the crunch. beansprouts with eyes is not my idea of a good time, no matter how tasty


you don't win friends with salad

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Rachel always says that you shouldn't eat anything that still has its eyes attached so you can find her eating the legs of chiperones quite happily but the rest of them is another matter :laugh:


"Why would we want Children? What do they know about food?"

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i was a little shocked to be charged 200e for 4 portions of Elvers, which only two of the party of 4 ate.

I'M shocked :shock::shock::shock:

Etxebarri is one of only 2 restaurants I know in Spain that buy live baby eels (getting ever more scarce in the wild) and keep them in a tank until service--hence the texture and the price. They prepare them with so much respect that they don't even cover the flavor with garlic. The price is exorbitant because the Japanese will pay huge prices for them to grow them into unagi. Many baby eels end up in cans or other forms that completely distort their true quality.

Last time I was there, Victor was saving the very last angulas of the season for a special event and REFUSED to let us have any, for any price. I am very good at begging, but no good. Now he is giving them away to people who don't even like them and who begrudge the cost!

Angulas must be cooked live, and most are processed/frozen before being recooked in restaurants, making them easier to handle but ruining their texture. Just from an environmental, let alone gastronomic, point of view, this is awful. However, some would prefer to spend £6 in Brompton Road. Etxebarri is one of the rare places where you can have the real thing--but only in season.

By the way, since they are kept alive or ready processed, there is hardly ever any rush to move them--in Spain at least. Kensington seems to be a different story :raz:


Edited by Culinista (log)

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Last time I was there, Victor was saving the very last angulas of the season for a special event and REFUSED to let us have any, for any price. I am very good at begging, but no good. Now he is giving them away to people who don't even like them and who begrudge the cost!

To be fair they weren't given away and until they're received who knows if they'll like them or not?

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Look, I don't know what more I can tell you.

Eels. Baby ones. Can't tell you if they were cooked live, freeze dried, tinned or desiccated from the top of the Crystal Palace transmitter. Can't tell you if they were tickled out of the salty depths of the Nervión or scooped illicitly from the Thames estuary with a pokey shovel.

Quite a few people here seem to be able to justify travelling into the depths of Atxondo-Butfuck just to beg for a bowl of the proper stuff. I'm sure the same people will own a higher fidelity hi-fi than me, and get their wallpaper mezzotinted by Toru Iwaya.

Personally, I'm happy to pay £6 on the Brompton Road for a heaving pile of something approximately right, just as I'd rather shop at Ikea and spend my spare cash on CDs rather than electrostatic speakers and flux dumpers.

This is why I will never be able to contribute to, or indeed understand, this thread.

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