The Family Christmas “Dinner” by Heston

Each year I get invited to join “The Family” christmas dinner. Technically not being Italian, or being part of a founding group makes it difficult to be a member of the “The Family” but I get invited to the “extended Family” events and Christmas is such a time to celebrate. I suggested a number of places, but I really wanted to try Dinner by Heston as I had heard many good things about it. In 2013 it was announced number seven on the World’s Top 50 Restaurant list and was awarded two Michelin stars for 2014.

The restaurant is located in the Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge, so I expected the restaurant to be reasonably pricy and a bit dressy. Fortunately the restaurant isn’t one that requires a jacket, and although some people dressed up for the occasion, it also seemed like quite a casual affair for a number of people.

We had a bit of a later booking for half past eight or eight, so we met a bit earlier to have a drink at the bar. The Mandarin bar certainly know how to mix cocktails, but you should expect to pay the higher end of London prices for these. Expect £16+ for each drink. We opted to try the fig martini, a well balanced, slightly sweet and relatively strong cocktail to start the tastebuds going.

Before we knew it, our table was ready and we sat down to peruse the menu. The bread wasn’t anything particularly fancy but was just a very well done sourdough served with some simple butter.

Having done the research about what to order, the most well popular and interesting dish served on the menu was the “Meatfruit“. In typical Heston style (although unusual for the rest of the dishes), the meat fruit was made to look like a clementine, but deceived the onlooker containing very savoury flavours instead of the sweet, juicy insides one would expect from a fruit. Accompanied by a well toasted piece of bread, you cut into the meatfruit to discover a soft meat spread composed of a liver parfait and foie gras. I’m not really one to order foie gras, but I have to say I was very impressed by the dish. The richness cut through with a slightly tart jelly that provided the outerskin to the fruit.

Meat fruit

Other’s ordered the marrow (reported as very good but rather rich)

And the snail porridge.

The main dishes at Dinner didn’t particularly scream as being particularly different, nor unique. Of course, the steak is an obvious choice but when we are spoilt with places like Hawksmoor, it felt a bit wrong to order one in a restaurant such as this. I opted for the pork belly, that came accompanied with some white truffles, beans.

Pork Belly

Naturally it was very well done – the meat, soft tender and falling apart but remaining totally moist. I was worried the truffles would be overpowered by the the other flavours in the dish, but the generous fresh shavings declared themselves present amongst the other salty flavours.

Pork Belly

Other people ordered the pigeon, beautifully presented but reported back as “just okay”.

After the mains came the desserts, and an optional course on offer was the freshly made ice cream. Made on demand tableside, is a spectacular show involving liquid nitrogen and your choice of ice cream toppings. It’s a lavish addition for £8 per scoop but is quite the show to have whilst having dinner. We enjoyed watching other people’s as we had already pre-ordered our desserts.

Ice Cream

And definitely a dessert to preorder was the tipsy cake. Demanding 25 minutes preparation, it is a fresh brioche made in its own cast iron skillet, soaked in a beautiful sauce (slightly alcoholic) and served alongside a roasted pineapple. It’s a beautiful presentation, matches pretty much what others have written about it and I would definitely order it again.

Tipsy Cake

A round of coffees and a whisky finished off the evening.

I would definitely return to Dinner by Heston, but next time I would avoid ordering alcohol. Although I didn’t do the wine order, I was told there was a great selection of wine. The only problem was that the price jumped very quickly into a “significantly higher” bracket very quickly. A common theme with the cheapest whisky being £20 per dram and the next one being £40.

I think we agreed that the food was very good, the ambiance reasonable, but we had a better experience with last year’s dinner at Galvin.

Name: Dinner by Heston
Found at: Located in the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7LA

Pollen Street Social

Jason Atherton commands respect from people in the food industry. A former Ramsey protege, he used to run the highly acclaimed Maze before opening his open restaurant, Pollen Street Social to much fanfare. Since then, his restaurant has won several awards including a Michelin star in the first year and reaching 84 in San Pelligrino’s Best 50 restaurants in the world (that ironically lists the top 100).


On special request, I took my sister there for her birthday as we like to treat each other to experiences instead of buying something for each other we will never use.


You can find his restaurant tucked around a quiet street around Mayfair. Despite being hidden, his restaurant is definitely popular with pretty much every table taken on a Monday Bank holiday.


The restaurant had food presentation spot on, although I don’t think everything worked. For example, they had recently renovated the dining room and the air conditioning was broken. On a surprisingly warm August Bank holiday I certainly noticed it when I sat down. I noticed it even more whenever I would lean back on the leather sofa back and find myself sticking to it. Hmmm. They did admittedly apologise for it post-dinner, and I can only imagine how crazy sauna like the kitchen would have been. Nevertheless, most of the food was pretty good.

Food miles

They have a strong food ethic about locally sourced produce and even list the number of miles each of the major components come from. On to the food itself.

We had bread brought by a waiter accompanied by a creamy butter (easily spreadable because of the heat) and an additional cream made out of fish roe. The butter was tasty but I didn’t really enjoy the fish cream because it was a bit too fishy for me. The next “snacks” arrived in a book that opened to reveal three small bites – perfectly crisp pork crackling, a shortbread biscuit with a concentrated tomato topping and another crisp bread with some smoked cream. A great selection of textures, flavours to kick start the appetite.


The next dish was a clever mushroom cappuccino that smelled so earthy and full of rich flavours. Downed in one go but the flavour lasting a long time after.

The next dish was a clever take on a breakfast dish (bacon and eggs) and the presentation here was absolutely extraordinary. We first had the tiny little egg holder placed in front of us with a tiny teaspoon before being presented egg shells nested in hay. The tops were trimmed perfectly, not a crack in sight and each filled with a light eggy custard that reminded me of silken scrambled eggs but much creamier and rich. It had infused a smokiness bacon flavour and the tiny bits on top certainly added that dimension. I could have eaten a few of these ones if they offered.


The first dish on the tasting menu was also one of the weakest. Listed as Orkney sea scallop carpaccio, kohlrabi, frozen pink grapefruit, lemon skin puree, block olive and samphire I think the heat of the restaurant didn’t do anything good for the scallop. Delicate slices of scallops tasted a little bit too fishy and not really in a good way and I was worried I would end up with food poisoning (which I didn’t!)


Fortunately the next dish made up for the first, roasted Dorset monkfish, cauliflower, dehydrated grapes, apple & curry and spiced caramel. Soft moist fleshy fish complemented by an array of sweet, spiced flavours that disappeared very quickly.


We both opted for the lamb which was a strange choice because my sister doesn’t like but only because the other alternative was a pheasant which we both didn’t want. She was very surprised when it turned out to be a very tasty dish. Lake District rack of lamb, braised shoulder, fregula in basil, olive powder, artichoke and smoked tomato chutney. Strong flavours but not overpoweringly so, and perfectly pink lamb that melted away in your mouth.


A cute interlude with a tiny coronet filled with ice cream and topped with chocolate. A great palette cleanser and an introduction to our dessert course.


It was served with sweet corn cream covered in chocolate and some caramel popcorn


Our dessert was called “Nuances in Red” made up of yoghurt ice cream, pear in hibiscus, picked roses and hibiscus granite. Being an ice based dessert, this dish suffered a lot in the heat. The granite pretty much turned into liquid by the time we took our first spoonful despite being served from a liquid-nitrogen based bowl at the table. At the same time, the yoghurt ice cream was quickly turning back into its liquid form. Nice elements that I think I would have enjoyed more if I didn’t feel like I had to eat it so fast.


We ordered some tea and was offered some madelines as well as unnecessary but still delicious macaroons.


A wonderful evening and the quality of the food was definitely up to standard and the service impeccable. My sister even caught Jason Atherton on our way out and he was kind enough to pose for a photo. Seemed like a nice guy and deserves his reputation as a cool headed chef and restauranteur.


Name: Pollen Street Social
Found at: 8-10 Pollen St, London, W1S 1NQ

Christmas Pig at St Johns

For the past two years, I’ve missed a Christmas time tradition run by the former Burger Tuesday crowd but this year I was free to join in on the annual Christmas pig tradition. As I mentioned, the group has got together to order the whole sucking pig at the Michelin starred St John Restaurant (although Chris ended up reserving the original St John restaurant because the Spitalfields one ended up all booked out. )


We had a pretty large table to share the pig – somewhere between 12-14 people and reports from previous years implied that we wouldn’t really have any problem devouring the whole pig. I started with a Gin and Tonic as others downed some beers, and we tucked into the generous sourdough bread slices and yummy British pats of butter (not enough for the table that we ended up asking for more).


The pig comes with a set menu, or at least it did around this time. Trying to order a set of starters and desserts for such a large group is hard, let alone plan in things appropriately for the main event. Our starter was an interesting salad combining fairly raw cauliflower, broad beans, parsley and a very strong vinaigrette. Although a number found it strange, the vegetables were probably a great way to start the appetite without filling it with meat.


We consumed bottles of this nice red wine.


The pig arrived at a table just off in the near corner where we were allowed to take photos before they carved the pigs into smaller pieces for distribution. The pig flesh was soft, moist and amazingly tender. The only strange thing was that the crackling wasn’t very… crackling. It turned out to be a lot more chewy and moist than what I had hoped for.


The pig came served with a generous heaping of potatoes and cabbages. Both perfectly cooked and full of natural flavour. I’m happy to report unlike stereotypical cooking, the vegetables were not overcooked or anything like that.


Some of the people who came along in the evening, including Chris who organised the entire night. Well done!


The remains of one of the pig legs.


And some more of the Burger Tuesday crowd celebrating the annual Christmas pig.


And yes, it was quite a big table… with more people.


For dessert, they ended up serving one of the largest pies I have ever seen served.


Naturally served with custard, although they should have served more with it. They only had two small jugs of custard with it and it disappeared very quickly.


We could see the kitchen from our table. Even the use of the white board, indicating some of the changes to the dishes or the different wines on offer for the evening. Early on we could even see the suckling pig hanging around in the kitchen, just waiting to be served.


Remnants of our wine.


And finally the outside of the hotel.


A marvellous meal with some great company.

Name: St John, Restaurant
Found at: 26 St. John Street, London, EC1M 4AY

Christmas Meal at Galvin at Windows

Another year, and another Christmas meal with my Italian friends. This year, I offered a choice but the group consensus was to try Galvin at Windows Restaurant and Bar. We first met at the Bar, located on the 28th floor of the Hilton Park Lane.


The bar itself was heaving from people visiting for the Christmas spirit. It’s very comfortable, and if you are happy to wait, there are quite a few places to seat with table service with minimal standing space at the bar. The drink selection, impressive and although quite pricy are very well made by their mixologists. I turned up slightly early, waited at the bar for about ten minutes and then was offered a table when everyone else arrived.


As you can see, you get a pretty good view standing.


The bar itself is also just a decadent. The lighting is dim without being dark, and a golden circle highlights the busy bar area where waiters and waitresses alight their table’s empties and collect a few more orders to drink.


Enough about the bar. As we were here to celebrate Christmas. We had a look at the a la carte menu, but finally agreed to settle on the tasting menu. It’s expensive but I think it was a good special occasion to spend it on.


Here’s Luca enjoying the atmosphere.


The bread basket arrived – a classic white plait, small baguette and some brown bread served with a creamy mound of butter. A simple selection, but well executed.


A small amuse bouche arrived, a small mouthful that was part mousse, part sweet and some other ingredients that I’ve sort of forgotten now. I do remember it being very good though. Rich, but just enough to get the palette going.


Our first dish from the tasting arrived, a scallop ceviche, kohlrabi, cucumber, ruby grapefruit and soy. We had the wine pairing, and a relatively sweet wine came alongside this one as it helped bring out the natural sweetness from the scallops. A light dish, well seasoned and tart on the palette but that really all came together.


Here’s the wine that came with this dish.


Our next course was a ballotine of foie gras, kumquat puree, spiced salt and a vanilla brioche. I’m not a huge fan of foie gras – it’s just a little bit rich for me, and the taste doesn’t really do justice to the intense farming process necessary for me. I’ll eat it, but not be one to order it. A brioche pairing works well – although I think having a slightly more toasted brioche provides a nicer texture contrast against the softer flesh.


Our fish course was a poached fillet of Cornish brill, a herb potato crust, Enoki, shellfish and dashi broth. It’s a strangely Asian inspired combination that came from this French kitchen, but one that worked really well. I particularly liked the crust – a soft potato breaking out from a toasted topping then made way for a soft, white flesh. Each bite covered with a salty, earth broth that I just wanted to drink every drop.


Here’s a photo of Marco enjoying his dish.


Our next course was going to be a meat round, so they wheeled out the fancy knifes.


Toni appreciating the weight in the cutlery.


In the end, we didn’t really need the knife since the venison was so soft. Slow cooked saddle of Scottish venison wrapped in Alsace bacon, braised shoulder beignet, red cabbage, watercress and sauce grand veneur. As you can see in the photo, our beignet ended up being more like a croquette, but one that was burstig with flavour from the softly cooked, shoulder. The venison literally melted apart, and the bacon a good addition to season the meat. This was definitely agreed upon as one of the best dishes of the night.


Of course the venison goes with a glass of red.


After the venison, they brought the menu back to ask us whether or not we wanted the cheese course.


Naturally, we said yes. It was our first Christmas meal of the season after all.


An impressive selection of cheeses accompanied with all the usual fruit, chutneys and cracker selection. Very nice.


Our first round of dessert arrives, a lemon posset, strawberry juice and Breton shortbread. This was one of the best posset’s I’ve ever eaten. Super creamy, full of citrusy notes and perfectly paired with a strawberry juice with a tart sweetness that complimented it all. The shortbread was a nice contrast to the posset as well.


The final dessert arrives, after we are getting really full. It’s a white chocolate mousse, blueberry compote and green tea ice cream. Both of the components were relatively light – green tea has a light flavour and white chocolate mousse much better than a heavier plain or dark chocolate mousse would have. A nice course to finish the tasting.


Of course we have espressos to help us digest, and they come accompanied with petite fours.


Finally, our bill arrives with an impressive jar of marshmallows. We try one.


Service impeccable, food very well executed and a great dining venue for special occasions.


Name: Galvin at Windows
Found at: London Hilton Park Lane, 22 Park Lane, London, Greater London W1K 1BE, United Kingdom

North Road

I’ve always been meaning to eat at North Road since it opened. The Danish chef is one of the many leading the way in using locally sourced foods, foraged plants and keeping dishes clean and effective. I hate to compare it, but the food definitely seems to have similar touches to Noma (which is not a bad thing).

I turned up for a rather lazy lunch where this Michelin-starred restaurant has an amazing offer of two courses for £22, and 3 courses for £35. Even their seven course tasting menu is a bit of a bargain at £67 although not something you probably want to indulge in everyday.

Two other tables ate during the service that I had, and their evenings definitely seem a lot more packed out.

Bread arrived in a cute little brown bag to keep the rolls warm. On of the left is a lovely crunchy, chewy brown bread and the other one a spelt bread with lots of whole grains seen throughout.

It came accompanied with a wild garlic butter (yum!) that I probably shouldn’t have finished off and a strange, caramel butter that felt a little bit too sweet to start off with. I did try it, but definitely preferred the stronger savoury flavours of the wild garlic. Super intense without lingering for the next few dishes.

For my first course, I opted for the smoked lobster and pearl barley salad. I did manage to find a shell in the salad (but it wasn’t really a problem for me) and the grains of pearl barley provided a nice contrast to the entire dish. Samphire provided a good and appropriate salty greenness to the overall dish and freshly sliced radish providing some overall lightness.

Although tempted by the beef dish, I ended up trying the dorset plaice, picked cockle, sea kale, brown butter and green strawberries. I ended up with the last piece of plaice as I heard the waiter tell another table seated after me they had run out and for me, turned out a really good choice.

The green strawberries strangely worked very well. The tart, slightly bitterness of the strawberries brought good contrast to the dish and the firmness provided by being under-ripe also helped them keep their shape amongst the other textures on the plate. They had only dabbed just enough brown butter to provide flavour but without making the entire dish too rich and heavy. Yum.

I opted for dessert which was a yogurt sorbet, malt and oat crumble. The malt reminded me of milo and the yogurt ice cream turned into the perfect way of cleansing the palette. This was a really great dish that worked very well together and my only regret was how we only had a single scoop. It was plenty of food already and, I think, very good value.

The waiters even brought me a glass of aged grappa to have with my dessert. My first thought was, “ugh”, but was amazed at how aging the otherwise “firewater” helped temper it and its cask infusing delicious qualities as well. I hadn’t asked for this, but certainly appreciated the gesture. We exchanged stories where the waiter told me more about the grappa (even bringing the bottle to show me) and I told him about the Scotch Malt Whisky Society and its location not too far from their restaurant.

I really enjoyed their service, the food was brilliant and now I can’t wait to try their tasting menu sometime. What I really like about restaurants like this is how different the food evolves as well because of their focus on seasonality. I love the way that the waiters demonstrated their passion for food and drink and it really comes through during the service.

Name: North Road
Address: 69-73 St John St, EC1M 4AN

The French Laundry

When my sister and I booked our trip to stay with our cousin in San Francisco, she was almost immediately on the phone trying to get a reservation for The French Laundry. Like many top class restaurants in the world, finding a reservation is difficult – you need to book in advance at least a month and even then chances are the bookings will already be taken by the time you get there. She’s a lot more dedicated to it than I am, and managed to get a lunch time booking for Sunday, the day after we arrived in the city.

We arranged to hire a car for the day (it only ended up being about £25 for the day hire), drove up to Napa Valley (or Yountville to be more precise). The weather forecast predicted gloom and rain but instead the day welcomed us with bright sunshine and moderately warm temperatures. Our cousin equipped us with a GPS and that turned out to be really valuable as we took a number of wrong turns off connecting highways and intersections.

We arrived with plenty of time before our 11am booking, so took a quick walk around the area. Directly opposite from The French Laundry’s location is a big open area where they grow and harvest their own vegetables, herbs and even have a chicken coop that I’m guessing is more for the eggs than for the meat.

We could see them rotating crops with a number of the crops already completely harvested and other sections most likely to be harvested sometime soon.

This part of the US is wine country, so the surrounding buildings are either a combination of residential places, or a number of wineries offering samples of their wares. We walked into one place that was had an interesting combination of both indoor and outdoor art with the wine that they would serve. We even saw someone buy a painting, where the lady purchasing immediately demanded for it to be taken down to prevent others from even looking at it.

The French Laundry itself loos like a converted house. The building is made up of two floors, the downstairs floor appearing darker with the blinds semi-closed for privacy. The top floor is more bright but the ceilings much closer giving it the appearance of being slightly smaller. The tables are not pushed together like other popular restaurants with plenty of space for people to walk around. In fact, one table even brought their child (probably about one or two years old) although we were commenting on how it probably wasn’t much of a great experience for the child.

Here’s the door that you enter and exit through. A comfy courtyard welcomes you just outside with chairs if you want to sit and sun yourself whilst waiting, or maybe needing to digest more of your meal.

We walked around the premises a bit and even found this interesting Michelin branded thermometer.

We sat alongside one of the walls with the centre tables reserved for parties greater than two. We felt we were probably the youngest group of people with most people in their late 30s/early 40s and many tables significantly above that age as well. They have a dress code including jacket and no jeans or trainers and they really keep to it as well. A gentlemen, upon being seated, went to go take his jacket off and hang it on the chair when their waiter immediately asked him to, “Please keep your jacket on at all times sir.” They didn’t really explain but I guess it helps make the experience feel more special.

Everything about the experience is immaculately thought out and the decadence presented in a subtle fashion. Much to its namesake, the napkin folded at the table had a French Laundry branded peg. I have no idea whether or not you were supposed to take them home, but they left them about. When you left for the restroom, a waiter or waitress would remove your napkin only to have another one almost seemlessly appear.

Their degustation offerings both priced at a fixed USD270 including service came in two flavours. The first was a chef’s classic and the second, a more vegetarian friendly though not exclusively vegetarian with one or two of the nine courses including meats. I’m sure they could probably substitute for vegetarians but I’m guessing the combination of a French restaurant and a place like this isn’t exactly their target market. We went for the classic menu as well. Parts of the menu offered an alternative between two different dishes and I think we almost went for different alternatives that didn’t involve a supplement. Some choices, like a foie gras, added another USD50 to the overall cost. The price probably wasn’t so much the problem for me (since when are we going to do this experience again) but I decided against it since I am not the biggest lover of foie gras.

My sister also ordered a bitter lemon drink, whilst I perused their iPad wine list to pick a glass of red from the area. Of course the wine list was exhaustively comprehensive but I was surprised there wasn’t as many choices by the glass from the local area. No zinfandel reds by the glass either but I would have more chance later in the trip to indulge.

On choosing the menu, almost instantly two cheese gougères appeared at the table. Perfectly crisp, light and full of cheesy flavour, there was nothing wrong I could pick.

Shortly after arrived an interesting minced salmon cone filled with cream cheese. I like the playfulness of these two classic ingredients paired together in an entertaining manner and all the flavours indeed hit the spot.

Our first course from the degustation menu arrived. “Oysters and Pearls” or Sabayon of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar. This dish was amazingly rich and was a great thing that it came in such a tiny bowl. The sabayon had plenty of thickness to it that it was able to easily hold up the caviar and the oysters laid on top. Creamy, rich and it almost felt like eating a thicker hollandaise I was glad to not how much butter or cream went into it. A very lovely start.

With this dish, we had been offered a brioche from the Bouchon bakery just down the road to go along with two types of butter, one from a local farm and the other flown from in from Maine.

Our next course, the “Creme D’Asperges”, Jidori Hen Egg, parmesan, chervil and garden blossoms. I forgot to take a picture of the lovely components underneath the asparagus soup but this was a really nice dish. I was surprised at just how much asparagus flavour they managed to extracta and the poached egg wasn’t too big or too small for this dish.

The bread offerings started to open up. We had a number to choose from including a french loaf, a seeded loaf, sourdough and then a pretzel. Throughout the meal I think I tried everything but the french roll preferring the chewy sourdough and the salted pretzel bread.

I didn’t have this next dish, but my sister did. This was the “Smoked Shad Roe ‘Porridge'”, Lemongrass, charred ginger, tempura sea beans and shiso so I don’t really have comments on this one.

My alternative was the “Sauteed fillet of Atlantic Striped Bass”, Sunchokes, fava beans, nicoise olives and serrano ham. As you can see from the picture, part of the delight of this dish was the perfectly crisped potato crust providing an additional crunch to the texture of the dish. The ham added salt to the dish and this was a very impressive dish. The fish remained juicy and the flavour combinations really worked well.

Our next course together was the “Sweet Butter Poached Maine Lobster ‘Fricassee'”, spätzle, pickled beef, French Laundry garden beets, petite radish, tarragon and “Sauce Borscht”. I laughed and commented to our waiter on his efforts to pronounce spätzle based on my own experiences last year. It was a pretty good effort. You could taste the buttery richness imparted on the lobster by itself and though I didn’t really note a strong pickled flavour from the beef, the “borscht” was an amazing reduction of so many complex flavours. I have no idea how to describe it other than layers and layers of deep flavours impacted on a thick sticky sauce. The spätzle was also pretty good though I couldn’t pick the odd flavour imparted so I asked them if they added a sauce around it. Upon returning from the kitchen I was informed they’d been covered with some sort of reduced creme fraiche.

We both chose the next dish together, “Four Story Hill Farm Poularde Breast”, Nettle ‘gnocchi a la Parisienne’, crosnes, Nantes carrots and Black Winter Truffle Consomme that I think may have been the dish with the most subtle flavours. The poularde had, of course, been perfectly cooked. It looked cooked sous vide as it remained juicy and then its crispy outer finished off in a pan. Tiny fresh vegetables dotted the plate and the nettle gnocchi providing an alternating softer texture though without any distinguishable nettle flavour.

The truffle consomme, was of course, poured at the table with great effect and smelt wonderful imparting soft earthiness to the other dish. I found the truffle consomme not as rich in flavour as I expected but I think that more has to do with the black versus white truffle whose flavour is less pungent and sharp.

I wasn’t quite sure how the next dish was going to go for my sister as she’s not a big fan of lamb. “Elysian Fields Farm lamb saddle”, Merguez sausage, farro, “Ribettes”, broccolini and “Piperade au Saffron” however I certainly enjoyed it. I did think there was a bit too much going on the plate – underneath the lamb sat roasted peppers turned into a mash spread across the plate. The sausage was crisped up to provide texture and tiny pieces of meat that I guessed as some sort of lardons crisped up on one side added more texture and richness to the dish. I liked the small slices of a chile that added a subtle heat to the overall dish. Much to my sister’s delight, the lamb had a very subtle flavour and many other strong-flavoured components helped prevent it from dominating.

We finally moved on beyond the main courses, and first hit the cheese course. “Chaconne”, “Pruneaux d’Agnen”, pecans, petite onions, oxalis and black truffle “Aigre Doux”. As you can see more black truffle infused honey smeared across the plate and a salty, creamy cheese that went well with all the other components.

Or first official dessert arrived, a “Sierra Beauty apple sorbet”, toasted oats and ginger “nuage”. The ginger foam effectively had a very subtle flavour – very surprisingly considering how it normally dominates and I love the crunch provided by the toasted oats at the bottom of the plate. A great way to cleanse the palette and an enjoyable dessert.

My sister opted for the alternative dessert, a “Meyer Lemon ‘Parfait'”, Oregon huckleberries, sicilian pistachios and poppy seed ice cream. It looked really great and I had a small taste of the “parfait” that was just as tart as I would hope.

Being a lot more predictable when it involves hazelnut and chocolate, I ordered the “Marjolaine”, praline Mousse, “Dacquoise” and roasted banana sorbet. Tiny merengue discs sit atop some of the components, caramelised and toasted hazelnuts adorn the plate and a lusciously rich praline mousse was devine. The roasted banana sorbet was a surprising winner as well helping bring more caramel tones to the final dish.

We hit tea and coffee (included in the overall meal cost) and even more food arrived. We thought we were done. First in the bowl at the back, caramelised, sugared macadamias had a crisp caramel shell and made even more decadent by a dusting of icing powder. I couldn’t stop myself eating these as I love macadamia nuts and they were really, really, really good. In the dish to the right were tiny brioche beignets or simply donuts. The brioche bread made them even lighter than a normal donut. Finally the cup in front isn’t a cappuccino as one might expect. Instead it was a coffee ice cream set with foamed milk to resemble one. Delicious and very playful.

Just as we thought we were done with food, they brought yet another plate of food, this time petite fours in the form of various chocolate. They were beautifully made and contained flavours like coconut, praline, peanut butter and jam, mint and lemon. I can’t really remember the other one.

We asked for the bill and another container arrived. I assumed it was some sort of toothpick container.

But I was wrong. More food although this time, we could bring this shortbread home to keep in the French Laundry embossed container.

I stepped out to use the restrooms and then when I got back (and paid), my sister told me that they were going to give us the tour of the kitchen. I was really excited as I still clearly remember our kitchen visit at Eleven Madison Park and love seeing the “behind the scenes”. I think this was because my sister asked about the rumours of a two-way camera and monitor linking the French Laundry with its sister restaurant in New York, Per Se. The rumour is true as we were about to be shown.

Our waiter showed us to the kitchen, asking for staff with large plates of food to graciously move out of the way. Unlike Eleven Madsion Park, I’m guessing kitchen visits weren’t that regular because I felt like we were constantly in the way even though we were pretty much up against the wall.

We got to shake one of the chef’s hands and our waiter told us about the various stations and what they were all doing. This visit to the kitchen really made the visit. I was surprised at how small the kitchen was with many chefs not having much more space than to turn around. The waiter pointed out the preparation area, a small room at the back of the kitchen where it literally looked like chefs worked shoulder to shoulder to peel, cut and prepare for the evening’s meal.

I count myself lucky every time we get to dine at places like this. It’s an experience many people do not and cannot have and appreciated every bite.

Name: The French Laundry
Found at: 6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599, United States

Fine Dining Indian at Rasoi

Last year we managed to nab a 50% discount off a tasting course at the Michelin-starred Rasoi. It’s tucked down a small alleyway, a few streets away from Sloane Square tube. From the outside, it looks more like someone’s home than a restaurant and it feels similar when you step in where they take your coat and welcome you to the restaurant. Only a small, almost unnoticeable sign hangs in the distant and I’d recommend you map it out before you get there, otherwise you miss it.

We’re shown to our table, fortunately by the window in what really should be someone’s front room. The down lights are dimmed to an almost ridiculously low level and I apologise in advance for any blurry images in the post below. I’m glad I brought the bigger camera, as the poor iPhone really wouldn’t have been able to cope. Even as it were, I was shooting at maximum (1600) ISO and had to try to keep the camera really steady.

They presented us with the two tasting menu options. Being an Indian restaurant, vegetarians are very well catered for and we could have opted for that. Not tonight. Whilst we waited on the first course, we had some fried paneer, poppadoms and chutney. They had topped the paneer with a lovely spicy dollop of something, and the typical coriander sauce and chutney were welcome additions to the crisply fried thins.

Our first course soon arrived. Apparently fried rice cakes served with sambar. This dish seemed inspired by the idli dish that I remember so well from Bangalore. The “fried” factor was pretty much zero as there was no crispiness, instead each rice cake surrounded by chilli spice. The sambar was a lentil soup, had deep flavours and a good background heat to it. A good start to the course.

We then had lamb two ways, the first being minced lamb and lentils. I wasn’t particularly impressed by the texture, almost reminding me of an excessively minced meat – an almost liver-like texture. The lamb kebab however was wonderfully flavoured. Plenty of smoke and chilli with deep flavours.

The next dish really surprised, a tomato “makhni” ice cream sitting atop a wild mushroom and truffle oil laced khichdi. This dish reminded me of an Italian mushroom risotto, although obviously influenced by Indian flavours. What was amazing was the contrasts here. Ice cold ice cream stayed perfectly formed for the entire dish, separated from the hot bed by a rice cracker. Spiciness kicking in only to be contrasted by the umami-rich truffle and mushroom tones. Definitely a winning dish.

We then had the gunpowder sea bass, curry leaf potatoes, beetroot moilee sauce and a coconut chutney. Although this dish was very beautifully presented and very flavoursome, it seemed a tad confused and overwhelming. Too many contrasting components that would have been fine.

A cleanser round of a melon and black pepper sorbet. Interesting combo as both flavours were quite strong.

By this stage, we were both pretty full and had expected our dessert round. How wrong we were when they presented this beautiful dish topped with a dome full of smoke. They removed the dome to uncover a chicken tikka, aubergine caviar, dal sauce and potatoes. I’m a big fan of aubergine and my only criticism of this was that the “caviar” texture didn’t really come through, so they really might as well have called it mash. The chicken tikka was amazingly tender, moist and full of flavour and a great combination of textures and flavours that really balanced out.

Normally Indian desserts are excessively sweet, so was a bit hesitant about the final course. Fortunately there’s a reason they have a star rating from the Michelin guide. We had a “Chocomosa” – a samosa filled with almond, white and dark chocolate and a fresh rose-petal vanilla bean ice cream. This was the perfect way to finish the meal as the samosa wasn’t as heavy as it could have been and the ice cream very refreshing.

Service was great – they topped up our tap water constantly and there was no pushing of other drinks (we did have a mango lassi with dinner as well).

Name: Rasoi
Found at: 10 Lincoln Street, London, SW3 2DT
Website at:

Michelin Dining in Munich at Acquarello

Not having been to Munich before, I did my usually scouring around for restaurants. The diversity of the scene wasn’t as big as that on offer in Berlin, with many places offering much more traditional Bavarian-style foods involving lots and lots of meat. Sunday and Monday tend to be very quiet nights but I managed to find one restaurant open, recommended by the Michelin guide to try. It was an Italian restaurant found on the east side of the city, and I think five or six U-Bahn rides away.

The dining room was bright and airy compared to the darkness outside. I only had my iphone camera with me, so the photos turned out a little grainy, but it gives you a good idea about the place. The hosts greeted me in German and entertained my wish to speak and practice only in German. They presented each dish and all ingredients in German though I can’t really remember what they all are.

Each table already came set with a bread basket, but then they placed some salts. I had a guess at what they were. One was noticeably truffle salt and the other ordinary salt (Fleur de Sel to be exact) but the other red-tinged salt I couldn’t make out. I asked the waiters the ingredients in German, guessing at the ones I knew. The other one, strangely enough was a strawberry salt. Not my favourite but something a little bit different.

The breads also came with three different choices of olive oils (different maturities I guess) to let the salt stick to something.

An amuse bouche suddenly appeared as well. This one a tiny beef tartare topped with crispy noodles and based with a yogurt dressing. A good thing to get the appetite warmed up.

The next dish was a prawn ravioli covered in a deliciously rich lobster bisque foam that was surprisingly thick. The pasta was delicate and obviously freshly made, and generously filled with sweet prawn meat. A dish that disappeared a little too quickly.

Although the next dish, on first appearances looked like a crazily decorated garden, what we had was an Italian take on a sashimi dish. Fresh fish, thinly graced the plate, decorated with a variety of Italian ingredients such as lemon, pesto, pine nuts and olives. You think it would be strange but I whole heartedly approve of this interpretation.

A very nice palette cleanser in the shape of a mango sorbet atop some lightly flavoured jelly.

The main course soon made its way to the plate. It had a lot of meat including a venison sausage (the thing speared with the rosemary) and a roulade wrapping some very succulently cooked meat that I was guessing cooked sous vide and then caramelised in a pan. It sat atop rabbit risotto and then was decorated with lots of crunchy fresh vegetables.

Above is the instagram version after I’d eaten into it. It’s amazing what that thing can do.

Before we finally moved onto a dessert. A lovely pineapple jelly surrounding a light coconut mouse and some almond milk shavings. Delicate, refreshing and a perfect way to finish.

I did order some team, but they also presented some petite fours – candied orange slices as well as white chocolate mint leaves. Service was great throughout the evening – polite, friendly and not too in your face. They even offered another round of dessert at the end – a slice of chocolate tart at the end of meal literally bringing around the fully devilish dish into view. I declined as I was pretty full at this stage. It was even a very funny, if not, very formal farewell when I left with almost all of the waiters and waitresses lining up to say, “Auf weidersehen” at the same time. Total cost for the evening tasting course, an aperitif, a glass of wine and water and service €110.

Name: Acquarello – Cucina del Sole
Found at: Mühlbauerstr. 36, München, Germany

Alberto K

When I was in Malmo last year for Øredev last year, we stopped into Copenhagen to have a meal at the michelin starred Alberto K. I’d totally forgotten to write this up, so getting around to it just now. When booking it, I had also forgotten that I’d eaten here once for breakfast before – it has a spectacular view of all of the city being located on the top floor of the Radisson Blu hotel.

Upon being seated, we were given some lovely amuse bouches. The one with the green is a crispy fish skin with some flaked fish. I can’t really remember the one in front of it now.

Behind it sat some fresh sea prawns, served raw with a dollop of mayonaise.

Next up was a fish wrapped in some local shrubbery and then roasted, absorbing some of the flavours. I do remember this fish being particularly succulent and very engaging for us, as diners, as we cut into the delicately wrapped piece of fish.

This is what the unwrapped fish looked like.

Of course, they had some very nice breads. Dark and heavy like the Danish prefer although with a very lightly whipped butter that was very easy to smooth over the bread.

I’m going to be missing some of the details in this, as we ate through so many courses but I forgot what they all are.

Really dig the plating.

This dish was really lovely. I think it was a chicken dish, with very clever components. The outside of the egg yolk cooked and served by itself, so that it would burst and combine with all the ingredients. A delicious thick foam served inside the empty shell, and then crisp chicken skin providing salty contrast.

This would be a licorice infused stock that would form a component for the next dish.

Made up of pork and very earthy flavours and divine local mushrooms.

We then had some pigeon, served with beet room and some local herbs before making our way onto the dessert rounds.

For showmanship, the next course, they made a fresh ice at the table, using the ever spectacular liquid nitrogen.

Before spooning it delicately over some picked pear with walnuts and another scoop of fresh creme fraiche ice cream. Refreshingly light and not too sweet. The iced granita was made out of sorrel.

Before finishing off the tasting menu with a caramelised plum and an intricately detailed plate including roasted “bread” (made with malt) and an almond milk to mix in with the malt.

What I really enjoyed about Alberto K was that they used very fresh ingredients and prepared them in a way that was neither too heavy, nor too rich. It was all extremely contemporary and a very clever composition that lead you to a wonderful finale.

Name: Alberto K
Found at: Hammerichsgade 1 (in the Raddison Blu Hotel), Copenhagen, Denmark

Eleven Madison Park Round 2

Out of all the places that I ate at last year, I was most impressed by the experience of the then, two-starred michelin restaurant. Obviously others had been as well since it’s gained an additional star in the meantime. The lunch menu is definitely a great value if you manage to get a reservation, and we were lucky that we were able to (thanks Grace!)

It was an extremely cold day when we went for lunch, made even colder by the wind chill factor. I’ll say that revolving doors make a great way of making sure that gusts of cold air don’t make their way into the dining room. Stepping through these doors, you’re welcomed almost immediately by a member of staff, coats taken and then quickly escorted to the bright, airy dining room (below). Weirdly enough, we were seated at exactly the same table we were last time!

The menu format still hasn’t changed. A four course menu depicts a journey that you get to pick the main attraction, but all scenery provided by the kitchen. This allows the restaurant to change the elements of the menu with seasonal produce and also produce some vastly different experiences (all good, rest assured).

Whilst deciding, we get to pick on some cheesy Gougère, strong in flavour, light in composition.

Followed almost immediately by the wonderfully velvety chicken veloute and parsely oil served from a teapot into a tea cup for easy drinking. It’s a great way to warm up after walking around outside.

Different from the amuse bouches of our last visit, we then received a foie gras paste perched perfectly atop brioche with chives. Yummo.

And like last time, had a wonderfully rich american sturgeon custard served in perfectly cut egg shells. The custard was more like a foam (maybe I’m getting it wrong) with the sturgeon eggs providing a wonderful contrast in flavour and texture as your spoon dips in. A little bit more flavoured oil (not sure what) sits in the bottom adding another dimension to the dish.

Fortunately there was no pork fat served with the bread, with the lighter butter made from goat’s cheese and the creamy yellow a French style. This time the bread was more like buttery croissant pastry turned into small parcels and hand delivered warm and fresh in a little pouch.

My first dish, was a crab roulade with avacado, apple and lime. Soft creamy elements and carefully adorned with fresh herbs and green leafs along its length. I really enjoyed the beautiful presentation and the flavours of this dish.

Following a seafood theme, the lobster poached with autumn mushrooms and spinach arrived looking like a work of art, carefully arranged in a single line unevenly offset on the right side of a huge plate. The pieces were generous and that mushroom/lobster foam was so rich and velvety but was carefully not overpowering the sweetness of the lobster flesh.

My final course before the desert was the guinea fowl roasted with pear, salsify and foie gras. This dish was a superb ascent to the top with rich, deep flavours that built on the previous ones. I suspect the guinea fowl had been cooked sous vie before being finished off under a broiler – there’s no other way I could imagine it retaining so much of that succulent juices.

After the previous course, a small cart got wheeled up. We had anticipated this after watching a number of other tables being served the same, wondering what it was. It’s a beautiful show. Decanters of lime juice, and cocoa milk tipped into a small glass before orange oil being dabbed in from yet another bottle. The finishing touch was a spray of seltzer water fizzing up the entire drink. I was reminded of drinking a light, liquid version of a Terry’s orange only much cleaner on the palette and an experience to remember. Now where do I find cocoa milk!

We then had another pre-dessert cleanser, made up of a custard and some fresh berry sorbet. I can’t remember the other elements as I was still thinking about the wonderful glass that preceded it.

For my main dessert, I’d ordered the hazelnut meringue with sorbet, chestnuts and pistachio. I was surprised at how fruity this dish was, considering hazelnut is classically paired with chocolate but it worked out surprisingly well.

Last year, I missed not having a coffee, so thought we would try the entertaining tableside coffee.

The petite fours arrived as well just as the coffee was being prepared. A beautiful white truffle chocolate bonbon with a creamy explosive centre full of truffle-essence.

Followed by a cocoa black truffle ganache providing a complement to the white.

Ok, I’ll admit I still prefer espresso to siphon coffee but I like the spectacle of the way they prepare it here. This is a picture of the tableside siphon coffee being prepared. First they allow you to smell the coffee, explaining its origin and then all the details about the temperature and time that are needed for the perfect brew.

And voila, the final product.

Another wonderful dining experience at Eleven Madison Park, and very deserving of their three stars.

Name: Eleven Madison Park
Found at: 11 Madison Avenue New York, NY