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

Protected post on Ultraviolet

I got a comment on my last post from the Communications Director of Ultraviolet thanking me for writing up my experience, but also asking me to consider rewriting something shorter to allow others to remain surprised. I’ve eaten at lots of great places, and before going, even read a lot on the places that I’ve been going. My personal experience is that reading something is never quite the same as experiencing something, but I do want to respect their wishes.

I’m not going to rewrite the previous post because it took so much time, effort and I personally want to refer to all the details. The other point is that given the very limited seating arrangements, more people would benefit from knowing the details than not because it’s unlikely most people will get the opportunity to dine. Since you are the reader, I’ll let you decide.

I have put a simple password on the previous post, but if you’d like, leave a comment and I’ll email you the password so you can read it.

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

Eleven Madison Park

My sister and I had definitely splurged on food this trip to New York. I count myself fortunate to dine at these places and enjoy them all. Our final, and definitely the most impressive, fine dining place this trip was Eleven Madison Park. We figured it’d be worthwhile tasting their great valued four course meal for only US$74. Given the quality of the food to come, I still look at as a culinary experience bargain and highly recommend it.

Eleven Madison Park is easily found by following the trail of their four-leaf motif. It’s embossed into the door head and one of the lamp-posts in the park has the name and same four-leaf motif at the bottom of one of their hanging banisters. We were amongst the first to arrive for the lunch service arriving just before noon. I didn’t really want to wander too long to kill time considering how cold and windy that day was. Things already looked good when one of the maître de’s started spinning the rotating doors to help us get in. Taking our coats from us, it wasn’t long before we sat down at our table, fortunate enough to both be facing outwards into the grandiose setting, and soon to be, banquet room.

The restaurant certainly has some style. Describing the room with tall ceilings doesn’t really do justice to just how far the roof from us was away. To our left, long bright windows let plenty of natural sunlight in. Facing forward, we could see a number of tables and they set them plenty away from each other to avoid pretending not to overhear conversations. Further forward, we see a raised floor where even more tables sit and all the way to the right, the bar where we notice people welcomed to dine as well.

As a frequently travelling solo diner, I was also happy to note a rather poised lady dining by herself (food critic perhaps?) on the other side facing towards us. She seemed to be treated just as well as everyone else. Now, on to the meal. We found the tasting menu hidden underneath our dining napkin. Our waitress explained it very simply, “You may choose three courses or four courses. You effectively get to compose your own tasting menu based on key ingredients with the final accompaniments changing with availability of food. Each one will be fully explained on arrival. The first row are all cold dishes, the second and third all hot and the final one dessert elements. You may choose to even skip some of the dishes and, for example, go for another hot dish instead of a cold one.”

Whilst deciding on what to eat from the menu, the first thing to appear were these light gruyere puffs. Probably slightly bigger than a thumbful, these bite-sized morsels really started the appetite going.

When my sister and I dine, we don’t normally drink wine. Matching wine sessions are out of the question when dealing with tasting menus – there would be simply too much alcohol for our poor little Asian systems to deal with. Nevertheless, my sister picked a non-alcoholic drink and I, intrigued by numerous selections decided for a Hot buttered rum with the help from one of the waiters. As he put it, “This is the perfect winter drink. This is a classic drink that is resurfacing and will help you warm up.” It took some time for the drinks as they made it fresh and it was so good I’ve decided to try to replicate the recipe at home while the winter months are still upon us. It came in a wonderful beer-stein like container for the glass.

Here’s the first non-alcoholic drink, an Orange Julius.

And then the amazing tasting hot buttered rum. It reminded me a little bit slightly of those butter menthol sweets you suck on when you have a cold but only in the good way (they are just too tasty to have just one).

Our amuse bouche soon arrived. Here was a lightly toasted brioche with truffle butter and chives. I have to admit the truffle flavour wasn’t the strongest in the butter (it never is) although I could tell some earthy undertones separate to the chives. This went with the next dish.

A small tea cup of chicken soup. They even poured the lusciously creamy chicken soup out of a tea-pot like construct. The soup had everything you could ever want in a chicken soup. It was creamy. Packed full of flavour. Perfectly seasoned. I just wanted more.

Soon after that dish came an American Sturgeon Custard. It arrived in these immaculately cut and cleaned eggs where we used tiny spoons to pull out spoonfuls of flavoured custard. I have no idea how they cut the eggs so clean. It almost looked like they used a laser, or sanded down the top to get a consistent edge. I almost thought they weren’t really when they first arrived.

Continuing the theme of small bites for appetisers, a small glass bowl soon arrived. Explained as “poached egg with truffles”, they explained the slowly poached egg sat with the truffles to absorb their flavours and then they topped the cooked egg with a truffle infused sauce. Imagine a luxurious version of an eggs benedict (minus the ham and English muffin) and this pretty much captured the essence.

With all of these small plates brought out, they finally brought out the bread and butter. Here you can see the disc of butter etched with their signature four-leaf motif. This small round was the standard American butter that we cut into for our bread. This butter looked much more yellow than what I’d seen most American butters to be but I still think the English or French butter is the best so far.

One butter isn’t enough for this place. They also had to serve a Goat’s Milk Butter. Whilst my sister didn’t like the distinctive goat’s milk flavour, I liked it better for its strength of taste compared to the rather bland American stuff. Using the goat’s milk butter helped me avoid putting [fleur de sol] salt when using the other one. They don’t really stop at just two butters if you really want. We heard the table next to us explain a whole list of food allergies (poor them!) and/or food dislikes. We saw the attendants bring olive oil to the table instead of butter.

Compared to a number of the restaurants in the UK, bread doesn’t tend to play a strong part in many American restaurants we ate in. Eleven Madison Park did two types, that they brought to the table, one being some sort of olive bread, and another sort of white bread. Both served freshly warmed but nothing to write home about.

Here is where it starts to get complicated where I’ll tell you about the parts of the dishes that I can remember but when you’re having so much good food, it’s hard to note down all the elements. My sister ordered the turbot to start off with, accompanied by some soy beans, shaves of fennel and I think it was sun dried tomatoes. Pretty good from what she said.

She’s not really a fan of cold food so she skipped the first line. I decided to take one dish from each line and I’m really glad I went for the Foie Gras dish. Served in two parts, the first was a creamy foie gras terrine served with pearl onions and pineapple. Very similar to our dinner at WD-50, the chefs knew about cutting through the richness of the foie gras with a slightly tart fruit sauce and it worked really well.

The second part to the dish was definitely one of the best dishes, made up of a toasted brioche and foie gras brulee. It sounds a bit strange but here, they somehow made a savoury brulee that worked amazingly well. The caramelised top gave away hints of bitterness that worked well instead of being too sweet and the natural creaminess of the foie gras fooled the mind into thinking about the perfect set custard. I enjoyed every last spoonful of this dish and, after talking to our attendants, it was one of their most popular dishes.

Here’s the lobster dish served with walnut and squash.

My second dish, the crab with fresh Meyer lemon juice and fresh Tagliatelle pasta. At first glance, it seemed like a simple dish but I could tell immediately the pasta had been freshly made, and they were extremely generous with the amount of crab throughout. I wasn’t left twirling pasta without any crab by the end of the dish. I did find two small pieces of crab shells but that’s a risk I’m happy to take with any seafood dish.

For round three, my sister got the pork three ways. The belly part, fatty as usual, had the perfect crisp top, and the loin still moist with each bite.

It seems like Americans are getting more of a taste for lamb which is why I wondered how they might prepare it. My dish was a lamb collar with garlic, apple and crispy bits and some sort of green and lamb jus. I can’t remember exactly what the crispy bits were but they tasted like toasted garlic mixed with some other nuts. Whatever it was, it went with the lamb very well. I thought the apple seemed a bit strange with this dish but overall a very nice one.

It seems like Americans like their lamb not excessively rare. Whilst still juicy and slightly pink, I do think that the lamb was slightly overcooked.

On to desserts, and the first was a pre-dessert of champagne foam a top a number of other elements including crushed meringue and a raspberry sorbet. I tend to dislike the trend with playing with “foam” but I have to say, this one really worked. It seemed a bit closer to almost a thick creamy whip than a foam but what worked really well is they kept the champagne flavour and they somehow kept its fizz. The fizz and the tart sorbet worked to prepare our palates for the upcoming dessert.

My sister got the coconut dish made up of toasted coconut, coconut ice cream, pineapple and chunks. All elements tasted great and it almost seemed tropical for a moment.

I ordered the dessert based on lemon. To be honest, I though it as the most disappointing dish. Good but just not wondrous. They had a lemon curd, lemon sorbet, light flakes of lemon and poppy seed shortbread and lemon cake crumbs. Looking back, they had enough textures to make it interesting. I think what took it away from me were the cake crumbs that seemed to blur into every bite.

Post dessert, they still had more things to come including a peanut brittle, and a chocolate covered milk ice cream lollipop. Both very small bites and both very good.

We asked for the bill and when we opened their four-leaf motif covered folder we discovered…

An impressively hand written bill. Simple and elegant, just like everything else that we experienced that day.

Just as we asked for the bill, our waitress seemed a bit thrown off because she had planned to take us for another treat. She asked us if we had time for another course and a tour of the kitchen to which we both replied almost immediately in unison, “Of course!” It really came as a surprise and definitely made it the highlight of our, already wonderful, meal and trip. We paid the bill and then followed her past the streams of people coming out of the kitchen to arrive at a high table covered in a white table clothed tucked against an inset in the wall. From this vantage point, we could see the whole workings of the kitchen. Although Noma boasts an open kitchen where many of the dishes are finished, here we also got to witness all the chefs preparing for the dinner service. Two things struck me immediately. Firstly, there were a lot of people in the kitchen. At a good guess, I would say almost a hundred people, each one working on some small element for each dish. Secondly, I can’t believe how immaculately clean everything was. Now, I’ve watched a lot of cooking shows, many of which go behind the scenes of kitchens but this one looked almost impeccable. Even though there was lots of action going on, the kitchen almost looked like it was in a unused state, waiting to kick off for another day. Very impressive.

The person who walked us through explained each of the different stations and the hourly roster, answering many questions that we had. I’m still humbled from the experience but that wasn’t all. In front of our high table sat another work station, this time for their pastry chef to make another dessert. Using liquid nitrogen, she made our final dish of the meal.

Raspberry meringue, popping candy and sorbet. I’m sure they told us more details about the ingredients but there was so much to take in I just decided to sit back and enjoy this one. This rounded off an already perfect meal.

This restaurant made it on San Pellegrino’s Top 50 restaurants in the world list to which I’d easily agree to. From what I can tell, they have at least one Michelin star, but I really do think they deserve two. From what I understand about the guide, the second star is often about the service, and I have to say that Eleven Madison Park did a great job. Water constantly topped up, people constantly attending to you but not excessively so, and everyone was polite, helpful and friendly. It seems like I’m not the only one that thinks they deserve more.

Name: Eleven Madison Park
Found at: 11 Madison Avenue, New York, NY, 10010

A Meh Visit to Momofuku Ssam

I subscribe to a number of food blogs that cover New York and David Chang seems to get rave reviews for his Momofuku set of restaurants. My cousins took us to the Momofuku Ssam restaurant where his dishes, are frankly, vegetarian unfriendly. Except for the pickled vegetables (see below), everything else has some sort of meat or seafood in it. Oh, and no, I don’t count seafood-eating vegetarians as vegetarian. The correct term is pescatarian and seafood are animals too.

We got there a little early, so we did a bit of a walk around the block. Here’s the outside of Momofuku Ssam (conveniently with their address picture perfect too!) We waited in their milk bar next door (where we later had desserts) whilst we waited for a table.

You can only really book if you go for this special Bo-Ssam (pork butt) that you need at least 6 people (my cousin tells me from experience you need much more). Unfortunately we were Bo-Ssam’ed out by two other parties dining so just turned up. Even with a group of six, you can’t make a reservation. In true Chinese style, we shared everything we had though. We started with the pickled vegetables and then their “famous” pork buns. Here is their traditional one made with pork belly, more pickles and some hoisin sauce. Whilst good, it seemed all a little bit too squishy and could have done with some more texture.

Fortunately they had another bun on special, this time made with a crispy pork belly, different pickles and avocado. I think what the other pork bun lacked, this one definitely made up for.

We then tried the short rib sandwich. I liked the sound of it. It arrived on a crispy bun, different to the white fluffy steamed rolls although this time, my cousin Kathleen tried to split it up between the six of us with only a bread knife. What are we? On a plane?

My other cousin, Penny hadn’t had a chance to try sweetbreads. She missed it at Gramercy Tavern where it was found on the tavern side menu, and nowhere to be seen on the restaurant side. Fried crisp, this one tasted just like fried chicken. I’m not quite sure what the white mayonnaise-like spread on the bottom was but all it seemed to add was creaminess, not necessarily that much flavour.

We asked if they had any Bo-Ssam left (as on the menu it still said to ask). Our waitress checked with the open plan kitchen not more than fifteen metres from us and came back with a disappointing no. Instead, she recommended the rib eye which would be plenty to share amount us all. As you can see, it was immaculately cooked – juicy and pink on the inside. They served it accompanied with some “juice” – i.e. drippings. Whilst very tasty, I was a little disappointed it didn’t seem to have any other signature flavours or spices that made it something else, other than a very well cooked rib eye.

They did serve it with this anti-Atkins diet potato filled ravioli. The starch with starch combo seemed a little bit weird and once again, very well executed. The portion size definitely doesn’t go with the size of the rib eye though.

With all of that out of the way, we then moved into the milk bar portion where they had cookies, pies, whole cakes (pictured below), soft serve, milkshakes and “adult” milkshakes (i.e. concoctions with alcohol). I really wanted a slice of cake but they only sold them whole, or rolled up into what they called truffles – imagine cake crumb mashed into a ball and you get the idea. Probably quite tasty but not for me even though a bargain at 3 for US$3. I went for their “Old Fashioned Donut” soft serve after having a taste. Light flavours of cinnamon and slight hints of jelly without being excessively overpowering. Delicious.

I enjoyed the food and the evening. Service was pretty reasonable and considering the lack of space, they did pretty well. I like the fact you can see into their open kitchen as you walk between the restaurant to the milk bar and I don’t think we ever felt rushed. I did tweet later that it didn’t quite live up to all the expectations of the “David Chang” empire but I hear his noodle place is the much better place to go. I don’t think it really has a place up in the San Pellegrino Top 50 restaurants in the world list.

Name: Momofuku Ssam
Found at: 207 2nd Ave. (Corner of 13th + 2nd), NY, NY 10003

Second Trip to WD-50

After cancelling plans at Daniel NYC due to the snow (they had a very limited menu based on deliveries not making it), we looked around at a few other options. I had previously eaten at WD-50 before, but my sister hadn’t so I called up and found that they had a table free for an early dinner at 6:30pm.

You can see from their fairly plain entrance that it doesn’t look that special from the outside. In fact, that small glowing neon light (their name) makes it fit into the rest of the neighbourhood. I remember walking past it last time in the heavy rain, so watch the street numbers at the same time.

We got a table that looked out on all the other ones. I felt it worked quite well until someone sat at the table directly next to us and fortunately they sat down as we were on our dessert courses. There’s some booths to the left as well that are kept for larger groups.

Mmmm. Here’s the menu. Not sure who’s lips they are. Maybe they should have had them licking their lips for what was about to come.

Here’s the wafer thin bread they brought for us to snack on. Covered in nutty toasted sesame seeds, it was a nice way to start the snack whilst waiting.

Our first dish, striped bass, gingerbread, plum and pickled ramp played around with a sweet and sour combination with earthy tones provided by the gingerbread sauce on the plate.

Next up was their playful take on a classic dish, the everything bagel, smoked salmon threads, crispy cream cheese. WD-50 is well known for taking classic ingredients and transforming them into things you’d recognise but not quite in the same way. Here, the tiny bagel is actually a small bit of ice cream. We wondered how they got it to look “toasted”. I wasn’t a big fan of the smoked salmon threads by itself, going much better combined with the other ingredients.

Next up, Foie gras, passionfruit, chinese celery. Here, they cleverly stuffed the foie gras with a passionfruit sauce, helping to cut through the richness of the dish.

Here’s another shot after opening the foie gras.

Another strange dish was the scrambled egg ravioli, charred avocado, kindai kampachi. On the side were tiny bits of crispy potato, all looking cut to the same perfection and toasted to a crisp shell. The scrambled egg “ravioli” looked like it’d been shaped in a mold. It wasn’t stuffed with anything though.

When asked about the next dish by our waiter, I told him the truth, that I wasn’t a big fan of the cold fried chicken, buttermilk-ricotta, tobasco honey sauce, and caviar. I really liked certain elements to the dish such as the tobasco honey sauce which I could have eaten all day. It had a kick to it like normal tobasco wouldn’t. The chicken, whilst tasting delicious, didn’t have the crispness you’d hope for a fried chicken. I think the small bits of crispy chicken skin were supposed to make up for it. I guess that’s the thing about experimental food – some things work, others don’t.

This dish was a bit harder to see, bay scallops, bone marrow, parsnip and black sesame. I’m a huge fan of black sesame. In fact, you could almost call me addicted. Here the black sesame formed a paste/sauce on the bottom with the scallops and parsnips on top and the gooey bone marrow grated on top before the whole bowl was heated under a grill. The result was a rich and soft dish with deep meaty flavours.

I think we both agreed our next dish turned out as one of the best, the beef and bernaise. Inverting the textures you’d expect, here we have a deep flavoured beef consomme, surrounding three bernaise dumplings. I savoured each moment slicing a small part of the dumpling that almost oozed as a rich bernaise sauce would as you cut through it. Mmmm.

I’m guessing our next dish was a take on the seasonal offerings, squab breast, cheese pumpkin, corn bread and pickled cranberries. We didn’t have the sharpest knife to cut into the squab. It really needed it too being surprisingly chewy and had to slice.

Desserts next! First up, White beer ice cream, quince, caramel and caraway. Here, the flavours of the beer really came through though well tempered with both sharp and sweet flavours from the quince and caramel.

Curds win me over all the time, so this next dessert turned out my favourite. Here we ate grapefruit curd, campari, hibiscus and sorrel The grapefruit curd is the solid, almost jelly like substance in the middle. Sorrel came in the form of a delicious ice cream with the sheets of hibiscus those rice-paper thin sheets. A mixture of hazelnuts and other crunchy stuff provided the addition of texture.

Almost done, I think the cocoa nibs won my sister over with soft chocolate, beets, long pepper and ricotta ice cream.

Finally as we had our coffee and tea, they finished up with cocoa packets and a milk ice cream coated in chocolate shortbread. The latter tasted like a small ball of cookie and cream, which I guess it is whilst the cocoa packets contained a powder-like crunchy substance that reminded me of milo.

Looking back at the meal, I think we did the best thing by going for the tasting menu. We sampled lots of different combinations and although I think some of the ingredients appealed to me more on the a la carte menu, it’s hard to really guess how a place like WD-50 delivers them. Next time, I would go back to the a la carte and then try the dessert tasting menu.

Name: WD-50
Found at:50 Clinton Street, New York, NY 10002