Finding home again. My time working and dining @ The Ledbury

Finding home again. My time working and dining @ The Ledbury

Well this is it, the reason why I’m here. It’s been a long year of saving, trip planning and travelling but I am standing outside the number thirteen restaurant in the world. My backpack heavy with my knives, aprons, clogs and notebook. Notting Hill drizzles with rain, a solitary milk truck makes its rounds behind me. The streets are empty at 8am and there is an air of calm about the place. Time to get to work.

So this is a dining review of Brett Graham’s incredible restaurant, The Ledbury, but as I’ve been working here these past few weeks I thought I’d give you a little insight into what actually goes on at one of the best restaurants in the world. This is what started our journey and it has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

Rain seeps down the stairs as I head down and introduce myself to the chefs, each of them are furiously prepping violet artichokes, they’ll be on for lunch today with fresh walnuts and grated foie gras. “Grab a peeler.” I’m home. Fish arrives at the back door. Oceanic, bright, caught this morning. Turbot slips past me and onto the fish section where Billy thoroughly inspects the quality. This is The Ledbury if it’s not perfect, it’s not being served. Turbot passes inspection, mackerel on the other hand gets a check from Sous Chef Greg, “yesterdays weren’t that bright, we sent them back.” Today the silver, shining fish stare back almost still live, inspection passed.

Suddenly I’m slapped on the back. “You’re Troy’s boy aren’t ya!” Holy crap it’s Brett Graham. I manage to stutter out a “nice to meet you chef, yeah I worked for Troy.” “You’ll fit right in here than.” He charges through the kitchen checking prep, tasting sauces and ensuring everyone is ready for lunch. I’m on canapés today so I quickly head over and check my section; gruyere mousse, wafer thin tart shells made from brick pastry and dehydrated olives. The fridge is also used for garnish so my drawers are stuffed with black truffles from Wiltshire, foie gras mousse, painstakingly picked wood sorrel, quail eggs wrapped in katafi and other woodland greens.

Service is like watching a well oiled machine, there are chefs that have been here for years, others that have just started. The pace is hectic, dockets fly in for tasting, a la carte, special menus and the food they pump out is something truly special. After I take a quick punishing on canapés trying to keep my damn hands from trembling I get thrown onto starters. Flame grilled mackerel with pickled cucumber, Celtic mustard and shiso. My first real plate at The Ledbury, I am plating at one of the best restaurants in the world, this is incredible. “That swipes not clean enough Josh, we’ll start that one again.” Damn! Well I’m here to learn and the rest go out without a hitch. The pace is addictive, Brett charging forward with the service yelling jobs at all his crew. “Go on two deer Jules!” “Foam this velouté,” “pull plates for curd” this is unbelievable. The team work so well together and the energy is infectious.

Lunch is finished and we scrub every possible surface from top to bottom, prep is pulled. Dinner looms. Brett has something that is truly unique, his ever changing menu allows him to fully utilise the produce that is best at that moment. Nothing is wasted; jowls of pigs are slow cooked to perfect, rich deliciousness, scallop corals are infused in stocks to make sauces, mushroom trimmings become silky purée. It is a wonderful way to cook and has made me think so much about my own cookery and how I want to emulate this style. Now I could talk about working here forever it was such great experience but I think it’s time we get to food.

So here we go.

Jess and I are dressed to impress and look incredibly out of place on the tube bound for Notting Hill. The Ledbury calls, after working here for these past few weeks I just cannot wait to eat. Yes I’ve been tasting as much as I can along the way but it’s nothing compared to experiencing the full dining room, the stunning decor and the wonderful service from our host Darren.

We’re seated and drinks are poured, a little champagne from Brett, thanks chef! We are sitting back and letting chef Greg do our menu for us. So no agonising choices to make, just relax and let the team do what they do best. Our canapés arrive, those little bites I’ve now prepped like a thousand times. Goat’s cheese mousse, spiced brick pastry, dehydrated olives. The goat’s cheese is whipped till light and fluffy and the lightly spiced tart crunches fantastically. A great little bite. Let’s eat.

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Cevice of hand diced scallops with Tokyo turnips, seaweed oil and frozen horseradish. It’s cold here in London but this dish is oddly warming, the creamy scallop and the heat of horseradish tempered by umami rich seaweed seems to warm the cockles. The dining room here is softly lit, stag horn centrepieces and rich copper tones also make the space feel wonderfully warm. The scallop is incredible quality, I helped prize these beauties from their shells, and the little pops of spherified apple freshen up the dish.

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Next a lump of clay is brought to our table, inside, a roasted beetroot. Our waiter cracks through the baked shell and releases earthy aromas throughout the restaurant. For your next course, beetroot baked in clay with smoked eel and dried olives. The dish arrives looking picturesque and smelling fantastic. Deliciously soft beetroot takes an even earthier note from the clay, the smoked eel brings a lovely taste from the water that pairs well with the bitter olives and sweet beets. This dish is fantastic, a great treating of the humble beetroot truly making it sing.

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Quail egg in crisp katafi, cauliflower and truffle. This is a dish that really speaks of The Ledbury, an ingredient they use insanely well is our friend the black truffle. The egg is oozey and soft, diving into the bright white cauliflower purée and covered, and I mean covered, in black truffle. The katafi pastry is fried to crisp golden crunchiness and a little vinaigrette of cep works to balance all that richness. What a dish, simple yet executed perfectly.

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Next boudin of pheasant, chestnut and thyme velouté. Using the pheasant in a boudin is clever as the meat can sometimes dry, here it is mixed with a little fat and gently poached keeping the whole thing moist and delicious. The chestnut and thyme work so well together giving everything a note of the forest, the thyme velouté is frothed lightly over the dish and cuts through rich chestnut and moorish boudin. Jess and I loved this dish, so much more than just pheasant, the food here allows the ingredients to shine. Brett and his team ensure this by only using the highest quality of products and treating them with the respect they deserve.

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Another great combination arrives, halibut with pumpkin, crispy ginger and mandarin. The fish is roasted beautifully, the pumpkin appears in a few forms; a soft froth bubbling in and around the fish like the lapping of ocean waves, some roasted spheres and a purée mixed with the tart mandarin. Fish cookery at its finest, it is light, delicate and flakes apart at the lightest touch. The ginger and mandarin brought an almost asiatic vibe to this dish that was refreshing after what can only be described as incredibly modern contemporary british food. Brett being a fellow Aussie is more then used to the melting pot of cultures within cuisine and here is a great example of his own interpretations.

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Jess and I have debated and argued over this next dish, we cannot decide if it was our favourite amongst so many other amazing courses. Celeriac baked in juniper ash with hazelnuts, lardo and roasting juices. I can only begin to describe the taste of this course. The ash gave a smokey floral taste to the celeriacs somewhat bitter flesh. Lardo and hazelnuts brought the luxury to an almost peasant dish. To use an ingredient so simply and create something so divine is the mark of true talent, I loved this dish. I cleared my plate and was eyeing of Jess’s like a crazed maniac, lucky our next course arrived and I fell in love all over again.

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Roast breast of pigeon with Victoria plums, red vegetables and leaves. Brett and his team cook everything fantastically but their standout performances come to game, it is something Brett and I have in common, we both love cooking and eating game. This dish was a wonderful, succulent breast of wood pigeon aged in hay before being roasted to perfection. Plums being a lovely partner to game with beets and wilted red leaves bringing everything to earth. A little dot of foie gras mousse gave another level of creamy decadence. Game birds have such amazing flavour and yet they don’t seem to be utilised as much back home, here they stand up proud.

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Now for some meat, and I mean probably some of the best quality beef I have ever eaten, no it’s not wagyu, I find that the flavours of great beef tend to be found in grass fed, well aged cuts. Fillet of belted Galloway with crisp potato, smoked marrow and burnt onion. This meat tasted of true beef, now I sometimes think fillet, being an under-utilised muscle can lack flavour, here the ageing process and the addition of smoked marrow made the grass and umami flavours explode. Sweet onions, a sauce of juniper and a purée of parsley combined in meaty harmony. I cannot rave enough about the level of skill the chefs have here, their cookery is what makes them one of the best restaurants in the world and the food showcases their talents.

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Stomachs filling it is time for the sweet finish, we begin with a pre dessert of sea buckthorn curd, meringue and mandarin granita. So refreshing, sea buckthorn is a tart little berry found along English shorelines, the sour balanced by sweet meringue and light fluffy mandarin. Following the beef this course completely cleansed the palate and readied us for desserts.

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Speaking of desserts what follows is an onslaught of wonderful calories, thank heavens the queen of desserts is here with me or I would have struggled. First another little pre dessert taste, fig leaf ice cream, salted caramel and beignets filled with fig jam. Wow, the fig leaf ice cream tastes vividly green, wild and herbaceous. The caramel is dark and salty bringing great toffee notes playing with the ice cream. Finally who doesn’t love doughnuts, light and puffed, filled with an intense fig jam. This taste was finished in about four mouthfuls.

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Next a banana and chocolate malt tartlet. Simply presented yet beautifully complex in texture. Crisp, short, chocolate pastry is filled with caramelised banana, banana ice cream and topped with a seriously dark, decadent chocolate espuma. Finished with some malt crumbs this dish brought new force to choc banana. The pastry was like a whisper, the mousse like a cloud. A lovely dessert of textures and tastes.

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As if the chocolate wasn’t rich enough, brown sugar tart with poached grapes and stem ginger ice cream proves to nearly push me over the edge. However the insanely buttery tart is cut down by the cleansing ginger, a great flavour combination made better by the knowledge of just how much work goes into this dish. The perfect timing of the tart in order to set it with that sexy wobble, the agonising chore of peeling grapes and so many other elements that make up this pastry prima ballerina.

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We have reached the end. The end of our dinner and the end of my time at The Ledbury, we head down to the kitchen to say goodbye to the guys, we’ve been here for hours and the chefs are deep into the scrub. It’s strange but although I was only here working for a short time I feel like I bonded with the team and they each taught me so much, about food, about becoming a chef and about myself. The entire team at The Ledbury is so dedicated to achieving perfection that it truly infects each and every person who walks through the doors. It shows on their plates, it shows in their fantastic floor staff, every detail is taken care of because giving anything less is just not an option. An inspiring place to work and I still can’t thank the guys enough for letting a starter like me become a part of their team.

Goodbyes are said and we finish off upstairs with petit four, a juniper flavoured biscuit with caramelised cream, apple jellies and eucalyptus chocolates. The final bites to what has been an inspiring meal and the end of an amazing experience. When in London this would be my number one recommendation because the place is truly awesome. Brett and his team create something special every service and will continue to drive the food of London in new directions. Get yourself through these doors.

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Tell Brett and the guys we said hi!

Josh and Jess

Dined November 2013
The Ledbury
127 Ledbury Road London, England
http://www.theledbury.com

Cookery with class. Dining @ Restaurant Gordon Ramsay

Cookery with class. Dining @ Restaurant Gordon Ramsay

Well you’ve seen him screaming at terrified chefs, hurling abuse at dismal restaurateurs and throwing the occasional plate of food into the ground. This is Gordon Ramsay, or so the media would have you believe. If his flagship restaurant, run by the incredibly talented Clare Smyth, says anything of Ramsay’s true nature then it describes him as humble, extremely dedicated and possessing an eye for detail that makes this restaurant the longest holder of three Michelin stars in all of London. This is Restaurant Gordon Ramsay.

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We arrive in beautiful Chelsea to a slightly damp evening, quickly forgotten as we are ushered into the stunning dining room on Royal Hospital Road. Gold and silver glitter amongst the tables. The diners themselves seem to glitter, Katy Perry sits in a corner table with John Mayer causing Jess’s jaw to drop. Celebrity spotting is definitely not what we’re here for however. This is about food.

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Menus arrive and we decide to change pace a little and thought we would eat a la carte. Yes I know it’s not the usual tasting menu straight up but we have a tonne of eating to do here in London and want to be under 300 kilo when we return home. With decisions made and Champagne in hand we relax and let Clare and her team work their magic. Snacks weave their way towards us, a perfectly oozing quail scotch egg is crunchy and creamy whilst a truffle steamed bun sits like a little cloud on the plate.

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As quick as they arrive they disappear and we are presented with a little treat from the kitchen. A cannelloni of leek stuffed with porcini in a velouté of chestnut. Incredible. The soft, sweet leek with slippery, earthy porcini melts into the richness that comes only from wonderful chestnut. This is understated simplicity, the quality of the ingredient, the skill of cookery. It takes a good chef to use ingredients well, it takes a great one to let the ingredients speak for themselves. This was a decadent way to begin the proceedings and left us both wanting more.

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First course arrives, for Jess a Ramsay classic. Having seen the recipe for this in his famous 3* cookbook I was keen to see the dish itself. Ravioli of lobster, langoustine and salmon poached in a light bisque with oscietra caviar and sorrel velouté. It arrives looking like a perfect dome, black caviar adding an extra layer of lux to what proved to be meticulously cooked seafood served with the lightly citric sorrel velouté. This is classic cookery, though foams, gels and airs are incredible it is not everyday one gets to experience food like this. This is cooking at its finest.

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For me I of course see offal on the menu and dive right in. Yes I’m a chef and these are the tasty bits I love to eat. Forgive me vegos. Sautéed foie gras with roasted veal sweetbreads, carrots, almonds and Cabernet Sauvignon vinegar. Wow, meaty, creamy, sweet, savoury. This dish sang off the plate. The foie is pan roasted and melts like butter, the sweetbreads are fried in nutty brown butter and the vinegar brings the acid to cut down all that delicious fat! This starter had guts, well it had offal, ok a poor joke I apologise, but it is the only way I can describe it. A flavour explosion that had me gobbling mouthfuls and wanting to lick the plate. 3 Michelin stars wouldn’t mind would they?

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Still savouring the fantastic starters and keeping Jess from staring at Katy Perry for too long, main course arrives. Well actually only part of it arrives, my Cornish turbot cooked en papillotte is opened in front of us, the smell is a heavenly scent of ocean, seaweed and butter. Ok I’m salivating, get that fish on a plate lets go. Cornish turbot baked on the bone with seaweed, palourde clams, coco beans and fennel. This is probably one of the best fish dishes I have ever eaten! Yes that is saying a lot and I don’t care, this dish is amazing. The turbot takes on all of the umami flavours from the seaweed, the fennel brings in a lovely liquorice note and the beans are creamy and moorish. I dream of cooking fish this perfectly, the turbot peels away from itself in delicate white flakes, this is the fish they serve in heaven.

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Utterly distracted by my fish course I almost miss a taste of Jess’s Cotswold lamb,
autumn vegetable “Navarin,” best end, braised shank, confit breast and shoulder. If I’d have waited a few seconds more I probably would have missed out because Jess sure looks like she is enjoying it. The lamb is blushing pink, the braise unctuous and sticky and the confit as it should be, rich! There is a tonne of technique going on in this dish. This is not lamb and vegetables, it is so much more. This is treating the lamb with the respect it deserves and serving as much of it as possible. A feast of meat cooked to perfection.

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Now in all honesty I could sit back feeling content for hours, actually I could probably have one more bite of fish, but we must go forth into the world of pastry. Our palates are cleansed with a refreshing mix of goats milk yoghurt and a passion fruit, mango concoction. Then dessert menus arrive. The part Jess has been waiting for, Katy Perry seems like a distant memory now. Dessert time.

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For once I went for richness, I know I’m not always the dessert lover but I am an insatiable lover of chocolate, especially chocolate and orange. So for me it is smoked chocolate cigar with blood orange and cardamom ice cream. Don’t be fooled by the effeminate looking plate the photo shows you, this was a dessert straight from a dark place, the rich rich chocolate barely giving room to the tart blood orange. Cardamom is a wonderful spice note with chocolate and here only made the chocolate taste even darker, it was a wonderful take on the classic flavours of chocolate and orange.

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It was nice to eat a la carte for a change. We seem to have become so used to tasting menus it was lovely to eat different dishes and chat about what we love. Dining. Service here is immaculate, sharply dressed waiters are friendly, down to earth and happy to chat about the food and their experiences in the restaurant. You could chat with Jean Claude and hear every story from within these walls. We sit back to some petit four of strawberry ice cream dipped in white chocolate, heavenly little bites that round out our meal with some silky smooth coffees. We head into the kitchen for a quick chat with the lovely Clare and a look around the powerhouse of this amazing restaurant. Clare is so humble and chats about how much she still loves cooking and working for Gordon. Maybe he’s a big teddy bear after all??

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Time for us to mosey out, avoiding the paparazzi on the way we farewell what has been an incredible experience of fine dining excellence. Make the time to get here, make the reservation, do whatever it takes. This is classic cooking at its best and needs to be appreciated, Clare and her fantastic team will ensure an amazing evening.

This is definitely not Hell’s Kitchen.

Josh & Jess

Dined October 2013
Restaurant Gordon Ramsay
68 Royal Hospital Road London, England
http://www.gordonramsay.com/royalhospitalroad

An exercise in excellence. Dining @ Tom Aikens

An exercise in excellence. Dining @ Tom Aikens

London streets roar with city life. The tube is flooded with folks eager to get home after a long day, the weather is…bleak. However it is London, the ever grey sky looms overhead with the constant threat of rain but we persevere and it’s going to take a lot more than a little wet weather to keep Jess and I from our next destination. Restaurant Tom Aikens.

We walk into the busy restaurant and are quickly seated, it is of course tasting menu for us no doubt and we are both keen to get started. Tom offers a seven course taster and with the decision made snacks arrive on cue. Rillette, quail egg with truffle, puffed pork skin, the treats are almost overwhelming. We of course demolish these bites and get ready to move on to our next courses.

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However standing between us is a mountain of bread! It is not like me to mention bread but the bread here is something else. Brioche, sourdough, porcini rye, it has everything. Paired with butter, oh glorious butter. This butter was flavoured with cheese and bacon, and another with mushroom. Can things possibly get any better. Usually I don’t want to fill up on bread but here, just tuck me into a corner with the remainder of the basket and I’ll be happy. No seriously.

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In between mouthfuls of rolls our first course arrives. Crab, coriander, horseradish snow, coconut, crab vinaigrette. A light starter pairing freshly picked crab meat with the icy bite of horseradish. Coriander and coconut gave an almost green curry feel to the dish without taking away from the lovely oceanic flavour of the crab. A light start but with plenty of flavour to get us ready for everything that was to come.

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Rabbit, rabbit boudin, sorrel, nasturtiums. This was a rabbit dish like nothing I’ve had before. The rabbit is delicate in flavour, lightly poached and served cool. The boudin gives great depth to the dish while sorrel ice and fresh nasturtiums provide acidity and freshness. It was an interesting dish to eat, as if the rabbit had tumbled into the flower garden. A nice design rather then the usual braised rabbit with sticky game jus.

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A scallop shell is whisked in front of us. Baked scallop, grains and bread consommé. Wow. This dish was utterly incredible, the scallop had a rich, roasted flavour that, combined with the decadent clear stock was utterly moorish. The grains had a porridge like consistency that made for soaking up sauce and consuming each flavour packed bite a treat. Suddenly we are completely sucked into Tom’s world and cannot wait to see what he will treat us with next.

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The next treat arrives in the form of house made ricotta, green olive juice, honey jelly, pine nuts. The ricotta comes fresh and in sheets, the pine nut in the form of sorbet and the honey jelled so lightly that they almost dissolve on the tongue. A vegetarian dish with bones, this dish had great structure and texture without being over complicated. The ricotta was fresh with a slight sourness, the green olive juice is slightly bitter but very fruity and the pine nut gave in to the rich creamy mouthfeel that all good cheese dishes should have. This dish was a surprise after the scallop but gave a pleasant change on the palette before we moved into the main performance of our degustation.

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Open with a bang. Halibut, salt baked celeriac, chicken wing meat, truffle butter. This is a fish dish. Aikens writes books on fish cookery and dishes like this show why. Perfectly cooked halibut pairs with earthy celeriac and mounds of black truffle. This is fish that stands up as a main course, I think people’s predisposition to dislike fish is due to the notion that it tastes fishy. Wrong, good fish, fresh fish tastes of meat. Bright, oceanic but with a richness that stands up to any meat course. This was a fantastic dish. The celeriac added deep, roasted notes along with our earthy friend mister tuber melanosporum, that’s truffle in other words. All of these flavours pushed the fish into another realm, and it was a delight to destroy.

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Now for the main event. The tasting menu says piglet or grouse. Our fantastic waiter seems to know us so well and of course brings both. Piglet belly, braised and roasted, baked aubergine, smoked apple. A dish filled with classic flavours, roasted pork with crackle that snaps underneath the fork, the smokey apple and the creamy aubergine. A roast dinner in a new form, the pork is of ridiculous quality and tastes as though it dined on only the finest. The smoked apple brings sweetness and of course the smoke that gives a flavour reminiscent of Carolina BBQ with the cream of the aubergine bringing everything together. Jess and I fight to get forkfuls.

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Now for a taste of the woodland. Allenheads Grouse, grouse sausage, barley, blackberry. Another classic pairing of game bird and berry. This dish tasted of the woods, the blackberry brings a forest note cuddled up alongside the games richness that is perfectly cooked grouse. The sausage is bold and full flavoured with the barley bringing great toasty notes. The stomach is filling but I know that dessert still calls.

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Once again we are agonised by choice, chocolate or pistachio. We have great waiters who are happy to decide for us. Why not have both. Ok! Pistachio, parfait, pistachio cake, pistachio praline. The many textures of snackable, oily, delightful pistachio. The cake is soft and crumbly, the parfait rich and creamy and the praline snaps deliciously. Gorgeously green this dessert brought this humble little nut to new heights and the dish was devoured in but a few mouthfuls.

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I can see Jess’s eyes bulging at the remaining dessert. Chocolate & violet, violet sorbet, cocoa crumbs, honeycomb, crystallised violets. Dessert is about texture and this dish had plenty, cake, cookies, crumbs, sorbets, mousse. Every bite was intricate and exciting, violet is such an under-utilised flavour and brings sweetness, floral aroma and just overall depth to a dish. I love violet in dessert and here it is paired with decadent chocolate. I had to wrestle the plate from my beautiful fiancé just to get a taste.

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With stomachs filled we settle back, then our wonderful waiter says “fancy seeing tom?” Well after dining like that we have to meet the magician in charge, so we head down to the basement to see the engine room. A quick handshake with the maestro and we leave the boys to their busy scrub and remaining pastry orders. Our table is now flooded with petit four, lucky we saved room. The chocolate box is full of delicious treats, green olive lollipops, black truffle ice cream, berry meringues, lemon tarts the treats seem endless and Jess and I must try them all.

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So with stomachs filled to bursting point we waddle out of the restaurant. Tom Aikens is creating food with a new voice, it is original, interesting and most importantly delicious. If you’re in London step off the dreary streets and step into Toms world.

Be sure to ask for more bread.

Josh and Jess

Dined November 2013
Tom Aikens Restaurant
43 Elystan St Chelsea, London, England
http://www.tomaikens.co.uk

Amass ing! An incredible evening @ Amass.

Amass ing! An incredible evening @ Amass.

It is a frost worthy Nordic evening, silver mist hangs overhead and a light dew dapples our coats as we climb the stairs to our next foodie adventure. Matthew Orlando, former chef of Per Se, Noma and a host of other serious places has opened his new venture. Amass. Graffiti lines the walls, the kitchen is insanely open and the crowd is a mix of dressed socialites and hipsters. This is Amass, because food is for everyone and they don’t care how you come.

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We’re greeted and seated at what can only be described as the best seat in the house. Inches away from the pass we can see the kitchen pumping out seriously fine fare, snacks arrive and we jump straight into the world of Nordic food with attitude. Cod head rillette looks like a stegosaur, grey spikes peaking high off the plate, the spikes are in fact deliciously puffed fish skin filled with the savoury rillette mix. Textural, creamy and delightful.

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Next a curious looking wrapped parcel arrives, this dish was probably my favourite as it was so complex. Wrapped inside a vividly green chard leaf was a baby leek that had been perfectly steamed and stuffed with pieces of salted mackerel. The bright nasturtium on top brings bitterness in contrast to the salty mackerel and sweet leek, this dish wanted to be eaten! Bitter greens, salted mackerel vinaigrette, young onion. And eaten it was. Yum.

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Another semi snack dish arrives; crispy oats, hot smoked foie gras, walnut. A winter snow is the only way to describe the texture of the foie, delicately shaved over a wafer thin crisp made of oat. The foie is rich, with the smoke bringing a lovely depth after eating. At this time we are also tempted with some insanely good fermented flatbread, charred and gnarly, Jess and I could not stop eating, but there’s more food to come and I need to save room.

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The next course arrives looking like a piece of art, squid, beans, sour plums, marigold. This beautiful dish was oceanic and herbaceous, the unctuous, melting squid, the little pop of sour plum and the wonderfully crisp green bean. This is cookery performed beautifully, complexity concealed by simplicity. This is the mark of a true craftsmen, it is a pleasure to eat.

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Burnt kale, chicken skin, almond. We hear our next course crackling away in a pan, then it arrives, the kale is crisp in places, wilted in others, it is delightfully textural. The chicken skin gives that slovenly fattiness that is just naughty and enjoyable, almond is another little crackle. The dish is devoured, that is all I can say. Earthy kale, chicken fat, more please!

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An egg is placed in front of us. Glistening golden and smelling of rich toffee, it sits in a velouté of sorrel and young herbs. The egg yolk is cooked slightly beyond runny allowing for different flavours to develop. It has an almost lingering sweetness, with caramel and honey notes. The velouté brings the whole thing into the earth with wonderful herbaceousness.

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Now as Jess and I are in the midst of an extended tasting menu the fantastic food just keeps arriving. Danish monkfish with ceps and brown butter. Fish and mushroom is such a great combination. The mushrooms provide an intense savouriness that allows the meaty flavours of fish to shine. Brown butter here brings a hazelnut, salty delight swimming in and amongst the exquisitely cooked monkfish. From the sea to me. Dive in.

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Now time for some serious meat, it arrives as lamb breast, squash, baby corn and sunflower seeds. This was a dish celebrating the wonderful squash and corn. Don’t get me wrong the lamb is mighty tasty, soft and fork tender I polish this plate off in just a few bites. Sunflower makes for a delicious bite and oiliness that pairs well with the rich lamb. Yum!

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With our savoury courses finished Jess and I sit back and wait on dessert. Brought to us by chef Orlando himself our little taste of wonder. Blueberries, the freshest of the nearly finished season, drizzled with honey from a Nordic fisherman. Yes I said a fisherman. Matt tells us the story of a jaunty man on his boat bringing in many treats from the sea, one day he arrived with jars of honey. When asked where the honey was from he replied “the boat of course.” The fellow keeps bees on the roof of his fishing vessel. A wonderful story of how food comes to us in incredible ways. The honey is deliciously floral and makes the little sweet pops of blueberry step forward in a different light. This is a dish that makes me marvel at the world and all of the bounty that lays before us chefs.

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Our evening draws to a close and dessert is served. Apple, black pepper ice cream, bitter caramel, oregano. Intrigued? Jess and I certainly were. The apples are cooked in the caramel, the heat of black pepper contradicts the cold cold ice cream, oregano brings spice to the dish absurdly reminiscent of apple pie. It is an incredible play on spice, heat, cold, sweet. It is fantastic and ends our meal in a way that almost sums up our dining experience. Incredible.

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Petit four is whisked out with some serious coffee, kitchen is on the scrub and we take this opportunity to snack on some bay cakes and chat with the chefs. Matt is humble, driven and fantastically passionate. Each of his chefs look like creating great food is what they do rather than just a job. It is infectious and Jess and I truly love meeting inspiring people that love the industry as much as us.

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It’s amassing!

Josh and Jess

Amass Restaurant
Revshalevej 153; 1432 Copenhagen, Denmark
http://www.amassrestaurant.com

Finding my place. Dining at Noma.

Finding my place. Dining at Noma.

There is a place in every chefs life that holds something dear, a fantasy, a dream. When I was first learning to be a chef I was obsessed with cookbooks. I would splurge my wage on books filled with dishes from wonderful chefs that I never thought I would see or taste. I idolised fine dining, from molecular gastronomy all the way through naturalism and down to the very depths of haute cuisine I was utterly addicted. Being a chef, for me, is about feeding my addiction. My name is Josh Gregory and I am a food addict.

When I was around nineteen I found a book, there was a chef in Copenhagen that was changing the way we view food. He was looking inwards to find something new, he was foraging, fermenting and most importantly creating. That mans name was René Redzepi. Today marks a special day for me, today I get to live my dreams, to visit a place that has become quite special to me though I have never been here. Today we dine at Noma.

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We arrive at the restaurant and I can barely contain my excitement, hence the cheesey grin in the photo, James the restaurant manager, a fellow Aussie, greets us and snaps some rapid fire photos before we are whisked into fantasy land. First however the entire kitchen says hello! Jess and I felt like celebrities with all the handshakes and welcomes, an awesome beginning to what was yet to come. We sit and food arrives on mass. Canapés begin with a small bite of gooseberry and elderflower. The tart little berry loves the sprinkle of dried flowers on top and shook my palate into consciousness.

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Next whole kohlrabi arrive on stone, unpeeled, raw and kind of strange looking. “Nordic Coconuts” they are explained by our wonderful waitress Katherine. Stuffed inside were straws, we drink the cool juice of the vegetable. It is both refreshing yet has a depth of flavour like I have never tasted before. It was absolutely moorish and before we knew it each of our coconuts were completely drained.

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Hip berries and walnuts. I have never had hip berries so my interest was immediately piqued, almost tomato like in texture with a soft, floral sweetness that carried the walnut perfume wonderfully. This was finished in a few bites.

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A single bite of black currant berry and rose arrives, upon putting the little dose into your mouth the outer shell liquifies into a dreamy purée of the tart little berry. The rose gave not just the floral note but an almost spiced taste to the berry itself. I loved this little treat, it was interesting and deliciously textural.

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Moss and cep. Plain and simple. Having already tried the reindeer moss at Fäviken we were slightly less taken aback seeing it again. At Noma it arrives covered in dehydrated cep. Jess and I found the moss at Fäviken slightly tame, at Noma the cep powder exploded across the palate in a parade of earthy mushroom love. The crackling moss had great texture, delicate and delightful.

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Our next course comes in a rather weathered looking box, a biscuit tin in fact. Cheese cookie, rocket and stems. A one bite treasure, the cracker was so frail I nearly crushed it in my eagerness to devour. The rocket is wild and peppery which seemed to make the cheese shine. But blink and it was gone. I really wanted a box of those.

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A giant egg makes its way to our table, Jess and I stare as smoke begins to seep out of the edges, our chef lifts the lid and smoke whisps away leaving two pickled and smoked quail eggs. “Please eat all at once” chef says. As if I needed to be told twice. Rich creamy egg yolk is cuddled with smoke, the vinegar is a little cutaway from all that richness and the smoke is light and fragrant. Yum!

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Chefs serving food is something we don’t see enough of in Australia, by the end of our time here we had met practically the entire kitchen! Our next chef brings with him Caramelised milk and cod liver. This was a bite of the ocean. Salty and slightly nutty. The ocean proved to be a little overwhelming for Jess, but for me I found it a taste so of the sea that I wanted to eat more. So I of course ate the remainder of hers. At the same time arrived a Danish treat of Æbleskiver and greens. Usually a sweet pastry here it was served savoury, a kind of doughnut dough filled with cooked greens and topped with flowers of all kinds. The cod was great but these little treats were insane!

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Another treat from the sea, I must also mention we are still in canapé territory here and my belly is filling, Sea urchin toast. My first taste of Northern sea urchin, they prove to be much different to the ones we get at home, a little less mineral flavour and a little more richness, the addition of a duck skin cracker only added to this. The charred toast underneath also brought the humble urchin up to another level.

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From the sea to the forest floor, Cep mushrooms. They arrive dotted with a fermented beef paste. After visiting the Nordic food lab yesterday we know of the umami explosions caused by fermentation. Here the delicate ceps rose up to the power of a beef main course. Great flavours with but two seemingly simple ingredients.

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Burnt leek next. Yep looks like somebody forgot to take these ones off the BBQ. In fact what we eat is inside, the tiny leek hearts were soft and delicate. The addition of cod roe gave a lovely saltiness that sat just in front of sweet, smokey onion flavour. This was a great dish and really showcased the Nordic love of smoke and fire. Burn your leeks folks they are delicious.

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The final canapé is presented. Pike head, roasted and skewered. No cutlery, no problem! I dive straight into the cheeks, the neck meat and of course the eye. Jess fiddles around a bit before finally ripping in like a Viking warrior princess. I feel like I am having quite a bad influence on her. Perhaps when we have a restaurant we won’t even own cutlery? As for the fish it is perfectly cooked, supple and sweet. Always eat the eye!

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Bread in fine dining restaurants is a must but here, rather than the traditional little roll or slice of sourdough we are given an entire fresh loaf. Warm and toasty we can slather it with an acidulated butter or my favourite pork fat with crispy onions. At this point I am going to mention the service. I’m a chef so I’m constantly focused on the food, if you want details on service, ask Jess. Here service is something else, it is beyond friendly and professional by the end of our meal we felt like family. We chatted about out travels, learnt about our hosts lives, even exchanged contact details it was everything that is great about hospitality and beyond. No stuffy waiters with a gripe over wine pairing, no dress code, the service at Noma is utterly incredible. They make you feel so welcomed and so happy that you’re here, it was dare I say, perfect!

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Now back to food, a relatively new dish arrives, squid and fennel. The squid is shaved thin and served in a fennel broth so light it is like a whisper on the tongue. Broccoli adds an almost horseradish like flavour boosting the squid into a refreshing hum of seafood and vegetable. A great dish to begin our next stage of dining. The ice bowl it was served in also kept everything almost at freezing point!

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Ravioli looking shapes arrive next. They are in fact nasturtium leaves, filled with samphire and floating in an aromatic broth of rhubarb root. Again being at the Nordic food lab we could see a little fermentation happening here, the rhubarb root had a soy like depth with the nasturtium adding a creeping bitterness counteracting the saltiness of the samphire. The food at Noma is impeccably balanced, hand foraged ingredients are treated in a way that they truly shine.

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Onion and fermented pears. Now this is what we came to see. The dish is finished with ants. No that’s not a typo the dish is finished with ants. The Noma kitchen look into ingredients that can give different notes of flavour. Here the ants bring little pops of acidity paired with the smokey onion and fruity pear. I didn’t quite catch the description the first time so I just dove in without thinking, when our waitress came over and asked “how were you’re ants” I was shaken into realisation. This was a great dish, intensely savoury with the fermented pear and ants bringing harmonic sour notes. The ants can march one by one into my stomach anytime.

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Beets and aromatic herbs. Another wonderful savoury, the slow roasted beets were earthy and soft, the gaggle of herbs around the dish made every bite interesting. The dish was finished with rose oil, rose and beetroot being a combination I have never experienced paired together nicely with the rose bringing out some of the fruit notes within the beetroot.

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The next course was probably Jessica’s favourite, cauliflower and pine, cream and horseradish. Presented covered in fragrant pine needles the cauliflower had been slow roasted and basted in a pine stock. Rich and very fragrant. A sauce made with refreshing yoghurt whey softened the tangy punch of horseradish. This was a fantastic dish and definitely a highlight.

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We follow with some serious fermentation, a dish of potato and bleak fish roe. The potato is attacked with a mould which causes fermentation. This changes the flavour dramatically. They add some real earth notes combined with hop and barley aromatics, paired with soft, slightly salty fish roe this made for a seriously interesting course. A flavour that made us think as well as being pretty tasty!

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Now we have has a load of veggies, I am ready for some meat. Bring me meat for I am man. Then it arrives, locally hunted wild duck, pear and kale. The duck is fantastically pink and tastes of the wild. This duck swam in streams, flew through scrub, this duck lived, and he was delicious! With pear in many textures and a sauce of kale this dish tasted of the wild. The sweet pear and the ground, earthy taste of kale made for a fantastically pretty piece of meat.

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Thus finished our savoury courses. Dessert begins with blueberry and ants. An ice cream sandwich filled with green juniper and deliciously tart blueberry sorbet. Served alongside the sandwich are a few little nasturtium bites filled with a blueberry compote and an ant paste. The sweet blueberry, the vivid nasturtium and those wondrous little bites of sour that we now wonder how we lived without. It is a winning combination.

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We are nearing the end of this incredible experience, it has been so great I don’t think I want to leave! Our final course is a dish of potato and plum, a dish so beautifully simple that it became our instant favourite. The plum compote is rich and soft, next to it is a creamy, sweet, potato purée and a cream made from the inner seeds of the plum. The seeds infuse an almond like flavour into the cream which ties the entire dish into something truly magical. I cannot believe that we are here, this is the stuff dreams are made of.

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Now to see the team, Stuart one of the chefs brings us right into the kitchen where chefs are furiously peeling plums to make more of that amazing compote, they all pop up and say hello and we chat about the incredible lunch we’d just eaten. The development kitchen upstairs is filled with ideas for up and coming dishes, chefs dart in and out, always saying hi on the way past. This place is like Wonkaland! However we’re told Mr Wonka aka René is not in today so once again I am foiled in my attempt to meet my culinary hero. I guess I’ll just have to come back.

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We’re taken back downstairs for coffee and petit four, even the petit four are special here! First we are served a traditional Danish pastry covered in fermented barley. The pastry is rich, sweet and flaky and the barley instantly took us home with a flavour reminiscent of vegemite. Oh how we miss vegemite. To follow was a piece of puffed pork skin dipped in milk chocolate and covered in berries. An almost American snack, bacon and chocolate. We sit and chat with the waiters and waitresses, feeling completely at home. Then we realise we’ve been here for nearly five hours! Dinner service looms and so with full bellies and a few more food friends we depart. Noma is an utterly magical place and if you haven’t realised how much we loved it by this point then get the next available booking and see for yourself. The service, the food, the wonderful people. See for yourself because this place is something very special.

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Welcome to the family.

Josh and Jess

Dined 8th October 2013
Noma
Strandgade 93, Dk-1401, Copenhagen K, Denmark
http://www.noma.dk

Fantasy. Dining @ Fäviken Magasinet

Fantasy. Dining @ Fäviken Magasinet

This is it, our quest for the perfect dining experience has brought us across seas of soup, through caverns of canapés and over mountains of meat but there is no journey nor meal that could prepare us for the foodie trip we are about to take. Tonight we dine in the middle of nowhere, home to Magnus Nilsson, this is Fäviken.

Located in Järpen on the 19th century Fäviken Egindom estate, which consists of 20,000 acres of farmland, this restaurant is truly in the middle of nowhere. Flying into Stockholm, Jess and I take a 9 hour train just to get close to this foodie dream. More on that story here.

The estate is like falling through the wardrobe and into Narnia. Pine trees hug the road as our taxi driver speeds along the gravely surface. Game birds dart from the scrub cunningly evading sight of the birds of prey circling over head. Then we arrive, the gorgeous farmhouse a cherry red dot in the distance. I instantly get butterflies of excitement, since reading Chef Nilsson’s book I have dreamt of dining here. This is the epitome of living the dream, for me this is what our journey is about and I’m so glad we can share it with all of you. We check into our room and prepare ourselves for dinner.

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Dinner at Fäviken is a ritual; thirteen lucky diners gather in the barn for canapés where we get to know each other. This review is going to be long so get your reading glasses on folks.

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Let’s begin.

Chef Nilsson meets us at the door, a warm handshake of my trembling digits and we get to have a quick chat. He smiles and says “nice to meet you, I hope you have fun tonight.” Then it starts. Canapés, flaxseed and vinegar crisps with mussel dip. Wow! The crisp is wafer thin and completely held together by a vinegar tuille. The tuille is almost a display in aerodynamics, and the mussel dip is an oceanic emulsion that is light and fluffy. I’m drinking a beer made from rhubarb on the estate and Jess is of course on Champagne.

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Chef Magnus enters the room and silence falls, a clap of the great chefs hands and he introduces our next course. A little lump of very fresh cheese served in warm whey with lavender. “This cheese is less than six minutes old” Nilsson explains “and is best eaten all in one go.” Yes chef! Down the hatch. The warm silky cheese is completely loved by the soft fragrance of dried lavender.

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We take a seat on fur covered couches and suddenly canapés arrive in force. A signature of Fäviken, wild trout’s roe served in a crust of dried pigs blood. Now we are into it. This is Rektùn, Nordic cuisine, the food of Sweden, we dine like Vikings. The roe is delightfully fresh and pops under tongue, the blood giving a richness and almost spiced note, very reminiscent of black pudding.

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My favourite canapé is next, Pig’s head, dipped in sourdough and then deep fried, pickled gooseberry and pine salt. Oh lord! Unbutton my trousers and give me a bag of these things, I could scoff them down like Cheetos! The pig is oozingly soft, the bread crisp and gold, the gooseberry and pine add a herbaceous tart note that brought everything together. Yum!

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Crispy lichens arrive on stone with a lightly soured garlic cream. The lichen themselves held a delicate flavour enhanced by shaved fish roe but the soured cream gave them a subtle richness that kind of made them the “chips and dip” of the incredible beginnings. Served alongside these are slices of cured sow. The sow is hand chosen by chef before being butchered, hung and cured by the kitchen.

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I need to tell you, I thought I had an understanding of paddock to plate. I mean I’ve foraged, I love to learn about where the food comes from. I know nothing. What Nilsson does here is something else. It is beyond paddock to plate, ingredients are chosen daily. Whether they’re grown on the estate and picked the night before, painstakingly hand foraged from beneath layers of frost or picked from a very limited list of suppliers the chefs know and trust. If it’s not the best it’s simply not good enough. It is a beautiful way to treat food and an inspiring vision for a restaurant.

The final canapé is salted herring, aged for three years, sour cream and rusks. Yes I said aged for three years. The dining room is filled with different hanging meats, fish and hams. Despite its age, the fish has a quite mild flavour, tamed with the cream and nutty rusk.

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It is time for us to move upstairs, the loft of the barn is transformed into a stunningly rustic dining room with the main theatre being a large wooden kitchen bench complete with a chopping block. Our first course is promptly served. Scallop “i skalet ur elden” cooked over burning juniper. No cutlery, the dish arrives branches still smoldering, we pry open the shell and see the ocean gem inside. A perfectly poached scallop cooked in a broth evoking the ocean. The scallop is meaty and soft, the broth, sweet and light. Together this dish is simply amazing. An inspired use of fantastic produce and wonderful Nordic technique. The juniper adds a floral bitterness that offsets the sweet scallop meat. I love this place.

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Continuing with seafood King crab, seared and sprayed with “attika” vinegar, almost burnt cream. This was one of Jess’s favourite dishes. The courage to serve a “burnt” sauce with such a premium ingredient is inspired. The crab is succulent and sweet, the cream is nut brown, kind of like a Buerre noisette flavour. The milk solids are lovely and caramelised and hey it’s a burnt sauce.

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Poached turbot comes paired with burnt shallots as well. The turbot is wonderfully soft with large white flakes feathering away from the fork, the onions are sweet and slightly smokey with an onion vinaigrette tying the dish together with a little acid.

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Cod and sunflower. Two ingredients, what a dish. The cod is cooked in a dry pan so the flesh is ever so slightly charred, the sunflower arrive in many textures. A paste that gives a nuttiness to the cods fattiness, fresh green sunflower seeds that were both textural and floral, and a vinaigrette of sunflower oil and juice. This dish was as if a fish had fallen into a veggie patch, it was nutty and vegetative along with being of the sea. A delight to eat.

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Palates beginning to swim with flavour combinations it’s time for another little rush of canapé sized course. A raw blue shell mussel filled with beer, dried birch leaf was a one bite flavour explosion. The mussel was so soft in texture it didn’t feel real, the beer has hoppy notes and the birch leaf brings everything down to earth.

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An insanely crisp and thin pie crust baked from pea flour is filled with eggs and seasoned with dried cods roe. The young pastry chef places the tiny quail eggs into the warmed crust as we pop them in our mouths and crunch before they simply disappear. This course seemed simple but simplicity can become extremely complex. The food here is a work of art.

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Barley pancakes filled with sour onions prove to be exactly as described, the onions are of numerous varieties including chive, onion flowers, spring onion and they are equally as enjoyable as each other. The barley is a warm toasty flavour I feel is completely under utilised in cuisines today.

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Suddenly a plate of leaves is put in front of us. Jess’s eyes bulge, I knew there would be challenges but this is leaf litter, this is natural to a whole new level. Thankfully chef explains that our next dish is buried beneath the leaves. We have to forage for our meal, the leaves are from the grounds, they’re covered with winter snow where they lay until the spring. This gives them an earthy characteristic and I’m not going to lie, they smell amazing. Underneath is the tiniest, cutest new potatoes, par boiled they have taken on the flavour of the leaves on top. They’re served with some of the best butter I’ve ever had. Cultured and of course house made, from milk the chefs milked from the cows this morning. This place is just amazing.

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Bite size courses end and in front of me is a porridge of grains and seeds from Jämtland finished with a lump of salty butter, fermented carrots and wild leaves, meat broth filtered through moss. Wow, this is insanely textural and delicious. Yes I said moss, not only does it freshen the broth, it adds a herb note unlike anything I’ve ever tasted before. The fermented carrot is sour but fruity also and the butter gives everything a cultured flavour. I loved this dish, all the foraged herbs, the texture of the grains, everything in it was magical.

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Then it arrived. A huge, roasted femur of a cow, crackly and golden. The chefs place it on the chopping block and saw, scooping out freshly roasted bone marrow. This slippery goodness is then mixed with dices of raw cows heart, flower petals and herb salt. It is placed in front of Jess as she realises what she is about to eat. With surprisingly little hesitation she dives in. I am smearing the delicious mix into slices of sourdough toast and feeling more and more like a Viking with each bite. The heart is actually not a strong taste, it has a rather sponge like texture with a little chew, the marrow is soft and rich, the flowers and herbs bring a lightness to the dish. This was my favourite dish of the evening, the taste, the texture. I loved it.

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Still dominating my Viking feast the next course arrives, quail and bird cherries. The quail of course comes from the property and is served basically whole. Perfectly cooked with a crisp head on the side. The cherries are fruity and acidic, cutting through the rich quail meat. I even got to pick my teeth with the claws. Served with no cutlery of course this is another meal I was happy to be up to my elbows in. Served alongside was a little taste of the birds liver, pate en croute, thank you very much.

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With that course marking the end of the savoury courses it was time for a palate refresher. Cottage cheese, mushrooms and spruce. Yes a palate refresher. This was one of the most unusual cleansers I have ever eaten. The fresh cottage cheese had an acidic sourness and the raw mushrooms on top gelled with the spruce in a way that was oddly refreshing. My palate did indeed feel completely cleansed.

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The first sweet course is colostrum and meadowsweet. Arriving in tiny edible egg shells the colostrum has an almost quark or mascarpone flavour with the meadowsweet acting like a soft honey. For those of you unfamiliar, colostrum is the first cast of milk from a cow either in late pregnancy or just given birth. It is packed full of nutrients and antibodies and is in fact very good for you. Ok so it’s cow breast milk, lucky it’s delicious.

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Spoons arrive topped with lingonberries, thick cream, sugar and blueberry ice. The lingonberry are tiny pops of tartness with the wonderful luscious cream. The blueberry ice is exactly like a sorbet, except contains only the sugars from the blueberry themselves. It is very intense and almost earthy in flavour.

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A tiny little bowl of warm curd is next. It is in fact curdled woodruff milk. The woodruff is very grassy in flavour, the curd has a fluffy texture but it is a delightful little morsel and gives the innards a little warmth needed after the frozen sorbet.

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An egg yolk preserved in sugar syrup, served on a pile of crumbs made from pine tree bark, ice cream seasoned with meadowsweet. This is dessert. The egg yolk has an almost glass like exterior that the spoon cracks through, the crumb has a treacle like flavour and mixed with the meadowsweet ice cream the result is a soft, mushy dream like substance that Jess and I just could not stop eating.

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Our final course is prepared table side in front of us. Sour milk sorbet, raspberry jam and whisked duck eggs. Chef furiously churns the milk base into a light icy sorbet that is dropped into a fluffy, frothy duck egg sabayon. Underneath is a slightly sour raspberry jam that cuts through the rich duck egg wonderfully. It’s a fantastic finisher to what has been a divine meal.

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With full stomachs we retire downstairs for a selection of teas made from foraged ingredients on the premises. A seat on one of the comfy couches and we are presented with our final course this evening. The Fäviken sweet box. A wooden box filled with cured reindeer meat pies, raspberries ice, tar pastilles, meadowsweet candy, dried berries, sunflower seed nougat, anise seeds coated in crystallised honey and beeswax, smoked toffee, pine resin, cake. Yes as if we hadn’t eaten enough, the sweet box is ready for us to dive in. I go straight for a meat pie, I’m Aussie of course. The reindeer is so strong it nearly takes my breath away, much gamier than anything I have eaten before. The candies are sweet and with my tea made with birch, the immortality mushroom, and leaves from the garden the earthy sweetness rounds out what was an utterly unforgettable meal.

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The giant sweet box is accompanied by snus fermented in a used bitter barrel. A kind of chewing tobacco, that sticks underneath the front lip. It is very peppery and tastes a little dirty, still we are in Sweden and I want to try everything. Seated on warm furs chewing tobacco, drinking foraged tea. Then it gets better. Our charming sommelier takes us outside, the northern lights are vivid green in the night sky. This is incredible, a perfect way to round out what was an unforgettable experience that not only changed my way of thinking but will change the way I cook.

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Chef Nilsson and the team at Fäviken have created something truly unique and it is an experience that I don’t think we will ever match. From our arrival on the farm, the brilliant food and the incredible night sky to finish this is a once in a lifetime destination. Make the trip, step through the darkened pine forests, Trudge the mountain path.

It’s a beautiful world out there.
Dining at Fäviken has made me truly recognise this.

Josh and Jess

Dined 2nd October 2013

Fäviken Magasinet
Fäviken 216, 830 05 Jarpen, Sweden
http://www.favikenmagasinet.se

Sheer opulence. A decadent dinner @ Eleven Madison Park

Sheer opulence. A decadent dinner @ Eleven Madison Park

When Chef Daniel Humm first took over Eleven Madison Park the, forgive me, “hum” set through New York City. Eating here has been on my dream list since I first flipped through the pages of Humm’s incredible cookbook. Tonight I get to live my dream of dining at the number five restaurant in the world. Tonight we dine at Eleven Madison Park.

We dress up in our loveliest frocks and jump in a cab. The restaurant is of course located on Madison Avenue and though our russian cabbie had no clue where we were headed we got there safe in the end. Stepping through the front doors we realise just how enormous this restaurant actually is. Glorious high ceilings and extravagant decor. We are greeted by a team of expert waitstaff and escorted to our table. Champagne for me to start and cocktails for the girls.

We begin the grand tasting course, Jess’s camera poised at the ready for some serious food shots, a savoury black and white cookie with flavours of cheddar and apple. The black and white cookie is distinctly New York and the inversion of flavours is wonderful. The cheddar is sharp and the apple adds a lovely sour tang. First course is downed in a single delicious bite.

image This is followed by sea urchin snow with smoked cantaloupe and yoghurt. The oceanic mineral flavour of the urchin is lightened with the addition of yoghurt. Usually urchin has quite a challenging texture for many diners but this snow was light and powdery. Combined with the smokey cantaloupe made for an interesting combination that I really enjoyed. Jess isn’t an enormous fan of urchin but enjoyed it in this form. As I’m writing this review I realise just how huge it is going to get so i’ll do my best not to waffle on too much.

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Our next course is served on a bed of sand, a perfectly clean and shiny surf clam nestles in amongst the dune and we dive in to a delicious dish. Surf clam, tomato, beans and savoury. The tomato comes in a form of a lighter than air foam and the savoury is a rich smokey bacon. This was a delight to eat, the beans added a great creaminess and the tomato rounded out the smokey flavour.

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Continuing on in the seafood surprises our next course is a good old fashioned American Clam bake! A teapot filled with a wonderfully savoury tomato tea arrives at the table alongside several preparations of little neck clams, razor clams and scallop. Dubbed the “manhattan chowder” this dish was pure class. Perfectly cooked seafood, a crystal clear tomato tea and a savoury cracker shard that was crisp and crunchy. Humm’s nod to American cuisine is ingenious without ever losing direction or purpose.

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Our next dish was a dish of decadence. Lobster, in serious amounts. On the menu the dish reads tomato confit with lobster salad and bonito but to me this dish was all about the creamy crustacean. Claws were stuffed with a mousselline of lobster meat, topped with a tomato espuma, the confit tomato was stuffed with more lobster and this dish screamed summer seafood. We’re five courses in and my mouth is demanding more.

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Now the lobster was decadent but the next course is just lush, opulence and all things yummy. Foie gras brûlée with summer berries and beets. The foie is so light and caramelised on top like a perfect free form creme brûlée, the berries add little pops of acidity to balance all that creaminess and the beet gives just a touch of earthiness to tie everything in a neat little package. Yum! I devoured this course and most of the girls.

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Suddenly a meat grinder is attached to the table. Have we done something wrong? Is chef coming out to grind our fingers due to our offence? No, in fact he is preparing our next course. Carrot tartare with rye bread and condiments. This dish put the diner in control. The carrot was ground down and we were able to choose the flavours. There was plum mustard, horseradish, pickled quail egg, mustard seeds, chives, the list goes on and on. With every flavour combination the carrot was altered in a different way. I thought this dish was a great expression of a humble ingredient.

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Now we’re moving through courses. This is Tanya’s first fifteen course gastronomic experience and I don’t think she knew quite what she was getting into because the eyes are starting to bulge! Jess and I have become well seasoned eaters to say the least and the next course was a great display of chefs skill. Black bass poached with zucchini and squash blossoms. The delicate piece of bass had been “rescaled” with perfect rounds of zucchini, the squash blossom was filled with ratatouille. This is precision cooking, wonderfully soft fall apart fish, a perfect brunoise on the ratatouille the chefs here take everything they do very seriously. All we have to do is sit back and enjoy.

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We are officially half way through the dining experience so you are half way through this insanely lengthy review. Hang in there because the food just kept getting better and more incredible with each dish. Next we’re served an enormous ostrich egg, this is the inspiration of our next dish. Ostrich egg with corn pudding, truffle and buttermilk.  The corn is sweet and served in many textures with the eggy richness pairing with wonderfully earthy black truffle. Did I mention this place was decadent?

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Now it’s time for some meat! It arrives in the form of a whole roasted duck, filled with fragrant lavender and crusted in intensely floral Szechuan pepper. This dish was an incredible treatment of the duck. Perfectly pink, the Szechuan gave the skin gorgeous crackle that snapped under tooth before biting into the juicy flesh. Just thinking about it again is making me salivate. The duck was served with a roasted, fermented apricot which gave a kind of sweet sour note and some roasted fennel. As a side dish we also get the perfect one bite, a tantalising mix of confit duck rillette and foie gras. As if this dish wasn’t good enough already!

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Next we go on a picnic in the park, Greensward washed rind cheese, pretzel, mustard and green tomato. A picnic basket is delivered to our table which we unpack like hungry children. Leaving it up to Jessica, she makes our table look pretty and neat. The unusual part of this dish was not only the picnic but the fact that the cheese and the beer served alongside is made specifically for Eleven Madison Park. The washed rind cheese is soaked in the beer and aged for two weeks, this gave it a very wheat characteristic that I loved its the sour bite of washed rind. The beer was also used in the pretzel dough which accentuated the malt characteristics. The entire dish worked well on such a grand scale that I was blown away. A perfect end to the savoury part of our menu.

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The next dish excites Jess because here comes dessert. It begins with an egg cream. Shaken together table side for all of us with flavours of malt, vanilla and seltzer. It’s delightfully fizzy and sends a rush of bubbles straight up my nose. Lots of fun and freshens the palate wonderfully.

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Now the actual dessert begins with sassafras. The primary flavour in root beer comes here served as a sorbet alongside banana cake, caramel and vanilla. The sassafras has an extraordinary vegetative quality that I thought brought this seemingly simple dish into another realm. Jess enjoyed it thoroughly as it was gone in around 4 seconds.

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Our final dessert arrives with a show, initially the dessert consists of red pepper sorbet, cheesecake with strawberry and cashew. However our lovely waitress brings a deck of cards, each with specific flavours. Tanya cuts the card deck and she assigns us three individual cards. Each with the flavours mint, orange and lime. Lift up our plates and hey presto for me a mint chocolate, for Jess a lime and for Tanya the orange. Not only can this guy cook. He is a wizard! A kind of comic play on the millions of street performers within New York, we thought it was great. The dessert itself was a great sweet and savoury end to the meal with the capsicum flavour being cuddled along with strawberry and cashew.

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We grab the check and with it our true final course some chocolate covered pretzels and an original black and white cookie. To finish with these iconic New York snacks just brought us back into the beautiful city of New York.

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 To say that Chef Daniel Humm’s food is incredible is an understatement. For me his food screams of the city of New York. A city of decadence, opulence, bright lights and big sights. This meal is another one on our quest for perfection and it was a perfect New York experience. Service is warm, relaxed and friendly with all the little extras thrown in and the food took me to the city streets, in a way that I have never felt before. We usually associate terroir with wine but the meal at Eleven Madison Park has New York terroir, with all the fine trimmings and just a little bit of attitude.

Start spreading the news, I wanna be apart of it.

New York, New York.

Josh and Jess

Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Ave Manhattan, New York USA
http://www.elevenmadisonpark.com

Kimchi, Chili and Kicking Korean. Dining @ Danji

Kimchi, Chili and Kicking Korean. Dining @ Danji

It has been almost 2 weeks since we dined at Alinea. Now don’t get me wrong we’ve eaten some great food while we have been travelling but I am having what I like to call michelin star withdrawal syndrome. So tonight we are dining at Danji, an unassuming hole in the wall that I stumbled upon whilst walking through the streets of New York yesterday. What a discovery!

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We step through the glass door and are greeted and seated. The tiny little space is filling fast and we are glad to get a table. Now up until this point dear Aunty Tanya was feeling a little skeptical about dining at this delightful destination but with the heavenly Korean scent wafting from the kitchen she was an instant convert. The menu is split into traditional and modern Korean dishes and I just don’t know where to begin. Do we have the scallion & Korean pepper pancake, the poached sablefish with spicy daikon or the bulgogi beef sliders. Choice is a difficult thing at times.

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Luckily enough we have some fantastic locals Eve and Theresa to steer us in the point of seriously good dining, thanks ladies! Now to the food.

We chefs have a tendency to eat some strange things, for me I eat snails, crickets, sea urchins, animal organs and everything in between. The other thing we like to do is consume as much raw material as possible. So we open with steak tartare with quail yolk, pine nuts and Asian pear.

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The meat is phenomenal quality, the yolk gives richness and depth whilst the underlying tartness of Asian pear hums in the background. Even Tanya got involved in this one! The plate is quickly polished off and followed with some crunchy crisp calamari and wasabi mayo. Served with lots of lemon to counteract the wasabi these slippery little suckers get demolished as quick as the tartare.

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Next is the only thing we devoured before getting a photo. Dammit Jess! Spicy pork belly sliders are chomped down in two bites. The pork is rich and succulent, and the heat of chilli only adds to the tantalising little buns. Thinking that we are eating way too fast and won’t be full we decide to order more. Spicy “k.f.c” Korean fire chicken wings. These ultra crisp delights were ridiculously good. Double fried for extra crunch the skin on the outside was puffed and golden and dripping with spicy chili sauce. I want to move in and gorge myself on these things. If you’re in New York get yourself here if this is all you order. It was insane!

image Once the last spicy morsel was finished our next dishes arrived. Vermicelli noodles with beef and Korean pepper, and kimchi, bacon, spam fried rice. The beef here is mouth meltingly tender with the Korean pepper adding a soft floral note. The vermicelli are addictive and I keep slurping them up as fast as I can. The rice comes topped with a glorious fried egg, chunks of spam and spicy kimchi. Yum, sweet ricey goodness.

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Korean food is food with attitude. Sweet spice and great flavours. There is depth and creativity here at Danji. Everything is delicious. I’m only sorry I couldn’t stay for longer and work my way through these delectable delicacies. Make this hole in the wall on your visit list when you’re in New York.

Come to the kicking Korean kingdom.

 Josh and Jess

Danji
346 W 52nd St New York City, New York USA
http://www.danjinyc.com

 

The first search for perfection. Dinner at Alinea.

The first search for perfection. Dinner at Alinea.

Tonight Jess and I visit one of the most renowned restaurants in the world. Number fifteen on the San Pellegrinno top 50 list and a place that is a constant inspiration for chefs around the globe. Jess and I are eating at Alinea.

Chef Grant Achatz, a visionary chef opened Alinea after his success at previous restaurant Trio and has since then been a driving force in modernist cuisine and one of the most credited chefs of our age. Three Michelin stars, a host of accolades worldwide and of course, a team of seriously trained chefs. Tonight this is where Jess and I will dine, and I am so excited I’m about to burst. Now for all you foodies out there wanting to dine at Alinea be aware that this is not your ordinary restaurant. For starters you will not make a reservation. Instead you’ll have to get online and buy tickets. Yes, tickets. A great idea for hospitality, pre purchased tickets means a no show is no loss to the restaurant. Genius.

So we are off, tickets in hand, I am skipping up the street. This is such a food dream of mine and I can’t believe that we are actually here. We’re greeted at the door by Conrad, a seriously friendly gentleman who says to me “so chef, take a look around the kitchen.” Well I just about faint. The chefs are working away, the anti griddle is over in the corner, a helium bottle rests on the perfectly polished stainless steel, mise en place is neat, organised and controlled. After some quick hellos and dragging me away from the prep we are seated and the show begins.

And boy does it begin. Jessica and I had no idea what we were in for, I mean yes I have read the Alinea cookbook cover to cover probably a thousand times but never did I think I would be sitting in the restaurant of my dreams. We open with a dish of osetra caviar, served in the classic Russian style. Achatz plays on textures here with a gel of blini and pickled onion. The caviar pops in sweet subtlety and the gel liquifies upon taste. We go for the wine match tonight and this dish pairs wonderfully with a 99 Blanc de Blancs Brut. A crisp yet aged champagne which kind of took me to an aged cheese kind of place. Lovely.

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The next dish arrives with plumes of nitrogen smoke billowing all over the table. The scent of ginger and lemongrass fills the air. Scallop served with citrus aroma and fourteen Asian textures. The scallop has been lightly cured and there are too many Asian flavours for me to name. It is a seemingly light dish to begin with, but once the flavours really kick in it becomes both bold and sweet. A German Riesling to match. Wonderful.

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Now throughout our entire dining experience thus far there has been a jar filled with tomatoes in a patch of grass buried in the centre of our table. It was only Jess’ foresight that kept me from cracking the jar before I was supposed to. Our next course celebrates everything that is the tomato. Paired with cana de cabra, a kind of molten goats cheese, cucumber soufflé and cantaloupe foam. This dish is textural, the goats cheese is runny and soft, the tomato flesh is almost gelatinous and the soufflé is heavenly light.

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Plates are cleared and the next delight arrives. Dungeness crab, squash blossom, cardamom and saffron. The light oceanic crab makes a tickling match for sweet squash, or pumpkin to us Aussies. The saffron appears in the form of a gel draped ornately over a pumpkin custard. The blossom is a crisp shard. Achatz is a master of complimentary flavours that may seem unusual at first. The cardamom note here is an example of this, kind of like a low spice hum just in the background.

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Another thing Achatz is great at is theatre. Dining at Alinea is about providing a unique experience for everyone. The next course is a piece of art simply called Binchotan, Tokyo inspiration. Binchotan being the name of a Japanese charcoal that burns for a very long period of time. Here it is served table side, completely on fire with a feast of goodies for us to try, there’s seared tuna, wagyu beef, pork belly and a crisp prawn head filled with togarashi, a Japanese spice. These little bites tasted fantastic and the look as the dish arrived, incredible. This was a highlight course for me, beauty, delicious, art. It was paired with an interesting Japanese beer from the Kiuchi brewery. It matched the food wonderfully, a kind of hop driven semi sweet drop.

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Veal cheeks next, but not as you have eaten them before, here they are paired with lapsang souchong, pine and blackberry. The tea is very earth driven, along with the pine. The cheeks are unctuous and oozey and melt upon eating. The blackberry adds a touch of acidity which only makes the veal cheeks seem more sweet. A dish driven by complexity I could have eaten a portion 5 times the size.

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Our next dish marked a slight break in our proceedings. This is the only dish I have actually seen in the Alinea book, unfortunately it is the only dish we didn’t get a photo of. It is known as hot potato, cold potato. Served with black truffle and butter. A perfect sphere of warm Yukon gold potato is dropped into a soup of cold potato, laden with black truffle. A quick bite but an utterly flavourful one. The warmth of the potato contrasted against the cold soup shocks your palate into truly tasting. I’m not even close to ready for this to end bring on the next course.

And here it is. A serious, serious concept. Duck ………?????…….!!!!!!! That is all that is on the menu. This coded message is actually a dish of a whole duck served in many forms. Oh and did I mention there is over 60 garnishes for us to pair with. I dive in, foie gras with apricot, confit leg with vanilla bean, fried breast with horseradish, rillette with chocolate and mouselline with beetroot. Jess does the same, only picks her own flavours. Each works brilliantly with duck. 60 flavours and not one of them clash, jar or taste a little funny. And trust me, we tried them all. The chefs here are providing something truly unique. Each diner will experience something of their own choice. Each flavour will be there own. I thought this dish was a masterpiece, not only in cooking all the duck parts perfectly but having the knowledge of 60 components to enjoy with it. Wow.

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After the duck I thought things couldn’t get any crazier. Boy I was wrong. Our waiters float around the room as people giggle at their courses, are amazed by flavours and enjoy their dining. This restaurant is the epitome of love what you do. The next course for us is one of Achatz’ signature dishes and something I have slaved over the Alinea cookbook making myself. Served in a custom designed antiplate The black truffle Explosion. A perfectly cooked ravioli served with wilted romaine lettuce and Parmesan. Our smiling waiter says “eat it all in one bite.” The ravioli goes in and BANG liquid black truffle explodes in my mouth, the ravioli is filled with a gelled truffle stock that on cooking melts and becomes a warm liquid centre. I loved this dish. Jess’ eyes bulged when the ravioli popped and we both laughed at how much fun it was.

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The explosion marks the end of the savoury courses. We are served with a selection of five needles, each with something pierced into the end of it. It is in fact our palate cleanser. Ginger with five other flavours. Turmeric being one. The heat of the Hawaiian ginger made for a tangy palate cleanse but each flavour contributed to it well and left us both feeling refreshed. I’m also drinking a glass of The rare Wine Co. “Boston Bual” special reserve Madeira. A sweet nectar that coats the ginger on my palate beautifully.

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We now sit here with balloons in our hands. Very sticky balloons. Our waiter tells us to give them a kiss and inhale. It is a green apple scented candy balloon on a crystallised apple string. We inhale then giggle as we finally realise what the helium was for. Other tales around us are in hysterics as grown adults are reduced to little kids again with squeaky voices. I sounded somewhat like a prepubescent teen as my voice broke in and out whilst speaking, Jessica of course was slightly more chipmunk. This is what food is about, having fun. Reminding us that we’re eating, it is not a serious affair, lets enjoy. This is the spirit at Alinea.

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Once our fits of laughter subside and the balloon is devoured our first dessert arrives. Strawberry granola, a crispy, crunchy cluster of strawberries served with a goats cheese infused with sassafras, pine nut and long pepper. I was expecting sickly sweet strawberry but the goats cheese dragged this dish much closer towards the savoury side. The texture was lovely and paired well with my Hungarian Tokaji-Aszu. A sweet wine with strong fruit notes. I must admit that with all these wine matches I am beginning to get a little foggy. Jess has a nice glow as well!

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Whilst we were chatting away we barely noticed our waiter putting two long test tubes smeared with pink in our table. It is in fact the straw for our next course. Raspberry, infused with rose. A soda bottle is presented before us filled with raspberry bubbles. We’re instructed to drink the bubbles through the straw, thus infusing it with the pink rose smear across the inside of the tube. This was a fun way to introduce a fairly simple dessert. However the flavour forms were complex, rose has of course a great floral character which matches the acidity of raspberry very well. It reminded me of drinking soda as a kid and having the bubbles fizz out the top of the bottle. Being able to insight memories is a fantastic talent of Achatz and Alinea and is employed throughout the experience in many forms.

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Finally it seems as though we have come to an end. Our table is all but cleared. Then our waiter appears with a large silicone mat. Time for your dessert he says with an almost devilish grin. Out walks chef Enrique, one of the many talented chefs at Alinea. The mat is spread across our table and chef begins to plate our dessert. Directly onto the table in front of us. This is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. As a chef I think it’s so important to interact with your diners and here he was, standing in front of us showing us his art. It was very humbling. The dessert consists of milk chocolate, pâté sucree, violet and hazelnut. Chefs hand dips and swirls as he constructs his masterpiece in front of us. Not saying a word he tips his head ever so slightly towards us and vanishes back into his studio. Jess and I are stunned. This was like seeing Mozart or watching Picasso paint. It was possibly one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever had whilst dining. Utterly incredible.

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For all of our wonderful readers, you’re in for a treat because Jess was clever enough to film the entire thing! And here it is.

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Upon tasting the dessert it is both rich yet delicate. Swirls of creme fraiche cut through buttery milk chocolate, floral violets accentuate hazelnuts earthiness. It’s as if the flavours themselves dip and swirl like the master chefs hand. In case you can’t tell Alinea has completely blown us both away. The dream comes to an end with Mexican coffee and a great chat with our waiters.

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Now I must mention them, all of the waiters who served us that amazing evening. I am sorry that I did not get all of your names but it is hospitality workers like this who make our industry as fantastic as it is. Friendly, welcoming and there only to look after you. They also know how to have a great time, without ever losing their professionalism. Dining at Alinea has made Jess and I want to work so much harder at our dream to have a truly great restaurant like this.

Now if you have made it to the end of this review, well done. I think it has taken me as long to write as it did for us to eat at Alinea. We enjoyed every moment and it is credited to all of the Alinea staff. Get yourself here as soon as you can. This restaurant for us was a dream come true. The realisation that our journey on thetraveltotaste in search of perfection has really begun. What makes Alinea so special is it’s constant strive for perfection. Have we found what we were looking for already?

I think we’re closer than we’ve ever been before.

Josh and Jess

Dined 25th August 2013
Alinea
1723 N Halsted St Chicago, Illinois USA
 http://www.alinearestaurant.com

Big bites @ Gordon Ramsay’s BurGR

Big bites @ Gordon Ramsay’s BurGR

It’s a Vegas eat feast and Jess and I are in the mood for that American staple, the cheeseburger. So we head out onto the strip to chase away our hunger pains. Chef Gordon Ramsay to the rescue. Now you might know him as the chef that screams and yells at all those people on tv. To chefs like me he is Gordon Ramsay, owner of the three Michelin starred restaurant, Gordon Ramsay, and a plethora of other restaurants all over the world. Trained by one of the cooking Gods, Marco Pierre White, Ramsay is now a world sensation and a serious food hero of mine.

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So that’s where we head, Gordon Ramsay’s BurGr at Planet Hollywood. Now can I tell you, the line is just massive. Jess and I wait for around 40 minutes just to get a seat. So to pass time in the line we read the menus and take some quick shots with Gordon whose face is slathered all around the place. This place is pumping! With seating for 200 the chefs are pounding at sensational fare to hungry Vegas crowds.

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Our waiter Alex takes our order after exclaiming that he couldn’t believe we forgot to bring Tim Tams from Australia. We promise we’ll bring some next time! For me I order the farm burger, a juicy beef patty with cured duck ham, avocado and a fried egg. Delicious. For Jess, the southern yardburger, a tantalising concoction of seared chicken, bacon, buttered lettuce, mustard and pickles. But wait, to start we have some of the best onion rings I have ever had. Shatteringly crisp and served with a sharp and creamy cheddar ranch and chipotle ketchup. Wow. I couldn’t stop eating them, I wanted to cancel our holiday, move in and eat onion rings until I explode.

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Then the burgers come, with a side of truffle fries smothered in Parmesan. The burgers are stacked high and I dive in jaw open wide. The burgers are absolutely scrumptious. You can taste quality produce, the beef is ground and perfectly pink, the cheese is gooey and for me the fried egg just adds some more mouth watering richness that I just love.

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With our stomachs nearly full to bursting we hesitantly flip through dessert to see Gordon’s version of the American milkshake. The dessert shake is unreal and for our readers benefit of course we decide we have to try one.

For me, the Oreo creme brûlée, as suggested by our waiter, a tower of French custard, Oreo cookie shake and vanilla ice cream. For Jess, the decadent chocolate shake with caramel mousse and tuille topper. Did we mention we love America! These shakes are a delight, despite my near exploding waistband I punish the shake and search for seconds. This is an unreal meal in itself.

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Now this restaurant may not be our usual night out, it isn’t about fine dining or fancy. What this is is great quality food with service to match.  Our waiter Alex was run off his feet but never lost a friendly smile and a positive attitude.

Great hospitality combined with great food makes for an awesome dining experience. The burgers are ridiculously good and did I mention the onion rings.

So relax your jaw and head on down to BurGR.

Big bites are recommended.

Josh and Jess