David Chang, a Korean-American born in Washington DC is the chef and owner of a string of successful restaurants that has local New Yorkers addictively queueing up outside every door and fighting over every online booking. Since missing out on Chang’s visit to the Melbourne food and wine festival last March, I thought – what the heck, let’s fly to New York for 3 days and check out what the hype is all about. While I couldn’t manage to secure a booking at the twelve-seater Momofuku Ko, I had always wanted to try Ssäm Bar, especially when it hit 26th on this year’s San Pellegrino top 50 list. Can a mishmash of Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine really be ranked so highly in the world? Amongst the other competitors on the Top 50, Momofuku Ssäm Bar was both an exception in price (if you’re sharing the Bo Ssäm) and atmosphere. With it’s loud echoing wooden space, long communal tables and counter dining that seats no more than 50, staff with a quick and casual service attitude; you won’t be expect white linen, polished cutlery or a dinner jacket anywhere.
A carnivorous menu that embraced the wonderful, magical animal1 it would make Homer Simpson proud, especially when the term “We do not serve vegetarian-friendly items” so explicitly spelt out in writing, this “meathead” restaurant definitely isn’t a place I would bring my mother (nor my Jewish friends) to.
Knowing the amount of pork that would soon arrive on our table, I thought it would only be appropriate to to begin our palate with two seafood dishes from ‘Raw Bar’.
The cured hamachi with edamame, horseradish, pea leaves was delightful, the fish slightly smokey and paired with edamame puree and fried genmai (brown rice) pops for a melange of textures.
The santa barbara uni with whipped tofu, tapioca (just like in bubble tea), and shrimp crackers was a very interesting combination. The whipped tofu was texturally like a soft custard, paired with chewy taioca bubbles and crushed crisps.
A favorite pork dish available across all Momofuku establishment would surely be their steamed buns with melting pork belly, hoisin sauce, finely sliced cucumbers and scallions. The turbo charged gourmet char siu bao proved very popular with the boys, I saw their eyes light up with excitement!
Momofuku’s bo ssäm has to be ordered in advance through their website, where online reservations open at 10am New York time every morning. This meant staying up past midnight Sydney-time two weeks ahead of the reservation date in order to swiftly click my way through (with practice on previous nights) to score a table of 10 and an order of whole roasted pork shoulder. The entire pork butt costs $200, and it’s recommended for serving six to eight people – but with advice from my friend Caroline, having a group of 10 people made the event much less overwhelming (and very cost effective), leaving plenty of space for appetizers and desserts.
Bo Ssäm (Ssäm meaning “wrapped” in Korean) is a traditional Korean dish in which steamed pork is wrapped in a lettuce leaf, accompanied by ssäm jiang (korean bbq sauce), kimchi and ginger scallion sauce.
David Chang uses the highly praised Berkshire pork (also known as Kurobuta in Japan), which is dubbed the “Wagyu of the pork world”. The whole bone-in pork butt is soaked in a brine of brown sugar and salt overnight, then rubbed with more brown sugar, salt and spices and roasted in the oven for over 8 hours.
Served at the table with it’s caramelized honey brown skin and meat so tender it falls apart with a touch of your disposable wooden chopsticks, the rich slow roasted shoulder of pork would defy the most determined of dieters.
A dozen of small delicate raw oysters on the half shell and 3 individual bowls of condiments (ssäm jiang, kimchi and ginger scallion sauce) arrive straight after and our waiter begins to explain the best way to devour our bo ssäm.
The first ssäm should be eaten without sauce – just a few shreds of pork, a raw oyster and a spoonful of rice wrapped in lettuce leaf. Our table of 10 (including 2 very drunk ones) fell completely silent for at least five minutes as we all had our first bite.
After the first ssäm we can start experimenting with the sauces. “Pork, kimchi, oysters..it’s the fucking magic combination.” Chang couldn’t have described it better.
We had enough leftovers for three lucky people who would have been the envy of their colleagues during lunch time the next day.
A very generously stacked chocolate chip cake with passion fruit curd, chocolate crumbs, coffee buttercream was purchased by my dear Deborah to sweeten our night (and send everyone to a serious food coma). This Milk Bar favourite was once available by the slice, but it can only be purchased whole these days. We couldn’t have thought of a better excuse, since we were in such a large group!
I also had the liberty to meet David after our meal, and after a few cocktails I may have gossiped about our local chefs. Oops!
- Amanda Ibrahim, David Chang
All in all, I still thought that 26th in the world was a surprised placement for Momofuku Ssäm Bar, but it is indubitably a must stop when visiting New York City. Chang incorporates the best of Asian flavours into his eclectic menu which can create mass appeal. It may be a little loud and crowded, the wait for a table may be tedious, but if you go there with great company, you wont be disappointed – I wasn’t!
Momofuku Ssäm Bar
207 Second Ave., at 13th St. New York, NY 10003
Lunch 11am to 6pm daily. Dinner 6pm to 2am daily.
1The Wonderful Magical animal was referred to in an episode of the Simpsons:
Homer: Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. Lisa, honey, are you saying you’re never going to eat any animal again? What about bacon?
Homer: Pork chops?
Lisa: Dad! Those all come from the same animal!
Homer: [Chuckles] Yeah, right Lisa. A wonderful, magical animal.
At the rear of the newly developed “Cool Docks” area of the bund, Stiller’s restaurant is elevated five levels up in a long, spacious room with leather chairs and pristine white tablecloths made all the more beautiful by the skyline of the pearl of the orient. It is a dramatically gorgeous mix of tranquil elegance and sleekly understated modernism makes an alluring dining space away from the hustle and bustle of Shanghai. If you had spent a full day in the Shanghai World Expo alongside half a million people like myself, you can only appreciate the ambiance as stepping into heaven.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. You’ll find one of the most beautiful views of Shanghai from this dining room, and the same view from rooftop lounge even more breathtaking. On a lower level, there is a state of the art equipped cooking school for both amateurs and beginners.
Of course we would leave the menu to Chef Stefan Stiller’s wishes as he orchestrates a tasting menu of seven carefully sculpted, classically European courses with a German twist. Stephan, once an owner of a restaurant (Relais et Chateau) and receiving his first Michelin star only 17 months after its opening, is now taking over Shanghai’s culinary world by storm. What I find extraordinary is that even with such a colorful career, he continues to dedicate his time along with his wife to Stiller’s restaurant, injecting every aspect with his personal touch.
His menu is constantly updated on a fortnightly basis to only cook with the best seasonal ingredients available, and his determination to constantly reinvent only adds to his intellectual approach to gastronomy. Under his wing is also Shanghainese Chef Shi Jingshen – who came second (and only winner from China) of the prestigeous Bocuse D’or Asia, securing a place in the finals in Lyon next year and beating Japan into third position.
The night begins with a wonderful selection of warm bread with a marvellous trio of whipped butter – Pesto, Garlic and Sundried tomato for a variety of anticipation of what’s to come. An amuse bouche trio follows on delicate ceramic spoons.
The Variation of Foie Gras and Rhubarb prepared four ways with different techniques and textures (with my favorite ingredient, by the way) is a decadent climax that goes pretty close to also causing one. Thankfully, a distraction of carefully grilled corrugated surface of fresh scallops adds an extra dimension alongside the pea mash, chutney and bisque like foam.
Stefan doesn’t try too hard for an excellent fillet of turbot, perfectly cooked and accompanied by a plump piece of Boston lobster, green peas, pickled pumpkin in a warmly aromatic lemon-grass curry sauce that doesn’t overpower the seafood. Highly in anticipation, I had forgotten to photograph this one, need I say more?
Every flavoursome performance needs an intermission and the marinated cherry tomatoes, mozzarella tomato water and basil sorbet was ever so reanimating on the palate, flawlessly preparing us for the “Rheinischer Sauerbraten”.
The 36 hour slow braised beef cheek is worth all the wait, the intensely rich and tender morsel and takes on a modern edge under the perfectly pink beef fillets, with the slippery mushrooms given a razz by the pea puree, playing catch-up to such xuberance.
The “Tart Soufflé au Chocolate” Mascarpone Foam, Chocolate Sorbet sent the entire dining table into a silence. It is the lovechild of the perfect soufflé top and a warm liquid centred fondant, balanced with the far from creamy chocolate sorbet and mascarpone form where temperatures and textures playfully mingle.
With a menu fit for a royal, even the crown price of Belgium on the table next to us looked pleased, while his five bodyguards could only hungrily feast with their eyes. I was only too glad to be enjoying my meal with all the beautiful people that somehow all magically connected to each other. True decadence!
Stiller’s Restaurant and Cooking School
The Cool Docks
505 Zhong Shan Nan Road, South Bund,
close to Fuxing Rd. Building 3, 7th Floor
Phone: +86 21 61526501
Step into the doors of the SLS hotel and enter an alluring modern space where every square inch is infected with a touch of Phillip Stark, you will arrive at their hip and happening restaurant, The Bazaar. The Bazaar is an assortment of dining rooms that include a cocktail bar, a tapas dining room, a patisserie, and of course, the main dining room filled with an eclectic array of seats and couches.
Acclaimed US chef and TV personality José Andrés presents us with a truly unique experience on Spanish cuisine by merging the very best of classical Spanish dishes with nouveau culinary techniques. The liquid nitrogen, the spherication, the foams and gels are echoed from the ooh’s and aah’s of the intrigued (and gorgeously fashionable) diners from the LA scene.
I’ve visited the Bazaar on two very different occasions and I’ve always enjoyed every moment, whether it is a romantic dinner for two or a group celebration with twelve.
There are moments when you’re watching Ramsay’s kitchen nightmares on TV and a foul mouthed English chef is screaming at an American chef about a common error most restaurants make, which is having a menu that’s laden with a smorgasbord of choices rather than a short and simple offering. In this case, Gordon’s rule need not apply. With José being a master of his trade, he bends all the rules and he bends them like Beckham (sorry- bad joke). His menu basically gives Gordon’s whole ’simple menu’ concept the big rude finger, which is a draw card for me. José knows the dining experience at the Bazaar is tenfold better than a Ramsay establishment, and not many restaurants can pull off such a long and extensive menu.
The menu consists of two main sections – “traditional tapas” and “modern tapas”, there are pages and pages of options, most of them only satiating one mouthful. You can order everything imaginable, from a rustic Jamon Serrano w/ Pan con Tamateto to a futuristic cotton candy foie gras. Accompany it with a glass of syrah from Napa or serve it with a liquid nitrogen caipirinha. Have a 3 course meal, or put together your own degustation. Even the vegetarians are happy here. What’s not to love? Esquire magazine named The Bazaar their No.1 restaurant last year, so it’s not just popular with the ladies either.
The sheer amount of aesthetically beautiful dishes on our table is for food bloggers what celebrities at The Oscars are for the papparazzi – after all, this is Hollywood! So here, with little words, I bring you the red carpet gallery of Jose’s menu for your visual enjoyment:
Magic Mojito, served in a shaker and strained over cotton candy
Liquid nitrogen Caipirinha, prepared at the table
Sweet potato chips, Yogurt, tamarind, star anise
American caviar cone
Sea urchin, Avocado, steamed buns – our favorite, always! Comparable to Momofuku’s steamed pork belly buns
“Grn Asp Can” – a whimsical play on the canning culture of Spanish food along with Croquetas
Pisto manchego (Capsicum and zucchini stew with coddled egg)
Shrimp cocktail on pipette, where you squeeze the sauce in your mouth as you eat the shrimp
Jamon Serrano w/ Pan con Tamate
The “Not Your Everyday Caprese” salad with sphericated liquid mozzarella balls that explode in the mouth
Philly cheesesteak, Air bread, cheddar, Wagyu beef
Boneless chicken wings green olive purée
Beef Hanger Steak
And moving onto the Patisserie for their vast selection of sweet treats:
White chocolate lollipop with black olive
Traditional Spanish Flan, Vanilla and fruit
Coconut and Berries
SLS Tres Chocolate Mousse
As much as I take pride in the amount of food I can order in one night, all of the above photos were actually taken on three separate visits to this favorite restaurant in Los Angeles. Without any hesitation I return for more things I have yet to try on the menu!
The Bazaar by José Andrés, SLS Hotel
465 South La Cienega Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90048
‘Gnudi’ meaning ‘nude’ in Italian, are what the Florentines call tender little dumplings that are very similar to gnocchi, except that they are made with ricotta rather than potato, which gives them a far more delicate texture. They’re lightly scented with nutmeg, and refreshingly light and doughless compared to your usual pasta dish. This recipe below uses frozen spinach and store bought tomato sauce, but it is entirely to you whether you choose to use freshly prepared spinach and home made tomato sauce for a more luxurious finish, or whether you are looking for a quick and easy meal which takes less than 30 minutes to prepare. But hey, it’s perfectly ok to be lazy sometimes, when the outcome is equally satisfying.
½ cup whole milk ricotta cheese (I purchased mine from Harris farm)
250g Birds Eye® chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 egg yolk
1 small pinch of ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2½ tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus 1 shallow bowl of flour for dusting
1 jar Barilla basilico tomato sauce (or any other of your favorite brands)
In a large bowl, mix ricotta, chopped spinach, cheese, egg and yolk.
After reaching a consistency similar to spinach dip, fold in nutmeg, salt, pepper, and flour.
Now we need to use this mixture to make our gnudi balls. 1 tablespoonful makes a good sized gnudi. I find it’s much easier to spoon the mixture into the shallow bowl with flour, and roll it around a few times before picking it up with your hands, otherwise it gets a little too sticky to work with. Gently roll the floured ball around in your palms to shake off any excess flour and shape them into spheres around 1.5 inches in diameter. Repeat with the remaining mixture.
While you’re making the gnudis, fill a pot with water and turn on a medium heat. Salt the water.
The most important thing is to leave the water boiling very gently. The gnudi is so delicate that a bubbling boil would tear it apart. Slowly lower the gnudi into the hot water with a spoon. You don’t have to cook them all at once, so just boil a few at a time.
After a few minutes, you’ll see them float to the top – this means they’re cooked and ready! Remove the gnudi using a slotted spoon, holding it just above the pot to drain off all the excess water before putting it on your serving dish.
While you are slowly cooking the gnudi, empty half a jar of tomato sauce into a small saucepan and start heating it up on a low heat, stirring occasionally.
Arrange gnudi on a platter and top with tomato sauce. Shave some extra Parmigiano Reggiano on top and watch it melt with the warm sauce.
This is one for the vegetarians out there – how can you not love it?
The ricotta pancakes are the lighter, fluffier friend of the American pancakes you’re normally used to. They’re healthier and lower in cholesterol as well, but I would be kidding you if I told you they were low-fat. I prefer to make these around the size of a coaster, instead of large pancakes. It makes the perfect Sunday breakfast, and they’re better than the ones you get from Bill’s for a whopping $17 a serving.
Preparation Time 2 minutes, Cooking Time 20 minutes (Makes 8 pancakes)
Ingredients (serves 4) 1 cup self-raising flour 1 tsp bicarb of soda Pinch of salt 2 tbs caster sugar 125g fresh italian ricotta 1 cup (250ml) skim milk 1 egg, separated, whites whisked 3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted Olive oil spray Sliced bananas, Organic vanilla yoghurt and syrup Method Sift the flour, soda and salt into a bowl and stir in sugar. In a separate bowl, combine the ricotta, milk, egg yolk, melted butter, beating well until smooth. Gradually whisk this into the dry ingredients to form a smooth batter. Fold in egg whites.
Heat a large heavy based, non-stick frying pan, spray lightly with oil and using ladle, pour in small round dollops of batter. Cook 2 pancakes at a time over medium heat for 3 minutes or until bubbles appear over the surface, then flip over and cook for 1-2 minutes.
Ricotta pancakes are a lot more fragile so you have to flip them carefully, or the inside will splatter out. Though my favorite part is eatly the oddly shaped ones while cooking. While all of this is happening, slice bananas and place on an oven tray. Sprinkle sugar on top and grill under oven until caramelised. Serve hot with a spoonful of yoghurt, banana slices and drizzle some maple syrup (only very little!)
Sea urchin spaghetti has always been a popular item in Japan, normally served in quasi-Italian restaurants or cafes (along with Mentaiko spaghetti, a kind or smelt roe). I’ve often raved repeatedly about Blue Marlin restaurant in LA which serves amazing uni (sea urchin in Japanese) spaghetti, with a sauce just creamy enough to coat the pasta, and topped with a generous amount of dried nori. It’s been around for quite a while, and I never visit LA without making a stop for my favorite dish on Sawtelle Blvd.
Sydney seems to be catching up with this new seafood trend, as I noticeably received a lot less “ewww” from fellow Aussies when I talk about uni. Coming from a time when most Australians found the concept of raw fish and dried seaweed revolting, their willingness to try new things have dramatically increased.
”I’ve sold more sea urchin in the past 12 months than I have in the past four years,” says Wayne Hulme from Christie’s Seafood.
Fresh high quality sea urchin flesh is delicate and just firm enough to hold itself together, and just like pudding, it quickly melts in your mouth. Unfortunately, the taste is initially funky and reminiscent of pungent seawater, and that’s when the unadventurous start to gag. However, just like smoking your first cigarette, after a few more puffs, you start to acquire the taste. Sea urchin flesh is delicious: subtle, sweet, creamy, and sea-salty bitter rather than fishy – If an oyster made love to custard.
You can buy fresh washed urchin roe in pre-packaged trays from the fish markets.
Ingredients: (serves 4)
500g dry spaghettini
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, more for drizzling
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
1 punnet grape tomatoes, halved, ripe and room temperature
Sea salt & black pepper
1 tray of sea urchin
I packet of Muji urchin cream pasta sauce
Shredded dried nori (also available in most Asian grocery stores) for garnish
1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, in a skillet large enough to hold pasta later on, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic, reduce heat to low, and tip the skillet to submerge the garlic in olive oil, brown it on all sides so it flavors the oil.
2. Raise heat under skillet to medium, add chili flakes and simmer for around a minute. Add tomatoes, face down, cook until just until wilted and stir gently.
3. When water boils, add a couple of tablespoons of salt and cook pasta according to packet instructions, minus 2 minutes. Stir well and bring back to boil. When pasta is cooked through but still firm, drain, reserving 1 cup cooking water (this water contains starch and is useful later for the sauce)
4. Turn heat under skillet to low. Add pasta sauce (optional: just replace with butter otherwise). Add about 3/4 of the tray of sea urchin to skillet with a sprinkle of salt and a splash of pasta cooking water to your favored consistency. I like it quite thick and creamy. Add pasta to skillet and toss thoroughly but gently over low heat, adding pasta cooking water and more oil to taste if mixture is dry. Don’t forget to season!
Serve hot, decorating each serving with remaining sea urchin and top with dried shredded seaweed.
The sweetness of the grape tomatoes compliments beautifully with the flavor of the urchin roe.
Buckwheat bliny is a part of traditional Russian cuisine, descended from one of mankind’s oldest and most common prepared foods: fried flat bread. Here is a quick and simple recipe to prepare them at home.
- 1 ½ tsp. Sugar
- 1/4 cup warm water
- 1 tsp. Active dry yeast
- 1 egg
- 1 ½ cups lukewarm milk
- 1 cup Self raising flour
- 3/4 cup buckwheat flour
- ½ tsp. Salt
- 1/4 cup butter, melted
In a small bowl, dissolve ½ tsp. Of the sugar in warm water. Sprinkle in yeast and let it stand for approx 10 minutes until the mixture appears to be frothy. In a separate larger mixing bowl, beat egg, milk and remaining sugar. Add flours and salt (I like to sift this in) and beat for 1 minute. Beat in the yeast mixture and half of the butter. Cover the mixing bowl with glad wrap; leave it to rise in warm place until it has about doubled in size (takes around 1 hour).
Heat nonstick skillet over medium heat; brush lightly with some of the remaining butter. It’s really just like making tiny little pancakes. I find that it gets a little messy spooning small amounts of batter onto the pan so I used a piping bag. You can also transfer the batter into a zip lock bag, seal it and cut a small corner on the bottom to pipe with.
I piped ‘blobs’ of batter around 4cm in diameter. Cook until bubbles form on top, then carefully flip each one over and cook until bottoms are golden brown.
Makes around 50 blini. It may seem like a lot, but you’ll be surprised how quickly it goes!
Traditionally, you would serve these with caviar. Sturgeon roe is just one of the most divine flavours that make me weak at the knees. Unfortunately, due to illegal fishing, the numbers of wild sturgeon has dramatically decreased over the years. The Beluga sturgeon is currently considered to be endangered, causing the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to ban in 2005 the importation of Beluga caviar which originated in the Caspian Sea and Black Sea basin. Sterling, a Californian company, have started farming white sturgeon caviar that is almost similar to Ossetra caviar. Do not forget to handle caviar with a mother of pearl spoon, as metal utensils tend to impart an unwelcome metallic taste to the delicate and expensive roe.
You can purchase Sterling Caviar (pictured) from Simon Johnson for around $605.00 for a 125gm serving with your whole family on a special occasion. They also have 30gm servings at $163.00, which is a perfect size for two people. (Hint: Valentine’s day is coming up!)
My favorite condiments to accompany caviar on the blini are finely chopped hard boiled egg yolks, egg whites, chives, creme fraiche, capers, and red onions.
You can also serve blini’s with smoked salmon, making it a great canape at parties.
If you ever have chance to get your hands on Beluga – I would suggest not embellishing the flavour of the roe with anything at all. Known to be the largest sturgeon, it can measure up to six meters in length and consists of very large eggs, which makes it very desirable. Even though Beluga weighing up to 600 kilograms existed in the past, the endangered species rarely come in those sizes nowadays because of overfishing.
There is no doubt that Heston Blumenthal is a genius with his food. Like the imagery conveyed through a writer’s prose, Heston narrates his stories with his culinary quill. Ranking number two in the world after Ferran Adria’s elBulli for numerous years makes no indication that Heston is second best. Awarded with three Michelin stars since 2004, it has been amongst the very highest ranked restaurants on the Top 50 list.
What sets him aside from the rest of the three Michelin starred chefs is that Heston was completely self taught. He was inspired during the age of 16 after a visit to a French restaurant (L’Oustau de Baumaniere) and he had an epiphany – he wanted to devote his life to gastronomy. With a copy of On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee and spending every last penny dining at Michelin starred restaurants, he especially took a keen interest in the technique of cooking and the science behind how flavour is produced, and it was only a natural progression that he began to explore molecular gastronomy.
After the recent debacles The Fat Duck restaurant experienced, I thought it would be easier to secure a table. Boy was I wrong! It was booked out for the next two months, so I was on a waiting list for a 2PAX at any time during my three week stay in London. Luckily, reservations emailed me days before, and I had secured a table for two on a Tuesday night.
Unlike elBulli, dining at The Fat Duck was not one of those trips where I spent months and months anticipating for, as I probably spent more time worrying how to get out of central London during peak hour traffic after work. I also missed out on tickets to Heston’s talks during last year’s Melbourne food festival, so I’m not as familiar with his concepts as I had hoped for. It was probably a blessing in disguise, because sometimes when you read too much into the chef and his creations, the meal itself is like watching a Harry Potter movie – you’ve read all the books, everything looks great, but you inevitably know what is going to happen next.
The Fat Duck is located just outside of London in Bray, under an hour’s drive from the city. It is near Berkshire, where Heston grew up and still resides with his wife and three children. The restaurant is a humble, cosy Tudor styled building with low ceilings and exposed timber beams, around 15 tables or so occupying the living room sized space. It seats a maximum of 45 people, and there is almost a one staff to one diner ratio.
“I love what I do,” Heston laughs. “I do think that it doesn’t matter how gastronomic food is or it can be. I think you should be able to have fun. If one word that a customer could say to me to describe the experience of the restaurant it would be fun, to have a sense of fun.”
Heston was right. It was indeed the most “fun” I’ve ever had during a meal, where he doesn’t miss a single detail of the story that unfolds through my palate during my 18 course tasting menu. To transcend diners as the role of Alice in Wonderland (and you’ll see the references he makes to that story later) and having tea with the Mad Hatter was all part of his charm. Perhaps, with his whimsical approach to cooking, he relates to the role of the Mad Hatter, only to swap the top hat for a chef’s hat?
The Wine List
The 18 course tasting menu (the only option for dinner – he had recently removed the a la carte menu) plays with every theory he’s found from scientific studies of how to trigger memories through smell, taste, touch and sounds. Once it was combined into a multi-sensory affair, we add in all our own memories and experiences to the table, giggling and interacting with the ’story’ our own way, from the prologue right down to the appendix. Every dish was inviting and had its own unique comfort zone, and I can’t really imagine anyone who wouldn’t enjoy it as much as I did.
(click on any photos to see a detailed, full-sized zoom)
After settling wth some olives and vintage Rose champagne, our meal begins with a spectacle of liquid nitrogen, like a magician’s grand entrance, followed by a spritz of fresh lime perfume in the air amongst us that lingered and refreshed our senses. The waiter “poached” the lime mousse inside the liquid nitrogen until it resembled a very cold piece of meringue, sprinkled it with green tea powder using a powder puff and asked that we eat it straight away with our fingers.
Nitro Poached Green Tea and Lime Mousse
RED CABBAGE GAZPACHO
Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream
JELLY OF QUAIL, CREAM OF CRAYFISH
Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss and Truffle Toast (Homage to Alain Chapel)
We were first presented with a bed of moss on a wooden box, with two packets of what resembled Listerine Strips with the label “Fat Duck Films”. We let the thin clear strip dissolve on our tongue, immersing it with flavours of wooden oak undertones, while our server poured a liquid onto the moss that turned our dining table into a mystic forest.
The truffle toast and the chicken liver parfait was served - my ebony Laguiole knife started to gently disappear as the mist thickens on our table. It was like dining amist the Yorkshire moors.
Quail jelly, langoustine cream, foie gras parfait and pea puree – such a perfect combination, the truffle toast with just the right amount of crisp and dark truffle notes that complimented so well the oak.
ROAST FOIE GRAS
Gooseberry, Braised Konbu and Crab Biscuit
This is possibly the best foie gras dish I’ve ever had, blended with flavours of soy and konbu (the thin membrane on the bottom is also a slice of konbu), crisp crab biscuit and the sweetness of the gooseberry puree.
MOCK TURTLE SOUP (c.1850) “Mad Hatter Tea”
“Have you seen the Mock Turtle yet?”
“No,” said Alice. “I don’t even know what a Mock Turtle is.”
“It’s the thing Mock Turtle Soup is made from,”
It looked like a golden pocket watch in a large cup, which was attached to a teabag string labelled “Mad Hatter’s Tea”.
It was served with a miniature terrine of calf’s tongue, Colonnata lardo with a Mock Turtle egg, which is a turnip mousse with a swede puree, and little enochi mushrooms to signify the Caterpillar’s toadstool that was reminiscent of a storybook scene.
Using our ‘teapot’, we were instructed to pour hot water over our golden pocket watch.
The gold started to magically float away while the ‘pocket watch’ (a stock cube) dissolved into a fragrant veal consomme. Poured over the main dish, it was such a beautiful dish when the baby herbs floated with the gold flecks shining under the softly lit dining room.
“SOUND OF THE SEA”
Presented with a large sea conch and an iPod tucked inside, we were encouraged to immerse ourselves with the sounds of the sea. The use of the word “sounds” was probably inadequate as Heston wanted to engage all the senses – sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. While listening to waves crashing and seagulls squawking and reliving a ‘Lord of the Flies’ moment, a glass plate of malty tapioca “sand” made from dried eel, sashimi, samphire and different textures of seaweed, with a “sea” foam is served.
There were no shellfish (razorclams being part of the ingredients) as this was the infamous dish that caused the food poisoning scare.
SALMON POACHED IN LIQUORICE
Artichokes, Vanilla Mayonnaise, Golden Trout Roe and Manni Olive Oil
I never thought salmon, liquorice, vanilla and roe would complement each other so well. This dish was another one of my favorites – the salmon was poached to such perfection it’s hard to describe how smooth and tender it was.
POWDERED ANJOU PIGEON. (c.1720)
Blood Pudding and Confit of Umbles
TAFFETY TART (c1660)
Caramelized Apple, Fennel, Rose and Candied Lemon
THE NOT-SO-FULL ENGLISH BREAKFAST (1 of 3)
Our server walks up to us and said “Good Morning” with a smile, “We will be preparing some breakfast for you today”. We were given a small box of cereals with milk on the side.
They were small flakes of parsnip which were pressed to look a little like rolled oats or mini cornflakes. Milk was then poured on top, very cute.
THE NOT-SO-FULL ENGLISH BREAKFAST (2 of 3)
Nitro-Scrambled Egg and Bacon Ice Cream
This was the part I was waiting for, the infamous smoked bacon and egg ice cream! Our waiter wheels a trolley next to our table with eggs and a frying pan atop a cooper burner. She breaks an egg into the frying pan, pours in liquid nitrogen and stirs with a wooden spoon and says “They’re cooked!”.
The Fat Duck\’s bacon & egg ice cream
I later found out that The ice cream custard is injected into an empty egg shell, which is then cracked at your table and ‘cooked’ or frozen with liquid nitrogen into clumps of scrambled egg like ice cream.
THE NOT-SO-FULL ENGLISH BREAKFAST
Hot & Iced Tea (3 of 3)
I was told that the hot and cold tea is made by removing the ions from water, which turns it into a fluid gel. With a partition down the middle of the glass, hot gel down is poured down one side and cold gel down the other side, and the the partition is removed while the gel stays still. An interesting characteristic with de–ionised water is that when it is standing on the table it is somewhat solid like jelly, but when tipped on an angle (while drinking) it turns to a liquid. The two different temperatures swirling in your mouth is a very unexpected sensation.
CHOCOLATE WINE “SLUSH” (c.1660)
Another old recipe – this one from the 17th Century, an ice slush that tasted of red wine and chocolate, and went amazing well with the Millionaire shortbread, which was soft oozing toffee in between two thin layers of chocolate.
Historic Trade Routes of Britain
I love this concept! A picture frame arrives, with an old map and gummies stuck to the surface of the glass.
The gummies tasted exactly of Mead, Cognac, Madiera, Sherry and Rum. It’s amazing how the flavour of each is captured so well in a gummy.
Cheese from the cheese trolley (optional)
We still had red wine leftover, so why not?
“LIKE A KID IN A SWEET SHOP”
Heston makes sure we do not leave empty handed, so we are given a bag of ‘goodies’ to bring home. My favorite part was the “Queen of hearts” which was in a tiny envelope sealed with wax. It looked just like a playing card, but it is actually a flat piece of white chocolate with the pattern printed on both sides, and in the centre was filled with a fresh berry compote, which was quite amazing – Another Alice in Wonderland moment.
At a mere £130 per head, it’s of extreme good value compared to a degustation at a 3 hatted restaurant in Sydney, in my honest opinion.
If I were to describe a meal at The Fat Duck in one word, it would be memorable. The sheer theatrics and the presentation alone is sure to impress. Save this one for a special occasion!
To make a reservation please call +44 (0) 1628 580 333 between 10am and 5pm Monday to Friday (including bank holidays).
We accept reservations as far as two calendar months in advance and the restaurant is closed on Sunday evening and all day Monday.
The first thing we all think of when someone is visiting Amsterdam? The drinking, the weed, the women, and the long mindless nights that no one remembers when they wake up next to the canal. Everyone who isn’t an American teenager would know that it doesn’t have to be that way!
Amongst all of the “tourist activities”, there are a few gems you can visit to break that looseness up a little. Here are a few places I enjoyed during my stay, which I would love to share with you:
Herengracht Café Restaurant
435 Herengracht, 1017BR Amsterdam
It has a cafe, an outdoor courtyard at the back and also a lounge for drinks.
The lack of service is very standard in Dutch traditions, so it’s not out of the ordinary if you sit down and you’re not noticed by the waitstaff.
Carpaccio van rund op klassieke wijze met Parmezaan en kruiden sla
The carpaccio sandwich was a winner, with thinly sliced raw beef, perfectly seasoned with truffle mayo, parmesan cheese and rocket.
And you can’t forego the classic veal croquettes with mustard
visit http://www.deherengracht.nl/ for the full menu
If you’re looking for a nice lounge bar with a great vibe, covered with Missoni upholstery and Philippe Starck designed Kartell Mademoiselle chairs, look no further than Momo. Situated at the Park Hotel, right opposite the Holland Casino, it is frequented by fashionable and celebrities alike.
Momo has a modern Asian fusion menu and a familar Australian NZ wine list.
The staff are attentive and very multilingual, catered for the international crowd. There are a few seafood starters worth a mention, including the soft shell crab with shreadded mango and chilli lime sauce…
- Salmon and Avocado Ceviche
and a rather amazing “Golden Chocolate Cycloon” which we had at the bar… next to David Moyes – who was not quite impressed that us Aussies didn’t really appreciate a sport “where you can’t even use your hands“.
And during my travels, here’s a first for Spread my butter, a “what not to eat” section!
Exhibit A: Bright green colored Edam cheese – flavoured with Pesto? Fail
(tasted somewhat like a garlic flavoured crayon)
Exhibit B: Anything from “Febo”
The pre-prepared fast food vending machine, where luke warm soggy burgers and deep fried bits are abundant…
…including “Cheese Souffle”
and day old Chicken burger… when freshness doesn’t matter.
If you’re craving the greasy food, order some fries with mayonaise at any cafe. They are double fried and always perfectly crunchy on the outside.
Many thanks to CC and CPO for taking me around town!
We had appropriately fasted for the whole day, having nothing but an artery clogging breakfast at our hotel early that morning. It was 8:30pm, and nothing had been eaten for over 11 hours. We were well and truly prepared in anticipation for the 34 course extravaganza that awaited us when our waiter said:
“Ferran has prepared a special menu for you tonight” in his heavy Spanish accent. “Please let me know if you have any dietary requirements. We will be serving a large range of things, including razor clams, sea anemones… Is there anything you don’t eat?”
“Absolutely not.” I replied, “We will try anything!” (I am Chinese afterall)
The senses Ferran wants to engage with his diners is none than the usual: Sight, Hearing, Touch, Smell, Taste… but what makes him a stand out from the rest is his clear intention of stimulating The Sixth Sense. Before you try to say “I see dead people” in Spanish, his concept of the Sixth Sense is actually about the stimulation of the mind – provoking it for a deeper response or a desire to analyse a dish: whether it triggers memories of childhood, or makes a cultural connection to other styles of cooking, if it challenges you to overcome fears of new and strange things, or it’s cheeky and playful with the things you are used to. When you are presented with one dish, your senses always fail to initially predict the outcome as it significantly contrasts your own knowledge and experiences, which really makes every bite truly mind blowing – or mind boggling.
Eating involves the use of all the senses. Each sense can be seen as a separate creative method, but in many cases it is the interaction between different senses that produces the most interesting results. This can occur not just within one dish, but also over the course of a sequence of dishes that engages the senses in different ways. – A day at elBulli
The 34 course tasting menu is a theatrical affair. At times, Ferran’s humour will make you laugh; it will surprise you when the unexpected jumps at you; At other times, it will shock, questioning the norms you are once used to. The culinary journey you embark on is full of emotion and new experiences. The degustation is explained by some to consist of four main acts.
Act One usually consists of a welcoming cocktail, aperitifs and “snacks”, usually served on the terrace, all dishes served without cutlery and eaten by hand.
So the curtain opens with a cocktail…
(please click on images for enlarged gastronomic food porn view)
cane: mojito – caipirinha
This was no ordinary cocktail, but a cocktail infused inside sticks of sugarcane – one flavoured with a mojito, the other with a caiprinha.
The gin fizz was a mixture of warm and cold liquids- the foam was warm, almost milky, and the liquid below was almost gelatinous. When you drink it, both layers combined in your mouth for a strange combination of temperatures and textures.
After our cocktails, we selected a 1996 Billecart Salmon for the reminder of the evening, one of our favorite vintages for Champagne.
The first of the “snacks” are served, beginning with the spherical olives presented in a jar, marinated in olive oil, garlic cloves and sprigs of rosemary. It is a intensive olive tasting liquid encased in a gelatine membrane and explodes in the mouth.
Passionfruit flavoured orchids – made by Ferran’s “natura” techniques
rabbit ear crunchy
Deep fried rabbit’s ears, with a texture like crackling, seasoned beautifully
One of my favorites – reconstructed peanut, with a thin crumbly shell sprinkled withfine powdered sea salt, and an explosion of peanut liquid on the inside. There’s not much more I could say about this humble peanut, except if I had a choice between a perfect man and this peanut – the peanut wins hands down, everytime.
This tomato biscuit reminded us of the red sprinkles you find on Arnott’s pizza shapes, but so much more decadent garnished with gold leaf. The flavour doesn’t taste artificial as it is derived from freshly dried tomatoes.
Averantos (I’m still unsure as to what it is) is somewhat like puffed sesame seeds and a smoky flavoured seasoning like bacon. It was very lightly held together and can only be picked up by holding the paper and consuming it in one bite.
black sesame sponge cake with miso
The fluffiest, lightest sponge cake, made by siphoning batter with nitrous oxide into plastic cups, and microwaving them, as shown in one of Ferran’s presentations during the most recent book launch. He mentioned that this was a recipe that only took him “minutes to develop, but others – many years.”
beetroot and yogurt meringue
The meringue with flavours of beetroot light as air, filled with a whipped yogurt centre. This is served with a spoonful of beetroot essence (seen in the background of the photo).
essence de betterave
An intense shot of beetroot liquid in a measured spoon – all part of the “instruments” used in his kitchen.
oyster leaf with dew of vinegar
This leaf had a remarkable resemblance to the taste of an oyster, so when served with red wine vinegar “beads” and some eshallots, it was indeed just like eating an oyster! Ferran has visited places like the Amazon during his off-months hoping to discover more fruits and vegetables with new flavours.
Unpictured: Gorgonzola Mochi (link to someone else’s photo here)
Looks just like a bocconcini, but was a liquid filled sac that was fragile like a small water balloon. The waiter presents it on a metal plate for us to carefully pick up, and it is to be eaten straight away. A very intense explosion of gorgonzola flavour lingers, made possible by a type of spherication (please correct me if I’m wrong) where liquid is encased in a membrane.
The grilled strawberry was served in a contrast of temperature with the gorgonzola mochi. It is rather unexpected that it was filled with a warm liquid, salted and somewhat alcoholic in flavour.
After the selection of snacks, the waiter began to set our table with cutlery, in preparation for the next act. Act Two is the most substantial part of the meal which consists of savoury, tapas-styled dishes. It flows uninterruptedly one after another, at times a little too quickly. There was a moment between the 20th and the 21st course where I really just needed a gastronomic breather, so my brain could catch up with the information my stomach was trying to process. Naturally, the waiter seamlessly organised for each course to be brought out slower.
haricot bean with Joselito’s iberian pork fat
The haricot bean was reconstructed using the same spherication technique as the mochi, only this time hot liquid is encased in the membrane. The thin translucent layer with paprika floating on top actually a slice of ham fat, all submerged in a smokey ham broth.
cuttlefish with pesto ravioli
Baby cuttlefish, served withpesto “ravioli”s, which were also liquid contained insidea membrane that bursts in the mouth.
parmesean frozen-air with muesli
parmesean frozen-air with muesli
We were presented with a white styrofoambox, just like ones you find in takeaway ice cream stores. Our waiter lifted the lid and revealed something that looked like a frozen white cloud. In the plastic bag we were given sprinkles of berries and other dried ingredients that have a crunchy texture, and we were told to scatter it on the “air” a little at a time. The frozen air was cold, but as soon as it enters the mouth it melts into almost nothing, leaving behind the salty bite of parmesean cheese, just like it was freshly grated from the block. The museligave it another depth in texture and a citrus sweetness to it. Highly enjoyable experience.
This was one of my favorites of the night: reconstructed egg yolk (shaped like mini-bullets in the photo), egg whites, floating in tiny fish caviar with different flavoured Japanese seasoning around the plate, such as shiso, yuzu, wasabi and white sesame. Each seasoning gives a different perspective to the dish which was a phenomenal fusion of Japanese flavours.
This dish was served with spoons that were frozen in liquid nitrogen and steaming like dry ice, a truly fascinating spectacle. The plate was presented to us with three segments of a fruit called lulo, a very acidic Columbian fruit (texture like peach, but extremely sour), and it is topped with shaved foie gras fat. The only way to shave the yellow fat like chocolate curls is to do so at a very low temperature and served frozen. As soon as you eat it, it melts back to its original oily consistency, much like butter.
garlic with coco
Garlic with coco probably wasn’t one of my favorites, (perhaps I felt a little disappointed as the usual version is presented with caviar) three cloves of garlic cooked in three stages of temperatures (firm, roasted, charcoaled) in a coconut soup reminiscent of Chinese desserts. The flavours were very intense and different textures were integrated.
tomato – basil
tomato – basil
Roasted cherry tomatoes in a black olive (?) sauce, topped with a dried basil leaf, which was strongly seasoned with basil powder, intensifying the flavour ten-fold.
razor clam with seaweed
Another personal favorite: extremely fresh, juicy and sweet raw razor clams on foam served with a mixed seaweed salad. Very well balanced and truly fantastic beyond words!
asparagus with miso
White asparagus on whipped miso cream, wrapped in clear rice paper and garnished with fresh edible flowers. This dish reminded me of the Chinese white rabbit candies my grandmother gave me when I was young. This was eaten by hand as a whole mouthful.
Ferran, an avid fan of Chinese cuisine, mentioned that his favorite restaurant in Sydney was Golden Century, he liked it so much he paid a return visit for dinner. I can see the heavy Chinese influences in this abalone dish. Served on a bed of enoki mushrooms, black seaweed stems, with layers of ham fat in between slices, and topped with baby shimeji mushrooms.
sea cucumber with mentaiko and rhubarb
The texture of the sea cucumber was different to those found in regular Chinese restaurants and was more similar to shellfish such as clams. It is served with rhubarb, which balanced out the flavour of sea water, and topped with mentaiko, which is a spicy Japanese cod roe.
sea anemone 2008
One of the things you have to keep while dining at elBulli is an open mind. This dish consists of raw rabbit’s brains and sea anemone, both ingredients I’ve never tried before. It is also served at room temperature, which proved a little more challenging for me to process mentally.
I love how there’s a red vein popping out of the brain on my plate, how else would you know it’s fresh? I felt like a child trying something for the first time, and I playfully giggled to Aaron and made him try it first. We both recorded our reactions to the dish on video (click for the youtube link). While many of you may think this to be a horrible experience, it certainly is our most memorable and most talked about part of the meal, which I think was the Chef’s intention. All I could describe from this dish was “a lukewarm taste of the ocean”, yes, it was slimy but it wasn’t all that bad. If only there was more seasoning to the dish that just the flavours of the fresh anemone!
gnocchis of polenta with coffee and saffron yuba
We breathed out a small sigh of relief when a vegetarian dish was served after the previous dish. The gnocchis are actually polenta encased in a membrane in a creamy sauce, and is surprisingly complementary with the coffee powder on top. It is served with capers, and a saffron infused egg.
suckling pig tail
The suckling pig tails were very similar to crispy Chinese roast pig, with a sweet sauce. It is served with a ham consomme containing tiny cubes of silken white tofu and rockmelon (cantaloupe) and petals. The soup itself was very salty, but with the rockmelon, it was perfect.
Act Three opens with a transition towards the sweet notes. Avant desserts are served, followed by the desserts. The first avant dessert looked like a classic Monet painting.
This was a beautifully presented palate cleanser which looks like a lily pond, with edible flowers submerged in a floral, perfumed cold soup. Refreshing and full of spring flavours, sprinkled with aforementioned “averantos” seeds. A visual delight and a nice beginning after the savoury performers.
By now, we are no stranger to the explosion-in-the-mouth sensation, and the mango ravioli delivers just that - but we are never tired of it! It was spherized to look just like a raw egg yolk, so the mango flavour was a surprise.
But just as we thought nothing could surprise us, a giant white shell was brought to the table – which I thought was something like an ostrich egg. The shell was then cracked with a spoon and sprinkled with curry powder. We were to break pieces off and eat it with our hands – and tasted just like the flesh of young green coconut on a tropical island, frozen, but creamy.
Amber is a honey jelly which encases a single floret of Elderflower, just like a large crystal marble. It is visually stunning and almost rolled off the table when we tried to pick it up with the leaf.
Ices was a watermelon dessert served with syrup and yogurt ice cream, topped with a snowflake shaped sugar icing layer, with a thin sheet of ice that rested on top. The sheet of ice is cracked with your spoon and gives a sorbet effect.
By now, the word gluttony doesn’t do any justice to the way we were feeling. To our surprise, Act Four (named “morphings”) was served in a theater of its own, and “lasts as long as the after-dinner conversation”.
Morphings… (other side)
Every table gets their own box of hand made chocolates, and being a table of two – this was a lot of sweets considering the 8PAX next to us received the same offering. Chocolate mint leaf, eucalyptus chocolate, cinnamon slices, peanut brittles, chocolate raspberries, chocolate truffles, pistachio chocolate slices, strawberry chocolate… we were overwhelmed with selection and determined to try every single one, despite the fact that we were on the verge of bursting! Every single piece were infused with only the freshest of flavours, and so carefully handcrafted by each Chef.
My two personal favorites were the pumice-like white chocolate which crumbled in the mouth but melted like chocolate, the “coral”, which were hand made chocolates covered in sour cherry powder. LOVED it!
We proceeded to finish our champagne outdoors, it was almost 1am by now, the air was balmy and stars glittered across the clear sky on the night of St John’s festival.
But alas, all good things come to an end… Many of you have asked me what the bill came to at the end, well, you can see for yourself:
The final hurrah
It was certainly the most expensive meal I’ve ever had so far in my life, but nothing that 30 odd hours of waiting tables didn’t take care of. The beauty with making a reservation 15 months ahead is that there’s always plenty of time to work towards that memorable trip - and it was worth every cent.
Definitely aiming for a return visit in a few years!
I just wanted to give my special thanks to Robin – without you, this trip would not have been possible. Muchas gracias!
Coming up next: the town of Roses in Spain, where to stay, how to get there.