My friend Roee considers himself a food
expert. Actually he considers himself an expert on a variety of things.
He tells us that he lives the life of a world traveler going to medical
school in London, interning in Africa, and starting out as a physician
in New York. For some reason there's always a sense that just maybe he's
making stuff up. But his stories are so entertaining and creative that
they're enjoyable nonetheless. That said, if his restaurant
recommendations for New York and London are any indication of a) his
expertise, and/or b) the veracity of his stories, then believe every
word he says. He is almost always on the money when it comes to sending
us out to eat.
On this night we followed Roee's advice and found
ourselves at Archipelago.
We didn't know what it would be other than a fleeting thought that
maybe we'd be eating some food found in the Galapagos. What we found is
an eclectic mix of cuisines and ingredients from ethnic cuisines from
across the world. This is not your French/Chinese fusion restaurant.
This is food from the tier of cuisines that hasn't gone through complete
commercialization and globalization (yet) including: Tunisian,
Singaporean, Jamaican, Persian, and Hungarian. Some are not even in that
second tier requiring a trip to the home country or to a Manhattan to
taste what it's all about. The animal ingredients are also diverse
including peacock, crocodile, frog, kangaroo, and baby bee. All these
interesting ingredients both cultural and literal combine in an
environment that mixes varieties of tribal and
art to create a
friendly, and yet intricately textured home of the eclectic. Right above
the entry to the restaurant, and under its name, is the phrase "exploring
the exotic". The downstairs kitchen sending food to the dining area
on a dumb waiter was also a cute touch.
Things started off smashingly (hey, this is
England, I can say "smashingly") with the
Bread Boat. This included garlic salt focaccia, walnut bread, and
sweet bread with raisins and sesame seeds. While I carefully avoided the
raisins, the breads were quite diverse and delicious.
arrived next including: fried parsnip with hot and sour sauce and greek
yogurt sauce, as well as roast pepper bruschetta with cheese, and
finally chicken salad with mandarin orange. Debbie fell in love with the
spicy hot and our sauce. And rightly so. The sauce had a deep deep
flavor with sweet honey, a touch of sour, and a touch of fire that
gradually hits you - the "sweet chili dip" was great. When we asked how
they made the sauce, the owner told us that a little old Thai lady in
the kitchen cooks the chili sauce for two days reducing and reducing it
until it's ready for our table. The red pepper also came through with
bright flavors in the bruschetta.
Appetizers included the Cayman Islands -
crocodile seared in vine leaves with yellow plum sauce, and Persian
Drake - caramelized wild duck breast, with pomegranate and pistachio
salad. The alligator was good, but neither of us were psyched about the
grape leaf that it came in. Just not our favorite flavor. The cool part
though was that they looked like little alligators. The duck had
excellent deep flavor and texture. The pomegranates were yummy like
Granates came next to cleanse our palate from
the strong flavors including key lime and black pepper. We got
orange. While I'm the first to advocate trying something new (black
pepper ice) my deep and abiding love of all things blood orange. And
sure enough it was deep, rich, light, and fruity with tiny chunks of
ice. It was not smooth in a good way, and absolutely yummy.
Next up was the
Jamaican Mountain Chicken, a.k.a. wok-seared frog, cashew and
callaloo with lavender rice. It was great especially the perfectly
battered and fried legs which arrive on the bone resting gently on top
of the dish. The rice was simply perfect, with great aroma and texture.
The wok-fried frog was so tender and the cashews were a great balance in
flavor and texture.
Hungarian Chili Pig quickly followed - flash-fried honey and
chili pork loin with citrus cous cous. It was fantastic; sweet, spicy,
with Caribbean and African flavors. And the lime couscous and yogurt
sauce were a perfect complement to the spiciness of the pork.
There were a couple of distractions, a
horrible delay between the appetizers and the entrees. really spicy food
with no air conditioning in the middle of a heatwave, and of course the
super gross impossible to avoid smoking found almost everywhere in
Europe. That said, we really enjoyed our meal and would definitely go
back many times. Even though we passed on the chocolate covered scorpion
(who wants chocolate in 90 degree weather) who knows, maybe next time.
For Seattle readers, the 2003 Sushi and Sake
Fest is happening on Wednesday October 29, 2003 from 5:00 - 8:30PM at
the Grand Hyatt in Seattle. In a city with sushi perfection like
Nishino, why go to
a Sushi and Sake Fest? Well Nishino will be there. And if you ever get
the itch to compare to other Sushi restaurants you'll be able to as many
will be there including Rikki Rikki, Sushiman, Wasabi Bistro, and
others. It's $50 - $100 for tickets. Contact (206) 320-1010 for more
demise of commercial supersonic travel, it got me thinking that
affordable supersonic travel is something that we really need in my
lifetime. To speed transplantable organs to patients in need in time to
save their lives? So the NBA can expand to Europe and Asia? All fine with
me, but not my top priority. Why can't I go to Hong Kong for lunch, and
Paris for dinner? I'd even compromise that I wouldn't be able to do that
particular itinerary in the same day.
The Concorde flew from New York City to Paris in
about three-and-a-half hours compared to seven for a Boeing 747. Even
that's not fast enough. I want super supersonic travel. I want to be two
hours from essentially everywhere. I'll settle for three hours to places
that are really halfway across the planet. And I want to pay $100
roundtrip. Some people might say I'm being silly, but it's not like I'm
asking to spontaneously grow wings or be able to breathe underwater
without any help. Technology should be able to solve this problem. The
only question is when it will be affordable so that I can head to Italy
for a quick bite and be back in Seattle in time for bed.
first introduction to the
fancy department store supermarket was in
Tokyo. Multi-story department store after department store fills its
basement with high-end impressions of open-air markets delivering
endless variety of lone ingredients and prepared items. I didn't realize
at the time that the inspiration for this extravaganza was the food
emporium at Harrods department store in London. Much like Tokyo's
finest, Harrods has a large variety of counters offering high quality
items from vegetables to chocolates, and hams to sushi. Harrods, with
it's classic flair, themes major rooms with different decor. The
selection is broad (ostrich
eggs anyone?), the prices are high, and the experience is fun. That
said, while there are various counters at which you can sit, the finger
food aspect that I love so much in Tokyo department stores is not quite
as strong in Harrod's. Still if you're in London, don't miss it. Outside
of the food "zone" itself there's also several restaurants including a
creperie that made us
mean nothing to me when it comes to getting you pictures of great food
from around the planet.)
We're in London for a month. We're trying to eat out as much as humanly
possible. Thousands of restaurants in London and the laws of time and
space as well as the unfortunately average size of our stomach cavities
mean that we have to be choosy. Luckily, choosiness on this day led us
to Momo. "Momo" is
Mourad Mazouz, Algerian native. "Momo" is also a little
slice of North
Africa located in London. With a little
next door you walk up to Momo's and you're transported. It's super
"done" with north African decor and music getting you in the mood for a
The staff was friendly and happy to make us comfortable
seating us on some big pillowy seating, and giving us warm bread to eat. A
bowl of great
spicy green olives were like a kind of Moroccan kimchi. They were
light and garlicky. We got a series of
(appetizers) including Mechouia, a spread of roasted peppers, Zaalouck, an
eggplant (they call it "aubergine" in England) spread which was great, a "Bourek"
of chicken with fig with an incredible turmeric flavor, and finally a
Briouat of Cod
with a crisp shell and a potato like consistency. Each was simply
It's rare that one dish alone can rocket my estimation of
a restaurant. It's not like I wasn't already in a pretty good mood, but
when the tomato soup showed up I fell head over heels for Momo. To be
specific, it was
Soup de Tomate Glacee a la Coriandre. The flavor was so very strong
with incredible savory touches. All four quadrants of my tongue were
deeply affected and almost inflamed by how interesting and exciting the
flavor of this soup was. The minced chives floating in beautiful pools of
olive oil on top of the soup didn't hurt matters either.
Next up was the
Margret de Canard
- roasted duck breast with sweet potato and grapes. The flavor of the duck
was wonderful. The texture a touch chewy. The wine-based sauce was lovely.
And (according to Debbie) the best
part was the great flavor and texture of the sweet potatoes. Then we got
Couscous Brochettes D'Agneau. This was a
HUGE portion of
couscous, lamb on skewers, and a tomato based sauce with potatoes and
veggies. The couscous was super fine grain - yummy. The lamb had a
beautiful texture, and a rich spiced buttery flavor. The potatoes were a
little undercooked, but the dish overall was delicious.
We hung out in the Momo "market" next door after
lunch for a few minutes checking out the
buying the Momo cookbook. I haven't had a chance yet to make anything from
it and I'm kind of disappointed that it doesn't have the recipe for that
tomato soup, but still I really enjoyed eating at Momo and I can still
taste that soup. Next time I'm in London it's one of the first places I'll
The Guardian's Observer has a section called
They sent five writers to five of the "best" restaurants they could find
across the planet. They include
French Laundry in Napa Valley,
El Bulli in Spain,
Le Louis XV in Monte Carlo,
Jean Georges in New York City, and
Gordon Ramsay in London (which we recently went to and
Nobu is the eponymous sushi restaurant/hip
spot that Nobu Matsuhisa has spawned across the planet starting with
Manhattan and now including places such as
Las Vegas, Tokyo, and
We had lunch at the London location (not to be confused with their
sister restaurant Ubon who they claim has the same menu). Countless
guidebooks and websites all refer to Nobu as a "happening" hangout. But
that's not why we went, we went for the food. Here's a reasonable
question one might ask: why go all the way to London to eat at
Nobu? Isn't it essentially a chain? This was my first question as well.
But if you've been to Nobu in New York, you know that it is not only a
"cool" spot (or at least used to be) but has Nobu Matsuhisa's an
exquisite modern take on Japanese cuisine. That same one might
then ask: fine Nobu rocks, but why go there in London? There is a unique
challenge to reproducing a high quality experience in multiple
restaurants. And Nobu is one that I'd experience anywhere. My
rationalization would suffice if Nobu London had reached the
heights of the New York and Vegas meals I'd had. Unfortunately the meal
didn't stack up, and my rationalizations have run out of steam.
Nobu London was a bummer. This is a bit of an
unfair statement since Nobu is already competing at such a high level.
It's hard to have low expectations when going there. But still, they set
the bar, they should meet the bar. First off, the environment. While not
strictly a factor, I have to admit, after hearing so many guides talk
about what a hotspot Nobu was in London I expected something a little
"hotter". Instead, the decor was "Ikeaesque" (nothing wrong with
but I expected more "style"). Not only was it mundane, but some of the
furniture, especially the chairs (and the tables a bit too) were simply
dilapidated and looked run-down. It's like this place was hip five years
ago, and nobody told them they needed to keep up. Ok. Enough about that,
what about the food?
We started off with Wagyu Tartar with Oscietra caviar.
Hard to complain about having caviar twice in 24 hours. It was
delicious. (I have to remember to take bites of things such that the
part of the bite with the most flavor hits my tongue and not the
roof of my mouth. It's surprising how something so simple can make such
a difference in how much you enjoy your food.) Next up was the Nobu
signature dish - New Style Sashimi. We had ours made from whitefish. It
was the best thing we ate. Something about the combination of raw fish
with hot oil and various other yummy flavors is just delicious. The oil
not only starts ever-so-slightly cooking the fish, but just a warmth to
the whole dish - both temperature and flavor-wise. The menu hadn't
seemed to change much since the last time I'd been to Nobu but I don't
have a photographic memory so I can't be 100% sure. Either way, the
Anti-Cucho Peruvian Style Spicy Chicken Skewer caught my eye. Seemed
like something "new". The dish was beautiful to behold. Two chicken
skewers covered with two interlacing kinds of sauces/oils, coated with
Nobu's signature microscopically chopped chives. While gorgeous looking,
the chicken actually didn't have much flavor. Luckily the sauce was
quite nice, but stayed quite apart from the chicken it was layered on
Next up was Rock Shrimp Tempura with Spicy Creamy Sauce.
If you had to take only a couple of dishes onto a desert island, this
could very well be one of them. And sure enough the dish started out as
perfection, but I guess we were a bit too slow in downing these
delicious morsels, because by the bottom of the dish the remaining
tempura were a bit oily. The selection of sushi was certainly nice.
Though nothing blew me away. The Tamago was super interesting in that it
had a super smooth and dense texture. Debbie thought it was too dense,
but I thought despite that it was airy and quite nice/different. The
Spicy Tuna Temaki had very very good nori. Reminiscent of the best I've
had in Tokyo.
Ok. So we probably shouldn't have gone to Nobu in
retrospect. And when I'm in Tokyo in the future, I definitely won't
waste a meal going there. But I'll bet you that the original in NYC (and
its progenitor Matsuhisa in LA) are still very worth the trip. I'll keep
Some might say going to Europe in August is
crazy. Everything's closed and it's hot hot hot. But in fact, I
researched heavily before we made the trip and August in England
is supposed to be a bit more temperate, and our trip to Paris is late in
the month when many of the good restaurants will have reopened from
their break. How could I know that London would be experiencing a
upon our arrival? While universal air-conditioning has not yet reached
the EU, the myth that Europe has no ice has been just that.
Everywhere we go out we are offered water - still or sparkling with ice.
The amount is anemic compared to how much ice you get in the States, but
enough to chill the beverage. Maybe we have something to learn from
Europe in this regard. And please don't point out that I paid for
sparkling mineral water only to have ice made with tap water melt into
it. Until restaurants make ice from mineral water I'm just going to
pretend this paradox doesn't exist. But I've gotten off path.
The real dirty secret during the London heat wave is not
lack of ice. It's lack of soda machines in the Tube. The Tube - the
London Underground - is the very efficient and relatively clean,
extensive subway system that sprawls underneath London's streets. It's a
pleasure to use. But these days it is hot and sweaty down there. This is
nothing that couldn't be rectified by either a) the most expensive air
conditioning system in the world, or b) a few well placed cold soda
machines at each station. And at first your heart will sing as you sight
some sort of vending machine. Then your heart will sink as
you realize the goodies inside are not refreshing sodas, waters, and
juices, but chocolate candy bars. That's right. The London Underground
is rife with
vending machines offering Cadbury chocolate bars. I
am at a loss to explain this.
Here's the really weird part - for some reason,
and I assumed the chocolate bars in these machines were refrigerated.
And after days of complaining about this oddity (and with London's heat wave past us), today Debbie said that she was starting to want a
cold chocolate bar. So we popped in our pence and out came one misshapen
Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate bar. First things first. The candy bars are
not refrigerated. Neither of us know how we went on for days assuming
they were, despite the fact that there's absolutely no indication anywhere on the
machine that the chocolate would be dispensed at anything but the
ambient temperature of the machine. (Debbie insists that I note that she
thinks she saw an indication on of the machines that the contents were
"chilled". I attribute this to the intense heat addling her brain and
causing hallucinations.) I have a theory though - temperatures
throughout the heat wave easily averaged well above 90 degrees and on one
day hit 100 degrees. The tube stations were worse than outside. I think
our brains noted that there's no way in hell chocolate bars could
survive in a hot and humid set of tunnels under
the city of London. Then I think our brains logically assumed that
nobody would be stupid enough to put a metal box full of chocolate in
hot tunnels and expect people to pay for it, so it must be chilled.
Given that the heat wave was over, and we were
summer temperatures of 75-80 degrees, you could assume that this weather would not result in melted
chocolate. Wrong again. Today's chocolate
Chihuly came out not only
mangled but melted. Explain that. Mangled I might understand from the
recent heat wave, but still melting during normal summer weather? The British have stocked their subway
stations with vending machines that are essentially guaranteed to turn
chocolate bars into chocolate syrup during the summer months. I am at a
complete loss to explain this. Though I should note that the only person
I've seen the entire month putting money into one of these machines is
me. Maybe the London populace has long outsmarted the cynical
partnership of the Cadbury chocolate company and the
trying to stain clothing everywhere with their liquid chocolate bars.
One final note: on the very same day that we
decided to finally give the chocolate machines a try, we finally
happened upon a soda machine at the Euston Square Tube stop on the
Hammersmith and City line. What excitement! What joy! Who cares that
there's not even an indication of how much money to insert in the slot.
Debbie immediately demands all the change that I have, inserts it in the
machine, presses the Diet Coke button, and is rewarded with a warm can
of diet coke.
Why don't I have a house in Italy on an
estate with an olive grove that produces 2000 to 3000 liters of
olive oil each year? The Boston Globe also includes this
sidebar on using olive oil in cakes.
Soup in France is
evolving according to the Financial Times. The LA Times (free
registration required) is partial to
Sometimes I think about how much I love eating duck. I think about it a
lot. Maybe too much. I wonder how
taste. (free registration required)
J. Sheekey was
recommended by multiple sources as a great London Restaurant. Who are we
to argue? If I had to give one of those short descriptions that try and
capture a restaurant's cuisine, J. Sheekey's would be - modern seafood
with respect for British traditions. One tradition that annoyed me a bit
was the admonishment I got from one of the waiters about taking pictures
inside the restaurant. I suppose I understand that they don't want wacky
American tourists taking pictures of celebrities enjoying their dover
sole. And while I didn't see anyone famous, I did somehow convince them
to let me take pictures as long as I limited my field of view to the
food in front of us.
Things started off "smashingly" with delicious
soft white and brown crusty French bread with a warm center. We followed
that up with Potted Shrimps and Wholemeal Toast. This was essentially a
bunch of tiny shrimps swimming in a British mayonnaise mix. It was
interesting, especially the anchovy essence. That was followed up with
Seared Rare Tuna with Fennel and Sicilian Tomato Salad. It was certainly
yummy and the fennel was a great base flavor, but it wasn't amazing by any
stretch. It's hard to do a raw tuna dish that tastes original or
It's not exactly a huge test of the kitchen, but
we couldn't help ourselves but order the caviar with blinis and sour
cream. The Oscietra was definitely yummy but we couldn't help but wonder
if we should have splurged and gotten the Beluga for stronger flavor. One
thing I did notice. When taking a sushi cooking class from local Seattle
super sushi chef Tatsu Nishino, he taught us to take a piece of ngiri
sushi (fish on rice) and turn it upside down when eating so the fish
landed on our tongue and not the roof of our mouths. I shouldn't be
surprised that such a simple recommendation with such incredible positive
effects would scale to foods other than sushi. Note: when eating your
caviar upside down, make sure not to spill any. You don't want to lose any
of those delicious eggs.
Next up was Filet of Cod Milanese with Saffron
Risotto and Prosciutto. The Prosciutto was so salty it was simply
difficult to taste the rest of this dish. This was especially a bummer as
I wanted to order a fish dish that wasn't shellfish, not to mention the
fact that this was the special of the evening. I suppose you could argue
that because it was the evening's special that it hadn't gotten the same
kind of practice in the kitchen that other dishes had. That said, you
could also argue that if anyone had tasted the dish before it went out
they would have renamed it "Salty Prosciutto with some other stuff on the
side". We also had the Lobster Thermidor. The lobster comes in and out of
the shell. It was good and flavorful.
As we wound down our meal we couldn't help but
feel like J. Sheekey's "respect for British tradition" was maybe an
unfortunate heavy-handedness that made the food obvious in its direction,
indelicate in its flavors, and just kind of "sitting there" on the plate
and in your stomach. And while this is still better than typical America
overfrying, it just left me disappointed. J. Sheekey is not a bad
restaurant by any means, but I didn't see the attraction.
London's food guides (at least those that I
could find) do not do a great job listing the tiny ethnic restaurants
that are the city's gems. On days here when I need a quick bite, I
figure I'll take my chances and hopefully happen upon a gem randomly.
This day was not to be that day. I stopped at
Nam Bistro near
Angel station in Islington - a small Vietnamese place.
I love Vietnamese food. Or maybe I should say,
I love what I consider the best Vietnamese food I've had in the U.S. It
occurred to me as I thought about this that I don't really know whether
the food I'm eating is authentic Vietnamese or some Americanized
approximation the way much of American Chinese food can be. Either way,
the freshest and most flavorful Vietnamese food I've had in the states
is truly wonderful. Bursting with strong, fresh, and complementary
flavors, Vietnamese food is something I could eat just about every day.
Nam Bistro was kind of a hit or miss proposition. I
think they were amused to have some lone American eating late lunch in
their tiny establishment and photographing his food. Unfortunately that
didn't prompt them to rise to the occasion food-wise. My Goi Cuon
(Vietnamese fresh spring rolls) just didn't have a fresh tight quality
about them though the sauce they came with (not peanut) was delicious -
a fish sauce based mixture with an excellent balance between sweet and
sour and a nice kick. Lots of shredded veggies in that sauce too.
The chicken sate was quite good though it was mostly
because of the peanut sauce layered across the top of the skewered
chicken. The meat which had turned a lovely yellow color was a bit dry
in places. The sauce was mostly crunchy, without a smooth consistency
(this was a good thing in this case) and the plate was dotted with pools
of yummy oil from the chicken and the sauce. Rounding things out was an
order of deep-fried butterfly prawns. I honestly didn't know what about
them was Vietnamese though they did have a name in Vietnamese - Tom Lan
Bot. The auce they came with was gross. A citrusy liquid with tons of
white pepper. The combination tasted more than vaguely soapy.
I really just want to travel to Vietnam to find out
what's what. Lauren
insists it's no great shakes, but remember - she's a vegetarian. She
couldn't possibly appreciate what I imagine to be the endless stalls
serving delicious hot grilled street food mostly consisting of various
meats on various sticks. All of it intended for me.
you're going to go to London and care about what you eat, not trying an
Indian restaurant, or two, (or 20) is a crime. Whatever you may think of
Britain's native cuisine, there's no denying that for it's adopted
cuisine (judged to be so based on the sheer number of Indian
restaurants) London presents a dizzying array of options. Armed with a
recommendation from a friend who loved food we made our way to
The Red Fort.
With a beautifully designed
interior the place reeked of "cool". The Akbar bar beneath the
restaurant and the burly guys at the front door checking people (and
warning me menacingly not to take pictures - I did anyway) completed the
picture. You always have to wonder where a restaurant has spent a bunch
of time on being hip whether they had any left over attention for the
food. Luckily they did.
We started off with an
Pocha Hera Jhinga - marinated prawns in crisp light batter that were crunchy
and flavorful; Monkfish Tikka - chunks of monkfish smoked with ginger
that were super
juicy, structured, and almost chicken-like with excellent flavor; Tandoori Phool
- roasted broccoli with olives and crushed pepper that was crunchy and yummy
Debbie, notorious olive hater -
liked it); Murgh Tikka - skewered chicken which was fantastic, extra juicy,
and absolutely bursting with flavor. The
that came with were delicious as well. These included: Tamarind - so
flavorful, sweet, tangy; Mint Chutney; and unripe Mango Chutney -
The food at Red Fort is from two regions in India - Maghad and Hyderabaad.
"Very authentic" according to the waitstaff. Until I make my trip
to India I'll have to take their word for it. As with any Indian
restaurant, I made my standard request for onion chutney (this was
popular at Indian restaurants in Boston). I used to think people looking
at me as if I was from another planet and claiming to have never heard
of onion chutney was the worst possible response. At Red Fort they told
me they knew of it, but it wasn't served cause it was "not popular."
That I won't take their word for. How could anyone not love onion
Standard note on eating good food in Europe: they may not compromise on
the quality of the food, but smoking is allowed. Yuck!
On to entrees. We had the
Seekh Kebab - spiced roasted minced lamb.
It was quite good. After all, it's hard to say
anything negative about a yummy kebab. That said, the chicken from the
appetizer plate was even better. Next up was
Avadhi Gosht Biryani.
This dish was the chef's family's 300 year old recipe of
lamb, rice, burhani sauce, yogurt, garlic, and chili. It was very very good.
The flavors were exciting - many of which I simply could not identify,
texture of the rice was just perfect. We then had
Phaldari Kofta -
vegetable dumplings in a light tomato and turmeric sauce. The sauce was
so so good with a slightly thick consistency, a light flavor, and a kick
that showed up in the finish. The
bread assortment was narrow. But what
we got was great and light.
Red Fort would easily be the best Indian restaurant in a city like
Seattle. And as good as it was, we knew when it comes to Indian food in
London, the space is very very competitive. Bottom line: the food was
excellent. The design was beautiful. You just have to not get distracted
by the fact that the your fellow diners are likely there more for the
atmosphere than the food. After several exuberant comments from us about
the food we got the feeling that the staff at the restaurant simply
weren't used to people eating there being really into what they eat.
Odd, but yummy.
It's difficult to tell where to eat in a new
city (read: city that's new to me). There are guides aplenty on the web and on the bookshelves but you
always wonder if you and the reviewer are on the same wavelength. (Most
of these guides in my opinion are at best surveys than real true
heartfelt guides with authors going to great pains to make sure you only
have the most fantastic experiences.) What I
typically end up doing is triangulating choices based on a variety of
factors including various guides, personal recommendations from friends
and acquaintances, and little factoids about a restaurant.
scored on multiple of these criteria and as such we decided to head out
there to eat. I was too late to book dinner there (as of early August
their first booking was in September) so we decided to eat lunch. This
was confirmed as a great choice when they told us that lunch has a
superset of the menu available at dinner. My biggest fear of course is
that by going to lunch I would not be able to experience everything
Gordon Ramsay had to offer. And luckily the opposite was true.
After a 15 minute walk from the nearby tube
station, we entered the
doorway only to be transported by the long hallway that leads from
the street into the cozy, refined dining room. After a couple of
minutes of attentiveness and warm smiles from the French accented
waitstaff we sat down to what was clearly going to be a formal, French,
fancy lunch. The three 'f's. Our opening remarks to the waitstaff at the
beginning of a meal has become somewhat standard at this point. It goes
something like this: "Hi. We love to eat. We're here to experience the
absolute best this restaurant has to offer. And we believe that the best
way to do that is to try as many things as possible. We have no dietary
restrictions at all, and taking the time to choose items off the menu
would just delay the moment when the food starts arriving in front of
us. After all, who knows better which dish is best - the chef who knows
what's fresh and the best example of his strengths or us reading a short
description off a piece of paper? We just want the kitchen to show us
their stuff. Please... [dramatic pause]... [as the hero says in movies
before he's about to kick ass on an enemy that appears vastly stronger]
bring it on!"
And sure enough, in a restaurant we thought
might be a bit rigid, the maitre'd's face lit up with recognition of
truly appreciative patrons and said the response that we love to hear.
It goes something like this: "Here on our menu you can see we already
have listed our most extensive tasting menu. But how about I talk to the
kitchen and have them multiply the number of unique dishes by the number
of people at the table. This way even though there will still be the
same number of courses, each of you will get something different each
time and be able to share so you taste a maximum number of creations our
restaurant has to offer. Of course the portions will be sized so that
you will have room for all the fantastic food we're going to be putting
in front of you. And by the way, the kitchen will probably be so excited
by your order that they will add a few extras here and there making this
a truly special dining experience."
I'm thinking of getting this little dialog
printed onto cards so I can just hand it to waiters whenever we go out
to dinner instead of having to recreate this scene from scratch each
It's not like my expectations weren't already
high, but there was a detail that just caught my eye and made me smile.
I had ordered sparkling water. The waiter came by to pour some into my
glass. Instead of pouring it at a normal speed and losing some of the
bubbles, or tipping the glass so that fewer bubbles burst, he did
something that I didn't see a single waiter or bartender do the entire
rest of our month in London - he poured it slowly. Very slowly. He
wasn't in a hurry. He was deliberate. And he was trying to give me as
many of the bubbles as came with the water. This tiny act of
patience, restraint, and confidence just set the tone for the meal.
Bread arrived quickly. The
bread was crusty with soft light sweet insides with generous air
bubbles to hold the salted or unsalted
Much as I adore warm bread, really really good bread stands on it's own
at room temperature. As much as I love wine, the wine pairings with
tasting menus usually kick my ass. If I drink them all I just fall
asleep. As a compromise, they brought us 3 glasses of wine in total - a
and a red - which we split. Yes, it's wimpy, but at least this way I
wouldn't fall asleep before dessert.
Before we could wonder what our first dish
would be, it arrived. This amuse bouche took the form of a small bowl of
gazpacho with mozarella served with crostini with parma ham. It's
difficult to find a more perfect way to start a meal. The soup was less
gazpacho than it was essence of gazpacho. The parma crostini was the
foundation for this unbelievably refined soup. And as if to let us know
at the end that he knew exactly why it was good - the perfect
combination of refined fresh flavors - the chef added one more in the
form of a small mound of avocado puree at the bottom of the bowl. Since
by your fourth spoonful the soup was only fantastic and no longer as
magical as it was on on the first two spoonfuls, this "secret surprise"
added new flavors and a sense of wonder to the dish.
(Author's note: I want to pause our lunch
at Gordon Ramsay to bump up a level and give a slightly broader
perspective on this dish. Taken out of context, by someone not as
excited by food as I am, the previous paragraph could sound silly.
Magical soup? Give me a break. But the truth is, it really was. And it's
experiences like this that I absolutely live for. All at once they are
incredibly rare, and incredibly possible. It is not luck that creates
experiences like these, but incredibly talented kitchens with
ingredients from experienced and focused producers. And when I say I
"love" a dish or a restaurant, this is why. It's because they give me
these kind of memorable experiences. Memories I can recount for months
and years. Tastes that can be described using terms typically reserved
for our most emotional interactions with human beings - not for our
experiences with food. But as food is so much a part of interacting with
other people, it's not a surprise to me that the best food earns these
kinds of descriptions. If it is a surprise to you, then you're not
trying hard enough to eat something wonderful.)
Our foie gras course was up next. And as
promised we each got a different take. FIrst was
pan-fried foie gras with chicoree chutney, shallot confit, pomme
rosty, and a Sauterne sauce. This dish was the hardcore essence of
classic foie gras. It was perfectly pan-fried, the sauterne sauce was
silky, and the overall portion was super generous. Second was
gras with pigs feet stuffed with sweetbreads and ham, celeriac
remoulade, truffle vinaigrette, baby girole mushrooms, and a quail egg.
This dish felt like a more modern and adventurous dish where each
ingredient took you in a new direction, but the overall dish stayed
balanced and delicious. If the first foie gras was like a string
quartet, the latter was more like a symphony.
Seafood dishes were up next. We started with a
cannelloni of salmon and crab on a bed of spinach and dried cherry
tomatoes and chervil with a fish stock based creamy sauce with chive.
It's counterpart was a
ravioli of langoustine and salmon on a bed of spinach and tomato
chutney, dressed in a lobster vinaigrette. The canneloni was quite good
with a combination of fresh texture and flavors. The dried tomatoes gave
nice bursts of tanginess. But my favorite of the two was the ravioli.
It's brain-like appearance no doubt added to the fun, but it's flavor
and juiciness was incredible. It was like a French seafood
dumpling with vinaigrette for "pop". And while the lobster vinaigrette was not
required as the seafood in the ravioli was so steamy juicy seafoody
good, the light sauce that echoed the seafood inside the pasta really
completed this special dish. Debbie
loved the canneloni the most. She said it was very focused on the core
seafood flavors, and the tomatoes were intense.
At this point I have to note that while I
thought the kitchen was trying to be sensitive to our stomachs, the
portions were still enormous. I suppose I'm assuming some intent on the
part of the chef, but I'll characterize the portions as generous. Maybe
a little bit too much so. That said, it's not like they were entree size
portions, and most Americans would probably still complain they were
small, but we were starting to have trouble finishing our dishes. Of
course, given how good the food was, this was not the worst problem we
could imagine having. We found this to be especially off as the
waitstaff politely warned us three separate times about how small the
portions would be.
Our fish course had an interesting twist. We
both got identical dishes but with different pieces of fish. There was
John Dory. I'd never heard of John Dory before but it seemed popular
in England while we were there. According to the Larousse Gastronomique
(my beautiful English edition) the John Dory is a "an oval
deep-sided fish found along rocky coasts. [It] rarely probides more than
four servings, since the enormous head, the fins and the bones account
for nearly 60% of its weight." That said, Larousse reassures that the
John Dory is one of the "best sea fish" and can be prepared much like
turbot. Both pieces of fish were beautifully seared, sitting on
beds of lettuce, celeriac fondant, and celeriac puree, in a beautiful
with asparagus resting gently on top of the whole affair. They were both delicious. But
something about the John Dory was just over the top. The side that was
seared tasted like the most perfect slice of bacon I'd ever eaten. It
had this smoky savory salty flavor that just lit up my tongue. I could
not stop bugging Debbie about it.
"It tastes like incredible bacon. It tastes like incredible bacon."
Other diners were starting to notice. I had to calm down.
Next course: Beef and Lamb. First,
of Beef, with White Onion, Girolle Mushrooms (the French name for
chantarelles), Syrah Reduction Wine Sauce, and a Quail Egg. Then,
Cornish Lamb, sliced and served au jus, sitting on a bed of Lamb
Shoulder Confit. This was served with
mushrooms, red pepper sauce, white onions, and rosemary.The beef was
hearty, robust, and the wine sauce had so much flavor, it felt alive.
Debbie felt the dish was a touch oversalted, but delicious nonetheless.
I thought the salt was on the precipice, but not over. The lamb was also
very good. The two preparations complemented each other but the herbs
made the dish.
As stuffed as we were, we somehow found room
for some delicious selections from the
overflowing cheese cart. Those were accompanied by walnut date
bread, wholewheat rye, and "charcoal" crackers (no real charcoal in
them, just charcoal color).
Speaking of charcoal, I'll probably end up
mentioning this again throughout the countless reviews of European
meals, but how can a restaurant that puts so much work into making a
wonderful meal let people smoke in their restaurant. I won't say it
completely ruined our meal, but it was still pretty gross. The smoke
from other tables presents such a striking (and distracting) contrast
with the wonderful flavors being presented at the table that you have to
wonder if people who really appreciate good food would really stop going
to great restaurants if they weren't allowed to smoke. Britain needs to
get with the program and ban smoking from public places (or how about
just banning it from restaurants with great food).
Dessert included a wonderful
pineapple dish. Candied pineapple, creamy pineapple yogurt,
pineapple puree (like apple sauce), and a pineapple sorbet. It was
beautiful to look at and tasted even better - sweet, light, delicious.
Other desserts included chocolate Parfait inside
chocolate cake with raspberry sauce on the side, and ice cream on
top. Yum. There was beautiful dessert anchored by a sliver of
fruit, as well as a bowl of crisp
chocolate truffles filled with caramel. And don't forget the
financiers (made from sponge cake mixed with egg whites and ground
almonds) flavored with orange and frangipane (a type of pastry cream).
And finally, served on a beautiful glass dish, two jewel-like treats -
strawberry ice cream wrapped in white milk chocolate.
Gordon Ramsay delivered us a really fantastic,
flavorful, and exciting meal. The formality we perceived when we walked
in the door belied the warmth of the food and the waitstaff. We've been
to other restaurants where they put on airs, and deliver a really high
end experience, but this one not abandoned soul for tradition. On our
way out the door, we recognized Chef Ramsay himself surveying the dining
room after things were winding down in the kitchen. It's nice to see a
famous chef doing the cooking. I think we were more lucky than we know
that he was there to make our lunch. Hopefully if you go to Gordon
Ramsay, he'll be there to make yours as well.
One night at home for dinner we had
cornish pasties from a Kosher market
on the outskirts of London. It's basically a flaky pastry filled with a sloppy joe... kind of like a
British samosa. It was yummy in it's own slightly heavy way.