Thursday, February 10, 2011

Jumping on the Dinner Bandwagon

I know, I know... Dinner, Dinner, Dinner, that's the most talked about restaurant of late, at least in London. And by luck, when I clicked on the reservations website to bookmark it, it was live....two hours before the designated booking start! So by pure dumb luck, we got in on our anniversary during the second week of service. On the booking form was a space marked special requests. I wrote in "Anniversary", not expecting anything. However, the staff were very thoughtful and wished me a Happy Anniversary when calling the day before to reconfirm the room. I had also left instructions that lunch was to take no longer than 2.5 hours as we had a show to go to in the afternoon.

When we got to the Mandarin Oriental, we followed the sign for 'Restaurants' and saw one but with no signage and just an illuminated pear, we retreated to enquire at concierge, only to be told that was Dinner. We were shown into the bar to await our table. We leafed through the extensive menu, ordered drinks, then settled down only to have an insanely piercing alarm go off. The alarm went on for a good few minutes and I was the only one who was half out of my chair in alarm, everyone else carried on with their cocktails. Sadly even after the alarm went silent (it was a test), we still didn't have our drinks, which we still hadn't received even after being seated at the table.

As soon as were sat down and before our drinks had arrived and before I had even had time to glance at the menu, our waiter arrived. He asked what we thought about the place, the decor, whether we had read the reviews and then told us what to look at, what to notice, where the private function room was and pointed out the Ebel clockwork powered rotating spit and the chef's table. All in all, it was a bit much. He also mentioned that they had rave reviews and a lot to maintain. In reality, I read a few raves but many mixed reviews but what could one say in face of all this? The boy pointed out that Heston was sitting at the table behind us and I got so excited I switched seats. Yes I admit I'm sad but I don't give a shit. Then after all this, asked us if we wanted drinks. I pointed out that we had ordered drinks at the bar. He then *finally* withdrew for us to look at the menus when someone else came by, asked about drinks yet again and then explained some of the menu items. Particularly the tipsy cake, which he said took 35 mins time in order to continually baste the brioche with a rum concoction and roast the pineapple.

We then ordered, greedily ordering the set lunch menu (£28) in addition to two starters, a main and two desserts. Yup, we ordered enough for 3 people. That's how we roll.

The starters all arrived at about the same time, I had the Ragoo of Pig's Ears (anchovy, onions and parsley) as part of the lunch set menu. I was curious about how Heston would cook the pig's ears, which I quite like as a cold starter, cut into thin strips and marinated so I get the jellyish crunch if that makes sense. Heston served his on a piece of grilled bread...burnt grilled bread to be exact... in fact, we smelled something burnt when it arrived but we thought it might be the slightly burnt grill marks on the bread which came with another starter. But when I took a bite, I could only taste the bitter acrid taste of burn bread. It was really really awful. I had to have a few sips of juice and eat something else to rid my mouth of the taste. I very rarely send stuff back but I sent this back. It was ruined. They graciously took it back to the kitchen and we started on the Meat Fruit.

The Meat Fruit is one of the most famous dishes already and comprised of mandarin, chicken liver parfait shaped like a mandarin orange. I had read raves about it looking incredibly lifelike. I also saw the episode of Heston's Feasts where guests were able to pick it up and bite straight into it. Having incredibly high expectations (have you seen the pics of Fat Duck?!), I really thought I would be wowed. It was nice. It was a bit deflated looking and not as lifelike as marzipan but pretty and tasted nice...not on the burnt grilled bread but on the sourdough bread they provided for the table. It was good but not outstanding.

The Ragoo returned, on a very lightly grilled bread, the waiter told us. The pig's ears had been cut into strips and cooked in what I think might be a braise as it was very tender. Even the inner cartilage bit was quite soft to the bite. It was salty, sticky and quite nice but very sweet. I kept thinking it needed a hit of acid as it was just a bit too salty sweet.

The last starter was Rice and Flesh (saffron, calf tail & red wine). An exotic name but was not as impressive. Perfectly cooked saffron rice with tiny nubs of calf's tail braised with what tasted like a similar sauce to the Ragoo. Very tender and tasty but I was a bit disappointed. I love ox tail and I thought this would be similar but maybe more tender and different but it was such a small piece that there was very little chew so not anything distinguishing. Again, I thought this dish could have been enlivened with a bit of lemon or something to bring out the flavour a bit more.

Moving on to the mains, I had Roast Quail with smoked parsnips and thyme which was part of the set lunch. It was beautifully cooked, pink inside and very very tender. The parsnips were nice and perfectly cooked but I thought that the mashed parsnips were a bit too much of the same thing.

The boy had Beef Royal, 72 hour slow cooked short rib of Angus (sous vide), smoked anchovy and onion puree and ox tongue. He loved it! Barely wanted to give me a taste. It was very very tender and the sauce was very nice, rich, sticky and tasty. This is the second time I've had sous vide beef short rib in as many weeks and I have to say, I don't think I'm a fan. Something about the texture of the meat makes it a bit ... plasticky to me. I don't know what it is but it just doesn't appeal to me. The boy enjoyed every bit of it and I had to steal a cube of ox tongue off his plate when he wasn't looking. It was very good but made me want a huge piece of ox tongue!

Halfway through my dinner, I asked for a glass of coke. Ten mins later when it still hadn't arrived and I was feeling extremely thirsty, I asked the waiter whether it had been ordered. He assured me the bar had the order. Another 15 mins passed before my coke arrived. 25 mins. For coke. Out of a bottle he poured at the table. Really!? The restaurant was busy but when I reminded the waiter, I would have thought he would have gone to rush it or even get it himself. Especially since he hovered around the tables a lot despite having other staff supporting his tables. I did notice, much to my dismay, that tables which ordered wine got their orders much quicker, although it may be because they were served by the sommelier rather than the bar.

Moving onto desserts, we had the Tipsy Cake, which was served in a petit Staub pot divided into 6 segments. It was very good, soft, custardy and rummy. Actually it reminded me a lot of a very good Baba au Rhum. Alongside it was a long wedge of the roasted pineapple. It was good. It just didn't blow me away. Roasted pineapple, which they made a huge deal about didn't thrill me. I've had my fill at churrascarias before, where they come around to the table and carve you these lovely wedges of warm, just charred roasted pineapple and squeeze a wedge of lime all over before you tuck in. It was good, it just didn't feel 'new' or exciting.

Then my most anticipated dessert, the Brown Bread Ice Cream. I had fallen in love with the brown bread ice cream I had a few years ago at Betty's Tea House in York and was very much looking forward to it. Upon first bite, I was surprised to find that it was not sweet but mildly salty. Truth be told, I hated the first bite. Then as the flavours developed a bit, it was fascinating. Yeast extract was drizzled over the top of the ice cream and it was mildly bitter, malty and yeasty with a crunch or crumb texture around the bottom layer of crunchy praline cracker. Even after ingesting a good third of it, I couldn't decide if I liked it... But at the same time, it was the most interesting dish I'd had as it was unusual and different.

The last dessert was one I almost didn't order. It came with the set menu and was the Orange Buttered Loaf (mandarin and thyme sorbet). It was delicious! Described by the waiter as a take on Millionaire's shortbread, it was nothing of the sort. Crisp caramelized praline encasing thin bittersweet citrus custard, it was the most delicious take on french toast. It was lovely and really refreshing at the same time. Bar one bite given to the boy, I finished the lot.

They gave us a lovely table due to it being our anniversary and served us a complementary finishing dessert of white chocolate earl grey ganache, with cardamon shortbread. When it was first served to us, we were exchanged glances. We share a hatred of white chocolate and shortbread. However, it was very well done and couldn't taste the white chocolate and the shortbread was really nice, light and fragrant.

So, after that epic review and if you're still with me, here are my thoughts. It was good, not great, not new and not as exciting. I like that they took a lot of inspiration from historical recipes and reinterpreted them but I felt a bit let down. The names of the dishes sounded exciting, primal and exotic. The food was of a high standard but nothing exciting. The service was a bit patchy but overall very friendly. The prices were reasonable and the service charge was 10%. We did tip extra as we appreciated the efforts made by our waitstaff... especially as he asked Heston if he would come say hello to take a picture with me! I'd post the picture except I look crazy and Heston looks scared....

I liked it but I think my problem was I went in remembering the new and exciting new flavours from Fat Duck. I'd definitely go back and I think I'll enjoy it more keeping in mind that it is not supposed to be exciting and new, just tasty and enjoyable. The boy went in just expecting a high end hotel restaurant and was a lot more satisfied than I was. In fact, his comment at the end of it was that he could go through the whole meal again...immediately!

PS. Anyone know an easier way to put in pictures and make the font stay the same fricking size?????

Friday, September 10, 2010

Wok with Nana

New cooking series brought to you by Cha Xiu Bao and Nanamoose.

First episode was Dan Dan Noodles and now the second episode is up, Mooncakes galore. Must see.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Taipei eating on the drive

We hired a driver for our short sojourn to Taipei to visit my Grandmother, who was meeting the babe for the first time. We hired a driver for the journey as there were a lot of places we wanted to hit and there were 7 of us. The driver was a really friendly man to whom we chatted a lot about food. However, we knew that there was something special about him when we saw a cart selling my beloved pig's blood glutinous rice cakes on a stick in the lane next to us. He rolled down the window, somehow convinced the lady on the bike pulling the cart to pull over at the next set of lights to sell us 3 sticks.

So despite racing our way to the airport, we managed to cram in one last snack. Fantabulous.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Not once but twice

If any one reading this blog remembers one horrifyingly embarrassing moment I had queuing up for the changing rooms in Paris, I just had it repeated over the weekend.

It was a beautiful wedding wedding in a lovely venue. My eyes stayed dry during the ceremony but my mouth was definitely upturned. The situation was much different a bit later when one of the wedding party enquired as to whether I was expecting. As I said no through my smiles, my eyes met the other guests who had overheard the question and were kindly hoping to offer me their congratulations. I have learned recently that people who ask these kinds of questions have the best of intentions and are usually wonderful people but reactions to a 'no' are very varied and in this case, a poke to my stomach was made and the phrase "I guess it's just the tummy then" uttered.

When I made my excuses and went back to the boy and the babe, my eyes were definitely wet and my mouth not so upturned.

I want to say that I don't blame the poor woman but my own greed.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Election Night

Election night in my mind requires pizza.

Preferably in large amounts, with a side of crisps (UK election after all), lots of fizzy pop (to produce burps disdainfully at the candidates we don't like) followed by ice cream straight from the tub.

However, there were no crisps nor ice cream and we ordered pizza not from Dominos as I preferred (trashy food for trashing, I say) but Pizza Express (the boy won't eat trashy pizza), where the manager serving us implied that we were a Conservative supporting, middle class family, having lively debates as the election results unfolded.

What they didn't realize was that neither of us voted Conservative and lively debate consisted of "quit hogging the spicy one".

The babe may look like the boy but she's definitely mine. You can tell by the way she gets all the meat off her lamb chops and shovels pizza in her face. I'm so proud.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Fat Duck

For our wedding, the boy's parents and brother + wife gave us a meal at Fat Duck. And it has taken us only 25 months to cash that in and finally book in to go.

One of the only times we've been out without the babe and was a lot of fun. We dropped off the babe at nursery, went over to my Wednesday regular, the Regency Cafe, for breakfast. Then off to do a few errands, pick up a rental car (cannot rave enough for local car clubs, we use them loads!) and head off to Bray.

Bray, the teeny, tiny village Fat Duck is in, is extremely quaint, very picture postcard perfect, with charming little arches and some lovely big houses sitting side by side with the small doll like houses along the main road.

Our reservation was for 1:45pm and it was very busy already. We were one of the last tables to be seated. Presented with the menu, I was excited to see the Mock Turtle Soup, as featured in an episode of Heston's Feasts which focused on Victorian era food. I especially liked it as it was one of the first things the boy and I clashed about when I insisted that turtle soup was a traditional English food, to which he denied all existence. Happily he knows by now not to argue food with me.

As we had rented a car for the day, the boy could only have one glass of wine, which the sommelier recommended to go with one of the courses mid meal.We started with the 'Lime Grove', described as Nitro Poached Green Tea and Lime Mousse, which is a kind of a mild meringue poached in dry ice in front of us. We were advised to eat it in one bite whilst they sprayed lime scent around us (a bit of a gimmicky touch). Nice and clean, it felt a bit like a palate cleanser. Urged to pop it into our mouths, I only have the pic of the plate to show you!

Next up was 'Red Cabbage Gazpacho', Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream. I was fated to love this as I love all the ingredients and the method of delivery. It met expectations and was creamy, smooth and made me smack my lips at the umami-ness of it, wanting more.

The next course was brought to us in three separate parts. 'Jelly of Quail, Crayfish Cream', Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss and Truffle Toast. The first was a wooden tray of oak moss, on top of which was a little plastic box containing a oak moss 'film'. These were akin to the breath strips you can get at the chemist which melt upon contact with the mouth and dissolve. I've never been a fan of these as they give me a claggy mouthfeel which sticks my mouth shut (probably much to the relief of the boy). Anyhow, these were infused with the taste of oak moss. We were to put these in our mouths while dry ice was poured over the oak moss tray so it evaporated in a white fog, scenting the table with oak moss. The purpose, which was explained to us, was so that we smelled, saw and tasted the oak moss all at once. I have to admit, I disliked the taste and texture of the film but loved the smoky smell of the oak moss and the experience of seeing and touching the moss. Served with this was the chicken liver parfait, which was nicely chilled and yummy. The truffle toast was tasty but was not as truffle fragrant as I thought it would be.

'Roast Foie Gras' was served with Rhubarb, Braised Kombu and Crab Biscuit. The foie gras was perfectly cooked, succulent and creamy but I was more average on the sweet crystallized sugar (I'm guessing here) shards. The rhubarb jellied sauce was a nice contrast although personally, I preferred the foie without, and the little powdery sesame and what I think was wakame topping provided nice textural contrast. The kombu was the thin light brown film at the bottom and was ok but didn't add much although the wakame may have been cooked with the kombu to add umami-ness.

The next course was the highly anticipated 'Mock Turtle Soup (c.1850)' from the "Mad Hatter Tea". Highly anticipated, it was as gorgeous as it looked on TV.

It started with the rabbit's gold watch, over which was poured boiling water, which dissolved into a broth, which was then poured over the gorgeous plated bits, such as what ox tongue layered with lardo, and a turnip and swede puree. If you're ambitious, the delicious soup recipe is here but I think we had slivers of kombu as opposed to truffle cubes.

It was very yummy. I looooved it. Everything worked somehow and the broth was so flavourful. I personally would prefer it to be a bit warmer but I am not sure that the accompanying ingredients would stand up to a boiling hot broth.

The next one is the famous 'Sound of the Sea' dish, which came with a large seashell with an iPod hidden inside. We were instructed to put in our earphones and enjoy the crashing waves whilst eating our dish, which was crafted to look like the wash after a wave, with foam and dark sand and bits of seafood. All of it edible and all of it was.... delicious! I loved it and was very pleasantly surprised to find it yummy. After my experience at El Bulli, I was extremely apprehensive and had gone off food which exuded style over substance but everything so far tasted good as well as being extremely whimsical and not taking itself too seriously.

As I was saying this to the boy, the next dish came and was, I must admit, my least favorite of the meal. 'Salmon Poached in Liquorice', Artichokes, Vanilla Mayonnaise, Golden Trout Roe and Manni Olive Oil. The salmon was beautifully poached, soft and melting, but wrapped in a thin layer of jelliefied sauce or coating which was liquorice flavoured. Despite my recent conversion to liquorice, it tasted a bit bitter and at odds with the richness of the salmon. The roe and the artichokes were a touch bland and I didn't like the sweet, odd vanilla mayonnaise. Altogether it was just ok.

The next dish more than made up for it. 'Powdered Anjou Pigeon (c.1720)', Blood Pudding and Confit of Umbles. The pigeon was absolutely delicious, rich and succulent, the blood pudding like a thick sauce of blood. Umbles, in case you are wondering, is offal, or the unwanted bits and apparently in this case, it refers to the heart. Yum! Loved this. The only thing I wasn't keen on was the the long shard of what was like prawn cracker but didn't taste of prawn.

After this, we were served 'Hot & Iced Tea', which was a lightly sweetened tea which w
as both hot and cold, which started off hot and dissolved into a cold drink. It was very refreshing and signalled the end of the mains and the
beginning of the sweet courses.

I must admit, I wasn't thrilled by the descriptions of the desserts. The first one, 'Tafferty Tart', Caramelized Apple, Fennel, Rose and Candied Lemon. As some of you may know, floral flavors are not my favorite. I was happy that they weren't overwhelming in the dessert, which was good, light and delicate but nothing revelatory.

The next, I was dreading just a little bit. It was 'The "BFG", Black Forest Gateau'. A child of the seventies, black forest cake is to the 80's what tiramisu was to the 90's and the molten chocolate cake to the first decade of the 3rd millennium. Over played, much maligned and a culinary bore as far as I was concerned. This,
however, was a lovely version which I ate up but given a choice, I probably would have chosen something else. I apologize for the super exposed photo. Brown on brown never shows up well!

The next course, I loved. 'Whisk(E)y Gums' came on a frame. Five different types of whiskey flavored gums stuck onto a framed map of Scotland. Served with this was a bottle of water from the Scottish highlands. The boy loves his whiskey and I love smelling the peaty, smokiness of the whiskey but not so much the slightly acrid taste. So this was perfect for me. I liked all of them and especially the whimsical 'plating'.

The last course, which we sadly had to rush as we were running late and needed to pick up the babe, was called 'Like a Kid in a Sweet Shop', came in a pink and white striped old fashioned 'Sweet Shop' bag. In it were four items as printed on a vanilla scented card:

- 'Aerated Chocolate' with Mandarin Jelly, which was lovely, with a Aero like texture and a nice tart sweet jelly;
-'Coconut Baccy', Coconut Infused with an Aroma of Black Cavendish Tobacco, which I wasn't too fond of;
- 'Apple Pie Caramel' with an Edible Wrapper, which was very sweet with a nice soft chew; and
- 'The Queen of Hearts' which was a gorgeous thin, thin, thin tart with jam wrapped in white chocolate with one side imprinted with the traditional red diamond checks and the other, a meticulous reproduction of a Queen of Hearts card. Sadly white chocolate is one of those things I just cannot get myself to like.

On the whole, I LOVED the experience. The whimsy, thought and meticulous and care which was put into each dish was very much apparent. Expensive but when you think of all that went into it, definitely worth it. The service was smooth, completely unpretentious and friendly. They explained everything and understood that many came for not just a meal but an 'experience', so many things they were happy to include as little mementos, from a printed menu in an envelope and sealed with wax presented at the beginning of the meal for you to follow, to the box the oak moss film came in. It was very thoughtful and much appreciated. The only very very petty criticism I have was that as were one of the last to have our meal, we were able to see what was coming ahead by watching the other tables, which took away a little the surprise and delight which comes from discovering a new way of presenting food.

All being said, one of the best meals ever for the fun, the food, the company and of course, knowing it was a kind, thoughtful gift from loved ones.

Monday, November 30, 2009

F-odd: Genghis Khan - a sweetie?

A good friend of mine went to Hokkaido and she got the boy a little present.

Genghis Khan may not have been a sweetie but he is now a sweet.

That's right, Genghis Khan Caramel, an "Hokkaido Original", it would seem. Only in Japan indeed.

I gave it blind to the boy, who chewed it thoughtfully and said that it was "earthy... and weirdly meaty with some sweetness? Not unpleasant but definitely not something I would crave."

The friend who gave it to me was so intrigued by the taste, she kept trying them until she finished the whole packet!

I cannot understand this. I put it in my mouth and chewed for a while. First of all, it was quite milky, then for some reason, I tasted very sweet, icky garlicky type marinade, if that makes sense. It was awful. So bad I had to spit it out, dig out a little piece from my teeth and dry heave. Then brush my teeth. I really could not swallow it.

Unsurprisingly besides 2 pieces missing, I still have the whole packet! Anyone want to try one? Let me know and I'll mail you one!

I think you listen carefully, you will hear someone turning over violently in his grave....