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An Outstanding meal at Bar Charlie, Las Vegas

FYI for any future readers of this thread, Bar Charlie has now closed (as of last month) - we had flown to Las Vegas on holiday and was booked in for dinner but sadly it closed the week before we arrived so never got to eat there one last time. If anyone has news on where Hiro-san's is next headed, do fill me in!

Apr 08, 2010
gourmet traveller in Las Vegas

Calling London Sushi Buffs

Thanks Skut, I would say for two (food only) it would range from £80-£120 depending on what you order. we always have sashimi and that really brings the cost up, especially if you order the more unusual items. However the cooked dishes are pretty reasonable and you could definitely spend less than what I quoted.

Johnnypd, you're right - just returned from a trip to LA and had the most spectacular kaiseki/sushi at Urasawa (lengthy blog post went up today) and now everything in London seems to pale in comparison!

Apr 08, 2010
gourmet traveller in U.K./Ireland

Calling London Sushi Buffs

Finally made it to Shiori today and love it! fantastic quality of fish and the chef takes real pride in preparing everything. Only quibble would be with the portion sizes - I had the special Chirashi Don and was still hungry after! On another note, have you re-visited sakana-tei yet? I had an incredible meal last week (blogged about it if you want to read in greater detail) and tried some great new dishes.

Johnnypd - I know i'm a bit late with this but if you're still looking for an izakaya-type place you should check Sakana-tei out - I recently went to Kikuchi twice and Sakana-tei really is much better (again, had a post on blog if you want to compare the two).

Mar 16, 2010
gourmet traveller in U.K./Ireland

London Street Food?

Thanks for the clarification on the burrito-style, I had taken tex-mex to be a broad term for Americanised Mexican cuisine - apologies! :) And yes, they could probably do with more flavour but we did get him to load up on the hot sauce which could be why our taste buds were fooled.

Of course, nothing to compared to what you get in San Francisco - we were there last year (had an amazing time!) and passed a Mexican place on our trek to Harry Slocombe, the burrito there was SO good. And don't get me started on Taylor's Burgers...I could talk about the food in SFC all day!

Feb 02, 2010
gourmet traveller in U.K./Ireland

London Street Food?

Last Friday I visited Whitecross St Food Market (am slowly getting through all the areas!) and there were some good eats including Luardo's burritos, Artisan Foods Chicilate Fudge Brownies, Eat My Pies' Black Pudding Scotch Egg and coffee from Gwilym Davies' coffee cart (Bristish barista of the year).

As always I've pictures and more detailed descriptions (as well as what stalls to avoid!) on my blog (just click on my profile for the link).

This weekend, weather permitting I'll be doing Brick Lane so will update you all then! If there are any stalls I cannot miss there please let me know (As i understand there's quite a lot and my stomach space is limited!!).

Feb 02, 2010
gourmet traveller in U.K./Ireland

London Street Food?

Last weekend I did a did a little West London Streetfood crawl along Golborne and Portobello Roads. I sampled a great kebab from an unmarked stall, really good grilled fish at Moroccan Fish (I need to get back there another time and try the tagine!), tasty burger from the German food truck on Portobello and amazing Churros (thanks for the tip Limster!) at Churros Garcia. There's loads more along those stretches (and I'll be back to try those too sometime) - definitely worth a wander. I've written more on my blog if you want to have a peek and get a look at some pictures.

This Friday am heading to Whitecross St for more streetfood - will update you all when I've been!

Jan 26, 2010
gourmet traveller in U.K./Ireland

London Street Food?

my other half is Mauritian and was intrigued by your mention of a Mauritian stall at Brick Lane - what do they sell?

Jan 20, 2010
gourmet traveller in U.K./Ireland

London Street Food?

Thanks everyone for the replies! i'll let you know as and when I try them. Am starting near my place with Golborne Road/Portobello (limster - I've passes the churros stand many a time but never tried it!) possibly this weekend. I've heard there is quite a few stalls worth trying on Golborne, including Jerk Shack, as well as some Moroccan and Ethiopian food. There's a German Food stall on Portobello I've been to be a couple of times that does good (but greasy!) burgers and chickens steaks.

Jan 20, 2010
gourmet traveller in U.K./Ireland

London Street Food?

In the US street food vendors are a common site but I don't know of many here in London. Anyone have any good recommendations I can check out? Preferably a stall/cart/mobile which isn't in one of the major food markets (eg. Borough Market), but I'd welcome suggestions too. Thanks!

Jan 18, 2010
gourmet traveller in U.K./Ireland

pierre koffman pop-up at selfridges, london

I've just been (also on 30/11) and I've to say I had real mixed feelings about it. I've cut and pasted the review I posted on my blog below, it would be interesting to hear what your Koffman experience was like, especially seeing that we visited on the same day!

I first caught wind of legendary Pierre Koffman's pop-up restaurant a mere two days after reservations had opened at the start of the month, but when I called they were already fully booked (except for a few weekday lunch tables). I was sorely disappointed but to my delight a week later, in response to the overwhelming demand, they announced the restaurant's doors would stay open for another fortnight and we managed to get a Friday dinner seating (the restaurant has now extended again until 28th Nov).

The pop-up, located in a large marquee on the rooftop of Selfridges was created as part of the London Restaurant Festival, and heralds the return of Koffman after a five year absence. He has roped in a string of seasoned chefs, once part of his brigade at La Tante Claire, including Tom Kitchin, Eric Chavot and Tom Aikens to guest in the kitchen on various nights.

We received a call the previous day to confirm our reservation and were given directions to the restaurant, so upon arriving at Selfridges we headed straight for the lift, discreetly located opposite the Chanel perfume counter. A smartly dressed blonde clutching a clipboard stood at the lift, only allowing us entry after confirming our place on the guest list. Upstairs, we were warmly greeted by name at the reception area and led through a small bar area to the 80-seater restaurant, minimally decorated with hanging bowler hat lights and antler chandeliers.

The tiny table we were sat at was frustratingly located next to an air vent which, in addition to being rather noisy, gave B a bit of chill the entire evening. After making our food and wine selections we were presented with the bread basket (a perfectly adequate collection of sourdough, wholemeal, white and tomato breads) and an amuse-bouche of pissaladière. It was a good rendition of the provençal dish, the puff pastry nice and flaky and the onions atop it, sweet and caramelised. But spectacular it was not, and having read about langoustine bisque and pressed pig's head amuses on other nights, I was a tad disappointed.

When we were through with the amuse-bouche, it was promptly replaced with our first course. I had the Cocktail of Scottish Lobster and Avocado with a Lemon Jelly, while B chose the Pressed Leeks and Langoustines with a Truffle Vinaigrette. Mine was light and appetising, the lobster perfectly cooked and dressed in a tomato-based cocktail sauce, very pleasant but again not mind-blowing by any means. The leeks in B's starter however were really quite special, very delicate and scented with lemongrass. We did note however that the portions were rather stingy - there were two measly langoustines on the plate, not what you would expect at £75 a head for three courses.

Throughout our meal, the noisy fan continued to disrupt our conversation and the floorboards constantly shook below us as waiters hurried past, not making for the best of dining experiences. We did momentarily forget about these annoyances as we tucked into our mains of Koffman's famed Pig's Trotters stuffed with Veal Sweetbreads and Morels. I first fell in love with the stuffed trotter many years ago when eating Marco Pierre White's chicken mousse stuffed version (no doubt inspired by the time he worked for Koffman) at Mirabelle. These were extraordinary - the glazed trotters, soft and gelatinous yet surprisingly light, the sauce rich and decadent, and the potatoes suitably creamy (although if I were to be picky, a little too solid for a pomme purée). B chose the evening's wine with this dish in mind - a bottle of Pommard Les Rugiens 2001 from De Courcel, one of Côte de Beaune's finest producers. Not only did it match and enhance the trotters wonderfully, it also drank very well on its own, offering a well rounded mouthful of raspberries balanced by a good structure and gamey-ness that worked well with the meat.

Koffman's signature dessert of Pistachio Soufflé was equally magnificent - proudly rising out of the dish with a lovely crust, soft airy centre, paired with a delicious pistachio ice cream that sauces the soufflé as it melts. The petits fours that rounded off our meal were nice enough, but again with one of each to share between two, it did feel like you were being ripped off a little.

So was it worth it? On the whole probably not. Although it was a joy to taste the Pig's Trotter prepared by the man himself. The generally good cooking was let down by the service and makeshift venue. Aside from the polished service from Koffman's partner Claire at the front of house, the sommelier and a handful of more seasoned wait staff, the rest of the waiters seemed to have little fine-dining experience and one can't help but feel the kitchen was churning out the dishes to get you quickly out the door.

(I have a few pictures on my original blog post (they aren't amazing quality so I've not bothered to attach them here).

Nov 01, 2009
gourmet traveller in U.K./Ireland

Calling London Sushi Buffs

Hi Oonth,
Thanks for the overview of the restaurants - have booked a table at Shiori for dinner with a friend next week and my husband and I will probably check out Tomoe the week after - all the dishes you mentioned sound fantastic so will definitely be looking out for those (will also let you know if their attitudes have improved since your last visit!). As for Dinings, to be fair we did visit in the first month of its opening and didn't try the more traditional fare.

You mentioned the Atari Ya cafe - I often pass Davies St but have never seen it - is it still around, and if so where is it located exactly?

Incidentally I visited Sakana-tei last night for a quick dinner (onsen tamago, uni gunkan, grilled ox tongue, etc) and enjoyed it as always. I've attached a couple of pics but there's more on my blog if you wanted to check it out. http://gourmettraveller.wordpress.com...

Sep 26, 2009
gourmet traveller in U.K./Ireland

NYONYA CUISINE (LONDON)

Not exactly Nyonya food, but Satay House serves fantastic Malay food (they even do ice teh tarik!) They've been around 1970s but has recently been renovated. They have a pretty comprehensive menu (my gripe with nyonya was always that their menu was kinda short) and it's all very authentic and tasty.

http://www.satay-house.co.uk/

Sep 22, 2009
gourmet traveller in U.K./Ireland

Calling London Sushi Buffs

Hi Oonth,

Tracked down this forum after your comment on my blog and am glad I did since there's a few of your recommendations (Tomoe and Shior) that I definitely need to try! I've been to Dinings before but was underwhelmed but you seem to really enjoy it so maybe will pop down there sometime as well and give it another go.

I agree that Umu is great if you have no budget but after having recently visited bar charlie in vegas it just pails in comparison! It really is frustrating that for such a big city, London really does lag behind on the sushi front...but yeah, you learn to live with it!

Btw, do let me know what you think if you manage to make it down to Sakana-Tei for dinner.

Sep 22, 2009
gourmet traveller in U.K./Ireland

An Outstanding meal at Bar Charlie, Las Vegas

Actually QAW and ellemost, I forgot to mention when we were there Chef Hiro says that they have been so well Charlie Trotter is making plans to open up a Bar Charlie in NYC in the near future so looks like they haven't been affected to badly by the economy afterall.

Sep 09, 2009
gourmet traveller in Las Vegas

London with kids/end of November

Hmm...I'll have a think, but in the meantime you may want to check out this link which should be helpful - http://www.timeout.com/london/restaur...

Sep 08, 2009
gourmet traveller in U.K./Ireland

London Geography and addresses

First of all meat pies at Lidgates are pretty easy to get although they would require heating up - they don't sell them hot. You can however get cold pork pies (very english and different from anything you would have in the US) that are ready to eat cold, they have a crust pastry filled with roughly chopped pork and sealed with pork jelly.

if you like sausage rolls you should try the scotch eggs (boiled egg wrapped in sausage meat, breadcrumbed and fried) at either Tom's Deli on Westbourne Grove or Peyton & Bryne (who also do a fine sausage roll) on Tottenham Court Road.

Hereford Road is a great casual place for offal. game and fish dishes and definitely worth checking out. Terroirs is also good if you're partial to wine with your meal - it's a bit of a foodie and off-duty chef's haunt. Arbutus and Wild Honey are also good if you like offal.

I saw someone mention el pirata for tapas which I've been to and I don't really rate - the best tapas you can get in London is Tendido Cero on Old Brompton Rd, everything is fantastic here and extremely authentic. It also has a very chilled out vibe.

Semplice off Bond St does Italian cuisine from the Alba region and their carpaccio Fassone (a special breed of beef, bred only in Piedmonte) is ridiculously tender and delicious. They also do an amazing Risotto Milanese (saffron risotto with bone marrow).

I know you didn't mention Chinese but Min Jiang does the best peking duck I have ever tasted (I'm Chinese and have lived in both HK and Singapore), they serve it their own style with garlic and spicy turnip pickles as well as with the usual condiments of hoisin sauce, cucumber and spring onion. The restaurant also has great views of Hyde Park.

Actually if you're in Earl's Court you should visit The River Cafe in Hammersmith which is lovely and by the river - very idyllic (it's wear Jamie Oliver started cooking).

You may also want to check out http://www.squaremeal.co.uk/ for additional ideas.

Sep 08, 2009
gourmet traveller in U.K./Ireland

An Outstanding meal at Bar Charlie, Las Vegas

There were two other parties (one of 2, the other of 4) when we went but we were the last remaining so there was a good hour when we were the only ones in there. It was a Tuesday night though so we didn't really expect the place to heaving, plus it allowed us to converse extensively with chef Hiro which was great!

Sep 08, 2009
gourmet traveller in Las Vegas

Moto - style over substance

I originally wasn't going to put up my review on my recent trip to Moto as it was the biggest let-down out of all our dinners in Chicago. However it wasn't all bad so decided it probably was worth a mention...

Moto is helmed by Cordon-bleu chef and molecular gastronomy enthusiast Homaro Cantu, who started his career working for Charlie Trotter. The restaurant is located in Chicago’s trendy meatpacking district of Fulton Market, and we were reminded of this fact on our arrival; when we were greeted with an unpleasant whiff of the nearby fish-handling facilities as we stepped out of our cab.

Upon entering the sparse, dimly lit dining room we were seated by the efficient staff and presented with the amuse bouche, menu and bread course all rolled into one – a thin garlic toast with the evening’s two menu offerings pasted on each sides. To achieve this, Cantu modified an ink-jet printer with the help of computer specialists and loaded it with cartridges of fruit and vegetable dyes to print onto edible sheets of soybean and potato starch. The outrageously creative edible menu (accompanied by an asparagus mousse, whipped garlic butter, red wine salt, balsamic reduction and garlic confit) got us excited and we bravely decided on the 20-course GTM (Grand Tasting Menu) rather than the more sensible 10-course menu, unfazed by the waiter’s warning that the GTM would take us 4 to 5 hours to complete. We also chose to have the wine progression suggested by the sommelier to pair with the menu, which apart from the La Fin du Monde (a Canadian 9% ABV golden ale) served with the buffalo wing course, was nothing to write home about. Anyway, on to the mammoth meal which commenced with…

BREAKFAST with gazpacho
consisting of 3 components: a fried shrimp “tater tot” (springy, like thai prawn cakes), faux “eggs” of carrot and lemon vinaigrette on a mélange of diced vegetables and a garlic “muffin” with popcorn butter. The garlic muffin looked like a lightly seared piece of styrofoam and when placed in the mouth just collapses – it was like eating a very airy piece of popcorn. The components were rather disparate and apart from the popcorn meringue, wasn’t particularly exciting. Onto the next dish…

FRENCH ONION SOUP
a deconstructed french onion soup of caramelised onions, onion chip, gruyere cheese paste (not dissimilar to Kraft cheez whizz), topped with a light onion broth. I wasn’t too keen on this as the onions were far too sweet, however I did like the spoon the dish was served with – it had a spiral handle which held a sprig of rosemary so that the scent of the herb enhanced the soup with every sip. Genius!

URBAN garden
served in a small terracotta flower pot, the garden was made up of edible “trash” (again, using Cantu’s inkjet printing) of pepperoni flavoured rice paper printed to appear like a magazine clipping, borage flowers and “soil” of balsamic vinegar breadcrumbs which covered a tomato mozzarella salad. The whole thing was quite whimsical but there was far too much of the salad, and taste-wise it was rather pedestrian.

FRUITS de mer
monkfish ‘noodles’, mussels, tomato, shallot concasse, fish fume and a parsley lime broth. The noodles resembled udon and were rubbery, requiring a great deal of chewing. B found this dish pleasant, me not so much.

LOADED fries
the waitress set a small pile of cheddar mashed potatoes topped with fried shallots, jalepeno and bacon before us, then picked up the candle sitting on our table, blew it out, and poured the “wax” (french fried liquor) over it! Lots of fun, but all it really did was add a stale oily taste to the otherwise ok dish (the fried shallots was plenty enough oil to allude to fried potato skins).

SEARED buffalo hot wings
this confit and sliced capon on a bed of shaved celery with hot sauce was served with another piece of edible paper, this one flavoured with hot sauce. I love buffalo wings and had high hopes for this but sadly the capon was dry and the hot sauce too mild, lacking the usual buffalo wing kick. The earlier mentioned accompanying La Fin du Monde however was full, creamy, rich and smooth, with a beautiful honeyed malty nose. Delicious.

ARNOLD palmer
a palate cleanser in the shape of a double ice pop (the ice lollies in tubes of plastic you enjoyed as a child), one filled with ice tea and the other, lemonade (Arnold Palmer is a drink named after the golfer, made up of equal portions of iced tea and lemonade). This was another case of good idea, bad execution – it was watered down and tasteless, like drinking the last dregs of an iced lemon tea on a hot day.

CUBAN pork sandwich
roasted red pepper purée, fried bread and roast pork shoulder wrapped in blanched collard greens, with black and white sesame “ash”. FINALLY, a stunner! This shows Cantu at his full potential, delivering both on taste and appearance. The pulled pork was flavourful and succulent, fried bread crunchy but not overly greasy, juxtaposed nicely by sweet pepper purée and slightly bitter greens.

DELI STYLE pasta
a “reuben” lasagne with pickle potato chip and thousand island dressing. This was also a success, the cheesy lasagne had a great depth of flavour and the pickle chip and thousand countered the richness with much needed acidity. What was evident in both this and the previous dish was a more conscious effort in balancing of flavours.

SHABUcino
raw wagyu beef with diced potatoes, mushrooms and raw peas, cooked with a soy and black garlic broth (poured on at the table), topped with potato foam and a white truffle sugar cube. This was a pleasant, solid dish and the tea, milk and sugar concept was a great one.

CO2 PINEAPPLE & jerk
jerk chicken in liquid form (served in a pipette) with pineapple ring soaked in carbon dioxide. This was just flat out strange – the liquid chicken that tasted like diluted chicken jus was bad on its own and even worse paired with the oddly fizzy fresh pineapple. Not really sure what the kitchen was trying to achieve with this.

DUCK & molé
braised duck confit cannoli, lemon sour cream, molé and chocolate sauce. We were fooled into thinking this was the start of the sweet courses when it came out, the “cannoli” was actually a rolled up taco and it tasted a bit like a duck spring roll. Not bad.

STRAWBERRY flakes
freeze dried strawberries, fried rice crackers, liquid nitrogen and vanilla-infused soy milk. The first of the desserts was not a delight, being unappealing reminiscent of strawberry flavoured baby formula.

RASPBERRY soufflé
raspberry sponge, raspberry soufflé, freeze dried raspberry, sweet cream ice cream and créme anglais biscuit. I honestly have no recollection of this dish so it is doubtful to have been any good (or maybe I was just so insanely full at this point I momentarily forgotten to take notes).

RAINBOW sprinkles
foie gras cupcake with a foie gras mousse filling, cherry gastric icing and pistachio sprinkles. An interesting idea, the sweetness definitely works with foie gras however the sponge was heavy and stodgy and the whole thing was just far too rich for a 15th course.

POPPYSEED & lemon
pound cake, blueberry coulis and preserved meyer lemon. This was actually an airy frozen pound cake ice cream with a cake crumb texture. It was very unusual and deliciously light and airy, accented nicely with the sharp lemon rind. If you have ever had Sara Lee pound cake straight from the freezer in your youth, that is how it tastes but 90% lighter.

PEACHES and creamed corn
hot caramel corn cake with corn syrup filling, tea foam, sweet peaches and candy corn. I physically was unable to manage more than a bite of this, the corn cake was so dense and filling and the accompanying elements so sweet they verged on sickly.

ACME s’mores
s’mores chocolate “bomb” with a liquid graham cracker centre. It had a marshmallow fuse which the waiter lit up with a blow torch in front you. I enjoyed how as I bit into it the filling oozed out, filling my mouth with all the familiar flavours of a s’more – chocolate, crackers and toasted marshmallow. It was playful and more importantly at this point, bite-size.

BURGER with ketchup
another bite-sized dessert! this time a mini cheeseburger, with sesame encrusted peanut butter bun, chocolate crumb filling, banana purée (cheese) and lettuce. Cute, but stuck to my teeth and tasted mostly of peanut butter – much like a snickers bar.

SNACK FOODS
chocolate mousse, green cardamon, raisin foam and peanut ice cream. By this time I had fallen into a food coma, evident from the lack of notes (and memory) of this dish.

I think it’s no surprise that we found Moto to be a real disappointment, especially after all the great reviews we had read prior to our trip. I think Cantu should definitely be commended for his immense creativity and technical skill (a lot of his offerings were pure works of art); his dishes however lack the balance and finesse needed to turn his artistic creations into truly great dishes. And at the end of the day molecular gastronomy is just a gimmick if it doesn’t taste good – it is food after all.

Sep 08, 2009
gourmet traveller in Chicago Area

L2O - a feast for all the senses

A couple of weeks back my husband and I visited Chicago for a bit of a foodie tour with dinners lined up at Moto, L2O and of course, Alinea. After a mammoth meal at the hit-and-miss Moto the first night our stomachs were crying out for a breather and we toyed with the idea of canceling our reservations the following evening at L2O. But we decided to press on, and were certainly glad we did so. L2O, a play on the chemical formula for water with the 'H' for Hydrogen substituted by 'L' for Laurent (Gras), the chef and co-owner. The focus of the restaurant is seafood; and Gras's cuisine fuses modern cooking with traditional French techniques to create elegant dishes with a Japanese aesthetic. Unlike many of his peers (who tend to use mostly seasonal local produce) Gras sources from small artisanal suppliers around the world and unique ingredients such as hirame from the Hokkaido and Kinki prefectures of Japan arrive daily. As the kitchen works with fresh products every day there are no walk-in coolers or extensive dry storage in L2O's kitchen, freeing up space for eight production stations: sashimi, steam, grill, saute, private parties and amuse, dessert, fish break-down, and bread baking.

The restaurant is located within the Belden-Stratford hotel, a 1920s historic building which frankly has seen better days. As we stepped from the hotel's ornate, empire-style furnished lobby into L2O sleek and modern sen wood-paneled interiors it was like being transported in time. We were seated against the wall, facing into the dining room and allowing us to take in the beauty of the large Manzanita branch centrepiece, spray painted gold with tiny orchids in glass vials scattered along it.

Within minutes we were offered a tiny amuse bouche of pita pillow with eggplant puree and parsley - the Arabian flavours of baba ghanoush and flat breads condensed into one bite. The menus followed, and were split into three sections - an à la carte 4-course menu (separated into cold, warm, hot and sweet courses), a 12-course tasting menu and an interesting tête à tête (French for “one on one”) menu where each course features two singular ingredients which chef Gras feels form a perfect union, creating a single note of flavour. Overwhelmed by the choice we looked to our waitress for help deciphering the menu, who obliged, describing the dishes to us in detail. After much deliberation we settled on the 4-course as the dishes that appealed to us on the à la carte were not on the tasting menu, and although we were intrigued by the tête à tête menu we felt it would not showcase the chef's cooking to the fullest. We also ordered an additional foie gras (rare for us as over the years we have come to tire of it) dish to share after seeing it paraded to another table in a glorious cocoon of cotton candy.

After making our choices and ordering a bottle of 1996 Ruinart (which had a delicate toasty bouquet and tasted of pears and grapefruits, with a long biscuity finish), we were presented with a second amuse bouche of somen noodles, fried shrimp and fresh scallions in ponzu. It was a delightful mouthful - the tiny prawns crispy and intensely flavoured, the cold somen noodles refreshing and the tangy ponzu balanced with a hint of chili. Next came the bread selection (8 varieties, all made in-house, as was the accompanying freshly churned butter) for the evening; My husband B, and I both chose a mini croissant and a mini chorizo roll. The roll was nice, but the croissant with its lovely flaky rosemary-scented pastry, was out of this world. Unfortunately the rest of the diners agreed and when the bread basket made its second visit there were none of the buttery treats left.

Our first courses arrived. Mine was a Peeky Toe Crab and Avocado with kaffir lime jelly and lemon oil. The soft, sweet steamed crab hidden within the perfect avocado dome was exceedingly fresh and subtly flavoured with lime leaves. The acidity of the lime jelly and lemon oil helped to brighten this clean and refined dish. Granted, it was not the most inventive of dishes but it was a pleasure nevertheless.

B's selection was an Heirloom Tomato salad of roast tomatoes, pressed tomato concasse, green and yellow heirlooms, huckleberry heirlooms (the dark purple berry-like toms sitting on top) and sorrel. The waitress used liquid nitrogen to make a side sorbet of yellow tomatoes at the table which came out more like a soup and didn't add much to the dish. The salad itself however was expertly seasoned and all the different preparations showcased the main ingredient perfectly. Being partial to an heirloom or two, this was B's highlight of the evening (he still dreams about this dish).

Next were the warm courses. Mine was a Kampachi (yellowtail) with rice cloud, tapioca and a ponzu hibiscus broth. The fish was only very lightly seared, leaving the centre soft and velvety which contrasted nicely with the crunchy rice cloud. The dish was further enhanced by the zesty broth which nicely cut through the oiliness of the fried rice.

The Lamb and Shiro Ebi (sweet white prawn) Tartare with pickled mango that B chose on the other hand, I felt, could have benefited from more textural complexity. The edible flowers, purslane and tarragon did add a little variation, but the lamb, ebi and mango were all soft and mushy. Having said that the the rather surprising combination of raw lamb and shrimp was superb.

The next course was the highly anticipated Seared Foie Gras with asparagus and rhubarb in a tunnel of house-spun cotton candy sprinkled with bee pollen, crystalised butter, pink peppercorns and miniature flowers. After I had stopped picking gleefully at the confectionery like a child, I tried all the elements together and it was a real triumph. The sweet candy and the sour rhubarb, coupled with the delicate spicing of the dish were the perfect foil to the richness of the foie gras.

Onto the hot dishes of Lobster "sauce Américaine" (a rich sauce traditionally made with onions, tomatoes, white wine, brandy, salt, cayenne pepper and butter) and Butter Poached Arctic Char. The lobster was prepared two-ways: the tail poached and the claw fried tempura-style, it was served with steamed squash flower, tellicherry pepper jelly, peaches and purslane. Despite displaying a few modern cooking techniques this was essentially a classical dish, albeit a very delicious one.

B's artic char cooked sous-vide, was meltingly tender and paired beautifully with its champagne butter sauce and accompaniments of chanterelle courgette puree, courgette skin, courgette and gingerwater gelées. Our mains were both pretty substantial and we were beginning to fade when a palette cleanser of Frozen Meyer Lemon marshmallow arrived, the acidity of which perked us up somewhat.

Being rather well-fed at this point we both opted for fruit-based desserts. Mine, a Strawberry and Black Sesame concoction and B's, a celebration of Blueberries and Lychee. On my plate, flanked by fresh strawberries and aloe vera pieces, were three "faux" strawberries, two filled with strawberry sorbet and the other with aloe vera sorbet. These were topped with a black sesame croquant and sat in a pool of strawberry juice dotted with black sesame emulsion. I found it far too "strawberry" - the black sesame and aloe vera did make for a welcome change but there wasn't enough of it to balance out the whole dish for me.

I was rather jealous of B's dessert which was by far the superior of the two, both visually and on the palate. Fragile sugar tubes, one filled with lychee sorbet, another with fresh lychees and the last, with blueberry sorbets, were topped with blueberries, freeze-dried currants, lychee foam, frozen blueberry pearls and yellow curry powder. It was a wonderful marriage of flavours, although the white sesame sponge that came with the dessert was definitely one element too many.

Tea and petits fours of truffles (with delectable liquid vanilla centres) and expertly made canelés rounded off a thoroughly enjoyable experience. We left feeling very full, content and well looked after (thanks to the impeccable service which was professional but unstuffy).

Gras is said to define his cuisine by the principles of flavour, aesthetic and perfection (in that order) and everything from the smart, tranquil surroundings, the polished staff, to the accomplished cooking and attractive plating reflect this. It is a wonder how Gras manages to maintain such perfection in the kitchen as well as a detailed educational blog on only 3-5 hours sleep each night. However he does it, more power to him.

Sep 07, 2009
gourmet traveller in Chicago Area

An Outstanding meal at Bar Charlie, Las Vegas

I definitely would not suggest you trying all the breads even if you could! There is also a petit fours trolley just as large, plus an icecream and sorbet trolley they don't even tell you about! Am warning you now, you will have to be rolled out of the meal!

Sep 06, 2009
gourmet traveller in Las Vegas

An Outstanding meal at Bar Charlie, Las Vegas

If you can stomach it I would definitely try to fit it in, we visited Joël Robuchon on our last visit to Vegas in March and although the cooking at Robuchon was top-notch and the whole dining experience there rather theatrical (and maybe even excessive - there were at least 30 types of bread on the bread trolley and we were giving a whole lemon pound cake each to take away with us!) I much preferred Bar Charlie - the cuisine is just so refined, considered and different. Having said that the restaurants differ greatly, so I'm not suggesting you drop Robuchon altogether...just try and squeeze in Bar Charlie and then detox the entire week after your trip!

Btw we also visited Chicago on this trip and L2O was amazing. We did Alinea as well and I think it was on par, if not slightly better than our meal there (I'll be putting up a review of both at some point this week).

Sep 05, 2009
gourmet traveller in Las Vegas

Fettuccine with Guinea Fowl and Porcini Ragù

Sep 04, 2009
gourmet traveller in Recipes

An Outstanding meal at Bar Charlie, Las Vegas

My husband and I visited Bar Charlie last week and had undoubtedly one of the best meals I have had in a long time. Chef Hiro excels in combining textures and flavour profiles, with a restrained use of modern cooking techniques which compliment rather than overshadow the intricate kaiseki cuisine.

After being seated by the attentive hostess (she swapped my white napkin for a black one, to match the colour of my dress), we opted for the 14-course ’spontaneous’ kaiseki – a selection of dishes selected by the chef that showcases seasonal produce, with an emphasis on the ocean.

First up was a Tai (snapper) with white and black grapes, black grape purée, celery confit, celery stock reduction and micro greens (pictured above). The tai was exceptionally fresh, with clean flavours of the sea that paired perfectly with the sweetness and acidity of the grapes, and the slight bitterness of the micro greens.

This was followed by Iwashi (sardine) with watermelon, sea grapes, yuzu sorbet and celery marinated in miso and yuzu. I was not so keen on this, as unlike B (who adored this dish) I am not a huge fan of sardine sashimi which I find a bit too ‘fishy’ for my liking. However the sea grapes in the dish were a revelation – a string of tiny salty green pearls that combined harmoniously with the sweet watermelon and sour yuzu. This balance of flavours was a recurring theme in Chef Hiro’s cuisine, and when we commented on this he agreed that it was something he strives for in each of his creations, and that it is this balance which determines the success of a dish.

Next up was Chu-toro (tuna belly) sashimi, accompanied by a lightly steamed roulade of tuna (taken from the same fish as the chu-toro), tea-infushed dashi and seawater foam, petit sorrel, confit of nashi pear and an umeboshi, grapefruit and lime sauce. Both the chu-toro and roulade were melt in the mouth, the foam intriguing and delicate in flavour, and yet again the different taste components were well represented in this dish – saltiness from the foam, bitterness from the sorrel, sweetness from the pear and acid from the sauce. Incredible.

A vegetarian dish followed – Heirloom Tomatoes with compressed cucumber rind, tomato skin chip, hijiki and dashi sauce, tomato foam, hijiki dust and avocado semifreddo. The bright flavours of the tomato sang against the lighter, subtler accompanying elements.
As we awaited the next dish we returned to watching the chefs work deftly in front of us behind the bar. Throughout the meal chef Hiro would pause sporadically to explain the more unusual cooking processes – as he did with the foaming technique employed for the next dish, which creates a foam that holds its shape even when hot items are placed on it.

This stunning dish featured the Spot Prawn – the body was left raw while the head was coated in freeze-dried raspberry and matcha powder, then fried. These, together with a shellfish pannacotta, tarragon and matcha bubbles and fresh raspberries, sat in a sea of vividly hued raspberry consommé. The consommé which was infused with taihitian vanilla, vinegar, green cardamon, pink peppercorn and lemongrass had a sharp twang which perfectly offset the oiliness of the head and the sweetness of the raw flesh. I am re-living the fantastic taste sensations as I write this and I have to say if pressed to pick, this would be my favourite course of the evening.

We return to tuna in the next course with a Blue Fin Tuna tartare, hijiki and squid ink purée, cucumber ribbon marinated in miso and turmeric, juiced and diced daikon. The tuna of the texture resembled a mousse as it has been worked to almost a paste. Although it was good, it dulled in comparison to the earlier stand-out tuna offering (perhaps I was distracted from fully appreciating the tartare as Charlie Trotter himself popped in to greet the chefs mid-dish).

As Chef Hiro sets the next course down he tells us that traditionally every kaiseki course tells a story, and this one follows (from the right to the left of the plate) the life of the trout – Tasmanian Trout roe vinaigrette, Trout Skin Jelly Ravioli filled with ricotta, Roulade of Trout Belly, Fennel Salad, Smoked Trout Ice-cream and Trout Skin Crisp. All the individual components of the dish were delicious, with the exception of the ravioli which was rather bland and had a strange texture.

The next dish was Squid Dumpling filled with Lemon Custard, Textures of Squid (raw in ribbons and tempura) , purple carrot salad, thai chili infused carrot purée, pickled carrot and basil oil. The soft pillowy texture of the dumpling was a delightful surprise (a savoury mochi of sorts) and the small dose of heat from the chili really brought the dish to life.

Our last ocean inspired course for the evening was a Seared Scallop accompanied by braised turnip with ponzu coffee gastric wrapped in its own leaf, spinach puréed and sautéed, flexible chocolate and konbu. The unusual combination of coffee and turnip came about one morning when Chef Hiro, who happened to be having his morning coffee while prepping sous-vide turnip, tasted them together and thought it to be a great pairing. It was indeed, and the dish both looked and tasted spectacular.

Although the focus of the kaiseki was on seafood there were two meat courses on the menu. The first of these was Kurobuta Pork Belly, cooked sous-vide for 48 hours with hibiscus and soy gastric, tomatillos and jalepenos, shiso, thai basil and coconut salad, red wine braised pearl onion, with red and green curry.

The second was Wagyu Beef with pineapple curd, yakitori grilled pineapple, pineapple relish with rendered wagyu trim, popping candy, veal jus and micro shiso. By this point of the meal we were bursting at the seams and were really struggling with both dishes, despite them being very tasty indeed. I particularly liked the succulent wagyu which worked exceedingly well with the tangy pineapple that cut through the fattiness of the meat.

A palate cleanser of Greek Yogurt granita, cantaloupe sorbet and parma ham kicked off the sweet courses, all of which, although well-executed, paled in comparison to the savoury courses. The Green Tea Sponge with peach bruleé, peach tapioca, sour cream sorbet and crystalised ginger was pleasant but unexciting, and if I were to be honest, the sponge was a tad dry.

The Basil semifreddo with strawberry sorbet, olive oil ice-cream and fresh strawberries, although visually appealing, was equally uninspiring. As was the flourless Dark Chocolate cake with hazelnut praline and banana sorbet that followed. The highlight of the desserts was definitely the mignardise that came with coffee at the end – Maple Syrup Truffles, Cherry Geleé, Honey Nougat, Cinnamon Almond Dragées and my favourite, Condensed Milk Caramels.

It's a shame I live in London, I am itching to go back already! If you are ever in Las Vegas this is an absolute must. Seriously. So Good.

Sep 04, 2009
gourmet traveller in Las Vegas