Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Greenhouse, London

The Greenhouse, London, 9/14/2017 (8-Course, £85 – Taste of Summer, incl. VAT), French, Michelin 2-Star

Since Greenhouse first opened its door in 1977, it has been an established with a long and successful history in Mayfair section of London. The current chef Arnaud Bignon got the restaurant the 2nd star after his arrival. He was the head chef at Spondi in Athens (I visited in 2014) and was Eric Frechon’s sous-chef at 3-star Epicure (I visited in 2013) in Paris for 7 years.

The restaurant offered a very competitive “Taste of Summer” menu, probably in response to the newly opened competitor Sketch. It was comprised of 6 courses and I requested for an addition course from the a la carte menu.


1).Iberico ham Penna cotta was served on top of a thin waffle. Melon jell made of cantaloupe contributed the refreshing taste to balance the taste of ham.

2).Prawn dumpling wrapped in rice paper with shrimp egg, mayo, yuzu and paprika inside. This was more sophisticated than the shrimp dumpling in Chinese Dim Sun. Using mayo probably help to keep prawn tender and juicy. The touch of yuzu made this a Modernist’s invention. The hint of little paprika provided a little kick in the taste bud. Later in the evening, I found out this product was in Chef’s experiment and creativity pipeline.

3).Champignon de Paris. Mushroom and minced ginger were wrapped in puff pastry and baked. Although “Paris” was part of the name of this course, the type of mushroom used was Chinese wood ear mushroom. Wood ear mushroom is a very healthy produce to eat, it cleans out the toxic element in your body. 

4).Roasted artichoke served on artichoke purée with coconut and maple syrup foam. Roasted artichoke was a good bond with the slightly sweet syrup foam.

 In the bread basket, there were sourdough, multi-grain and feuilletine (look like brioche). I decided feuilletine would be the only type of bread that I had for the evening, served with unsalted butter and seaweed butter. It was made from light spelt flour and coated with brittle, crispy flakes with caramelized and praline flavor. It was light, buttery and delicious, usually seen only in professional pastry kitchens. I had to restrain myself from eating more. This was my 2nd favorite.

1st Course – Dorset Crab, Mint/Cauliflower/Granny Smith Apple/Apple

This was one of chef’s signature dishes, it was served as per my special request. Dorset crab came in fleshy bites in lump. It was moisture and packed with plenty of flavor just the crab itself. In addition, this course came with multiple layers, cauliflower mouse, mint jelly, apple foam, diced granny smith apple and mild curry dressing. The spicing was subtle, mint flavor was not overwhelming, the acidity from the apple was a counterbalance to the crab. None of the ingredients had strong taste, but, each complimented the other with an overall ultra-sophisticated and smooth taste. This course was my favorite of the Greenhouse.

2nd Course - Sea Bream – Courgette/Avocado/Black Sesame

Marinated diced sea bream was served with slightly poached julienned zucchini along with zucchini sauce. Roasted sesame paste (on the upper left corner of the photo) really incorporated a hint of Oriental flavor and provide a very pleasant taste.

3rd Course – Girolle, Cobnut/Amontillado/Spinach

Chef used many seasonal produces as the ingredients. Cobnut is a cultivated variety of hazelnut, when young they are sweet and coconutty. But, they are equally delicious when older. Cobnut are seasonal and are sold fresh, traditionally grown in Kent, England. They can usually only be bought from mid-August to October. Sautéed spinach served with girolle mushroom and cobnut with almond sauce was a decent vegetable dish.

4th Course – Black Tiger Prawn, Basmati Rice/Seaweed/Lemon Balm

Black Tiger Prawn, lobster roe (in orange color), topped with seaweed were served in shell fish juice. While lobster roe and seaweed enhanced the seafood taste, lemon balm gave the counter-balance and fresh acidity taste. Basmati rice at the bottom helped to captivate the delicious shell fish juice.

5th Course – Venison, Pear/Girolle/Rosemary

Autumn is the season for game. Pinky venison was served with roasted pear, girolle mushroom and rosemary purée. Rosemary was usually used for lamb. It was also a perfect accompany for venison. Venison was served with sauce made from red wine and meat juice.
6th Course – Pre-dessert, Rocket, Mint

This was a course for palette cleanser. Mint ice cream was served on an ice block (rock). Mint had a mild flavor and refreshing.

7th Course – Equatorial Chocolate, Tarragon/Lime

Chocolate creameux cake, with chocolate cream layer and vanilla parfait layer, was sumptuous. Tarragon and lime flavored ice cream was delicately flavored to counter-balance chocolate’s sweetness.

Petit Fours – 3 Plates of Petit Fours

1).Green apple pate de fruit, and mint marshmellow.

2).Liquid Financier (lemon yuzu and creameux in center) sitting on top of crispy rice.

3).3 house-made chocolate with 3 flavor – peanut butter and puffed rice, coconut passion and yuzu coffee

The main course of dessert was excellent. I probably was spoiled by the dessert galore at Sketch, still felt like to have a bit more. 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Ledbury, London

The Ledbury, London, 9/9/2017 (8-Course, £145 incl. VAT & Gratuity), French, Michelin 2-Star

The Ledbury is located in the trendy Notting Hill section of London. Its chef Brett Graham has been one of London’s most celebrated chefs. Its cuisine is considered vibrant, inspirational and seasonal.

I chose the 8-Course Tasting menu and started with Amuse Bouche.

Amuse Bouche

a). Mussel Mousse with Seaweed Cracker

At the bottom, there were some Kumbu dry seaweed for display only because they were not cooked yet. On top of it, there was a piece of fried seaweed cracker made of meshed rice and seaweed. On top of cracker, some mussel mousse with many tiny transparent balls. These were made by melting agar (unflavored gelatin) in hot apple juice and then drop it into cold olive oil. It was an alternative to dipping sodium alginate into calcium lactate. To boost the seafood flavor, some seaweed sprinkles were speckled on the mussel mousse. It was a light and flavorful appetizer.

Sourdough bread was served with cultured butter made by separating butter milk and fact during the whipping process and then adding ½ of butter milk back to the fat part. Butter made this way would be more flavorful and soft. What Ledbury practiced in making butter resembles what MAAEMO does.

b). Parmigiano Puff with Fowl Mousse

At the bottom, a biscuit made of puffed Parmigiano, not in pâte à choux style, which was topped by fowl mousse and fermented honey jell, an imported cooking method from Nordic. Parmigiano was medium flavored to make an overall balanced taste.

c). Muntjac Dumpling with Fruit Jelly

My server informed me there are 8 different types of deer in UK. This dish used Muntjac deer’s meat which is available all year around. Muntjac deer can be trained to be excellent pets, love affection and may become attached to the owner. Its meat is not too gamy, tasted almost like beef. Kind of feeling bad to eat them. Fig, apple and mustard were served on top of the dumpling to add depth and sharpness to the dish.

1st Course -  Chantilly of Oyster, Tartare of Sea Bream and Frozen English Wasabi

Oyster Chantilly was in cream sauce, with tartare of sea bream underneath. On the side, there were diced celery and caviar and freshly grated wasabi roots. Fresh wasabi gave a real punch to this course, bringing out the full taste of oyster, sea bream and caviar.

2nd Course -  Fresh Hazelnuts, Green Beans, Peach and Grated Foie Gras

At the bottom, there were sautéed baby string beans covered by shaved frozen foie gras and julienned peach slices. Foie gras was topped by sliced fresh almond, fresh hazelnut and roasted hazelnut. Peach added freshness and acidity to the mild-taste shaved foie gras.

3rd Course - Warm Bantam’s Egg, Celeriac, Arbois, Dried Ham and Truffle

Bantam (one type of chicken) chicken egg offered rich egg yolk. Poached egg yolk, in soft condition, was covered by celeriac, toasted bread, button mushroom, toasted crispy Serrano ham and Australian truffles. The type of Australian truffles used in this dish was different from what I had in Sketch, the day before, in appearance as well as in taste. The type that I had in Sketch was darker and with milder taste, and the one that I had in the Ledbury looked more like the French/Italian type with more mature taste. This dish, a perfectly balanced dish with the right amount of richness and acidity, was certainly my favorite course for the evening at the Ledbury.

4th Course -  Roast Scallop, Fennel and Elderflower Wine

Fresh and creamy Scottish scallop, with a licorice root kebab, was roasted to perfection. It was served along with diced fennel, raw sliced fennel, fennel purée, elder flower wine sauce and cep mushroom for the season. A little dill leave was adorned on the top. Licorice root gave depth and sweetness to the dish.

5th Course -  Hen of the Woods, Potato Emulsion and Rosemary

This was a vegetarian dish. A good size of Hen of the Woods mushroom (had a firmer texture) was soaked and cooked in Kumbu (the same type of seaweed served in the Amuse Bouche for display only) soy sauce and barbecue sauce. It was served on top of potato purée with rosemary emulsion and porcini powder sprinkled on top. This was my 2nd favorite dish for the evening.

6th Course - Sika Deer, Smoked Bone Marrow, Prune Juice and Roscoff Onion

The Sika deer also known as the spotted deer or Japanese deer, is a species of deer native to much of the East Asia and introduced to other parts of the world. Sika deer can either be small or medium, depending the area it happens to live. Autumn is the season for hunting Sika deer. It feeds on many different plants, grasses, herbs and fruits. The importance of good tasting deer meat lies more with the meat preparation. Venison is the meat of any species of deer. Sika meat, lean, has a slighter darker color resembling elk meat, but is less gamy than elk.

In this dish, Sika was roasted to rare-medium, served with Roscoff onion, date stuffed with truffled potato, truffled potato, venison sausage, smoked bone marrow and venison stew under the onion. Smoky flavor was subtle and delightful. Sauce was made of prune and meat juice.

7th Course -  Meadowsweet Cream, Plum and Timur Pepper

This was a pre-dessert. Meadowsweet herb cream was served with plum juice Granité and meringue with Timur pepper sprinkled on top. Plum juice Granité was very refreshing. There was also a small bite-size donut with plum powder. This was the palette cleanser before the major dessert.

8th Course -  Chocolate, Dark Chocolate Chantilly and Mint

It was comprised of mild-flavored mint ice cream, chocolate Chantilly, warm chocolate cake, vanilla Chantilly and frozen chocolate crumb. Mint provided the balance to the sweetness of chocolate.

Petit Fours

1).Juniper Berry – Caramel Stick

This is another import from the Nordic region. Although they look like berries, they are a type of conifer cone. Because of the presence of pinene, juniper berries have a mild pine-like scent and flavor with a light note of citrus. The berries are green when young, and mature to a purple-black color (look almost like blue berry) over about 18 months in most species. They are used both fresh and dried, but their flavor and odor are at their strongest immediately after harvest and decline during drying and storage. Native Americans as well as Europeans have used it not just as a seasoning but also as a nutrient. It tastes green-fresh, sweet, with citrus notes and resinous.  

2).Dark Chocolate Ball

A dark chocolate mousse ball coated with cocoa powder.

The night before my appointment at the Ledbury, I had a gorgeous dinner at Sketch. My experience at Sketch was so overwhelming in many aspects, it was my 2nd fine dining experience in Chef Pierre Gagnaire’s restaurant group. Without of doubt, quality, taste, flavor, creativity and presentation of food at the Ledbury were all up to Michelin 2-Star standard. However, quality of services at Sketch was absolutely impeccable, at least a notch better than what the Ledbury delivered.

At Sketch and Pierre Gagnaire (in Paris), whenever a guest (especially a female guest) showed movement of getting up from the chair, staff would fly to him/her to facilitate the process. When the guest was returning, staff would fly to move the chair to facilitate the guest get seated. I used the word “fly” because the staff were so swift in movement. However, at the Ledbury, staff would just stay aside and watch you when you were on your way back to your seat. They would not even attempt to move your chair.

The Tasting menu was well constructed at the Ledbury, its choices between light and more sumptuous dishes were well considered to provide different levels of taste and horizon. However, the dessert perhaps could provide a bit more complexity and attention, especially when my memory of Sketch was still fresh.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Sketch, London

Sketch (Lecture Room/Library), 9/8/2017, (8-Course, £120 incl.VAT), French, Michelin 2-Star

I was trying to select 3 fine dining restaurants for my short staying in London and found out the newly opened Sketch was a hot spot in the Mayfair section of London. It is an enterprise of celebrity chef Pierre Gagnaire, comprised of 5 units - the Lecture Room/Library for fine dining, the Pink Room for casual dining and 3 bars. 

In terms of the interior decoration, the Lecture Room is an ostentatious presentation of Contemporary Art, Avant Garde and French style with a lot of mirror, gold trimming and red color decoration. Although magnificence is an understated description, you could feel a lot of inspiration in this spectacular ambiance.

It offered a Tasting menu of 8 courses including Feuilletés (equivalent of Amuse Bouche), and Petit Fours complimentary.

1st Course - Feuilletés

a). Parmigiano cheese ball with toasted almond powder. These cheese balls were lighter and tastier than traditional Gougère in French cuisine (a baked savory made of Pâte à choux). 

b1).Manchego cheese with quince layer and paprika. 

b2).Squid ink sheet (made with flour and egg) with goat cheese. Most of the squid ink dishes that I tasted were with pasta. This new creative application of squid ink was very delightful.

c).Deep fried spaghetti coated with donky-pinky (chopped lardo di colonata ham), condiment, coriander, black sesame, white sesame, chive, tomato sauce. At the bottom, there was a beautiful coriander flower. It was an amazing presentation.

d). Vodka jelly with Martini, lemon zest and green olive. This appeared to be a variation of the Bloody Mary sorbet (my favorite) that I had at Pierre Gagnaire in Paris.

e). Chestnut paste and dry prune wrapped in duck breast ham.

I love all of these cute bite-size Feuille’s, they are enjoyable visually as well as gastronomically.
Breads (sour dough and sweet brioche) were served with 3 kinds of butter (citrus, regular and caramel)

2nd Course - Raw Sea Bream and Tuna Tartare/Shitake/Crunchy Summer Vegetables

Sea Bream and tuna tartare were at the bottom, then multiple layers placed upward with shitake mushroom, granny smith apple slices, lemon sorbet, diced red pepper, carrot, celery, fennel and shaved foie gras. It was very appetizing, especially for a summer meal.

3rd Course - Gambas & Pig – Pan-Fried Gambas/Pig’s Head/Green Peas/Melon/Fresh Almonds

Iberico Serrano ham was from Spain, gambas (both baby and grown-up were served in the plate) from Sicily, pork was from France in head-cheese form. In addition, there were a few razor clams from Cornwall (upper England). Mustard seeds were also in the plate to give an overall more sophisticated taste. This dish has adopted some Portuguese style of cooking.

4th Course -  Agnolotti – Mild Onion and Potato Agnolotti/Spinach Velouté/Black Australian Truffle

Agnolotti was cooked to the right texture. I have never had Australian truffle. It has a darker color than French truffle or Italian truffle. It also has a firmer texture in the mouth. However, it has less aroma and less truffle taste.
5th Course - Scallop - Hand-Dived Scottish Scallop Mousseline/Artichoke with Mint/ Parmesan

Hand-Dived Scottish scallop was seared and served on top of mousseline with mimolette cheese. Scottish scallop was famous for its fine quality and chef prepared it tender and succulent. In addition, there were sautéed artichoke with mint and julienned cuttle fish and caramelized onions. This was a very French style dish, using cheese instead of other fruity flavored acidity. 
6th Course - Denti – Denti “Saint-Germain”/Auergine Caviar with Black Garlic, Courgette and Rocket: Pesto

This course was comprised of two plates – one vegetable and one fish. Blanched and julienned courgette (zucchini squash), fresh arugulas, pine nuts were at the bottom of the plate, served with gorgonzola dressing and aubergine caviar. Tiny aubergine seeds were given a classy name as “aubergine caviar”.

The 2nd plate, with a coordinated design pattern, served Dentex. Dentex is considered the most valuable and one of the most difficult catches of fish that can be caught from the Mediterranean Sea as well on the Eastern Atlantic. In this plate, Denti was from Portugal. It was cooked in the cream sauce first, then coated with bread crumb and fried. Dentex has a texture and taste similar to sea bass in cooked version. But, it has a more transparent appearance when in raw. I personally consider Dentex is tastier than sea bass in raw condition, but taste about the same in cooked condition. In this dish, the 1st round of cooking in cream sauce made the flesh tender and smooth. The 2nd round of cooking made the outside crispy. The hardest part of processes was to make sure not to overcook.
7th Course -  Lamb – Rack of Salt Marsh Lamb from Wales Roasted with New Garlic and Bay Leaves, Miso Auburgine/Chorizo/Red Radish

Boneless loin of lamb was roasted medium rare, tender and succulent, served with giro mushroom (from France), baby carrots and cabbage. On the side, there was a stuffed Swiss chard with pine nut. All vegetables were cooked in chicken soup to enhance the taste and flavor. Giro mushroom tasted almost like straw mushroom. My favorite part in this course was the stuffed Swiss chard which was cooked soft and perfectly flavored.

8th Course -  Pierre Gagnaire’s Grand Dessert – A Combination of Six Miniature Desserts in Two Services
I love Pierre Gagnaire’s dessert. They are dessert galore.

1st Service – 3 plates
a1). Arlette – a buttery, light and flaky puff pastry with green tea and coffee flavored,  in green and brown color design.

a2). Almond cream at the bottom.
a3). Liquid lemon glazed by apple (in green color). Diced granny smith apple and sliced pink lady apple for decoration on top.

b1). Coconut parfait with marshmallow in the center and white chocolate cake at bottom.

b2). Diced dragon fruit and aloe vera.
b3). Red currant and dragon fruit jell.

c1). Chocolate ganache made from 66% cocoa content and dark chocolate.

c2). hazelnut sponge cake, coffee jelly (in black color).
c3). Chocolate praline tart (standing vertically).

2nd Service – 3 plates

a1). Light cheese cake cream.

a2). Fresh figs and marmalade.
a3). Fresh walnut and biscuit of almond.

b1). Red wine sorbet. One ice cream parlor in Ljublijana, Slovenia made the 2nd best.

b2). Granité of Tequilla (Patron). This was as good as the Bloody Mary sorbet.
b3). Ginger bread crumbs and fresh grapes.

c1). Mirabelle prune.

c2). Compote with red currant.
c3). Red currant ravioli with prune filling.

These were true Pierre Gagnaire style grand dessert as I still remembered the multiple courses of dessert at Pierre Gagnaire in Paris. My big sweet tooth certainly was very happy. There was still more to come.

Petit Fours

1).Yuzu Jell with Tonka Bean and Hot Oil. I stated noticing the popular usage of Tonka Bean since March when I dined at Quadri in Venice and a few restaurants in Chicago. Chefs are craving for its spicy and fruity aroma which can be used in both savory and sweet applications, although it is still banned in US because of its coumarin content. The overall taste was almost like mild mocha, almond and caramel.

2). Puff pastry with Raspberry Purée.

3). Caramelized Olive Tart with Chocolate Cream and Powdered Nougat in Dry Foam. Nougat is a family of confection made with sugar or honey, roasted nuts and whipped egg white. In this dessert, nougat was grounded into powder to balance the slightly salty taste of olive. It was a perfect ending after all the varieties of dessert.

With all what I have enjoyed, in terms of quality, # of courses, varieties, ambiance, and impeccable services, this was certainly a value fine dining meal. The Tasting menu was priced very modestly may be because it was new for the season. I truly appreciated fine dining in “Pierre Gagnaire” style.