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 rabbit. 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 cinnamon puff pastry, light and crispy with 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.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017


MAAEMO, Oslo, 9/6/2017 (17-Course, 2600 Kroner incl. VAT), Nordic, Michelin 3-Star

MAA (earth), EMO (mother) are old Finn language words, meaning “Mother Earth”. The correct pronunciation requires two syllables, confimed by the guests at the next table. It is the most northerly restaurant with Michelin 3-Star in the world. Its chef and co-owner Esben Holmboe Bang focused on building cuisine by using local produces, reflecting changing seasons and the raw nature of Norway.

Its decoration is very Nordic style, mainly black, white, beige and grey colors of furnishings. Current dining room arrangements can accommodate up to 35 guests. Half of the premises has high ceiling and the other half is divided into two floors. Its open kitchen is on the 2nd floor, with spiral staircase leading from dining room to the 2nd floor. Staff are trained in military style, all team member had to be ready with plate being held by both hands and aligned, probably based on course/table, before they started marching downstairs to serve customers. 

The Tasting menu comprised of 17 courses, no Amuse Bouche.

1st Course - Chicken Feet Cooked with Grains, Chicken Liver and Fermented Lingonberry Juice

This is the 1st time that I saw chicken feet on the menu of a Michelin 3-Star restaurant. Chicken feet have been a delicacy item in Dim Sum category of Chines cuisine for a long time. But, this chicken feet MAAEMO style is quite a creativity. Chicken feet was cooked, deboned, coated with flour and infused koji (fermented buck wheat) and then deep fried to crispy condition. Using koji enhanced the flavoring as well as the crispiness. On top of fried chicken feet was a layer of chicken liver parfait and wood sorrel which was topped by the cute oxalis leaves. Chef usually gathered the freshest wood sorrels from the forest across the bridge by MAAEMO. Above the oxalis leaves, there were drops of lingonberry juice. It was a true visual pleasure just to look at it. It had a sophisticated taste. No guest would be able to tell this is chicken feet without being informed of.

2nd Course - A Savoury Tart Made from Caramelized Onions with Aged Goat Cheese and Lemon Thyme 

Pie crust was made of caramelized onion juice which was dehydrated on silicon mat for 48 hours before mode into pie/tart shell. After pie shell was formed, it was filled with pickled lemon thyme jell and finely shredded 18-month goat cheese. At the very top, it was adorned with fresh thyme for decoration and taste. This was my favorite course in this dinner. Flavor and taste were all perfect.

3rd Course - Cornet with Smoked Vendance Row

A small brass instrument shaped roll was filled with cream of roasted yeast and smoked Vendance row (løyrom), from Kalix, Sweden. Cornet roll was the pastry shell with very delicate taste and Vendance row was not the heavy salty type. It was well balanced.

4th Course - Razor Clam with Green Strawberries and Blackcurrant Leaves

Razor clam looked smaller than the conventional ones because it was from Nordskot in the Arctic Circle region. Since water temperature is colder in Arctic, shell fish in general grow slower and require more fat content to shield from the coldness. Because of these environmental impact, shell fish from the Arctic are more tender and clean.

About 10 years ago, in the icy waters of Norway one intrepid Scot, Roderic Sloan, dived deep to satisfy the latest fjord-to-table craze at Europe’s fine-dining restaurants. He has been MAAEMO’s preferred supplier because his experience in catching only the finest quality of shell fish.

Razor clam in this course was served with green strawberry juice (dotted in green color) and blackcurrant leaves. Clam was juicy and very tender, the best quality I have ever had.

5th Course - “Lompe” with Fermented Trout and Horseradish

At the bottom, there was a piece of Norwegian pancake made of flour and potato and topped with a layer of rakfisk. Rakfisk are Norwegian fish dish made from trout or char salted and fermented for 2-3 months the n eaten without cooking. In addition to the layer of rakfisk there was a layer of sour cream, cured chicken egg yolks, pickled red onion, fresh horseradish and fresh dill. It did not taste fishy because red onion and horseradish provide the balance.
6th Course -  Fresh Cheese Made 1 Hour Ago from Raw Milk from Our Very Own Cow Wood Sorrel and Summer Cucumber 

Most of the dairy products are made from pool of many cow’s milk. But, this fresh cheese was made from only one cow’s milk 1 hour ago. It looked and tasted like custard. It was served with summer cucumber juice and fresh wood sorrel (green color) which contributed to the acidic taste. This course was almost like a palette cleanser.

7th Course - Emulsion of Raw Norwegian Oysters from Bømlo Warm Sauce Made from Mussels and Dill 

Flat oysters are available from Bømlo, Norway in all seasons. Oysters and mussels were made into a layer of jell (in transparent color) sitting on top of mussel broth. In addition, cream sauce and dill oil were floating on the top. No solid piece of oyster or mussel was present in the dish, it was the flavor through different way of preparation made the taste stand out.

8th Course - Scallop from Above Arctic Circle Fermented White Asparagus and Seasonal Flowers 

Scallop was from the Arctic Circle, caught by the best fisherman Roderic Sloan. It was served in fermented white asparagus juice by fermenting white asparagus in whey for a year. Scallop was seared in organic butter and brushed with another layer of butter while resting. Scallop has a slightly firmer texture (still tender) than the conventional ones, I am not sure it was due to its origin in Arctic or the cooking method. This is the 1st time that I have fermented white asparagus juice. Even though I don’t like whey’s taste, whey-fermented asparagus juice was delicious.

9th Course -  Skate Cooked in Salted Butter and Aromatics Chanterelles and Unripe White Currants 

Skate was cooked in salted butter and deboned. Chanterelle cream was served at the bottom of the plate. In addition, unripe white currant, fresh Chanterelle mushrooms and butter sauce were served on the top. Butter sauce was used to smooth taste of fish flecks because skate doesn’t have much fish fat.

10th Course -  Our Bread and Butter – Freshly Milled Norwegian Heritage Wheat and Our Very Own Butter

Bread was made from spelt wheat from Oland, Sweden. Spelt wheat provides higher protein content and more nutrients. Bread dough was rested overnight to provide more acidity. Butter was house made with slightly different processes. Ordinarily, during the process of whipping butter, butter milk was whipped out. But, MAAEMO added part of secreted butter milk back to make the butter more flavorful and a bit softer.

11th Course - “Rommegrot” – A Porridge of Very Sour Cream Smoked Reindeer Heart and Salted Butter with Plum Vinegar

This course involved a lot of molecular gastronomy. It started with reducing sour cream until it cleared away, separated the fat. Then, added flour and house-made Balsamic vinegar to thicken it. This layer was at the bottom of the dish.

Separately, to cure and smoke the reindeer heart. Dried it and grated it finely.

Lastly, pour the fermented plum juice in brown butter over the dried reindeer heart before serving.

With all the state of the art molecular gastronomy, no clue indicated this was reindeer heart.

12th Course - Quail Egg Gently Cooked in Roasted Bone Marrow, Cured Mutton and Charred Onions 

Quail eggs were half-cooked, prepared in roasted bone marrow, hidden at the bottom. Then, there was a layer of transparent jell made of pickled charred onions. At the top, there were Fenalaar (lamb leg part) and tapioca soup.

Fenalaar is one of the Norwegian’s favorite dish, also a traditional X’mas dish in the western part of Norway. Fenalaar means lamb leg, you will become a fan if you are a dry cured meat lover.

13th Course - Grilled Beef Aged 40 Days, Cep Mushroons, Feermented Garlic and Greens from Bergsmyrene Farm 

Beef, aged 40 days, was acquired from a special butcher Daniel Bergsmyrene. After grilling, beef was brushed with miso butter and served with reduced bone marrow soup. Since this is the season of cep mushrooms, sautéed cep, was added into the condensed bone soup. Lastly, purée made of Chanterelle and garlic were also incorporated into the bone soup.

Although aged 40 days seemed to be a long time, beef did not have a strong aged flavor. There could be a few reasons such as the breed, climate and method used. I was expecting a thick piece of steak, but what served in the plate was just a piece of filet.

14th Course - Frozen Blue Cheese with Pickled Black Trumpet Mushroom

This is the palette cleanse. Blue cheese was frozen in liquid nitrogen before blended into powder. Then, trumpet mushroom was frozen and grounded into powder which was sprinkled on top of blue cheese powder. It had a very pleasant taste even though blue cheese is usually considered a strong-taste cheese.

15th Course - Raw Milk from a Single Cow, Rhubarb, Flowers and Fragrant Rhubard Hazelnuts

Raw milk sorbet (without egg) made from milk produced by a single cow, was served with honey crumb, rhubarb juice, rhubarb root oil and lovely violet and barrage flowers.

16th Course - Brown Butter Ice Cream with Molasses and Roasted Hazelnuts

Caramelized butter was cooled down and mixed with raw milk to make ice cream which was served with brown butter sauce on top. There was hidden treasure “molasses” in the middle of ice cream. In addition, a piece of crumbled toasted hazelnut cook was at the bottom.

17th Course - Warm Norwegian Waffles made with Beef Fat and Koji Grains Brown Cheese, Preserved Berries and Whipped Romme 

This is considered an authentic Norwegian desert, mainly based on Norwegian waffles. They were made of flour and Koji grain for the flavoring and taste. There were 4 varieties of accompaniments – cloudberry jam (from 1 year ago), blueberry jam, brown butter and whipped sour cream. At present, it was the season of cloudberry (in yellow color). I have never had cloudberry before. It had a very mild taste, not too sweet, not too sour. It is definitely not the tastiest berry type.

This was the 1st time that I started understanding the meaning of “using local products”. I was not too interested in having Norwegian waffles as the main desert and inquired of the possibility of have an alternative such as chocolate based desert. I was informed the restaurant doesn’t provide any chocolate based desert because Norway does not produce cocoa beans locally.

Although portion of serving was moderate, MAAEMO procured only high quality local products, accomplished by sophisticated preparation and creative cooking. It was a pleasant fine dining experience. Since MAAEMO only used the local products, don’t forget to wish the preferred fisherman luck on catching quality shell fish from the Arctic around the time of your scheduled visit.