Monday, 22 October 2012

Duck & Waffle - As Good as it Looks

Yes, the elevator journey up to the 40th floor at Heron Tower is as impressive as what everyone says. And it’s interesting how Level 40 feels much higher in London than it does in Hong Kong.

Since I’m literally working next door at the moment, I decided to check out the bar before dinner. My heart sank when a guy at the bar told me, “Food is not the point here, check out the view!” Hell yea the view is absolutely stunning with the Gherkin glowing and the glittering city stretched beyond darkness. But food matters! So I relaxed when he said he’s never eaten here... shut up then.

The restaurant has a posher touch to it, a few half circle sofa booths and small marble tables. We were seated right by the open kitchen and were under a continuous attack of mouth-watering aroma. We decided to skip the conventional-looking items and ordered whatever sounded wrong on paper.

Scallop / apple / black truffle / lime
These looked like sushi perched on a solid block of pink crystal. So pretty...but!

The apple chunk was leaning more on the citrusy side than fruity, and so it killed the delicacy of the thin slice of scallop. The truffle wasn’t helping either, as it was deeply engaged in a battle with the lime juice, which probably felt clueless as to what it was doing there when truffle essence almost always dominates. Scallop itself wasn’t top notch, could have been better with a thicker cut to gel things together. All in all, it was disorganised.

I know a lot of people liked this dish, even the ones who didn’t like D&W liked this dish. I didn’t. Michal didn’t either. Olivia would have liked it better if more scallop replaced the apple.

Yellowfin tuna / watermelon / balsamic / basil
The meal only got better from here.

Pairing watermelon and tuna sashimi is adventurous and it totally worked. The subtle sweetness from the watermelon cube brought a refreshing dimension to usual fishiness of the tuna, and also more succulence. And whatever punch the fish and fruit was missing because it was somewhat watered down by juice, the balsamic kicked it all back in. The flavours were layered and composed; I was pleasantly surprised.

Shetland mussels & clams / n’duja / fennel broth / house bread
The mussels were so plump the meat fitted to the edge of the shell, cooked to en-point perfection the silky morsels were melting on tongue. Flavours were fresh with an underlying pungent heat from the fennel and gentle spices. The bread was unexpectedly gorgeous too, super crispy on the outside, encasing some seriously piping hot pillow-soft dough. We only wished there was more.

Spicy ox cheek doughnut / apricot jam
And it just keeps getting better. The deep fried doughnut was light and fluffy and absolutely greaseless, packed with shredded tender ox cheeks, oozing with meat juice. The sweet paprika powder dusted on the outside made it even more addictive. When dipped in the apricot sauce, which probably drove the sweetness a tad into an overkill, it was like a barbecue pork puff, but in a doughnut, and even better.

Foie gras ‘all day breakfast’
The constant wave of pan fried foie gras coming from the open kitchen was killing me.

‘Breakfast’ was toast topped with a healthy slice of crispy edged liver, brittle streaky bacon, small balls of deep-fried  black pudding and a fried quail egg, all held in place by a thin layer of chocolate spread. The choc worked magic bringing the goodies together; took on the plum sauce role with foie gras, replaced the maple syrup job with crispy bacon, and enriched the flavours of black pudding balls. Top marks.

Despite the portion, it’s a pretty heavy weight dish that makes the traditional fry-up look too healthy. That said it was definitely worth that the extra gym-ing.

Battered sausages / mustard
The original plan was munchies with wine. These turned up right at the end of the meal after a gentle poke. Yea we know things come as they are ready, just hard to imagine how long these 4 dingy sausages could possibly take.

Once one has been hooked on the corn puppies at MEATmarket, these ordinary ones simply don’t make the cut. Next!

Duck & waffle / crispy leg confit / fried duck egg / mustard maple syrup
And here comes the wax seal.

I know others have complained about the duck being dry, but ours was perfect with crisp skin and tender, juicy muscles, almost like steamed chicken thigh-kind of tender. The egg yolk, the faintly gamey duck meat, and super fluffy waffle, all drowned in maple syrup with a mustard hint. Yes, drown, that’s how you’re supposed to do it, drown it dammit!

It was so freaking good; it was "the three of us stopped chatting and just kept saying ‘oh my god this is so good’" type of good. And it wasn’t the novelty of the combination; since I have had something similar in the States before, it was striking that balance between the sweetness of the syrup and the savouriness of the duck. Scrumptious, I loved it.

Warm Chocolate Brownie / peanut butter ice cream / crunchy caramel
They even nailed the desserts. Crumbly edges to the indulgent brownie with a moist chewy centre, paired with peanut butter ice cream. Who would say nay?

It was no doubt one of the more memorable meals I had this year in London. The food was quirky with sophistication and a touch of class to go with its location. We decided it was a great date-restaurant, the food sharing, the not-trying-too-hard ambience, unbeatable view, though I wouldn’t sit so close to the kitchen as we all ended up smelling like we had been cooking too. I’ve already put my next reservation in for 3 weeks time.

Whoever thought food was secondary to the view here at Duck & Waffle, think again.

Heron Tower
110 Bishopgate
Tel: 0203 640 7310

Duck & Waffle on Urbanspoon

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Monday, 15 October 2012

Le Grand 8, Paris

Le Grand 8 wasn’t our first choice. There were various other French bistros on my Eat List: L’Hedoniste, where I made a reservation but forgot to take down the address; Le Cornichon, which doesn’t open at the weekends; Albion, the awesome wine bar bistro that was fully booked up when we arrived. We resorted to take that steep walk up Montmatre hill.

Le Grand 8, or the Rollercoaster, boasts natural-wines that are unsulphured and unfiltered. If I am honest, my experience with so-called natural wines hasn’t been overwhelming; often unimpressed by the blunt earthy flavours and curt finishing. But I’m always open to have my mind changed.

No surprise to find a full house in a Saturday evening then, but we were still welcomed with Kamel’s open arms... to wait for 20mins. The blackboard suggests an ever-changing menu with seasonal ingredients.

Ceps Carpaccio with parmesan
This light starter was a probably too light. The thin wafers of cep mushroom melted on tongue, but I didn’t get the diffusion of funghi aroma. It was either the overpowering savour of parmesan or nothing. Maybe just a bit bland.

Seared Foie Gras, Paimpol beans
This, on the other hand, was spot on. The piece of foie gras was an absolute god-send, liquefying in the centre, crispy on the edges, and packed with powerful, pungent flavours. I prefer the classic recipe of pairing heavy liver with sweet fruit with port reduction to add more dimensions to the dish, but I couldn’t complain about this either.

Veal Chop, mushrooms and broccoli
The piece of veal was tender with all juices locked in.  Hearty, but a bit slack with seasoning and simply unexciting.

Lamb, potatoes and veg
I like my meat rare, this was well done, I wasn’t given the choice. It could have been any meat, a drier piece of chicken breast even, there was very little flavour to the meat except the familiar watery jus it was sitting on. Just, no.

Was it worth the trek? For me, no. As with all foods, there is always an element of personal preference to it. The mains almost felt like visiting a friend’s house for Sunday roast, and you’d politely eat the protein on plate because you’re hungry. That said, the grilled fish we saw whizzing by looked much more promising. As for the wine, I am yet to be convinced. For some, the combinations would have ticked quite a few boxes. Just didn’t do it for me. 

Le Grand 8
8 rue Lamack, 75018
Tel: +33 1 42 55 04 55

Thursday, 11 October 2012

La Patisserie des Reves, Paris

Finally. It was either here or Pain de Sucre, and the Patisserie of Dreams won. I would have ventured all the way to the one is Rue de Longchamp, where there is the eat-in tea room option. But it's a little bit too far to travel as we wanted to check into Musee d"Orsay for the impressionism exhibition. 

We opted for a brioche with a glazed, crumbly crust and a madeleine for breakfast. Then saved a couple of other delicacies for tea.


The caramelised puffs were given a crispy shell with the caramel glaze, sitting on the fresh, crispy sheets of millefeuille with the most feathery chantilly, bursting with vanilla fragrance.The chantilly was out of this world, it was light but not the airy kind of light, there was substance that doesn't weigh down on the stomach. It also added a bit of moisture to the pastry. Gorgeous.

Yuzu Swiss Roulade
The pairing of tea and yuzu was fantastic. It was mostly subtle aroma of smoky tea in the sponge, and a small lump of a yuzu jelly in the middle. Refreshing.

Madeleine was so-so, while I could see lots of vanilla seeds, aroma was too gentle and not heavy enough with the butter. St. John still does it better. Cynthia also bought a couple of packets of biscuits to treat the beloved...

La Patisserie de Reves
93 Rue du Bac
01 42 84 00 82

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Passage 53, Paris

This Michelin 2-star restaurant is hidden in the Passage des Panoramas by Grands Boulevards, in the 2éme Arrondissement. The arcade is lined by various posh-looking restaurants, and the smell was mouth-watering.

It was easy to walk by Passage 53 without registering its existence. With the white curtains drawn, its exterior looked like a vacant shop space under refurbishment. As we pushed through the door to a room of silence with 4 occupied tables, I have to admit it was awkward. Things warmed up as the diners attended their reservations and conversations started flowing.

There was only the option of a blind tasting menu in the evening, so we were placed in the safe hands of a team of Japanese chefs, meticulously showing off their modern touch on French haute cuisine. I am going to refrain from too much commentary on each course, as there should always be an element of surprise in blind tasting menus of this calibre. Let me just say this outright, it was an exquisite meal.

Amuse Bouche
A daring combination of a rich pumpkin veloute topped with cafe au lait foam; the trail of coffee aroma was most intriguing with the ripe sweetness of pure pumpkin.

1st Course (40Euro supplement)
We were offered the option of an addition course of French Caviar. It was a generous portion of shiny precious black pearls on a freshly baked skin of waffle. The caviar was magnificent. Unlike the more extravagant (or extortionate) variations, these were less forceful, just pleasantly savoury. It felt like a smaller version of ikura with triple the umami and double the sweetness. Stunner.

2nd Course
A plump oyster was hidden underneath his dollop of luscious smoked haddock cream and apple cubes - unbelievable mix of flavours in perfect harmony.

3rd Course
Langoustine with cauliflower puree and raw cauliflower shavings. The tenderness of the langoustine was beyond words, the texture was totally unfamiliar yet so addictive. It was work of utmost precision and delicate balance.

4th Course

Foie gras in clam broth topped with asparagus and pea shoot shavings. The combination was as unlikely as pig trotters and peanut butter, yet the cleanness of the broth was super complimentary to the richness of the small piece of liver. The pea shoot was incredibly sweet and brought every ingredient together.

Miss Cynthia doesn’t eat foie gras (what?! Yea I heard you; I thought she was joking too) She had to send it back. Unfortunately chef couldn’t offer an alternative, but did promise to pump up another course to make sure she leaves with a full stomach.

5th Course

Caramelised cod in fungi foam and ceps shavings – It was a stunning fish lost in a tsunami of mushroom foam, the fragrance was supported by subtle walnut chippings. Miss Cynthia did suggest using black cod instead, to make this super silky fish fillet ultra silky. I thought it was already as good as it gets as-is. 

6th Course

To get our palate ready for the meat courses: carrot veloute with chorizo cubes with soft boiled egg. The egg was indescribable; imagine the softest, most fragile onsen egg, but even softer and more fragile.

7th Course
Roast chicken breast with artichoke puree

8th Course
Roast pigeon, mini game pie, carrot and almond milk – The carrot & almond milk mash was unique, and added a roundness to the rare pigeon. A clever twist to a typical game dish.

9-13th Courses
We were then hit by 2 waves of mind-blowing desserts.

14th to finish off
Typical French canelé with a soft wobbly custard centre and a caramelised crust. By now I was stuffed to the brim, and it could have been the most out-of-this-world recipe I wouldn’t notice. Or perhaps it wasn’t so special.

Bill came to 340 Euros for two, 120 for the menu, 3 glasses of wine at 18 each, caviar for 40 and water. Given the sheer quality of the menu, it was of outstanding value. The innovation in the recipes were evident, some daring pairings of ingredients but nothing too whacky, just calculated and thoroughly thought-through. Despite the full team of Japanese chefs in the kitchen, Asian touches were limited; what shone through was the dedication and precision of Japanese chefs, and how they challenged the conventional methods of cooking traditional French ingredients. The result, is astounding.

53 Passage des Panoramas
Paris, France
01 42 33 04 35

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