Friday, 28 March 2014

A Magnifient CUT at 45 Park Lane

Mister booked CUT at 45 Park Lane to celebrate our first anniversary. 

Posh and plush. Needless to say, no expense was spared on the décor; oozing extravagance and class with its deep mahogany and touches of gold. The ambiance was intimate but with relaxed sophistication. I think it was the music that strips away the uptight awkwardness that we sometimes get in lavish restaurants. It was just right. 

We were brought some cheese sticks and savoury puffs to nibble on before our server introduced us to the different cuts and types of steaks. 

The white cloth on the right covers the USDA Prime cuts and the black cloth covers the Wagyu, which was what brought us to CUT in the first place. Starting from top: filet mignon, sirloin and rib-eye. 

On the Beef Marbling Scale, 1 being the leanest and 12 the fattiest, I think, though don't quote me on it, the higher-end of Australian Wagyu scores a 6. The Aussies have their own grading system for beef quality, and their premium M9 would be the equivalent of Japanese A3 (A5 being the highest rank). Sadly we cannot buy imported Kobe Wagyu here, so this stuff here may arguably be the best piece of meat one could lay their hands on.  I am a rib-eye girl; I like my meats fat and juicy. Decision made... but then I saw the more distinct marbling on the sirloin and I began to sway... 

Big Eye Tuna Tartar, wasabi aioli, ginger, togarashi crisps, tosa soy
The presentation reminded me of the O-toro tartar we had back at 15 East in New York. 

Even though it wasn't fatty tuna belly, the ensemble was equally luscious in texture. The diced lean tuna was trimmed of tendons, just sexy deep-red cubes in a shiny glaze of oil, enriched by the buttery ripe avocado. Flavours from the fish were clean and crisp, and its freshness accentuated by the subtle dressing of soy and hints of wasabi kicks - all in perfect balance. 

Prime sirloin hand cut "steak tartar", herb aioli, mustard
Though I usually prefer my steak tartar roughly chopped, this smooth version may have just converted me. The texture was incredibly soft, almost to the point of creaminess, but retained just enough chew to release the beefy goodness before it all melts away to leave a lingering meaty fragrance. The seasoning could only be described as precise; there was definitely a strong punch from the mustard, but the powerful bovine flavours comfortably took it on. 

Out of the two starters, neither of us could quite decide which one we prefer. 

Wagyu / Black Angus Beef, Darling Downs, Queensland, Australia
New York Steak with Bone Marrow, Wasabi-yuzu kosho butter (medium)
Yep - the image of the marbling on that sirloin was too vivid, I went with the Wagyu NY steak cut. Initially I thought the New York sirloin taster with a sample of USDA Prime, British South Devon Angus and a tiny bit of Australian Wagyu was a good idea, but then decided against it. Like all top class steakhouses, CUT is most likely to be equipped with a super-grill that could reach ridiculously high temperature, and so the steak would only spend a couple of minutes on the grill, if that. This means the thicker the cut, the better. That tasting sampler of 4 + 4 + 2 ounces doesn't sound so great anymore. 

And my sirloin was 2 inches thick, perfectly medium with the baby pink centre, beautifully seared on the outside with just enough charcoal to give off the smoky bbq aroma. It was well rested; while the meat was glistening in its melted fat, there was no leakage of beef juice on the plate - the kitchen has nailed the art. It was absolutely delicious. The meat was tender without losing its sirloin muscularity, the muscles had more structure and stronger meaty flavours, that combined with the distinctive wagyu grease, was simply divine. 

I had the wasabi & yuzu sauce, which was subtle and complimented the steak well - an understated citrusy kick to lift the Wagyu grease, not too creamy or thick on the palette. 

I love how the discs of bone marrow were casually scattered on my steak. No awkward scrapping of the uneven surface of a cut-open cow bone (take note Hawksmoor), because that kind of horrific murder scene really wouldn't cut it at a Dorchester collection restaurant, would it? 

Rib Eye Steak with Bone marrow, House-made steak sauce (medium)
I was kicking myself for not sticking to rib-eye - Mister and I swapped half of our steaks, but still - I am a rib-eye girl! 

The steak wasn't as thick as the NY (right); I guess this is limited by the 8oz mark. I would have liked the option to go for 10oz for a thicker cut. Not that it mattered because the meat was so soft that the knife sliced through with minimum resistance, and it tasted so sweet, so flavoursome. It was a delicious contrast between the smoky charcoal edge and the sweet melty beef. Each bite released more globules of cow fat and filled the mouth with the most addictive buttery flavours. It was too good to be true. 

But I finally found one thing I didn't like here: the home-made steak sauce. It was a crime. The sauce resembled one that goes with Japanese tonkatsu, a thick brown sauce with a heavy acidic tang. It was overpowering and drowned the meaty flavours from the meat; ruined it for me. Interestingly, Mister loved it. 

Wild Field Mushrooms, Japanese Shishito Peppers
Our sides was okay, but in my humble opinion, it was a tad heavy-handed with the seasoning. I wish we had stuck to the creamed spinach. 

Warm Dark Chocolate Valrhona Souffle whipped creme fraiche, toasted hazelnut Gianduja ice cream
We shared the warm souffle, which arrived in a mini pot and the server dropped the ball of ice cream and whipped cream at the table. The chocolate was rich and indulgent, but the fluffy, light soufflé reined it back in balance. It was the perfect finish. 

Our dinner at CUT 45 Park Lane was faultless. The service was professional without being snobbish, the pace of meal was controlled and attention to detail from our server was impressive. The kitchen team showed off their masterly skills by delivering the most precise dishes; balanced flavours and rounded textures. The experience was effortlessly elegant, and simply luxurious. 

Thank you, Mister. It was indeed a happy anniversary. 

Dorchester Collection
45 Park Lane
Tel: 0207 593 4554

Cut at 45 Park Lane on Urbanspoon
You may also like: Dinner by HestonTramshedBerners Tavern

Saturday, 22 March 2014

ARIA, Sydney

I scheduled 3 days in Sydney. Well, minus transit to & from the airport and half-day skydiving at Wollongong, it was more like 1.5 days. We started off with some oysters at The Sydney Cove Oyster Bar by Circular Quay, then a stroll around the area before heading to Aria by Matt Moran for dinner. 

The restaurant perched on a gentle slope and overlooked the quay with views of the Opera House. We were greeted by suited and booted staff at the entrance - I may have under-dressed for the occasion. The dining decor was elegant with shiny, polished woods, extensive wine-lined dividers and warm, mellow lights, half filled with people in slick dresses or shirt & tie - I definitely under-dressed for the occasion. Ah well. We were served an intriguing amuse bouche while being introduced to the tasting menus (4 or 7 courses) and the a la carte. We went for the latter. 

Scallops roasted scallops with calamari, Coorong pipis, hazelnut oil and a warm celery vinaigrette 
Our starters arrived at a lightening speed; we were still discussing matching wine options with the sommelier when the plates silently landed on the table. This also meant we didn't have our wine until half way through our course. And we really struggled to see our food properly - half the dining room opened up to beautiful views, which meant on a sunny day, natural lights would suffice. However at 7pm with an overcast outside, it left Mister wondering if they were having issues paying their electricity bill. 

Okay. Rant over. 

The plump scallops were delicious; they were meaty, well-seasoned to compliment their natural sweetness with a hint of nuttiness to round off the flavours. The dressing was light and refreshing; the distinctive celery fragrance worked well with the shellfish. I personally prefer my scallops undercooked to retain the creamy centre; these were just marginally overcooked to my preference, but Mister found them pretty spot on. 

Wagyu lightly smoked wagyu beef with soused onions, Dijon mustard and rye 
I didn't fall in love with this; Mister gave me ample warning but I stubbornly charged on. I was thinking something not dissimilar to beef carpaccio, thinly sliced ruby meat with visible fat marbling, simply dressed to bring out the greasy bovine fragrance from the posh meat. I don't think that's what I got; not that I could see what I was given anyway. 

The wafer thin slices were scrunched up on the plate, which was only a bit bigger than a side-plate, with a smear of mustard and sprinkle of rye. The smooth luscious textures one would have anticipated failed to come through, instead it was slightly waxy like regular cured meats, made even less enjoyable by the hard bits of rye. Flavours from the beef were meek, and any remaining traces were extinguished by the mustard. Overall very under-whelming. 

Lamb roasted loin and neck with sugar loaf cabbage, sweetbreads, sorrel and salt bush 
This could be one of the best lamb dishes I have ever tasted. The leaner loin was impeccably roasted to a deep pink centre surrounded by a scarlet edge, marshmallow-soft and glistening in its meat juice. The neck fillet almost melted in mouth with its small strip of lamb fat, which held all the milky flavours unique to the meat. The moderate and subtle addition of sweetbreads amplified the flavours and added a daring twist to the recipe. Loved it. 

Beef Rangers Valley rump with roasted carrots, mustard leaf and XO sauce
My beef was equally impressive, served medium, with textures like soften butter and packed with bold beefy wholesomeness. The XO sauce was understated but not unnoticed, gave more depth and zing to the dish. It was just a great piece of meat cooked exceptionally well. 

This may be purely psychological - I feel the meats in Aus just have more flavours, not added to them, but from the proteins themselves. Its not like we don't import Australian steak in the UK, but the ones here are just much more tender, more ruby-like and they actually taste like the meat they are supposed to be. 

Chocolate Valrhona caramelia chocolate with honeycomb and hazelnuts 

Despite a rocky start at Aria, our meal improved as the lighting of the dining room began adjusting to the evening. Service was generally very good; our sommelier recommended an unconventional, if not experimental,  wine when I said I wanted something different. He immediately offered to swap for something else when he sensed my hesitance during tasting. I stuck to it and as he predicted, it grew on me. Initially I felt a bit rushed, especially when the starters came flying and our servers just silently delivered our plates without any introduction, but then we were left to our own pace for the rest of the evening. The food lived up to expectation overall, especially our mains, which would easily sit with the best restaurants I've been to. I'm so glad Mister recommended Aria; I really enjoyed it. 

1 Macquarie Street 
East Circular Quay 
Sydney 2000 
Tel: (02) 9252 2555
Aria on Urbanspoon

Friday, 14 March 2014

Melbourne City Eats

Ah this drunken furry creature gets me giggling...

Anyway there is nothing food-related to the koala. I just really want one.

I had a crazy schedule in Aus, think I was too ambitious wanting to do everything in one trip. Well, I had to justify the 24-hour flight. I was hit by a barrage of restaurant names before my trip. However being out of the city most days, and having the most hearty breakfasts one could wish for almost every morning, meant I didn't even manage a fraction of the recommendations. Next time then. 

We made a stop at Bomba Bar for a couple of cocktails and nibbles on my city day. The rooftop was great with a different view to the city. The lamb ribs were particularly good with a wobbly rind of fat smothered in herbs. 

Queen Victoria Market has been open for a night market on Wednesdays, and despite the rows of mouth-watering stalls selling anything from peking duck to kothu roti, I needed to save my stomach for dinner. BUT we did give in to Soft Shell Crab Burger by Hammer & Tong.

It's... meh. There wasn't enough sauce, the bun was chewy, more batter than crab... just wasn't enough of anything to call itself a burger. We also tried some Korean potato twists, smothered in seasoning. They were okay - nothing worth writing home about though.

We spent a day around Yarra Valley after my sky dive got deferred to Sydney due to smoky skies. Mister came up with a list of 15 wineries, he didn't know I was going to spend an hour chatting away at each cellar. Oops. We managed 4 in the end and I liked Oakridge best. 

2 days later we were back in the city, and managed to fit in lunch at Hutong Dumpling Bar. The Xiao Long Bao and spicy wontons were exceptional. The other steamed dim sums okay, obviously not the best I've had.

I booked Ten Minutes by Tractor for lunch too, but my dolphin swim and hot spring schedule over ran:( 

HuTong Dumpling Bar on Urbanspoon Bomba Rooftop on Urbanspoon Hammer & Tong on Urbanspoon

Monday, 10 March 2014

Saint Crispin, Melbourne

Let me get this out of the way - We really did not enjoy our dinner at Saint Crispin. Out of my short-list of restaurants in Melbourne, I went with Saint Crispin because it was the bigger project of Estelle Bar & Restaurant, which earned raving reviews from fellow bloggers. 

After a beautiful day at Yarra Valley with Mister driving me around wineries and Healsville to play with adorable koalas, I was really looking forward to some decent Modern Australian cooking. It's been a long day so we weren't set for the 5-course tasting menu, instead we went with the a la carte with a couple of nibbles to get things going. 

Snap, crackle and pop 
Mister is a fan of pork crackling; but these were extremely disappointing. 

The seasoning was sprinkled on top of the crackling, which was rather pointless. When we tried to bite into the hard sheet of skin, or break it into smaller pieces, all the seasoning bounced off and landed on our faces, leaving the crackling absolutely tasteless and our faces plastered with herbs and salts. The texture was a miserable failure too; it wasn't crispy or brittle, the skin was coated with a layer of hardened grease that required tearing apart and left the most unpleasant mouthfeel. So all in all it was a bowl of deep-fried polystyrene. 

But that wasn't the worst of it - it was our server's reaction that seriously pissed me off. She obviously noticed we left the colossal pile untouched and we pointed out we didn't enjoy it despite her recommendation. She just nodded and "oh" and left - clearly didn't give a toss. 

Petit Waterfall rock oyster, NSW 
I was on a mission to slurp as many oysters as my stomach could hold. These mini oysters were quite strong in minerals with a slight crisp to them, though not as plump or creamy as I anticipated. They weren't served cold either, more at room temperature and that's kind of worrying. 

Atlantic salmon, smoked oyster, finger lime and sea vegetable 
The salmon came as sashimi, smoked oyster in the form of emulsion with diced vegetable. It was a good dish; the sashimi was at the right thickness to give the smooth velvety texture, though I prefer richer and fattier cuts. Like how it was presented, the flavours were quite disjointed and it was lacking something to bring it all together. A modern starter nonetheless. 

Quail, shaved cuttlefish, shiitake mushroom and kombu 
I think Mister made better choices from the menu than I did. The tiny morsel of quail was cooked to perfection with crispy skin and soft, succulent muscles. The clear kombu broth was clean and savoury, complimented very well with the juicy mushrooms, A well-balanced, delicate dish with a tad of Japanese influence, I only wish it was an adult-portion. 

Cone Bay Barramundi, eggplant, tomato and sea urchin 
The texture of Barramundi was fairly firm, and flavours meek seeing it's a freshwater fish. I usually prefer my fish slightly undercooked, but  the kitchen did a fair job; the skin was charred and brittle and the flesh was soft and flaky. Unfortunately the ensemble of the dish was a complete failure. The ball of smoked eggplant puree was extremely salty and overpowering, so much so that it drowned out the anticipated subtle sweetness of the sea urchin sauce. The grilled tomatoes was unpleasantly watery, and its slight acidity clashed spectacularly with the eggplants. It was just a plate of disaster. 

Greenvale pork, curried raisin and heirloom carrots 
Again, Mister made a better choice of mains than I did. I thought the slice of pork was roasted beautifully, the meat was tender and moist, topped with a strong and crispy crackling. That said the kitchen couldn't have gone easier with the salt, as the accompaniments already carried strong flavours. 

We didn't stay for dessert - frankly we couldn't wait to get out of Saint Crispin. Service was appalling. The wait between our starters and mains was an absurd 45 minutes, and I could see why from where I sat: the kitchen was cooking in batches. Engagement from our servers was minimum; very little introduction to the menu, limited knowledge when I asked about the difference in the two types of oysters, lack of interest in general. To top it all off, we pretty much had to eat in a furnace as we were seated close to the open kitchen, the air was humid and stuffy in that part of the dining room, and I left with a pretty sweaty back. 

It feels like Saint Crispin wasn't ready for the step-up from the cosy Estelle Bar; the kitchen struggled with the menu and the food wasn't quite up to standard. Unless this is what Modern Australian translates to... which I'm sure many would beg to differ.

30 Smith Street 
Victoria 366 
Tel: +61 (03) 9419 2202
Saint Crispin on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Rockpool Bar & Grill, Melbourne

 If you're a regular of my blog, you would have noticed I haven't posted anything for 3 weeks. I've been on an epic holiday - a couple of weeks with Mister in his homeland in Australia, a week with Mama Chan in Osaka and finished off with a few days back in Hong Kong. So I am trailing behind in terms of keeping up with the London scene, but I'll be sharing some of my culinary highlights from my recent travels here. 

When we were planning our trip to Melbourne, Rockpool was the very first restaurant that Mister said he wanted to take me. So even though I could only fit 3 restaurants in my schedule, this never fell off the list. 

Like all other restaurants in the Crown Complex, it's one for special occasions. We could even catch glimpse of the hourly fire display along the Southbank. Our server explained the menu to us after we settled in; I'd already spent long enough pouring over the menu online. 

Alaskan King Crab with Avocado, Cherry Tomatoes, Jalapeno, Coriander and Lime 
I was actually more interested in the steak tartare until our server said the king crab was going fast, and the last one might have already gone. And the selling strategy totally worked on me. 

Having thoroughly enjoyed my king crab at One-O-One Knightsbridge, I was hoping for something similar; massive meaty crab legs. Well, it turns out these Aussies prefer to serve the crab dressed. Damn - should have stuck to the tartare. 

Problem with dressed crab is that the quality of meat rarely comes through. Firstly I couldn't see if it really was Alaskan King Crab, whether it came in fresh and whole or already shredded. More importantly we lose the pleasure of biting into bouncy cubes of juicy crab that oozes oceanic sweetness. This ensemble was good; a fool-proof combination of flavours of rich and creamy avocado and ripe cherry tomatoes. I can't say it was designed with much thought and ambition though. Meh. 

Lobster Omelette with Prawn sauce 
Mister's starter, on the other hand, was a winner.  The thin sheet of egg packed in generous lumps of lobster meat mingled with warm runny eggs, topped with concentrated shellfish sauce. The lobster chunks were succulent and tender, but springy; the sauce gave it all the flavours and was well-balanced by the runny eggs. That said, I thought adding some crunch would have mixed things up a bit in terms of texture. 

Wagyu - David Blackmore full blood Wagyu 
Mister and I both went for the wagyu.Oddly enough they didn't have premium cuts on offer, so a fatty rib-eye was out of the question. We both opted for rump; medium - anything rarer may not melt the marbling fat. 

It was a great steak. The meat was incredibly tender, nothing like the typical rump. It was rich and buttery, its bovine grease deeply infused with the muscles, which held its structure and strong beefiness. We got the best of both worlds. 

Roasted Pumpkin and Sweet Potato with Garlic Yoghurt and Burnt Butter 
The list of sides was endless. In hindsight we should have chosen something a tad lighter. These were delicious and soft, and the thick yoghurt added to its richness - this alone would have filled me up. 

Wood Fire Grilled Creamed Corn with Chipotle Butter and Manchego 
These were even better, possibly one of my favourite sides at all times. 

Roshi recommended the passion fruit pavlova, unfortunately I had no space for desserts. 

I enjoyed Rockpool, maybe more for the ambience than the food though. The food was good, just not mind-blowing; say the steak was beautifully executed and cooked to perfection, but I would have liked the option for more premium cuts for the waygu beef. On the other hand, the restaurant was pretty spot on with the romantic vibe and fine-dining atmosphere. There were minors niggles in the service that annoyed Mister slightly, like our server splashing water over his cutlery, and our wine dripping with every pour... Maybe I'm nit-picking, but with the prices they are demanding, I'm allowed to.   

Crown Complex 
8 Whiteman Street 
Victoria 3006 
Tel: +613 8648 1900 

Rockpool Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon