Bilson’s – homage to Nouvelle Cuisine

A post from No Experts Australian Correspondent

I would suggest to any foodies planning to visit Sydney, that they should try if at all possible, to visit in October. Not only is it the beginning of Spring, but it is also the Sydney International Food Festival, a month long festival, where Sydney celebrates everything good and great about food and wine. From Picnic’s on the Harbour Bridge to 100 Mile meals,  Lunch on Fort Dennison to Market Tours with Celebrity Chefs.  From Shoot the Chef (a photography competition) to Night noodle Markets and Hats Off Diners, this year the festival had over 600 events in one short month!

This year Bilson’s chose as it’s theme for it’s weekly Hats off dinner, a homage to Nouvelle Cuisine. A menu designed to showcase the iconic dishes from Chef’s such as Paul Bocuse, and demonstrate how Nouvelle Cuisine has influenced contemporary cooking. The menu comes with a complimentary glass of champagne, and we decided to go for the option of matching wines, which were without exception sourced from France.

Our first dish, with the deceptively simple name of “Eggs and Caviar”, inspired by Michel Guérard the Godfather of Nouvelle Cuisine, was a complex layering of smoked eel, smoked eel mouse, coddled eggs, creme fresh, asparagus foam topped with chives and caviar, and accompanied with asparagus and Brioche soldiers. Beautifully light, the dish disappeared in a couple of mouthfuls, leaving me wishing for more.

Our second course of Mussels in Saffron Sauce (Roger Vérge) was tasty, a light saffron foam with very fresh mussels. I would question the necessity for the julienne of carrot and leeks underneath. I know it adds some texture to the dish, but I will never understand why is it that Australians have to serve carrot with everything?

The fish course was Salmon a l’Oiselle  inspired Jean and Pierre Troisgros. The Salmon was beautifully pan fried, and slightly pink in the middle, which is just how I like it, however I have to say that the Sorrel sauce was bitter, and while Jean Troisgros has a reputation as the Master Saucier, I would rather this part of the dish had been omitted.  The accompanying green beans were deliciously tossed in butter!

The Main course, would have to be my dish of the evening. Partridge accompanied by peas, lettuce, and salami, lending a  twist on this classic french combination. The partridge was deliciously rich and beautifully tender.  The dish was inspired by Paul Bocuse, and somehow manages to remain light while retaining the original rich earthy flavours from which this game dish is inspired.

I love cheese, and even better than cheese, I love a good cheese souffle.  Our cheese course, Petit Fromage Affiné, inspired by the eponymous Michel Roux Senior, for me was a slice of heaven! In fact if I could die and go to a heaven padded with this fluffy cheese Souffle instead of Clouds, I would be a very happy bunny indeed!

Our last course of Mille-feuille  with Red Fruits accompanied by a Chantilly Cream and raspberry coulis rounded off the perfect meal.  Coffee and Petite Four made a nice finish, and I couldn’t resist a 1959 Armagnac from Darroze.

Service was good, and it appears that all of the front of house staff are either English or Scottish. Initially they seemed a little aloof, but seemed to warm to us eventually. I would also question having just one restaurant manager who is also the Sommelier. Andrew Cullen is a nice guy, however he did seem to be running around, and was very rushed, which is not ideal, especially when you consider that we were dining early and the restaurant was quite empty to start with.

The  dining room is nicely decorated, but at the end of the day, it’s just a hotel dining room. One has to question whether a restaurant of this calibre really needs gimmicks such as a Clock where the hands are made of knives and forks, and re-hydrating wet towels. However they make for a little light entertainment, in what could otherwise be quite a stuffy dining room. Great food, although sadly, as I visited in the same week as dinner at Tetsuya’s, perhaps I didn’t really appreciate the quality of this restaurant as much as I should.  A good excuse to go back and try their normal menu!

Marks out of 10

Food 8.2

Service 7.5

Ambience 7.0

 

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Sidart, New Zealand – The Metro Best New Restaurant 2010

A post from No Experts Australian Correspondent

A recent business trip took us to Auckland in New Zealand. Having failed to get a booking at our first choice of  The French Café on Saturday night, we decided to opt for Sidart in Ponsonby, based on the fact that they had just won The Metro Best New Restaurant 2010. Ponsonby, for those of you that don’t know it is a hip suburb of Auckland with a strip crammed full for cafés, bars and restaurants. After several trips around the one way system in our taxi, we eventually found Sidart. At this point I was beginning to think that we had made a serious error in our selection of restaurant. Not only did the restaurant have no street presence at all, it appeared to be crammed upstairs in a rather tatty looking shopping centre. After picking our way past the chemist, we ascended the escalator to what did appear to be the entrance to a modern, and trendy restaurant. On arrival, through the sliding (to save space) door, we were issued a warm welcome by the staff. The room was a little cramped, but beautifully decorated and very modern, if a little dark. We started with a glass of champagne while perusing the menu. A lucky break landed us with a  table by the window, which had fabulous views across the City.

We eventually opted for the tasting menu, with matching wines, which left the staff delighted. The tasting menu, appears to be deceptively simple, but in fact we were presented with a series of spectacularly complex and beautiful dishes matched with superb wines from France and New Zealand.

The entire menu was delicious.  A dish worthy of mention was the Salmon. This appeared to be two dishes on one plate,  Salmon served with Mascarpone ice cream in the centre, which was amazing, with a second crumbed piece of salmon, served with goats cheese and liquorice served on the side of the plate. I was quite pleased by this, because the liquorice was not to my taste at all.  The couple at the table next to us, just loved it, however. We also learned from our neighbours, that the shopping centre we were in was of historic significance, having previously been an ice rink, cinema and Spanish restaurant. It seems the Alhambra Shopping Centre, is a much loved local landmark! We were entertained by stories of how our neighbours used to visit the cinema in their courting days over 40 years ago….I did say it was intimate, didn’t I?

The Duck with Chocolate and Avocado proved to be an amazing combination, and a joy to eat. I was slightly perplexed by the small piece of  Pork Belly on the plate. It was perfectly cooked, but didn’t really seem to belong with the rest of this dish.  My favourite dish of the night had to be Lamb loin with a smoked beetroot foam, with a yogurt sauce, cashew nuts and sprinkled with Nigella seeds. This dish was obviously inspired by chef Sid Sahrawat’s Indian heritage, and was a sheer delight to eat,  evoking memories of my childhood visits to our local in Indian. A perfect example of modern cooking, borrowing Asian flavours.

Service was friendly, warm and good, but perhaps not quite as polished as you might expect from a restaurant serving this quality of food. The staff were extremely passionate and seemed genuinely enthusiastic and excited by the food and wine that they were serving, making it an enjoyable evening over all. The food is inspired and innovative, and incredibly technical. Complex flavours were well matched with the wine, and our visit to Sidart has to rate as my best Gourmet experience of 2010 (so far). The restaurant is quirky, and very, very intimate, but well worth a visit for it’s exceptional food. Sid Sahrawat is a rising star to watch closely!

Marks out of 10

Food 8.5

Service 7.4

Ambience 5.1

 

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Moments @ MO, Barcelona – Setting the standard

At long last we managed to have lunch at Moments restaurant. The delayed opening meant we missed the chance on our last visit to Barcelona.  We were pleasantly surprised by the  interior, as the Mandarin Oriental website does not do it justice. It is a beautiful room that is both stylish and comfortable.

We were greeted by a familiar face, Carlos formerly of the Foliage in London. One of our regular haunts. He presented us with a glass each of Carme Ruscelleda’s 20th anniversary Cava.  Without hesitation we decided on the tasting menu (125 euro’s ouch!) along with a lovely selection of wines by the glass.

The meal began with the famous Appetizers Micro Menu which consisted of four appetizers one for each season. We then had a very artistic dish based on “Miros Bird” the original which we understand hangs in Carme Ruscelleda’s restaurant in Tokyo.  This was followed by a very refreshing dish of cuttlefish and peas then a very moreish crayfish dish with morel cream. Next came an unusual but successful combination of flavours. Sea Bass with strawberry chutney.  There was a choice of main courses. Tuna Cheek or Iberian Pork. The Tuna cheek in particular was stunning.  We then moved on to the cheese course and two desserts simply named “Red” and “White”. We both agreed that the Red was our favourite as this was a standout dish and not just because it used popping candy!

We finished the meal with the Eight Pastry Divertimenti. A selection of Petit-fours presented on a three tier cake stand.

After the meal we were introduced to the head chef Raul Balam (Carme Ruscelleda’s son).  It’s always nice to be able to tell the chef how much we enjoyed the meal.

The restaurant is too new to have been awarded a Michelin star or should I say stars as it will undoubtedly pick up more than one in the not too distant future, it is certainly a rival to its 3 star sister restaurant Sant Pau in Sant Pol de Mer.

WARNING: Dining at Moments can seriously damage your appreciation of other restaurants. Every other restaurant, even ones you really rated start to look scruffy and unprofessional in comparison. The attention to detail at MO is second to none.

UPDATE December 2010 – Moments awarded a Michelin Star in the 2011 Michelin Guide. In my view they merit two. For more information, see :-

UPDATE November 2012 – Moments awarded their second Michelin Star. Saw that one coming!

Marks out of 10

Food 8.3

Service 8.2

Ambience 8.5

 

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Texture – something good from Iceland!

One definition of the word “Texture” is “the distinctive character or quality of something” and Texture the restaurant is all about character and quality.  Angnar Sverrisson who is originally from Iceland does it all, delivering great tasting, beautifully presented food that has its own distinct personality.

We had our usual debate, should we go for the tasting menu or stick with our original idea of trying the set lunch menu at a fraction of the cost.  Fortunately we opted for the tasting menu with matching wines.  Indeed as soon as we tasted the amuse-bouche, a selection of different textured “crisps” artfully arranged on a piece of slate with a dip and the Pea and Mint iced tea, we knew we had made the right choice.  With every course and every glass of wine,  we echoed that sentiment.  The appetizer was asparagus with parmesan snow and hazel nuts. This was  followed by a sublime pigeon dish with sweetcorn and bacon popcorn. The next two courses were just as good, they consisted of  Icelandic cod with Chorizo and a very refined version of  steak and chips.   Then came the entertainment,  a rather topical looking pre dessert, a green apple concoction set in a bowl of dry ice, that spilled out on to the table like something from a volcano!  We finished with a Mango and Pineapple  dessert and a selection of petit fours that included a crispy variation of a traditional french magdalene which was surprisingly good.

So far we have just mentioned the food, but the wines were equally special. We particularly enjoyed the Californian Pinot Noir and the Australian Cabernet Sauvignon.  The wine selections were perfect matches for every course, and very reasonable at £45 for a flight of 5 glasses.

Definitely looking forward to coming back here – a rare treat.

Marks out of 10

 

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Foliage – The Last Post

Last Post for the Foliage, not last post for No Expert – we are still going strong.  The Foliage at the Mandarin Oriental however had a farewell lunch service today. It was lovely to be there but tinged with sadness, as it marked the end of an era for us.

The team pulled out all the stops.  We started with a complimentary glass of superb champagne and some very tasty canapes. This was followed by the amuse bouche.  We then had the opportunity to go off menu to choose some of the dishes. One of the standouts being the Sea Diver Scallops with chicken and mushrooms.  It was also impossible not to order our last gnocchi, one of the Foliages sublime dishes.  For main course we choose the lamb and an off menu beef dish, the wine selection chosen to go with this was absolutely stunning. Indeed all the wines selections were off a very high standard.  I especially enjoyed the Trocken Beerenauslese, Nittaus, 2004 dessert wine.

The ever attentive staff were on hand to bring us up to date on the progess being made to complete the Daniel Boulud Restaurant (Bar Boulud)  in the basement, due to open in May, and the Heston Blumental Restaurant which would be the Foliage replacement, due to open towards the end of this year.  It is just a shame that a such a fine restaurant is closing prematurely to make way for these changes. It was good to see the Head Chef Alex Marks come out of the kitchen to talk to some of the regular dinners, where he received some direct praise for his teams work over the years.  It was also a nice touch to be presented with a copy of the menu signed by members of staff as a memento.So it’s a fond fairwell to the Foliage. We and the other regulars will miss you.

See also Post – Fairwell to Chris Staines

Marks out of 10

Food 8.5

Service 9

Ambience 8.5

UPDATE : January 2011 – Alex Marks in now the head chef at Maze.

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Tamarai – lotus eating

Tamarai is a late night Bar/Club/Restaurant in Drury Lane with a pretty good reputation for its pan Asian fusion food. We found them when reviewing Top Table deals for January. Tamarai were advertising a 50% discount on their 9 course tasting menu (full price £52). Too good to miss.

Night clubs are not exactly known for good food, and we were a bit dubious about this place, as we navigated our way thorough the corridors and down the stairs to the restaurant, which basically did look like a dark night club with tables on the dance floor (slight exaggeration, but it definitely had that vibe about it).   However this place was a revelation, as it served up delicious dishes one after another, with no dip in the quality which started high and did not drop.

It is hard to pick out standout dishes when all the food is good, but I especially enjoyed the snow crab with coconut, and the rather amazing chicken salad, which was refreshing and spicy (neat trick). Even the strawberry and basil palate cleanser is worth a mention. The main courses were Thai Green curry and lovely almost meaty prawns in a barbecue style sauce. We then finished with White Chocolate Ice Cream and Fresh Fruit Kebabs.

As well as the tasting menu we ordered the flight of wines (5 glasses for £17),  which were a good accompaniment.

The staff were plentiful and the service was efficient.

I would even suggest if this Kitchen moved above ground to a fashionable location, like Mayfair or Chelsea, that they would not need to offer deals to attract custom. Definitely the best Pan Asian food we have ever tasted.

Marks out of 10

Food 7

Service 6.8

Ambience 6

 

 

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