9th Best restaurant in the world (2011)
Our plans for Le Chateaubriand were initially to walk in for the 9.30pm 2nd sitting, which takes no reservations. But we had arrived at 6+pm in the area and quickly realised that it would be impossible to kill that much time in the area because, well, there’s not much to do or see in the area. We decided to take our chances and started heading over to the restaurant to check if we could get a table for the 7.30pm sitting, which, from the information I gathered online, is their reservation only sitting.
We arrived at the restaurant at 6.50pm to see a scruffy looking chef standing outside the restaurant, having a smoke and speaking to someone else. We must have been staring at him awkwardly because he quickly approached us to ask if there was anything he could do for us, before we could even finish the sentence, “We want to have dinner but we don’t have reservations….”, he had already popped into the restaurant to check with the front of house staff, he came back out a minute later and told us today was our lucky day, but made sure to let us know that we had to come back at 7.30pm, no earlier, because the staff would be having their dinner before that. Awesome, culinary fist pump to the air.
We entered the restaurant at 7.30pm on the dot, and there was already a couple seated inside. The restaurant has a quaint decor with tables close enough to eavesdrop any tables surrounding you, there’s a relaxed and fuss free air about the restaurant. We started off our meal with
Gougère with Gruyere cheese
The choux pastry for this particular gorgere was light as air, and there was quite a substantial block of gruyere encased within it that delivered a nice punch of flavor(All Gougères should be made with gruyere imo, not comte and not emmentaler) . Poppy seeds had a warm nutty roasted taste that tied together well with the cheese, toasting them gave the dish a subtle crunch, everything came together nicely. Nice start to the meal. Good
Shot of Ceviche water
What was this? A dish turned inside out? Instead of the fish being the star of the show in a traditional ceviche, here, the ceviche liquid is the main component and the fish takes a backseat. It really comes across as such a humble dish, served on an unassuming metallic tray, yet there is an elegance and charm about these little shots. The ceviche liquid was very tart and citrus-y but somehow wasn’t acidic to the point where it made you wince; perhaps to make it a little more palatable, the ceviche water was incredibly aromatic and it went down surprisingly well. There was a small nugget of fish ‘cooked’ in the ceviche acids, and the natural oils of the fish seemed to cut the acidity of the water very quickly, bringing back some much needed balance. Interesting way to whet your appetite and get it going. Okay
Shrimps & passion powder
Tiny, uber sweet prawns, tempura battered and deep fried, served with a dusting of passionfruit powder. I had a seafood platter with similar prawns for lunch the day before this meal, but mine were boiled with their shell on, and getting trying to eat them with their shell on takes a bit of getting used to. Tempura style works perfectly for these prawns because it makes their shell much more palatable, and it makes them a fun finger food. The passionfruit powder was first a little sweet, then you started to get the taste of the tart passionfruit. It really complimented the natural sweetness of the prawn well. Only criticism was that it could have done with a better coating of passionfruit powder. Good
Razor clam, Oxalis flower, tapioca pearls
The tapioca pearls were cooked in a fish stock that took on the flavor of the stock very well. It wasn’t overcooked either, soft and gelatinous on the outside with a slight bite at the center, akin to an al dente consistency. The salty, fishy taste of the pearls elevated the sweetness of the razor clam perfectly, a combination of flavours set in the nature. The Oxalis carried a woody aroma that felt a little out of place for me, but the onion ‘leaf’ sitting atop the dish was lightly pickled and didn’t overpower the rest of the dish, giving it a nice refreshing jolt to the taste buds. Good
Foie gras with vegetable consommé
If we are being technical, the consomme was far from being as clear as it should be, but the taste of it was phenomenal, very earthy, and it had the taste and sweetness of root vegetables, but the seasoning was just right, keeping the natural sweetness of the vegetables in check so that it stayed overall savory. The coffee bean was what made the dish for me. You begin drinking the soup and you’re getting the taste of this warm, earthy, savory broth, when all of a sudden you catch the coffee bean in your mouth and it immediately fills your nose with the aroma of coffee; you then bite into the coffee bean and you get the most intense burst of coffee flavor, mixed with the roasted bitterness of the bean. But you continue drinking and you catch a tiny cube of foie gras, which melts into this sweet, rich, unctuous cream, which aids beautifully in the silky smooth transition from bitter to sweet, then as you continue drinking, the familiar saltiness of the consommé washes the flavors down. It was one of those dishes that deceptively simple but seems to have a timeline of its own, evolving as you eat until it eventually comes full circle. Superb
Scallop, mustard, white cheese, watercress
The scallop was perfectly fried on one side, crisp enough that I can call it a crust, I’m not sure how the rest of the scallop was cooked, but the other side did not have a raw consistency at all, I have a feeling it was lightly poached. Most of the greens on the plate were quite bitter, which allowed the natural sweetness of the scallop to shine, it was tied together to the scallop with a dusting of wakame powder. I can’t quite describe how good the pairing of the scallops and the greens were, I’ve had much better tasting and fresher scallops before, but the combination of eating them together really made the scallops taste amazing. Every few mouthfuls or so, a tiny dollop of mustard would provide a peppery zing that dissipated quickly in the mouth, I found this pretty surprising because I find mustard to have quite a lingering taste on the tongue. The white cheese added a creaminess that tasted very similar to what mascarpone does for pastas dishes. A lot of balance going on in the dish. Good
Cod, raw mushrooms, pork jus
The pork jus was made from iberico, and I just need to go off on a tangent for a while- a lot of chefs seem to love using iberico jamon in recent times because its the new ‘hip’ ingredient, but iberico has an incredibly intense flavour that can overpower the whole dish very quickly if it isn’t used correctly; this dish needed that strength to counter that overpowering earthy taste that raw mushrooms have. Even my sister who absolutely hates raw mushrooms, found herself enjoying the dish. Raw mushrooms crumbled when you bit into it, giving the dish quite a peculiar contrast of textures, and the cod was lightly poached and had a clean flavour. There were 2-3 nuggets of walnut that filled your mouth with this wonderful aromatic nutty oil, and it was in fact the walnut that brought the whole dish together for me. This is exactly the kind of risky and delicious dish that defines Le Chateaubriand for me. Very good
Beef, cabbage, Thai sauce
The Thai sauce was actually made with predominantly lemongrass, but there was also a very distinctive jasmine rice aroma that I kept getting when I was chewing on the beef. The beef was very quickly seared on each side, leaving the center bleu. I enjoyed the texture of the beef, but I didnt quite get the seasoning, it was the dish I struggled with most that night. Bad
Buttermilk ice cream w herbs and burnt caramel
The subtle tartness of the buttermilk made the ice cream taste very similar to a mild but very milky yoghurt. The herbs were lightly dressed in olive oil and seasoned, and the ice cream ensured that the bitterness and peppery taste of the herbs did not overpower the dish. Eating all the herbs kept giving me the impression that I was eating a salad, but the presence of the Buttermilk ice cream seemed to bring this dish back to a dessert. The burnt caramel added a welcome sweetness and crunch. There were a lot of flavours going on, the bitterness from the herbs, sourness from the ice cream, salt from the seasoning, and sweetness from the caramel, but it came together nicely. Okay
Chocolate, beetroot and pears
Th chocolate was very intense, it tasted like it was pure melted chocolate thinned out with very little cream so as not to dilute its flavor. There was a raw earthiness from the beetroot that threw the dish off balance for me, it felt like it was a flavor component that didn’t belong at all, I ended up trying to get in as much chocolate as I could to mask its taste. The addition of the spices were a great idea but they were a little lost in the thick chocolate. Bad
Pineapple w Marsala
This is one of the most intelligent and surprising things I tasted this year. The toasted Marsala would have overpowered any other raw ingredient, but pineapple had the strength of flavour and acidity to pull it off, the pineapple toned down the harsh spices and the spices masked the sharp acidity of the pineapple. After you swallowed the pineapple, the majority of the pungent spice had already dissipated, so all there was left was the wonderful pleasant aroma of the Marsala and the lingering sweetness of the pineapple. There was also a refreshing menthol effect that came from one of the spices (Cumin seed? Coriander seed?). Deceptively simple but devastatingly and delicious. Very Good
The restaurant at 9.30pm, already a long line has formed
I did not expect much from Le Chateaubriand, it certainly wasn’t at the top of my list of restaurants I was most looking forward to visiting, but it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable. Many of the important French chefs have named Le Chateaubriand as their favourite restaurant, including pastry superstar Pierre Herme. It’s an unpretentious setting serving food of an incredible standard, and its importance in the culinary world cannot be understated; head chef Inaki Aizpitarte is already in the big league, brushing shoulders with Redzepi of Noma, Aduriz of Mugaritz, and Ferran Adria, but does Le Chateaubriand deserve to be the best restaurant in France, the 9th best restaurant in the world(As it is currently placed on the Pellegrino list)? No, probably not. But Le Chateaubriand is an important statement, that diners want to be served delicious food, in a well thought out menu, without having to dress up, or sit through a 4 hour dinner.
The service is far from being close to three star, but it is that sense of seeing people not in suits that puts you at ease, at the end of the meal, the chefs popped out of the restaurant for a quick picture with me(throwing rice on my head in the process), and you really get the feel that all of them are a close knit bunch that really have fun with what they do.
Inaki himself says it best, “I just hope people can understand what I am trying to accomplish each time, and that by having fewer and fewer flavours, the essential becomes more distinct”, the food doesn’t have too many components, everything on the plate is there for a reason, and the diner doesn’t have to scratch his or her head trying to tie it all together. My sister says about the food, “It looks so unassuming that you often forget to even take a photo of it, but it’s only after you’ve dug in and realized how good it tastes that you regret not taking a photo so that you preserve the memory”. And that’s what the basis of the food is about, it’s simple, but delve a little deeper, and you quickly realize that even within the simplicity, there is a tremendous amount of complexity beneath the surface.