Hong Kong

Bo Innovation, Hong Kong (**)

I first heard about Bo innovation years ago on an episode of No Reservations. When Bourdain visited the restaurant, he referred to head chef Alvin Leung as the ‘Ferran Adria’ of the east. This piqued my interest in the restaurant and I have since been keeping up with news about the restaurant. Chef Alvin has since gone on to be somewhat of a tv personality, appearing and promoting his restaurant on numerous shows, including the most recent segment I saw of him on Bravo’s Around the world in 80 plates. In the show, he lambasts his wait staff with a volley of vulgarities that even Gordon Ramsay would be proud of, although they were seemingly not doing anything wrong, apart from being a little slow to react to his demands. Although I feel that he is needlessly abusive, whether or not he takes on this personality for the camera is of little importance to me, what matters to me is the food


Dead Garden – Morel, Caterpillar fungus, green onion, lime

What looks like a miniature garden turned out to be the best dish of the day. A  morel powder sitting over a green onion and lime cloud(more of a mousse texture), with chinese caterpiller fungus completing the (slightly gruesome) illusion. The enoki mushrooms were dehydrated till crisp and had a strong umami flavor, I remember seeing Wylie use this technique somewhere, to make them look like twigs.  The combination of the spring onion-lime cloud and crunchy morels was brilliant, both in terms of flavor and texture. The refreshing spring onion foam brightens up the palate, adding a citrus lime note to cut through the richness morel. The caterpillar fungus added a nice crunchy mouthfeel to each bite. I thought the dish could have been plated to look a little more appetizing, but maybe this was done intentionally to shock the diner? Regardless, a good start to the meal. Good-v good

 


Saba – Sesame, ponzu cloud, ginger, parfum de hong kong

Served over a metal bowl with the smoky effect of dry ice carrying the “perfume of hong kong” eminating from within. I would like to think that the perfume might have contained drain water that was procured near the harbour, metane, fermented fish, or maybe even a combination of the three. Considering how ‘extreme’ chef Alvin Leung is, I wouldn’t consider it impossible. The oiliness of the Saba fish really melted well with the sesame oil to form some kind of delicious, wonderfully fragrant mutant oil. The ponzu foam actually carried a good amount of ponzu flavor, and of course it worked nicely with the fish. Ginger cleansed the palate at the end. An artful balance of Chinese and Japanese ingredients. Good


Xiao long bao

I love the idea of this dish, a molecular version of a xiao long bao, with the stock used to make xiao long bao spherified and encapsulated within itself, with no need for any of the pastry, served with a sliver of ginger to pay homage to the way the classic dish is eaten. Despite so much anticipation around the dish, I found it to be largely disappointing= it wasn’t particularly well spherified, either made with too much alginate or it sat too long in the calcium bath, which lead to it being too gummy and viscous for me, plus it was under seasoned as well. Okay

Black Truffle Cheong Fun

I ordered this as a side without realizing that it would show up later in the meal. The texture of the Cheong fun was good, but I’ve had better in Singapore. What I like was the they bothered to roll small pieces of diced truffle into the Cheong fun, so that when you cut into it, you could see tiny pieces of truffle embedded within each layer. The truffle sauce wasn’t overpowering and the Cheong fun was actually a very good vessel to carry its flavor. Okay-Good

Har Mi – Lo Mien, Chili, Kankio

Har mi noodles had a much punchier dried shrimp flavor than the version I had in Singapore during the savour event; its a pity that I wasn’t crazy about the texture of the noodles. The noodles were a little dry as well, although in their defense, an entire teapot full of (tasty) oil was provided, to be added as and when the diner sees fit, the clogged arteries come as a freebie. The spiciness from the oil was present but never overpowering. Despite its faults, I did quite like the dish, it felt comforting and familiar. Okay-good


Cod – Saffron Miso, sauterness, seaweed

The saffron miso sauce tasted a lot like something fruity, almost… Passionfruit-like, and I couldn’t figure out why. Its a strange combination of flavors. and they didn’t really work well for me either- the crisp seaweed added a pleasant burst of salty flavor, but the (strong) alcohol in the Sauternes jelly didn’t really go well with anything and just completely wrecked the dish because it was so pungent, to make matters worse, the cod wasn’t particularly well cooked either. Bad


Foie Gras – Mui Choy ice cream

The foie gras was cooked in a ‘shao ya’ (roasted duck) style, and it did take on a nice glazed effect, while retaining a bounchy texture.. The concept behind the dish is sound, the saltiness from the mui Choy ice cream balances the sweetness of foie, the sharp pickled/briny taste of the mui Choy cuts through the richness of the foie, the cold ice cream contrasts the warm roasted foie, but the portioning of the dish was imbalanced and despite rationing the amount of foie on my plate, I was left with a big chunk of ice cream left, which doesn’t sound like it is a big deal, but it is so strong and salty that it was almost inedible on its own. Okay-good


Saga-Gyu Beef – Black truffle, soy, cheong fun

The beef was expertly cooked- soft, a medium rare, and a very thin seared layer on the edges, unfortunately, it still had a bit of connective tissue within the meat which made it a little tough to break down when chewing. Despite this, it had the most wonderful nutty flavor, everything I’d expect from A5 grade beef. The soy sauce was gelled with some kind of hydrocolloid, and gave the sauce enough thickness to be lathered onto the meat. The truffle and the soy worked well together, it wasn’t a bad dish. It just felt a little one dimensional, pairing soy sauce with beef and truffle, it just felt a little too…. simple? Okay-good


Strawberry – Wolfberry, Pineapple, Chinese Green tea

This consisted of a strawberry jelly, wolf berry sauce, pineapple granita, freeze dried pinapple, and Chinese green tea ice cream. The jelly had a wonderful consistency, very wobbly and melted almost instantaneously on the tongue. The soft texture contrasted the crunchy freeze dried pineapple as well. The green tea ice cream tasted good on its own, but no matter what I tried to eat it with, it just clashed and didn’t work with any other component for me. Its a pity because it felt like this could’ve been a great dish. Okay-good


Mandarin Orange, almond foam

Before the waiter could explain the dish, my impatience got the better of me and I stuck my face straight into the smoking pot. Right as he said the words ‘served with the smell of incense’ I immediately got hit with the strong aroma you get when you visit temples. Not the least bit appetizing, but at least they saved it for the end of the meal.  The almond foam was dense and had a surprisingly strong flavor, but  hardly anything to write home about. Okay


 

My meal at Bo has been a long time coming, it’s almost as if I have observed the restaurant and chef from afar for a long time before getting the opportunity to dine here. It seems that there are two schools of thought about Bo, you either hate it, or you love it. And while I can say that I didn’t have a bad meal, I did leave feeling pretty disappointed. The only dish that really impressed me was the lime-spring onion cloud dish, it showed innovation and it followed through with execution.

All the other dishes were either well executed, but weren’t particularly interesting (beef), or had an interesting idea, but fell short on execution(mui Choy and cod). I has always had doubts about the place, but after holding onto their two stars for two years in a row(after dropping to 1 star in 2010), I assumed that they had finally found their footing(despite the reviews still being very mixed)- unfortunatel, the food I had didn’t reflect this, it doesn’t feel like a polished product, and some of the techniques used seem to be geared to shock and awe diner, and these these techniques don’t necessarily serve to make the meal a better experience.

I wouldn’t return to Bo, a bulk of their menu hasn’t changed over the years, and if the meal I had is an indication of quality of the rest of the menu, then doesn’t really warrant a return. Back when Bourdain visited Bo, it was one of the pioneer molecular gastronomy restaurants in asia, these days, there are far too many other molecular restaurants in Asia, perhaps chef Alvin had better cash in on his fame soon.

Indonesia

Ibu Oka, Indonesia

I first heard of Ibu Oka on Bourdain’s No Reservations episode of Indonesia, that look of bliss when he bites into that crisp pigskin has always given me the impression that it would be the the mecca for everything good about roasted pigs. I read about travelers flying in specially to eat here, I read most of the blog reviews, lets just say that expectations were high. I had ‘the works’ when I went to Ibu Oka, which basically consisted of a small bowl of soup, and a basket of rice with everything pig part that they served on the menu.

Pork Soup

Nothing to write home about, it was tasty but pretty pedestrian.

The works (Thats not really what they call it, I just cant remember what its called)

The main part of the meal consists of rice with 4 components:

‘Salad’: Bits of shredded pork with long beans and carrots. Hardly what you came to Ibu Oka to have, but it was surprisingly good, had lots of good spice and the long beans had a good crunch to it. Okay

Fried pork bits(intestine, I believe): This is hiding under that pork skin in the picture. It was so hard that it was borderline inedible, it was tasty when you (eventually) managed to chew it down, but not before your jaw started cramping up and teeth started to ache. Bad

Pork meat: The best part of the meal, meat was tender, and the sauce they put on it was great- very spicy, but in a way that slowly creeps up on you as opposed to a slap in the face, it played off the pork very nicely. Good

Pork skin: This was supposed to be the star of the show, I saved it till the end because I was so excited about eating it. I took one bite of it and flipped out. It was… not crispy, at all. It was, in fact, chewy. Where the hell is the crunch that Bourdain got? Was that some audio effect that they added in during post production? Very bad

Worse than getting jilted at the alter 

Ibu Oka was in one word, a letdown (the a doesn’t count). I dont dispute the possibility that standards may have dropped since Bourdain filmed at the restaurant in 2007, but this was pedestrian at best. And to think that I had so much hope for the meal, that I could actually say that I’ve eaten the best pork there is to eat and die happy, but no, this is far from the best, and the search continues. Anyone coming to Indonesia shouldn’t go out of their way for this because in all probability, you’re gonna end up disappointed. Prices aren’t exactly cheap, and service is pretty shoddy. To end on a positive note, I did get to stay at a nice hotel in Bali.

Spain

Rafa’s, Spain

Note: I have only uploaded some of the dishes that we had during the meal, the photoset isn’t complete.

Rafa’s came under my radar after an episode of Bourdain’s ‘Decoding Ferran Adria’. Ferran Adria actually mentioned that Rafa’s is his favourite restaurant, and if its good enough for the best chef in the world, it’s definitely good enough for me. Actually having a meal at Rafa’s isn’t all that simple, after spending a lot of time researching on the internet, I found out that the best way is by following these steps:

1) Call a week in advance to get your reservation

2) Call on the day of your reservation, to make sure that the restaurant is going to be open on that day, because if the catch for that day isn’t up to Rafas standards, he won’t open the restaurant

3) Print a blown up map of the exact location of Rafas, as well as the address. Because if you don’t, you are not going to be able to find the place

As you can see, Rafa’s has no discernible signboard that actually gives you an indication that you’ve reached Rafa’s, if this is your first time here. Set in the quaint neighbourhood of Roses, 5 minutes away from the beach, the fact that this is Ferran Adria’s favourite restaurant goes to show that the best chefs in the world love to eat comfortably on the regular basis.

Rafa’s serves only seafood, but not just any seafood, the freshest they can get their hands on; meaning that a few hours prior to your meal, everything you ate was still alive.

Snails

The first dish we had at Rafa’s, testament to their mantra on the quality and freshness of seafood, this was, indeed, very fresh. It had a good natural sweetness, and a nice bite. Okay

Sea Cucumber

This was actually the first time I had come into contact with a white sea cucumber of this variety, apparently found off the coast of Spain, make no mistake, this isn’t the kind of sea cucumber that is served at Asian restaurants, this was a revelation for everyone at the table. It was so meaty, juicy, and crunchy, it had the consistency similar to that of a bamboo clam, but much softer. Rafa’s doesnt use a lot of fancy cooking techniques, its mainly olive oil, salt, and then it goes on the grill, letting the seafood speak for itself. This was one of the best things I’ve ever had. Incidentally, we had the same kind of sea cucumber at El Bulli the following night, but all of us preferred the Rafa’s version.  Superb

Squid

How do you follow up that amazing sea cucumber dish? With a dish that’s just as good, if not better. I knew that I wouldn’t be uploading the full set of photos from Rafa’s, because all the mains we had were fish, but this, to me, is the crux of this blog post. If you ever come to Rafa’s, and you can only order one item, this is the one to get. This is everything a squid can, and should be; grilled to absolute perfection,  drizzled with the highest quality olive oil, and seasoned with a little salt, only then, do you treat an ingredient of this quality, with the respect it deserves. The legs grilled till they had a nice char to them, you get a crunch with every bite, the body so juicy, so succulent, and those aren’t normally words you’ll associate with squid. No herbs, no garlic, because that would have taken away from the natural flavour of the squid, sometimes less is definitely more. This was actually served as a starter at Rafa’s, but we saw someone having a huge plate of this, and nothing else. Superb

The highlight of the meal at Rafa’s is supposed to be the fish, and we had fish, a lot of fish, so much fish that I can’t even remember most of what we had, which obviously doesn’t do justice to the dishes we had. Each fish was simply cooked, again, olive oil and a little salt, maybe a little garlic. Good

And guess who we spotted? Albert Adria, who as the creative director and pasty chef at El Bulli up untill 2008, also, brother of Ferran Adria DUH

This was truly, one of the most memorable meals I’ve had. And look, no Michelin stars. Rafa is clearly a chef to cares deeply about the quality of the food he serves to his customers, and you taste it in everything you at at his restaurant. If there is one comment that I can leave you with, it’s that if you have a reservation at El Bulli, Rafa’s is just as important a place to visit when you’re in Roses.

Chicago

L2O, Chicago

Update: As of 19 November 2010, L2O, along with Alinea in Chicago, have been awarded 3 Michelin Stars

 

I recently visited Chicago(Note: I do not blog in chronological order) which (I assumed would) give me an opportunity to try Alinea, unfortunately, it was closed on all the days that I was there. So began the look for an alternative, and I finally decided on L2O. Reservations were simple enough, made on opentable, no problems whatsoever, probably because this was on Christmas eve at 6pm. Nonetheless

_dsc1869-as-smart-object-1_dsc1831-as-smart-object-1_dsc1830-as-smart-object-1_dsc1829-as-smart-object-1_dsc1836-as-smart-object-1

Upon entering L2O, which can be extremely hard to find if you don’t know what you are looking for, we were greeted by 2 members of staff wearing Japanese Komonos, which really confused me because it wasent a Japanese restaurant and everyone else was in a suit. Possible geisha services for ballers?

The menu: You are  given a choice of either a 12-course tasting menu($165) or a 4-course prix fixe menu ($110) where you choose 3 dishes from the following categories: Raw, Warm, and Main. Both my mum and I chose the prix fixe

Amuse 1: Gruyère cheese puffs

_dsc1834-as-smart-object-11

Cheese puffs were surprisingly light, crisp on the outside and gooey on the inside. Nice

Amuse 2: Tuna

_dsc1840-as-smart-object-1

This was actually a combination of tuna, orange gelée, tomato, olive oil foam. I think it was supposed to be a ceviche-like appitizer. It wasen’t particularly good, but it was pretty refreshing. And god damn, only the french can make jelly sound so pompous.

Bread Service

_dsc1838-as-smart-object-1_dsc1839-as-smart-object-1

Bread was outrageously good. Favourites by far were the Bacon Mustard Seed Bread, which had a nice chunky cube of bacon in the center of a dome shaped piece of bread, and the Anchovy-Basil Broiche. Bread was served with a housemade butter in a gratuitously-futuristic container.

Raw Set A: Shimaji, Red Miso, Radish, Soy Salt

_21

This was my raw course. Fish was very fresh, had a nice bite to it. Red Miso had a subtle flavor to it, too subtle for my liking. I wish they had given more of it. It was okay

Raw Set B: Peekytoe Crab, Avocado, Kaffir Lime, Lemon Oil

_4

This was my Mums dish. The peekytoe crab meat is all in the center of the dish, the avocado was cut into a dome to cover it completely, and the Kaffir lime was made into a gelée surrounding the avocado dome. Crab was nice and sweet, and crab+avocado always makes a good combo, lime gelée was not too biting. Good

Warm Set A: Foie Gras, Port, Cocoa Nibs, Pear, Celery

_dsc1843-as-smart-object-11

This was mine. I can’t remember all the components of the dish. But the odd looking spaceships on the left are sliced pears with topped with a jelly. The odd looking statues on the right are celery cubes fried in a wantan skin. Foie gras was topped using a crisp dark chocolate wafer, which I had problem with. When eaten separately they both tasted very good, but the crunchy-ness of the chocolate wafer overpowered the softness of the foie when eaten together. Otherwise, everything had good flavor, foie was cooked nicely, it was very good.

Warm Set B: Salted cod, Fingerling Potato, Smoked Gelatin, Caviar

_dsc1845-as-smart-object-1

The salted cod was minced finely and placed at the bottom of the serving cup, it was covered with puréed fingerling potatoes, topped with smoked gelatin and caviar. My mum had trouble with this because she found the fish too salty. When I tried it, I didn’t disagree with her. But otherwise the texture of this is amazing. The potatoes were so finely puréed that they were barely viscous on a spoon, and the gelatin strips added a nice bite to the smooth texture. Good dish apart from the slightly overpowering saltyness.

Main Set A: Arctic Char, Champagne, Zucchini, Chanterelle

_dsc1847-as-smart-object-1

The Arctic Char, which to me is quite similar to salmon but has much softer meat, was raw on one side, and cooked on the other. The play of the raw/cooked meat was very interesting, chanterelles were well seasoned. It was okay.

Main Set B: Pork Belly, Truffle, Potato

_3

I told my mum when she was deciding her main that I heard this dish was good, so she went with it. When my mum saw this she immediately said: Siew Yuk!(Roasted pork) Wow, this was over the top. Kurobuta pork belly roasted perfectly, served with a black truffle sauce, and potatoes done 3 ways. My mum had 2 slices and decided that she couldnt take anymore, I couldn’t let it go to waste. The pork was amazing, meat was tender, fat had that melt in your mouth goodness, skin had a nice cunch but immediately dissolved in with the rest of the fat porky goodness, truffle sauce complimented the pork well. Potatos didnt need to be there, they were way too heavy for the dish and the cylindrical-shaped potato wedges were somewhat undercooked. Great dish apart from that minor drawback. Very Good

Amuse 3: Frozen Marshmellow

_dsc1848-as-smart-object-1

I wasnt paying attention to the server as he was explaining the dish, but I did get the words “frozen marshmellow”, which made me somewhat intrigued, but worried that it would be too sweet because i was fairly stuffed at this point. It was actually tart, and according to the L2O blog, Im going to assume its  ginger-lemon combination, quite refreshing. And whats it like to eat frozen marshmellow? It has a texture I cant quite describe, not as sticky or gummy as you would imagine, kind of like a heavier version of ice cream.

Dessert Set A: Chocolate and Raspberry done 16 ways

_dsc1851-as-smart-object-1

After we were done with the mains, the server came to our table and started rattling off a long list of dessert choices, but the moment he mentioned this, I knew I was sold. In the center is a Raspberry sorbet, chocolate and rasbperry sauce around it. To the side, an actual raspberry(omg), a raspberry meringue, and “chocolate air”, topped with  cotton candy and raspberry powder. Theres not much to say about this, it was pretty heavy, often abit too sweet, but yummy nonetheless. Good

Dessert set B: Soufflé with praline

_dsc1849-as-smart-object-1

I only had a small bite of this but from what I could tell it was pretty good. Praline wasen’t too sweet.

Amuse 4: Passionfruit Marshmellow

_dsc1853-as-smart-object-1

That treehouse-looking base is made from sugar, notsupposed to be consumed unless you enjoy being diabetic. I don’t like the gummy consistency of marshmallows, so I like my marshmallows roasted. Passionfruit flavor was definitely shone through.

Amuse 5: (What once was) Chocolate Ganache

_dsc1854-as-smart-object-1

For some reason I completely forgot to take a photo of this. Well, it was good. You could taste the quality of the chocolate, had a nice bittersweet-ness that lingered on the tongue. Overall, it was a good meal, food was very satisfying, some dishes were confusing and didn’t quite fit in the the overall meal, but others were great. Service was very good, our server was very friendly and never had a problem answering any of our questions. My mum offered to show him around Singapore since he said that he has always wanted to visit. However, if I ever go back to Chicago(which I probably wont), I’m heading over to Alinea.

After the meal the server offered to take us on a tour of the kitchen, we jumped at the chance.

Prep Room

_dsc1857-as-smart-object-1

Kitchen: Sweet foods on the left, Savory on the right

_dsc1859-as-smart-object-1_dsc1858-as-smart-object-1_dsc1863-as-smart-object-1

Spice Rack Cabinet, Each container meticulously labeled. Interesting note: My server, seen in this photo, actually ended up at 2am Dessert bar in Singapore! Talk about a small world.

New York

Momofuku Noodle Bar, New York

Pork Steamed bun
First Appitizer

Yes. this is Kong ba pao to most Asians. I have grown up eating Kong ba pao all my life, but this was good, very good; and thats saying alot, coming from a Chinese guy(Yes im using the race card). Pork was melt in your mouth fatty, sauce added the right amount of saltiness to the dish. Amazing, definitely one of the “must order” dishes in the noodle bar. Very good

Smoked chicken wings – pickled chili, garlic, scallions
2nd Appitizer

Sauce was somewhat thick and flavorful, chicken wings had a nice glaze and a great smoky aftertaste. I was also very happy that there was a liberal amount of spring onions in the dish, for some weird reason. Good

Momofuku ramen – pork belly, pork shoulder, poached egg
First Main

Egg was nicely cooked, Pork was tender, noodles had a very nice texture. But the soup and pork meat was not very flavorful, I’ve had much, much better ramen broths. A forgettable dish, Okay.

Roasted monkfish wrapped in pancetta, with a garlic miso sauce
2nd main

Very well cooked piece of fish, tender but had a good bite to it. Pancetta did not impart much flavor to the dish but added a nice crisp outer skin on the fish. Garlic miso sauce was amazingly, very nice combination of saltiness from the miso, and of course the lingering garlicky kick at the end.

Blackberry soft serve ice cream + Olive oil cake crumble

Stopped by for dessert after lunch at the noodle bar. Ice cream was very intensely flavored, very tart and somewhat overpowering. Olive oil crumble added a nice texture, but the taste of olive oil was faint. Okay

Its hard to judge a restaurant based on a lunch prix fixe menu, and noodle bar isn’t even David Changs flagship restaurant. But from the few dishes I had, he seems to know his Asian cuisine well, and its refreshing to have someone using Asian techniques on quality ingredients, that, in my opinion, is how many dishes are taken to the next level. Many Americans have a misconception of Asian cuisine, even more so in a cosmopolitan state like New York, we dont have Panda Express in Asia, we dont eat Kung Pao chicken Orange Glazed chicken(Even though, admittedly, they are at times, delicious), we dont have fortune cookies after meals; its good to know at least David Chang is serving up Asian fare in Ne




Spain

Jamonisimo, Spain

Ham Purveyor to reknowned chefs such as Anthony bourdain, Ferran Adria, Alain Ducasse,Joël Robuchon.

I first heard about Jamonisimo on Anthony Bourdain’s special on “Decoding Ferran Adria“, the scene where he rubs a piece of iberco jamon on his lips,and the look of satisfaction on his face thereafter, left such a strong impression on me that it was one of the first places on my list to hunt down, the moment I knew I was going to be in Spain. Enter Jamonisimo, a quaint little shop in the middle of a busy Barcelona neighbourhood.

Racks and racks of delicious, cured ham, left out to dry. But not just any kind of ham, this was Jamón ibérico, or Iberico Ham, or pata negra, or simply put it, the best damn ham in the world. And make no mistake about it, Jamonisimo makes a conscious effort so source out the best hams in Spain.

We started out with a platter of choritzo and various other kinds of sausages. They were all good and had their own distinct personalities; smoky, salty, decadent, even nutty at times. Good

And then we came to the real deal, the Iberico ham. Eating this redefined my idea of what ham can, and should be. So soft and translucent it nearly melted on your tongue, releasing an explosion of the most intense ham flavour I have ever experienced. There are many chefs that work with Iberico ham, but to taste it in its raw(somewhat) form, was an absolute treat. 3 forms of the Iberico ham is served on the tasting platter, each from a different part of the leg. Superb

Spain

El Bulli, Spain (***)

3 Michelin Stars

The Best restaurant in the world

The drive to El Bulli is a journey in itself, much like the meal. The road to El Bulli stretches up high atop the mountains, where you get a scenic view of  Roses, then you come down slightly on to a plateau-like area where El Bulli resides. Few buildings surround El Bulli, and it would be easy to miss the restaurant, if you don’t know what you’re looking for. After a short walk in the garden, the last thing you see is the view of the restaurant kitchen through a little glass window. With the head of a Bull and Ferran Adria at its helm. El Bulli’s culinary connections span all across the world, just look at how the restaurant influenced my trip to Spain: Elena Arzak, of Arzak restaurant, worked at El Bulli. Andoni Luiz Aduriz, of Mugaritz, worked at El Bulli. Rafa’s is Ferran Adria’s favourite restaurant. Jamonisimo provides Iberico ham to El Bulli.  The fact that El Bulli was one of the last stops on our Spain trip, we felt like we had come full circle, and this is the core of Spanish food, this was the center of the culinary world.

Enter El Bulli, and we are quickly ushered into the kitchen to meet the man himself, Ferran Adria, the best chef in the world. He speaks very fast and my Spanish friends have told me he is often mocked for his accent and manner of speaking. He looked very pleased when I showed him a photo of Albert Adria, his brother, whom I spotted at Rafas the night before. The kitchen is a sight to behold, 50 diners are taken per service, and there are 50 chefs working in the kitchen at all times(this is excluding front of house staff), its not hard to see why El Bulli does not earn any profit from it’s diners.

Walk into the courtyard, an open area area next to the sea, take in the sea breeze for a moment, and you are immediately served with the first course of many courses, at El Bulli.

Couse 1: Sugarcane sticks infused with mojito and caipirinha

The “course” is more of an aperitif. Pull out the sugarcane sticks and begin sucking; I did not expect them to be as intense as they were, they were sweet but had a really good alcoholic kick at the end. This was to be a strong indication of the rest of the meal to come: Very intense flavors. Good

Course 2: Handkerchief

Is actually corn paper. Absolutely delicious, to be broken off using your fingers, paper itself was sugary-sweet from the flavor of the corn, and the little bits of corn stuck to it added a savory element to the snack, almost tasted like corn nuts. I could have this every day for the rest of my life and I would never get tired of this. Superb

Course 3: Gin Fizz

Hands down, the best alcoholic drink I have ever had. The drink is served tableside, topping the drink off with a very dense meringue using a whipping cream siphon. You get the sweetness of the gin base, then the alcohol kicks in, and you smell the wonderful citrus-y notes. It truly sends your taste buds on an incredible journey, and after each mouthful, the only thing you could possibly want is to pick up your glass and have another go. Superb.

Video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=64nKhk9oSaM

Course 4,5,6
Top: Cherry umeboshi
Middle: Spherical olives
Bottom: Mimetics peanuts

You can tell early on that Ferran Adria gets much inspiration from Asia. The umeboshi, or pickled cherry, didn’t wow me, but then again, Im not a fan of savory fruits. Okay

The spherical olives, Im sure many have heard about. Looks somewhat like an olive, but bite through its outer shell, which feels abit like a very thin film on your tongue, and pure liquid olive essence explodes on your tongue. If you’re a fan of olives, you’ll absolutely love this. Im not that crazy about it. Okay

Mimetics peanuts, despite its incredulous and cryptic sounding name, are actually delicious. It basically has a cold(liquid nitro?), delicate shell that breaks easily in your mouth, and liquid peanut, tasting like a very creamy, soft, but supremely intense peanut essence oozes out. Very good.

Course 7: Sesame cracker.

I can’t remember much about it, but it was very soft and it melted on the tongue, similar to the consistency of a marshmellow, but much softer. Okay

Course 8: Japanese cookie

I don’t remember much about this, but it wasn’t a cookie. It was served on a bed of rocks and we were told to eat this IMMEDIATELY(they were adamant about that), as you can see from the photo, its basically a piece of seaweed more delicate than a newborn baby, with sesame seeds and another topping I cant identify. Okay

Course 9: Vanilla Chips

A bowl of see through ‘chips’, that again melt on your mouth, very very similar to listerine pocketpaks, but with a vanilla flavor. Okay

Enter the El Bulli dining room after the barrage of snacks. An actual rose sits in a rectangular vase on the El Bulli table, set to play its part in the meal later. The El Bulli meal begins.

Course 10: Flower nectar

You are served a flower, and after re-confirming with the waiter 3 times that we were ‘NOT SUPPOSED TO EAT THE FLOWER’, we proceeded to suck the nectar out. It was very sweet, honey like, but much more fragrant. Im not sure if it was necessary to have us suck it out of the flower, since the “nectar” is manually placed in the flower, but it was nice to see how Adria sees many connections between food and where it comes from. Okay.

Course 11: Coconut sponge

How on earth was this made? A cold, very aerated coconut ‘spongecake’, that really wasn’t a cake at all, it was more of a frozen coconut block that was so delicate and soft that it literally melted in your fingers. Disappeared within milliseconds on your tongue, leaving cold, liquid coconut in your mouth. Amazing texture, good.

Course 12: Rose Frost

Remember the Rose used as a table ornament, this was a near PERFECT replica of that, only difference was that it was a passionfruit sorbet, delicious and refreshing. Good (By the way, look at the details on the sorbet, they actually made dark spots on the rose petals) . Looking at the sorbet, the amount of details that went into a simple sorbet is amazing, the chefs had actually made dark spots on the rose petals, and each petal, each layer of the rose is well defined. This is what food presentation can be. Good

Course 13: Black Sesame spongecake with miso

For those of you who watched Anthony Bourdain’s show on Spain, this is the technique used by Albert adria to create the 30-second spongecake. Let me just say that I like black sesame, its a fairly common ingredient in Asia. But this spongecake was a revelation for me, The fluffiest cake you have ever eaten, so tiny and light, yet the sesame taste is incredibly intense, And the miso added the perfect balance of saltiness to balance the sweetness of the cake. Its not a flavour combination that would occur to me, but it just made so much sense the moment I put it in my mouth. Superb

Course 14: Oyster leaf with dew of vinegar

“What the hell is an oyster leaf?” is the first thing that runs through your head when the waiter lays down this dish. But pop it in your mouth and start chewing, it immediately makes sense. It smells and taste exactly like you’re eating an oyster with a vinegarette…. Except… You’re not. Good

Course 15: Chicken Skin Canape

This was amazing. Crispy Chicken skin, with the back cartilage of a chicken, topped with a rich chicken sauce chock full of umami. I’ve never eaten cartilage like that, its a part of the chicken that you really wouldn’t think to use. We were told it was cooked in a pressure cooker until it turned into an almost gelatinous texture before it is used. Very good

Course 16: Truffle Surprise

The “surprise” is actually 2 spherified ravioli of truffle essence, with shaved truffle served atop. Decadence? Possibly. But the flavours were so overpowering they were borderline pungent. Bad

Course 17: Chervil Tea

Chervil tea served in the traditional Japanese green tea ceremony form, I wish they had given us green tea, because chervil tea tastes downright horrible. Almost like a thick, spinach water, with a very strong herb aroma. Bad

Tea Ceremony:
www.youtube.com/watch?v=ilAsoiW0_vA

Course 18: Prawn two firings(misspelled?) Part 1

First part of the dish: You are served two small spoons with a thick sauce made with pure prawn head, superbly intense and you get all the wonderful sweetness that you usually get when you suck the prawns head(Best part of the prawn, btw), except they took that already intense flavor, reduced it into a thick sauce, thereby making it even more intense. Too much of a good thing can only make it better. Very Good

Course 18: Prawn two firings(misspelled?) Part 2

Part 2 of the dish, you are served the actual prawn, which doesn’t look too interesting. But start eating and you quickly realise that you have been deceived. The legs(top section) are deep fried to crispy perfection, while the body is completely uncooked, much like ebi sashimi. Great contrast of textures. Superb

Course 19: Mimetic Almond

I think this dish personifies El Bulli: Nothing is ever as it seems. The tomato to the left is actually an INCREDIBLY intense tomato sorbet that almost had me gagging(Not a fan of tomato), the “mimetic almonds” are a mixture of real almonds, spherified almonts, almond ice cream, and almond jelly. Interesting to eat, but both flavors on the plate really did nothing for me. Okay

Course 20: Cockles and Yuzu

Cockles were the biggest and juciest Ive ever seen. The yuzu, however, should not have been left in its raw form as it was so sour that it was the only thing i could taste. Okay

Course 21: Mushroom-CRU with hazelnut

Im not sure what kind of mushroom was used, but it was completely raw, and had a somewhat spongy texture. Sounds disgusting, but the incredibly intense mushroom-hazelnut sauce brought the whole dish to life when eaten together. The sauce was so rich and flavourful, it tasted borderline meaty. Good

Course 22: Roses/Artichokes

No we did not eat roses, the very finely sliced pieces of artichokes were arranged to mimic the pattern of a white rose that was brought out for comparison. Im not crazy about artichokes, and everyone agreed that more could have been done to the artichokes to make it more appetizing. Bad

Course 23: Pumpkin and Almond Sandwich

The ‘Bread’ portion of the sandwich was a texture that I can only describe as a Pumpkin foam that was baked. It was dry enough to be picked up with your fingers, but when it hit the moisture of your tongue, it immediately disintegrated into pumpkin. The ‘filling’ of the sandwich was shaved truffles and more almonds, the almonds added a nice crunch to the otherwise melt in your mouth textures, very fun and quirky. Good

Course 24: Sea Anemone with te

Yeah, I’ve eaten Sea Anemone. Its exotic, and once you’ve eaten it, you’ll realise that theres a very sound reason why people don’t eat sea anemone. It does not taste good. Almost like really stale uni, but much less creamy, it had more of a slimy texture, similar to a dragon fruit, but with no bite whatsoever . Bad

Course 25: Pinenut Shabu Shabu

Basically pinenut shabu shabu consists of little ravioli packets that have a texture or consistency of a very thin, see through piece of rice paper(Similar to that which is used to wrap certain candies), that when dipped into pinenut water, the paper melts into a very thin film, and the pinenut butter-ish liquid that is held inside floods your entire mouth with an intense pinenut flavor. A really fun dish. Okay

Course 26: Abalone

I eat abalone fairly regularly, its used alot in Asian cuisine, but this was taking the ingredient to the next level. What you have is a base made from mushrooms and seaweed, sitting atop if is a reconstructed abalone, using alternating pieces of abalone, Iberico ham fat gelee(Melt in your mouth goodness), and Ginger Gelee to cut the richness of the dish. A homage to umami, the fifth taste. A dish that was bursting with different kinds of flavors and textures, this was the most satisfying dish of the night. It was heavy and yet after finishing it you felt like you wanted more. Superb

Course 27: “espardenyes” Gelee

I had to google what ‘espardenyes’ was, and google images kept bringing up a picture of a pair of flip flops, and that is definitely not what this is. Anyway, the dish consisted of sea cucumber, not just any sea cucumber, but the juciest, plumpest sea cucumber Ive ever had. If you mention sea cucumber to any asian, they’ve probably had the black version, which is very gelatinous, and almost jelly-like. This was completely different. This had a sort of meaty-texture that was very similar to a bamboo clam. There were also very thin sheets of ginger(?) gelee.  Very Good

Course 28: Parmesan Ravioli

This was basically liquid parmesan encapsulated in a very thin film that I think was similar to the film used in the pinenut shabu shabu dish. The Parmesan liquid was incredibly intense that it was almost biting on the tongue but there was nothing on the plate to cut the saltiness. Bad

Course 29: Rabbit canape with its giblets

This dish will freak out those of you who dont eat offal. You should probably stop reading right now.

Not for the faint of heart. When you begin your meal in the courtyard at El Bulli, you are asked if you would like to eat offal, being the open minded and easy going diner that I am, I told them that I would eat anything that they serve me. The dish consisted of 2 fried (very crispy) rabbit ears, And there was rabbit brain, heart, kidney, liver, snails eggs which tasted surprisingly good, similar to caviar. Sounds horrible, but it was incredibly tasty and the contrast of textures was amazing. Good

Course 30: Kidney of Lamb with Jerez Consomme, yoghurt and fennel

The last savoury dish ended on a low. Eating lamb kidney floods your mouth with an incredibly pungent smell that is very difficult to overcome. Almost everyone at the table was struggling through this dish. Very Bad

Course 31: Pond

I’ve tried to explain this dish to many people, and they don’t really seem to get it, but if you were at this stage of the meal, having eaten some of the richest and most intense flavors you’ve ever come across in your life, this dish would make absolute perfect sense to you. The dish basically consists of a bowl, with a very thin, dome-shaped layer of ice over it. Then the waiter sprinkles sugar, mint, and green tea powder over it. Then you break the ice and munch in. The mint really shines through, refreshing, which was very much needed at this point of the meal. Very simple but nice transition into dessert. Good

Finishing the dish: www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJonqOpycas

Course 32: Cherry with kirsch

A really traditional combo- chocolate, cherry and kirsch (think black forest), Done El Bulli style. You are told to dip the cherries in a kirsch foam, and these seem to be regular cherries dipped in dark chocolate. But one bite, and liquid cherry oozes right out. I think this was done by blending cherries, freezing it into spheres with a cherry stalk for the illusion, then coating it with dark chocolate, and finally setting the cherries in the fridge so that they can melt into a liquid while the chocolate stays solid. Very good.

Course 33: Coco

You are presented with a huge white orb(Which my mum genuinely mistook for an ostrich egg), the server then sprinkles curry powder over it, and uses a spoon to ‘crack’ the orb, and you are told to break it up with your hands and eat it. It is actually a frozen orb made of coconut milk. I wasn’t crazy about the bits with curry powder, but otherwise, the coconut milk was fragrant, delicious, refreshing, and creamy. Plus, it was really fun to eat. Good

www.youtube.com/watch?v=-q_91_ztblA

Course 34: Puff pastry of pineapple

This looked like straight up astronaut food, but it was actually, very surprisingly, delicious. Freeze dried pineapple suspended between two sheets of pineapple ‘glass’ that seemed to shatter than melt when you bit into it, then melt on your tongue. Very good

Course 35: Chocolate Handkerchief

Is basically a chocolate dome built with chocolate paper, which i can only describe as very thin sheets of crispy chocolate(amazing texture), and little cubes of gelatinous alcochol dusted with coco powder that were so strong I was gagging everytime I popped one into my mouth. The chocolate paper was delicious, but the alcoholic cubes were far too intense. Good


Course 36: Shellfish

The final dish of the night at El Bulli: Shellfish

A clear sign that you need to go to El Bulli with a sense of humour to fully appreciate the entire meal. A pun on the dish “Fruits de mer”, or “Fruits of the sea”, which is usually a platter of shellfish, this last dessert consisted of a mussel filled with lychee gelee(Good), and a clam filled with Toffee ice cream, and a lemon wedge that was preserved, which had a surprisingly sweet rind that I found myself munching on periodically, feeling disgusted at myself for eating a lemon , putting it down for a few seconds, then picking it up and continuing to munch on again. Amusing, mischievous, fun. Good

Tea Service

El Bulli wouldn’t be El Bulli if they simply gave you tea when you asked for tea right? So they wheel out a freakin’ garden right in front of you. Do you want mint sir? Why of course. Snip snip snip, pops mint leaves into a tea pot, throws in a bunch of other leaves. Adds a scoop of honey. Its amazing what a fresh(very) cup of tea can do. I’m not even a big tea drinker and this was life altering. Probably the most fragrant liquid I’ve ever drunk(Ive never had perfume), sweet, and very calming after an onslaught of 35 dishes and 3.5 Hours of more or less constant eating. Amazing

A 10 Minute video of a cute El Bulli waitress prepping 3 cups of tea, compressed into 1.5 mins: www.youtube.com/watch?v=uY4DxSzAU5Y

Morphings

The final thing served to you at El Bulli- Morphings. What the hell are morphings you ask? They are an onslaught of chocolate brought to you in a cryptic looking red plastic box with more hidden compartments than a batman suit. What kind of chocolate, you ask? Everything from a fresh mint leaf pressed into piece of chocolate, to a piece of chocolate printed to look like a leaf, to white chocolate coated over a dehydrated strawberry, to a crumbly chocolate thats lighter than air, to little lego shaped strawberry, green tea and dark chocolate mini bars, to a raspberry chocolate shaped to look like a root. This box alone would have sufficed as a meal on its own. But after a 36 course meal? I made it through half the box before i conceded defeat. Nonetheless, I eventually got to try everything because we stole some chocolate back. Duh

The El Bulli kitchen at 1am. I can only imagine the amount of chaos that took place during our 4-hour meal- yeah, we were there for a long long time. I didnt come to El Bulli expecting every course to be the best dish I’ve ever had in my life, and I didn’t leave disappointed. The bad dishes, I truly struggled with, the Chevril Tea, the sea anemone; on the other hand, the good dishes were amazing, mind-blowing in the sense that your entire paradigm of how an ingredient can be used, be it the flavour, the smell, the texture, what it should look like, completely turned on its head by Ferran Adria; not every dish was good, but every dish was worth talking about, over and over. Having been the best chef in the world 5 times(4 times in the last 4 years), Ferran Adria is no stranger to controversy, the meal seemed to communicate to the diners: “I am the best chef in the world, sit down and have a meal, I will blow your mind”, and he did just that. . Was this the pinnacle of what food is and what it can be? The truth is, I dont know. But it comforts me to know that Ferran Adria’s mantra is “Change, change and change”, which is why the restaurant is closed for 6 months, to re-invent the entire menu, to discover new techniques and inspiration for new creations. To say that a restaurant has obtained perfection is to admit defeat, nothing is perfect, everything can be improved, and certainly El Bulli will continue evolving.