Tokyo

Kondo, Tokyo (**)

When I mention the concept of a fine dining tempura experience to friends, I seem to keep getting the same skeptic response, something along the lines of- How good can tempura be, really? I feel inclined to defend Tempura and everything it stands for- the batter makes a difference, the quality of produce makes a great difference, the temperature and kind of oil used makes a difference; but I couldn’t, at least not until I had tried it, and besides, asking how good tempura can taste is not that far off from asking, how good can raw fish on rice taste?

The fact is, sushi, and tempura both involve very minimal amounts of cooking(at least in comparison to a french degustation menu), and therefore the quality of ingredients is absolutely paramount to the final dish, whatever minute mistakes are not masked by heavy sauces or side condiments, it is raw cooking at its rawest form.

With that, just 4 hours before my only 3-star mealduring the entire leg of my Tokyo trip, I found myself getting ready to have lunch at Kondo, a 2 starred tempura restaurant. I had spent a good 15 minutes looking for the restaurant in the hot sun, and already started to doubt if this meal was a good idea at all. After taking a tiny elevator up a nondescript building, it seemed as though everyone that stepped into the building was having lunch at the restaurant, in fact, there was a small waiting area cramped with about 8-10 people waiting to be seated, at least the place was showing promise…


Prawn heads

Two shattering-ly crisp prawn heads exploding with the intense taste of prawn head juice/brains, the tempura batter helped to balance out and tone down the offal taste of the head, even people squeamish about eating prawn heads could get down with this. Perfect way to start the meal. Very good


Prawn

The first real foray into traditional tempura items, what struck me immediately was that the batter was nowhere near as crisp as the ones I’m used to, it was crisp, but without the crunch that some restaurants achieve when cooking their tempura ebi; on the other hand, the batter was not as dense as my previous tempura experiences, this light batter allowed the natural sweetness of the prawn to shine. The prawn was nicely cooked, retained a nice bounciness to the bite, which contrasted the batter well. Okay-good


Asparagus

This was eye opening, the asparagus was very thick, and it was cooked to the point where it took on a meat-like texture, and released a lot of natural juices when you bit into it. The batter was very light, you get the immediate crunch when you first bite into it, then the natural earthy flavors of the asparagus take over, best asparagus I’ve eaten. Very good


Eggplant

This once again had a meaty, almost stewed eggplant kind of texture, but it was sliced thin enough so that it wouldn’t get too heavy and cloying on the palate. I also realised at this point that the batter used was quite fluid, it didn’t stick as much as a traditional batter, and a lot of it actually drips off before it is fried. Okay-Good


Kisu 

The fish was unbelievably well cooked, moist and full of flavor. The soft texture of the fish meant that it was one of the few tempura dishes that actually had a textural contrast to the not-so-crisp batter, I actually hoped as I was eating this that the batter was slightly crisper, although this was still a great dish. Good-Very good

 

Lotus Root

Very crunchy, really nice bite, flavors were subtle, and it wasn’t stringy or sticky like some of the lotus roots I’ve eaten in Singapore. Okay

Shiitake mushrooom

Kind of tired of saying this, but this once again had a meaty texture, my notes say ‘smooth’ as well, pretty sure I was talking about the texture, it was not sponge-y at all. Very deep earthiness, surprising amount of flavor in a small bite, bursting with juices. Very good

Shiraumo

Minced fish wrapped in shiso leaf, the fish was again, perfectly cooked. Strong flavor from the fish, and shiso provided some freshness that helped to cut the oil a little bit. I’m not sure if it was because the fish was minced, which gave it the perception of being ‘softer’, but I felt that the batter was a little more crisp, and gave the dish a perfect contrast in texture, best protein of the meal. Very good


Anago

The final of the meat tempuras, this was perfectly cooked, as always, the best cooked fish course I had. Unfortunately, it was quite lacking in flavor compared to the two previous dishes. There was a little bit of a residual stickiness on the tongue from the fish, which was quite unpleasant, but it was balanced out by the fried batter. Okay


Onion

This had a nice caramelized smell to it, but it tasted surprisingly raw(but without the biting sensation on the tongue) when you ate a big chunk of it. The onion was very sweet, but I’m not particularly crazy about the taste of onion in general. The batter did not stick to the onion at all. Okay


Sweet potato

Supposedly Kondo’s speciality, this was an extra order that was not included in the set menu. I clearly did not realise how gigantic this was, let’s just say that I was literally struggling to finish one piece of this sweet potato. Im actually not sure if this was done tempura style, it actually seemed baked to me. The crust was the crispest of all the dishes I had, and the potato was sweet, but not mind-blowingly so, it was very very dry. Was this really their speciality? I honestly don’t get the hype. I had to leave the 2nd piece behind. Okay

Aoyagi(Round Clam) pancake on rice

Right when I thought I had hit my eating capacity, this was placed in front of me. I had forgotten that there would be a rice component in the lunch. My intention was to just nibble a little to get a taste, but this didn’t pan out as I had planned. The taste of this pancake was complex, there were a lot of different flavors, all residing at different parts of the pancake, every bite gave you a different sort of flavor, and it was delicious whichever way they melded together. Some parts were sweet, others savory, I even got some citrus/sour notes as well(ponzu?), the pancake wasn’t crisp, but it didn’t need to be. I ended up having to finish this. Very good

The miso soup smelled a lot stronger than it tasted, plus I was close to bursting at this point so I think the soup was a little lost on me. Okay

Although I did not put in much time researching my meal at Kondo, it actually turned out to be one of the best meals I had in Tokyo. When you talk about some of the 3 star french masters like L’Arpege, where the focus is primarily about bringing out the natural taste of ingredients in their raw state, and then cooking it minimally to elevate it(especially vegetables); cooking ingredients tempura style is not that different from this vision that restaurants like L’Arpege has set for its food.

Japan has some of the best produce in the world, and tempura is an incredible vessel to carry those strong flavors to the diner without imposing or drastically altering those flavors. All the food was perfectly cooked to the right doneness, my only criticism would be that some of the tougher, or foods with more ‘bite’, overpowered the batter slightly and you couldn’t get the crisp sensation when you bit into the fried batter, the contrast was a little lost here. On a more positive note, the fried batter didn’t seem that oily, but I did start to feel myself slowing down quite a bit towards the end.

The set lunch menu is incredible value, and you will leave the restaurant feeling stuffed, I’d highly recommend making a trip to Kondo, and I’d also recommend skipping the sweet potato

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Hong Kong

Tim Ho Wan, Hong Kong (*)

Occupy Tim Ho Wan

Let me cut to the chase with Tim Ho Wan, there are many many other blogs out there that can give you a detailed play by play description of each dish and what to expect, but I’ll condense it down for you. I had breakfast(which turned into lunch by the time we went in) at the Kwong Wah branch, the original branch with the Michelin star. In the process of queuing for 2 hours and losing my sanity, my friends made the mistake of handing me the menu chit for ordering- They were going to pay for their mistake, I had already decided that I was going to eat as much as I could to make up for all this time I spent standing in line. And so we ate, a lot, in fact, we had a good 75% of the menu. There is a term in weight training called training till failure, where you do enough repetitions of an exercise until you experience momentary muscular failure, our meal at Tim Ho Wan could be summed up as “eating till failure”. The good thing is that I was able to try out a lot of dishes, and here are my thoughts.

It didn’t seem that much on paper

We had to unroll the bill like a scroll

1) Be prepared to wait, unless you manage to be the first batch of people who make it into the restaurant. I’d suggest being there before 9 to make it into the first batch, maybe somewhere around 8.30, you’ll end up waiting a good 2 hours if you show up later anyway.

2) You can do takeaways, which I would recommend. The restaurant is a very very small space and you’ll likely to be elbow to elbow with the person next to you; which could add to the experience of eating dim sum, depending on how you look at it.

3) The food: As you probably already know, the main must have dish would be the cha siew baos, and they are delicious(Very Good). The baos have a rich, sweet, porky cha siew filling, baked with a topping akin to that of a Bo Lo bun, my sis mentioned that she has used a similar(ish) topping on her eclairs, the main components are basically butter, flour and sugar. I’ll save you a trouble and let you know that each person should just get a plate of this(3 pieces), these paos are not for sharing.

Other standout dishes were the osmanthus jelly(good), and the pork-century egg porridge (Good). Everything else was pretty mediocre in my opinion. The har gao and siew mai, staples in dim sum, had a generous amount of filling, but like I said, it wasn’t anything special.

4) The michelin star, I’ll address this later

 

I’ve got to admit, before I even arrived at the restaurant, I had my reservations about the place, not because of the food they served, but because of the michelin star they were carrying on their back. Touted as the ‘cheapest michelin starred restaurant in the world’, and judging from the lines the restaurant gets, they could easy raise their prices a notch and still have a stream of customers, both local and foreign, but is the restaurant really indicative of what a michelin starred experience should be like?(Granted that they only have a single star)

My last one star experience was back in the States, at Cafe Boulud, and while I didnt have a particularly memorable or stellar meal there, it was miles away from my experience with Tim Ho Wan- the food was much better at Cafe Boulud. Many have discussed and talked about how Michelin have dropped the ball with Hong Kong, first with giving Tim Ho Wan a Michelin star, and then with giving Lung King Heen three. The point I’m trying to drive is not that I didn’t enjoy my meal at Tim Ho Wan, but rather, Tim Ho Wan is not really an accurate representation of a Michelin starred restaurant, and this is important to note, both for those who are seasoned Michelin diners, and those who are about to lose their Michelin virginity to Tim Ho Wan; I will go as far as to say that I don’t believe Tim Ho Wan really deserves a star, even if you discount the service, the ambiance, and everything non-food related, the food simply didn’t do enough to warrant a star; but with that being said, I don’t believe it really needs a star, it has almost reached cult status at this point. If I have convinced you that the Tim Ho Wan star is meaningless, what you should probably do is head over to the Sham Shui Po branch of Tim Ho Wan, I have heard the waiting times are much shorter there, and you can still get the delicious cha siew baos. At least thats what I’ll be doing the next time I’m in Hong Kong.

Austria

Steirereck, Austria (**)

2 Michelin Stars, 22 Best restaurant in the world(2011)

I had been looking forward to this meal the whole trip. Service had been a little rough in the Czech Republic and in Hungary, I was sure that our experience at a 2 Michelin starred restaurant would be nothing short of excellent. I was a little nervous about this meal because I honestly did not know much about the place, other than it has won many awards and been regarded by many as the best restaurant in Austria. To top it off, this was the first Michelin starred restaurant I would be stepping into since El Bulli, no pressure though, no pressure…

The menu at Steirereck is interesting, there are a la carte choices, and the degustation menu has 2 choices for each course, and you have a choice of a 6 or 7 course menu. Ingredients are sourced around the area and the food is quite modern in presentation and flavour profiling, but at the same time staying true to its roots in national and regional Austrian cooking. The restaurant is apparently named Steirereck because it is the name of the town where Heinz Reitbauer hails from, at least, thats what the waitress told us. Googling the name, however, this is what I found from Reitbauer himself, “Steirereck was opened in 1970 on the corner of two streets: Weissgerber Lände and Rasumofskygasse in Vienna. Because of the location and the fact that my parents came from Styria they named the restaurant, “Steirereck”, which translates as “Styrian corner”. Apparently I was lied to… Regardless, on to the food:

Wheat crackers

A little on the oily side, but nothing special. Okay

Celery marinated in verjus(Juice from unripe grape), served with vermouth salt (sugar, salt, vermouth, reduced and dehydrated)

The salt was actually quite interesting. Very tart but without being overpoweringly so, the celery was quite a letdown, the grape marination didn’t seem to do much for the celery, and there was a taste of lingering celery rawness that I dislike. Bad

 

 

(Some berry) on elderberry shallot powder

Unfortunately, I didn’t quite get the name of the berry served, but it had a mandarin orange(kumquat) taste with a very meaty, almost fleshy texture. The shallot powder had great depth, elderflower was a little faint but the powder had a nice caramelized onion sweetness and a slight burnt, smoky flavor that was very pleasant, it balanced the freshness of the berry well. Good

 

 

Young fermented wine ‘marshmallow’ 

It was actually more of a frozen whipped egg white consistency that had a sticky consistency after it melted down in the mouth. Fruity and refreshing, but wasn’t strong enough to make an impact. Bad

 

 

Homemade roasted chestnut w chestnut mousse

A warm, roasted, crisp, paper thin chestnut shell encapsulating a cold intensely sweet chestnut mousse. Interesting contrast of textures and temperatures. This was technique wise, very interesting, managing to not only create such a thin crust, but to mould it into a shape of a chestnut was quite amazing, the lightness of ingredients made everything disappear on the tongue, but the flavour release was quick and intense. Good

 

 

Pork loin with elderflower, and avocado

The loin was nicely cooked, with a hint of pinkness and good moisture, the pairing of pork and avocado was new to me, but it really worked very well together. The elderflower was too weak to make its presence felt in the dish. Good

 

 

Sour Cream butter(top), and sweet butter(Lines drawn on the cold slab)

I appreciated the unique presentation of the butter, and I have never had butter that had a texture akin to finely grating it. I greatly preferred the sour cream butter over the sweet

Bread server kinda looks like Mr Bean, but he was one of the more friendly ones of the night

 

 

Porcini mushrooms with seaweed and marinated Foie gras

The wakame lent the dish a deep briny sea flavor that went beautifully the deep, earthy, slight bitterness of the mushrooms, the foie didnt overpower with its sweetness and stayed in the foreground while the primary flavours still came from the wakame and the mushrooms, it was the creamy foie that actually binded and brought the dish together in the mouth. It’s a dish grounded in Umami flavors, and it all came together very nicely. This was my favorite dish of the night. Very good

 

 

Gillardeau oysters with Quince, butternut squash and black walnuts

It was an interesting combination of ingredients, but it didn’t quite work for me, The oysters seemed to lose its connection to the sea after being cooked in the butternut squash, the taste of the oyster was a little lost in the sweetness of the squash, the addition of quince threw the dish off balance for me as well. Bad

 

 

Sweetcorn and uhudler grapes, Vanilla, Shiso and leek

I’m not sure how this was made, but the corn kernels had their top ‘dome’ structure trimmed off and were somehow binded together to form a circular round. Within the round was a corn and tomato puree, the tartness of the tomato and sweetness of the corn balanced each other very nicely. I’m not sure why, but the dish felt a little over processed, although the grapes brought it back a notch. Good

 

 

Confited Tench with white radish, nashi pear, lemon and almond

Tench(A firm, lean fish with a nutty flavour) was soft and well cooked(Not the best fish I’ve had on the trip, but we ate very well, more of that to come later). The pear was cooked down to a point where it didn’t deliver an overpowering sweet punch when eaten, just a subtle sweetness with the fragrance of the fruit, it fit very nicely into the light savory note of the dish. It was the foam(Almond and bean spout) that re-invigourated the dish and brought it to life. Radishes have a nice crunch to the other soft ingredients. Good

 

 

Braised veal tongue

Tongue was nicely cooked, and didn’t have an overpowering offal taste, the texture of the crispy lentil puffs with Mangalitza bacon complimented the tongue perfectly, but he strong acidity of the blanched fennel threw the dish a little off and overpowered the rest of the ingredients. Bad

 

 

Pheasant w chestnuts, Chard, Rowanberries

Pheasant, like most of the cooked meats in the menu, was nicely cooked, it had a similar texture to sous vide chicken and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was cooked that way. However, the steamed chard w bread felt a little out of place on the plate and I feel like some form of textural contrast would have elevated the dish, the rowanberry jelly and water chestnut brought a strong but welcome sweetness that balanced the pheasant nicely. Good

 

 

Braised lamb shoulder with Chervil root, Bok choi, Beechnuts and buckthorn

The lamb shoulder was falling apart but was a little dry on the inside, the roasted beechnuts gave a nice crunch to the dish that didn’t seem to intrude on the texture of the shoulder. Bok choi is usually cooked with strong Asian sauces like soy sauce or oyster sauce to mask this intense woody, herb-y smell(not as delicate as herbs) and its bitterness, using it as a sauce just didn’t work for me at all. Bad

 

 

 

Salted almond ice cream w physalis, Cantuccini, Spaghetti squash

Ice cream was delightful, strong taste of the almond with small nuggets of salt flakes giving frequent bursts of saltiness with every scoop. The squash wasn’t overcooked and had a nice crunchy consistency to it, although it seemed to dilute the flavor of the ice cream quite a lot and didn’t seem to taste very good with the ice cream either. Because of the sheer volume of squash served, I ended up having to finish it without any ice cream, and I quickly I was struggling to eat the physalis on it’s own because it didn’t taste very good. The physalis on the other hand, was delicious, cooked in a compote style with apple and pumpkin juice with star anise. Bad

 

 

Iced Cornell cherries with warm vanilla custard, Pomegranate and chioggia beets

A beautifully put together plate of good with beets, cornell cherries, and cornell cherry sorbet mashed together and disguised. Every dollop of sorbet had a cube of pomegranate jelly within it that seemed to burst in the mouth and fill it with pomegranate liquid when eaten. Sweetness from the cherries ensured that the raw earthiness of the beets didn’t overpower the dish. Good

 

 

Java Coffee with yellow dates, plums, and Cinnamon Flowers

I didn’t have enough of this to make a fair assessment of the dish, but I had enough of it to tell that it was the best tasting dessert of all. Finely ground Java coffee and bitter chocolate filled with a Java coffee creme. Tell me that doesnt sound good.

 

Credit where its due, Steirereck serves some very good food with intelligent, well thought out flavour combinations. We had no complaints about the food, but many about the service. For a two Michelin starred restaurant, service was very erratic.  Most of the waiters and waitresses who served us didn’t seem to have a very good grasp of English, which isn’t a big issue, but they seemed hurried and impatient when serving, and any questions were quickly answered with a mumble before trotting off. Maybe it’s a pet peeve of mine, but I hate it when table side presentations are done with no explanation whatsoever. More so, some of the ‘finishing’ of the dish was a little sloppy, with sauce dripping all over the place at times. It doesn’t sound like a big issue, but these are the details that separate a 2 star restaurant from a 3 star restaurant.

We were one of the first few tables at the restaurant, but towards the end omf our mains, the restaurant was starting to fill up(it looks to be a very very big restaurant), service got extremely sluggish. We spent way too much time sitting idly between the mains and dessert, and since there was no palate cleaner, so there really isn’t much of an excuse there. There was a course where not everyone was served at the same time, and there were a few bones in the Tench of one of our dines. Again, these don’t seem to be a big issue, but they damped the overall dining experience for us, which is a shame because the food really is quite good.

Los Angeles

Providence, Los Angeles (**)

Butter + Salt

For bread Service, I was very glad I only had one piece of bread


Amuse Bouche: Carrot juice shot, Gruyere cheese pastry, Pistachio Marshmellow, Salmon.

Okay

chowda’
smoky bacon, manila clams, creamy clam broth

This was actually one of the most intensely flavoured clam chowders I’ve ever had. The smokyness from the bacon really shone through, and the chowder was incredibly rich, but it was balanced out by the sweetness of the clams. Good


Maine lobster risotto
carnaroli rice, sea urchin, shimeji mushrooms, nori and lemon

This would have been such a good dish apart from the fact that it was overseasoned. The flavour profiles worked so well together but after a few scoops all you could taste was the saltiness of the dish. Okay


Dessert Tasting 1: Spherified Mojito

I have had a lot of “Spherified” food (sodium alginate + Calcium Chloride), from olives, to potatoes, to balsamic vinegar, to grape juice, to apple juice, and I have to say that this spherified mojito is probably the best example, or use of that technique I’ve had so far. Good


Dessert Tasting 2: Mandarin Orange Ice

This was a medley of orange ice, cabbage, and spice. The Orange ice was delicious, the cabbage had a tinge of vinegar, which I felt brought too much acidity to the dish, and the spice threw everything off; It got to the point where I was eating everything seperately, obviously leaving the spice alone. Bad


Dessert Tasting 3: Kalamansi Gelee
white chocolate coconut soy milk soup, litchi-shiso sorbet

One of my favourite desserts of the night. The kalamansi gelee was very intensely flavoured and really brought the dish to life, when eaten to the subtle flavours of the sorbet and the soup. The almonds brought a nice texture to the dish. Very refreshing, clean flavours. Very Good


Dessert Tasting 4: Deconstructed Pumpkin “Pie”
curry ice cream, pecan streusel

Why was there a curry element in a dish called “Deconstructed Pumpkin ‘Pie'”? Nonetheless, I was happy to try curry ice cream for the first time, and it was actually fairly pleasant- it was sweet when it hit your tongue, but the aftertaste left a lingering taste of the familiar spices. The pecan streusel, when eaten with the pumpkin ganache, was actually a pretty good rendition of a pumpkin pie. Good


Dessert Tasting 5: Banana

Banana nut bread, caramelized banana, Cream cheese Ice cream

Oh boy, the cream cheese ice cream is probably one of the nicest ice creams I’ve ever had. When you first taste the ice cream, all you get is the slight sweetness of it, then all of a sudden the chees-y flavours burst through when you’re not expecting it, and it wasn’t overpowering, it was actually fairly subtle. Balance that with a delicious banana nut bread, and caramelized bananas cooked to perfection. Good


Dessert Tasting 6: milk chocolate-whisky panna cotta, bailey‟s ice cream, coconut raviolo

The bailey’s ice cream was very good, but the panna cotta was fairly mediocre. And as a side note, at this point of the meal, everyone at the table was quite close to dying because the desserts were starting to get very heavy and the conversations taking place at the table were beginning to sound very strange, possibly due to the amount of sugar present in what we were eating. Okay

Trying to remain calm as my body takes in even more sugar.


Dessert Tasting 7: Beer Ice cream and Chocolate Ganache

Beer ice cream was intense, very very good. The chocolate ganache, I dont remember eating, but I did eat it, because my plate was empty when the server took it. I might have passed out or something. Okay


Dessert Tasting 8: Lollipop

Milk Chocolate,  Berry Tea

I was very glad that the last course of the tasting menu was something I could finish in one mouthful, and required no chewing whatsoever. Pop the thing in your mouth, and slowly let the milk chocolate outer coating melt away, sweet, creamy; and all of a sudden you’re hit by a wave of refreshing, cold berry tea, encapsulated in the milk chocolate sphere. Very good

Singapore

Iggy’s, Singapore

45th in the world

I was very excited when I found out that Singapore had a restaurant in the top 50 best restaurants list. There is a lot of good food in Singapore, and there are many exciting new restaurants that are making the culinary world sit up and take notice, I do think Michelin will have to come in over the next few years. With all these in mind, Iggy’s was right at the top of my list, after returning to Singapore.


Amuse bouche of I can’t remember what.

Salmon biscuit hors d’oeuvres

Lovely presentation for the 2nd amuse. Salmon was very fresh and the biscuit has a pleasantly crumbly texture that went very with the salmon, creme fraiche added a nice tinge of acid to the dish. Good

Vegatable Garden

Asparagus, beetroot carrot, mustard

This dish didnt work on paper, but taste wise, the components all came together, a lot of earthy tones in the dish, but no single flavour profile seemed to pop, or stand out, everything was somewhat muddled in the background. Okay

Sanma

Wild Rice, Olive, Thyme

The best dish of the night. The fish was perfectly cooked, nicely grilled to the point where it had a sufficient hint of smoky flavour, while still being moist. Flavours were subtle and clean. Good

Cappellini

Zucchini, smoked mullet roe

These were flavours that I like, I love roe incorporated into pasta, but the smoked mullet roe was the main “savoury” component of the dish, and it did not have a strong enough flavour to season the dish and bring it to life, overall this mad the dish taste very underseasoned and was on the borderline of being bland, Bad

Lobster
Oats, gizzard, Fennel
Once again, another underseasoned dish, meat was slightly overcooked as well. Bad

Tomato And Tomato Soda

The tomato slice didnt do much for me, I appreciate that its a very fresh, juicy, and sweet tomato, served a thte right temperature, but Im just not that big a tomato person. The tomato soda(Tomato Water + Soda Siphon?), on the other hand, was interesting. The soda element seemed to cut the saltiness of the tomato and there was actually a slight tinge of sweetness on the tongue after drinking the soda. Refreshing and quirky. Okay

Wagyu

Lady’s fingers, trumpet mushroom, tapenade

A nicely cooked piece of wagyu beef, completely undone by a lack of seasoning, once again. The vegetables and beef was nicely cooked, but you kept on eating, waititng for the dish to come to life, but it never did. Okay

Feijoa

Gin, Lime

I remember nothing about this dish

Chocolate

coconut, basil, milk, pandan

I cant remember too much about this either. I remember being impressed with the taste of the dish, but wishing that there was more depth, texture wise. Okay

Petit fours(one?)

Lemon, banana, pop rocks

Surpringly, the meal ended with fairly strong flavours. Very interesting texture when you bite into into pastry and a mixture and banana and lemon flavour explodes on your tongue, and before you even realised what has happened, you realise that there are pop rocks going off in your mouth, ahh, the nostalgia. Good

I had really high hopes for Iggy’s, and I really wanted to like it, but the meal was generally quite pedestrian; there were issues with seasoning for some dishes, but most of it was nicely cooked. The main issue was that none of flavours really popped, no dish really wow-ed me or made me sit up and take notice, the entire meal seemed to be a monotone. I’m sure I will return to iggy’s in the future, and I hope the dishes will be more exciting, Its nice to see a restaurant take risks with their menu, try to be innovative and do something special, it doesn’t always work out, but thats what it takes for a restaurant to become great.
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.


Spain

Arzak, Spain (***)

3 Michelin Stars

8th in the World

Enter Arzak, and meet Elena Arzak, who was very friendly and had a fairly good command of English.

Rice Vinegar with mussel

Our first amuse bouche. Mussel was very meaty and fresh, nicely cooked as well. Rice vinegar on the other hand, threw the whole thing off. Very very acidic and it had an unpleasant aftertaste. Bad

Crispy Fish Paste

This was surprisingly good. Consistency was much more delicate than Chinese fish cake, and flavours were more intense as well. Very crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. Good

Lotus root with fish mousse.
Choritzo in tempura with tamarind.
Ball of mushroom with dust of corn.

Amuse bouche platter from outer space. A re-occuring play on textures. Soft interior and crisp exterior. The Lotus root was good, the rest were okay.

Figs with Foie.

Foie gras stuffed into a fig, sprinkled with sugar and then caramelized. The best dish of the night, by far. Flavours worked to well together. The sweetness of a fig and sugar complimented the creamy, unctuous foie gras that melted on your tongue, while the fig provided a little more bite. Delicious, and the server mentioned that the individual pulp sacs or orange and pomelo on the plate were obtained by freezing the fruit in liquid nitrogen and smashing it. Plucking each sac manually would require too much effort and time. Superb

Potatos, Lobster, and copaiba.

Potato was in the form of a crisp, lobster was nicely cooked but fairly underseasoned. Overall the dish didnt work, it was really a goopy mess of a dish. Very Bad

Egg with earthquake of soil

Poached egg with fried breadcrumbs and truffle shavings. This sounds like something I should like, it really does. But the fried breadcrumbs has soaked up so much oil, the dish became incredibly heavy to eat. The truffle, however, was very aromatic(Yes I do think truffle is aromatic and I would wear truffle cologne if they made it, and on that note, I would also like to smell like ham), and the egg was perfectly cooked. Okay

Monkfish with dehydrated bronzed onion.

Monkfish was nicely cooked and well seasoned. But the goopy sauces strewn all over the plate killed the fish completely. They were completely tasteless and didn’t seem to serve any purpose to the dish apart from aesthetic reasons. And Bronzed onion? Okay, I admit this caused quite a buzz at the table and some of us were actually wondering if this was edible, with the amount of bronze coloring applied on it. But all it tasted like, was an onion, thrown into an oven and roasted till dry. It tasted good, but was it necessary? Bad

Bonito in bonfire of scales and chives.

This was actually seared tuna, I can’t remember what the sauces were. But the sauce on the plate had good flavour and seasoning. Okay

Pigeon with Potatos, spherified potatoes, and spherified Balsamic vinegar.

So much of this meal was spent trying to figure out wtf we were eating. And this was a dish that exemplified that sentiment. Lets start with the tangible food. The pigeon was nicely seasoned and had a nice char on its exterior, it wasnt the most tender of meats, but pigeon is a game-y meat and expectations have to be realistic. Potato(The real potato) was actually very good. Very well seasoned, and had some nice heat to it.  Spherified potato was straight out weird. It tasted like the equivalent of cooking potatoes in a pot of water to obtain potato soup, then throwing in salt, sodium alginate, then spherifying, which is actually probably how they did it; it doesn’t sound that appetizing, because it wasnt. And finally, the spherified balsamic vinegar. Which actually makes sense, and has been done before in “molecular gastro” salads. But was the metallic colouring really necessary? It seemed to take away from the quality of the balsamic used, and they did use a good quality aged balsamic. Okay

Lamb with seaweed cake

Lamb was once again nicely cooked. There was a slab of butter on the lamb that already melted by the time the photo was taken, that added a richness to the already unctuous lamb. The seaweed cake was very good, slightly chewy but it had such a strong seaweed flavour without overpowering the tate of the lamb. Good

Cant Remember anything about this

Soup and chocolate between vineyards
Basil ice cream, watermelon soup, and pure liquid “goopy chocolate”. I was struggling quite badly through this dish. I love the individual flavour components. Watermelon is my favourite fruit, I love fresh basil in sauces and pastas, and chocolate, well, who doesn’t love chocolate. But this dish didn’t work when all these were combined together. The watermelon was probably the best part of the dish, the basil did not work with the chocolate, and the chocolate had the consistency of spherified melted chocolate, but they were way too big and it was a struggle when thick, heavy chocolate exploded with a single bite. Very bad

“roasted peach with sugar flowers”

The peach was very fresh, succulent, and had a nice bite to it. The rest of the dish tasted like simple syrup. Okay

Yogurt sponge cake

Even the desserts look like they come from space. The yoghurt sponge cake had good flavour but was completely undone by its consistency. Very starchy and dense, it was closer to bread than it was to a sponge cake. Bad

Moon Rocks

The dubious sounding dish was actually Orange flavoured creme, frozen on the outside(liquid nitro?), while still having a liquid center. The change in textures was very interesting, and it had a pleasant orange aftertaste. Good

Leave and meet Juan Marie Arzak, who is as eccentric as the meal we just had.

This was for me, a confusing and frustrating meal. Not at all what I would expect from a three Michelin starred restaurant, and one of the best restaurants in Spain. The food was at times so experimental and pre-mature, that we felt that we were guinea pigs for the restaurant. Much of the meat was well cooked, but it was often taken a step back by a component of a flavour profile that didnt need to be on the plate. It was the most disappointing meal of our Spain trip.