France

Le Chateaubriand, France

9th Best restaurant in the world (2011)

Our plans for Le Chateaubriand were initially to walk in for the 9.30pm 2nd sitting, which takes no reservations. But we had arrived at 6+pm in the area and quickly realised that it would be impossible to kill that much time in the area because, well, there’s not much to do or see in the area. We decided to take our chances and started heading over to the restaurant to check if we could get a table for the 7.30pm sitting, which, from the information I gathered online, is their reservation only sitting.

We arrived at the restaurant at 6.50pm to see a scruffy looking chef standing outside the restaurant, having a smoke and speaking to someone else. We must have been staring at him awkwardly because he quickly approached us to ask if there was anything he could do for us, before we could even finish the sentence, “We want to have dinner but we don’t have reservations….”, he had already popped into the restaurant to check with the front of house staff, he came back out a minute later and told us today was our lucky day, but made sure to let us know that we had to come back at 7.30pm, no earlier, because the staff would be having their dinner before that. Awesome, culinary fist pump to the air.

We entered the restaurant at 7.30pm on the dot, and there was already a couple seated inside. The restaurant has a quaint decor with tables close enough to eavesdrop any tables surrounding you, there’s a relaxed and fuss free air about the restaurant. We started off our meal with

 

Gougère with Gruyere cheese
The choux pastry for this particular gorgere was light as air, and there was quite a substantial block of gruyere encased within it that delivered a nice punch of flavor(All Gougères should be made with gruyere imo, not comte and not emmentaler) . Poppy seeds had a warm nutty roasted taste that tied together well with the cheese, toasting them gave the dish a subtle crunch, everything came together nicely. Nice start to the meal. Good

 

 

Shot of Ceviche water
What was this? A dish turned inside out? Instead of the fish being the star of the show in a traditional ceviche, here,  the ceviche liquid is the main component and the fish takes a backseat. It really comes across as such a humble dish, served on an unassuming metallic tray, yet there is an elegance and charm about these little shots. The ceviche liquid was very tart and citrus-y but somehow wasn’t acidic to the point where it made you wince; perhaps to make it a little more palatable, the ceviche water was incredibly aromatic and it went down surprisingly well. There was a small nugget of fish ‘cooked’ in the ceviche acids, and the natural oils of the fish seemed to cut the acidity of the water very quickly, bringing back some much needed balance. Interesting way to whet your appetite and get it going. Okay

 

 

Shrimps & passion powder
Tiny, uber sweet prawns, tempura battered and deep fried, served with a dusting of passionfruit powder. I had a seafood platter with similar prawns for lunch the day before this meal, but mine were boiled with their shell on, and getting trying to eat them with their shell on takes a bit of getting used to. Tempura style works perfectly for these prawns because it makes their shell much more palatable, and it makes them a fun finger food. The passionfruit powder was first a little sweet, then you started to get the taste of the tart passionfruit. It really complimented the natural sweetness of the prawn well. Only criticism was that it could have done with a better coating of passionfruit powder. Good

 

 

Razor clam, Oxalis flower, tapioca pearls

The tapioca pearls were cooked in a fish stock that took on the flavor of the stock very well. It wasn’t overcooked either, soft and gelatinous on the outside with a slight bite at the center, akin to an al dente consistency. The salty, fishy taste of the pearls elevated the sweetness of the razor clam perfectly, a combination of flavours set in the nature. The Oxalis carried a woody aroma that felt a little out of place for me, but the onion ‘leaf’ sitting atop the dish was lightly pickled and didn’t overpower the rest of the dish, giving it  a nice refreshing jolt to the taste buds. Good

 

 

Foie gras with vegetable consommé
If we are being technical, the consomme was far from being as clear as it should be, but the taste of it was phenomenal, very earthy, and it had the taste and sweetness of root vegetables, but the seasoning was just right, keeping the natural sweetness of the vegetables in check so that it stayed overall savory. The coffee bean was what made the dish for me. You begin drinking the soup and you’re getting the taste of this warm, earthy, savory broth, when all of a sudden you catch the coffee bean in your mouth and it immediately fills your nose with the aroma of coffee; you then bite into the coffee bean and you get the most intense burst of coffee flavor, mixed with the roasted bitterness of the bean. But you continue drinking and you catch a tiny cube of foie gras, which melts into this sweet, rich, unctuous cream, which aids beautifully in the silky smooth transition from bitter to sweet, then as you continue drinking, the familiar saltiness of the consommé washes the flavors down. It was one of those dishes that deceptively simple but seems to have a timeline of its own, evolving as you eat  until it eventually comes full circle. Superb

 

 

Scallop, mustard, white cheese, watercress
The scallop was perfectly fried on one side, crisp enough that I can call it a crust, I’m not sure how the rest of the scallop was cooked, but the other side did not have a raw consistency at all, I have a feeling it was lightly poached. Most of the greens on the plate were quite bitter, which allowed the natural sweetness of the scallop to shine, it was tied together to the scallop with a dusting of wakame powder. I can’t quite describe how good the pairing of the scallops and the greens were, I’ve had much better tasting and fresher scallops before, but the combination of eating them together really made the scallops taste amazing. Every few mouthfuls or so, a tiny dollop of mustard would provide a peppery zing that dissipated quickly in the mouth, I found this pretty surprising because I find mustard to have  quite a lingering taste on the tongue. The white cheese added a creaminess that tasted very similar to what mascarpone does for pastas dishes. A lot of balance going on in the dish. Good

 

 

Cod, raw mushrooms, pork jus
The pork jus was made from iberico, and I just need to go off on a tangent for a while- a lot of chefs seem to love using iberico jamon in recent times because its the new ‘hip’ ingredient, but iberico has an incredibly intense flavour that can overpower the whole dish very quickly if it isn’t used correctly; this dish needed that strength to counter that overpowering earthy taste that raw mushrooms have. Even my sister who absolutely hates raw mushrooms, found herself enjoying the dish. Raw mushrooms crumbled when you bit into it, giving the dish quite a peculiar contrast of textures, and the cod was lightly poached and had a clean flavour. There were 2-3 nuggets of walnut that filled your mouth with this wonderful aromatic nutty oil, and it was in fact the walnut that brought the whole dish together for me. This is exactly the kind of risky and delicious dish that defines Le Chateaubriand for me. Very good

 

 

Beef, cabbage, Thai sauce
The Thai sauce was actually made with predominantly lemongrass, but there was also a very distinctive jasmine rice aroma that I kept getting when I was chewing on the beef. The beef was very quickly seared on each side, leaving the center bleu. I enjoyed the texture of the beef, but I didnt quite get the seasoning, it was the dish I struggled with most that night. Bad

 

 

Buttermilk ice cream w herbs and burnt caramel
The subtle tartness of the buttermilk made the ice cream taste very similar to a mild but very milky yoghurt. The herbs were lightly dressed in olive oil and seasoned, and the ice cream ensured that the bitterness and peppery taste of the herbs did not overpower the dish. Eating all the herbs kept giving me the impression that I was eating a salad, but the presence of the Buttermilk ice cream seemed to bring this dish back to a dessert. The burnt caramel added a welcome sweetness and crunch. There were a lot of flavours going on, the bitterness from the herbs, sourness from the ice cream, salt from the seasoning, and sweetness from the caramel, but it came together nicely. Okay

 

 

Chocolate, beetroot and pears
Th chocolate was very intense, it tasted like it was pure melted chocolate thinned out with very little cream so as not to dilute its flavor. There was a raw earthiness from the beetroot that threw the dish off balance for me, it felt like it was a flavor component that didn’t belong at all, I ended up trying to get in as much chocolate as I could to mask its taste. The addition of the spices were a great idea but they were a little lost in the thick chocolate. Bad

 

 

Pineapple w Marsala
This is one of the most intelligent and surprising things I tasted this year. The toasted Marsala would have overpowered any other raw ingredient, but pineapple had the strength of flavour and acidity to pull it off, the pineapple toned down the harsh spices and the spices masked the sharp acidity of the pineapple. After you swallowed the pineapple, the majority of the pungent spice had already dissipated, so all there was left was the wonderful pleasant aroma of the Marsala and the lingering sweetness of the pineapple. There was also a refreshing menthol effect that came from one of the spices (Cumin seed? Coriander seed?). Deceptively simple but devastatingly and delicious. Very Good

The restaurant at 9.30pm, already a long line has formed

I did not expect much from Le Chateaubriand, it certainly wasn’t at the top of my list of restaurants I was most looking forward to visiting, but it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable. Many of the important French chefs have named Le Chateaubriand as their favourite restaurant, including pastry superstar Pierre Herme. It’s an unpretentious setting serving food of an incredible standard, and its importance in the culinary world cannot be understated; head chef Inaki Aizpitarte is already in the big league, brushing shoulders with Redzepi of Noma, Aduriz of Mugaritz, and Ferran Adria, but does Le Chateaubriand deserve to be the best restaurant in France, the 9th best restaurant in the world(As it is currently placed on the Pellegrino list)? No, probably not. But Le Chateaubriand is an important statement, that diners want to be served delicious food, in a well thought out menu, without having to dress up, or sit through a 4 hour dinner.

The service is far from being close to three star, but it is that sense of seeing people not in suits that puts you at ease, at the end of the meal, the chefs popped out of the restaurant for a quick picture with me(throwing rice on my head in the process), and you really get the feel that all of them are a close knit bunch that really have fun with what they do.

Inaki himself says it best, “I just hope people can understand what I am trying to accomplish each time, and that by having fewer and fewer flavours, the essential becomes more distinct”, the food doesn’t have too many components, everything on the plate is there for a reason, and the diner doesn’t have to scratch his or her head trying to tie it all together. My sister says about the food, “It looks so unassuming that you often forget to even take a photo of it, but it’s only after you’ve dug in and realized how good it tastes that you regret not taking a photo so that you preserve the memory”. And that’s what the basis of the food is about, it’s simple, but delve a little deeper, and you quickly realize that even within the simplicity, there is a tremendous amount of complexity beneath the surface.

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France

Guy Savoy, France (***)

We arrived at Guy Savoy’s eponymous restaurant in Paris, dressed in the most formal wear we had brought on the trip. They say that there is a new wave of French cuisine taking place in Paris, one that goes against the idea, the concept of Michelin stars and fine dining; the rise of the brasseries, the bistros, and the possible decline of the fine dining restaurants. If anything, Guy Savoy is part of the old guard that finds himself being attacked by this new wave of French Cuisine. Being the youngest chef in a group of reknowned chefs who pioneered “Nouvelle Cuisine” in France, where there was a shift away from the rich, heavy sauces, thickened with copious amounts of butter, towards a more balanced, delicate approach to a menu, it would be interesting to see how he reacted with his food. We were expecting to have the lunch menu at Guy Savoy, what we did not realize was that the lunch menu was only available to those who made reservations online. Once we were seated, the set menu(without the lunch) and a la carte menu was presented to us. I was starting to get a little worried because they had already served us an amuse bouche before the menu had even arrived, and it seemed impolite to walk into the restaurant, gobble up an amuse, and decide we didnt want to have the set menu. Plus we had already told them we were from singapore, and he had my name through the reservation, what if he hunted me down on facebook and publically shamed me for dining and dashing?

When I enquired about it, the maitre d was quick to explain to us the system of their menus, and asked if we had made online reservations. I honestly did not know, and a trip planner had made our reservation for us, which meant everyone had an ‘umm…. (looks around nervously)’ look on our face, the maitre’d quickly caught on to this, because he quickly explained that he was willing to make an exception for us, but not without giving us a mini lecture on how lucky we were(Very very uncomfortable at this point)

Toast with foie gras and truffle

Quite the epitome of luxury. The toast was thinly sliced and lightly toasted, leaving a nice nutty flavor that complemented the truffle, which in turn complemented the very very creamy foie gras. My description of the foie isn’t doing it much justice, because it was soft to the point where it was almost like a butter. A nice statement of intent by the restaurant. Good

 

 Pumpkin soup and crab tartlet (No Pic)

Another smart little amuse, the pumpkin was light but rich in flavor. Crab tartlet had some acidity to cut the richness of the soup but the tartlet itself wasn’t very good. Okay

At this point we were approached with a tray of about 8 different kinds of bread, along with recommendations for bread pairing with our respective appetizers. I’ve never had a bread pairing before, but it seems like quite a good idea, why don’t more restaurants do this?

 

Ice poached oysters & 2 new preparations (served w seaweed bread) 

The cold trio of oysters was plump and sweet, and it was encapsulated in sea water gelee(I personally believe fresh oysters should be eaten w it’s natural seawater and nothing else). The salt level of the gelee was toned down quite a bit to let the natural sweetness of the oyster shine. The acidity in the dish came from the salad, which drew its link to the trio of oysters when it was finished with an oyster vinagette. When both the salad and trio of oysters were finished, a single warm poached oyster was served, it had spherical crispy pops(not sure what they were) that added an interesting contrast to the oyster. The warm oyster had a much more meaty texture to it, and sitting below the oyster was an egg custard that I can only describe as being very close in texture to chawanmushi. Overall there was a lot going on in this one appetizer, possibly even too much, I enjoyed the oysters but the salad was quite pedestrian. Okay

 

 

Artichoke and black truffles soup served with buttered brioche (Served w traditional baguette)

One of Guy Savoys signature dishes, incidentally, artichokes are also his favourite ingredient, and it’s not difficult to see why. An artichoke soup with shaved black truffle and Parmigian cheese; I hate artichokes with a passion, but the sweetness of the artichokes and truffles came together to form a really warm, creamy, very earthy, almost rustic(with a tad bit of extravagance, just a tad) soup. It tastes and feels like a very rich soup in your mouth, but there is enough balance that you don’t get bloated from consuming a large bowl of this. The mushroom brioche was soft and buttery, reminds me a lot of my bread experience in Per Se, and to take things over the top, it is cut in half and buttered some more. As he was buttering the brioche, the maitre d commented, “do you know why we butter the brioche? Because butter makes everything better.” I have to say I agree. Very good

 

 

Line-caught whiting w salmon eggs, Dublin bay prawn tartar with lemon jelly (5 bran)

I’m sure this dish was a little lost on me, but I did not like it at all. It was very very intensely fishy, I’m not sure if this was the intention of the dish, but the tartar and lemon jelly were completely overpowered and unable to hold up to the taste of the whiting, and it left your mouth with a very unpleasant lingering fishiness. You can basically make this dish at home by poaching a piece of fish in Thai fish sauce (Sorry Guy Savoy :p, but I’m only kidding, not that you’re ever going to read this). Very bad

 

 

Salmon ‘frozen’ on ice, scalding hot consommé, lemon pearls

I choose this dish because it sounded the most interesting of the lot. And I was 90% sure that lemon pearls were spherification, which was a little surprising because spherification has seemed to lost it’s appeal among many restaurants. But I was completely wrong about the pearls. Anyway, back to the fish. It’s basically a salmon that has been ‘cooked’ on a piece of dry ice, during which you actually get to see the flesh of the salmon begin to turn whitish-pink, like how it would if you cooked it normally over heat. It’s served on a very hot plate with very hot vegetable bouillon, chervil agar agar, and the lemon pearls are actually from a tiny fruit with pulp that has the size of caviar, and a taste of a grapefruit but also very tart, almost as acidic as a lime. The ‘pulp’ had a membrane that had a bite to it, very similar to that of a pomegranate. I’m beginning to make this sound like some sort of genetically modified mutant fruit, but it really was quite interesting and pleasant, it was mixed with lemon pulp to reinforce the lemon portion of the dish. It felt a little gimmicky but the wide contrast in temperatures made the dish quite enjoyable, although when the entire dish came to an equilibrium temperature, the dish quickly lost its pizzazz. I really didn’t care fo the chervil agar, I dislike the consistency of agar in savory dishes, but everything eaten together really had a nice balance to it. It was actually the lemon pearls that really brought the fish to life and the whole dish together. Good

  

  

Steam baked Bresse chicken breast, lemongrass, ribb vegetables, Swiss chard glazed with poultry jus

It’s time for another installment of ‘Best things I ever ate’, and this was the best chicken I’ve ever eaten. Another of Savoy’s signature dishes, I’m a little happy that this wasn’t done sous vide, because if it was, my circulator would be turned on all day and I would be responsible for a lot of dead birds. The chicken was placed in a pouch and left in the oven to steam, it had the moisture similar to that of a sous vide chicken; I find that sous vide chicken tends to mash the fibers of the meat together quite a little, this had none of those issues, the meat was more ‘defined’ and firm, but maintained all of its wonderful tenderness. The lemongrass actually complimented the chicken very well, without overpowering its delicate flavours. Very good

 

 

‘Foie gras and radish’, just fried turnips and ‘roasted caramelized duck’

I didn’t have enough of this to make a fair assessment, but for all your drooling pleasure

 

 

‘multicolour’ 

A dessert whose primary ingredient was figs. Again, didn’t have enough of it to make a fair assessment, and there was a lot going on in the dish

 

 

Mille feuille pastry w vanilla pod made to order

Shouldn’t everything in Guy Savoy be a la minut? Regardless, the pastry in this was texturally so flaky and soft, it was like eating air, the vanilla cream wasn’t overly sweet and had a very strong vanilla taste. Okay

 

All black (Noir)

A very dense chocolate cake sitting below one of the darkest and most bitter chocolate ice creams I’ve had. It was refreshing to be able to taste bitterness in a chocolate ice cream, not the most complex dessert, but simple and very satisfying. Okay

 

 

Grapefruit terrine w tea sauce

Another of Savoy’s signature dishes. The tea sauce was beautiful, the level of sweetness was just about enough to bring out the aromas of the Earl grey tea, it also balanced the tartness of the grapefruit terrine. The vanilla wafers gave welcome crunch to the dish, and it was only then that you got the vanilla aromas, which didn’t overpower the taste and smell of the Earl Grey at all. I would have never thought that Earl grey and grapefruit works so well together, it’s hard to describe to describe how good this tastes, because it’s hard to imagine the two flavors combining. So just trust my word in this, it was delicious. Very good

 

Vanilla mousse. Didn’t particularly enjoy the texture. Bad

Raspberry, avocado puree was a little lost in the raspberry. Okay

Chestnut– intense chestnut mousse, crisp meringue played off the mousse beautifully. Good

 

 

Earl grey sorbet w custard sauce. Black pepper

Perfect end to the meal, the sorbet was the best sorbet I’ve had. I’m not even that crazy about tea, but this had the perfect amount of tartness that we really needed at this point of the meal. The custard added a creamyness back into the sorbet, but not in the context of a deconstructed ice cream, black pepper was pretty mild and provided very faint residual heat. Intensely refreshing, and the sorbet perfumed all your senses with the smell of Earl Grey, even after the sorbet was long gone. V good

 

Chocolate, hazelnut, raisin

Choc muffin w raisin

What had started out a slightly awkward lunch turned out to be a delightful experience. The food at Guy Savoy is excellent, but I am fairly certain that most 3 star restaurants in France would serve excellent food as well. It was the service that surprised me the most. The maitre’d was very chatty, charming, funny, witty, challenging but never to the point of coming off as rude. You could tell that he knew what he was doing, and he did his job brilliantly, it really goes to show how much front of house staff really adds to the experience of the meal. Im not entirely sure if  it is a conscious effort by the 3 star restaurants to want to shake off the image of being pompous and arrogant , by hiring friendlier and more engaging waiters and waitresses, but if it is, its a step in the right direction