Friday, July 27, 2007

La Petite Maison

54 Brook’s Mews,
Mayfair W1K 4EG
(27 July 2007)

This is an offshoot of a famous Nice restaurant that I’ve been to a couple of times in the past that just opened in London. Actually, I went there convinced it was an offshoot of a Brussels restaurant but it pretty quickly dawned on me that this had to be a Provencal restaurant. The space used to belong to a rather dreary Italian restaurant that managed the feet of being massively expensive without having anything worthwhile on the menu but stuffy staff aplenty.

I went without a reservation figuring that since it the place is new it would not be full. This being London, however, I could not have been more wrong. The place was absolutely full and buzzing with activity. We however, did get seated pretty quickly by the lovely Tamara the PR for the restaurant. We must have been looking particularly prosperous because she told us that she looks after VIP’s and should I need a table in the future I should call her.

The Restaurant is in an odd shaped corner space that actually works rather well for a restaurant because you walk in and the whole space opens up in front of you at a 90 degrees angle rather than at 180 degrees as is more normal. The dining room is also rather large and bright, painted cream coloured with very elaborate flower arrangements providing colour. All in all they have very successfully created a very Nicois feel to the place.

The concept of the place is European food served Asian style i.e. many small and large dishes to share. The food also ranges from very simple (fave beans and pecorino) to the opulent such as the blackleg chicken with fresh braised foie gras. There is also a satisfyingly large selection of dishes.

We had only three courses, namely:

  1. Salad of broad beans (fave beans in French), basically broad beans, olive oil, salt, pepper and slices of pecorino. Works beautifully;
  2. Baked Aubergine, shrimp and melted cheese: I don’t generally hold with cheese and seafood but I found this too intriguing not to try. It really works extremely well delicate flavours that are not at all drowned by the cheese as I had feared;
  3. Blackleg chicken with fresh braised foie gras. I could not resist this dish even though it takes an hour to get it to your table, (I think they managed in 45 min but can’t be sure as I was not paying attention). Blackleg chicken is a French type of free range chicken that is let grow quite large and is exceptionally tasty. They marinate it in lemon before braising it for and hour in a heavy oven pan. That’s it, served with fried foie gras and Pommes Dauphinoises it really is to die for. The quantity was rather more than the two of us could handle as it could easily have fed four as long as none of them is my nephew.

I’ll be going back for dishes like: pissaladiere (caramelized onion tart topped with anchovies); Nicoise salad; sweet peppers in olive oil; stuffed Mediterranean vegetables; deep-fried baby squid; deep-fried courgette flowers, sage, with anchovies and onions; and warm prawns with olive oil, Carpaccio of Scallops… And they also have macaroni with summer truffles… actually I may have to go back tonight for that!

The best thing though, they serve Chateaux Rasque – La piece nouble! My absolute favourite Cote de Provence that I have every time I go to Bruno’s in Lorgue. You normally can’t find this wine outside of France or really outside of Provence but they have it in Mayfair!

To top everything off the service is also great provided by mostly young French people. How come that when you get good service in London it is always provided by French people.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


3115 Pico Boulevard
Santa Monica CA 90405
(23 July 2007)

I was in California for business travelling with some real wine buffs who insisted we go to Valentino’s not for the food but for the wine list. They where rights of course as the wine list is not so much a list as a book. The restaurant has over 200,000 bottles in its cellar and when they drop the wine list in your lap it is quite intimidating. If they have a wine, they also have all notable vintages of that wine, so it is not enough to know the producer you need to know the vintage. Similarly, if they have the region they have all the notable producers… I just found this confusing.

In the end I settled for a Hofstatter, Pinot Nero Riserva S.Urbano 2000 from Alte Adige and a Voerzio Barolo Cerequio 1996. Choose both because they where pretty reasonable value for money (in a pricey list) and because I know the producers. I hate taking pot shots on wine when I’m with business associates.

The food was pretty decent too! I had summer truffle risotto that was as good as any I’ve ever had. Actually, it was amongst the best I’ve had to be fair. I also had a steak, fillet mignon, with a Balsamic reduction sauce. The beef was really good and perfectly prepared but the sauce was a real disappointment that ruined the whole dish for me. Basically, balsamic vinegar is a very popular ingredient that people tend to use in inappropriate ways.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

AA137 London - LA (21-07-2007) Bus Class

Chateau Lynch-Moussas 2000 - Although this is one of the original 1855 chateaux it is an extremely unremarkable vine not bad though.

Smoked Sesame Salmon and Cucumber Roll "accented" by a Thai sweet Chili Sauce - cringeworthy that's how bad that was;
Salad of fresh seasonal greens and assorted fresh veggies olive oil and balsamic vinegar - very good;
Grilled Chicken Wrapped in Bacon - This really is the kind of rubbish that airlines used to serve in the '80. At least it was edible even if extremely uninteresting.
For snacks they served a pizza that was quite good but PIZZA. This is business class, my company paid something like $10k for the ticket and they serve PIZZA
Inferior seats, inferior food and battleaxes as stewardesses. As bad as I feared.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Le Garcon Chinois

Hengshan Lu, Lane 9, no. 3

This is the first Spanish – Vietnamese restaurant I’ve ever been too, or heard of for that matter. It is in an old, impossible to find, mansion in an alleyway off Hengshan Lu in the French Concession. You have to walk down the long alleyway that really does not fell like you should be there. The building, however, is absolutely charming and the white tablecloth service, wood panelling and low candlelight give a real sense of an old colonial lifestyle. There is also a really intimate bar that was full of punters on the night I went. All in all the atmosphere is what makes this place because the food really is nothing to write home about! The Tapas was ok, really suffered for some rather mediocre ingredients and the rest was good but not special.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Jade on 36

Pudon Shangri-La
Level 36, tower 2,
33 Fu Cheng Lu,
Pudong, Shanghai 200120

I had never heard of Paul Pairet the chef of Jade on 36 but apparently I should have. He’s not only been making waves for over 20 years in Hong Kong, Sidney, Paris and Istanbul he’s almost as good as Heston at the Fat Duck. This is “Cuisine Moleculaire” at its best and not only my best meal in Shanghai it is one of the best meals ever.

It also does not harm at all that the meal is eaten in the splendid surroundings of the 36th floor of the Shangri-La hotel. Very futuristic design (by a certain Adam D. Tihany who apparently I should have heard of) and stunning views over the city of tomorrow as the Shanghaiese like to refer to their city.

We went for the full experience by taking the biggest menu and the Chef’s recommended manner of experiencing his food. The range of food, however, is such that you’d need to several visits and similar sized menus to have sampled Mr. Pairet’s full repertoire.

Jade XL Menu

Tuna & Yellowtail
Dandelion Sashimi

Good start but not very memorable;

Foie Gras
Passion-Choco Foie Gras Opera

This dish really set the bar for the rest of the menu to beat. Really counterintuitive but basically the classic opera cake (chocolate, chocolate ganace, coffee foam and almond pastry) with the chocolate replaced by foie gras except for a layer of cocoa powder over passion fruit gel. Served with toasted brioche, simply sensational.

Truffle Burnt Soup Bread

Toasted whole wheat bread poached in soup Meuniere covered with Chinese black truffle, truffle oil and meunier foam. With burnt bread butter what ever that is. Good fun very unusual taste.

Duck a l’Orange Sunny Side Up
Lemmon & Coconut Roast Duck

This dish is almost ridiculously funny. Basically, roast duck served with an “egg” where the egg white is made of coconut foam and yoke is made of orange juice for an egg sunny side up. They add asparagus, fava beans and green pea purée for a perfect breakfast!

Jumbo Shrimp
Jumbo Shrimp Citrus Jar

Jumbo Shrimp stewed in a kilner jar with its own juices, lemongrass and orange juice for about 45 minutes. Supposedly, this is the chef’s most famous and oldest creation and it has been celebrated in loads of publications. I can see why, this is the kind of dish that you just don’t want to finish, it is that good.

Black Cod
Black Cod Hong Kong

Not the classic black cod of Nobu fame rather a steamed affair in a kind of sous vide type technique. The cod is put into a heat-proof bag with what they call Cantonese-style soy sauce, orange and butter. This soy is made of soy, sesame oil, star anise and truffle oil; not sure how Cantonese that is but no complaints as it was very good. I feel a little churlish to say this but this dish that was merely good, hardly up to the standards of the rest of the fare.

Beef Short Rib
Rib Teriyaki

Beef rib cut right back so that about 10 cm of meat remain in the middle with the rest of the rib totally clean. Braised for twelve hours, lacquered with a teriyaki glaze, served with fried garlic, truffle mash and orange reduction. There really is no way of explaining just how good that was. My mouth still waters at the thought.

Lemon & Lemon Tart

Candy a whole lemon, remove the pulp and replace with lemon sorbet, lemon curd and vanilla Chantilly serve with lemon sablee. This was definitely another oh my god moment.

Mango, Liquorice, Dill

Mango, some sort of liquorice gel, syrupy dill… very good mango but with everything else I needed to remember this one is a little vague.

Brandy & Cigars because in Communist China they don’t have fascist rules forbidding private landlords from allowing their guest to smoke.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

BA168 Shanghai - London 17-07-07 Club Class

Pouilly-Fume les Pierres Blanches 2005, Domiane Masson-Blondelet
Very good crisp chardonay I don't know the Domaine but I love the appelation.
Chateau Arnauld 2004, Cru Bourgeois Haut Medoc.
Nothing wrong with this Haut Medoc, deep red mostly Merlot with some Cap Franc and Petit Verdot mixed in if memory serves but BA was serving it too cold.

This is a twelve hour daytime flight so we had two meals. For lunch I had:

Hot Smoked salmon, with cucumber salad and wasabi dressing
This was very good, and at the right temperature for once. The trick with hot smoking fatty fish like salmon is not to overdo it which makes the fish salty. This one was perfectly smoked and the wasabi and cucumber combination was just the right kind of light touch that was needed.

Mark Edwards' halibut in black bean sauce, bock choy and egg fried rice
(Mark Edwards is part of the BA culinary council and the say he's "specialist on Asian inspired cuisine, London")
Basically slices of fish in some sort of fairly heavy dough fried and reheated until you just could not decide wich was worse the oilyness of the dough or the dead dryness of the fish. I find the pride that BA attaches to its Culinary Council very ironic considering the utter crap they produce.

I never take the dessert on BA as I've never had anything resembling eatable desserts with the airline.

For what BA calls a Light Meal I had:

Parma Ham, grilled goat's cheese and basil salad

Basically a very good idea for an airline dish. Get the logistics right and this is very easy to handle dish that copes well with waiting while refridgerated. BA however was quite cabable of turning this into a disaster. The parma ham should have been thin slices of reasonable quality but where instead slabs of some horrid cheap ham. You really had to work at chewing this stuff and any pensioners with fake teeth could have forgotten about it. The goat's cheese did not look grilled it looked and tasted like it had been caught in a fire. The final insult; the basil salad was three completely vilted leaves of basil!

Sweet & Sour Pork with shiitake mushrooms and steamed rice
This dish was so unspeakably bad that only comparison with school food or possibly '80's vintage Russian airline food would capture how dreadful it was. Even the rice was uneatable.

Selection of fruit
At last one thing they got right

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

ZEN Restaurant

House 2
South Block Xintiandi Lane
123 Xinye Lu (by Madang Lu)

Very little to report. Xintiandi is a kind of amusement park for urban tourism where a couple of block of houses build to resemble "old" Shanghai. Old Shanghai of course never looked this good but the place is actually very nice despite looking like it could be anywhere in the world. Basically, row upon row of restaurants from around the world, cafes, bars and loads of shops.

Zen was the type of Chinese that you can find in most European cities now a days. Basic Chinese food interspersed with a few new ideas and a cool sparse interior. Food was mostly very unmemorable although we did have a very good Crispy soft shell crab with peppercorn salt. Main was a steamed grouper with garlic and ginger that was good but not memorable.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Lost Heaven

38 Gao You Road
Shanghai, China,

For dinner last night we went to this Yunnan restaurant which appears to be primarily attended by expats as there where very few locals around. That said the place was quite smart and service was pretty good too. Lost Heaven specialises in the food of the peoples living along the ancient Tea Horses Trail (Cha Ma Gu Dao) or so they claim themselves. My understanding is that this trade route ran through Yunnan up into the mountains to Tibet, Burma, Laos and Vietnam. Consequently, the food is a mixture of Burmese, Yunnan, Vietnamese and minority cuisine from groups with names like Dai, Bai and Miao.

If you know Burmese cuisine much of the offering will infact appear extremely familiar with a few new things thrown in. In any case we had:

  1. Mandalay fish cakes with a sweet and soure type sauce, OK, let down by the strong taste of the local water i.e. you could taste the clorine;
  2. Prawn Cakes with Salty egg yolk and Yunnan ham. This turned out to be a prawn toast with a topping of extremely salty egg of some sort and a dried local ham. Extremely good.
  3. Burmese Curry vegetables – good, not much more to be said about it thoug;
  4. Ancient Road Sausages – this was a type of dried pork sausage fried up on oil. Extremely tasty competes favourably with any dried sausage I've tried;
  5. Dai style fish with ginger – a great dish. Basically some dished local fish stewed in a ginger curry.

We had Italian Pinot Grigio with the meal with was perfect even if I doubt the Dai & Bai villagers have ever herd of it!

Monday, July 09, 2007

M on the Bund

7/F, No. 5 The Bund (at Guangdong Lu)
Shanghai 200002 China

One of my goals in visiting Shanghai is to eat in Jean-Georges Vongerichten's restaurant 3 on the Bund. So I made reservations for 21.00hrs Sunday night for me and my friend Per. There was just one problem the actual entrance is on Guang Dong Lu on the corner with the Bund and naturally that was too difficult for me.

We walked down from the Westin Hotel along the West side of Guang Dong Lu until we came to what looked exactly like the entrance for a top class restaurant. I was a little confused but it looked exactly like what I was expecting i.e. grand old building with different restaurants on each floor. So I asked the doorman if this was where Jean-Georges was, to which he responded "yes it's on the 7th floor".

Which is how I found myself eating at M on the Bund which as you will notice is not the same as Jean-Georges Vongerichten! I can be such a clueless idiot sometimes. I even had a very good opportunity to rectify the situation when they did not in fact have a reservation for us but before my feeling of unease got critical the Maitre D took the situation in hand and declared it was probably just language difficulty and found us a seat.

Jean-Georges by the way is on the East site of Guang Dong Lu roughly 10 meters away from the entrance to M.

Now this was not necessarily a total disaster as I was very much aware that M on the Bund was a highly rated restaurant (yes another reason why I really should have caught on) so I actually wanted to go there. The experience was mixed however. Service was pretty good although I had the feeling they where hurrying us along. The setting, atop an old art deco building with a unobstructed view of the futuristic Pudong skyline, was magnificent. The food however was uneven. We ordered:

  1. Pan-fried foie gras with pomegranate molasses and dressed cress, served with toasted brioche on the side for Rnb 138.00 (£9 or so);
  2. Mandarin beluga caviar on a warm crepe Parmentier, which we like best, or with Melba toast and crème fraiche Rnb198.00 (£13);
  3. And both of us had for main what they call "Our famous salt encased slowly baked selected leg of lamb, newly partnered for Spring with a warm salad of asparagus, morels, and roasted roots, dressed with lemon, parsley and capers" for Rnb218.00 (£14.5);
  4. Om Ali - Egyptian filo pastries filled with fruits and nuts, served with spiced cream and spiced ice-cream for Rnb 78.00 (£5);
  5. 'Tarte Tatin' - Bernard's adaptation of the French sisters's tart, topped with a scoop of vanilla bean ice-cream for Rnb 86.00 (£6);

The foie gras was OK. It was somewhat undercooked and the pomegranate was way to strong for the taste of the liver. The dressed cress went some way towards making up for the pomegranate but overall this dish was a disappointment.

I have no idea what Mandarin Beluga Caviar is but NOT beluga caviar comes to mind. Whatever it is, it is barely better than lump fish roe but I suppose the price should have warned me off. However the rest of the dish in no way made up for the quality of the caviar. The crepe Parmentier was quite good but three time thicker than it needed to be and therefore the dominating taste. The crème fraiche was tasty but very liquid; this is not a good thing for cream to be eaten with caviar. Overall, a complete failure of a dish.

The lamb was the highlight of the meal. Perfectly cooked, perfectly matched with all the sides and quite deserving of whatever fame it has garnered. This really is a dish that could carry a restaurant by itself. Quite heavy for the temperature outside but what the heck.

Om Ali – totally nondescript, not bad but I really can't muster any enthusiasm for this dish. I did not taste the Tart Tatin but Per liked it. I was very sceptical at the speed with which it appeared however. I recon the only way to get a Tart Tatin to the table in the time they did is to nuke it which is really not kosher for a restaurant like this.

We had some pretty good wines with dinner, we started with a perfectly good Vouvrey Sec for around Rnb600 (£40) and a Pinot Noir, Domaine Drouhin, Oregon 2002, at Rnb1200 (£80) with the lamb. Oregon pinots are impossible to get outside the US and always overpriced when you do find them but I could not resist this one as I have found memories of it at a dinner in Seattle with Boeing. It is 14% but has the body of a 11% wine which gives it a unique bouquet that is perfect with a stewed meat like the salt encase lamb.

I guess I'll be going to Jean-Georges later!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Shanghai Day 3

The culinary experience in Shanghai so far is mixed but I'm having fun with it partially because I keep having language related incidents.

The first day I stepped into a local eatery chosen at random where they had English language menus but the staff did not speak any English. This resulted in me ordering two soups (won ton and a bamboo sprout and roast duck noodle soup) which was already funny. What was even funnier though was the fact that both soups came in portions that where apparently intended to feed a family of twelve. I must have looked hilarious sitting there fat and happy with enough food in front of me to feed a small village. In any case the won tons where very good but the broth they came in hardly tasted of anything. The duck soup was inedible. I remember meat soups from my childhood that where terrifyingly bad due to having been made from extremely fatty lamb. There would be a layer of fat floating on top of the soup and lamb fat was all it tasted of. This duck soup was exactly like that except that apparently they had let the duck go rancid first for added effect.

The evening was much better as I went with two friends to a Vietnamese restaurant called Foreign Culture Club (889, Julu Lu/By Changshu Lu. Bldg.11-12) that was quite an experience both because the food was great but also because of the surroundings. The FCC is located in an old colonial mansion in the French Concession. The restaurant has a patisserie, a med restaurant, and a H2O bar (servers bottled water from all around the world) and a modern Vietnamese which is where I ate. The food was modern versions of classic Vietnamese food so beef in tomato curry was served on a baguette not with rice which worked a treat. Other great dishes included Grilled Eggplant with Scallion Oil and Soy Sauce a very light and tasty dish and superb light cold egg rolls.

For lunch on Friday I had a noodle soup in a hole in the wall where no one spoke any English. It was the sort of place where pointing did not help as the menu (on the wall only) was in Chinese but I was saved by a patron who while he did not speak English did understand basics such as soup and noodle and pork. That is also exactly what I had a pretty thin soup with loads of noodle and nondescript pork.

Dinner on Friday was quite an adventure as I was out drinking cocktails and me and my allegedly Chinese speaking friend did not start looking for restaurants until late. So late in fact that most restaurants had closed in the neighbourhood we where in. As a consequence we ended up in a Xinxhuan restaurant that most definitely does not cater to tourists as they had no English speaking staff and the menus where in Chinese. Per ordered fried shrimp, stir fried beef and rice in his Chinese. I term his command of the Chinese language alleged because what we got was frog legs, some completely unrecognisable meat (most definitely not beef of any quality I've encountered before) and fried Chinese broccoli. Both the meat and frogs where in great big heaps with about equal quantity diced fried chilly. We where hungry so we ate all of it and apart from the morning after effects of all the chilli the food was not bad at all.

Saturday, I had lunch at the Westin hotel, where I'm staying, at a restaurant called EEST that offers Thai, Japanese and Cantonese food all in one neat package. They hype themselves as Shanghai's best Asian restaurant and have gotten some pretty good reviews. My experience suggest that they owe more to their corporate background that any desire to gain Michelin stars. I had tempura prawns, grilled miso blackened cod and vegetable fried rice of which the rice was the best dish. The prawns would have been good because they where using very light batter where it not for the old oil that they where using. Anyone who's ever tasted fish and chips in a chippy that does not get the need to change the frying oil regularly will know the taste.

The only problem with the cod was that it was neither grilled cod nor blackened cod. It was somewhere in between and it did not work either way. Rice was good though!

Dinner Saturday, anther Xinxhuan but this time apart from ordering way too much food we had a pretty good experience. The highlight was deep fried mutton with vinegar dipping sauce very unusual but quite good. Again loads of chilly.

Friday, July 06, 2007

BA 169 London – Shanghai, Fist Class (04-07-07)

Sancerre Edmond 2003, Alphonse Mellot

A very fine Sancerre, very dry yet still fruity.

Chablis Grand Cru Bougros, Cote Bouguerots, 2004, Domaine William Fevre,

Good call to start with the Sancerre as this was a much bigger wine, very dry and crisp. You don't really go wrong with a Chablish Grand Cru.

Chateau Beychevelle 1996, Grand Cru Classe Saint-Julien,

I am a huge fan of Chateau Beychevelle and 1996 was one of their best years. BA must have bought a huge proportion of the production though as they are serving it everywhere. Saint-Julien is, as the smallest of the Medoc wines, a bit of a boutique appellation but produces great full bodied and very high tannin wine. Mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot 20% and Cabernet Franc 10% if memory serves. Full marks to BA for this wine.

Shaun Hill's Loch Fyne, Smoked Salmon Tartare
(Owner – Chef at The Glasshouse, Worcester, England)

This was barely edible due to being barely above freezing. I have no idea what it is with BA they assemble a very grandly named BA Culinary Council stuffed with some of the great and good of the industry but they can not get a basic logistic like serving the food at the correct temperature right. I've had frozen salads and cold steak on BA flights. I don't think the idea of a cold salmon tartare was necessarily a bad idea and the sour cream dressing was not bad at all, but no good frozen.

Catch of the day – pan fried bream with colcannon mash, broccoli, and turned carrots.

The bream and the mash very quite good but the veggies where just overcooked veggies that added nothing. Actually, given how piss poor the logistics where on the salad I am impressed with the fish.

BA really needs to update its first class offering. The seats or pods are still amongst the best in the industry and the service is impeccable but the rest of the product is way behind. The wine is only ok, the food is substandard and the IFE is two generations behind even the business class offering of most major airlines (ok not US Airlines, who appear to have given up competing at the top of the market). The new Club Class IFE is a generation behind but in First they offer a tiny screen, nothing on demand and quite frankly most of the time it is broken anyway. This is at a price that is just about the highest in the industry.