Sunday, December 23, 2012

Bo Innovation (Hong Kong) 12/2012

After an exceptional meal here a year or two ago I was very keen to come to this restaurant which specializes in x-treme chinese cuisine, as they put it. Sandra had no idea what to expect and was not happy when we had some difficulty finding the entrance which is actually in a side street.
They were offering a Chef's menu or a X'mas menu which, at HK$2080 was $400 more expensive and had three extra courses. That was what we selected and we were not sorry.
Many things seemed quite strange from the first thing they brought a waffle with Iberica ham and mustard sauce, which was both sweet and savoury and replaced bread, (8/10) 
 to the eight treasures that finished the meal.  Moa Tai Sour was a small sweet aperitif which was perhaps a teaspoon of foam. (6/10) .
The first real course was smoked eel with a strawberry sauce and some cubes of fish jelly. The eel was moist, lightly smoked and very very good though the fish jelly was rather bland and the whole dish made more interesting with the sweet sauce,(7/10)
 Caviar, Chinese farmed sturgeon roe with a tiny bit of edible decorative gold leaf sat atop a tempura ball containing oyster milk lying in a little bottarga, a strong fish sauce (6/10)
 Bo Dan Dan Noodles were very spicy with red pepper                                                              
and accompanied by pine nut, preserved vegetables, salmon roe and the airiest and lightest imaginable sea cucumber foam. Beautifully presented and quite simple this nod to sea cucumber did not do anything beyond decoration for the dish although it did add one
 more texture to a complex combination (6/10). 
 Foie gras, bamboo shoot "zhou ye qing" liquor, miso, pickled Indian lettuce stem ` was slightly sweet, the foie gras barely cooked, was quite superb in this unique combination.(9/10)

Turkey congee, black Alba truffle, 7 year aged aquarello rice, abalone was almost the equal of the previous dish. The rice in the congee had retained some of its structure, the soft but chewy abalone contrasted with some jellied fish broth making a nice combination. (8/10) 
This was followed by a palate cleanser.  
Molecular was a technical creation. A small dumpling enclosed in a gelatine skin with a thin stripe of red vinegar condiment was designed to imitate the taste of the classical Shanghai dumpling. This was the least successful dish, mainly because of the unrealized expectation. (5/10)
From here on things got better and better. Tomato, presented three ways, "pat chun" chinese vinegar infused made for a sweet and delicious bite, a sort of combination with a mayonnaise added to with powdered fermented black olives, "lam lok" a green tomato flavoured marshmallow, were all astonishing simple, varied but tasteful and excited our palates. (10/10) 
Black truffle was a variation on bacon and eggs. Slices of truffle covered Chinese bacon, dried until crisp, which covered a triangle of bread on which was a scrambled pigeon
 egg. A clever idea beautifully executed. (10/10) 
 Lobster, several large pieces of barely cooked lobster meat in a lightly Sichuan pepper, sweet corn lobster bisque with tiny sweet peas was characterized by its balance. Nothing detracted from the perfectly prepared lobster nor dominated the taste of the bisque. (10/10) 
Saga-Gyu beef was a fine piece of waghu with diakon, sea cucumber, bamboo gungus, chinese yam, asparagus in an aromatic consomme, poured at the table, was stunning.  
The last of the savoury courses it summed up the character of the meal. Not overly worked, varied and satisfying in every dimension of taste, texture and appearance, one could not ask for anything more. (10/10)
Two desserts followed. Christmas spirit made up of wild turkey whiskey brownies, green tea vodka lime mousse, chinese almond ice cream, hawthorn rum, white chocolate snow and green apple martini sounds like a lethally intoxicating combination but again the tastes were distinct and everything was light and easy to eat. The brownies were exceptional but among all these flavours I expect most people would find favourite and less favoured parts of the dish. (8/10)
We were thoroughly stuffed by now and took the petit dim-sum back to our hotel. These eight treasures were extraordinary. Each a different taste, each a different texture but all delicate and memorable. They were made up of:  Dragon Eye gelee, coconut, Osmanthus, fermented rice, white peach, Rose macaroon, lychee, white chocolate, Lotus seed, chocolate, sticky rice dumpling, Mandarin peel, chocolate truffle, Red date marshmellow, Wolfberry, tian jin pear, blue cheese, crystal bun, Chrysanthemum steamed sponge cake. (9/10)
This two star Michelin restaurant does not appeal to everyone in the way it did to us. If you like imagination in every aspect of a meal, unusual combinations of tastes, wide varieties of textures within small dishes, quality products treated with respect you should love this place as we did. Service is very friendly and helpful. They have an extensive wine list, heavily marked up and a small list by the glass. We had a bottle of German reisling (HK$480 which matched well with all the dishes.
They would match wines if you wished.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Chatter 47: What's Killing our Restaurants

Looking back over Epicure for the last few years I was struck by several observations. Firstly what a very good food and wine magazine it is. News, reviews, recipes articles, equipment, interviews are all first class. It's only serious deficiency is the lack of any space for comments from readers.
Apart from the constant movement of chefs there is one very frequent item of interest:established restaurants closing and new restaurants opening.  
The restaurants that close can be excellent, such as Embrasse, very good such as Verge or fated such as Garcia and Son, specialty such as Tapas y Vinos or just about anything else. No matter most have been open less than three years and are run by people closely involved with the restaurant world. 
So what goes wrong?
Clearly it's complex. There are masses of good restaurants of every complexion and every price range. Everyone knows that. Everyone must also know what staff cost, what food costs, and that set ups cost might blow out. That must be no surprise. Staff of course always come and go but even if the restaurant remains fairly popular it may still fail after a time. 
Business people are not stupid so what is it that gives them the confidence to open a restaurant or cafe at a place where several others, who also thought they could run a successful business, failed.
Perhaps this triumph of optimism over good sense arises from the simplistic conclusion that, as there are so many apparently successful restaurants run by so many people who are not especially capable it must be easy.  
Blind Freddie should know it's not easy.
For those already up and running the challenge is to survive and flourish in an ever more difficult environment. The slowing of our economy may decrease the cost of money they may have borrowed but it may also decrease the amount of discretionary spending on dining out. The holiday season may provide a temporary fillip but everything is getting more expensive, petrol, utilities, staff, produce, every thing. Work practice laws and regulations are adding more pressures. Rising costs are inexorable but diners have resistance to main courses over $49, or in many cases $39 or even less so prices cannot be put up and up to cover these costs.
People may become more cautious about opening restaurants but, regardless, the inevitable result, sadly, is that we will see more and more restaurant closures.

Sake Restaurant and Bar (Southbank) 12/2012

We have now been twice to Sake and feel quite confident in declaring it to be one of the very best Japanese restaurants in Melbourne. At the Eastern end of Southbank, under Hamer Hall it has replaced the indifferent Cafe Q.

Score 16/20
Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne/100 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne VIC
(03) 8687 0775 ·

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Gitane Bistro (South Yarra) 11/2012

*Click on pic's to enlarge them.

We have eaten here several times in the past and reviewed this restaurant, at 52 Toorak Rd West, under it's former name -  Fawkner Bistro. We liked it. The food was good and it was warm and welcoming. Now,having been taken over by the children of Jaques Reymond it has a more French feeling about it but it has retained all it's good qualities. The tables are  clean and neat with their white cloths,


 the decor is simple with a fun painting


and a few posters. One I particularly liked advertises the renowned aperitif Absynthe, a drink I enjoy with all the ceremony that goes with drinking it. Unfortunately it's not on the drinks menu.
 Service was especially friendly and helpful provided by young and enthusiastic staff. 
I started with a substantial charcuterie platter which was definitely for sharing. It was served on a panel of a box that once contained fine Sauterne.

 Everything on the platter was tasty but the pork rillettte was outstanding. 
A starter of paparadelles with chicken liver was a well prepared dish although we prefer the livers to be a little rarer than these were.

We tried three mains and each was excellent. A fillet of barramundi well prepared in a light cream sauce was delicate, moist with excellent 
Chicken, off the bone and crumbed was also a good though rather bare dish.

I preferred my rump steak although it came medium rare rather than blue. The accompanying hous made sauce was particularly fine.

 A very satisfying meal.
Score: 14/20

Monday, November 19, 2012

Vue de Monde (Melbourne CBD) 11/2012

* Click on pic's to enlarge them.
A meal at Vue de Monde is, in some ways, like a brilliant and original symphony orchestrated by a consummate virtuoso conductor who manages his players and their instruments in an almost flawless performance. The ten course degustation menu is a series of small dishes, closer to 15 than 10, each a little gem, which together make a complete meal. There is some theatre, both in the way dishes are presented and in the way the restaurant has been constructed on the 55th floor of the Rialto building. Nothing here has come about without thought. The disposition of the tables and the incredible views over Melbourne that they offer, the skin covered tables, the kangaroo skin covered chairs, the table settings with smooth worn stones sliced and grooved to hold salt and pepper or slit to hold a knife or heated and left in the bottom of the cloth bags in which bread is presented.

Even the gnarled roots that act as cutlery rests. It is all functional, unusual, attractive and very Australian.
Service is immaculate, informed, unobtrusive and efficient. I think all tables have views over Melbourne and several also look over the large open kitchen, where chefs can be seen working quickly and efficiently to plate up dishes.  

We started with cocktails in the Lui Bar, an outstanding space offering small tables for two or chaise lounges for larger groups. We had two house special cocktails - Lola Montes and a French aperitif Lillet, served with champagne and flavoured with mint, cucumber and a strawberry, a superb lightly spiced aromatic prelude to dinner. Shannon Bennett, the heart, soul and brain behind this enterprise, personally offered us a small pre dinner entree atly called 'From Russia with Love' made up o caviar, trout, celeriac remoulade,
while we chatted and admired the view. 
I will not describe each dish and it's refinement in detail. Suffice it to say there was not a jarring note in the whole meal. Despite the large number of dishes we did not feel that we had over eaten.  We drank 2007 Basil Farm Pinot Noir from the Bellarine Peninsula (Victoria)
Our menu was as follows:
Smoked eel, white chocolate caviar.

Salt cured wallaby

Pea, pistachio, strawberry.

Oysters, the shells had been opened and a light sauce added before having the top of the shell replaced.
Another little amuse bouchea truffle meringue
Spanner crab, kohlrabi, avocado, beach herbs.
Roasted marron, tarrago butter.
Melbourne onion soup. I found this deconstructed French onion soup both delightful and amusing. The soup was infused with herbs using and old style coffee percolator
and then pouted over a bowl containg all the elements of a traditional French onion soup in a completely different structure. The bread was in little cubes, the gruyere cheese both crumbed and creamed, the onion both in crisp rings and lightly grilled
What's more it tasted great.
Duck egg, asparagus a variation on coddled egg and asparagus
 Kangaroo, artichoke, pears,smoked bone marrow. As kangaroo was not an uption for one of us, and especially the bone marrow, we were offered an alternative, a rock garden of lamb.
Cucumber sorbet, crushed herbs. This was presented as a bowl of fresh herbs

 liquid nitrogen was poured into the bowl instantly freezing the herbs

which we crushed with a wooden pestle before a quenelle of minted ice cream was ladled on top.

Barramundi prawn, herbs, smoked bone marrow.

Flinders Island lamb, olive, Australian anchovies, mustard
Pigeon, artichoke, mushroom, parsley, hay
Blackmore Waghu, 9+ we were told, beetroot, pear, truffle, the Western Australian truffles were very fresh. Shaved at the table they had plenty of that special aroma and flavour so sought after.

Assortment of cheeses, bread, jams. A small section of the cheese trolley.

Quince, Apple, breads and beetroot.
  Three jams.
We were welcome to have more cheeses if we wished.
 Passion fruit, licorice, coconut.
Mandarin, violet and vanilla custard.
Chocolate souffle, chocolate mouse, creme anglais.
The was, I stress, without exception, the finest we have ever eaten.
Here a chef is adding smoke to the chocolate.

A selection of petit fours. I don't know how they knew it was our anniversary!
 The view with reflections of decorative neon sculptures which were actually behind me!

This was a meal to remember. It was a meal that turned food into art, that was filled with originality raising the better than ordinary to extra ordinary, a theatrical meal but not excessively so, a multidimensional experience both cerebral and sensuous operating to titivate all the senses. 
Score: 19+/20