This was my first time to a Scandinavian country and it happened to be… SURPRISE!!!… a restaurant, which was the reason for the visit.

Before arriving we heard Copenhagen had just received more rainfall in the last 24hrs that the previous 20yrs. Something like that anyway.  I live in London so this didn’t sound too impressive.

When we got there it was raining. Drink anyone?

For my two day visit Copenhagen was nice and orderly and the people good looking if not a little serious, and hardly anyone locks up their bikes. This is very strange when you live in London.

A quick drink at an impressive cocktail bar called Ruby was perfect for preparing the palette for Noma.

Rating restaurants is a difficult thing, so I’m not going to say whether I think Noma should be number 1 or not. I will say the food presentation, journey of flavours and general service  was not only special but unique. There may have been a small amount of champagne which went missing but that’s nothing to get too worked up about.

We had the 12 course menu and didn’t drink red wine.

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Le Chateaubriand

It has been well publicised that Chef-patron Iñaki Aizpitarte wanted to create a restaurant where his friends could afford to eat. I’m guessing he wasn’t expecting his restaurant to be ranked number 11 in the 50 best restaurants of the world in 2010 and then number 9 in 2011.

Despite this high ranking La Chateaubriand has no Michelin stars to speak of. Intriguing considering I’ve been to restaurants which hold 3 Michelin stars and arn’t ranked in the 100 best restaurants in the world.

Honestly, I felt for him. Yes his restaurant is now famous and is booked out every night with queues to get a seat for the second sitting. My query is do people still enjoy it for what it is or do they compare it to other highly ranked restaurants in the world? I confess I am guilty of the latter.

My three dining companions and I had the six course tasting menu (which is the only option) for 50€ with matching wines for an additional 45€. I forgot to take a menu with me although found the 95€ for the meal to be good value. The food is well thought out, interesting and very tasty. Saying that it is still rustic and fine dining addicts will find imperfections.

Will I go back next time I am in Paris? Definitely.

1st amuse bouche: cheese pastry (gougere).

2nd amuse bouche: avocado lemongrass juice.

3rd amuse bouche: celery with truffle.

4th amuse bouche: duck heart.

1st course: carrot foie gras aniseed soup.

2nd course: mackerel cabbage parsnips.

3rd course: barbue (bass).

4th course: veal truffles.

5th course: berry ice cream.

6th course: chocolate soil.

129 Avenue Parmentier, Paris 75011, France +33 (0)1 43 57 45 95

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Whether you like this style of food or not, to have a restaurant of this calibre in Bethnal Green can only be described as very fortunate. Housed within a hotel redevelopment you could walk right by it without even knowing it was there.

Nuno Mendes, chef patron is fairly well known to foodies in East London. He previously ran Bacchus in Hoxton market then a supper club called The Loft Project in his Hackney flat, which still operates by means of guest chefs. Many of the dishes Nuno prepared and served at The Loft Project were experiments and prototypes for what is now on the menu at Viajante.

Personally, I’ve been wanting to get to Viajante as soon as it opened in early/mid 2010. When Viajante first opened I was a little surprised by the amount of mixed reviews in the press. Saying that I knew there would be a few. However, saw this as a reflextion of food journalists in the UK rather than Nuno’s food.

Anyway after all this time, mixed reviews or not, I was ready. I grabbed a friend, M for a 6 course weekend lunch. They do 3 (£25) or 6 (£45) courses for lunch and there are no menus, all dishes are served ‘blind’ (you don’t know what you’re getting). Matching wines are also available £30 for the 6 course.

The restaurant is modern and minimal. Pale, light colours fill the room and large ornamental lamp shades feature from the walls and ceiling. There are also no tablecloths. I like seeing restaurants that don’t use tablecloths for two reasons. It is far more environmentally friendly not to use them and the cost of using them is ultimately seen on the bill. I prefer the money I spend to go to the food.

The first amuse bouche, called Thai Explosion II, was a quail egg surrounded by a thick paste housed together by a crispy skin. Yes, it was awesome. Strong aromatic Thai flavours rounded off with a delicate quail egg.

I wasn’t paying proper attention when the second amuse bouche came, too much wine I think. Quite unsurprisingly it was called Bread and Butter. For me what stood out was the crispy pieces (bacon maybe) that worked really well with the creaminess of the butter.

The first course proper was scallops, butternut squash and mustard. This was served with the Pewsey Vale ‘Contours’ Riesling 2004 from Eden Valley, Australia. The flavours complimented and contrasted really well. The raw (almost?) scallops with the herb broth and mustard was one of my favourite combinations. The Pewsey Vale is one of my favourite Rieslings however found it slightly too strong for this dish. Riesling can show petrol on the nose which can sometimes overpower suttle flavours.

The second course was charred leeks, lobster, hazelnuts and milk skin paired with a Birgit Eichinger “Strasse Hassel Gruner Veltliner 2009. I love leeks and they worked very well with the lobster flavour. The milk skin was almost like a cleanser. The wine worked well with the dish as it was light and delicate however if you had it against the Pewsey Vale it was a bit too light.

Braised salmon skin and fried aubergine with a Lopez de Heredia “Vina Tondonia” Rosado 2000, Rioja. This was my favourite, rich salmon flavours sour umeboshi fruit with the meaty earthyness of the fried aubergine.

Sea bass toast, garlic kale and S. Jorge served with a G. Puiatti “Ruttars” Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Collio. At the time I wasn’t so impressed with this dish. I think this is because there were so many other flavour combinations going on around it, or I’d had too much wine. Thinking about the dish afterwards I realised I didn’t give it the attention it deserved. The concept of (bass) toast with cheese, mixed with the garlic kale was both fun and delicious.

Duck, mushroom caramel, blackberries and girolles served with a Domaine Casse Masonneuve “Abstemes’s Abstenir” 2008, France. I really liked the presentation of this dish, the organised scattering of ingredients is for me, quintessential Nuno Mendes.

Sea buckthorn with burnt meringue came was a great palette cleanser even though I had no idea what sea buckthorn was. It’s a plant that grows wild throughout Europe and most parts of China and has edible orange berries which are apparently unpleasant to eat raw.

Chocolate with hazelnut and soil with a Shan Lin Shi tea. Difficult to go wrong with this combination really. I was surprised how well the tea went with the sweet nature of the dessert. I would expect a sweet wine of some sort but the crisp freshness of the tea worked quite well.

Petit fours to finish.

Its obvious I’m a big fan of this style of food. Not only do your eyes roll back in your head with pleasure from the flavour sensations, you are left discussing and analysing what you have consumed as a result of its uniqueness and complexity.

While I thought the wines generally matched the dishes they were paired with I felt they didn’t follow a consistent order. To go from a new world Riesling to a light Sauvignon Blanc didn’t quite work for me.

Overall I loved it, and can’t wait to go back for the 12 course dinner.

Vıajante, Patriot Square, London E2 9NF

Reservations: +44 (0) 20 7871 0461

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Domaine Fourrier: London tasting

Domaine Fourrier produces some of the most sought after wines from Burgundy, specifically Gevrey-Chambertain. Under the control of Jean-Marie Fourrier (who hosted the tasting at The Sampler) the Domaine focuses on minimal intervention wine making. Fertilisers, pesticides, thinning agents and peroxides are kept to an absolute minimum or not used at all.

Not only are these wines some of my favourites, especially the Clos St Jacques, Jean Marie is one of the most interesting and informative wine makers I have met. He appears to be an absolute purist, repeating several times he doesn’t make wines for scoring he makes wines that he likes to drink (don’t they all say that? I’m not sure, maybe I just believed him more). Jean Marie talked a great deal more about biology in growing the fruit and less about the processes involved in actual wine making.

Another interesting topic discussed on the night was the process of cork production. The colour of natural cork is brown, however many of the corks we pull out of bottles are almost white. This is because peroxides are used to bleach corks for a cleaner appearance. Jean Marie explained that a cork is squeezed right before it is inserted into a bottle thus remnants of any chemical in the cork may leak into the wine. Interesting stuff.

Onto the wines. The first half of the tasting included wines from 5 vineyards in Gevrey-Chambertin and 1 from Chambolle-Musigny, all from older vintages.

Gevery-Chambertin 1er Cru Les Champeaux 1997

Gevery-Chambertin 1er Cru Les Goulots 1997

Gevery-Chambertin 1er Cru Combe aux Moines 1997

Gevery-Chambertin 1er Cru Les Cherbaudes 1999

Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Gruenchers 1999

Gevery-Chambertin 1er Cru Clos St Jacques 2004

Wow, what a selection of wines hey? The first thing that got me about the ’97’s was their acidity and youthfulness. They are fantastic big and balanced Gevrey’s showing typical burgundy red fruit, dark cherries and a woodiness which was also quite earthy. My favourite was the 1er Cru Combe aux Moines 1997.

It was great to try a Chambolle-Musigny next to a Gevrey. Typically Chambolle’s are more floral and not as big in style. This held true in the Les Gruenchers. I found the fragrance really open up in the Chambolle towards the end of the night.

Clos St Jacques is a premier cru vineyard and stated by Janis Robinson to be “always regarded as a Grand Cru in all but name”. The site is 6.7 h having 5 owners with each lot running from the top to the bottom of the slope.

2004 wasn’t the greatest of years in Burgundy however this Fourrier Clos St Jacques is wonderful. If anything I would like to try it in 5 years time.

The second half of the tasting included 4 wines from the same vineyards (excluding the Les Champeaux and Combe aux Moines) all in the 2009 vintage.

Gevery-Chambertin 1er Cru Les Goulots 2009

Gevery-Chambertin 1er Cru Les Cherbaudes 2009

Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Gruenchers 2009

Gevery-Chambertin 1er Cru Clos St Jacques 2009

Excluding the Chambolle these were much more similar in style with less time to develop in the bottle. The 2009 burgundy vintage is considered to be very good, maybe not quite as good as 2005. Would really like to try these ’09’s with a bit more age.

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Risotto al Barolo

Who would have thought my first dish in the Barolo region would turn out to be my favourite? Risotto al Barolo eaten at Ristorante Rosso Barolo.

I know it looks like something from the children’s menu and I wouldn’t say it had the most complex of flavours, however flavour it did have. Arborio rice, barolo wine, chicken stock and a healthy serving of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. It packed a wonderful punch.

I tried to tempt chef/owner Emanuele to pass on his recipe but he declined. Well, actually he laughed at me when I suggested it. So I took that as a no.

A few weeks later back in London, I was determined to give it a go and see if I could replicate this awesome dish.

On the surface it’s a simple recipe. However when a recipe has only a few ingredients the quality and type of those ingredients become really important.

I decided to follow a recipe from Snooth.

5 tbls. butter – 1 ½ ‐ 2 quarts of chicken stock – 2 cups risotto rice (Arborio, Cannaroli or Vialone nano) – ½ red onion (small dice) – 2 cups Barolo (Not a modern style. Stay away from bottles aged in new oak.) – 3 Tbls of grated Parmigiano‐Reggiano – 2 tsp fresh chopped parsley – Salt and pepper to taste

I was really upset when I couldn’t get my hands on proper chicken stock and had to go with Kallo Cubes. I used a Malvira Nebbiolo in the risotto, which is actually a very good drinking wine. Finding a cheap Barolo/Nebbiolo made in a classic style is a difficult thing to do. At least you get to drink the rest while cooking. And I used organic Parmigiano-Reggiano from Whole Foods.

I really do find the constant stirring required in cooking risotto to be quite therapeutic.

So!?!?!? Was it as good?

I was very impressed at my first attempt, however felt my risotto lacked a bit of richness compared to Rosso Barolo’s. While the liquid quantities in the recipe are good next time I might replace 1/2 – 1 cup of stock with wine. And also add a tbsp more cheese. Still, a great dish can’t wait to try it again.

Via Roma, 16 – 12060 Barolo Barolo (Cn)
Tel. 0173/56133

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Seriously, how good are truffles? They are right up there as one of my favourite flavours and fragrances.

The Hunt

On a recent trip to the Langhe region in Piemont, Northern Italy my two travel companions, B&B insisted on doing a truffle hunt.

Ok, it’s not really a hunt, it’s more like a search. Taking into account there’s wild animals involved, a dog in this case, and it’s in the wilderness I’m going to stick with hunt.

To be honest I wasn’t so keen on the idea. Stories of large groups on a manufactured 15 minute follow the leader search, for one pre placed truffle, the whole time surrounded by a horde of loud tourists flashing away with their point and shoots. Thanks, but no thanks.

B&B had been to the region before and vouched to know a genuine local who could take a small group and we could keep what we find.

We me Stefano (the genuine local) at his shop/company Tartufi & Co. A 10 minute drive and we were in the hills outside Alba with our hunter Silvio and dog Zar.

It was pretty cool watching Silvio and Zar working together. Silvio would direct Zar to specific areas of the forest that would suit truffles. Zar would dart back and forth occasionally stopping and shove his snout in the ground. Whenever Zar would start digging it was a sign something was there. Zar would need to be pulled away after a few digs so the truffle would not be damaged.

In total we found 5 good sized black truffles and got to take 3 (along with a white truffle bought after) back to London for a meal with friends.

The Meal

One good thing about cooking with truffles is it doesn’t require a great deal of effort or ingredients. However it is a hassle cleaning the dirt off the truffle.

For me fresh truffle has to be with pasta or eggs.

We decided on fresh egg pasta (bought from the truffle festival in alba). 2min on the boil, large nob of butter, sprinkle finely cut truffles, done.

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Gourmet Lovers Brunch Club

I had met Nick and Bex through friends before I knew they were such foodies. Their blog is a great portal to the food and flavour they’re into and gives a taste of the brunch club they run out of their stoke newington pad.

Checking out pics from previous brunches I was keen to attend, and even keener when I heard their next brunch was going have an Asian-fusion inspired menu.

Being honest here, I’m not a morning person. And by my definition anything before 3pm, is morning. So to make it to their house by 11am, even after the previous nights indiscretions, I was doing well.

After downing a well made bloody mary we were greeted with the amuse bouche.

Bacon, mushroom and emmental gyoza to be matched with plum wine. Papaya avocado salad spoon to be matched with coconut water and a strawberry sushi crepe with matcha chocolate cream to be matched with green tea.

I have to take my hat off to Nick, Bex and guest chef Mel. All fusions and matching worked really well. The plum wine with the gyoza was my favourite.

A choice was given before the day of 4 mains, I went for the sweet potato katsu hash brown, grilled marinated chicken and crunchy salad with miso mustard dressing. There were alot of elements to this dish although everything was cooked perfectly and presented very well. The marinated chicken with miso mustard dressing was wonderful.

A friend of mine had the grilled chinese sausage, shitake mushrooms and brown ginger fried rice topped with fried egg with crispy garlic and ginger.

And if one dish gave me a case of food envy it was the mango and coconut galette with macha pannacotta. Unfortunately I only have a photo of the galette, will have to track down a photo of the complete dish.

And just when you feel as though you can not eat any more out came plates of matcha (milled green tea) cupcakes. While I was full I had to have two, just to check for consistency.

It’s very difficult to find fault in the Gourmet Lovers approach and operation. Peaceful location, food well thought out with structured and balanced flavours, they even have newspapers and a set of decks with some classic vinyl. All this for a minimum donation of £15. I’ll be back.

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