Monthly Archives: February 2013

In search for Asia’s Best Pastry chef at 2am: Dessertbar

P1100416Chef: Janice Wong     Website:      Cuisine: Avant Garde Dessert

Something very exciting has been happening in the centre of the upmarket area of Holland village in Singapore. Her name is Janice Wong, a young and dynamic chef who’s trained at some of the world’s best restaurant including Per Se and Alinea, and she’s been running the 2am Dessertbar since 2007. Chef Wong has continued to hit the headlines, having been appointed as ambassador to modern Singaporean cuisine, and more recently attaining the impressive title of Asia’s Best Pastry Chef 2013. With such accolades at such a young age, I surely could not leave without checking this place out, and who better than Fine Dining Explorer to join me as I found out he was in town for a couple of days!

P1100424The establishment essentially offers trendy desserts with wine pairing, with a small selection of savory dishes. How often does one find a sommelier dedicated to desserts? There was a choice of counter seats and long sofas on the side where you could lay down while having your dessert. Stylish, and we liked it.

P1100429Kayambe H20 – 72%MichelCruizel and Evian water, yuzu sorbet.

The solid was made using dark chocolate but lightened with water instead of milk. Not much sugar was used and it was quite bitter, although there was a hint of sweet element from the caramel that was drizzled on top. Initially we were concerned about the acidity of the yuzu sorbet to the chocolate, but no, the sorbet had a mild sweetness instead. I had some food envy but I was not disappointed with the choice of…

P1100433… Purple – Purple potato purée, blackberry parfait, lavender marshmallows, “fruits of the forest” sorbet.

The texture of the little domes of purple potato purée reminded us of mochi, which was quite interesting and unexpected. The marshmallow had an intense flavour and smell of lavender. Together with the concentrated blackberry parfait, it was a highly unusual but successful combination of flavour and texture, not to mention very refreshing.

P1100426We arrived promptly at 6pm so luckily there was no queue ahead of us, but as we were leaving we did notice a massive queue of people trying to get their hands on some of the tastiest treats in Singapore! A word of advice though, reservation is necessary after 9pm. It was a great little place, and I would certainly love to try more of these delicious and unusual creations the next time I am in Singapore. Unfortunately, we both had prearranged plans which we had to attend to but rest assured we’ll both be back soon…

This review was done in collaboration with Fine Dining Explorer


Amaroz, Tolosa

P1060094Chef: Unknown        Website:     Cuisine: Traditional Basque

Every so often in my food travels I like to avoid the fine dinning scene and see what the locals are enjoying on a daily basis. Invariably, I come across a hidden gem that few outside have ever heard of, and Amaroz in the town of Tolosa is no exception. With a concentration of some of the country’s best restaurants in the nearby city of San Sebastian, I’m not surprised to see why this place has remained the locals well kept secret for the last 40 years.

P1060037When we first arrived there was no one else to be seen (the spanish eat notoriously late), however after a quick manzanilla as an apperitif, there was soon a rapidly growing crowd. The restaurant can cater up to about 50 people and requires booking in advance for the weekends. The decor was simple and plain but the proprietors were very welcoming. We started the meal with a glass of  the local favourite of Txacoli wine while enjoying our appetisers.

P1060043Some nibbles to start of with including chistorra a la sidra. The tender pork meat was pan-fried lightly and then simmered in cider which is slowly added but frequently. Mopped up with some bread, this was a delicious starter to whet your appetite.

P1060053My favourite Basque dish, Kokotxas de Merzula en salsa verde. Kokotxas are essentially delicate pendulums of flesh growing in the throat of cod or hake, in this case the latter. The ones I had here were by far the best I’ve ever had. I found many places either overcooked them and added too much seasoning and parsley. This was delicate but had some texture, and the sauce was buttery with a good amount of seasoning.

P1060056Served together with the kokotxas was a plate of Almejas al ajillo. This was a beautiful simple dish where the clams were cooked in their own juice with some wine and parsley. When you have top quality ingredients, there’s no reason to complicate a dish.

P1060065Last of the starters – chipirones en su tinta. The squid was cooked in its own ink resulting in a black stew-like dish where the squid was tender. The black sauce was deceiving as it contained onion, tomato and herbs. It’s a rich tasting dish that requires some skill to prepare as unlike normal squid dish that takes few minutes to cook to avoid the chewy texture, this one is slow cooked for hours.

P1060071I personally chose the the merluza (hake) en salsa verde con almejas y kokotxas, mainly because I wanted to see how good the fish was given the superb quality of the kokotxas I had for starters. The hake was cooked perfectly and having had this dish a few times before, I particularly liked this dish over the other places I tried because you got a decent piece of fish with little distraction to the main component.

P1060076My partner opted for the Rodaballo al horno, which was turbot cooked in the oven. The fish again was lightly seasoned and stuffed with some crunchy garlic inside. This was definitely one of the best quality of turbot I’d tasted in Europe and could see why the Northern coast of Spain holds the title of the best seafood in Europe.

P1060092A light dessert of Mamia or Cuajada to finish the meal. This was a milk curd made from ewe’s milk, served with sugar in this case or sometimes honey and walnut. The curd is a product resulting from the coagulation of pasteurized milk, after having added a fermenting product called rennet, and was cooled to a temperature of 35 ° C. It was lovely to try one that was properly made from scratch.

I visited this place first time back in 2011 and have been going back whenever in the region. If you are looking for something casual but good honest food, I would recommend this place. It may be a bit out of the way but if you’re in that part of the world I would definitely suggest stopping by. It would be perfect for a casual family meal or a hearty lunch when traveling.



Vila Joya, Albufeira

P1110057Chef: Dieter Koschina    Website:    Cuisine: Modern French/European

Since catapulting to the forefront of the fine dining scene as the 45th Best Restaurant in the World in 2012, I was extremely eager to visit Vila Joya for two reasons. Firstly, I was curious to discover what Portugal had to offer in the fine dining scene given the success their neighbour Spain had enjoyed over the last decade, and, more importantly, I was intrigued with the fact that it took an Austrian chef by the name of Dieter Koschina to bring Portugal into the playing field of culinary excellence.

P1070116We had wondered all day as to what we were going to encounter and it was difficult to have any preconception – an Austrian chef cooking in Portugal with a reputation for French style cuisine? We were naturally intrigued to see the culmination of these components, but before sitting down at our table…

P1100931… we had the opportunity to visit the kitchen where we discovered the “crEATivity table” – a table where four curious diners are able to observe the kitchen in full swing during their meal; a good enough reason to return!

P1070145Back to the table and we started with a glass of Ruinart Blanc de Blanc. The array of snacks certainly set the bar high for the evening ahead. The Beetroot Macaron with eel cream was excellent, where the rich and delicate flavour of the eel was balanced against the tanginess of the beetroot.

P1070147Caviar Tempura – Tempura of salmon roe and bacon. A good flavour combination but I found it slightly salty for my palate.

P1070149Yoghurt Pistachio – Pistacchio wrapped up in yoghurt wrap.

P1070152The Parmesan sandwich was extremely light, airy and cool. A nice contrast to the other snacks so far.

P1070156Green Olive, which was basically el Bulli’s olive oil spherification technique.

P1070159This was swiftly followed by the last snack, a Cornetto Tapenade, which had a fabulous crunchy texture surrounding the concentrated flavour of the sun-dried tomato and olive.

P1070167We enjoyed the progression of flavours of the snacks to the amuse bouche of Duck consommé with sour cream and imperial caviar served in a martini glass. The rich and earthy gelatinous duck consommé added a depth to the classic combination of sour cream and caviar, and the small portion was perfect as the flavour was very intense.

P1070194The opening act to the main courses was the first of three Variations of Scallops. It was an artistic plate of scallop, celeriac and vinaigrette dressing. To go with the three scallop dishes, the sommelier poured us a glass of 2010 Eminencia Loureiro, Minho, which was buttery but delicate, full of acidity and with a good floral note.

P1070191Second scallop installment was Seared scallop on a bed of artichoke puree with a black truffle gel.

P1070188And finally the last scallop dish was prepared as a Carpaccio with cauliflower to complete the trifecta. All three courses showcased Koschina’s creativity and technical skills, as it was impressive to see how unique each dish was despite using the same star ingredient.

P1070198As our visit coincided with the season for the Alba white truffles, we were treated to a freshly delivered batch, arriving only that day. These jewels of the earth were put to good use in the Atlantic lobster, parsley polenta and Alba truffles, a novel combination of two of our favourite ingredients on one plate. The moist lobster magnified the aroma and flavour of the white truffle, and the bed of crunchy ceps and puréed broccoli completed the dish providing additional textural elements to the dish. We were very impressed by the manner in which the ingredients had not compromised, but instead enhanced the taste of either star item. The 2009 Vertice Grande Reserva, Douro had a good acidity and spiciness with a wood element.

P1070202Luckily for us, we had a second white truffle dish of Carbonara agnelotti Alba truffle. It was quite similar to the divine fagotelli from Beck at La Pergola but this one had a slight edge with the white truffle. It was even served with…

P1070204… a truffled brioche to mop up every single morsel of the sauce. We were truly in truffle heaven!


Finally the fish course! Poached turbot, Gillardeau oyster, passe pierre (aka sea green bean). We thought initially it may have been an overkill but the oyster leaf garnish was a great addition to the mouthful of the flavour of the ocean. The glass of a full-bodied 2009 Arrepiado Colection, Alentejo was paired to go with the fish courses. It had a citrus nose with a slight scent of vanilla.


A meal in Portugal of course would not be complete without the nation’s favourite fish, bacalhau (or cod). The Cod fish confit, wild mushrooms and garlic had a lovely silky texture not generally associated with the typically large and flaky cod. The creamy deep fried ball of aioli provided a crunchy texture without overpowering the dish, and the accompanying chanterelles were the perfect touch to marry the ingredients together with its earthiness. Suffice to say, we were impressed with the calibre of the dishes so far.

P1070219Continuing with the theme of novelty, Koschina’s version of the traditional Algarve dish, “Cataplana” Vila Joya, was another triumph.The dish is prepared in a clam-like shaped pressure cooker (the cataplana), which locks in the essence of the ingredients, in this case pork, cockles and lobster with a tomato and onion base. The finishing garnish of the crouton was perfect to soak up the remaining liquor, packed with all the flavours of the ingredients. It was a wonderful reinvention of a traditional regional dish whose roots dates back as far as the 8th century.


Following on was the Young Pork belly, Chorizo sauce and octopus, where the sea and land met. This was a lovely soft pork belly and crispy skin, together with grilled octpus that had a bite. It was slightly salty again but had great flavours.

P1070227 The sauce served on the side of the above dish was made from chorizo, tomato, crouton and onion We enjoyed them both with a matching glass of a decantered 2004 Chryseia, Douro that had a smell and taste of a very fine porto, slight cigar smokiness and overripe currants. Happily, we only had Portuguese wine this evening and I was very impressed with the choices, possibly because my knowledge of Portuguese wine was quite limited.


The finale to the main courses was the Miéral Duck, beetroot and raspberries. A rectangular cut of duck breast with raspberry and beetroot sauce, a duck breast spring roll with beetroot wedge, and an encrusted crispy ball of duck liver. It was a grand finale to the main act of the meal but perhaps was possibly a couple of mouthful too many!P1070239

Luckily we were moving on to the dessert courses. This started with a prelude of Pineapple Carpaccio and white chocolate soup served over a bed of fresh pineapple wedge and pine nut. The acidity from the pineapple and the sweetness of the chocolate made this a fresh and fruity palate cleanser. P1070244The subsequent Pear and cocoa beans ice cream was again a creative and light dish. The milk chocolate ice cream and dark fondant chocolate ball submerged in a cold pear juice was refreshing and clean on the palate, and what appeared to be an ordinary decoration of a thin chocolate stick had a surprising crunch to it. It was a superb introduction to the culmination of this extensive tasting menu, which was…


… a Soufflé of croissant, apple tartare and sorbet of salted caramel, again incorporating a contrast of flavours (salty and sweet) and temperature (cold and hot). The flavour was not dissimilar to that of an apple pie, although the portion size was again spot on as it was a very hearty course.

P1070253It was by now approaching 2am and, as we sipped over a glass of 1964 Krohn Colheita Branco port with our petit fours, we found ourselves content in this little piece of paradise but exhausted from all the excitement. Our taste buds were well stimulated from the various innovative dishes with unique but successful flavour combinations. We had also been introduced to some of the diverse and delicious traditional cuisine that Portugal is famed for, which was complemented well by wine from a region that was previously unfamiliar to us. The adoption of the local produce and cuisine to his Northern European cooking techniques makes Koschina a truly unique chef who we will be expecting many more culinary delights from in the future. Let us hope that his cuisine will inspire other chefs in Portugal to follow suit.

Iggy’s, Singapore


Head Chef: Akmal Anuar   Website:   Cuisine: Modern European

I always had a soft spot for Singaporean food because it epitomised the diverse rich culture brought over by the regional migrants. The local dishes sourced from regional fresh produce spoilt diners for choices offering a variety of curries, freshly caught seafood, juicy tropical fruits and delicious desserts. Recalling all these wonderful food that was being offered for a pittance at the hawker centres, I kick myself every time I think about my meal at Iggy’s in 2011.

I only had time for one meal on my stopover from Melbourne to London, and given the hype around Ignatius Chan’s restaurant, I thought I’d organise a meal to catch up with my old friends and kill two birds with one stone. Little knowledge did I have that I was about to have my worst fine dining experience, to date.

P1010338Stepping into the restaurant, whilst I didn’t find the décor in bad taste, I found the absence of any natural light rather disconcerting and claustrophobic. This was a different level of darkness compared to other restaurants such as Guy Savoy in Paris which at least had a few skylight windows; three hours of tasting menu in a dim room. Great, I only had just got off the plane!

Before I get into the detail I want to get two things out of the way. This review is based on a meal I experienced in May 2011 and not necessarily reflect the current standard. Secondly, the service throughout that evening was very good and I really couldn’t fault a single person attending us. I created a great rapport with one of the waiter and the sommelier chose a familiar but nevertheless delicious bottle of white Burgundy to go with our meal. So no qualms there!

The food that evening in general, however, was uninspiring, tasteless at times and certainly lacked consistency in terms of style and substance. Glancing at the menu, it felt as if Iggy’s was just showcasing the best produces the world had to offer without the ability to marry the flavours together. I would even go as far as saying that I tasted a dish with the worst combination of flavours ever, but let me come back to that later.


The amuse bouches was a medley of fish comprising of tuna with ginger flower and meringue, violet potato ice cream and potato crisp, cod croquette with citrus emulsion and toro marinated in chrysanthemum. It was probably the best dish of the evening although I must admit there was little seasoning which meant you could taste the slightly fishy flavour of the tuna.

P1010319The vegetable dish, From the Garden, which failed to even come close to replicating Michel Bras’ Gargouillou was a good example of what happens when you rely too much on foreign produce. The vegetables did not look or taste remotely fresh which was understandable given they were most likely all imported. It was a shame because there was a lot of work put into the dish as they managed to incorporate thirty different ingredients on the plate. It was also a bit oily to my liking for a vegetable course.

P1010321The main course of the wagyu tenderloin with pink garlic and mushroom was the biggest disappointment of the evening. I’d tried Australian Wagyu a week before at Vue de Monde, which was sublime so I was looking forward to it. However, I found these steaks were overdone with chewy texture and the pink garlic was lost in the midst of this otherwise one-dimensional flavour.

P1010325The rice, sakura ebi, konbu and shellfish oil had hardly any flavour and the delicate prawn was lost in the oily texture. What I found particularly odd was that this rice course was served after the steak course. This seemingly incomplete dish lacked substance and it was overshadowed by the preceding course. Perhaps this is why restaurants traditionally serve light and delicate dishes such as seafood before the meat course.

P1010328When I order a tasting menu I am almost always full by the time the dessert arrives. In this case however, I was looking forward to the dessert course, as I was still very hungry! The irony was that the carrot, pineapple and black sesame dessert course was possibly the only dish where I could not get beyond a mouthful. The pineapple sorbet was delicious and refreshing on its own but the liquorice praline and black sesame that accompanied it was just plain wrong. This was worst flavour combination I’ve ever come across, yet I enjoyed all the components on their own.

It pains me to think that this highly unoriginal restaurant was voted as the best that Asia could offer. How could this be considered superior to the vast number of remarkable restaurants in Japan like Kikunoi or Ryugin, or Amber in Hong Kong? Evidently the hefty price tag of $250 SG for the tasting menu is necessary to cover the cost of importing luxury ingredients like black caviar and wagyu beef. However, it is clear from this experience that expensive ingredients do not necessarily produce great or even good dishes. At a time where locality, seasonality and ethical sourcing has taken centre stage, it’s quite a statement to heavily rely on foreign products. When I was there two years ago, it appeared to me that Iggys was lost without a culinary direction. I hope that they’ve finally sorted themselves out.

L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, London


Chef: Olivier Limousin     Website:    Cuisine: French

Part of the continuously expanding empire of Joel Robuchon, L’Atelier’s concept is based on Japanese counter dining, but serving classic French food instead. As I was celebrating my 30th Birthday, I decided to go with the full tasting menu and matching wine after a couple of lovely cocktails upstairs in the bar.


The decor is consistent with the other Robuchon branches consisting of an open kitchen in the middle of the room, dim lighting and red upholstery. The service was a bit slow to start with but picked up later on. The Head Sommelier was absent that evening and instead we had an apathetic sommelier pouring us our wine.


We started off with an amuse bouche of Parmesan cappucino with port, which was essentially foie gras royale, port wine reduction and parmesan foam. The foie was thick and rich whilst the parmesan added some seasoning and flavour to the dish. It certainly did whet my appetite.


First up on the tasting menu was the Caviar served on a bed of crab meat and lobster jelly. The presentation was immaculate as always.

P1110931The flavour combination of the rich and fine Osetra caviar and crab from Normandy was further enhanced and brought out by the lobster jelly. What a great start to the meal with a taste of the ocean. A glass of 2011 “O Rosal” Bodegas Terras Gauda, Rias Baixas, Spain was poured to go with this course. It had a good balance of acidity and citrus flavour with fresh aromas of honeysuckle and citrus peel.


The Scottish lobster salad with artichokes “barigoule” and citrus vinaigrette was the only hiccough of the meal. Granted, the flavours were light, delicate and the produce fresh, but whilst I could overlook the lack of seasoning, the slightly chewy texture from the lobster was disappointing. It was definitely not on par with some of the other dishes we had that night. Matching wine was 2011 Rivaner Domaine Mathis Bastian, Moselle Luxembourgeoise, Luxembourg.


Unlike the last course, the Soft boiled egg with Japanese aubergine velouté flavoured with cumin was much more enjoyable, so much so that I forgot to take a photo of what was under the thin layer of crispy buckwheat galette! The smokey aubergine reminded me of baba ganoush and the overall texture and flavours of the dish was similar to chawanmushi, a steamed Japanese egg custard dish. Matching wine was from one of the newer wine estate of 2011 Ovilos Biblia Chora, Pangeon Greece. The seductive aromas of vanilla and peach, with the mineral palate, made it ideal for a creamy course like this.


Seared Foie gras with quince and clementine marmalade. The foie was of a decent quality but I found the tartness from the marmalade was slightly overwhelming the balance of the dish, leaving a bitter aftertaste. Matching wine was 2011 Riesling Spatlese, Poulinshoff, Mosel, Germany, which, as expected, had a great balance of sweetness and fruitiness to go with the foie.

P1110957Another favourite dish of the evening was the Black cod with daikon and yuzu mousseline. I particularly enjoyed the dashi-soaked daikon and the sweet and delicate cod. The yuzu added the perfect acidic balance to complete the dish. The dry and soft 2011 Karmis Contini, Sardegna, Italy was a good match for this dish.

P1110964For the meat course I opted for the Free range quail stuffed with foie gras and truffled mashed potatoes, which consisted of the breast and leg of quail and a lovely black truffled mash potatoes. This course showed some great cooking as the foie gras had not overwhelmed the perfectly cooked quail. The matching wine of 2010 Saint Laurent Weingut Heinrich, Burgenland, Austria, was my favourite of the evening. The blackberry and chocolate aroma with the soft creamy tannins was delicious.

P1110967Cheese course including my favourite roquefort.

P1110973First part of Francois’s duo of desserts, which was a mandarin lollipop with white chocolate coating and popping candy. A nice palate cleanser with some vanilla seeds mixed into the mandarin sorbet centre.

P1110978For the second dessert dish we had a much richer chocolate mousse with oreo crumble and a fine chocolate disc. To conclude the evening, I was poured a glass of 2010 Maury Mas Amiel, Languedoc-Roussillon, France to which I remarked it had similarities to a Grenache. The sommelier’s looks of disgust did not go unnoticed and he was quick to put me down as according to him I could not have been more wrong. There’s no need to put down a customer if they’ve made a genuine mistake, but ironically the wine was predominantly of the grenache grape variety – shame I only found out when I got home!

P1110991Some chocolate mignardises to finish the meal.

P1110996The food on the whole was good and I enjoyed the flavour combinations. The matching wines were generally good and on the whole the service was alright, but perhaps too casual and inconsistent for what I would expect from a two michelin star establishment. For example, one of the staff escorted us on the lift to the bar area, but no one came to see us off at the end of the meal. Whilst I could overlook these flaws, the sommelier left me a bad flavour and a dent to otherwise an enjoyable evening. I would consider a return to try some of the other dishes, but I must admit I won’t be returning there in a hurry.


Ristorante Bovio, La Morra, Alba

P1110358Chef: Marco     Website:    Cuisine: Piedmontese/Truffle in season

As part of out first trip to the annual Alba White Truffle Festival, we surely could not leave the region without indulging ourselves in an extravagant white truffle tasting menu!

P1110347Coming in at 200 euros a head, the tasting menu was a bargain, particularly given the quality and quantity received for each course.

P1110250We decided to have a delicious bottle of Italian Spumanti 2005, Alta Langa “Zero” Enrico Serafino which had a complex and elegant fragrance of lime blossom and honey.  It had a good acidity and aroma of flowers and fruit with a long mineral finish.

P1110268We started off with an amuse bouche of deep-fried zucchini flower. It had a lovely crunchy texture whilst trapping all the juice maintaining a moist centre that consisted of veal, spinach, parmesan and egg.  A good start.

P1110277The beauty of Ristorante Bovio is that they give you a generous serving of top quality Alba white truffle with every course and shave the truffle at your table.

P1110272The first course was La battuta di fassone piemontese con tartufo bianco which was essentially a tartare made from a high quality regional veal (fassone), which is only reared in Piedmont, with shavings of white truffle. The meat is prized for it’s tenderness and leanness, making it ideal to consume raw, and the flavour of the truffle really came out. A great first course and certainly one of my favourite dishes of the meal.

P1110289Uovo in pasta alla Bergese con tartufo bianco.

P1110294It was an egg ravioli with a filling of spinach and egg yolk with a small amount of parmesan, and of course a generous shaving of white truffle! It had a lovely creamy texture and a good balance of bitterness and fruitiness from the virgin olive oil. The parmesan overpowered the truffle slightly, but produced a lovely aftertaste.

P1110295How could we continue our meal without having some of the superb local wine of Barolo?  The sommelier recommended a bottle of Elio Altare Barolo 2005, which had a medium ruby red color with a soft floral bouquet of rose with herbal notes. It was fine yet firm, with an intense palate of sweet cherry essence and awash with fine grain tannins.

P1110303Funghi porcini ala rosmarino con fonduta e tartufo bianco. Porcini sauteed with rosemary and garlic, laid on a fonduta base made from Raschera, a local Piedmontese cheese, with milk, butter and egg yolk, with more shavings of white truffle. The earthy flavour of the porcini was amplified by the white truffle and the saltiness of the cheese.

P1110310Tagliolini ai trenta rossi con tartufo bianco.

P1110311This dish was all about the white truffle! A simple thin cut tagliolini pasta made with a high egg-to-flour ratio mixture. The flavour and aroma of the white truffle really came through.

P1110319Filetto di vitella con tartufo bianco. This was perhaps my least favourite dish for a several reasons. Primarily, the cheese on the veal loin dominated the palate and I could hardly taste the white truffle. The veal loin was a little dry and I could only pick up a part of the flavour; overall I thought the addition of the filo pastry and asparagus with bacon was just too much.

P1110326La Panna cotta e miele di acacia con tartufo bianco. After a disappointing end to the main act of the meal, the chef managed to redeem himself with this beautiful simple dessert. The sugar work was very sticky and brittle, providing a nice contrasting texture to the Panna cotta. The Acacia honey added a floral note with a hint of vanilla. What amazed me was how well the white truffle married with the Panna cotta itself. This was the second time I had white truffle for dessert and it was yet again superb!

P1110331My partner opted for the Selexione di robiole con tartufo bianco, which was a selection of soft ripened cheese from the Langhe region made with varying proportions of cow, goat and sheep’s  milk. It was fresh and creamy, and admittedly I wished I could have had both the dessert and the cheese.

P1110339Some local petit fours finished off the meal with a glass of honey grappa. I was quite full at this point but much to my partner’s disapproving sigh, I couldn’t resist having a few of the baci di dama; another great discovery from my trip.


This was by far the best white truffle feast I’ve ever had – both in terms of quantity and quality. The produce was far superior to the other truffle tasting menu we had during our stay. If you are lucky enough or book in advance, I strongly recommend you asking for the window seat as the view from our table was stunning. I’d definitely come back, but next time I will order a la carte and purchase the truffle separately in order to avoid some of the dishes I didn’t particularly like.

La Pergola, Rome

Main outdoor poolChef: Heinz Beck      Website:       Cuisine: Italian

Occupying the top floor of the luxurious art-gallery hotel of Waldorf Astoria, La Pergola is no ordinary restaurant. For one, the interior décor of the restaurant is very bold but elegant.

(Photo courtesy of Roma Cavalieri Hotel)

La Pergola ViewThe view over the city of Rome is nothing but mesmerising, with St Peter’s Basilica lit up as your backdrop in the evening. It’s not hard to understand why Beck decided to stay after first arriving in 1994. It was certainly the most spectacular view of Rome that I have ever seen.

(Photo courtesy of Roma Cavalieri Hotel)


An amuse bouche of Mussels and chickpea puree with pecorino foam. The saltiness and crunchy texture of the parmesan was very appetising and went perfectly with our glass of Dom Perignon 2003.


First course of Amberjack marinated in white balsamic vinegar with pomegranate snow. The subtle sweetness of the pomegranate married well with the aromatic amberjack carpaccio, and slight touch of acidity from the balsamic vinegar, overall resulting in a very well balanced dish. I particularly enjoyed the cold component to the dish and the textural contrast created by the crispy violet potato garnish. Accompanying wine was a Planeta Caricante 2010, a mineral driven acidic wine that was refreshing.

P1110816A plate with three different types of sea salts. The yellow Norwegian salt was by far my favourite with a distinct smoky flavour. In contrast, the pinkish-brown volcanic Alaea salt from Hawaii was much more mellow in flavour whereas the white Italian salt from Trapani was rich in minerals. It was delightful to soak our bread in the light Trentino olive oil before dipping into the salt, allowing us to compare and contrast the dramatically varying flavours.


His Grilled “La Perle Blanche” oyster on pumpkin cream with parsley puff was a much heartier dish. Despite my initial reservation over the parsley “foam”(as many chef’s have tendencies to add them for aesthetic reasons only) I must admit, that in this case, it added a lovely fragrance and freshness to the sweet and smoky pumpkin soup. I particularly enjoyed the natural seasoning from the grilled oyster, bringing all the components of the dish together in harmony.


The Earth flavours consisting of a lovely canvass of mushroom powder, meat mushroom and cream of sweet foie gras. The parsley chlorophyll sponge and asparagus refreshingly lifted the dish, and the crunchy and wafer thing bread was critical in adding texture to what would have been a one dimensional dish. The glass of Marisa Cuomo Fiorduva 2010 revealed a hint of jasmine, orange blossoms, ripe apricots, a hint of fig and subtle toasted oak in a layered, with a smooth finish.


The highlight of the meal, and that which was responsible for leading me here in the first place, undoubtedly was Beck’s signature dish, Fagotelli “La Pergola”. The visual simplicity of this dish was deceptive as the skills required for perfecting the remarkably thin and light parcels of pasta containing carbonara sauce, garnished with specks of crunchy bacon and zucchini, was truly remarkable. I was impressed with Beck’s ability to refine a traditional Roman dish and transform the humble pasta into a sophisticated dish, worthy of a place in a fine dining restaurant.


It was difficult to follow the previous dish and I must admit I found the King prawns in tempura on puree of fried squids a little sweet for my liking. However, the celery did add some sharpness to this rich dish and the deep flavour of the fish and squid consomme cream was enjoyable.


The Black cod with celery sauce and curry crust was the most aromatic fish course I’ve ever had. The delicate cod with perfectly seasoned potatoes had a lovely hint of lime and verbena but interestingly took the fishiness of the fish away, and the sweetness of the celery balanced the dish. Superb!


The Venison in pistachio crust with chestnut puree and persimmon jam was a welcomed progression to a richer dish. The venison was cooked perfectly pink and the chestnut puree added a smoky and earthy flavour to the sweet pistachio, topped off with a thick jus. You could just about pick up the sweetness from the persimmon jam although it was possibly too delicate a component to this rich dish. The woodsmoke chocolate note from the Rivera Il Falcone 2007 was a perfect marriage.


Of course we couldn’t say no to the cheese trolley! Of particular interest was the Bitto cheese from Lombardy that was produced from whole cow milk produced only in the summer months and aged for over 10 years. It was definitely something different and resembled closest to a very matured parmesan.


After a quick napkin change we were served with one of the most memorable dessert from 2012. The Iced sphere of pomegranate on gianduia cream and cannelloni filled with salty pine-seed Chantillywas the best surprise of the night! I thought I had misheard pomegranate for cherry because the depth of sweetness from the sorbet sphere did not resemble that of any pomegranate I knew. Beck later explained that the sweet juice was extracted by delicately squeezing only the outer flesh of each seed, resulting in a concentrated sweet flavour similar but superior to that of cherry in season. It was a superb finish to a memorable meal.


Obviously we thought it would be rude to turn down the lemon and lime macaron, lemon mousse on short biscuit with crunchy chocolate drop, Tiramisu cupcake and raspberry jam as they looked so pretty. The flavours yet again were clean and fresh, and we could have easily managed another round.


Luckily for us there was a final treat of hazelnut & mango ice cream to go with our espressos before partaking in the Cuban delights in their designated cigar tasting room!

HB Toscani

I never thought that classic Italian dishes like a plate of pasta could be elevated to such a sophisticated level. Achieving such feat is no ordinary matter and we could easily overlook the tremendous amount of determination, skills and hard work that went into refining every dish. I also appreciated Beck’s extra attention to detail to his dishes, ensuring his diners have a light and healthy meal whilst delivering high notes on the all-important flavours.

(Photo courtesy of Oliviero Toscani)