Monthly Archives: May 2013

Schwarzwaldstube, Baiersbronn

IMG_3043Chef: Harald Wohlfahrt   Cuisine: Innovative French

Ask any gastrophile about Paul Bocuse or Alain Chapel and I guaranty you that most of them will know about their legacy as pioneers and founders of Nouvelle cuisine in France. Just like Bocuse, Harald Wohlfahrt in Germany has paved the way in redefining the fine dining scene in Germany over the past three decades. Adding to his impressive accolades of three Michelin stars which he has kept since 1992 and a 19.5 scoring from Gault Millau, he has also single-handedly trained a staggering six of the current ten three-Michelin-starred chefs in the Germany at his highly acclaimed restaurant, Schwarzwaldstube, located in the heart of the Black Forest in the hotel Traube-Tonbach. Given my limited fine dining experience in Germany, albeit very good thus far, I was very excited about my visit to the Black Forest with Fine Dining Explorer and a couple of other friends. IMG_3005

We decided to make the most of our trip by booking a private cooking lesson to make an original and molecular black forest gateau with Pastry Chef Pierre Lingelser, followed by a German wine tasting session with commis Sommelier Peter Zimmermann. After a leisurely paced afternoon we slowly made our way to the restaurant. We were welcomed by the owner of Traube-Tonbach, Heiner Finkbeiner, a true gentleman who makes it his mission to greet every guest of the hotel and restaurant. For a man who has won a national ski jumping competition and retained the second Michelin star when he was working as a chef in the very same restaurant, his humility and modesty was astonishing. I was humbled to be able to engage in a conversation with him over a glass of champagne before we were guided to our table to commence our meal.P1130873The style of cooking in Schwarzwaldstube was innovative as Wohlfahrt took classic French cuisine and refined it with local produce and modern German techniques and precision. They offered a choice of a standard tasting menu and, might I say, a rather daring vegetarian tasting menu, as the latter was still a new concept in Germany. There was the option of going à la carte as well but it would have just been plain rude to turn down the opportunity to taste as many dishes as we could from the legendary German chef. It was pretty much a unanimous decision to go with the tasting menu and we were soon under way…IMG_2563

As we pondered over the choice of wine with the sommelier, an array of amuse bouche arrived at our table. We were advised to start from the left with the chip made from tapioca and skin of soft shell with crab. The crab was very flavoursome although the tapioca very subtle. In the middle was a puff pastry with guinea fowl mousse and truffle, which had a very delicate flavour, although I found the content inside resembling more to that of a liquid than a mousse. Lastly on the right was a rye bread chip with Perigord black truffle butter and foie gras on top. It was the tastiest of the three and certainly had the most distinct flavour. The rye bread was crunchy and the black truffle was of a very good quality, adding earthiness to the delicious foie gras.


We insisted to the sommelier that we only wanted German wine this evening and he pulled out a couple of cracking bottles. The first one was the Laible 2011 Durbacher Plauelrain Riesling, Trocken Achat, which had a lovely mineral character and fruitiness to it and went really well with our first course…

IMG_2578… of a Variation of Char from Oberpfalz, a freshwater fish related to the trout family. We started with the Char with kataifi and salad of carrot, coriander, ras al hanut and caraway seeds in the front, followed by Char with Compté cheese and olive salad with kumquat to the right. On top was the tartare of Char with grains of beans with a crispy potato garnish, which was amazingly fresh and perfectly seasoned with the salty Char roe, finished off with a nice crunch from the potato. Lastly on the left we had the terrine of tomato and mousse of sturgeon surrounding the Char. The creamy mousse and tomato was refreshing and almost tasted like a gazpacho. It was as delicious as it looked beautiful. Good start.

IMG_2590The next wine to match our meal was a bit of a surprise. The sommelier insisted we try the Sauvignon Blanc 500 Von Winning. How could we turn it down after he boldly declared that this was the best German sauvignon blanc? We were indeed surprised with the minerality and juicy aroma of elderberries, ripe gooseberries and roasted hazelnut emanating from this bottle. Touché indeed Mr Sommelier!IMG_2598Another beautiful course of Carpaccio of wild gamba, crispy seafood, tobiko, cucumber and affila cress, served on a bed of sliced radish, decorated with cucumber jelly. The dish was finished with some dried fragrant shiso and young sprouts sprinkled on top. The tobiko egg brought a textural variation to the meaty gamba which released bags of flavour on each bite, and you could pick out a tiny bit of heat from sweet ginger. The warm crispy seafood was made with kataifi wrapped around prawn and fish paste with spices of the Middle East. It was a great dish that truly captured Wohlfahrt’s refined techniques, and more importantly all the elements worked well together in terms of temperature, texture, flavour and fragrance.

P1130887Now I’ve tried foie gras on countless opportunities and thought it would be very difficult to create something as unique as the Magnum from Osteria Francescana but I must admit Wohlfahrt surprised me with his Truffled goose liver raviolo, two kinds of parsley and truffle sauce. It contained two of my favourite ingredients, and before you say anything, no, I’m not talking about parsley!P1130893The raviolo was stuffed with foie gras and oyster mushroom with parsley purée, carefully laid on a bed of parsnip roots dressed with a generous amount of an intense earthy mushroom sauce at the table with shavings of Perigord truffle. The foie gras was cooked to perfection and the pasta was the right thickness. I did however think that the oyster mushroom was the star component of the dish.

IMG_2625Following a long absence, the Soufflé of quails egg, asparagus, morrels, pea puree and green sauce made it back on to the menu since a couple of years due to popularity. We were glad the chef caved in to his diners demand. The quail egg white was beaten separately and the egg yolk was dropped in the middle before making a soufflé which essentially poached the yolk. The fresh parsley sauce melded the sweet pea purée and the soufflé, and what better than asparagus to go with egg? It was fresh, light and refined. The icing on the cake was the slight nuttiness and earthiness from morrels. With skills like this I could see why Wohlfahrt was offering a vegetarian tasting menu. I could easily have had another plate of this!

IMG_2637On to my favourite course of the evening with the Sea bass, brandade, watercress, lemon and champagne butter. This was just one of those cases where the photo couldn’t do justice to the dish. There was so much going on in this dish and one fault could have been fatal – but it was remarkably well executed. Forming the base of the dish was a bed of sweet watercress purée which had been beaten with olive oil. A sea bass mousse was blended with potato to make a brandade, and the fish was coated with a reduction of fish foam with butter, lemon juice and zest. The brittle seabass skin and crispy potato cubes were vital for some textural contrast in the dish. In true classic French cuisine style, the rich creamy sauce made from fish foam, champagne butter and chives was served at the table to ensure the right temperature. What I particularly enjoyed about the dish was the balance of lemon-to-butter in the dish. My previous experience with similar dishes have always resulted in my palate being dominated by the zingy citrus flavour. Suffice to say, the fish was cooked perfectly but I think each element to this dish was as important as the other.P1130902

The next wine which our sommelier decantered for us was one of Bernard Huber’s flagship pinot noir, Bernard Huber Wildenstein Spatburgunder ‘R’ 2007, which had an intense red and black fruit on the palate with a massive structure and very fine tannins.

IMG_2655Our first meat course was the Ballotine of suckling goat, mediterranean vegetable and wild garlic sauce. On the right was a gnocchi and the vegetable used for the garnish on the left was very mediterranean and included fennel. The baby goat ballotine was made from the saddle and fillet, sourced from the nearby region of Burgundy. It was cooked for 35 hours at 76 degrees celsius, resulting in a stunningly soft texture. The sticky jus which contained wild garlic was not too sharp. I did find it a little filling though, especially given the next course was…


… a Medallion of venison, carrot-ginger purée and cardamom jus. We were served the first venison of the season with a duck liver slice, a venison innards mousse made in equal ratio with crème fraîche, and a carrot and ginger purée, with broccoli and polenta on the side. The venison was served pink and innards mousse was delicious as it was not dominant in the overall flavour of the dish. The polenta with a hint of rosemary was great to mop up the venison jus that had a subtle flavour of cardamom. The sweetness of the carrot went well with the gamey meat but I felt extremely full at this point and could not appreciate the last few mouthfuls. Shame!

P1130924I couldn’t look at cheese at this point but as my friend duly pointed out, it would be a crime to turn down a plate of cheese from Bernard Antony. I caved into peer pressure after a couple of minutes of um-ing and resorted to just getting a handful of hard cheeses and nothing too rich and creamy. Suffice to say, they were as good as always.

IMG_2676Thank god it was time for dessert! As usual, we were the last ones in the restaurant at this point as it was fast approaching 1am. The first dessert served was a Rhubarb and elderberry soup, violet, pine resin, thyme and herbal ice. The caramel sugarwork was made from violet and ice cream from Mediterranean herbs. On the side of the plate were raspberry cream, violet, elderflower and aniseed. I liked most of the components on this dish except for the violet. The last time I had violet in my dessert was at Gordon Ramsey’s three starred restaurant in London and the dish made me gag as it tasted like potpourri. In this case, I was able to isolate the violet from the dish and I thought the dish worked well without it. Perhaps some verbena would have worked better as a substitution?IMG_2685Last up was an impressive sphere of Kir imperial: Woodruff-champagne snow and wild strawberry sorbet.

IMG_2688As I cracked open the sugarwork globe I could see the strawberry sorbet, woodruff flavoured champagne mousse and milk chocolate foam. For those who are unfamiliar with woodruff, it is a herbaceous perennial plant that is commonly used in Germany, particularly around spring time and has a very unique fragrance and flavour, the closest being vanilla. Underneath the sphere were some macerated wild strawberries oozing with sweetness. It was exactly what I wanted – a very fresh and light finish to the meal. Bravo.

IMG_2689We made a concerted effort to try one of the petit fours each consisting of a nut biscuit, chocolate brownie with sesame, passion fruit tart with orange and coconut, pistachio macaroon and finally a chocolate dusted with sugar with Armagnac inside.


As expected from a restaurant of this calibre in Germany, the service was slick and impeccable. Each course and wine came with an explanation and no questions remained unanswered. I also noticed that other than our table, all the other diners were regulars who had been returning for many years. And why wouldn’t they? At just under 200 euros for a full tasting menu (drinks excluded although the average price for wine was very modest), the food served here punched well above the weight compared to many other three-Michellin starred restaurants, including a handful of classic restaurants in France. At a time when many young chef’s have looked towards a more modern and minimalist approach to fine dining, Wohlfahrt’s unwavering determination in twisting classic French techniques and incorporating German produces is admirable. Most importantly, it has given Schwarzwaldstube a unique identity that distinguishes itself from the rest of the pack. One word of advice though if you decide to come here – leave plenty of space in your stomach because you will definitely be well fed! I’d definitely come back with my wife on our next trip to Europe to try the vegetarian tasting menu, and trust me, I can’t believe I just said that!

Azurmendi, Larrabetzu

P1120708Chef: Eneko Atxa         Website:         Cuisine: Modern Basque

On my latest visit to the Basque region I visited the legendary Arzak and went on a journey to discover the best pintxo’s of San Sebastian. There were a couple of other places I’d been meaning to re-visit but I decided to go with a wild card on this occasion. Joining the ranks of culinary excellence in the Basque region in 2012 was Eneko Atxa’s Azurmendi, located only 10 minutes drive away from Bilbao airport. Atxa has impressively amassed three Michelin stars within a very short period of time making it one of the hottest establishments in the region right now. I first heard about this place two years ago when I caught up with Dimi from the Fat Duck and after Michelin’s announcement in 2012, I prodded my partner in culinary crime, Fine Dining Explorer, to come with me on a weekend to see what all the fuss was about. As usual it didn’t take much to convince him.


Nestled high up on the hill of the biggest Txakoli winery in the region is a beautifully elongated modern glass cube that is Azurmendi. While it’s a very steep hill to drive up, the view from the top is quite impressive despite the intruding highway that runs parallel to the horizon. At the foot of the hill stands the original winery building that, until the contemporary building was completed in 2012, housed the restaurant. It now is used partly as a wedding venue and a bistro. The weather on this occasion was far more aggressive than the usual rain I am accustomed to in the Basque region – on this occasion it was snowing hard! But this was not going to dampen our spirit.

3A9Q7675Leaving the blizzard behind, we stepped into the vast contemporary space of the restaurant reception to be greeted by the Maitre D, Jon Eguskiza. He immediately joked that Atxa’s unfortunate absence that day meant that we would be even better looked after as he could spoil us rotten. Whilst I have no comparison to make yet, I can certainly guaranty that Eguskiza did a damn fine job in looking after us that afternoon. He carried on to show us around the building explaining that the green house they integrated into the restaurant was not with the intention of moving towards self-reliance as it was far too small, but rather an opportunity to showcase some of the indigenous vegetables and fresh produces the Basque region had to offer to foreign diners.P1120726

I was particularly impressed with the couple of Haiku’s that had been translated from Euskerra to Castellano and English, all whilst maintaining the rules of haiku.

P1120732We returned to the reception to find a couple of waiters laying out a picnic basket on the coffee table. After meticulously putting everything in place they announced that our picnic amuse bouche was ready. Let’s see what was inside…P1120738

First up was a Peanut made from peanut butter with chocolate and dried mushroom dust coating. This was a bizarre dish as I felt as if I was eating a dollop of slightly sweet butter infused with earthy mushroom flavour. Admittedly this was not my cup of tea.

P1120740Much better was the Homemade cheese with basil flowers from our garden. The cheese just melted in your mouth and was not too powerful to distract the flavours from subsequent dishes so early in the meal.


The last item of the picnic was a Purple onion from Zalla skin infusion, which had been prepared by roasting and boiling the onion. There was an intense onion flavour accompanied by the natural sweetness. It was rich and clear with a lasting aftertaste.

3A9Q7730After our picnic we were taken to the vast open kitchen but found only a handful of chef’s preparing the mis-en-place. Eguskiza explained that chefs under Atxa were not segregated to one section in the kitchen in order to avoid monotony. Instead, each chef was responsible for multiple courses. This explained why there were far less chefs here than many other three starred restaurants I had been to. We were curious to see whether this would affect the quality of the dishes so we promptly took our seats and left ourselves in the hand of our friendly Maitre D. Tasting Menu? Of course. Matching wine? Absolutely. Brand new dishes? Why not?

P1120749The restaurant offered two menu’s – Erroak (€135) consisting of classic dishes that formed the foundation of Azurmendi’s identity since inception, and Adarrak (€160) which consisted of more dishes and showcased the flavours and roots of Basque cuisine. We couldn’t make up our mind so Eguskiza suggested we create a customised menu, using Adarrak as the base, adding some dishes from Erroak to get an overall appreciation and understanding of Atxa’s cooking. Splendid! We ordered a bottle of Cava, Oriol Brut Nature as he ran through some of the options and then we were set.

P1120760First up on the menu was Egg from our chickens, cooked inside out and truffled. Part of the slightly cooked egg yolk had been taken out carefully with a syringe leaving the outer membrane intact. A rich black truffle infused broth was then injected back in, finished off with move shavings of black truffles from Zaragoza. I loved the creaminess of the egg yolk which magnified the earthy flavour of the truffle. A simple looking dish but the attention to detail was amazing, particularly given that the temperature had to be spot on and the membrane was so delicate. What’s more, the dish had to be assembled altogether at the last minute. This certainly made up for the somewhat lack luster amuse-bouche. What a superb start!

P1120769In preparation for the next course a bowl containing seaweed and dry ice was presented and water added allowing the smell of the ocean to wash over us.

P1120779Almost simultaneously we were served the Oyster, Salicornia, iodinated tremella, sea weed and small crunchy nettles with natural aroma from the sea. What initially appeared to be seaweed next to the Gillardeau oyster from La Rochelle in the shell was actually gelatinous tremella mushrooms cooked in seawater. It had a contrasting crunchy texture to the meaty oyster with diced seaweed on top. The accompanying seaweed and anemone tempura had the right level of natural seasoning, executed perfectly with a good crispiness and hardly any oil.

P1120783We were then presented with lobster done two ways with the Confited lobster with essential herbs from our garden and pork jowl. On the left was the tartare of lobster that had been infused with oil of essential herbs from their garden, wrapped in a smoky pork jowl. On the right was a beautifully cooked juicy roasted Cantabric lobster. This Cantabric lobster had more of a bite to other lobsters I’ve tried but I personally preferred this texture better.

P1120788We were initially taken back when the next course was being served as we thought our tasting menu was coming to an abrupt end. Luckily Eguskiza smiled and assured us we were only getting started as he prepared The “Earth” Tea service.

P1120791On the right we had a cup containing champignon mushroom with wild edible flowers.

P1120793On the left were some dried champignon mushrooms. We were instructed to take three tea spoonful of the dried mushroom and add it to the teapot containing a concentrated mushroom consommé to brew.

P1120796We then left the mushroom tea to brew for a couple of minutes before proceeding to pour it into the cup on the right.

P1120798The flavour of the broth was just outstanding considering this was just made from the humble champignon mushroom. The meaty mushroom had bags of flavour and the overall flavour lasted a very long time. I was so impressed I went to add a few more spoons of dried mushroom into my teapot to increase the concentration. I was in fungi heaven and this was probably one of my three most favourite mushroom courses I’ve ever had next to the Mai-take brioche in De Librije and the woodland mushroom and quinoa dish at Mirazur.


Next up was Smoked Foie Gras Sandwich with Tapenade, a new dish which had not been served yet to other customers. The foie gras encased in a herby cracker was so delicately poised on the plate it fell on its side a couple of times before it was presented perfectly on the third time. I didn’t really mind but our Maitre D was a perfectionist and I appreciated the attention to detail. We were advised to eat the sandwich with our fingers. The smokey foie gras was nice with the contrasting crunchy cracker. The tapenade on the side, which contained a leaf of sunflower, was nice but I thought the dish could have done with a bit more acidity to cut through the rich foie.

P1120806I absolutely love sweetbreads and I think it’s such a shame that many restaurants are too afraid to use them so I was in for a treat with the next course of Cauliflower, garlic potato and sweetbreads. The potato soufflé was stuffed with a garlic cream inside that oozed out. The cauliflower was served golden and crispy on top. The lamb sweetbread, which we were told was the traditional choice in the region, was beautiful without a strong offal flavour. The components were all assembled on a bed of cauliflower purée.

P1120816One of the two best courses of the day, hands down, without a shadow of a doubt was the “Betizu” ox tail raviolis, wrapped in corn bread with legume broth. The ox tail had been stewed on the bone for hours and the soft meat then taken off the bone. Iberico ham was then mixed into the meat before being wrapped in a thin layer of corn bread like a sushi roll. The rolls were then fried on each side to give the perfect crispiness to the bread coating. The finishing touch was to add this delicious morsel on a bed of sticky vegetable sauce containing chickpeas and basil. Each bite released an explosion of flavours. Whilst based on the taste, I normally would have begged for more, in fact this was exactly the right portion because it was such a rich dish.

P1120820We were surprised to find another rich dish for the next course. We were assured that this was a good progression of flavour and he was right again with the Salted stew: vegetables, anchovies and iberics with “Idiazabal” cream cheese balls. The stew was made of shallots, green asparagus, anchovies, trotters and bacon giving it a hearty and punchy flavour – a real smack in the mouth. The Idiazabal cheese had a strong flavour on its own but worked well in the context of the dish and you could appreciate the flavour of the local cheese.

P1120829I was glad to see that Atxa had incorporated another great dish from the region into his menu, and who wouldn’t? Kokotxas, pil-pil and tender and crunchy artichokes. On this occasion the dish was prepared by using kokotxas from hake in olive oil and a very creamy pil-pil sauce with chilli. The confit artichoke was fried and cut finely to spread the crunchy texture across the dish. Another good dish!

P1120831The second best course of the day following the oxtail dish was the Pigeon, hazelnuts and deuxelles. This was possibly the best pigeon dish I’ve ever had to date. The pigeon was from Arraiz, Navarra. There were some natural hazelnuts as well as “artificial ones” which were made from a mixture of the foie gras of pigeon and reduced stock from the bone, served chilled. The sauce was made from cheese and mushroom. The pigeon was cooked perfectly pink with good seasoning and the mushroom added a lovely earthiness to the dish. The nutty flavour and crunchiness of the hazelnut was the perfect accompaniment to the pigeon. Great use of textures, flavours and temperatures.P1120843I’d never say no to trying some local cheese of course! We were presented with a traditional long wooden palate containing two types of Idiazabal – one half cured and one smoked, some Carranzana, which was made from an ancient Basque sheep breed, and a blue cheese from Artziniega. They were all matched with marmalade made from apple, prune, quince and a most peculiar but delicious carrot.

P1120851Right before our dessert we were presented with a little story

P1120855and a brown paper bag

P1120860which contained Chestnuts with vine shoot scent. As we opened the bag, a waft of smoke came out carrying a lovely smoky smell of roasted chestnut. This took me back to my childhood in Asia. What was unexpected however, was that the chestnuts inside were neither hot nor indeed actual chestnuts. Instead they were chilled chestnut purée’s made from double cream with chocolate milk and natural chestnut powder, resting on a bed of chestnut powder made again from chestnuts that had been roasted until they were burnt before being ground.

P1120863The first dessert of the evening was Coffee Pudding, Rum and Farmhouse Milk, which appeared like a giant egg decorated with caramelised hazelnuts.

P1120868As we cracked open the outer shell there was a coffee purée inside that had a hint of rum. I usually prefer to not have alcohol in my dessert but this was perfect in dose as you could just pick up the flavour. The caramelised hazelnuts added some texture and the little specks of dulce de leche added that sweetness the dish needed. I love coffee so this was right up my alley.

P1120870Up next was Honey. I had seen this dish on various websites prior to coming to the restaurant and had hoped to try it. It is Atxa’s signature dish of honey comb with frozen air of honey with thousand flowers. His inspiration came from a chiffon cake. He wanted to create a light and airy dessert but with a much more intense flavour. This was achieved by whisking honey, glucose and sugar together before adding it to a vacuum bag.  It was then cooked before adding air back into the bag, finally freezing it after it expanded. A pinch of the honey scented sweet alyssum was added as a beautiful garnish on the frozen honey. This was all beautiful presented on a slab of honey comb with more honey drizzled on it! If you love honey, this is one dish you really don’t want to miss and definitely a feast for the eyes.

P1120887To go with our coffees we had an array of petit fours starting with a passion fruit chocolate ball on the right, followed by a rice soufflé in the middle and finishing off with an apple pie.

3A9Q4938With a growing number of young talented chefs like Eneko Atxa, it would seem as if the Basque region’s reputation as a culinary Mecca is safe for a while. Just like the gastronomical revolution led by legendary chefs from Arzak and Akelare a couple of decades ago, new chefs like Atxa appear to be paving a way for a new refined cuisine that continues to embrace their heritage and roots. The cooking here was without doubt very accomplished. I also loved the luxury of having so much space between the tables, allowing us to take in the whole experience without bothering and being bothered by other diners. Also, if it hasn’t been obvious already, the service here led by Jon Eguskiza was flawless. Top that off with amazing views through floor to ceiling windows across the entire dining room and you’ve got yourself a recipe for success. I hope on my next trip I’ll get to see the genius behind everything that is Azurmendi.

The Sportsman, Whitstable

P1130757Chef: Stephen Harris       Cuisine: British

When I’m presented with an opportunity to meet the chef of a restaurant I particularly enjoyed, there is always a question which I end up asking without fail – which is their favourite restaurant in the world? I always find that if I like a particular chef’s cooking style, the chances are that I would most likely like their favourite restaurants too. I appreciate it’s difficult for anyone, including myself, to single out one restaurant but you’d be surprised as to how many times I’d be given one name. It all started over a year ago when a two-Michelin starred chef in Stockholm did exactly that. His response was “the Sportsman, without a shadow of a doubt. They do the most amazing lamb”. Subsequently, I came across that name over a dozen times within a span of a few months so I knew I needed to do something about it. Three months later, I was finally on my way there.

P1130758The Sportsman is essentially a gastropub that is located an hour’s train ride away from London, in the salt marshes near Whitstable. The restaurant has had a michelin star to its name since 2009 although admittedly I think Michelin have got it wrong here as I sincerely believe this place operates at a two-michelin starred standard. Sure, the service was much more informal and the chairs at a few table were higgeldy piggeldy, but then again I liked the casual atmosphere. Furthermore, if you purely based the experience on food then I would probably say that the Sportsman puts many of the two and three starred restaurants in the United Kingdom to shame and the best way to highlight why….. is to keep reading…P1130763We were advised that the menu was seafood heavey at the start so we decided to go with a bottle of a Taittinger brut. The amuse bouche of cheese biscuit made from the award winning Ashmore cheese followed almost immediately after. It was mild, not overly salty and the spring onion was a lovely addition to it.

P1130766This was one of the main reason why I came here. I had heard of everyone talking about the pork scratching with mustard but I didn’t expect it to be so tender and juicy inside and crunchy on the outside. The wholegrain mustard dipping gave it a bit of kick and cut straight through the fat. It was the most extraordinary port scratchings I’ve ever had and I wish I could have had some more!

P1130769Next to the pork scratchings were the pickled herrings on soda bread with cream cheese and Bramley apple jelly. The acidity of the apple cut through the oily herring really well and it tasted very fresh. Overall a good balance of the elements.

P1130772A couple of shellfish courses starting with the scallop with Bramley apple foam and 24 months home cured ham. The ham was surprisingly amazing in quality with a nice creaminess and fattiness, and flavour not too dissimilar to the mighty Spanish Iberico ham. It went really well with the scallop and acidic green apple foam, eaten in one bite it released all the flavours in one go.

P1130779Next up was a baked oyster with rhubarb and seaweed granita. The quality of the oyster was very good. The combination of rhubarb and seaweed granita with the lightly baked oyster was a new one for me but I thought it worked well.

P1130788By now it was clear that simplicity was key to success here. This was particularly true with the first of the two fish courses, Slip Sole grilled in seaweed butter. The sweet flesh was quite dense and succulent compared to that of other sole varieties. The rich butter carried through the delicious flavour of seaweed and that was all this dish needed. Superb execution, brilliantly simple and absolutely delicious.

P1130794As it was in season, the next fish course was Braised Turbot with smoked roe, served with broccoli. The sauce made from smoked turbot roe could have been smokier in my opinion and the meat was slightly overcooked. It wasn’t a terrible dish but I did have to factor in that my opinion was overshadowed by the preceding course. I wanted more slip sole… and seaweed butter…

P1130795I absolutely loved the numerous plates of seafood but thought it was the right time to introduce something different. The waitress hinted us to order a bottle of red wine for the next few courses so we naturally obliged. First up was the Wood pigeon, bread sauce and crisp cabbage. The pigeon was surprisingly not too gamey with a sweet and nutty flavour. Most importantly, it was cooked just the way it should be, rare. The bread sauce was substantial, the cabbage crunchy and the pickled radish and rhubarb added some acidity to the rich dish. Not a bad dish, but this was not what I was waiting for…

P1130798This was more like it! This was what we heard everyone talk about over and over again, local Monkshill Farm lamb. They are reared next door to the pub and graze on the salt marshes, feeding on salt-tolerant plants like sorrel and samphire. We started with the Lamb belly deep fried with mint sauce. This reminded me a bit of tonkatsu – perfect crispiness and melting meat. It also had a bit of heat with mustard spread all over it. My companions appreciated the accompanying mint sauce, although I was happy to eat without it as I’m not generally a big fan of mint sauce.  P1130805Then came the best lamb dish I’ve ever had to date, Roast lamb from Monkshill farm. Precise and beautifully pink again. The cut of the lamb was the shoulder and rump. Two of my favourite cuts as it has so much flavour, particularly the latter, although they can be tough but these were so unbelievably soft they melted in your mouth. They came with some seasonal vegetables but I was less concerned with them. More mint sauce on the side but I was content with the jus which was deep in flavour. I would fly back from Melbourne just to eat this again. Seriously.P1130806After depleting all of the food noise vocabulary, mainly consisting of mmmmm’s and oh’s, we realised our plates were empty. That was it. The meal was over… or was it? The palate cleanser of the Rhubarb lolly ended up being our favourite sweet treat of the evening. It was essentially a rhubarb sorbet on a stick in a cake sauce made from Madeira cake. Does that sound decadent or what? It was delicious and refreshing. I never thought I’d find lumpy cake in a sauce to be delectable but it was.

P1130813The final course of the day was Meringue ice cream, seawater spray, buckthorn and sea lettuce. Sea buckthorn is one of those things you love or hate, and I love it, particularly given one of my favourite dessert all time from Frantzén Lindeberg (now known as Frantzén) has them in the dish. The dish reminded me of a cold pavlova and I thought the saltiness from the seawater and lettuce really brought out the sweetness of the meringue ice cream. It was a good dish to finish on but admittedly not in the same league as their savoury courses.P1130818Some petit fours to finish with our coffee. They included gypsy tart with apple, short bread, Indian tea juncket and warm chocolate mousse with salted caramel. My personal favourite was the gypsy tart.


So did the Sportsman live up to all the hype? Yes, and I could even say it was in my top five restaurants of the United Kingdom, coming respectably just behind L’Enclume. It was a pub and there was no pretense but that was part of the charm, especially given its remote location in the countryside. To me it epitomised British dining at its best. The result on the plate showed a care and obsession for ingredients, and a passion for flavours. The quality of the locally sourced produce was second to none and it was utlised sensibly without complicating the dishes. It was pure and honest. All this for a mere £65 per head for the tasting menu? I can’t remember the last time I paid less than £100 for a meal that was this impressive! Would I be back? Hell yes.

Attica, Melbourne


Chef: Ben Shewry        Website:        Cuisine: Modern Australian

My first gastronomic trip to Australia back in 2010 was memorable for various reasons. I had an unforgettable meal at Vue de Monde, followed by a shocking experience with a very rude commis sommelier at the Royal Mail Hotel and a rather spectacular view yet mundane meal at Quay. However, there was one place that took me by complete surprise. A friend of mine first spoke of Attica back in early 2009 suggesting I gave it a try on my next trip to Melbourne. As the menu looked quite unique including dishes like “a potato cooked in its own earth”, I gave it a shot and invited my in-laws. Whilst everything was good, my experience that evening didn’t quite blow me away like Vue de Monde had on that trip, but I came away thinking there was something different and interesting about Ben Shewry’s cuisine. His dishes were simple at a time when many chefs preferred over engineering them, so I vowed to return in a couple of years to let the restaurant evolve and grow. After all, Shewry is still very young. Three years on, I returned with my wife and parents. I was excited but equally scared. What if I was wrong? I was deep in thought as I walked down the street, suddenly finding myself in front of the raw brick exterior that is Attica. This was it.

P1130694We must have been the last guests to arrive as the place was absolutely packed, and it was only a Tuesday! The manager, Hannah, gave us a warm welcome and led us to an extension off the main dining room divided by a window. In front of us there were two chef’s working meticulously in a glass sealed room. Since my last visit, Shewry had introduced the concept of an experimental chef’s table on Tuesday evenings, allowing just a handful of diners to observe and sample some of his latest creations. The menu coming in at only $95 AUD was shorter than the normal Tasting Menu. For me, this was the perfect way to see how much Shewry had evolved over the last three years. I handed over my copy of “Origin” for a signature and I was set for the evening. It was show time.

P1130707My wife knew I had been looking forward to this for a while and she graciously offered to be the designated driver for the evening. I had my carte blanche. I could now enjoy the matching wines, and what could be better to start the evening than a glass of the NV J.L Vergnon Conversation Blanc de Blancs. We were simultaneously presented with some whipped olive oil with black sea salt and creamy butter with sea salt to go with the sourdough we all had chosen. It became apparently clear that no one was going to touch the butter after trying the whipped olive oil. The cold smoked olive oil was whipped with gelatin to produce a smokey mousse-like spread which was divine. I may have mentioned this before, I am quite partial to bread and butter.

P1130704I wolfed down my second piece of sourdough, mopping up what was left as my wife attempted to fend me off unsuccessfully. Yes, I have no shame. It was that good. As we regained our composure, the sommelier came to pour out our first wine of the evening. The first matching was in fact a sake. The Uehara “Soma no Tengu” Junmai Ginjyo from Saga prefecture was cloudy and had a beautiful creamy aftertaste that went well with the Snow Crab, Sorrel and Buckwheat. The shredded meat of the delicate snow crab from Western Australia was sweet and the sorrel leaf added a lovely citrus note to lift the dish. The buckwheat which had been “activated” or germinated had been immediately dehydrated to give it a delicious crunch and remarkable textural contrast. The dish was completed at the table as the organic chicken infused broth was poured over. It was undeniably a simple looking dish but had a beautiful marriage of flavours and I thought the sweetness of the delicate snow crab was really brought out.

P1130708Carrying on with the theme of unconventional wine matching, the sommelier poured us a glass of beer from one of my favourite Belgian Trappist brewery, Chimay. On this occasion, however, I got to try something new – a Chimay Grande Reserve, which had a rich and lively sweetness with a surprisingly drier finish on the palate. The second dish of Cauliflower Cheese with 11 Basils and Smoked Eel was my absolute favourite of the evening. As the waiter explained, this was Shewry’s take on one of his favourite dish, cauliflower and cheese. There was a bed of roasted and shaved cauliflower incorporated into the goats cheese sauce with mustard oil. The choice of cheese was perfect as it did not overpower the other components of the dish and the mustard oil  cut through the creamy sauce, adding a slight heat to liven the dish. There were also pieces of delicious smoked eel and the finishing touch of the eleven leaves of basil, all with different flavours ranging from aniseed and verbena to orange and lime, was ingenious. Each spoonful had a slightly different refreshing flavour. I could have easily done with a whole pot of this!P1130716The third course of the evening was the Marron, Quinoa, Sauce of Cured Pork Fat and Onion. The West Australian marron was juicy and perfectly cooked as expected at this calibre of restaurant. The Tasmanian quiona had absorbed the pork fat and onion sauce, releasing bags of flavour. The black flecks were couscous cooked in squid ink which was subsequently dried, adding a delicious and crunchy component to the dish. Again, the dish went very well with the sommelier’s recommended matching glass of Bobar Chardonnay 2012, Yarra Valley, which was  fruity with a distinct green apple taste. I was seriously impressed with everything so far!

P1130723The finale of the Wallaby, Dried Mushrooms and Sea Wormwood was an explosion of big bold flavours in my mouth. The sirloin of the wallaby, sourced from Flinders Island, was seared lightly and served rare with mushroom leaves (not to be mistaken with a fungi) that had been brushed with macadamia nut puree, a drizzle of sweet rosella syrup (wild hibiscus) and sea wormwood that was grown in their own garden. The sea wormwood was a novelty for me as I had never tasted a herb that tasted like… coca-cola! The combination of the sweet syrup, slightly bitter sea wormwood and the sweet and buttery texture of this particular wallaby went perfectly with the foliage on the side which was wallaby black pudding topped with dried portobello mushrooms, swiss brown mushrooms and red currants. The matching glass of Ar Pe Pe Rosso di Valtellina 2009, Lombardy was my favourite wine of the evening, displaying typical elegant character of a decent nebbiolo.

P1130728As we were discussing over our favourite courses, Hannah popped out again to invite us to the garden at the rear of the restaurant, which Shewry had converted from a parking space. The smell emanating from the various herbs was very inviting, and out of nowhere the great chef himself popped out to say hello. Despite our best efforts at talking over each other to complement his dishes, Shewry was very composed, humble and modest in receiving them. What a legend.

P1130735After our fairly long chat we decided to give the chef a break from our over enthusiasm and head back to our table for the grand finale, the dessert. I was particularly impressed with the dessert on my previous visit so I was looking forward to the Banana, Caramel, Kaffir and Native Lime. The caramlised banana was topped with honey from Otago, New Zealand, with a fluffy banana powder, kaffir lime powder and liquorice leaf from the garden. The balance between the fragrance, sweetness and contrasting temperatures was spot on making this a light but complex dish on the palate. The dessert was again washed down perfectly with a fairly dry and fruity glass of Immich-Batterieberg Enkircher Batterieberg Auslese 1991, Mosel.

P1130743Given the absence of an amuse bouche at the start of the meal, I had assumed that we would literally just get coffee when we ordered them. Fortunately we were presented with a bowl containing a chocolate and salted caramel Pukeko egg with a story card that essentially explained Shewry’s admiration and respect to nature and its habitat.


It is unprecedented for me to call out a restaurant as being the best in a country over one meal, particularly when it consisted only of five courses but that was the reality. Attica was superb. It was imaginative yet familiar and comforting, but most of all it was the best meal I had to date in Australia and definitely in my top ten. Unlike other fine dining restaurants I’d been to with theatrical elements or spectacular views, the wizardry and magic happened in the kitchen here. It was all about the food and there was no pretense in the service or decor. Behind the comforting flavours of the dishes were a brigade of humble chef’s and front of house who all displayed such genuine pride and joy to be working here. Having been able to chat to Shewry for a few minutes during our break in the garden, I also came to admire the man who has taken foraging to another level. Perhaps it’s a given in Australia, but I personally haven’t heard of other chef’s paying much attention to minimising disruption to the eco-system for species that are also dependent on the same sources which they forage. I guess with great dishes comes great responsibility?

The moderate price tag also makes Attica affordable and attractive for passionate diners who want to revisit more frequently. I for one would be enraged with jealousy of Melbournians had it not been for the fact that I was moving to Melbourne shortly afterwards myself. The only obstacle left now is the long waiting list following the recent announcement of Attica being voted 21st Best Restaurant in the 2013 San Pellegrino 50 Best Award. Luckily for me I have another table booked in the near future and I can’t wait to go back.