Monthly Archives: June 2013

Vue de Monde, Melbourne

VDM001Chef: Shannon Bennett  Website:  Cuisine: Modern French

I’ve always regarded Vue de Monde very highly ever since my first visit back in 2010. Of the handful of restaurants I visited with my wife during that trip, Shannon Bennett was the only one who managed to excite my palate with his food following the disappointing meals at Cutler & Co and the highly acclaimed Quay. How Vue de Monde has not dominated the Gourmet Traveller list is still beyond me. I guess it’s one of those unexplainable mysteries in life, just like how Iggy’s in Singapore made the San Pellegrino’s 50 Best Restaurants list when I wouldn’t even consider them in my top 200.

P1130311Since my last visit I had heard via my wife (who took a sneaky meal there with my father in law in my absence) that Vue de Monde had gone up in the world. Literally! Since my last visit, Vue de Monde had moved from their humble digs on Little Collins Street to the 55th floor of the Rialto, previously the observation deck. According to my wife, Vue de Monde was now complete. Not only did it have the best food and service in Australia, it also had a spectacular view and aesthetic of a modern fine dining restaurant. One that was on par with many great names in the world. Obviously I was keen to return. Sadly it was a couple of years later that we finally had the opportunity to return in style by hiring their private Dom Pérignon room for our wedding guests as a number of them had flown all the way from the many corners of the world. Some of my guests had also visited Quay and the Royal Mail Hotel a few days before so I was very keen to hear their opinion as it had been a couple of years since my wife and I had been to either. Suffice to say, our guests were blown away immediately at the start of our meal by the stunning view of Melbourne by night as a backdrop.

P1130297Upon arriving at the restaurant via a dedicated express lift, diners have the option of commencing the evening with an aperitif at the Lui bar. Given the big group we had, I knew that getting everyone there on time would be a struggle so reserving a section to start the evening was a great suggestion by the manager. As a bonus we got to try some of their delicious and unique cocktails. After taking what felt like a few hundred photos of the view, we were finally escorted through the wine cellar to their restaurant and into the private dining room. P1111111Photo courtesy of Dianna Snape

I was very fond of their Paul Smith designed chairs when they were at Little Collin Street (which consequently were flogged off and my wife refused to let me bid) but I liked their futuristic aesthetical transformation. At first glance the room looked slightly cold and modern but at closer inspection you began to comprehend there was much more to it. The thought and attention gone into Ross Didier’s sophisticated furnitures embodied and captured the spirit and soul of Australia. This was Australiana without being kitch and I loved it.

P1130300The armchairs had been upholstered in kangaroo leather and skin, making it extremely comfortable for the six hour tasting menu we were about to embark on. The conventional table linens had been replaced by a stitched dark and textured kangaroo hide which covered the entire table, perfect to lean on with your elbows. Even the pebbles scattered across the table turned out to be more than decoration and played an integral part of the meal as the night progressed and the menu unfolded.


A glass of NV Larmandier Bernier ‘Cuvée Vue de monde’ Vertus Champagne AOC, France was poured out for everyone to start the evening with some hand-cut parsnip chips and a macadamia and apple dip.P1100734The meal then kicked off with an array of amuse bouches starting with Smoked eel, white chocolate and caviar. This had a good textural contrast of the brittle caramelised coating and soft eel inside, although for me there wasn’t enough seasoning coming from the caviar.

P1100741This was followed by Salt cured Wallaby and wasabi. The dried meat reminded me of a very high quality bresaola. I thought the wasabi was a very clever addition as it cut nicely into the meat.

P1100737The Truffle marshmellow had a nice crunch from the bread crumbs although the truffle was a bit lost for me.

P1100732Lastly we were served a Carrot with egg and brown butter emulsion and oyster. It had a good level of sweetness. This was an interesting dish and the flavours reminded me a lot of the langoustine from Noma (of course with at least one major difference!).

There were a few options available from the menu but we all opted for the most comprehensive package of the 10-course degustation menu ($250) with matching wine ($150). A couple of my guests matched their meal with teas, something up and coming in Australia which appeared to work really well.

P1100749To match our first course of Roasted marron with tarragon butter, we were poured a glass of what I call butter on a stick, 2010 Domaine Bachelet-Monnot, Puligny-Montrachet, Cote de Beaune, Burgundy, FranceThe tea sommelier on the other hand served a pot of Tie Guan Yin, Oolong, China. The plump freshwater marron tail sourced from Western Australia was handled with the utmost respect, and it was lightly roasted to keep it moist and juicy. We were advised to pick up the marron tail with our fingers and dip it into the rich toffee-like tarragon brown butter and the intense marron salt. On the side was a sandwich of crispy kohlrabi with a creamy marron filling. It was a very good dish. Shame they didn’t have two tails! P1100755Next up was the Duck yolk, pork, green beans and mint matched with a generous glass of 2003 Dom Pérignon, Épernay, Champagne AOC, France and for the tea lovers a Yunnan White, White Tea, China. The fresh mint cut through the creamy yolk. The yolk had been poached at 58 degrees celsius so that it oozed beautifully over the crispy pork and green beans. The only thing I felt was missing to this delicate dish was a bit more seasoning. Overall I didn’t feel there was enough pork for that seasoning element. So close to a perfect dish. What a shame!

P1100763I was very surprised with the next installment. Whilst strictly not a dish, I feel it deserves a special mention. Head Chef Cory Campbell came in with a wooden bucket on a trolley. It contained the luxurious Échiré butter, typically served in three star establishments in France and a long standing favourite amongst the European royalties. He scooped out a few quenelle and served it with a beer and fennel sourdough. As mentioned countless times, I’m partial to good butter and bread, and this was delicious. I almost forgot the mother tongue of Vue de Monde was French, despite the evident Australian twang.

P1100775The next dish of Melbourne onion soup illustrated this juxtaposition. Charactertistic of Bennett, he displayed his interpretation on classic French cuisine by adding a local twist, using an instrument that would normally make the Melbournian’s favourite beverage: a coffee siphon. The onion consommé which had been brewed in advance for 48 hours at 96 degrees celsius was heated up using a blowtorch, forcing the liquid to slowly cascade to the top where it was infused with fennel herb and caramlised onion.

P1100781The mixture was then poured into each individual’s bowl over an onion prepared in multiple ways – charred, pickled, crisped and poached. The finishing touches included shavings of comté cheese, crispy croutons and macadamian gel set in agar. The result was a remarkably sweet and intense onion soup which had the right balance of cheese and variety of textures. I always find it quite risky to serve soup at a fine dining restaurant but this dish was outstanding and inspired. It was remarkable.

P1100793Next up was Sweet baby corn, brown butter and black truffle, served with a glass of the locally famous 2000 Yarra Yering ‘Dry White Wine No.1’, Yarra Valley, Victoriaor a rather surprising Zealong, Oolong Tea, New Zealand. I had no clue New Zealand produced oolong tea but even more astonishing was that the black truffles sourced from Western Australia were from the same specie as the highly prized Perigord truffles (tuber melanosporum). The baby corn cob cooked and presented in its husk with the brown butter emulsion had bursts of flavours; so much so that I ate the husk as well! The black truffle shavings added an earthy element to this simple yet delicious dish.

P1100811It’s not uncommon to have a second palate cleanser between segments of the meal although Vue de Monde is the only place I know that does this in Australia. A bowl containing a beautiful herb and flower salad was presented. Liquid nitrogen was then poured over the top, and the instantly frozen salad subsequently shattered using a wood pestle. Once settled, a quenelle of Grapefruit and lime sorbet was placed on top to produce a very refreshing palate cleanser.

P1100818Following such a invigorating palate cleanser, the first of the three main dishes was Prawn, nettle, young garlic, smoked barramundi, lettuce, served with one my favourite local wine of 2010 Kooyong Estate, Pinot Noir, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria or Woojeong, Green Tea, South Korea. This was another classic Australian dish where the prawn, sourced from Mackay, was prepared “on the barbie” to give a smokey taste and smell. It was accompanied by a clean and flavoursome Barramundi which had been preserved using the Japanese method of “iki jime” (spike to the brain) in order to retain freshness, flavour and most importantly kill the fish in the most humanely possible way. The prawn and fish were served on a bed of garlic purée, with garnishes of nettle, young garlic, kale, lettuce and broccoli that provided some textural contrast and sharpness to the dish. Possibly the best barramundi I’ve tasted to date.

P1100825Finally on to some red meat with the Flinders Island Lamb, olive, Australian anchovies, mustard. The lamb was served two ways – a roasted loin and a crispy belly – and certainly melted in your mouth. Just like the wallaby I had tried at Attica from Flinders Island, it was of superb quality. I was not very fond of the crust of seeds around the belly however and would have preferred a naturally crispier skin. Whilst the lamb was superb in quality, I thought the overall flavour was quite average. The matching wine was 2011 Thousand Candles, Shiraz Pinot Noir Sauvignon Blanc, Yarra Valley, Victoria and Kaga Bocha Hojicha, Roasted Green tea, Japan.

P1100830I had some great memories from the wagyu course I had here last time and was hoping to see it appear in the menu again. I was in luck, or so I thought with the Blackmore Wagyu, beetroot, saltbush, BBQ sauce, truffle.The cheek and tenderloin of the locally reared beef was riddled in marble and melted in your mouth. The sweet home made BBQ sauce was lovely on its own but I felt it completely dominated everything else on the dish from the saltbush and beetroot purée to the black truffle shavings. What’s more, I felt there was not enough seasoning on the dish. The glass of 2008 Querciabella ‘Camartina’, Maremma Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italywas a consolation and a rather smokey Lapsang Suchong, Black tea, China was matched for the tea drinkers.

P1100849Some cheese and a glass of 1988 Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port, Douro, Portugal to cheer me up from the lacklustered two courses. The cheese was decent and I was very impressed that they actually had a tea to match the cheese course with the Hong Shui, Oolong tea, Taiwan.

P1100862The third and last palate cleanser of Passionfruit, liquorice and coconut “beer”. I don’t particularly like liquorice but thought it worked really well as an aftertaste with the passionfruit and coconut sorbet.

P1100866My favourite course of the evening was the first dessert course of Strawberries and cream served with a rather delicious 2006 Dr Loosen, Riesling Beerenauslese, Mosel Saar Ruwer Qmp, Germany. It had nailed all the elements from the creamy ice cream, crunchy and chewy meringue to the fragrance emanating from the cold shavings of frozen strawberries. The icing on the cake was the natural sweetness coming from the strawberries which was divine. I was impressed at how such a simple dish could be so delicious.

P1100876It was a shame that a few of my guests had to rush home before having the last dessert as they needed to relieve their babysitters from their kids. Well… It was 1.30am after all (we started the evening at 6pm). The Chocolate soufflé chocolate mousse, crème anglaise was rather decadent and luxurious, and a not so subtle reminder of the French influence in Bennett’s cuisine. It was definitely in the best five soufflé I’ve had. The crème anglaise was much needed to balance against this imposing tower of chocolate sweetness. I would however say that the combination of this and the 2009 Domain Madeloc, Banyuls Cirera, Languedoc-Roussillon, France was overall too sweet but I won’t lie; I did scrape the ramekin. This was perhaps the one course I would have preferred to have had the tea option as the Dian Hong Gold buds, Black tea, China with a hint of citrus note appeared to go down really well for my two friends.

P1100880We finished the evening with an array of Australiana themed petit fours. Whilst the waiter explained what they were, my wife had to explain the “cultural” significance of each item to our foreign guests as we appreciated it was not necessarily obvious. We were served: chocolate mousse lamingtons with raspberry coulis inside (a typical Australian cake), musk flavoured eucalptus leaves, gin jellied one penny coins (used to play two-up, a traditional Australian gambling game which is now illegal except on Anzac day) and eucalyptus flavoured sorbet balls.

P1100771It was close to 2am when we finally got the bill. I appreciate that the same meal would have probably taken a couple of hours less had we been in a smaller group but we enjoyed every minute of the privacy in the majestic Dom Perignon room with our private view into the kitchens. We left with some goodie bags which contained some brioche bread, tea, honey and muesli. A lovely touch indeed but had the whole experience lived up to my expectation? I thought the food on the whole was great and the service stepped up a notch from our last visit as it was flawless throughout the evening. Nothing seemed too much of an effort for the exceptional front of house team and we were all impressed.P1100823There was of course the matter of the two disappointing meat courses, and I noticed across my two meals there that there was a tendancy to incorporate emulsions repeatedly which felt tiring after a while, both in terms of texture and flavour. Saying that, there were a couple of innovative dishes that were exceptional like the marron tail, onion soup and the strawberry & creams dish. I left the restaurant content that evening with the overall experience and my guests certainly thought it was the best meal they had in Australia. But compared to my experience at Attica a couple of weeks later (see review on this website), I felt the latter had made greater strides in evolving its dishes since my last visit. I know it’s like comparing apples and bananas. Regardless, to me these two restaurants are currently my favourite in Australia and by quite some distance.

Clove Club, London

P1140302Chef: Isaac McHale    Website:   Cuisine: Modern British

After a rather sub par Vietnamese-Thai meal at Monsieur M two years ago, I was glad to finally see the back of it. With the financial backing of a pool of investors, Chef Isaac McHale, who previously worked at the Ledbury and formed part of the Young Turks, was in turn replacing the mediocre restaurant with an exciting Modern British restaurant called the Clove Club. The restaurant had  only been open since March 2013 and already attracted a lot of attention including food enthusiasts from overseas. I was meant to catch up with Enfoodie for lunch here a few weeks ago but unfortunately work commitments got in the way. I finally got an opportunity early June and must admit I was positively surprised with my meal.

P1140306As I entered the restaurant I was immediately hit with a waft of delicious charcuterie. As it turns out, the cupboard to the left of the entrance was where McHale smoked, aged and preserved an assortment of meats including two types of katsuobushi – one in the traditional style and one experimental. I was already salivating just by the smell and sight of these delicious looking meats and hoped that we would be able to sample some of them during the course of the meal.

P1140304I was glad to see that the horribly bright red painted walls from the previous restaurant had been neutralised with a fresh coat of white paint, and the floor had been stripped to expose the beautiful old wooden floorboards. The decor was no longer tacky but much simpler now and the room flooded with natural light from the big windows. This looked much more inviting and promising to say the least.

P1140310There was an option of going à la carte or a fixed five course tasting menu with an array of amuse bouche for £49, excluding alcohol. We opted for the latter as the dishes all looked very appetising (Note: we ordered three extra courses for additional price coming in at £75). As I had a heavy week full of leaving dos, I opted for water to accompany my meal. Saying that, I did notice that they had a nice array of cocktails and wines that looked reasonably priced.

P1140312We started with a selection of McHale’s home made salami and cured pork. Two types of salami were presented – one flavoured with nutmeg and the other with white wine and garlic. My favourite was the third cut which was cured pork from a rare breed called the British Lop, currently being reintroduced after near extinction by the Duchy College close to Launceston in Cornwall. It had a superb taste to it. Shame I couldn’t buy some to bring home!

P1140313First course was an English asparagus, black sesame and Gochuchang mayonnaise. The asparagus was fresh and cooked spot on, giving it a firmness yet succulence. I did find the mayonnaise lovely in flavour although the spiciness from the Korean chili paste slightly overwhelming the delicate vegetable.

P1140315Goat Haggis croquettes and Tewkesbury mustard sauce which was crispy and packed with flavour inside. Slight hint of heat from the mustard to cut through the rich haggis. Lovely.

P1140317Buttermilk fried chicken presented on a bed of pine cones and needles. A pinch of pine salt was dusted on top to give it the right level of seasoning. It reminded me of the pine salt that was made and used in the Schwarzwaldstube in Germany. The batter which was made with gluten-free tapioca was light and crispy. The chicken inside was moist and surprisingly flavoursome. It was clear that the chicken was of high quality. I wondered whether they did buckets of these…

P1140321Next up was a plate of brined Sand eel with mint vinegar jelly. McHale explained that the sand eel season was very short, typically between two to three weeks each year, which explains why I’d never had them before. It had a similar texture and flavour to whitebait so it didn’t feel like much of a novelty. I’m not personally a big fan of mint sauce and found it rather too strong with the delicate fish. Perhaps some sea salt would have been sufficient.

P1140322Much better was the Wood pigeon sausage which contained its liver, giving it a very soft texture and depth in flavour. A drop of spicy ketchup on top added some heat to the dish, although I probably could have done with a tiny bit more heat this time. Nevertheless, this was a good dish.

P1140325One of the big surprises that lunch was their homemade Brown sourdough bread with oat berries. It had a good crust and airy texture, and was definitely better than many bread I’ve tried in some of the best restaurants in Europe, let alone London. It didn’t take long to finish them.

P1140328Hand dived Razor Clams with smoked butter emulsion and a sorrel and apple sauce. The razor clams from Cornwall which had been baked in hay had the right amount of smokiness. The sauce worked in harmony with the tender razor clams making this one of my favourite dishes in the menu. Unlike the emulsion from Vue de Monde, I thought this one was more refined and did not dominate the overall flavour of the dish with its butteriness.

P1140330Salad of spring vegetables, pheasant egg, fresh ricotta and lardo. I thought the texture of the vegetables were very good as they were cooked perfectly. However, the dish overall was let down by the quality of the produce as there was not much flavour coming through. The almond oil and balsamic dressing unfortunately could not bridge this gap and personally I felt the egg could have been cooked a tiny bit less as I prefer my egg yolks completely runny.

P1140333Flame grilled mackerel with smashed cucumber, served with last years elderflower vinegar and fresh dill. Mackerel is one of my favourite fish but I somehow felt that the quality again was rather disappointing here despite the flawless execution. The fragrant cucumber was very enjoyable and I thought the accompanying sauce worked really well. I just couldn’t get much flavour from the fish.

P1140337The restaurant had just received their first batch of summer truffles which we were fortunate enough to try in the Chicken, truffles, girolles, baked leek and cheddar sauce. Again, the quality of the French chicken was superb with a good level of crispiness to the skin and the amazing flavour from the breast meat and testicles. The aged Montgomery cheddar sauce worked in harmony with the leek but my favourite ingredient on the dish must have been the earthy girolles. This course proved the point that dishes don’t need to be complicated when you have top quality ingredients and produce, although admittedly my recent experience in Les Cols has reminded me that the chef does need to know what he or she is doing. He did in this case without a shadow of a doubt.

P1140343We had to do a double take on the next course of Lobster, courgette purée, almonds and spices as we were told that they had just been delivered from Christchurch… Dorset, not New Zealand. Phew! The lobster was juicy and the almond provided a contrasting crunchy texture but I was rather disappointed with the curry like flavour dominating the whole dish. I would have preferred less distraction to the sweet flavour of the lobster.

P1140348Last of the savoury courses was the Slow cooked loin of lamb from Yorkshire, old spinach and anchovy emulsion with spinach dust and kelp. Whilst the lamb had good flavours with a nice caramelised coating and cooked just the way I like it – pink. Admittedly it was not on par with the Sportsman but then again the lamb at the Sportsman was extraordinary and the best I’ve ever had. I really liked the anchovy emulsion but I thought it didn’t belong on this dish. The idea of using it as an element to season the lamb was good but the fishiness was difficult to ignore.

P1140350First dessert course was Strawberries, ewe milk mousse and almond crumble. The strawberries from Brittany were sweet and far superior to the ones I’ve had this year to date. The almond crumble added some textural contrast to the meaty strawberries and soft mousse. Delicious.

P1140354The finale was a Prune ice cream, kernel and rosemary sorbet with walnut cake crumbs.  The flavour of the prune was very strong but worked well with the sweet sorbet and bed of crumbly goodness. It was a very refreshing end to the meal that left my palate cleansed.

P1140358I didn’t quite know what to expect from the Clove Club but I was positively surprised with the overall standard of the dishes that were served that day. Other than a couple of inconsistencies with the quality of the vegetable dish and mackerel, I was impressed with the diverse choice of ingredients from the United Kingdom and cooking skills that went into each dish. The service was very good and friendly throughout the meal. I did find it occasionally a bit noisy in the dining room and at times had some difficulties hearing my companion. I would definitely come back here frequently if I lived in London as I think the price of £49 per person for a tasting menu is reasonable for such an accomplished level of dining. I honestly think this is the next big thing in London and eagerly look forward to my next meal when I’m back.

Sushi Tetsu, London

P1140269Chef: Toru Takahashi   Website:   Cuisine: Sushi

I’ve pretty much come to the realisation that if you want amazing sushi you’ll have to go to Japan, or otherwise settle with mediocrity. For this reason I’ve almost abstained in eating sushi outside Japan because all that awaited me after a disappointing meal was a hefty bill, typically fuelled by the copious amounts of beer and sake to soften the blow. It was therefore a stroke of luck when a friend of mine who just returned from a honeymoon in Japan insisted that I should come along to a sushi-ya which she claimed was outstanding. Had it not been for the fact that she had been to some of the best restaurants in Japan recently, I probably would have turned down her offer. Unbeknownst to me, she had become a regular of Sushi Tetsu over the last six months and she assured I wouldn’t be disappointed. Sure enough, she was right.

P1140272As it turns out, getting a reservation at Sushi Tetsu is ridiculously difficult. Chef Toru Takahashi who is supported by his wife Harumi in this cosy sushi-ya in the backstreets of Farringdon caters for only seven people during each sitting. Luckily there is the option of filling in last minute cancellations through Harumi-san’s tweets but you’d have to be quick because it goes like gold dust. Having picked up the nickname “Tetsu” during his training in Kobe, Takahashi-san trained for five years in Nobu London before going solo on this new venture to concentrate in the perfection of sushi making. I was amazed to find out that Takahashi-san spoke fluent Spanish having lived in Marbella for a year during his chef training years.


If you want an elaborate “omakase” menu (chef’s recommendation) ranging up to a reasonable £70, you need to let them know a few in days in advance as it requires a bit of preparation. As I was approaching this cautiously, I decided to opt for just the “Flower” omakase sushi set at £38 to test the water. When we entered, Takahashi-san was busy preparing the wasabi for the service. The root was sourced from Shizuoka, a place renown for the best quality wasabi and where the oldest wasabi farm can be found. Harumi-san first brought out some wet towels whilst her husband laid out the bamboo leaves in front of us where he would serve the sushi one by one. It took only one sushi to realise my mistake in not ordering the omakase menu. I immediately knew I had to come back… soon.


The fish here is sourced through a trustworthy Japanese distributor who picks out the best fresh fish from Billingsgate market every morning. The first course of the meal was Sea bream (鯛), sourced most likely from the northern European seas. The firmness of the flesh was unbelievable yet it retained a good level of moisture. It had the right amount of the Takahashi-san’s home made soy concoction brushed on to complement the natural sweetness of the fish for which it is prized for, ending with a refreshing note of mintiness from the discretely hidden shiso leaf. The rice was spot on at body temperature and the right amount of pressure applied to form the pellet, firm but not too compact; something which requires years of training and the first hurdle for all trainees to becoming an “itamae” (板前), i.e. the chef.


Takahashi-san smiled back as I couldn’t contain my joy. He then moved on to wipe the bamboo leaf and began preparing our next course, Spear squid (槍烏賊). It was soft and sweet, although it did have a slight bit of chewiness. The chef uses two types of nori, including Maruyama Nori which has been produced since 1854 during the Edo period and coincidentally also used by the ever so famous Sukibayashi Jiro. P1140278

After another wipe down of the bamboo sheet, Takahashi-san was on to the next nigiri of Salmon (鮪). It’s perhaps not construed to be the most exciting cut of fish but I can assure you that when you get it right, it can be very good. The superior quality was evident and combined with the chef’s masterful skill this piece of oily silky fish simply melted in your mouth.P1140280

The delicious morsels of sushi kept on coming and the next nigiri of Prawn (海老) was no exception. The prawn was boiled very slightly and subsequently blow-torched on the butterfly-cut side to enhance the flavour and texture. It was sweet with a small hint of smokiness, but most importantly juicy and flavoursome. P1140284

Next up was one of my favourite of all times, Yellow Tail (ハマチ). Judging by the oiliness, softness and time of the year, I believe this particular cut was from a farmed fish in Japan as the natural ones are more firm, lighter in oil content and typically caught in winter. As far as I’m aware I don’t think they are native to the European seas but I’m more than happy to be corrected. It’s really a personal taste as some people, like myself, prefer the oily farmed ones. I thought this particular one prepared by Takahashi-san was very good with a lovely sweetness coming through, thereby requiring less soy sauce than similar white fleshed fish.P1140285

Razor clam (まて貝). After blanching the clam and cleaning it thoroughly, very shallow incisions were made across to give it a plumper texture. It was then glazed lightly with some more homemade soy sauce, dressed with an ever so tiny pinch of sea salt, and I could also pick up a hint of citrus note, possibly from the use of sudachi or ponzu which are the traditional choice.


There is a Japanese saying in that if you want to really test the quality of the tuna of a sushi-ya, the best part to first have is the lean cut, Akami (赤身), i.e. the red meat. There is much less distraction in flavour from the oiliness found in the more expensive fatty parts of the tuna. Provided the red meat passes muster, you can proceed to order the more expensive cuts as chances are it would be of supreme quality. What happened to me here was tragic and slightly embarrassing. The akami looked so good I forgot to take a photo and just gulped it, ending with a mixed emotion of happiness and remorse. Setting my stupidity aside, the akami was very good. It was soft and released so much flavour on each bite. It was evident that the tuna was wild as opposed to farmed. I can’t remember the last time I had such a good akami. I could hardly contain myself thinking about how the o-toro would taste! (special thanks to Fine Dining Explorer for supplying the photo).


The next course of Black Amberjack (黒カンパチ) was rather a surprise as it’s not a very common fish, at least in Japan. Given the similarity in name, texture and appearance to amberjack (kampachi), this fish has recently had to have its name changed in Japan to Sugi (スギ) due to people being tricked after thinking they bought the more expensive kampachi. Whilst a cheaper substitute, the taste is not inferior and it is much more fatty than the kampachi. I quite enjoyed it, particularly given this was my first time trying it.P1140293

Finally on to the much anticipated Aburi o-toro (炙り大トロ), the fattiest part of the tuna. After tasting the akami, I knew this was going to be something extraordinary and sure enough it was. The piece of fish was again lightly slashed and then brushed with the soy sauce concoction before being seared with a blow torch. To finish off, more soy sauce was brushed and it was ready to be devoured. It was a beautifully smoky morsel with an intense flavour that followed as the fish melted like butter in your mouth. Phenomenal.


The last of the nigiri was a marinated Mackerel (鯖), which had a sheet of thinly sliced su-konbu (seaweed marinated in vinegar). Umami, which is the savoury flavour found in konbu, is regarded as one of the five basic tastes of Japanese cuisine. The konbu gave the oily fish a meaty depth and the vinegar removed the fishiness typically found in the aftertaste. It’s a very delicate fish that requires quite a bit of skill to fillet and is one of my all time favourite fish despite it being relatively unpopular. P1140300

Last on the menu was a hoso-maki (細巻き) of Yellow tail with spring onion and shichimi (seven spices), salmon and razor clam with shiso. I particularly liked the yellow tail with the heat coming from the shichimi.

So there you go. You can actually get top quality sushi outside Japan and Takahashi-san is the living proof. But in order to get a successful sushi-ya you need some fundamental elements which most sushi-ya’s outside Japan lack. First and foremost, you need to have or rely on someone who has the skill of “mekiki” (目利き), which is the ability and knowledge to pick out good quality fish. Without good “sushi neta” (寿司ネタ), i.e. the toppings such as fish, even the most skilled itamae will struggle to make something decent. After that comes the extremely important skill in the preparation of the sushi rice (temperature and perfect balance of vinegar, sugar and salt), and its application where too much or little will affect the balance of flavour, and most importantly the right level of pressure needs to be applied; too little and the pelet falls apart, too much and it becomes hard. Then comes the matter of sourcing good quality nori, wasabi, knives and getting your homemade sauces right. Finally, you need someone with years of experience to bring all the elements together. It’s an art that requires discipline and unwavering determination, two qualities I believe Takahashi-san has and rewarded him in my opinion with the best sushi-ya in Europe. The road to perfection in the art of sushi is endless and no doubt Takahashi-san will go far as he continues to polish his skills. I can’t wait to go back!

Les Cols, Olot

P1140086Chef: Fina Puigdevall         Cuisine: Regional Catalan

Following the recent success of el Celler de Can Roca and Ferran Adria’s legendary el Bulli, Catalunya has rapidly emerged as a serious contender to the culinary Mecca of Spain, the Basque region. Having slowly worked my way through the region’s top restaurant over the past few years including el Bulli, Can Roca, Sant Pau, Compartir and Comerç 24, my attention turned to a two Michelin starred restaurant located in the capital of the volcanic region of la Garrotxa that had managed to keep a very low profile. I couldn’t find much public information nor knew anyone who had personally been there so I was slightly suspicious. However, I was yet to be let down by a bad experience from a starred restaurant in the region so I decided to bite the bullet and organised a table with a friend who writes for the Lonely Planet’s food segments. After all, Can Roca in my opinion was the best in the world when they only had two Michelin stars so what could go wrong?

P1140109The restaurant of Les Cols is located on a quiet shaded street at the edge of the city of Olot. The restaurant itself occupies the ground floor of a 13th century masia (traditional stone house) where the top two floors currently serve as the private residence of the mother of Fina Puigdevall, the head  chef. I absolutely loved the juxtaposition of modern interior decor and the rustic exterior which had been beautifully restored to retain the history and its charm. We were given a quick tour around the restaurant before being sat down at our ultra modern table. I found the chair rather cumbersome to get around but I got there in the end. Outside, I could see the resident hens roaming around enjoying the last couple of hours before the sunset. It was a lovely setting and we thought we hit the jackpot but little did we know of what was waiting for us that evening…

P1140103Alright, I appreciate that when you’re in a foreign country you can’t expect people to speak fluently in a language foreign to them. But when you’re at a two Michelin starred restaurant where half the clientele that evening consisted of English speakers, you’d expect the front of house to have rehearsed the presentation in the prevailing language, particularly when you have a simplified menu in that language. Unfortunately that was not the case here. Lucky for me I spoke a decent level of Spanish and Catalan. On the topic of other diners though, perhaps the fact that the two English couples next to our table were dressed like clowns in hippie clothes should have been the first sign of warning that evening. So sue me, but I think some effort should be made by diners if you’re going to a nice restaurant. I don’t necessarily mean a tie and suit, but tie-dyed shirts and sandals are hardly appropriate for this setting. P1140127We had two choices on the menu that evening which were a vegetarian or standard tasting menu that reflected the seasonality of this mountainous region. We naturally went with the standard tasting menu. The Garrotxa is famous for buckwheat so we were advised that they would be using it frequently throughout the menu. Fine by me as long as it tastes good.

P1140119We were offered a glass of cava from Penedes to start the evening. First up was an appetizer of Crujiente de fajol de la Garrotxa. It was essentially a crispy sheet of buckwheat from the Garrotxa which had a few slice of llonganissa, a Catalan cured sausage, hiding underneath. It was hardly anything gastronomic but one of the better courses that evening. You have been warned.

P1140122This was followed by a plate of Buckwheat blinis with Sant Pau beans on the right and Cornbread sandwich on the left which had a warm polenta filling. The sandwich, dough and beans, which had a similar consistency to porridge, had no flavour whatsoever. Maybe the chef had forgotten to season it or perhaps I was missing a point?

P1140124This was followed by a warm Buckwheat spaghetti in smoked broth which tasted of gizzards. My heart sank. This was possibly the worst start to a meal I’ve ever had. Sure, the ingredients were fresh and of good quality but I felt as if my taste buds had gone on holiday.

P1140132A trolley containing local Garrotxa bread with a choice of five local olive oils, ranging in aromas and taste. As everything so far lacked in flavour I asked for the strongest flavoured oil to compensate my palate which was rapidly losing interest in anything that was being offered. I had a feeling this was going to be one of those meals where I may need to rely on the bread for survival. Sure enough, I was right. Damn. I hate being right in these circumstances.

P1140134As I was driving that evening I could only take a limited amount of alcohol so I opted for a glass of local white and a red to match the relevant segments of the meal. First up was a white garnatxcha from the Garrotxa’s terra alta.

P1140143A slight improvement with our first course of the evening with the Wild asparagus in a charcoal tempura that was served with a beetroot romesco sauce. The tempura was not too oily but had hardly any crispiness to it. What’s more, other than the flavour of the romesco sauce there was no seasoning at all. What did they have against salt?

P1140148One of the reason why I chose this tasting menu was because of a couple of mushroom dishes that looked delicious, well at least on paper. The Wild mushroom raw & cooked had some great textures including thin and meaty mushrooms as well as crunchy croutons made from the local bread, Tortell d’Olot. But guess what? Yup, you got it right. No seasoning again.

P1140149Our night continued with further disappointment with the Fresh egg, mayonnaise and tuna. Granted, it was interesting because the tuna had been infused into the mayonnaise but the only texture in this dish was liquid. It was just sauce and runny egg, and worst of all it tasted like the tuna mayo filling from a sandwich. Yet again there was no seasoning but this course made me frustrated because the quality of their home reared hen’s egg was superb. What a waste of good ingredient again!

P1140153I was scared of trying the most anticipated dish on the menu, Morels, wild asparagus and stew sauce by this point. Things actually looked surprisingly positive initially. The creamy sauce had a bit of seasoning and depth in flavour, and the ingredients were again fresh. However, a fundamental error ruined this dish. It was gritty. The morels had not been cleaned properly. How could this happen in a two starred restaurant?P1140157Grilled peas, bacon and blood sausage. The texture of the beans were amazing and just exploded each time I took a bite. I also enjoyed the smokiness until it rather became overwhelming and one dimensional. The bacon and blood sausage hardly added any seasoning to the dish and it was screaming for some salt. P1140159Our second glass of wine was poured to go with the next segment of the meal. It was a Viladellops, Garnatxa 2012.

P1140162Rice with squids. Slightly sloppy presentation on a plate and probably would have been better served in a bowl. It was very again one dimensional where the seafood jus dominated the palate and the aioli was utterly lost.

P1140164My friend’s favourite course of the evening was the Salt cod brandade served with white grapes and spinach. The texture was very interesting again as the cod brandade had been salted and reformed to resemble a fillet. We finally had some seasoning but this time it was just too much. I had to wash this down with a couple of glasses of water and half my glass of red wine.P1140171Thank god it was the final segment of the savory courses. Duck, salsifies, pear and smashed biscuit. Duck and pear is a tried and tested combination that is difficult to fail but they somehow managed to screw that up as well. This dish was offensive in that the pear and biscuits were far too sweet and belonged in a dessert. The only decent thing was the texture of the duck. It was pretty clear by now that this restaurant was all about ingredients and texture, neglecting the most important thing called flavour.P1140172Three hours into our meal and it became clear that there were other significant issues as well. For one, my friend had to refuse her glass of wine and water being topped up countless times. No one in the front of house communicated with each other and it became rather irritating. If it was any consolation, at least the dozens of mosquitoes in the dining room were having a great time at our expense as we were scratching ourselves all night. We decided to rush through the rest of the meal starting with the Catalan cheeses. At least they had my favourite regional goat’s cheese, the Petit Nevat.P1140178We were slightly relieved in that we thought having taken salt out of the equation, dessert would have been much better starting with the Strawberries and rouleau de crème. Our relief was short lived. It was just strawberries and cream. Surely you can’t serve something like this in a fine dining establishment!P1140181Iced cottage cheese, creme caramel and basil. This was the best dish tonight. I loved the basil flavoured milky sorbet that cut through the cottage cheese. The creme caramel added a subtle sweetness keeping this a very refreshing course. I did think this could have worked better straight after the cheese course though.

P1140185Frozen cake, preserved fruits and burnt egg yolk. A rather uninspired finale that tasted like something that had been pre-made in a package. A dull ending to an extremely disappointing meal.

P1140187Crusty sugar bread and dark chocolate was served as petit fours although I didn’t want to stay here any longer and even skipped my coffee. The staff encouraged us to have a coffee and a tour of the kitchen but I refused politely. I wanted to get out. Fast.P1140104Needless to say, this was a terribly underwhelming meal. I’m not sure if other people around us were enjoying it but you certainly didn’t get the “oh’s” and “ah’s” from any table when the courses were being presented. The food was not only lacking in flavour but also imagination and depth. Granted, the quality of the ingredient was good and the textures were interesting but it felt tired and I couldn’t sense any passion from the front of house working there. For one, the Maitre’D looked like he was just dragging himself around the dining room utterly lifeless. My friend was much less critical saying she would come back just for the architecture but I thought 240 euros for two people with hardly any wine was absurd. This place has so much potential and the location is magnificent, even if a bit isolated. However, there are fundamental errors that cannot be forgiven and nothing makes me angrier than ruining good produce and ingredients. If you want to let the ingredient shine then treat it with respect and draw the qualities out.

Mas Pou, Palau Sator

P1140192Chef: David Dausa   Website:  Cuisine: Catalan

Mas Pou opened in 1986 in the heart of the sleepy town of Palau Sator and has remained a well kept secret amongst the regulars, locals and expats alike. Despite it’s proximity to Girona, reachable within only 20 mins drive from currently the best restaurant in the world, Mas Pou has remained under the radar serving traditional Catalan food affordable price typically coming in under 40 euros a head including wine. The restaurant is housed in an old traditional Catalan farmhouse which had been lovingly restored by the family who run the place. Evidenced by their success, they’ve even managed to open a museum next door and more recently a few self-serviced accommodations to rent out.


As a patron of the restaurant for the past 15 years, the most impressive thing I’ve found with this restaurant has been the consistency with the quality of the dishes over the years. It is for this reason that I have found myself returning over and over again each time I visit my parents who live nearby in the town of L’Escala. Weather permitted, we typically start with an aperitif in the garden and then slowly make our way into the restaurant, lead by Paco who has been with the restaurant for as long as I could remember.


It’s difficult to choose the starter so as a rule I always go for their “pica pica” selection which gives you a chance to nibble (picar) a variety of Catalan dishes in smaller portions. Saying that, I  personally find the portions to be too big so always order for the number of people at the table minus one headcount. For the linguistically challenged, fear not for they have menus in English, French and even German.


Once our order was taken we were served with a bowl of quail eggs.P1140213

Rather than the usual house red, we opted for something a bit more special as this was my farewell meal with my parents before I moved out to Melbourne permanently. We therefore went with Paco’s recommendation of the Orto, Montsant, 2011 after I asked him to choose one for us from the Priorat region. It was a lovely young crianza, priced really well at just over 20 euros a bottle.


Some Pan tumaca (coca bread with tomato) to go with the meal. Paco brought out some fine extra virgin olive oil from the region to drizzle all over the bread. Simple, yet so good.


It wasn’t long before our starters began arriving at our table. This was my favourite segment of the meal and I could not wait to get stuck in. First up was a Goose liver pâté accompanied with some toast.


A plate of Jamón de Pato (duck ham) which had a good fat-to-meat ratio. Certainly went down like a treat with the red wine.


A simple Goats Cheese and quince jam salad topped with pine nuts and crushed walnuts.


A very refreshing Esqueixada, a traditional Catalan dish. It’s basically a salad of raw shredded salt cod, tomatoes, onions, red and green bell peppers and olives, dressed in olive oil, vinegar and salt. The cod is salted raw and shredded by hand to ensure a good texture.


An Omlette terrine, or essentially a vegetable tortilla, which contained egg, tomato, spinach, caramelised onion, zucchini and potato. It was creamy and delicious, falling apart in your mouth.


We were running out of space as more food kept on arriving on our table. Next up was an Escalivada with anchovies, another traditional Catalan dish made by grilling bell peppers, onions and eggplants until it was burnt outside and soft inside. The charred skin would then be removed and the inside cut up into slithers with garlic, salt and olive oil. In this case it was served on coca bread with a fillet of the best anchovies of Spain from L’Escala. I may be biased but think there’s some truth to that claim, although some of the anchovies I had in the Basque region were delicious too.


A small portion of snails to share. I prefer the Catalan snails to the French ones as they are much smaller and less meatier, but packed with flavour. It was served with…


… a generous amount of home made aioli and tomato sauce. I love their aioli so much I use it each time as a spread over the remaining coca bread. This time was no exception.


The last item from the pica pica which was a plate of Cod and minced meat croquettes. The cod croquette has always been my favourite. Juicy, fresh and not too oily on the batter.


I never learn from my mistakes as my eyes are bigger than my stomach and always end up ordering an equally huge main course. In this case I went for their 500g Rib-eye steak that had been cooked on a charcoal grill. It had a beautiful smokiness to it, perfect amount of seasoning and cooked exactly the way I like my rib-eye; medium-rare. Suffice to say, I left the chips and garnishes untouched. I was stuffed, but very happy.


And of course there was always room for dessert, especially their Cinnamon ice cream and strawberries dusted with more cinnamon powder on top. A very light course to finish a very filling but superb meal. What an improvement from my disastrous meal the night before at Les Cols.


Some post meal entertainment with a Porrón de moscatel never goes amiss. It’s nothing fancy but a social way of consuming moscatel or your sweet wine of choice using a porrón, a traditional Catalan glass wine pitcher which resembles a cross between a wine bottle and a watering can. To drink from a porrón you basically need to start by bringing the spout close to your mouth and tilt it forward, gradually pointing the beak towards the mouth until the liquid stars pouring out in a fine and steady flow. You then slowly pull the porrón away as far as you can whilst maintaining a steady flow into your mouth, bringing it back to the mouth as you finish. It’s pretty fun watching beginners getting the wine all over their face.P1140263Nothing better than some Marc de Champagne as digestif in a cold shot glass to finish the meal.

P1140198Mas Pou is a place that I could return to over and over again. Their produce is fresh, the dishes are truly Catalan and could not get any more authentic in taste. It’s rustic, not fussy and really good value for what you get. Having had a property in the region for the last 30 years, I can honestly say that I can count in one hand all the places which have stood the test of time and maintained a consistently high standard of cooking. They are one of them. I would confidently say that such a high quality authentic Catalan restaurant is almost impossible to find in the bigger cities like Barcelona or Girona. In my honest opinion this is worth the trip if you are really after something traditional rather than fine dining, although you’d also be spoilt for fine dining choices when you have restaurants like Can Roca and Sant Pau nearby. One word of warning though, reservations are highly recommended for weekend meals as it gets ridiculously busy. Sadly for me it will be a while before I get to return here again as it is a bit far from Melbourne.

Lung King Heen, Hong Kong

P1130059Chef: Chan Yan-Tak  Website:  Cuisine: Cantonese

On my latest fine dining trip to Hong Kong I wanted to squeeze in a good yam cha (dim sum) session but had very limited time. I also wanted to squeeze in another fine dining meal so I thought why not combine the two and go for a starred yam cha meal since there were a few around? Naturally, I couldn’t resist the opportunity of trying Hong Kong’s only three michelin starred yam cha restaurant, which also had featured on the inaugural San Pellegrino Asia’s 50 Best Restaurant list coming in at a respectable 13th place. Coincidentally, the Four Seasons Hotel which houses the restaurant is also home to another three starred French restaurant, Le Caprice, but I couldn’t quite fit it in my schedule this time around. Perhaps next time.

P1130061The name Lung King Heen which means “view of the dragon”, is befitting for the panoramic view of the Victoria harbour, although I must admit there are better views in Hong Kong. Nevertheless, at under £30 a person for a meal, albeit not the tasting menu, I did wonder whether the food would do the view justice as I could not envisage how yam cha could be elevated to a three Michelin star standard. Given the hype and media coverage including San Pellegrino, I was convinced that there had to be something amazing about this restaurant so I made a reservation for two in hope for a divine meal that would satisfy my yam cha craving. My verdict on the restaurant you ask? You’ll have to read on…

P1130065We were initially offered a choice of tea, juice or water to start. For some reason I have a habit of only drinking jasmine tea so we opted for that. I find that tea in yam cha establishments can sometimes be overlooked so it was good to see them offering us a variation in strength. In addition to the familiar dishes, we opted for a couple of suggestions made by our waitress.

P1130074First up was the most expensive dish of the meal and one which they suggested – Steamed rice rolls with lobster in fermented bean sauce (cheung fun). I’m quite picky about rice rolls and there’s a lot of skill required to make a good one. It need to be fresh, thin yet tender, and it needs to have a mild sweetness on its own. The “garnishes”, in this case the lobster, and the sauce needs to complement the roll but not distract it. Suffice to say, the roll was very good here but I found the lobster almost non-existent other than providing only a textural element and the black bean sauce overpowered the dish. What a shame!

P1130076Much better from the next dish of Baked barbecued pork buns with pine nuts. In absence of my most favourite dish to my disappointment which is the steamed variation (char siu pau), we were glad to have chosen this dish. The bun had a lovely fluffed up butter crust on top and was slightly sweet, enhancing the flavour of the moist pork, which was of superior quality. I particularly liked the slight crunch from the vegetable inside and it showed the chef’s attention and respect to each ingredient.

P1130087We couldn’t have yam cha without the classic Steamed shrimp dumpling with asparagus (har gow), which again contained a very fresh and flavoursome prawn inside with chopped asparagus sprinkled on top. As expected, the prawn came in it’s entirety retaining a lot of the delicate juice and flavour, contrary to many yam cha places which serve them chopped up and the flavour lost. A simple dish but well executed.

P1130080Another classic dish of a rather giant Steamed shrimp and pork dumplings with conpoy (shiu mai). This dish is a difficult one to rate because I personally think it all depends on each individual’s preference. I prefer mine to have a higher prawn-to-pork ratio but quite often I find the pork flavour to be dominant. It wasn’t the case here and I rather enjoyed this simple dish.

P1130092I took a particular liking for the next course during my trip in China in 2011 so I was looking forward to the Steamed Shanghainese pork dumplings with scallops (Xiao long bao). The chef clearly thought about serving this dish in the easiest manner using the little wooden rack. What a great idea! This way I did not risk losing the all important soup. However, the skin was unfortunately thicker than the translucent ones I had in Shanghai. The addition of the scallop was a novelty for me as I never across this variation in China but I must admit that the soup inside was a tad too cold for my liking and the dish overall was disappointing.

P1130101Another recommendation by the waitress of the Crispy spring rolls with assorted seafood which had a lovely golden-brown crispy pastry with a distinct texture and flavour of fresh prawn again. I thought the contrast of juicy prawns and crispy pastry was executed perfectly, and if there was one thing about this place the ingredients were really fresh and of high quality. But after all, it was simply just a spring roll?

P1130097We were still quite peckish so opted for two additional dishes. The first one was the Baked roast goose puffs with chestnut in X.O chilli sauce. I didn’t particularly like this dish as my palate was dominated by the sweet chestnut rather than the roast goose. Admittedly, I can’t remember ever seeing chestnut in a yam cha course?

P1130105Last course of the meal was Steamed chicken dumplings with mushrooms and parsley.The nuttiness really came through and the chicken was again surprisingly moist and the vegetable fresh and crunchy. Not a bad dish to finish off on.

P1130110We had some petit fours which again were not something to get excited over. The chef came out towards the end of the meal but only to greet one person who was sitting two tables away and using flash photography for each course.  P1130067So my verdict? I think we need to put things into context. Yes, the ingredients and produce incorporated in the dishes were fresh and better than the average yam cha restaurant. The ambiance inside was relaxing, although the crowded noisy ones on the busy streets of Hong Kong are charming in their own right. But was this restaurant truly a three michelin starred restaurant? If you take Michelin’s definition of three stars which is “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey,” then I think this place fails dramatically on all front. The service was decent but not spectacular. It took us 20 minutes to get attention to pay our bill. The view was great but I’ve had better in Hong Kong who don’t even have two stars. I have on many occasions flown out on special journies for the sole purpose of dining, and frequently been able to justify the effort on the back of just one extraordinary meal like at Oaxen Krog or on the rarer occasions just one dish like the Herefordshire steak at Ledoyen. It was clearly not the case here and I was glad this was not my primary purpose of visit to Hong Kong. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy the meal, especially given the price, but this restaurant simply does not pass muster nor live up to the hype.