Monthly Archives: October 2015

Seto (瀬戸), Kyoto

FullSizeRender-2Chef: Ms. Seto    Website:    Cuisine: Chicken

Of all the restaurants I have ever visited in Japan, and the world for this matter, I never expected a restaurant specialising in chicken to have left the most profound dining memory to date. It was a stroke of genius and luck when my friend Waswate suggested adding a one Michelin starred restaurant, Seto, on to our itinerary in Kyoto. As we had already a few three and two starred meals booked, I thought it would be good to get some diversity in the cuisine. In other words, why not? Getting the booking wasn’t too hard as all I needed to do was call the restaurant, but getting to the restaurant was a different challenge. To get to Ichihara station one needed to get to the privately operated Eizan railway line which starts from Demachiyanagi, the last northeastern stop on the main lines of Kyoto’s metropolitan area. It was a good idea to have given ourselves ample time to get there.

FullSizeRender-32The walk from the station to the restaurant was a brief ten minutes without complication. As we approached the restaurant we could see someone waiting by the entrance. That person was in fact the proprietress, Seto-san, who always receives her guests at the front gate. I had booked the table in my native Japanese but as we approached I could see she was looking a little anxious. As I began conversing in Japanese she regained her composure, a sigh of relief could be heard as she explained that the only English speaking person had already been dismissed for the day and we were the only diners for that evening. The only ones? Hmmmm…

FullSizeRender-1As Seto-san guided us through her cozy farmhouse things started making more sense. She in fact had only three private dining rooms available, two as part of the main building and one which was a detached stand alone dining space. To our delight she had prepared the detached room for our meal. As we made ourselves comfortable she continued giving us some background and history behind the restaurant. She had moved here over fifty years ago to be with her now deceased husband and to manage a small plot of land to rear chicken and grow vegetables. They had decided over thirty years ago to start serving the fresh produce and chicken themselves instead of selling them on. Since her husband past away she had managed the restaurant alone with the help of a small team of three.FullSizeRender-3Seto-san explained that she had entertained many celebrities and politicians throughout the years but this was the first time she felt so nervous, though not in a bad way she added. She just never imagined conversing in fluent Japanese with a foreign looking (albeit half-Japanese) person. I was glad to have been able to converse in Japanese for I think my memory and experience here would not have been the same had we been served by someone else (Hint: if you do ever get the opportunity to come up, do come with a Japanese speaking person if possible).

FullSizeRender-26Seto-san didn’t waste a single minute to attend to everything despite being immersed in a full conversation. She took our order for a nice cold beer and made the final preparation for the dinner. As we waited for her to come back with our beers, we took a moment to soak in everything. The glowing coal in the Irori (囲炉裏) or fireplace, the orchestrated sound of the insects gently humming away outside and the lovely old smell of the tatami and surrounding. I couldn’t believe where we were. It was so peaceful and soul cleansing.

FullSizeRender-28 The appetisers consisted of three dishes which were pickled perilla leaves or shiso no mi (紫蘇の葉) with chicken tail, a salad made entirely from home grown produce with tofu, and some aubergine that had been soft boiled in bonito stock (nasu no nibitashi – 茄子の煮浸し).

FullSizeRender-31I couldn’t help commenting on how flavoursome the produce was. Seto-san explained that they did not need a fridge at Seto because everything they served was always picked and slaughtered that day. She explained that the reason why people had to book in advance and why only a maximum of two bookings per sitting was because they were dependent on the number of chicken they have on their farm. Talk about vertical supply chain management. This level of dedication around sourcing was new territory for me.

FullSizeRender-27The choice of spice recommended to go with the first preparation of chicken were rock salt, black pepper and kuro sansho (黒山椒), which is also known as black / ripe sichuan pepper.

FullSizeRender-24The first preparation of chicken involved grilling each part over coal as a sumibiyaki (炭火焼き). Seto-san began by serving unbelievably succulent grilled chicken feet followed by the breast, tenderloin, neck, kidney, liver, thigh, wing and back in this order. The kidney was crunchy and the tenderloin very juicy but the liver was in its own class.

FullSizeRender-23Given the chicken had not been slaughtered till an hour before our meal, the liver was fresh and not too dissimilar to some of the best foie gras I’ve ever tasted in France; rich and creamy. This was unbelievable. Seto-san explained that they only had akadori (赤鶏) or red feathered chickens on their farm which are renown for their flavour.

FullSizeRender-13As we finished up our first half of the chicken, I was still ranting on about the freshness of the produce. Seto-san’s eyes lit up and she dashed off saying she would be back immediately. She  returned around five minutes later with a few funny looking prickly cucumbers. Seto-san had gone to the farm to dig them up, in the dark, just for us. We ate them, as per her recommendation, with only some salt and could not believe how delicious and juicy the cucumbers were. She kindly offered me a few to take home but alas I would have struggle to get them through Australian custom so I had to reluctantly decline her generous offer. Admittedly I did make up for it by eating quite a few…

FullSizeRender-15The second half of the chicken was prepared in a hot pot as a sukiyaki. Seto-san brought over a pot containing all the typical vegetables you’d expect in a hot pot, naturally all sourced from her own farm. In the nabe you could see shiitake and enoki mushrooms, spring onion, noodles, tofu and all parts of the chicken including the skin. FullSizeRender-20She then cracked us a fresh egg from her farm to each of our bowls to eat with the content of the hot pot and…

FullSizeRender-14… began by serving each of us what she described as ‘an egg that’s just about to hatch’. It had an unbelievably creamy texture and flavour. Seto-san claimed the egg would have been ready the following day.

FullSizeRender-10We were then left to our own devices to pick and choose what we fancied. I honestly could not tell what the star of the dish was. Whilst acknowledging that the quality of the chicken was superb, the vegetables were definitely also pulling their weight to make this the best nabe I have ever tried. Seto-san came back to serve us the remaining vegetable and meat before dashing off again to prepare the last savoury dish to complete the chicken trifecta.

FullSizeRender-7The last installment was the Zosui (雑炊), otherwise known as a Japanese rice soup made with pre-cooked rice. Unlike most zosui which use the leftover soup from the nabe, this one had been made from chicken stock that had been reduced over hours of cooking. Whilst a very simple dish, the success of this dish was based on the underlying soup and suffice to say this was very special.

FullSizeRender-6 The fruits for dessert were nothing special although we were very full by this point and welcomed the light refreshing dish.

FullSizeRender-5Our meal at Seto ended ever so abruptly as we had to catch one of the last trains back to the city and they seldom came by late at night. However, the two brief hours there that night left a far more profound impression and memory than any other fine dining experience. The meal at Seto was personable, humble and nothing like anything I’ve ever experienced. The fact that this meal cost each of us just over 8,000 yen was unbelievable, particularly given there was only one sitting that evening. As we slowly made our way to the station, all we could see in the darkness was Ms Seto by the entrance bowing. ‘Come back with your wife and baby’ she yells. You don’t have to worry about that, ‘I definitely will’ I shouted back…

Lûmé, Melbourne

P1170475Chef: Shaun Quade & John P. Fiechtner    Website:   Cuisine: Modern Australian

Amidst all the excitement and hullabaloo that surrounded the Fat Duck’s short stint in Melbourne, it wasn’t until they closed their curtain in August that I realised that a team of three talented individuals were quietly embarking on establishing a world class restaurant in South Melbourne! Ambitious you may say, but their credentials speak for themselves. Collectively they’ve worked across a number of top fine dining establishments like Bo Innovation, Chateaubriand and Royal Mail.  They looked pretty serious on paper, so naturally I had to put it to test. After all, how many restaurants in Australia can boast a generous and constant supply of wine from AP Birk’s Wendouree Wine cellar?

P1170388The history of the premises is rich and colourful. It used to be a bordello before the Bohemia Cabaret Club and, I believe, an Indian restaurant moved in at the same time. There has certainly been a big transformation. From the street however it is still very unassuming and one would be forgiven for walking past it without batting an eye lid. The interior of the restaurant is a whole different story with a relaxed but stylish designer feel. The atrium space they created at the back of the restaurant was a wonderful surprise. Covered with a retractable glass roof, it was a well of beautiful light, with green vertical walls creating a peaceful oasis. I normally like sitting in front of the kitchen and the pass, but given the glorious weather we had on Grand Final weekend, I was very happy to be soaking up the sunlight for the four hour experience we embarked on.

P1170389 The choice was pretty simple. The formal end of the dining room at the back only served one tasting menu consisting of 15 courses, with an option to match each course with a splash of alcoholic beverage cleverly chosen by Sommelier Sally Humble. I opted for the full matching option, particularly after I was advised the beverage options were diverse and not only confined to wine.

We were initially worried as this was our first fine dining experience in Australia with our 10 month old daughter but the staff were ever so accommodating (this was a nice change from Vue de Monde, who had previously flatly refused to accept a friends very food literate 8 month old daughter!!). We did promise them that she was well versed in fine dining. After all, she had already survived a number of Michelin starred meals in France!

P1170397 First course – Warm buttered dough with a burnt and sour crust. The texture was quite similar to that of a brioche; fluffy, moist and pleasant. However, I felt the flavour was one-dimensional despite the burnt and sour crust purée, and it could have benefited from a stronger contrasting flavour to the dough.

P1170398A splash of NV Larmandier-Bernier ‘Latitude’, Blanc de blanc, Vertus, France to accompany the first course. P1170399 Second Course – Rare roasted quince with notes of chamomile and honey, duck liver and nasturtiums served with Georg Breuer Auselese Riesling, Rheingau, 2013. This was a rather deceiving dish as the juicy looking slices of duck liver turned out to be roasted quince. It had been cooked in butter and sage, and was served with a a very rich duck liver parfait, dollops of honey and chamomile. I thought it was a very clever use of texture and flavours.

P1170406A glass of Maidenii ‘classic’ to go with the next course. We were told that the Maidenii Vermouth was a collaboration between French wine maker Gilles Lapalus and Australian bartender Shaun Byrne. It was what they thought was the ‘perfect’ vermouth. It was certainly not bad at all… although I’m not a big vermouth drinker so I am probably not the best person to judge!P1170409 Third Course – Native bird dressed with white soy and hibiscus. The bird of choice here was an emu that had been air dried, cured in sour cherry and hung for six weeks. It was dusted with a sweet white miso powder, tangy hibiscus drops and chewy dried native berries. One thing I would have appreciated here was a wet towel afterwards, as it was nigh on impossible to avoid having sticky fingers!

P1170413Fourth Course – Pearl on the ocean floor paired with a Uehara Shuzō ‘Soma no Tengu’ 2012, Usunigori (shaken to serve). This was a mouthful of the ocean and I mean that in a good way. The little cold ball was recommended to be consumed first to clean the palate and enjoy the flavour of the oyster which was hidden underneath the sea lettuce and other succulents. The glass of sake was ever so perfect to wash the salty flavour down.P1170420 Fifth course – Scallop dressed with Jamon, dashi, honeydew and roe served with Naka Shuzo ‘Asahi Wakamatsu’ 2008, Tokushima, Japan. Another delicious dish, and one of my favourites of the day, again with flavours of the ocean, drawing out the umami with the jamon, dashi and roe. The honeydew was texturally pleasant but perhaps the sweetness of the scallop was slightly overshadowed by the natural fructose. The jamon and scallop was a classic match made in heaven.

P1170425Sixth course – Saltbush lamb perfumed with cherry wood ash, macadamia cream and rhubarb paired with a 2012 Passopisciaro, Nerello Mascalese, Terre Siciliane, Sicily. This was another one of my favourite course. The lamb was perfectly executed, with a just a hint of smokiness, and was served on a creamy bed of macadamia purée. The slightly tart rhubarb cut through the rich and salty lamb well.P1170428Seventh course – Jerusalem artichoke, La Sirene Parline and quince peelings paired with a Maidenii ‘dry’. I appreciated the jerusalem artichoke was cooked in a salt crust. However, despite best efforts to follow the instruction to not eat the salt crust, I did find the course just a bit too salty for my liking. I did however enjoy the texture which was not too dissimilar from a baked potato; soft and creamy.P1170435 Eighth course – Sea corn and dairy cow paired with 2014 Sentio, Beechworth Chardonnay, Beechworth, Australia. Possibly another contender as the best dish of the meal and yet another visual trick. The ‘baby corn’ on the plate was actually crab that had been skillfully converted into a custard that was set in a baby corn mould. What appeared to be crab meat was actually salted cow udder that had been shredded and blowtorched. In fact the only true corn element on this dish was the crunchy fried corn silk. That’s right, even the crisp on top was made from polenta, not corn, though it tasted like corn. Whilst this may sound all gimmicky, trust me the flavours and textures really worked.

P1170439 Ninth course – Raw barbequed prawn paired with Holgate Road Trip IPA, Wood End, Victoria, Australia. I was settling down my daughter to sleep at this stage and missed out on the introduction to the course as we explored the internal vertical herb garden, so many apologies for my lack of detail. What I did however enjoy was the marriage of the sweet raw prawn and the cold malt like granita that went down ever so well with the hoppy beer.

P1170442 Tenth course – Hen cooked in chamomile, acidulated wild violets and salted yolk paired with Nakano ‘BC Chokyu’ 1999 Koshu, Aichi, Japan. Possibly the best chicken course I’ve had in Australia, cooked sous-vide in chamomile and served with a caramel-like salt cured yolk that just melted on the tongue. I’m still not decided on the pennyroyal juice as it had a hint of medicinal after taste but it didn’t distract the dish itself. Simple but perfectly executed.

P1170451 Eleventh course – Cauliflower cheese with a pastry smoked over pear wood paired with 2013 Heidenboden White, Claus Preisinger, Burgenland, Austria. One last illusory trick with what looked like a convincing washed-rind cheese turning out to be a rich cauliflower purée with parmesan oil served with a croissant. I liked the concept but did think the portion could have been smaller as I was over the cauliflower flavour as I scooped the last morsel on the croissant. The croissant was beautifully buttery and a delight to eat.

P1170456 Twelfth course – Lambs blood ganache rolled in maple oats, native apple jam and riberry pepper paired with Custard & Co. Barrel Cider liquor 13 years old, Donnybrook, Western Australia. Come again? Yes that’s right, lamb’s blood. Nothing was out of bound and I liked the fact that the chefs were happy to push the culinary boundary here. The dish represented a transition from the savoury to sweet courses, where black pudding met apple crumble. I thought the textures were pleasant from the crunchy maple oats to the candied apples.

P1170460Thirteenth course – Liquorice, violence and lime. A very pleasant palate cleanser and despite not being the biggest fan of liquorice I thought it worked well. The liquorice flavour was ever so light and the refreshing note of lime was key here.P1170465 Fourteenth course – Jerusalem artichoke, La Sirene Praline and quince peelings paired with a local stout brewed with vanilla, hazelnuts and Mexican cacao charged with a splash of Romate Iberia Cream Sherry, Jerez, Spain. This was a very brave dish as the penultimate course… and I absolutely loved it. The ice cream was made from a local stout brewed with vanilla pods, hazel nuts and cacao nibs. It was gooey, rich and a novel flavour combination.

P1170470Fifteenth course – Cacao pod from Maralumi with notes of tobacco, green banana and currants paired with 2014 Simão & Co, Alpine Valley, Victoria, Australia. Our waiter proceeded to assemble the last course by placing what appeared to be vanilla beans, ice cream and a large cocoa pod made of chocolate on the plate in front of us. P1170473The chocolate pod was smashed to reveal several goodies including currant jellies, tobacco wizz fizz, orange crema catalana and Granny Smith apples compressed in strawberry syrup and absinthe. The “vanilla pod” underneath was my favourite item as it was actually vanilla poached rhubarb juxtaposing tart and sweet flavours as you chewed it. The whole dish was quite a show stopper.

It would be premature for me to say that Lûmé will become a culinary destination but it certainly shows great promise. The chefs are talented and their creative dishes do not compromise on flavour. What’s more, the price is very reasonable compared to other fine dining establishments in Melbourne producing similar caliber dishes. The staff are equally knowledgeable and enthusiastic as the front of house at Attica. Only time will tell if they can continue on this trajectory. I for one am glad they are only ten minutes away from my new home.