Tag Archives: San Pellegrino

Eleven Madison Park, New York

P1180820Chef: Daniel Humm   Website: www.elevenmadisonpark.com  Cuisine: Modern American

My recent business trip to New York was the first time in almost two years that I had been away from my wife and daughter for a prolonged period. It was a rather unnerving experience being away from my eighteen month old daughter, but it was also a rare moment where I could indulge in a few days of fine dining. After all, there was no point in being miserable when you had so many fine dining establishments at your footstep was there? The difficulty was choosing which ones to go to. I had three meal slots free so I had to choose wisely. The first one was a no brainer for me. Daniel Humm’s Eleven Madison Park had consistently maintained the title of Best Restaurant in North America for three years on San Pellegrino’s list and was recently voted as the Chef’s choice. What’s more, Chef Humm was from my native country of Switzerland. Surely I had to support my countryman.

P1180823At USD 295 a tasting menu, Eleven Madison Park doesn’t come cheap but then again they’ve done away with the US customary act of tipping, stating publicly that it is neither expected or accepted. With soaring ceilings, marble floors and natural light flooding in from the massive windows overlooking Madison Square Park, the dining room is anything but modest and, whilst the front of house was slick, observant and professional, they could not have been more hospitable and personable. After spending a few days alone in Washington before arriving in New York, the friendly banters and chats were exactly what I needed to recharge my battery. More importantly, my stomach had not been coping with the high fructose American diet so I was eager to tuck into something more agreeable.

P1180829 The wine list was dominated by the old world and to be very precise, France. I was a bit disappointed that I was not be able to match my meal with a selection of American wines as I was hoping to explore the USA through the sommeliers eyes. Nevertheless, I opted to start my meal with a glass of their mineral driven Suenen, Blanc de blanc, Extra Brut, Cramant.

P1180828Amuse Bouche: Black and White savory cookie with apple and cheddar

P1180831 The box contained a modern twist on the classic New York snack, traditionally consisting of a vanilla and chocolate fondant. Not having ever tried the classic cookie, Chef Humm’s homage to the city that adopted him was perhaps lost at little in its meaning on me, but it was a nice little introduction to whet my appetite.

P1180833 Just as soon as my empty box was taken away another staff member brought over a hexagonal tower to my table. They then disassembled it to reveal an array of amuse bouche that were hiding underneath.

P1180834 Amuse Bouche 2: Wellfleet oyster with caviar. This was the only disappointing dish of the evening. I was rather looking forward to tasting the local oysters but sadly the all important natural flavour of the oyster was completely lost.

P1180836Amuse Bouche 3: Morel with rye crisp which had a good sharpness and acidity from the vinegar that cut right through the mushroom. Lovely textural contrast of the rye crisp against the slithery morel disc. This was more like it.P1180837Amuse Bouche 4: Fava bean croquette served with mustard grains. Good introduction of a warm element in the amuse bouche series and the distinct flavour of mustard was surprisingly pleasant. P1180840Amuse Bouche 5: Whitefish salad which consisted of a sturgeon mousse hiding underneath a layer of trout roe. To the left above was a mixture of crispy fish flakes and herbs. I was advised to take the radish and sugar snap and dip into the two containers. The smokey mousse and trout roe were divine, but so were the crispy fish flakes. I did not hesitate, polishing this up using the spoon despite having run out of vegetables to dip into. It was heavenly.

P1180841 Course 1: Caviar, Benedict with spring onion and ham. A modern take and homage by the Swiss chef on the classic New York dish of egg’s benedict, served in a geometric patterned tin box that mirrored the dining room’s art deco design.

P1180842It was essentially poached quail egg, bacon gelée, corn and smoked ham, topped with corn liquor reduction jelly (which resembled the Hollandaise sauce) and a generous portion of Petrossian caviar. It was served with…

P1180844… some homemade English muffins which were pleasant. I know it may sound rather crazy but despite even the generous amount of black caviar this dish just didn’t do it for me. Sure it was rather decadent but I found there were too many components that, in combination, amalgamated to a non-distinct flavour that was salty and rich. I personally felt the chef could have simplified this dish a bit more to draw out some individual flavours that tasted delicious individually.

P1180850A handful of individuals were whisked away during the course of their meal that afternoon to explore the kitchen and I was fortunately one of them. The Chef de Cuisine Chris Flint stopped momentarily to welcome me before going back to the running the pass. My guide from the front of house then immediately drew my attention to the Miles Davis print and words of inspiration that had been framed up. He continued to explain that Chef Daniel Humm had decided to answer one of his critics for the lack of ‘Miles Davis’ by quite literally bringing him into the kitchen. And who says the Swiss don’t have a great sense of humour? Or perhaps he wasn’t joking!

P1180845Before being led out of the kitchen I had one last surprise which was a palate cleanser. One of the chefs came out with a block of ice and started shaving it using an antique ice shaver they found in the Bronx.

P1180849Palate cleanser: Snow cone with rhubarb and gin concoction that was pleasant and refreshing. A flavour combination I wouldn’t have thought of but worked rather well. I felt like a kid just for that moment and it took me back to the hot Japanese summers of my childhood.

P1180855Soon after being escorted back to my table I was presented with some home cultured butter with shaved cheese and salt from Rhode Island to go with…

P1180856… an organic bread made with half white and half whole wheat flour, which had a lovely texture not dissimilar to a good croissant that flaked as you bit into it. I ended up asking for two more serves because it was that good. There’s a lot to be said about good home made bread.

P1180857Course 2: Foie gras served with sorrel and fava beans. The locally sourced foie gras was perfectly seared and sandwiched between a bed of fava beans and a layer of meyer lemon marmalade, amaranth marmalade and sorrel leaf on top. To the side was a delectable smoked wood sorrel sauce that brought the dish together. Each component added value, from the peppery note of the amaranth to the smokiness of the sorrel sauce. Who would have thought of putting all these ingredients together? This dish was not only delicious but also different. It was one of my favourite dishes without a doubt during this service, and in my top three foie gras dishes.P1180860As I wasn’t after getting each course matched with a glass of wine, I asked the sommelier for a recommendation to go with the first few dishes including the foie gras. I was poured a glass of a 2014 Samuel Billaud, Les Fourneaux, Premier Cru, Chablis, France.

P1180861Course 3: Lobster butter-poached with morels and peas. The butter poached lobster from Maine was juicy and married ever so well with the porcini infused mashed potato ring and the slight hint of sweetness of the peas. I particularly enjoyed the textural crunch of the crumbed sweetbread that had soaked up the lobster bisque. P1180864Prior to the next dish being presented, the sommelier had suggested moving on to the Syrah although he noted the chablis was equally adequate to match the next course. I obliged but the Syrah was forgotten, only for the sommelier to cover up the mistake by advising me afterwards that he thought, after all, the chablis was better suited. To be honest, we’re all human so a simple sorry would have been sufficient (and preferred). Moving swiftly on to the next course, there was some theatre by way of a table side gas stove. Inspired by the ‘Poulet de Bresse en vessie’ from Paul Bocuse, this dish similarly cooked the main ingredient of the next course in pig’s bladder to keep the content moist whilst basting it.

P1180867Course 4: Asparagus braised with potato and black truffle – The inflated pig’s bladder was cut open, revealing two moist and tender asparagus sourced locally from Hudson Bay. It was dressed with a deliciously rich pork and Perigord black truffle jus and a dollop of more black truffle purée. The jus and asparagus in my view were the stars of this dish and I perhaps could have done with a bit more purée to mop up the jus. P1180872As a precursor to the next dish, a rich and sticky duck broth was served in a beautiful tea cup. It had a remarkable depth to the flavour which no doubt was a result of hours of reducing.

P1180873My glass of the Domaine Monier Perréol, Saint-Joseph, Rhône Valley, France 2013 was finally poured to match the next course.

P1180874Course 5: Duck, honey and lavender glazed with spring onion and rhubarb – The dry aged duck breast from Ithaca was coated in Sichuan pepper, lavendar, coriander and cumin before being whole roasted and subsequently served with some citrus jus. The spice mixture was very balanced and the all important bird tender, but not chewy. Another thumbs up.P1180877Side dish 1: Two side dishes accompanied the duck course starting with the morel custard with spring garlic which had a great earthy flavour and…P1180880 Side dish 2: Some new potatoes variations with flowers. The new potatoes were served in its entirety and as thin shavings of crisps.P1180884Course 8: Nancy’s Hudson Valley Camembert with rhubarb, sorrel and green garlic A few ordinary looking bread rolls were presented but they turned out to be stuffed with camembert. They were served with…P1180883…  a rhubarb purée and a sorrel and green garlic crème fraîche. The cheese oozed out of the bread and worked well with the condiments. However, I would have preferred a proper cheese course for the simple reason that I wanted to eat the cheese and not the bread. I was getting quite stuffed by this point.

P1180887Course 9: Strawberries poached with vanilla and elderflower – A tingling sensation from the elderflower foam, rich and creamy vanilla ice cream, and sweet strawberries poached in elderflower and vanilla. Sadly, this was the only dessert course of the meal! Certainly an unusual situation in the fine dinning world. I couldn’t recall having a tasting menu in the last couple of years with only one dessert. P1180891Course 10: Chocolate “Name that milk” – I’m not sure whether I would describe this as a course but it was presented as a game where the diner had to match the four chocolate bars to an animal on the card on the left. Each chocolate bar was made using the milk from a cow, sheep, buffalo or goat. I managed to get the cow right and found the sheep’s milk chocolate unpleasant. P1180893 Digestif: A bottle of Eleven Madison Park’s own house cask of Laird’s Applejack, an apple brandy distilled nearby in New Jersey. I was told to help myself to as much as I wanted but alas I had another appointment to get to and therefore had to settle with just one glass. I’m not a brandy man but found this rather pleasant and refreshing. With a bit more time up my sleeve and it could have been a bit dangerous.

P1180896A chocolate pretzel with sea salt came with the brandy to end the meal. To sum it up, the meal at Eleven Madison Park was enjoyable and pleasant but lacked that special something that defines most restaurants in the Three Michelin Star category. The front of house was superb and almost faultless, and I loved the fact that almost all the courses had a story and a connection with a local artisan or producer. The cooking was also solid and dishes perfectly executed, but I found there was not enough of the ‘wow’ factor. I was glad to have come here but I’m not sure whether I would travel again half way around the world for a second reservation.

Narisawa, Tokyo

IMG_0855Chef: Narisawa Yoshihiro   Website: www.narisawa-yoshihiro.com   Cuisine: French Japanese

I’ve got a confession to make. I’ve always been embarrassed by the fact that despite my Japanese heritage I’ve not had many opportunities exploring the fine dining scene in my own country. This naturally had to change and September 2014 was my opportunity (Note that the significant delay in my write-up has been due to the arrival of my first daughter in November 2014). Over the recent years I’d managed to create a long list of restaurants I planned to visit when I returned home and that included Narisawa. I was curious about its reputation for being unorthodox in a country that was deeply rooted to its tradition.

IMG_0851After all, wouldn’t you be curious to find out the culmination of modern French cooking techniques with fresh seasonal Japanese produce? After receiving their second Michelin star in 2010 and successfully retaining the title of best Asian restaurant in San Pellegrino’s 50 Best Awards over the past few years there was no way I could pass this opportunity.

IMG_0848Yoshihiro Narisawa opened Les Creations de Narisawa (now known simply as Narisawa) back in 2003 on his return from Europe after training under the likes of big hitters like Frédy Girardet, Paul Bocuse and Joel Robuchon. The cuisine here was however difficult to label. It was decidedly modern and drew on French techniques yet was not tied down to one particular style of cuisine. What’s more, Narisawa departed from the traditional focus on agriculturally cultivated produce. Instead he favoured natural ingredients and produces from the wild forests and mountains like nuts, berries and the wild animals that fed on them.

IMG_0847The theme of our tasting menu reflected the season we visited, autumn. Unlike many of the restaurants we had visited on this occasion, the front of house was well versed in English which made the meal more interactive for my non-Japanese speaking companions. We left ourselves in the capable hand of the front of house and kicked off our meal with a glass of their Vilmart et Cie, Grand Cellier, Brut, Premier Cru which had been bottled specially for the restaurant.

IMG_0843As we sipped on our glass of bubbles our friendly waiter prepared the Bread of the Forest 2010. The bread was proved at our table. It was made using wild yeast from the Shirakami ranges, one of the most serene and beautiful UNESCO natural heritage sites of the world located between Aomori and Akita prefecture, and was gently heated over a candle. The bread mixture contained ao-yuzu (green yuzu) and ki no me (木の芽) leaves from the Japanese Prickly Ash tree, which added a citrus scent and peppery note.

IMG_0832The dough mixture was then transferred across to a hot stone bowl to bake. The floral arrangement surrounding the bowl represented the season.

IMG_0825The wait was finally over.  What a way to start the meal; an amuse bouche of the Essence of the Forest and Satoyama Scenery. It consisted of a “forest floor” of soy pulp or okara (御殻), bamboo and green tea powder and soya milk yoghurt paste. It was served with the “bark” of mountain vegetables (山菜) such as deep fried burdock skin, sourced from Ishikawa prefecture, which had been brushed with a syrup. We were instructed to eat with our hands and wash it down with…

IMG_0824… “spring water” infused with oak and served in a cedar cup. The flavours were very clean, evoking childhood memories of hikes through moss-covered mountains in Japan. Everything worked in harmony and I felt truly depicted the essence of the Japanese forest. I particularly loved the crispy texture of the burdock root. What I found truly remarkable was that no additional seasoning had been added to this dish, nor did it need any. I could see why this dish had stayed on their menu for over five years.

IMG_0822Our second amuse bouche of Sumi (炭) was essentially braised onion coated in a mixture of charcoal and leek powder. It had been deep fried and served on a magnolia leaf. The sweetness of the onion was an unexpected surprise.


Our bread was finally ready after 12 minutes of baking and was served to us with chestnut tree powder. I had no particular expectation for the bread as I had assumed this was predominantly to provide theater to the meal. I was, however, mistaken. Whilst it wasn’t the best bread I’d ever eaten, it had all the hallmarks of a good bread. It was soft, fluffy and warm. What’s more, the yuzu added an inviting scent yet remained subtle on the palate.

IMG_0820The last installment of the amuse bouche was Okinawa. A dried sea-snake was presented in the middle of the table whilst the waiter explained the dish.

IMG_0819All the ingredients were sourced from Okinawa. The most important component of this dish was the broth that was made over six hours of using a bonito flake dashi, dried and smoked sea-snake and pork from Kagoshima. A slither of crunchy winter melon, taimo (a sticky Okinawa variety of taro which is normally used for dessert) and a crispy pork skin was added to complete the dish. The broth had a great depth of flavour and the textural contrast of each element worked very well. A deceivingly simple looking dish that worked very well with a glass of the 1981 Chateau Gen Brown Rice Sake, Mie, Japan.

IMG_0813A Moss butter made from dehydrated black olives, chlorophyll and Hokkaido butter was presented prior to the next course. It tasted how it looked – mossy! Not that it was a bad thing but certainly different to anything I’ve tried before.

IMG_0807 The Uni Sea Urchin, amaebi, yuzu was another example of a perfectly balanced dish. The amaebi (spot prawn) and sea urchin sourced from Mikawa, Aichi prefecture, was very creamy and sweet. The katsuodashi jelly (set and infused for six hours) gave depth to the dish and the yuzu and tomato hiding underneath cut through the rich flavour, leaving only a fragrant aftertaste. I could also sense a slight peppery heat that contrasted against the cold dish. Beautiful. The dish was matched with a glass of the 2012 Chateau Lestille, Entre Deux Mers, Bordeaux.

IMG_0800The crustacean course of the day was the Langoustine, garden. Under the “garden”, created from  a variety of greens and flowers that had been foraged early that morning, lay…

IMG_0797… a juicy Japanese langoustine (Akazaebi) from Suruga Bay. It had been very lightly seared and served as a warm sashimi. The creamy langoustine was cooked perfectly and the scallop jus served over the dish intensified the crustacean flavour. The only issue I had was with the portion size. I wanted more… The matching 2009 Chassagne Montrachet Les Caillerets, Bourgogne, France was a perfect match with its buttery flavour.

IMG_0795The next course was a Pigeon which represented the animals that fed from the forest. The pigeon was basted at a constant temperature of 57 degrees celsius to ensure a pink finish. It was accompanied with charred beetroot and wild berries also foraged from the forest. The plump pigeon was cooked perfectly with a beautiful texture. I particularly loved the reduced salumi sauce that seasoned the dish. Exquisite! The accompanying wine was a rather smoky and oaky 2001 Lynsolence, Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux. Only 20 cases had been imported into Japan. What a treat!

IMG_0788The Kamo nasu was truly a celebration of the native Kyoto variety of aubergine. This vibrant dish consisted of a bed of soft sautéed aubergine, topped with an aubergine purée and pickles. The shiitake mushroom provided a meaty texture whilst the sheet of acidic tomato jelly and cleverly hidden shiso leaves inside cut through the oiliness of the dish. A special dish like this required a rather special glass of a 1977 Toriivilla Imamura Koshu, Yamanashi, Japan which was not too dissimilar to that of a dry sherry. It was very dry and nutty with a hint of honey and lemon. I had never heard of this Japanese winery and was even more surprised to hear they have been around for over 150 years. I knew the Japanese made a small batch of great wines but this was the first time I had come across so many.

IMG_0782We had a fair share of Hamo (conger pike) on our trip and the one at Narisawa was one of the best ones. The Conger pike, white peach, string bean had a lovely sweet, sour and salty undertone driven by the creamy su-miso (white miso vinegar) and kabosu foam, a citrus related to the yuzu family. The hamo, which is traditionally prepared through the fine art of honegiri (a technique that requires years of practice to efficiently break the vast number of small bones in the fish without damaging the skin), instead had, against convention, removed painstakingly each bone, one by one, by hand. I did not envy the chef but it was definitely worth the effort! Matching the dish was a glass of Shizen no manma unfiltered and undiluted sake, Terada Hoke sake brewery, Chiba.

IMG_0778The next seafood course, the Rosy seabass, matsutake mushroom, was presented in a what was described as a “sustainable wrap” which was supposedly environmentally friendly (admittedly I wasn’t sure how). The waiter proceeded to cut the bag…

IMG_0777… and the delicious earthy smell of the matsutake mushroom immediately hit the olfactory senses. The contents had been cooked in a rich duck essence for eight minutes at 180 degrees celsius which enhanced the flavours of the fatty fish. It was served with another delicious sake of 5 years aged, unfiltered and unpasteurised junmai daiginjo, Chikurin Taoyaka, Marumoto Sake Brewery, Okayama. The aka musu (rosy seabass), known for it’s similarity in fattiness to the o-toro was beautiful cooked with a raw texture and was definitely one of the best preparations I’ve ever tasted.

IMG_0763For the next course a rump cut was used for the Kagoshima beef, beef essence, ichiban dashi. The ichiban dashi made from a matured konbu dashi was added to an essence of beef broth and complemented the tender lean meat, providing the umami. I particularly loved the ginnan (ginko nuts) with their nutty sweet-sour flavour that subtly reminded me of the autumn season. Accompanying the dish was a rather lovely 1994 Alain Verdet Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Nuits, Bourgogne.

IMG_0758Narisawa’s take on the classic champagne cocktail of the Bellini was simply divine. White peaches were in season and the chef made sure to make the most out of them. The same house champagne served at the start was poured over slices of white peaches neatly stacked over a brioche and layer of cream

IMG_0754 The flavour of the peach was very distinct and provided a fresh fruity note. At first sight I expected it to be a very sweet dish but, contrary to what I thought, surprisingly the dish was very light and refreshing. The matching wine was a chenin blanc, 2004 Quarts de Chaume, Domaine des Baumard.

IMG_0753The finale was Chocolate. It was perhaps a little disappointing given the caliber of the meal we had just experienced. The fondant, ice cream and foam incorporated the rather luxurious Domori chocolate from Italy. I found the flavour to be rather one dimensional despite the occasional bitterness of the darker chocolate contrasting against the milkier one. It was after all chocolate.

IMG_0746The number of mignardises presented with our coffee was staggering. Starting with a piña colada macaron, cream puff, canelé, passion fruit, cheese cake tart, warabi mochi as well as nine flavours of chocolate macarons, there was plenty more which I could sadly not fit in my stomach. What was truly remarkable was the skill that went into preparing these flawless sweet treats. By no means an easy feat.

IMG_0775As we looked over the kitchen we could see Chef Narisawa assessing each dish as it came to the pass. Nothing appeared to escape his focus, something that was very evident from the dishes we had just devoured over the last three hours. I could see why this place was so popular amongst those who sought after culinary excellence. Not only was the food delicious here, it was also eco-conscious and sustainable. I particularly loved the marriage of foreign techniques with ingredients typically engrained into traditional Japanese cuisine. By breaking the norms and boundaries, Narisawa was able to bring a whole new dimension to both French and Japanese cuisine. This wasn’t French or Japanese. This was “Narisawa cuisine”.

El Celler de Can Roca, Girona

P1070991Chef: Joan, Jordi and Josep Roca         Website: www.elcellerdecanroca.com

Cuisine: Modern Catalan

Little introduction is needed for the Roca brothers who brought back, since the closure of elBulli, the title of best restaurant in the world (well, at least according to San Pellegrino’s panel in 2013) to the region of Catalunya. However, their rise to fame wasn’t done overnight and required patience as they competed against the likes of Noma over a few years before knocking them off the crown, even if it was for just one year. But what makes Can Roca so special? Seldom does one establishment have such a recipe for success where each brother has excelled in their own field starting with Joan’s culinary direction as the executive chef, Josep’s impeccable choice and collection of wine as the sommelier and Jordi’s creativity as the pastry chef that is as whacky as Willy Wonka. Separately, they produce brilliance. What they bring together as a team is a gastronomic experience that is difficult to match.

P1080010I wasn’t ready to repeat my dinner experience in 2010 when we ended up leaving the restaurant around 2.30am so we opted for a lunch service on this occasion. We arrived a bit early as we tried to check out their gelateria, Rocambolesc, but unfortunately they were closed for a full refurbishment! So instead we decided to cheekily rock up a little early at Can Roca to enjoy their courtyard and were fortunate enough to get a glass of cava as the staff scoffed their lunch before opening for service.

P1080033I absolutely loved the interior space in Can Roca. Generous amount of space between the table allowing you for some privacy amongst your party, yet aesthetically modern and open, allowing you to see through the entire dining room. Yet again, we didn’t need much convincing to go for their extensive Festival menu.

P1080043The World, according to Joan Roca’s latest travels, was expressed through various bite-size morsels presented in a paper lantern representing the earth. The waiter proceeded by opening up the globe to reveal the contents. If there was one thing Can Roca does well it is their playful presentation. Creativity is not something that is lacking here.

P1080045A guacamole and grapfruit sphere represented Mexico, a liquid spherified ceviche ball for Peru (which came with a warning to have in one bite), hummus for Lebanon, honey and crumbled almonds for Morocco and kimchi for South Korea. They were good fun with distinct flavours depicting the countries from which Joan had been inspired. He even makes his own kimchi now. Impressive!

P1080050The Can Roca classic of the Caramelised Olives then made its appearance. A miniature olive tree was served like a bonzai in a pot. At closer inspection you could find green olives stuffed with anchovies with a caramelised coating hanging amongst its leaves. Sweet, brittle, sticky, juicy – all the sensations from each olive that was dangling off the branches. Sensational.

P1080065More amuse bouche followed with the Campari and grapefruit bonbon. This was a perfectly thin brittle cocoa butter sphere encasing a liquid mixture of the elegant bitters. A word of caution though, please eat this in one go.

P1080071Next was Joan Roca’s play on a Spanish classic of Calamares a la Romana. A welcome adaptation! The squid had been mashed up and reshaped into a thick circular disc and blow-torched before being topped with crispy balls of batter drenched with lemon juice. A finely balanced dish with a very intense flavour of squid and deliciously contrasting textures.

P1080072 Marinated mussels in a ceviche sauce served on long mother of pearl spoons. A soft juicy mussel with a citrus note. This was quite a bit more simple than the other amuse bouche and perhaps my least favourite.

P1080079The last set of amuse bouche was a celebration of the St George’s mushroom, served in two parts. A thin cocoa butter shell encased a liquid concentrated with the flavour of the mushroom, served in beautiful stoneware.

P1080083A bowl with a metal lid was then presented to each of us. Our waiter proceeded by lifting the lid to reveal…

P1080087… a St George’s mushroom brioche and a separate escudella (Catalan broth / stew) underneath in a bowl. We were advised to dunk the brioche into the broth before eating it.

Perhaps it was the choice of mushroom but I felt, for the amount of preparation that went into the mushroom, the intensity of the flavour was not at the level I expected. Some white truffle could have excited my olfactory senses better perhaps?P1080092On to our first course of the day with the Oyster with black pearl served in its own juice with melon juice, dots of cucumber, celery, apple, lime jelly, wood sorrel, melon flower and heartleaf iceplant. Whilst I consider myself to be a purist when it comes to the matter of oysters, I was pleasantly surprised as to how all the component worked here without distracting from the essence of the oyster. It was an elegant and finely balanced dish that could have easily gone wrong, but it didn’t.P1080094A beautiful dish then appeared before us which required a double-take. A dessert dish already? No, of course not, I was mistaken. It was instead Elderflower infusion, cherries with amaretto, gingered cherries and smoked sardine. Of course, how could I have mistaken? I wasn’t sure what to expect here as elderflower infusion, cherries and sardine sounded like a recipe for disaster. However, it was surprisingly memorable…. but for positive reasons. The smoked sardines transformed the dish from what could have been a dessert course into unique savoury dish. Floral, fruity and light – the elderflower infusion effectively removing the fishiness of the silky sardine leaving only the delicate flavour of the fish.

P1080102The next course was a celebration of the local staple, olives. A modern take on a classic with the Black olive gazpacho. This involved a spicy gordal olive mousse, black olive fritter, ice cream made from manzanilla and olives, toasted bread with oil, fennel jelly, winter savory jelly and picual olive. I was amazed to be able to distinctly pick out each flavour of the variety of olives. From the sweet black olive gazpacho to the contrasting bitter and salty gordal olive mousse and slices of picual olives. We needed more bread to mop this beauty up.

P1080109Another savoury dish appeared again mimicking a classic dessert (also known as Viennetta for the non-Spanish), the White asparagus comtessa and black truffle powder. I thought the white asparagus on the side was unnecessary but it did allow me to greater appreciate the intensity of the creamy and velvety ice cream which was full of asparagus flavour such as I had never tasted before. The icing on the cake, literally and figuratively, was that earthy black truffle powder. If only Vienetta came in this flavour…

P1080122 Joan Roca made sure to make full use of the King prawn (I am often frustrated when other establishments have failed to serve the whole crustacean) served charcoal grilled with king prawn sand, ink rocks, fried legs, head juice and king prawn essence. Admittedly, this did not come anywhere near the prawns I had at Asador Etxebarri but I did enjoy the extremely intense and rich essence made from the brain and the smokey flesh of the prawn. My favourite bit, however, was the crispy fried head and legs. Crunchy.

P1080128A slightly smoked fillet of Red sea bream, yuzu, capers and crunchy pickled vegetables was next. This was a nicely cooked piece of fish, tender and moist but nothing extraordinary and perhaps slightly disappointing when compared against the other dishes.

P1080134A much stronger fish course was the Salty cod brandade with salt cod tripe, salt cod foam, olive oil soup, shallots, honey, thyme and chilli pepper. Great interplay of flavours from the creamy and salty brandade balanced against the sweet honey and slightly citrusy thyme. The slight kick from the red chilli was again spot on. Despite the strong flavours, it was a surprisingly light dish.

P1080146Whilst there had been no disaster courses, I felt there had been a lackluster performance in the main segment of the meal compared to the amuse bouches. That was however rectified with the tender and suckling Iberian suckling pig blanquette that had been cooked at 63°C over 30 hours, retaining a beautifully crispy crackling coating. Joan Roca went further to match his take on the cochinillo (suckling pig) with a deconstructed aroma of riesling wine using sweet mango terrine, melon, beetroot, beetroot purée, black garlic, onion and slightly tart orange concentrate. This was much more like it. Clever piece of cooking indeed.

P1080148Next was a minimalist interpretation of the traditional Catalan fishermen’s soup (Suquet); essentially Red mullet cooked sous-vide at a low temperature, served on top of a concentrated fish soup with shredded cabbage and three towers of purée; orange, fennel and saffron. The depth of the fish soup was remarkable and the fish was unbelievably flavoursome. Personally I still prefered the traditional rustic soup but this wasn’t bad.

P1080156A glass cloche filled with smoke was then presented to us. The waiter then proceeded by revealing what laid hidden underneath…

P1080165… which was a smokey Charcoal grilled lamb breast fillet and sweetbreads with spring mushrooms.  Tender piece of lamb, crispy skin and silky sweetbread, served over a concentrated lamb jus which had also been soaked up by some of the earthy morel mushrooms. I wondered what they had done with the rest of the lamb because I wanted more.

P1080168The finale of the savoury segment was a rather brave dish of Pigeon liver and onion, curry-caramelised walnuts, juniper, orange peel and herbs. I absolutely loved the marriage of flavours between the rich gamey pigeon liver mousse, the curry and walnut caramel layer and the classic orange. A sliver of pigeon liver was also served pink but that didn’t phase me. This was a solid dish which also appeared on my first visit and I could see why. Earthy, gamey, rich and intense. I could however appreciate that if game and liver was not your thing then you would have been less enthused.

P1080179On to the dessert and the best course of the evening. The Caramelised apricot: blown sugar apricot with vanilla and caramelised apricot cream was not only a work of art but divine. Visually this is one of the best dishes I have encountered with unbelievable craftsmanship. The sugar work was filled with an apricot foam and presented on a bed of vanilla. The intensity of the apricot flavour was unbelievable and stood out next to the slice of fresh apricot. It was one hell of a dessert particulalry considering I was not the biggest apricot fan… until that day.

P1080185Another modern interpretation by Jordi Roca with Strawberries and cream which was perhaps the weakest dessert dish. It was essentially just a rod of strawberry sorbet, wrapped in a cylinder of cream and more strawberry sorbet, ringed by a spiral of delicate sugar work. Mind you, fresas con nata (strawberry with cream) is a very popular dish in Spain so perhaps the significance may have been slightly lost on some.

P1080190Our final dessert dish was a Mocha mille-feuille, anise mille-feuille with mocha foam and coffee granita. A comforting dish with a lovely contrast of texture, between the gooey mocha and brittle sugar sheets, and flavour, between the sweet foam and bitter coffee granita. It was however the not the most visually appealing dessert, resembling perhaps closer to a half chewed snicker bar. Looks can be deceiving, indeed.

P1080175An addition to the dining room was the Sweets trolley designed by local artist Andreu Carulla (who also designed the lantern from the amuse bouche, equipments in Rocambolesc and many other tableware at Can Roca). The trolley was filled with macarons, chocolates, fruit jellies and other sweets. To be honest, I was too full by this point.

P1080213My second visit to Can Roca was thoroughly impressive as my first one and also confirmed a few things. First and foremost, it was a great opportunity to be able to recalibrate essentially what was my fine dining benchmark. Suffice to say, the bar had been raised again. A secondary observation confirmed my thoughts from my first meal; the creativity and fautless execution of the amuse bouche and desserts are what makes Can Roca one of my all time favourite restaurant. Last but not least, I love the fact that behind all the modern techniques and interpretations, the cuisine at heart is undeniably Catalan and has deep roots to the region. Having grown up with this region as a reference all my life, the food felt familiar yet refreshingly new. What more could I ask for? Well, perhaps a shorter waiting list.

Frantzén, Stockholm (Previously Frantzén Lindeberg)

P1100610Chef: Björn Frantzén Website: www.restaurantfrantzen.com Cuisine: Modern Scandinavian

At a very young age, Björn Frantzén and Daniel Lindeberg caused a massive stir in the Scandinavia when they received their second Michelin stars within two years of opening their restaurant in 2008. Their success followed immediately as they jumped from “One to Watch” to a staggering 12th place in San Pellegrino’s 50 Best Restaurant Award in 2013. Having had some mixed experience in Stockholm between an extremely successful meal at Oaxen Krog the year before, and subsequently a rather disappointing yet expensive dinner only the night before at Matthias Dahlgren’s Matsalen, I wasn’t qute sure what to expect. I was however assured by the local food blogger Enfoodie that I had nothing to worry about, leaving me with his final words – prepare to be amazed.

Update Note: Daniel unfortunately parted a little while ago to pursue other dreams of opening a bakery, hence the name change, but Björn on the other hand has further expanded his portfolio to also include a wine bar (Gaston) and gastropub (Flying Elk).

P1100772In a very bold move, the restaurant had just finished their renovation work in order to expand the kitchen space at the cost of the dining room! Suffice to say, with a capacity for less than 20 diners, getting a table here was no easy feat but not only did we manage to get a reservation, we also got to sit at the kitchen table allowing us to interact with Björn and Daniel, and observe everything that was going in the kitchen. The menu comprised of a prologue, followed by four chapters that ended with an epilogue.

P1100778Following a quick introduction and briefing of our meal, Björn wasted no time in putting the final touches to our Prologue which consisted of six beautiful bite size amuse bouches with sensational flavours and textural contrasts starting with a Carrot macaron with liver and tarragon, followed by Blood pancake with liver and compote of with lingonberry and beetroot, Spelt brioche with roasted garlic, dried butter and crispy chicken skin and a rather delectable airy Beef from the bullock “Chubai” aged 46 months on lichens. The Pig’s head with shellfish emulsion served on pork rind with vendance roe from the Persson Brothers and Vichyssoise with truffle and ash both sounded like bizarre combinations but they worked extremely well. What a phenomenal start.

P1100793Chapter 1 began with an Oyster that had been sealed and poached at 62 degrees, served with some creamy jersey cream, crunchy frozen buckthorn and fragrant dried seaweed. The intense flavour of the oyster was outstanding with a perfect touch of acidity from the juniper berries. A very clean taste of the ocean.

P1100776Björn then brought out a few live langoustines to really show off the quality and freshness of their produce. To his point, they needed to be kept alive until the very last minute to retain the moisture and natural sweetness of the langoustines.

P1100796After taking away of live crustaceans, he wasted no time in plating up the next course incorporating the langoustine… but where was the langoustine?

P1100800The Langoustine had been prepared as a tartare and topped with fennel oil, caviar and diced granny smith apple. Good seasoning and a light fruity acidity to cut through the sweet crustacean. I was particularly impressed by the fact that this dish was even more amazing than the set of amuse bouche.

P1100807Another bold and confident move in serving Bone marrow topped with Osetra caviar and a smoked parsley purée on the side. You could see the rays of confidence shining from Björn when he served this to us, and he was right to be confident. It was bloody good.

P1100805The bone marrow was delicately soft and rich and it’s flavours extracted with the salty black caviar that was the seasoning component on the dish. The parsley purée added that crucial herbaceous freshness to lift the dish from being too oily. This was seductive food and I was in love.

P1100808Our 2nd Chapter commenced with some manual labour. Björn had churned out some butter for our crackers. He added milk fat that had been prepared under vacuum, sucking out the milky water and proceeded by churning it. Very clever!

P1100812He served the creamy butter with Björn‘s take on Knäckebröd which were traditional Swedish crackers that date as far back as the vikings!

P1100821The kitchen continued to produce stunning dishes one after another including the King crab legs  soaked in beer and crab shell broth and small cubes of pike, garnished with some dill. The buttery crab was packed with flavours and handled with respect and care. Could this get any better?

P1100824The Show of the season (Satio Tempestas) was Björn‘s way of showcasing all his seasonal produce and ingredients which changed every day depending on the harvest, but was always on the menu.

P1100829With 45 ingredients being used, it reminded me of Michel Bras’ famous Gargouillou. You could also see some Japanese influence with scales from fried bream being scattered across. This was perhaps also the closest dish to Bras with many incredible flavours exciting my taste buds with every bite.

P1100830Chapter 3 was all about the main dishes and we were beside ourselves with excitement when a grilled monkfish fillet was presented straight off the grill, exerting a waft of inviting smell.

P1100846Björn momentarily took the monkfish away and returned five minutes later with another knock out dish. The moist and juicy Grilled Monkfish melted in my mouth with the sweet caramelised quenelle of roasted onions with a lingering flavour of goats cheese perfumed ever so slightly with liquorice. Every component on this plate had a purpose, and amazingly worked together in achieving the goal of a perfect dish.

P1100842Half way through the dish we were presented with a jar of smoked brown butter and ash flavoured goats butter. We were instructed to spread the two butters on the fish. I thought at the time that this was a bit odd. Contrary to our expectation, they worked really well and in particular the smoked butter. It was so good we ate it with the remaining crackers.

P1100848Björn then cut a couple of slices of the Beef that had been hung for 72 days and dressed it simply with a few shavings of Alba white truffle. The meat was cooked medium in order to render and melt the fat. Silence had befallen on the kitchen table as he glanced at us. The tsunami of flavours swirling around my mouth from this meat was astounding. This was on par with the beef I previously had at Ledoyen. Simply amazing.

P1100851Björn then explained that the next course of the Frozen carrots and grapefruit with pink pepper and olive oil was a palate cleanser for the finale of the savoury course. It certainly cleaned up any lingering flavours with the acidic and tart sorbet followed by the heat from the cracked pink pepper and bitterness from the olive oil.

P1100836Björn then took out a his blow torch and binchotan to smoke the outer layer of this lamb as a final preparation for the Two servings of lamb from our own breed.

P1100855The first of the two servings was a bed of Lamb tartare with salted goast cheese, sheep yogurt with dried lamb brisket shavings. This was another winner. Having never had lamb tartare before I found the meat extremely delicious with a good level of fat, and the dried lamb brisket was packed with concentrated flavours. Simply stunning.

P1100859A shot of Cabbage consommé before the next serving.

P1100864The second serving was Seared lamb served with roasted cabbage and onion, finished with a butter sauce and shavings of white truffle again. Simple, flavoursome and the bonus was of course the truffle. Seldom have I had a flawless meal where everything had been executed perfectly whilst delivering sensational flavours that were truly concocted by a culinary master.

P1100867It was now Daniel’s turn to deliver the final Chapter and Epilogue. 

P1100874The first dessert was a perfect transition from savoury to sweet with the very well balanced Oxidised pear granita, hazelnut emulsion, sea salt, braggot mead and Welsh honey wine.

P1100876Daniel then went on to explain that a coherent menu was cyclical, tying back the flavours to the beginning. Dessert should not be all about sugar and sweetness but rather the ingredients and flavours. Interesting!

P1100879The second dessert was a celebration of Cloudberries. A quenelle of cloudberry and vanilla ice cream was served on a pancake made from cloudberry seeds, served with a compote of cloudberries on the side. The finish was a drizzle of maple syrup and roasted white chocolate. Guess what? Sure enough, you could taste cloudberries and it was surprisingly not too sweet.

P1100885One of my top three favourite dessert ever was the Sea buckthorn sorbet resting on oolong tea mousse with matcha green tea meringues and brittle crystalised sea lettuce. The salty sea lettuce magnified the marriage of flavours between the acidic sea buckthorn and the aromatic mousse. Just when you thought the tartness of the sea buckthorn was too much, the sweetness from the mousse hit your taste buds. The cycle continued with every spoon. It was as if my tastebuds had died and gone to heaven.

P1100888Two types of macaons as petit fours. One was salted caramel with tar and hay ash, and the second one was bitter manjari chocolate with arctic raspberry ganache.

P1100891Fondant of glazed apricot and girolles biscuit garnished with rapeseed oil powder.

P1100895Dried pig’s blood disc with a cream made from pig’s blood, blackberry, and bitter chocolate.

P1100908I have no doubt that the cooking here was on par with some of the best restaurants in the world in the last five years, making Michelin’s two star rating rather a mockery and an insult. Björn and Daniel clearly belonged in the three star rating and could certainly hold their own with other big hitters like El Celler de Can Roca. The bonus here was also that it was affordable when you compared to other places like Matthias Dahlgren (where I dined the night before and left underwhelmed) and Oaxen Krog. After all, who can throw in mushrooms and pig’s blood into their petit four and make them tasty?

Attica (Full Tasting Menu), Melbourne

P1130753Chef: Ben Shewry    Website: www.attica.com.au   Cuisine: Modern Australian

I know, I know. So it was only a couple of months ago that I had been to Attica but that experimental meal on Tuesday was possibly one of the most impressive meal I’d had in a while. I knew that night, that I had only two obstacles separating me and the full tasting menu… The first one of convincing my wife to revisit a restaurant so soon was an easy one. However, the more pertinent issue at hand was getting the all important reservation, and it had to be pretty soon for my curiosity was about to kill me, metaphorically speaking of course.

As expected from a restaurant that shot up the San Pellegrino ranking in 2013 to an incredible, but deserved 21st position, the reservation backlog had extended to as far as next year. Knowing there was nothing to lose, I simply asked whether there were any cancellations for a dinner. Surprisingly, a table had come up for grabs in a couple of month’s time so I wasted no time in booking in. It was as if my ill fortunes of getting a table at el Bulli had turned around. Now to convince the wife…

P1140502Fast forward a few weeks and here we were again with a huge grin on our face, making an entrance to occupy the last table of the evening at 8.30pm. Stepping into Attica, we realised there’s always one thing that doesn’t change here. In typical fashion Banjo, Hannah and the team greeted us with a genuine smile, welcoming us back to their home. There’s a lot to be said about restaurants that have a personal touch to their service. Attica is one of only a handful in Australia that gets this so right. So here we were, ready to embark on another adventure and what better to kick off the evening than a glass of a complex NV blend champagne, Georges Laval, Brut Nature, Cumières, France. Great minerality and ripe fruit aftertaste.

P1140505I was glad to see that the whipped olive oil with black sea salt was still being served and this time it came with a crusty wattleseed bread. The smokey mousse-like spread was absolutely divine but I was having a hard time fending my wife off as she wanted more than her fair share. Fortunately we had a second serving brought to us before a domestic erupted.

P1140507Unlike the Tuesday night experimental meal, you get an array of amuse bouche with the tasting menu. First up were Mushroom plant leaves from Ben’s garden served with a house cultured crème fraîche, alpine pepper and lemon myrtle dip. Simple, earthy and fresh. I particularly enjoyed the contrast of the cool dip and the slight heat from the peppers.

P1140510We were then presented a bowl of walnut shells that had been sliced in half. Inside them were some  Walnut purée with shavings of pine mushrooms and rosemary flowers. The walnut sourced from Ballarat, Western Victoria, had a distinctly strong and earthy flavour and was complemented by the fine shavings of pine mushrooms. I was salivating at this point.

P1140512The Pickled Jerusalem artichoke was a novelty for me. It had been pickled in honey, turmeric and cider, resulting in a very raw and meaty texture. The pickling process had packed in bags of flavours and also eliminated the gas producing effects typically associated with the root vegetable! A clever piece of cooking indeed.

P1140515The finale of the amuse bouche segment went, quite literally, with a big bang in my mouth. The face of Mussel man, a.k.a Lance Wiffen from the Sea Bounty in Australia’s mussel capital, Portarlington, was carefully painted on one side of a mussel shell and served with Blue-lip mussels and sea saltbush. The delicious morsels had been shucked raw, crumbed and lightly fried for 35 seconds, allowing the moisture to be retained whilst adding a crispy textural contrast. The flavours of the sea just burst into my mouth when I bit into it with the slightly salty sea saltbush. I wanted more…

P1140518Our tastebuds warmed up and palate amused, we were ready to go. Banjo had done such a terrific job last time matching our wine so we were happy to leave the matter in his hands, and he certainly did not disappoint. Our first official course of the evening was Crab, Lettuces from Land and Sea, accompanied by a glass of Bründlmayer ‘Berg Vogelsang’ Grüner Veltliner 2002, Kamptal, Austria.  The sweet baby snow crab rested on top of a luscious baby cos lettuce that had been poached in ginger balsamic and the sea lettuce on top was foraged by Ben himself. The finishing touches of a coconut vinaigrette cut through the sweet flesh of the delicate crab meat and the toasted buckwheat added that all needed crunch to complete the dish. I could almost see the ocean.

P1140520The wine of the evening was undoubtedly the Giaconda ‘Estate’ Chardonnay 2011, Beechworth, Victoria.This encounter actually led us to Beechworth in October and I can see why they are considered one of, if not the best, Chardonnay producer in Australia. It had a powerful palate and complex characters with fine acidity comparable to ones from Burgundy. It was perfectly matched with…

P1140522… our next course of Marron, Sorrel, Sauce of Onions and Pork Fat. The sweet marron tail sourced from Western Australia rested on a bed of sorrel from Ben’s garden that had been pulvarised with crispy fried chicken thighs after being marinated with coriander root. Hannah then poured over a delicious white onion and pork fat sauce to complete the dish.

P1140524The sauce provided a good balance to the slightly bitter sorrel mixture. Suffice to say the freshwater marron tail was plump and perfectly executed. Yet another superb dish.

P1140528I had fond memories of this dish from my first visit over three years ago. A simple dish of a potato cooked in the earth it was grown is anything but simple and truly captures Ben’s roots and humble origins. The waxy virginia rose potato was cooked sous-vide in earth for two hours, replicating the renown technique of the Maori Hangi in a kitchen. The result of this long-winded process was a uniformly creamy and velvety texture, not commonly associated with the humble potato. It was enthroned on a bed of smoked goats curd, coconut husk ash and crispy salt bush with freshly ground coffee; the culmination of which added an earthy undertone. Complementing this classy act was a glass of Damijan Podversic ‘Kaplja’ 2006, Friuli, Italy which had lovely sweet and silky tannins with a clean finish. By this point I was convinced that Ben was, without a doubt, currently the best chef in Australia.

P1140532Admittedly I wasn’t jumping off my seat when I read what was next on the menu but I was gravely mistaken, for the Cucumber, Holy Flax, Sauce of Burnet was another well balanced and clever dish. Shame on me for doubting. The cucumber pickled in chardonnay vinegar was charred ever so slightly before being plated up together with concentrated cucumber oil, holy flax from Ben’s garden, thinly sliced garlic that had been poached in verjus, peas and the all important Tasmanian cheddar that provided the seasoning. The burnet sauce enhanced the concentrated flavour of cucumber, leaving a very fresh aftertaste, only to be washed down with a glass of Gaia Wild Ferment Assyrtiko 2012, Santorini, Greece.

P1140534The next dish utilised a traditional Aboriginal technique of cooking in paperbark.  It was the King George Whiting in Paperbark paired with a glass of Chateau Simone Blanc 2010, Palette, France. Underneath the tea tree paperbark was…

P1140539… a deliciously succulent piece of Whiting that had been caught off Portarlington. It had been basted with butter, sea parsley and lemon myrtle before being wrapped in the paperbark. It was then slowly grilled over a mallee root charcoal before being blow torched right at the end. It was decadently buttery yet the slight tang from the lemon myrtle lifted the dish from becoming one dimensional.

P1140541On to the closing act of the savory chapter with the Flinders Island Wallaby, Scorched Macadamia, paired with a local glass of Yarra Yarra Syrah / Viognier 2006, Yarra Valley, Victoria. If there’s one person who can truly treat this beautiful cut of meat, only available to a handful of people, with the respect it deserves, Ben is your man. The lightly seared wallaby loin served almost blue was incredibly tender and not overly gamey even with the accompanying rich black pudding. The bitter leaves of begonia, earthy macadamia purée and scorched nuts were beautiful props setting the natural scene of Australia on my palate. It was the perfect welcome to my permanent move to Down Under. I discreetly took my phone out to see where Flinders Island was. Damn, way too far. But no, I must find a way there…

P1140547Not long after our suspiciously clean plates were whisked away, Banjo came over to lead us to the back garden. Most of the vegetables, herbs and flowers that night had come from here or across the road from his bigger plot of farm in Ripponlea Estate but we didn’t expect to find ourselves to a few treats outside as well. The icing on the cake was being able to chat with the grand maestro himself. As ever, Ben was just humble, gracious and carried a huge smile.

P1140553The warm pink lady and granny smith apple drink kept us toasty whilst we chatted for a while. The scene was pretty familiar. We couldn’t stop thanking him for a superb meal and experience. Somewhat wistfully, we were sobering up from the copious amount of wine to the realisation that our meal was coming to an end.

P1140556But before heading back in, Ben offered us a couple of sticks of marshmallows coated in freeze-dried coconut shavings…

P1140560… to toast it over the outdoor fireplace he had installed. I know this makes me sound pretty sad, but I never toasted a marshmallow in my life and hardly knew what to do. As expected, half my marshmallow had melted into the flames of the abyss. “Amateur”, my wife chuckled as she woofed down her perfectly toasted one. It wasn’t too long after that we decided to go back inside as the temperature was in the single digits. It was winter in Australia after all.

P1140565The first dessert course of the Fresh Curd Ice Cream and Preserved Blueberries. The ice cream had been churned using a fromage blanc goats cheese from Meredith Dairy in Dyalesford. Within this there was a chewy pieces of dehydrated pink lady apple, crystal Turkish apple tea,  and poached pear balls overlayed with chrysanthemum petals. It was a balanced dish of floral notes, fresh curd and sweet fruits. Accompanying this dish was a glass of Dominique Portet Vendanges Tardives Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Yarra Valley, Victoria. Another great find that lead us to their winery in the Yarra Valley the following week.

P1140570We had one last surprise prior to the grand finale with the Native fruits of Australia. The fruits had been picked and supplied by the Outback Pride Project, an organisation that works with the Aboriginal community to promote native Australian food. I had to do a double take as the fruits were being read out; I had never come across any of them (Neither for that matter had my Australian born wife). They were poached Quandongs, candied Rosela Hibiscus petals, earthy Davidson’s plums, apple-like Muntries, Riberries and a fairly tart Desert Lime. In the centre were some wattleseed and honey custard topped with native currant ice and tucked underneath some of Meredith Dairy’s sheep’s milk yoghurt with eucalyptus. Could it get more Australian? It was a superb showcase of the native produce, without being cliche or twee. Most importantly it was very delicious.

P1140571Next was the highlight of the meal, the pièce de résistance, the Plight of the bees, served in this beautifully crafted Tasmanian oak box resembling a miniature beehive box; with a glass of Chateau de Passavant ‘Les Greffiers’ 2010, Coteaux de Layon, France.

P1140575This was essentially a celebration of honey. To be precise, two distinct types of honey from Ben’s native homeland of New Zealand. The darker complex honeydew honey or Forest honey was a type of honey made—not from blossom nectar—but from honeydew excreted by plant sucking insects such as aphids. It was utilised to poach an impossibly thin layer of pumpkin, which subsequently was dusted with freeze-dried apple shavings and pressed with hexagonal patterns to represent the honeycomb.

P1140576As you pierced through the outer layer you immediately realised how complex this dish was in harmonising contrasting textures, flavours and temperatures. A dish that took Ben 18 months to perfect after 50 variations; I was glad he was persistent because this may possibly be the best dessert dish I have had to date. I could distinctly taste each layer below this unassuming surface with every mouthful. From the acidity of fennel ice, fresh mandarin wedges and distilled mandarin, to the crunchy meringue and soft layer of pumpkin, all held together by the centrepiece of the deliciously creamy curd that had been infused with wild lemon thyme honey. What surprised me above all was the absence of extreme sweetness and stickiness normally associated with honey. If there’s one person’s brain I would like to tap into, that would be Ben for dreaming up this dish. It was sheer genius.

P1140578One last gift from the Attica team who just couldn’t have done more to make this meal more perfect – a couple of hand painted chocolate caramel Pukeko eggs that went ever so well with my shot of espresso.

A culinary experience in Attica is far from any pretension. The cooking here is captivating, intelligent and educating, yet relaxing and indulgent but above all delicious. Each dish told a story or an encounter experienced by Ben and the meal represented his personal journey that had lead him here. From the depth of ocean with the Sea Bounty, to the Islands up north inhabited by Wallabies and the native fruits hand picked by the indigenous Australian people, Ben’s cuisine could not portray a better canvass of Australia than any other. I know I sound like a broken record but if you haven’t been to Attica yet, go. You can thank me later.