Starting again… with one of the best meals of my life.

It’s hard to know where to start. I have not written in three months as the wordpress platform was not available in Shanghai where I was posted for work. It was a busy end to 2012 and I found myself travelling around Asia for the first quarter of 2014. I am not sure where Dishpiglets is going but the focus for this year is going to be on my photography.

I have been wanting to write about one of my most memorable meals of my life.

Whilst we were on our honeymoon in Andalucia last year, we were treated* to a fabulous dinner at Calima, a two Michelin star restaurant located in Marbella, opened by famous Spanish chef Dani Garcia. Located at the luxurious Hotel Gran Melia Don Pepe, we didn’t know what to expect when we arrived and headed down a flight of stairs into the restaurant. When we were greeted by a fabulous view of the beach as the sun sets, we knew we were in for a treat.

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The tasting menu – cocinacontradicion consisted of 20 dishes. What ensued after we ordered was an amazing display of precise service by the waiters and waitresses dressed in black. It is difficult to describe the whole experience but you have to see it to believe it. We have never seen such a performance.

Our Pic-nic at Calima started with little bites in a three part tiffin carrier displaying corn with kimchi, brava potato and Iberian rustic bread. The brava potato was so light and crunchy and sets us off to an amazing start.
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Next up was caviar with dates. Never quite thought of this combination before but this was absolutely delicious!
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The “empanadilla” of my mum was the third dish which we were told to eat using our hands. I recalled reading about chef Dani Garcia’s three key words when working in the kitchen – memory, flavours and high technical excellence. The empanadilla which we tasted, melted in our mouth.
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Iced almond and foie
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Oyster, tomato, beet and orange
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What impressed us the most in terms of detail was the rocky seabed. Crunchy and with smells of the sea, this was like prawn cracker on a ‘godly’ level.
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Scallops in orange/ lemon was next.
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The suckling pig was nowhere near what we imagined given the portion. It was different- served in a wet base but the combination was well executed. I just wished we had a bit more of it.
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Our desserts came in three different course and the banana magu was the most impressive.
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Petit fours
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The restaurant was full that evening. It was clear that people have travelled from all around to visit Calima. Out of the twenty dishes we had, they thrilled, surprised and fulfilled our tummies.

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Being able to meet the talented chef Dani Garcia at the end of the night was such an honour. We had such a great time at Calima – the food, the setting and the service. It was definitely a night to remember.

*Big thank you to our family friends, Andrew & Lisa Smith who kindly bought this dinner as a gift for our wedding.

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A taste of surprise – Viajante

Birthdays are days on which I like to be spoiled. It is one of my few excuses to dine at nice restaurants and treat myself. For the dude’s birthday, I often plan a full day of surprise. He doesn’t have any idea what the day involves and this year, I took him to Viajante, a Michelin Star restaurant by Nuno Mendes (El Bulli graduate).

Nestled in the former Bethnal Green Town Hall building, we were welcomed into the restaurant by the host and even though we were 20 minutes late (!!!), they were still accommodating and friendly. We were shown our tables and I took to the setting immediately. Gorgeous scandinavian designed tables and chairs gave the restaurant a friendly designer feel. The open kitchen added to the atmosphere and overall, a beautiful, simple and laid back setting, allowing diners to ease into.

We were there for Saturday lunch and the menu gave only a few selections i.e. 3, 6 or 9 courses. We decided quickly upon the three course with beverage pairing, without knowing what it was going to be. A series of amuse-bouche got us started and the dude and I wondered for a long time when the first course was served / going to be served. This guessing game and not knowing what to expect was quite exciting to begin with but also rather nerve wrecking for the first-timers.

Our adventure started off with:

Thai explosion II

Amaranth with sorrel – The crunchy popping was quite exciting though half the time we were guessing what it was.

Squid with monk’s beard – The squid was tender but there wasn’t much of it.

Potato with yeast and black olive – The potato was cooked perfectly and the combination really came together in the mouth.

Bread and butter – my favourite, out of the lot. We were served warm crusty potato baguette and olive focaccia together with in-house made yellow butter and brown butter. The warmth of the bread and the softness of the salted butter were a match made in heaven. Little did we know our first course was about to start…

Nuno Mendes, the very man himself served our first course – Zander with cured yolk, chervil root and fennel. The sommelier introduced us to Quinta da Muradella Gorvia Blanco 2006, Monterrei to go with the fish, as the beverage pairing. The fish was cooked well but the dish didn’t wow me. Personally, the cured yolk and fish didn’t taste too good together. (side note: I do not like uncooked eggs and partly why I didn’t quite take to the dish)

Our second course was duck with cabbage, oysters and barley which was matched with Domaine Jean Tardy et Fils Fixin ‘La Place’ 2007. There was duck heart and duck tongue in the mix of it all, according to our waiter. It was good not to know which was which, as the dude and I had a guessing game whilst we ventured into our duck meat and organs. The duck meat was cooked to perfection, tender and slightly red and it went well with the oysters, weirdly enough. The tongue and heart were really delicate and tender to the bite. I thought it finished off the dish really well. Got a thumbs up from me and the dude.

Funnily enough, the table next to us which sat six ladies weren’t too pleased when they heard heart and tongue in the mix. They started questioning the waiter and asked him to point out the odd bits but he declined. I suppose it was the excitement of what lies within the plate for us though I didn’t think the ladies took too well to the internal organs and one was seen running off her seat towards the toilet, whilst we watched in amusement. On that note, for the non-adventurous diners, this might not be your cup of tea.

Pear with pecan and cider were served next to cleanse our palate before our third and final course came. The freshness of the pear granita was really well paired with the pecan puree and cider, subtle and refreshing. It was so delicious that we were nearly licking our bowls!

We finished our final course with salsify and mellow with chocolate which was matched with Chateu de Jau Muscat de Rivesaltes 2010, a delicious dessert wine. The salsify was a tad too thick and chewy for my liking and we couldn’t quite figure out what it was till the very end.

We headed to the bar (right next to the restaurant) after to have a cleansing ale and were served our petit fours (more food!!!). I could remember the olive oil bites we had and they were simply amazing.

Just before we left, we were given a printed menu of what we had earlier in the afternoon. It gave an ending to the meal and allowed us to recall our earlier dining experience. A nice touch.
The service throughout the afternoon was exceptional although the food was a little hit and miss. I do think it’s a nice restaurant to check out, though I have heard that the more affordable Corner Room also run by Nuno Mendes is actually better.

Meal for two, with beverage pairing, two beers and service came to about £140.

Dishpiglets’ rating: 7/10

Patriot Square,
Bethnal Green,
London E2
Tel: 020 7871 0461.

Viajante on Urbanspoon

The Ledbury

Two Michelin Stars, 14th in this years The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, hundreds of fabulous reviews…  The numbers were stacking up and I was one excited little Dish Piglet!

Friday night and The Ledbury is humming.  Seated at our table, I took in the beautiful surrounds: huge windows looking out over Ledbury Road, crisp white table cloths, shiny cutlery and – the clincher for girls – a handbag hook to hang my bag.  This place oozed class, with all minor details covered.

The service was exceptional.  Friendly, knowledgeable, and not-at-all pretentious (as can often be the case with restaurants of this league).  It’s a well oiled machine where waiters appear and disappear at exactly the right time.

There are two menu options – degustation or three courses.  We chose three courses, which was more than enough considering the endless flow of amuse bouche which graced our table.  In total we tallied up 11 dishes that arrived (12, if you include the soufflé eaten in the kitchen with the chefs at the end of the night… More on that later!).

First up, the bread.  Ooooh, that bread.  Warm, crusty, soft, brown – heaven.  If that wasn’t enough, soon after we were offered mouth-wateringly delicious bacon and onion scrolls which were straight from the oven.  I am a bread-lover from way back, but I’m convinced not even the strictest carb-free dieter could resist this bread!

A delicate amuse bouche of foie gras on an oat shortbread set the tone for the evening.  Next was a taster of salmon and caviar served on a dollop of crème fraiche.   Then, a beautifully runny quail egg wrapped in flaky kataifi pastry, coupled with an asparagus and baby leaf salad.  These three tasters showcased the talents of the chefs – they were all delicate bites, interesting flavours, and brilliantly executed with incredible attention to detail.  It set the bar high and we awaited our entrees with anticipation…

For my entree I chose Scottish roasted scallops with Jersey Royals.  The thick, succulent scallops were cooked on a bed of seaweed which gave a lovely depth of flavour.  As a devoted quail lover, Chappy chose the roast quail with peas, Iberian ham and mousserons.  The quail was cooked in chicken broth for six minutes, then gently pan-fried, resulting in an incredibly tender piece of meat.

Choosing a main was a tough job.  Eventually I settled on pork with nashi pear, celeriac, dried chicory and dandelion.  Once again, blown away.  Can The Ledbury do anything wrong?   I don’t think so…  The pork was divine and the crackling, well it was cracking!  As a lover of the pork and apple combo, it was a refreshing twist to couple the pork with pear.  The flavours complement each other perfectly – possibly even better than apple.  Must try pear sauce next time I have pork sausages!

If I thought choosing a main was difficult, let’s just say that when it came to choosing a dessert I was completely stumped.  I guess it must be the same as choosing between which of your children you like most…  The lovely waiter recognised the stressful situation Chap and I were in (how can one choose between white chocolate, soufflé, brown sugar tart, chocolate pave, mille feuille, a daughter or a son…?!) and took our menus away declaring “I’ll choose for you”.   Oooooh, boy did this get me excited.

While we waited for our ‘surprise’ desserts, another amuse bouche arrive.  This time a smashed and ‘burnt’ meringue with tangy citrus sauce.   When The Ledbury say ‘burnt’, it’s not the type of burnt charcoal toast I often throw in the bin…  Here the term ‘burnt’ has an entirely different meaning.  Rather, the meringue was slightly ‘brown’ and ‘caramelised’.  The textures were amazing with gooey, chewy and crunchy bits throughout.

As we sat and played the ‘guess what dessert we’re getting’ game, three plates arrived.  Three desserts…  It was our lucky day!  The brown sugar tart with grapes and ginger ice cream was sweet, velvety smooth and addictive.  The chocolate pave was dark, incredibly rich and heart-stoppingly good.  However, the dessert that stole the show was the passionfruit soufflé with ice-cream.  This wasn’t just an average soufflé.  It arrived with a small production – the waiter presenting us the soufflé, and then plunging a dessert spoon laden with ice-cream right into the middle of it.  The soufflé was so light and airy, it melted in your mouth.  And coupled with the ice-cream – the hot and cold combo took this dessert to the next level.

Completely full and thoroughly happy, we paid the bill.  While munching on petit fours (delicious, of course), our lovely waiter came to us and asked “would you like a tour of the kitchen?”.  WHAT?  Could this experience get any better?!  Coincidentally two of our great friends were also dining in the restaurant that night, and they were offered the exclusive kitchen tour as well.  We excitedly bounded down the stairs into the kitchen.  Brett Graham – head chef – immediately came and introduced himself.  What a lovely guy.  While chatting, a chef whipped us up another soufflé which we ate off the pass surrounded by the entire kitchen team.  A memorable end to an amazing night. 

My lack of photos can only be explained by the fact I was having too much fun.  On my next visit, both me, and the camera, will be focused.

The Ledbury.  My new favourite restaurant in London.  Possibly the world.  Simply incredible.

Our meal with wine came to £228.

Dish Piglets’ Rating: 10/10.

The Ledbury
127 Ledbury Road, Notting Hill. London. W11 2AQ.
Tel: 020 7792  9090.

The Ledbury on Urbanspoon