Thursday, September 30, 2010

La Pâtisserie des Elfes

My friends bake too!! Here are some of the delicacies that have been delivered to me so far this year, courtesy of La Pâtisserie des Elfes...

Coconut & Pandan cupcake
Cake batter: infused fresh coconut milk with fresh pandan leaves, butter and extra-virgin coconut oil
Frosting: cream cheese based, flavored with lime juice & pandan oil

... with a secret cuppie compartment

Chocolate / hazelnut cupcake

Caramel cake

Friday, September 24, 2010

Creature comforts - Androuët Spitalfields

The famous French cheese affineur finally sets up shop on the other side of the Chunnel... They obviously do not have as many different sorts of cheese as they would have in Paris, as they stock only the most "classic" and well-known of French cheeses (which tend to run out quickly - no camembert on the day I visited!!), but the upside is that they stock quite a few English varieties as well, especially the blues I am so fond of (Stilton, Shropshire...). They have a few very reasonably priced lunch options (including a cheese fondue) and the service is friendly and efficient, despite the shop being run by French people. Check them out @ Old Spitalfields Market.

Cheese platter (morbier, blue stilton, reblochon, 24-month comté, brie...) with dried fruit & nuts, and charcuterie platter (bresaola, parma ham, rosette de Lyon... & pickles) with a glass of French sweet red wine (Mas Amiel- not as fruity as the Austrian I had at Caprice a while back but still a very good pairing with the Stilton)

Takeaway goodies :-)

Best eaten straight from the jar, with a spoon :-)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pub grub

Whenever I am in London, I need to get my pub food fix... by the fireplace is even better :-)

Steak & ale pie @ The Scarsdale Tavern (W8)

Eaten by the fireplace and washed down with a pint of Guinness. What better way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon ??

Pierre Hermé sets up shop in Knigthsbridge

I had to go on a business trip to London and decided to pay a visit to Master Pierre's new outlet in Knigthsbridge. Whilst the shop decoration was quite swank, I was pretty disappointed not to find some of the staples, essential to any PH shop: ispahan macarons and Miss Gla-Glas iced treats had gone MIA... Still worth a quick pit-stop to refuel on a long afternoon of walking around town...

Lemon in the park

Eden - peach, apricot, saffron

Window display - I got rudely told off for pinching & prodding as the macarons are real and therefore quite fragile :-(

No Ispahan, no Montebello, no cakes... and no ice creams!! boohoo :-(

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The best chocolate margarita this side of Cancun...

Artisan du Chocolat, Westbourne Grove, London - this little dealer of happiness happens to be located right across the street from my friend Em's place, so a visit at happy hour was inevitable... The shop stocks several dozen types of chocolates (white, milk and dark bars, powders and pralines) with uncommon flavours such as black cardamom, sichuan pepper, saffron, mole chilli, tobacco, orchid or tonka bean. They also happen to have some pretty interesting cocktails and mocktails. A recommended stop for all chocoholics out there.

Theobroma grandiflorum Margarita

A frangrant and bittersweet Margarita made with exotic Cupuacu pulp and a hint of tonka beans. At first, a slightly alcoholic nose of tequila and green citrus. On the palate, slight bitterness from the cocoa and the astringent bite of the tequila, followed by a lingering and addictive nose of Tonka beans. Very interesting.

Each cocktail bought gives you a choice of 2 complimentary pralines or truffles to pick from the whole shop display - I chose tonka bean and sichuan pepper. Both flavours tasted very natural and paired very nicely with the smooth dark chocolate. The pralines came on top of a bed of caramelised crushed cocoa beans. Very nice touch.

The shop display @ L'Artisan - half of it actually, as this is only the left wall...
I bought myself a couple of treats from L'Artisan

Mole Chili dark chocolate - flavoured with mole poblano, which is a traditional mexican sauce combining ground nuts, dried chillies, ground tortilla, cocoa beans and various spices such as aniseed, coriander, allspice, clove and rosemary. At first, I could only taste the perfecty smooth and round dark chocolate, then came a pleasant warm chilli bite, followed by a symphony of spices. Wow... all of that in... 2.5 grams ?? (I took 1 small square and the whole bar is only 45 grams). Very intense and satisfying.

Origin Dark Bali drinking chocolate - these come in their little "medicine" jars from a variety of origins around Asia, Africa and South-America (Bali, Vietnam, Costa Rica...). I cannot pretend to be able to taste the difference between various origins, so all I would say about the Bali "cru" is that it was a perfectly balanced dark chocolate, deeply roasted and with an almost smokey finish. Very enjoyable indeed.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

♥ Joël ♥

This date will go down in my personal history as the day I met world renowned Chef Joël Robuchon :-) I feel very fortunate for this, as he has always been one of my favourite chefs (with the sorely missed Bernard Loiseau - RIP). I jumped on the opportunity to attend the Gala Dinner he was giving at his Macau restaurant and I was thrilled he popped over to our table towards the end of the meal (as he did with all guests) to shake hands and exchange a few words - I was very pleasantly surprised to find a courteous and genuinely warm, chatty and friendly man (ok ok, the fact that I spoke to him in Froggish probably helped...)
Some of the guests at our table complained about the lack of originality of the menu, as the expectations had obviously been set very high by the presence of the man himself. For my part, I was delighted with the very well executed classics-with-a-twist we were served that evening. After all, the dinner menu was introduced with the annoucement of a "Retour à l'essentiel" (=back to basics) and it did just that...

Prémices de l’Automne 2010 - Retour à l’essentiel
(the beginnings of automn - back to basics)

Menu signed by the Master himself :-)

The bread trolley at Galera - always a feast for the eyes... and the palate

A heaping mound of butter, which the waiters proceed to gently scrape into perfectly shaped quenelles using a spoon dipped in hot water. If you try running towards the trolley to actually lick or hug the thing (as some of you would do, yes you in the back, I'm looking at you...), you will be floored by security in no time...

Our bread basket: épi baguette with lardons, sourdough, focaccia with cherry tomato, cheese roll, chestnut bread

Amuse-bouche: Tarte fine croustillante aux cèpes de sous-bois
(thin tart with wild cep mushrooms)

Three crispy paper-thin filo pastry strips, topped with the thinly chopped stalks of the mushrooms (slowly cooked until "confit" with a hint of garlic, parsley and probably some shallots), topped with the sliced and perfectly golden pan-fried caps of the cep mushrooms and some aragula and nut shavings (was it Brazilian nuts ??). The caps had been stir-fried (or more likely finished) with a very nutty oil (hazelnut ?) that had a very long finish and lingered on the palate for several minutes (and resisted a wine gulp...) - totally delicious. All the fragrances of an autumn forest summed up in a plate :-)

Le Gazpacho de cerises
Avec un lacté de brebis givré aux éclats de pistaches à l’huile de basilic
(cherries gaspacho with iced sheep milk, pistacchio and basil oil)

The cold veloute (traditionally made with tomatoes) was based on cherries (no idea which variety, maybe Montmorency, although these are pretty rare and it would probably have been specified on the menu AND they are not in season anyway...) which brought a nice fruity tartness. I also detected a hint of vinegar (I think xeres), which added a layer of sourness, making the combination quite complex. The sheep's milk dollops were iced, and had the consistency and creaminess of a proper frozen yoghurt. The basil oil drops were very fragrant, and so where the toasted pistacchio slivers. An interesting take on a very classic dish.

Le duo de foie gras d’oie et d’artichaut violet
En salade mêlée aux copeaux de parmigiano reggiano
(goose foie gras with purple artichoke in a salad with parmigiano reggiano shavings)

The steamed artichoke hearts (with a light vinaigrette I could not analyse - nutty oil, sherry vinegar ??) melted in the mouth and were sweet with almost no bitterness at all - I could have had a whole plate of these. The foie was silky as only goose liver can be, and the parmesan (which I thought at first was a risky choice as it can be quite strong) turned out to be relatively young and mellow and nicely complemented the dish, which came topped with tiny crostini and a sprinkle of radish julienne, red cress and split baby green beans. I was relieved that the amount of foie was modest, given the number of dishes still ahead of us...

Le crémeux d’oursins
Temblotante sous une émulsion mousseuse au wasabi
(cream of urchin, urchin and shellfish jelly and wasabi mousse)

Urchin never was one of my favs but I have to admit I am starting to acquire a taste for it... The warm urchin was presented on a bed of creamy urchin an shellfish jelly (I am pretty sure some "recycled" lobster shells found their way in there, and the jelly tasted like a light jellied bisque), topped with a creamy wasabi mousse and some pretty chunky pieces of urchin, which litterally melted on the tongue. To my own surprise, I really enjoyed this dish, even tough I found the presence of dill obtrusive and unnecessary. The wasabi mousse was interestingly mild and creamy, and nicely highlighted the delicate taste of the urchin without overpowering it. Brilliantly executed.

Le homard des îles de Chausey rôti
Au beurre sale et un bouillon épice de riz nacré aux pistils de safran
(lobster from Chausey Islands, roasted with salted butter, in a saffron broth with rice)

I went in "ooooh-s" and "aaah-s" over the origin of the lobster (some small islands off the north coast of Brittany, well, off the west coast of Cotentin, to be fully accurate...). As usual, we joked that the peas had not been peeled (even though it is unnecessary for young sugar snap peas like these) ... merci Elfette for the lifetime trauma ;-)
My lobster was perfectly cooked (some guests at my table were apparently not that lucky...) and came on a bed of saffron rice with tiny cubes of what I decided was calamari, not cuttlefish. The calamari was perfectly cooked and had a bouncy bite that contrasted nicely with the slight stickiness of the rice (very round grain, almost like arborio). The delicious saffron broth was obviously made from the lobster shells and was promptly inhaled with the rest of the dish - it also contained other spices which I could not individualise. I was a bit perplexed by the presence of a fennel seed in my plate, nested among the grains of rice ... surely a commis trying to sabotage the food by refusing to sieve the broth ... :-)

Le poulet fermier ivre de Château Chalon
Mitonné doucement en cocotte, fricassee de craterelles et de girolles au jus
(free range "drunken" chicken with Château Chalon, slowly cooked in a cocotte and served with pan-fried black trumpets and girolles mushrooms)

Given my email discussion with the sommelier a couple of days prior, this wasn't going to be my favourite dish of the evening... I gave up on trying to find out the exact origin of the chicken, as I did actually not want to know. All I can say is that restaurants serving Bresse chicken or even Challans actually DO mention this on the menu (ours came only with a pale "fermier" mention). Oh well... I am a dark meat person, and the breast ratio in my plate was 2 / 1 with the dark meat, so a bit frustrated (and what the hell did they do with the drumsticks ??). The breast was juicy but lacked very much in flavour, the skin was fatty (so obviously still a decent quality of chicken) but not cooked crispy so I left it on the side of my plate as that's one of my pet hates. And yes, I actually had to look up the word craterelle, which I had never seen before (shame on me...) - turns out it is a more "refined" name for a mushroom also called "trompette de la mort" (word for word: the trumpets of death). These and the girolles were totally delicious and had obviously been pan-fried with the addition of a meat jus (not sure which one but this was particularly obvious on the trompettes). The dish was redeemed by the presence of a plump dollop of Mr Robuchon's famous mashed potatoes, which I lapped up in no time...

Les baies noires de Bourgogne glacées
Lait d’amande douce, caramel Bourdaloue, paillettes de cassis
(black berries from Burgundy, sweet almond milk, pear and almonds tart with caramel, blackcurrant flakes)

Note "black berries" is spelled in 2 words here as it is meant as a metaphor for blackcurrant, which is traditionally grown in Burgundy. The half-spheres around the plate were glazed blackcurrant mousse on a thin almond genoise, and rested on a beautifully "spray-painted" white chocolate circle.The quenelle of blackcurrant sorbet was intensely fragrant and flavourful, and sat in a pool of sweet almond milk, with the infused almonds finely ground into the milk and giving a pleasant "graininess". The red foam contained tiny blackcurrant flakes and I thought I detected a hint of another fruit (possibly pomegranate juice, but it might just as well be my tired tastebuds...). The mini-Bourdaloue was a buttery almond biscuit (almost of a financier consistency but a bit more crunchy) with fondant pear and was topped by a gorgeous cap of thick caramel cream (which prompted a few grunts of happiness around the table). A few dried blackcurrants sprinkled on the dish brought yet another different texture. The pastry chef (can't remember his name... Sher ?) actually popped to the table at this point to explain his creation to me in French - spot the frog in the room... ;-) A man who can make me like blackcurrant deserves a hug.

Une symphonie chocolatée
Compote de mendiants à la liqueur de mirabelles
(chocolate symphony - pureed candied fruit with yellow plum liquor)

Creamy milk chocolate ganache, topping a bed of cooked and pureed candied fruit (apricots, a hint of orange rind, almonds) infused with the very frangrant liqueur of this small yellow plum called mirabelle. I would have been happier with dark chocolate ganache, but I otherwise very much enjoyed this dessert, which draws its inspiration from some of the 13 desserts served at the Christmas eve dinner in Provence

Arc-en-ciel de bonbons au chocolat
(a rainbow of chocolate sweets)

I had one, just to try, as I was full beyond even greed at this point - the tiny green dome was creamy peppermint ganache in a green white chocolate shell. Not bad at all...

Henri's Galley

In Macau for the long-awaited Gala Dinner organised at Robuchon a Galera in presence of the man himself, a friend and I decided to have a quick lunch pit-stop to refuel before spending the afternoon walking around town in search of delicacies to bring back. We flipped a coin and Henry's Galley won over Afonso III, which we will definitely hit on a next visit. Established in 1976 (arguably a very good year for many things...), it's a fine ship Mr Henri has there! A little Portugese joint tucked away in a slightly remote part of Macau, close to the Macau tower - very well worth visiting for its honest & generous home-style grub (4G-H Av. da Republica, Macau)

Henri's African Chicken recipe - very high on my "to-cook-at-home" list

Caldo verde - potato broth (think super-diluted mash) with shredded green cabbage and smoked Portuguese sausage - a very nice way to warm up after being frozen to the bone on the bloody ferry from HK for an hour... the starchy potato broth was very light and nicely smokey from the numerous sausage bits

Caldo verde
 Stir-fried clams - so good. The clams were obviously very fresh, and had been stir-fried in white wine with red chilli, onions, garlic, sprinkled with chopped coriander and served with a squished lemon wedge - delish. This came with warm bread rolls to mop up the sauce :-)

Stir-fried clams

Bacalhau a Bras

Bacalhau a Bras - home-style: chunky bits of salted cod, pan-fried with onions and eggs, and topped with crispy shredded potato. Absolutely delicious. The waiter suggested we add some olive oil on top, which we didn't do as it was totally unnecessary, the dish having been generously drizzled during the cooking process already. I regretted not tasting the oil though, as I couldn't help but notice that the said oil on the table was a premium Portuguese olive oil (virgin, cold pressed).

Arroz chau-chau

Arroz chau chau - fried rice, Portuguese-style: ham, smoked Portuguese sausage, ground beef, onions, egg, thinly chopped tomatoes. The combination of the various meaty flavours was very good and the rice nicely cooked, but for me the dish missed one thing: chilli!!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

13 and counting...

A Kit Kat tasting marathon... A big hug to my friend Peech for the shopping in Japan & for putting this together :-)

From front to back, left to right: sakura green tea, green tea, banana, strawberry balls, blueberry, coke, crushed lemon, bitter almond, custard pudding, strawberry cheesecake, soy powder, shoyu, wasabi, more strawberry balls

My favs: bitter almond, but loved the custard pudding, strawberry cheesecake, banana and sakura green tea. The wasabi is a bit of a let down, I was expecting the thing to go to your nose if you bit half the bar in one go but no, it was very mild...