Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester ***

Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester
53 Park Ln, Mayfair,London
W1K 1QA, UK
+44 20 7629 8866
Official Site

Alain Ducasse is one of the most decorated and influential chef/restaurateur in the world. He holds an astronomical 21 Michelin stars (only bested by Joel Robuchon), including three restaurants in different cities with three stars; a feat that he was the first to accomplished. This was no easy task, but Chef Ducasse remarkably managed to achieve this twice. His dining empire stretches continents and his restaurant can be found in every major global city like New York, London, Paris, Hong Kong and Tokyo. In London, he has the three Michelin starred Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester, and Rivea in the Bulgari Hotel.

Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester opened its door in 2007. Within two years, it was awarded two stars by the Michelin guide. A year later the ultimate third star came; joining the ranks of Restaurant Gordon Ramsey, The Waterside Inn and The Fat Duck as the only restaurant in the UK to have three stars. Taking charge of the kitchen from day one and responsible for the restaurants ascession to the top was head chef Jocelyn Harland; who has since been dispatched to lead Le Meurice in Paris in early 2016. Sous chef Jean-Philippe Blondet, a veteran of the Ducasse restaurant group was promoted to head chef. He was tasked to maintain the Ducasse standard and under his leadership Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester retained its three stars in the current UK Michelin guide.

This flagship restaurant of the iconic Dorchester Hotel in Mayfair has an understated interior, with a touch of contemporary elegance. The dining room is surrounded by wooden paneled walls;, the tables are dressed in beige and white cloth, and the chairs are draped with lush leather. Its center piece, “Table Lumiere”, a private table for up-to-six guests is surrounded by fiber optics strand. Separated from the main dining room next to the windows is another area with additional tables. The space has plenty of natural lights, and Hyde Park serves as its background. Chandeliers shaped in metallic leaves stretched from one end to the other and hangs above its tall ceiling.

A la carte, tasting menu and a seasonal tasting menu are offered for both afternoon and evening while a special three course is available for lunch. On this visit, I had the seven course tasting menu for 145 GBP that started with a handful of gourges or cheese puffs. Soft and airy cheese puffs are flavored with either paprika or pepper was nice to snack on while waiting. First course was the Dorset crab celeriac and caviar. Thinly sliced celeriac rolled and stuffed with tasty crab meat are topped with caviar. The caviar topping was a great way to elevate the crab meat, giving it a bite of saltiness. As a bonus, a extra crispy crab claw fried in tempura batter is added to the already savory plate.

Next were the Guinea fowl and duck foie gras terrine rhubarb.  The terrine was scrumptious and had delightful richness. Providing a certain tartness to complement the terrine was the rhubarb. The third course, saute gourmand of lobster truffled chicken quenelles, was the signature dish of the restaurant. Lobster, chicken and pasta drowning in cream sauce packed of wonderful deep savory flavors. This course was the highlight of the meal.

Line-caught sea bass cucumber and juniper came after. The sea bass was firm yet delicately tender and was seasoned beautifully. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same with the cucumber on the plate as it was a tad too salty for my palate. For the main course, I was served the Milk-fed lamb green peas and mint.  Perfectly cooked lamb chops were extremely succulent and flavorful. Along with the peas and the green vegetable puree on this dish, the mint accompanied the lamb fittingly.

The cheese course was an Assortment of four French cheeses with varying types of textures and sharpness. Served with different condiments, the spicy puree worked particularly very well with all four cheeses.

The sweet course started with Mignardises & Gourmandise; consisting of macaroons, homemade caramel candy, coated almonds and chocolates all presented at the same time while desert followed shortly. Marking the end of the meal, I was served Berry contemporary vacherin that was mightly sweet and almost syrupy. However, the sweetness was wonderfully subdued by the vacherin, and its savory and acidic features. There was also a cold aspect to desert that was quiet refreshing.

With the exception of the cucumber in the sea bass course, this was a very good meal where the cooking standard is equally as high as the execution. I find their Modern French cuisine to be light and satisfying. In each course, the individual components worked together harmoniously, striking the right balance on the plate. To go along with this tasting, I requested for the 95 GBP wine paring that included Alain Ducasse’s own champagne label. The pairing was perfect, all seven individual glasses enhanced the flavors in each course it was paired with. The restaurants wine list is plentiful and consists of predominantly French wines and some from continental Europe and Australia. I was extremely surprised to see US wines on their list.

The service was polished and faultless. The multicultural staff exudes calm and confidence. They worked the busy dining room flawlessly and discreetly, glancing unnoticeably at every table often assuring diners were properly looked after.

Wine Pairing:

This was my first foray to an Alain Ducasse establishment. The service and the setting is what I anticipated. The food, though it was very good it just did not exceed what I was hoping for.  Perhaps it was the name associated with it or the three Michelin stars that set my expectation too high.  Nevertheless Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester, is still worthy of the label as one of the finest dining venue that London has to offer.

 

2016 Dining Recap

 

Having visited a handful of Michelin starred, World’s 50 Best and other top restaurants in Asia and Europe, 2016 was great dining year. My journey began at Hong Kong where I dined at Lung King Heen, the very first three Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant in the world. Needless to say, it had an extremely high quality Cantonese food. The restaurants location on the fourth floor of the Four Season hotel boasts a panoramic view of Victoria Harbor. The two Michelin-starred Amber at Landmark Mandarin Oriental offers a terrific weekend wine lunch which consists of five courses paired with four glasses of wine. This was one of the best deals out there at 928 HKD for a restaurant at this caliber. Dinner at the L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon (the only of the L’Ateliers with three Michelin stars) was also quite superb.

I waited in queue for hours at Tim Ho Wan in Sham Shui Po, which at that time was the cheapest Michelin starred restaurant in the world (until that distinction was awarded to Singapore’s Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken in the summer of last year). The dim sum was tasty and I enjoyed every single dish that I had. Frog legs and chicken congee at Tasty Congee & Wuntun Noodle Shop in the IFC was nothing short of delicious. Even better was the chicken and fish congee at the concierge recommended Sang Kee Congee Shop in Sheung Wan. 208 Ducento Otto serves up wonderful cocktails while Angel Share Whisky Bar & Restaurant and its expansive list of whisky is a must-visit for enthusiast while in Hong Kong.

That same journey through Asia led me to Tokyo, Japan. I had my very first meal in this sprawling metropolis at RyuGin, Chef Seiji Yamamoto’s flagship restaurant which has three Michelin stars and ranked number 31 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurant. The modern kaiseki that it serves is a reflection of the agricultural bounty of Japan. With each dish skillfully prepared, this was one of the best meals I’ve had. In Ginza, the Omakase at the three Michelin-starred Sushi Yoshitake did not disappoint. The fish and other seafood used in every single piece of Nagiris were extremely fresh. Sushi might be star of the show at this restaurant, but the cooked dishes were equally sublime. It was highlighted by the abalone liver sauce mixed with sushi rice which was a mind-blowing dish that still resonates in my memory.

Hideki Ishikawa is Japan’s most decorated chef/restaurateur with three restaurants under his belt totaling eight Michelin stars. He also has the distinction shared by the likes of the Robuchon’s , the Keller’s and the Ducasse’s to have two restaurants at the same with the maximum rating from the Michelin guide. At his eponymous Ishikawa, I was served a wonderful contemporary style kaiseki that shows simplicity with plenty of subtle flavors. I also visited Kohaku the other three star restaurant of Chef Ishikawa, which is located in the same area and within walking distance from each other. The kitchen is under Koji Koizumi a disciple of Chef Ishikawa. There are many of similarities between them, but the two are distinctly different at the same time. Kohaku is a more modern prepared kaiseki that incorporate foreign ingredients, which are not usually use in Japanese cuisine.

Japan is surprisingly home to one of the finest French restaurant outside of France. Others can argue that it might better than its home country due to the high quality of ingredients it uses produced by Japan. Many of the top French chefs has an outpost sprinkled throughout country, but a large number of them are concentrated in Tokyo. I had a superb tasting menu at Chef Pierre Gaganaire, Two restaurant Peirre Gagnaire Au Tokyo on the 35floor of the ANA Intercontinental, which was awarded two Michelin stars. Each plate were carefully crafted, using only the finest local ingredients. As a bonus, guests enjoyed the scenic view of the whole city as the backdrop while dining. In Roppongi Hills, I dined at Chef of the Century Joel Robochon L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. Along with Paris, the Tokyo branch is one of the first L’Ateliers. Having previously gone to the Hong Kong location, these two Michelin starred restaurant are a lot more casual, yet the quality of food is equally top-notched.

Inside the train station in Ginza, resides a minuscule ramen shop called Kagari Echika, which has garnered a lot of following. They served me tasty bowl of ramen, with a broth that has a certain delightful creaminess. In Shinjuku, high above the mall of the train station is Tenichi, where I had some delicate fried tempura accompanied with fresh sashimi. While at Sushi Mamire, I was served with affordable yet enjoyable pieces of sushi and rolls. Pagliaccio Due in Shiba, is an Italian restaurant that serves pleasant dishes like the Seafood Rissotto, and the spaghetti with fish. Night caps in the New York Bar at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, were made lively with tunes from a funky jazz show. Soon after I feasted with the hotel famous weekend brunch. Finally, visiting Japan is not complete without trying the world famous Kobe beef. At Kobe Beef Kaiseki 511, I had a magical experience without breaking the bank. The beef was as good as advertised, and every bite was heavenly like cotton candy that melts in the mouth.

From Izakaya’s, to noodle shops, to high end kaiseki, sushi (as well as low end), and to fine French restaurants, I had the greatest time dining in Tokyo. The uncompromising use of quality ingredients in this city restaurant makes Tokyo the gastronomic capital of the world. The two weeks I spent there was simply not enough.

The next stop in my search and passion for fine dining was a short trip to Basel, Switzerland. I had the opportunity to dine at the three Michelin star, Cheval Blanc. The restaurant is located in one of Europe’s oldest hotel Le Trois Rois. Bavarian chef Pete Knogl, is in charge of the kitchen and under his leadership Cheval Blanc was elevated to culinary stardom. The tasting menu has global influences and shows the precision cooking technique of Chef Knogl. Each dish was light and has a fantastic complex combination of flavors and textures.

I couldn’t end 2016 without grazing the home front for some great eats. After all, no one can beat New York City in anything, (at least to a New Yorker that is). I had very good meals at the Upper East Side’s, The NUAA. This beautifully decorated restaurant serves refined Thai fare that’s geared towards the Western palate. Last year, I saw an onslaught of new eateries opening up in the Financial District improving the neighborhood’s restaurants scene. Among them is Eataly Downtown which opened to the public last summer. Much smaller than its older siblings in the Flatiron, this mega food market brought a slew of dining options that includes another outlet of the seafood haven, Il Pesce. The restaurant offers appetizing sustainable seafood prepared in the simplest form. As the last stop of my 2016 journey, West Village Carma Asian Tapas, served an unmatchable creative Far Eastern fare in small plate format. I enjoyed the way the kitchen recreated classic Chinese dishes, as well as using other Western ingredients that aren’t usually found in Asian cooking.

Though 2016 didn’t boast much of my hometown’s variety of eateries, it was a star studded year of dining in the international level. Overall, I would say it was great and successful year of eating. I’m looking forward to an even better 2017 where I plan to focus on New York City, its outer boroughs and state side. Hopefully, I can sprinkle few international trips here and there.

Cheval Blanc ***

Dining Room

Cheval Blanc
at Grand Hotel LES TROIS ROIS
Blumenrain 8
CH-4001
Basel, Switzerland
+41 61 260 50 07
Official Site

Having the headquarters of the two largest pharmaceutical company in the world, Novartis and Hoffman-La Roche, Basel is known as the world’s pharma capital. The city offers more than that, it has a well preserved old town and a dining scene that is underrated compared to other Swiss cities like Zurich and Geneva.  When the restaurant, Cheval Blanc, received the coveted third Michelin star last year, it single handedly put the city of Basel in the global stage of gastronomy.

Grand Hotel LES TROIS ROIS

In charged of the kitchen is German chef Peter Knogl who trained under three Michelin starred chef Heinz Winkler at Tantris in Munich. Chef Knogl came to Cheval Blanc in 2007 and in a matter of months it received its first Michelin star, the second one came a year later and finally the third star was awarded in 2015.  The restaurant also received 19 points from the GaultMillau and was voted as the 2015 best restaurant in a hotel in Europe by the Prix Villegiature. Chef Knogl French haute cuisine with Mediterranean and Asian influence had earned him the title as the best chef in Switzerland in 2011 and 2015.

Entrance

A la carte and two types of tasting menus for lunch and dinner are offered while special lunch set menus are also available. I had the longer tasting menu priced at CHF 220.

Tasting Menu:

Ragout de couteau de mer Textures de champignons, Peta Negra

The meal began with an array of snacks starting with Espuma Jalapeno.  I was instructed to use the spoon and to start from the bottom where a piece of shrimp buried below a chilled jalapeño cream.  Macaron/foie gras de canard, orange, Garam Masala had an airy texture with a touch of orange zest and spices that was in tune with the buttery foie gras. Ragout de couteau de mer, chopped razor clams presented in its half shell had an abundance of deep maritime essence.  Textures de champignons, Peta Negra, mushroom cream on top of crispy chip with some Peta Negra had a very good earthiness. These tasty small bites were a fantastic intro.

Kingfish, avocado, radish and Miso Langoustine, white asparagus and port

The first course was Kingfish, avocado, radish and Miso. Fresh and delicate kingfish had a sublime citric acidity. Avocado puree and radish on the plate worked in harmony together with the fish to create vibrant flavors. Next was Langoustine, white asparagus and port. Firmed and meaty langoustine sat  on top of beautifully poached white asparagus bathed in thick sauce with port wine. The sauce renders hints of sweetness that is infused into the langoustine which also had a hint of sour note in the background.

Filet of red mullet, crispy scales, saffron, black and vinaigrette of tomatoes

Third course was the Filet of red mullet, crispy scales, saffron, black and vinaigrette of tomatoes. The mullet was cooked precisely to have a crispy skin side including the scales keeping the inner part moist and soft. Enriching the fish was the sour acidity of the vivid yellow foam sauce.  Continuing on was the main course of Saddle of suckling lamb, flavored with sweet pepper and ginger. The juicy lamb had a deep scrumptious flavor that was asserted by the strong saltiness of the sauce which was made from its own juices.  Other components gives the dish extra dimension of sweet and spicy.

Saddle of suckling lamb, flavored with sweet pepper and ginger

The cheese course was supposedly a Selection of soft and hard cheeses from Maitre Antony in Ferrette but instead I requested for an all Swiss cheese. I was served with some excellent cheeses from different parts of the country with their own distinct sharpness but with similar firm textures that are common with Swiss cheese.

Cheese Course

Before moving to the sweet course I was served a refreshing palate cleanser of pinacolada. That was followed by a pre-dessert of Mango passion fruit, rice crispy and pannacotta which was a combination of tropical fruits. For dessert I was served Composition of Gariguette strawberries with lime cress. Using special Gariguette strawberries from France which has longer shape than common strawberry and has a sweet candy like taste it was prepared in different ways with varying textures and temperatures while keeping its natural taste. This was an excellent dessert.  To finally conclude the tasting were more sweets that include the mignardaise which was made up of tiny pastries and the petit four which was a collection of Swiss chocolates.

Chef Knogl was in the kitchen on my visit and his standard of cooking reflected on this tasting menu. One after the other every plate in every course has a level of consistency that is inviting to the palate. Each dish was light and has complex textures and taste prepared meticulously. There was a mixture of quality seasonal and foreign ingredients used exquisitely to create superb flavors combinations.

Composition of Gariguette strawberries with lime cress.

Their wine list is vast and comprised mostly from continental Europe. I opted for the 110 CHF wine pairing and made a special request to only have Swiss wine.  The sommelier came through masterfully in choosing red and white wines from different regions of the country. The paring was in symphony and enhances each course in the tasting.

Mignardise Petit-fours

The restaurant’s staff was properly trained and well verse. They were formal yet extremely pleasant and welcoming. Service was restrained. The servers observed from a distant providing a senses of privacy and allowed me to focus and savor my food one bite at a time without too many intrusion.

Wine Pairing:

Wine Pairing

Located in the middle of the old part of Basel, Cheval Blanc is housed inside Grand Hotel Le Trois Rois, one of the oldest hotels in Europe and the most prestigious accommodation in the city. The restaurants interior is induced with class and a hush atmosphere. The dining room’s high ceilings with crystal chandeliers and tall windows overlooked the Rhine. Its clean white walls are decorated with oil paintings. A marble table serves as a centerpiece while the ten uniformed round tables covered in neatly pressed white cloth with each having its own candelabra are distanced properly from one another. Paired with the tables were classic wooden purple velvet chairs.

Dining Room

When a restaurant received plenty of accolades and is considered among the best in the country it sets high expectations. Cheval Blanc had exceeded mine and then more. It was perfection, Chef Knogl prepared a fantastic meal complimented with the finest Swiss wines and a staff focus in providing superior hospitality. I had a complete dining experience well worth the third Michelin star it received last year. Covering all aspect of a top tier dining destination Cheval Blanc exemplifies Swiss culinary excellence.

L’Astrance ***

Dining Room

L’Astrance
4 Rue Beethoven
75116 Paris, France
+33 1 40 50 84 40
Official Website

With ninety-four Michelin starred restaurants scattered throughout Paris to go along with a large number of quality bistros, brasseries, and wine bars, it is easy to say that Parisians takes their food and wine seriously. Fine dining is in abundance and as the epicenter and the originator of haute cuisine, the city has 9 three Michelin starred restaurants, more than any other city in the world outside of Tokyo. One of its top restaurants, L’Astrance in the 16th arrondissement which serves creative French fare with global emphasis, is high on travelling epicureans list to visit while in Paris. Led by Chef Pascal Barbot and Maitre d’ Christophe Rohat, the restaurant has had three stars since 2007 and continuously appears in the San Pelligrino’s The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.

L'Astrance

Chef Barbot worked under Alain Passard at Arpege where he and Christophe met (who was responsible for the front of the house). Upon his departure, Chef Barbot was the head chef and the right hand man of Chef Passard. He travelled the globe to cook before reconnecting with Christophe in 2000 to open L’Astrance. The restaurant was well received and quickly ascended to the top after being awarded a Michelin star in 2001 after just a few months of opening. Four years later it received the second one and finally the third in 2007. Not only was this one of the very best that Paris had to offer but it is also one of the toughest tables to score. Opened from Tuesday to Friday, L’Astrance is only able to accept a maximum of twenty-five diners per service. With the time difference between Paris and New York, using a concierge came in handy especially if it required waking up in the wee hours of the morning to call the restaurant for an available table.

Dining Room

L’Astrance is tucked in a quiet residential street near by the banks of the River Sienne directly across from the Eiffel Tower. Its store front glass windows are covered in wooden sticks bundled at the stems. Upon entering, there is an aged old wooden bar in the front for the sommelier to do his tasting before serving each glass of wine. The interior is designed with high ceilings, dark marble floorings, and grey walls with oversized mirrors hanging. Plush lemon leather covered seats and benches are paired with tables that are tight knit within each other. Its lofty layout provided additional seating in the balcony accessible by spiral stairs.

All of L’Astrance menu is listed as a surprise, there are no itemized listing nor a la carte. The EUR 70 prix fixe, EUR 120 five courses for lunch, and “Menu Astrance” their EUR 230 tasting menu, the only option for dinner. The “Menu Astrance” was my choice on my visit and by Parisian standard it is the most economical multi-course meal compared to others of the same level.

Menu Astrance:

A pair of tasty bite sized crispy short bread and mushroom wafers started my culinary voyage to the unknown. The first course called Paris tart is one of Chef Barbot’s signature dishes. Layers of foie gras, thinly sliced mushroom and apple stacked on top of each other was a handsome assortment of buttery, earthy, and sweet elements that was complemented with roasted lemon puree and hazelnut oil. The next course was Oyster from Brittany with scallops and bone marrow. It had a defined flavor of the deep sea and along with the bone marrow, which provided another dimension, this was an interesting blend that the kitchen pulled off excellently. An additional crispy roll with ginger mint and vegetable filling was served on the side as a supplement completing a sublime dish.

For the third course a beautiful piece of sea bass sitting on top of risotto cooked in cauliflower. The bass had a firm texture and clean taste, while the bergamot gave it added zest. The touch of saffron for a little spice and the intensity of the goat cheese helped to even all the flavors. Parmigiana cream with celery and black truffles followed after. Plated to resemble a yin and yang design, the celery puree, thickened with parmigiana, created a cream with strong flavors. On the other hand the pungency of truffle gave this dish an even contrast of two different tastes that got along flawlessly.

Guinea Fowl DSCN6642

The meal continued on with a “Guinea fowl”. Cooked superbly, the texture was extremely tender and flavorful. Parmesan cream gave some richness and the mushroom sauce added flavors that married well with the fowl meat. Miso caramel chips were served alongside this fine dish. Next was roasted duck with cabbage, duck sauce and condiments of olives and coffees. The duck was roasted to perfection the meat was soft and scrumptious. There was a hint of saltiness from the sauce and olives that could have been overpowering but was neutralized by incorporating the coffee for a slight bitterness as a balancer to this amazing dish. Served along with it was a bowl of vivid fresh salad covering a delectable duck liver toast buried beneath.

Roasted Duck Duck Salad

Moving on from the savory and to clear the palate was a refreshing sorbet with a touch of chili and ginger. Chocolate tart was for dessert, a thick sweet of chocolaty pleasure with great consistency. Mandarin sorbet was also served simultaneously. An interesting dessert dish as it has a mingling of cool fruitiness and some savory. Then finally ending the meal were warm and tasty madeleines, aromatic Jasmine eggnog, and a plate of fresh fruits.

At the start there was no telling what I was in for but when the meal concluded the kitchen delivered a remarkable tasting. “Menu Astrance” was truly surprising and joyous to the taste buds. Chef Barbot’s technical skills fused different elements to create dishes that were both light and savory. The pacing in between courses was of a timely manner allowing me to enjoy and savor every dish. To complement the tasting, sommelier Alexander Jean assembled a perfect wine pairing of mainly French wine which brought out an extra flavor from each course, it was harmonious.

Wine Pairing:

The atmosphere in the dining room was relaxed and intimate. L’Astrance staffs were interactive while also maintaining their formality. There was a bit of cockiness and to some might be interpreted as arrogance but they do it in a fun way. Christophe’s presence in the dining room assured each and every guest received a faultless service.

Decorated chefs like Alain Ducasse, Yannick Alleno, Guy Savoy, Pierre Gagnaire have all set shop in Paris and all have built a global culinary empire. Unlike them and other great Parisian chefs, Chef Barbot owns and operates one restaurant, much like his mentor Alain Passard. He devotes his effort at L’Astrance and can be seen majority of the time behind the stoves. With this, guests are guaranteed to have a meal that has met his standards. As one of most sought after tables in Paris the expectation was high. Chef Barbot’s arsenal was on full force on my visit and he delivered one of the best meals I’ve had so far.

Vendome ***

 

Dining Room

Vendome
Althoff Grandhotel Schloss Bensberg,
Kadettenstrasse, 51429 Bergisch Gladbach
Cologne, Germany
+49 2204 42 906
Official Site

Cologne is the fourth populous city in Germany with just over one million inhabitants. Most of its infrastructures were destroyed during World War II leaving just a few historical architectures intact, like the majestic Cologne Cathedral. The city is usually a day trip or stop over for tourists heading to Berlin or Munich, and as far as a gastro destination, it’s mediocre. There are a few Michelin starred restaurants here and there. But what brought me to Cologne is the close proximity to Bergisch-Gladbach a town in the outskirt of the city and where the three Michelin starred restaurant, Vendome, resides.

Vendome’s Executive Chef, Joachim Wissler has been in the kitchen since its opening in 2000. Under his leadership the restaurant has been propelled to gastronomic stardom and has become one of the very best in the world. In its short five years it has been awarded a third Michelin star, which it currently holds. Vendome also has a 19.5 out 20 rating from Gault Millau and an annually appearance in The Worlds 50 Best Restaurant. This 2003 “Chef of The Year” had previously owned two Michelin stars at Marcobrunn restaurant at Schloss Reinhartshausen in Etville before being approached by Thomas Althoff (the owner of the hotel) to open Vendome.

Housed in a separate building of the Althoff Grandhotel Schloss Benserg courtyard overlooking Cologne Cathedral and the city, Vendome is one of three dining options in the hotel. The restaurants dining room is divided into two, each separated by dangling strings and a gold half egg shaped serving station in the center of the room. On one side there are rows of tables with banquettes seats that run along the wall on opposite sides. Meanwhile, the other room is made up of well space tables with 3D like art work on the wall. Throughout the space is thick soft carpet, tables with finely pressed table cloths paired with comfortable green suede chairs. Enlarged windows and clean marble walls complete the interior of the music less dining room.

Aside from the different tasting menus and a la carte options available for lunch and dinner, Vendome also offers the eleven course “Seasonal Menu” for EUR 268 which was a clear cut choice on my visit.

Dining Room Dining Room Dining Room

The meal began with a parade of amuse-bouche beginning with thinly sliced, melt in your mouth, “Wagyu Beef” served on a wooden board along with cottage cheese and beech nut. Then came the “Pork Snout” that was slightly modified. The pork was substituted with more oyster and caviar. Presented on a plate that mimicked a pork face, this dish turned out to be a seafood pleasure. The third amuse was a work of art called “Mackerel”. Served on a glass covered box frame plate that displayed the fish bones underneath, the grilled mackerel was elegantly moist. The saporous crème of sardines and escabeche completed the dish. Finally the last of the amuse was the “Fish Finger & Pina Colada” which entailed of smoked salmon on a stick with crispy fish skin, a glass bottle with juice made from coconut and pineapple, white chocolate with coconut and a miniature cocktail glass with green apple jelly. These multiple items gave an array of smoky, sweet, fruity, yet refreshing tastes.

Seasonal Menu:

Wagyu Beef
Wagyu Beef
 Pork Snout
Pork Snout
Mackerel
Mackerel

For the first course I was served the “Foie Gras & Aloe Vera”. The buttery foie gras was glazed in sweet sauce and the tangerine vinegar that it came with gave a nice touch of sourness while the cream of peanuts provided a hint of nuttiness. “Lobster & Bone Marrow” with pumpkin puree was the second course. It was an interesting combination of flavors and textures.

Third course was called “Lecthal Char Escabeche”, it consisted of a wonderful piece of trout from the Austrian region of Lech that was cooked to perfection. Fried egg and horse radish emulsion on the plate gave another layer of flavor with its pungent spiciness. There was also a hint of smokiness as well coming from the strips of smoked eels. Served as a supplement was a bite sized recreation of a blini topped with trout tartare and caviar with horse radish. Then came the following course of “Coquilles St. Jacques Grille”, the restaurants version of paella. There were three components to the dish. A plate with a big titillating king scallop that was barbecued and pieces of octopus and squid. A small plate containing the rice that was akin to a rice crispy and a marshmallow on the stick made from sepia ink. Along with a cup of rice stock as the final component. After mixing all three together as I was instructed by my server it created a paella with a fabulous arrangement of seafood flavors.

The fifth course was fillets of cod bathed in herring vinaigrette, with beet root, potato and gherkins called “Labskaus & Cod”. Labskaus is a common North German dish that is usually made with beef, but here it was replaced with delicate cod fillets that absorbed the sweet, sour, and earthy flavors to create a refined dish. Served separately on bread were pulled cod meat topped with caviar.

Suckling Pig (Lamb)
Suckling Pig (Lamb)

“Mieral Guinea Fowl” was the sixth course. Two different parts of guinea fowl meat were cooked in different ways; the breast was fried producing a crispy skin on one side, giving it a nice crackling crunch. The leg on the other hand was made into a confit on its own juice creating powerful flavors. An accompaniment of tarragon salad, black truffles, artichoke and puree from Jerusalem artichoke and miso completed this excellent dish. A crispy fowl skin chip was served extra on the side. “Suckling Pig” was the seventh and the main course of the tasting. Instead of pork, I was served chunks of delicious lamb meat and kept the rest of the dish the same. Purees from grilled bananas and lime juice, bean stew, pickled green radish salad, curry and macadamia nuts created various depths of flavors making it a wonderful tasting dish.

“Vondue” was the cheese course, their version of fondue and showed the clever luxuriousness of the restaurant. Served with freshly baked truffle focaccia bread and dehydrated asparagus for dipping, the Vacherin Mont d’Or cheese used in the fondue was soft and rich. To enhance the flavor of the fondue a few drops of clear fruit brandy or kirsch was added.

“William Christ Pear” was the beginning of the dessert course. The pear was steamed in its own juice giving it a sweetened soft texture along with the kombu seaweed ice cream and ginger jelly that created a cooling effect. “Breakfast”, was the final dessert, it came with homemade rolls, Nutella and kumquat marmalade, a “Coffee” made with coffee and cream pudding, and hazelnut ice cream with sauce of kumquat and orange. To end were “Sweets” of pork snout made from marshmallow, macaroon of passion fruits, lychee popcorn and Royal Magnum “Marc de Champagne”.

Lasting four hours this was a tour de force meal that rivaled those at Eleven Madison Park and Astrid Y Gaston. The high quality of cooking the kitchen delivered was impeccable. Each course was timed perfectly in a succession of flavors without confusing the palate using multiple elements that worked together in harmony. They were elaborate, visually appealing, and precisely executed. To complement the individual courses, sommelier Marco Franzelin arranged the wine pairing that was comprised of mainly European and a rare appearance of an Canadian wine (a first while dining in Europe).

Wine Pairing:

Wine Pairing Wine Pairing

Top class service was provided by the staff. They were pleasant, professional and had a more personal approach. There was a sense of truthfulness when they engaged the guest in a conversation and each treated with a genuine attitude without the stuffiness. The different servers were able to explain and provided a brief history of every course. They made the visit more enjoyable and added to the greatness of Vendome from the beginning to end.

Chef Wissler had received all the accolades that can be bestowed upon a chef in Germany, he is widely recognized as the country’s top chef. His name is often mentioned in the same sentence with “New German Cooking” and considered to be the founder. His well thought out cooking philosophy was on display at Vendome where he successfully married classic German dishes with innovative modern techniques while using both local and foreign ingredients. For those who have experienced his cooking at Vendome it can easily be one of the best meals they can have.

De Leest***

Dining RoomDe Leest
Kerkweg 1
8171 VT Vaassen, Netherland
+31 578 571 382
Official Site

As a nation, the Netherlands has two 3 Michelin starred venues and having previously dined at one of them, De Librije in Zwolle, it was fitting that I visit De Leest. Located in the small quiet town of Vaassen in Northern Holland, Austrian born chef Jacob Jan Boerma and his wife Kim Vandelman transformed a shoemakers store back in 2002 to a fine dining destination. It received its first Michelin star a year after opening, then the second in 2007 and finally, in 2013 the restaurant joined the culinary elite when it won the coveted third star.

From Amsterdam, the restaurant is accessible by public transportation. After an hour and a half travelling by train and bus I arrived at the door of the De Leest where Kim and the staff, dressed in neat unformed gray suits were waiting to welcome me.

De Leest

There are a variety of set menus and a la carte to choose from for lunch and dinner. I requested the “Menu Micri” their tasting menu for 145 euros. To start were a trio of tasty bite snacks, macaroon of mushroom with cheese and truffles, crispy cornetto stuffed with beef, yuzu and mustard. Third but not the least, crackers served with fresh vegetables with pickled and dried beef with cream of vegetables. De Leest is off to a good start so far.

Menu Micri:

Afterwards a trio of amuse-bouche, which began with a light scrumptious duck liver mouse with sweet and sour beet roots. It was followed by turnip cabbage with a rich tartare of dorade and oyster pearl and a spicy oyster vinaigrette. The third and final amuse was a Japanese inspired tempura of avocado with jellied miso, cream of wasabi and sesame dressing. Not only was it interesting but delicious as well.

The first part of the tasting was delightful and I couldn’t wait for the feature presentation. The first course was a North Sea crab with pumpkin and couscous. It was flavorful and the different preparations of pumpkin were brilliant. This was followed by the langoustine, cooked to perfection and made with escabeche of champignons and oil of tarragon giving it a pungent taste.

North Sea Crab With Pumpkin And Couscous Langoustine

The scallop with truffle, roasted leeks and hazel nut was the next course. A profound truffle flavor along with the succulent scallops made it a lofty dish. It was followed by turbot from the North Sea with celeriac, chicory and curry sauce. The clash of flavors from citrusy, to spiciness, and little bit of smokiness was magical together.

After all the seafood dishes the next few courses were predominantly red meat. Pigeon with braised carrots, lovage and gravy came next. The tender pigeon was tasty with a lot of flavor to go with the pieces of excellent braised carrots. I was enjoying my meal more than when I started that I forgot to take a picture of the next course which was the Dutch calf lacquered with Olorso and spices, Jerusalem artichoke and sweet potato. The soft meat of the calf was wonderful. To finish was a single bite of fresh beef tartare rolled into a ball.

Pigeon Beef Tartare

There were plenty of desserts courses. The first was the blood orange that had refreshing citric flavor and a slight of bitterness. This was followed by the mandarin and pineapple with white chocolate and lime, a fruity yet sweet mixture. Next was my favorite, pistachios and coconuts with almonds and Amarula. I liked the combination of the ingredients and the flavors that it produced. For the final dessert dish I was served sweet strawberries with spices. Just when I thought that my meal had ended, an array of small post dessert was served.

Sweet Strawberries

Post Dessert

This was festivity that lasted close to four hours. The kitchen delivered, each dish starting with amuses all the way to dessert was a sequence of flavors that were in harmonious with one another.

For the tasting I requested the wine pairings that showed the brilliance of the sommelier. The pairings were carefully curated with European wines that heightens the flavors of each dish while others balance the acidity.

Wine Pairing:

Wine Pairing Wine Pairing

Before opening De Leest, Chef Jan Boerma was already an established chef who had cooked at various kitchens in Europe as well as gaining two Michelin stars as chef de cuisine at Restaurant de Nederlanden. His experiences paved way to the cuisine at this restaurant where each dish had plenty of acidity yet was light. He is a pundit in creating elaborate dishes while using local ingredients.

De Leest possesses a cozy atmosphere. Its modern interior has lovely wood floorings, a wide open dining room and low ceilings, with lights that drop with serenity on top of every table. The chairs are built for extreme comfort and each guest has their privacy as the tables are spaced far apart. There are beautiful oversize paintings on display throughout the space as well as the wines that the restaurant offers. Black, white and grey dominates the colors of the interior.

Dining Room Dining Room

Service was world class from beginning to end and what is expected of a three star restaurant. Throughout my meal Kim was present at the dining room and never lost sight of the guests. The staffs are well trained, professional and courteous. Sous Chef Ewout Eleveld (who I spoke to over the phone when I was making the reservation months prior) stopped by my table and we shared our appreciation for food and restaurants while having freshly brewed coffee.

Dining Room

I would have loved to have an after meal drink at one of the semi circular chairs in the lounge area if it wasn’t time to catch my train back to Amsterdam. Before leaving, Chef Jan Boerma came out of his kitchen to bid me farewell.

With a population of twelve thousand inhabitants, the town of Vaassen is so small that their train station was closed down. There’s not much going on here, even my hotel concierges haven’t heard of this town. The emergence of De Leest as a fine destination and after winning the third Michelin star last year, has put this quiet town in the map of gastronomy

Daalder

DSCN5756

Daalder
Lindengracht 90
1015 KK Amsterdam, Netherlands
+31 20 624 8864
Official Site

Finding a place to dine in the Netherlands on a Monday is quite a challenge since most of the top and Michelin rated restaurants are closed. Luckily Daalder, a restaurant located in the residential neighborhood of Jordaan in Amsterdam, was open. A quick research online produced nothing but praises and it’s considered to be one of the most exciting restaurants in Amsterdam.

Daalder

In charge of the kitchen is Executive Chef Gulle De Beer, who previously worked at some of Amsterdam’s notable restaurants that has included Ron Blaauw, Envy, and Bord’ Eau. On my visit sous-chef Freek van Noortwijk was at the helm and since a la carte was not an option (only set menus of 3, 4, 5 and 6 courses for dinner and lunch) I allowed the Chef to work his culinary magic and requested the six course.

Chef van Noortwijk started with a few snacks of smoked almonds that I bypassed and grissini’s with fresh chick pea cream.

The amuse bouche of fresh salad with Dutch shrimp, cabbage,turnip and spring onions with cream of cauliflower, kaffir lime, curry and green apple was a terrific, light and refreshing start.The lively tartare of salmon with varieties of beetroot, horseradish cream, watercress, herring caviar and shallot rings was my first course. The exquisite combination of flavors melded beautifully.

Tartar Of Salmon With Varieties Of Beetroot

A second course of sea bass on bread crust, variety of fennel and sauce of Pernod had a nice delicate texture. It was followed by pasta shell with cubes of smoked eel, cream of Jerusalem artichoke, salcornia and bread crumbs. The smoked eel permeated the sauce making it not only memorable, but my favorite dish of the tasting.

Sea Bass

Shell Pasta with Smoked Ell

Thigh of chicken with parsnip cream, anise mushroom, capers, beurrenoisette and a crouton of sourdough which was cooked perfectly was flavorful. For the main course, I was served a Hoisin glazed cheek of veal with spicy bean salad, rice cracker, bok choy and sour cream. Veal cheek has an excellent soft texture and the spiciness was enough for my palate to handle. More heat can be added if requested.

Thigh Of Chicken

Hoisin Glazed Cheek Of Veal

The Chef was accommodating to my request of five savories and one sweet for dessert. He prepared a variety of mango with white chocolate cream, Thai basil ice cream and coconut crumble. The combination of sweet and sour was excellent and the right ending for this meal.

Dessert

The sequence of courses in my tasting was harmonious and the wine pairing that I requested went perfectly. High quality cooking, yet reasonably priced for a restaurant of this caliber. This was one of the cheapest meals I’ve had in Europe, six courses (60 euros) along with the wine pairing totaled to $104!

Chef van Noortwijk’s talent in the kitchen did not disappoint and exceeded my expectations. The flavor profile in each dish combined with fresh local ingredients was masterful.

Wine Pairing:

Wine Pairing

Since it was Monday, Daalder was not busy and the server was able to pay a lot more attention to me. Service was relaxed, friendly and unpretentious. Even Chef van Noortwijk, though he was busy prepping for dinner service, was still able to stop by my table a few times to chat.

Dining Room

Dining Room

Daalder is a tale of two restaurants. From the outside it looks like an ordinary bistro blending with the rest of the neighborhood. Its long blond wooden bar, uncovered tables paired with hard wooden seats in the front gave a homey vibe where one can get a drink or garb a quick bite to eat. Towards the back of the restaurant, behind the bar, the setting changes a little. There are cloth covered tables with neatly arranged silverware to go along with comfortable padded chairs. Its white washed walls are decorated with several paintings. A large colorful peacock painting on top of the open kitchen looks out toward the dining room completes the interior.

Bar

Highly rated by Gault Millau and other media outlets, my meal at Daalder is comparable if not better than other top rated restaurants that I’ve been to. There is serious talent here that is highly underrated and fails to be recognized by the Michelin Guide. On their home page the restaurants goal is to become “the simplest ‘Michelin Star Cafe’ in the world”. Hopefully they can get one this year, as it deserves one.

De Librije ***

Dining Room

De Librije
Broerenkerkplein 13-15
8011 TW Zwolle, Netherlands
+31 38 421 2083
Official Site

With the exception of Paris, most of Europe’s top eateries are located outside of the main cities in towns that you’ve never heard before. Traveling by train or car in order to get there is required and staying overnight at a hotel is almost mandatory. The Netherlands is no different. De Librije, arguably the finest restaurant in the country, also happens to be located 75 miles away from the capital Amsterdam in the city of Zwolle.

The restaurant is owned and operated by Chef /Patron Jonnie Boer and his wife Therese who serves a dual duty of sommelier and the Lady of the house. The couple met while working in De Librije and in 2002 they became the proud owners. Chef Boer began his career here as an apprentice in 1986 and for more than 20 years he has elevated De Librije to culinary stardom. Under his watchful eyes the restaurant was awarded three Michelin stars in 2009 (one of only two in the Netherlands) and has held it ever since. It’s consistently voted as one of the best restaurant in the world every year. Along the way he became one of the country’s most decorated chefs and a leading figure in Dutch gastronomy.

De Librije

De Librije is housed in a 16th century monastery located in the middle of Zwolle. On my arrival I was welcomed with a friendly reception by one of the managers. He then led me through a short curved hallway, passing by the kitchen, and in to the luxurious dining room where my table awaited me. The airy dining room that can seat up to forty guests is designed with tall ceilings, partnered with large windows that provide plenty of natural light. The tables paired with high back black velvet seats are spaced perfectly. There is enough room for a conversation with out over hearing the neighboring diners. And in the middle hanging high above is a rustic crystal chandelier that serves as the centerpiece of the room.

Dining Room Dining Room Dining Room

As I perused at the menu I was served with a fermented tea that aroused my palate from all the flavors touching my taste buds. I had already decided for the eight course tasting for 185 Euros. The concept allows guests to choose four dishes and the kitchen will handle the rest.

To start was the amuse-bouche of shrimp and oysters that were both raw, served in a bowl that replicated the sea. There was also an anchovy crisp plated on the fish skeletal. A lovely presentation on both dish and the flavors of the North Sea. The next amuse-bouche was beef tartare and oyster, a signature dish of the restaurant that was assembled on top of my hand. Made with chive cream, lettuce, beef tartare, oyster, oyster cream, potato puffs and an oyster leaf all on top of each other were combined elegantly.

The first course was smoked mackerel with turmeric, tulip bulbs and goose liver that Chef Boer himself brought to my table. The dish was vibrant and colorful, with a lovely smoky flavor to match. Then followed a meaty piece of langoustine with vanilla kombucha and pickled vegetables that was processed in the restaurant. It was well balance and a bit acidic to my liking. Served in between the first two courses were warmed multigrain bread with goat butter.

Smoked Mackerel

Langoustine

Next was the sweet water perch with spices oil and mustard seed which had great depth and was properly supplemented with bitterness from the vegetables. The delicious bounty of the North Sea and its oceanic essence was on display in the following course, sole with beurre noisette, immature juniper berry, Jerusalem artichoke and crabs. There were a number of ingredients in this dish that went well together brilliantly.

Sweet Water Perch

Sole

After several seafood dishes, the next few courses were red meat. First up was sweet bread in BBQ pineapple and peanut sauce with miniature shrimp. This intricate combination was interesting. Next was the pigeon prepared in various ways that was perfectly cooked and made with star anise, white pepper, and kohlrabi juice which showcased a delectable variety of texture.

Sweet Bread

Pigeon

The Epoisses made with acid-curd cheese from the Bourgogne, rabbit kidneys and potato juices was similar to a cheese course. The texture was slimy but bearable and the pungent taste subdued the gaminess of the rabbit kidney.

Epoisses

The transition to sweets began with chocolate and cheese, a combination that complimented each other. Then came the solidified rice pudding with beet root liquor, orange, and coconut. The crispy, sweet and tangy taste was enjoyable. The sweet Thai green curry with mango, pineapple, and ginger beer was a killer fusion of sweet and spicy taste and the star of all the desserts. There were a few more sweets that followed, a yogurt and chocolate mint served on top of a rock and chocolate kisses in Maggie boxes, and finally dried orange with mascarpone to clean the palate ended the tasting. A parting gift of edible joint was very clever and fitting.

Chocolate And Cheese

Rice Pudding

Thai Green Curry Dessert

I did not bother for the wine list and instead requested the pairing that included wines that Theresa fermented herself. Each wine was properly designed to enhance the flavors of each course.

Growing up in the area, Chef Boer is familiar with the regions seasonal bounty that inspires the cuisine at De Librije. Each course in my tasting was exceptional and the richness of Northern Holland is on display in every plate. The technique in combining numerous components together to create multiple flavors was skillful. The absence of foie-gras, caviar and other luxurious ingredients that are commonly seen at three star restaurant were not missed.

Along with De Librije, the Boer’s also own two Michelin starred restaurant Librije’s Zusje and Librije’s Hotel within walking distance from each other. They know the importance of service. On my visit, Theresa was present in the dining room and her personal touch of hospitality was felt. She provided the guest the menu and answered their questions if there was any, then stopped by each table more than once to make sure each guest were well taken care of. This type of four star service trickles down to the young staff. In the beginning they were a little uptight but as the meal went on they adjusted and were more relaxed. In turn it made for a fun dining experience for me. Service was flawless, the dining room was patrolled every so often while the rest of the staff monitors each guest out of sight.

Wine Pairing:

Wine Pairing Wine Pairing

Every eatery that I’ve visited in Amsterdam the staff never failed to mention De Librije as the nation’s premiere restaurant. After visiting, it is something that I will not argue with. I, myself, had a memorable meal there. From getting to the restaurant, walking through the charming street of Zwolle, to the actual meal, savoring each dish and up until the train back to Amsterdam was an experience that I can do all over again. De Librije is a restaurant that’s worth a special journey.