Monday, November 23, 2015

Restaurant Gordon Ramsay & Le Gavroche - Two nights

We normally make our ’special’ restaurant reservations at least 3-4 months before we plan to travel, but for some reason, this time we left it to a month or so before we were scheduled to travel. So we knew that snagging a table at was going to be difficult, if not impossible. Anyway, nothing ventured nothing gained, as the saying goes, so HRH the Queen of Kutch called and asked for a table. Restaurant Gordon Ramsay said they were absolutely full but were willing to put us on a wait list. We had to give them 3 possible slots. This was done. Though this was only to be expected we were disappointed at not getting a table.

Then a call was made to Le Gavroche and as luck would have it, we got a table. A very early, all American time of 6 pm, with a promise to hand back the table at 8.45 pm. We were glad to get this table. Le Gavroche is a favourite of ours.

We then left Mumbai and were in Siena when suddenly my mobile rang – the screen showed `Private Number’. It was Restaurant Gordon Ramsay calling to say that they had a table for us, and, as luck would have it, on an evening that we had no other engagement. I accepted the table and gave them my credit card details. They apply a stiff charge in case of a no show or a cancellation less than 48 hours from your table booking.

Boy this was going to be two fun evenings, back to back, first a meal at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay followed by dinner at Le Gavroche. Diwali evening with Gordon and Saal Mubarak with Michel! This Hindu New Year was off to a great start.

Of course you must know of the reputation of Gordon Ramsay, shouty, foul mouthed & TV star. All that may well be true, but remember his Restaurant Gordon Ramsay has held the coveted 3 stars in Michelin for 14 years! No mean feat. With Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck shutting, there are only 3 restaurants in the UK that have this honour – Alain Ducasse, Alain Roux’s Waterside Inn and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. Of course he does not cook there himself, but that hardly matters, he has very able hands in the kitchen and front of house with the utterly charming Maitre D Jean-Claude Breton and the Sommelier Jan Konetzki. The Chef Patron Clare Smyth has only just stepped down and the Head Chef Matt Abe is now manning the stoves.

The meal was superb. The service stunning. The charm of the staff, their knowledge of the food, their honesty in admitting that they did not know an ingredient is refreshing. Yes, they did go in and give you an answer as to what the ingredient was. The food was beyond question flawless.

An Amuse Bouche - Smoked Potato 

For the first course, HRH the Queen of Kutch ordered what was described as ‘Ceps on toast’. This was Jerusalem Artichokes, Iberico Ham, Black Garlic, Smoked Chestnuts and Ceps. A newly introduced dish. This was a total knockout. The dish had Ceps of different sizes cooked in different forms – chopped in a Duxelle, halved and grilled Ceps, Thinly sliced raw Ceps and small Ceps forming part of the sauce all placed on toasted Brioche. They say that mushrooms are meaty. This dish was just that. Very rich and intensely mushroomy, if I could use that word.

Ceps on Toast

I had Ravioli of Lobster, Langoustine and Salmon poached in a light bisque with Oxalis and Wood Sorrel. This a Gordon Ramsay signature dish that has never left the menu. You get many versions of this dish at other restaurants, the version at the various Galvin restaurants is delicious too. You get chunks of Lobster & Langoustine with some Salmon in thin Pasta. The dish comes to the table with a circle of Veal Jus on which lurid green Sorrel Veloute is poured at the table. Sorrel is a sour leaf. The whole dish works brilliantly.

Ravioli of Lobster, Langoustine and Salmon
Mains for HRH the Queen was Cotswold lamb, autumn vegetable ‘Navarin’ with Best End, Braised Shank, Confit Breast and Shoulder. Basically, this was Lamb 4 ways. You got a taste of four very different cuts of Lamb with their different textures. The sauce is poured at the table. I had Suckling Pig which is again Pig done 4 ways - Crispy Belly, Roasted Loin, Spiced Shoulder Sausage & Chou Farci. This has crushed potatoes and spring onions served along with the meat. Once again brilliantly cooked.

Cotswold lamb, autumn vegetable ‘Navarin’ with Best End, Braised Shank, Confit Breast and Shoulder

 Suckling Pig  - Crispy Belly, Roasted Loin, Spiced Shoulder Sausage & Chou Farci 

It was time for desserts. It was hard to choose. The brilliant Tarte Tatin looked very tempting, but then we had had that before. I chose Caramel Milk Chocolate, Praline and Malt Mousse with Treacle Granola and Hazelnut Milk, all flavours I like. The dessert was excellent to put it mildly.

Caramel Milk Chocolate, Praline and Malt Mousse with Treacle Granola and Hazelnut Milk

HRH The Queen settled on Lemon Soufflé with Mascarpone Sorbet and Olive Oil. This too was a new dish. Up came a warm Soufflé that had risen beautifully. Some more table action. With an eye dropper the Waiter artfully dropped Olive Oil on the top of the Soufflé. A hole was made and the perfectly shaped Quenelle of Mascarpone Sorbet was dropped in. The Soufflé was light very lemony and delicious. At this point HRH told Jean-Claude Breton that we were dining at Le Gavroche the next night and she had taken a bet with me that the Lemon Soufflé would beat the Soufflé Suissesse that was a Le Gavroche signature dish. Jean-Claude Breton laughed and said that he had no doubt that she would win the bet. There is a bit of history to this. Both Jean-Claude Breton and Gordon Ramsay worked together at Le Gavroche and had obviously served and cooked hundreds of Soufflé Suissesse during their time there.

Lemon Soufflé with Mascarpone Sorbet and Olive Oil

Once the meal was over Jean-Claude Breton took us to the kitchen. The kitchen was busy. It was amazing to see how Matt Abe was at the pass plating up. Totally engrossed. We said a quick thank you to him and left, not without a photo with Jean-Claude Breton in the kitchen. We had our Petit Fours and a glass of Whiskey which was recommended by Jan Konetzki. This was something special he said, it was whiskey that was matured in barrels used to mature Calvados. It was most interesting, Whiskey with the aroma of Calvados.

Petit Fours

With Jean-Claude Breton in the kitchen 

 A dish being painstakingly plated by Matt Abe

With that we said our bye byes and left in a waiting taxi.

The only two thoughts on our minds were first, how the hell can Le Gavroche top this evening? It was perfect in every way. And, how utterly perfect the evening was. And then returning to the first thought, how the hell can Le Gavroche top this evening? Round and round the thoughts went.

The next day started with a light breakfast of a single Eggs Benedict. No lunch. We had a 6 pm table. Luckily, being Autumn the sun sets at about 4.30 pm so it is well and truly night at 6 pm. A short walk and we reached Le Gavroche. The magic started right there. Names were asked for, coats whisked away and we were escorted to our table. Menu with prices given to HRH The Queen not only because she is Royalty but because she had made the booking. We settled down.

A glass of Champagne for HRH The Queen while I had a Gin and Tonic. It was just 6.05 pm – G&T time if you ask me! The contrast between the dining room at Le Gavroche and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay could not have been starker. Le Gavroche is in a basement so you have no views out of big road facing windows as at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. Le Gavroche is darker with `richer’ décor – think carpets, paintings on walls, heavy drapes and a comfortable club like feel. Restaurant Gordon Ramsay is much lighter brighter and always has the most exquisite flowers holding the room together right in the centre.

The food at Le Gavroche is classic French, but slightly modernised and lightened. Classic dishes like Soufflés, Terrines, Mousses and luxury ingredients all over the menu – Lobster, Caviar, Truffles and Foie Gras. The Menu had two sections – an a la carte and a tasting menu called `Menu Exceptionnel’. In addition there is always a days specials menu with 3 dishes. A la carte it was for us.

It was bet time. Soufflé Suissesse was ordered by HRH The Queen of Kutch. I ordered a far less extravagant, far more shall we say proletariat dish - `Boudin Noir’ which in plain English is Black Pudding.

I won the bet. HRH The Queen of Kutch readily conceded defeat after the first spoonful. The Soufflé Suissesse was exquisite. This dish is a work of art. A light as air soufflé, lighter than any other soufflé by a mile, is topped with some cheese and gratinated. Then this whole orb is placed on a sauce made with cream and cheese. So you have 3 textures – the slightly chewy gratinated cheese, the airy soufflé and the hot intensely cheesy sauce. You hear of the word ephemeral when describing something that is, to use another cliché, light as air. This soufflé was exactly that. Knocked the socks of the really good Lemon Soufflé with Mascarpone Sorbet and Olive Oil from Restaurant Gordon Ramsay.

Soufflé Suissesse - legendary

My dish was, as I said, commonplace. This dish could easily have been a breakfast. Black Pudding, the food of the working class, made with Pigs Blood and fat bound with Oats and Barley. Here it was transformed. The Black Pudding was the best I have ever had. Moist, rich full of flavour. The dish also had Pork Crackling which was so crunchy that I am sure the people on the next table would have heard me chewing.

Black Pudding 

So far, Le Gavroche matched Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. All this was extremely pleasurable.

HRH The Queen of Kutch decided to have a special of the day for her main course – Roast Mallard Supreme, Sliced Foie Gras, Chanterelles & Celeriac. All very Autumnal. The dish had some Truffles and mushroom which made HRH The Queen of Kutch very happy. The dish was just up her street, she does enjoy duck, and with Truffles and Foie Gras what was not to like. The most wonderful sauce was poured onto the Duck. Deep flavour, syrupy and clear. This was saucing at its best.

Roast Mallard Supreme, Sliced Foie Gras, Chanterelles & Celeriac

I had a Grilled Pork Loin and Ravioli. The Ravioli was a small component delicately stuffed with what I thought was some more pork. Once again the dish was sauced at the table with a most beautiful sauce. I was happy too.

Grilled Pork Loin and Ravioli

The main courses were extremely good. This was superlative food. Totally different from Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. This was really still classic French food with ingredients that went together. Real saucing, and full flavoured food. Old school methods of food prep such as `turned vegetables’ was much in evidence at Le Gavroche. Restaurant Gordon Ramsay used French techniques but the food was much more modern. There was an extensive use of micro vegetables. The saucing was lighter.

For dessert I had what a Chocolate and Praline Indulgence while HRH The Queen of Kutch had a Lemon Cheesecake. Both were excellent to say the least.

Chocolate and Praline Indulgence

Lemon Cheesecake

To conclude, both restaurants are at the very top of what great restaurants are and should be. Food service and ambience at stratospheric levels. But, if you ask me which is the best restaurant in the world it would have to be Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. If you ask me which is my favourite restaurant the answer is Le Gavroche.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Rome - The food


If there is a cuisine I absolutely love over all other cuisines, it has to be Italian. So our Italian holiday was quite consciously centered around food shopping, food markets, food stores, and, of course, eating. Three days in spectacular Siena had already immersed us in the wonderful pastas, meats, salamis, Panini’s and pizzas of Italy and we were hoping to continue our gastronomic journey in Rome.

The area where we were staying in Rome was pretty much the Mayfair of Rome if you get my drift. Very upmarket, full of fancy stores and home to all the marquee brand hotels. Didn’t bode well for really good Romano restaurants. But, were willing to give it our best shot.

After an efficient check-in we wandered off to the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon. A walk that seems immensely doable on the map but since we took many wrong turns and got lost a few times, we ended up walking way more than we expected to. Back at the hotel, we asked the concierge to recommend a restaurant close by that served good, non-touristy food. Restaurants with spruiking and touting really put us off. After some deliberation we settled on one restaurant barely 500 meters from our hotel, and, what a good decision it was.

Restaurant Girarrosto Fiorentino which was started in the 60’s is a family owned restaurant which celebrates ‘dolce vita’ in the truest sense. Everything about the restaurant was harked back to a golden era of indulgence, elegance and style. Real cloth table cloths on the tables, starched white napkins [or laptops as the Gourmet Lawyer calls them] carpets and an feel of the good old days. Waiters in white suits, an aging Maître De with the best, most charming manners, and, table side service had us being caught in a suspension of disbelief for a short time. This restaurant was not just about the quality of food but also the theatre of food which does add so much to the dining experience.

The menu was extensive and many things caught our eye. After deliberation we settled on the Tortellini Brodo and the Beef Carpaccio for our first course. Florentine Steak from the famous Chianina cattle as our shared main course.

Chianina Beef comes from a breed of cattle from the provinces of Arezzo and Siena in the region of Tuscany, Italy. The production of this beef is highly controlled by the CCBI Association ("Consorzio Produttori Carne Bovina Pregiata delle Razze Italiane.") and new-born calves have to be registered with the association, and meat from them has to be certified. Packaging of the meat can only take place in authorized places. Each package will have a number on it representing the animal the meat came from.

The Tortellini Brodo was absolutely delicious with the tastiest most well-seasoned umami broth I have had in a long time. The Carpaccio, also with Chianina Beef, was absolutely beautiful. The quality of the meat was so good; it literally melted on your tongue. The Arugula and Pecorino added to the dish and the olive oil was outstanding. So outstanding in fact was the olive oil, that we bought a bottle of the olive oil from the restaurant when we finished our meal.

Tortellini Brodo

Carpaccio with Arugula & Parmesan

But the best was yet to come! Out came the most gigantic piece of meat I have ever had. It was the Florentine Steak which is a T-bone with the Rib Eye and fillet on the bone. The server carved the meat table side and I was happy to see it was just perfectly seared but still very very pink. Absolutely superb meat. That’s `the thing'. When you have a really good product, you don’t need to do anything fancy to it. Just cook it simply and well and you have a winner dish. We were very happy with our meal. Food in Rome was off to an absolutely flying start.

Green vegetable to accompany - Asparagus, Artichoke and Spinach

Dessert - Ricotta  Cake

A Tiramisu

The next day after a few hours at the awe inspiring Collleseum we had a dinner reservation at the very chic Pier Luigi. This restaurant was started way back in 1938 and has been run by the family ever since. In the ‘80s the then young Roberto Lisi took over the reins of the restaurant and transformed the small family-run trattoria into an upscale restaurant.

By the 90s the restaurant had become the pioneer of fish in the Roman culinary landscape. We were seated at an outdoor table overlooking a charming seemingly private square. The service was very attentive and refined and the menu interesting. For our first course we had the very Roman Pasta Amatriciana. A traditional Italian pasta sauce based on Guanciale (cured pork cheek), Pecorino cheese, and tomato. Very decent but neither of us were really wowed. We were sure there were better versions of Amatriciana available elsewhere.

 Pasta Amatriciana

Mains were Suclking Pig for The Gourmet Lawyer and Frito Misto for me. Again, both good but nothing to set our taste buds dancing.

Suckling Pig

Frito Misto

Day 3 saw us at the Roman Forum and the unbelievable store Eataly for lunch and some shopping. Dinner was at the trendy, slightly rough and very foodie Travestere area. But our dinner restaurant Checco er Caretierre was absolutely non-touristy and run by two rather grim sisters. This was an absolutely superb restaurant. Large, wooden tables, wooden floors, long strings of garlic hanging from the wooden ceiling and tons and tons of photographs decorating the wooden walls. The atmosphere was completed by the gruff, slightly eccentric waiters. A carafe of their house wine set the mood and led on an absolutely wonderful meal. We started with an order of Fiori di Zucca: Zucchini flowers, deep fried and filled with mozzarella cheese and anchovies. Delicious!

Fiori di Zucca

For our first course we shares a Spaghetti Carbonara, a pasta dish from Rome made with eggs, cheese (Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano), bacon (Guanciale or Pancetta), and pepper. This was obviously one of the specialties of the restaurant because we saw many many plates of it coming out of the kitchen. The Carbonara was the real McCoy, made with only egg, the egg forming the sauce. This was not a Gujju version made with a bland white sauce. It was excellent. 

Spaghetti Carbonara

The second course for The Gourmet Lawyer was Saltimbocca and I had what was perhaps my dish of the trip - Coda alla Vaccinara - oxtail stewed until tender and buttery, in savoury tomato sauce. The depth of flavour packed into that tomato sauce was absolutely staggering. The oxtail was so tender it fell off the bone at the touch of my fork. It was a dish I literally licked clean.

Coda alla Vaccinara - oxtail


For our last dinner in Rome and Italy we went back to the lovely Restaurant Girarrosto Fiorentino from our first night. This time we stayed away from the steak and focussed on the rest of the menu. We started with their special selection of salami. Fresh, moist, incredible good quality sliced on order from the many hams they had, and, absolutely perfect.

Our first course was a Risotto with Fontina and asparagus. Really really well made. And for our mains, The Gourmet Lawyer had another Saltimbocca alla Romana and I had a fillet steak with a champagne and black truffle sauce. Again, the quality of the meat was just outstanding and the sauce was such a perfect complement to the meat. The sauce it always used to accentuate the flavour of the meat, never to drown or disguise it.

Risotto with Fontina and asparagus

Saltimbocca alla Romana

Fillet steak with a Champagne and black Truffle sauce

More Artichoke

A fantastic dessert - Vodka & Limoncello

Lemon Cake

Complementary - Vin Santo & Biscuits

A fabulous end to a fabulous gourmet week.