Saturday, October 27, 2018

A. Wong. *

A. Wong, a Chinese restaurant in Pimlico near the Victoria Station has been around for a few years. It was a Cantonese restaurant called Kym’s, typical in London, owned and run by Andrew Wong’s parents. Andrew, a second-generation Chinese had no interest in the restaurant and, like Chinese and Indian children, was encouraged to study. He was admitted to Oxford, then the LSE. His father passed away leaving his mother to run the restaurant. He had to help her, which got him interested. This resulted in him joining catering school. Soon he was hooked. The restaurant was refurbished and renamed A. Wong. Wong undertook a 6 month journey through China to absorb the food and culture. On return he revamped the restaurant menu incorporating his influences and presented his interpretations.

In 2017, A. Wong won its first star in Michelin. The restaurant has been critically acclaimed for quite some time before achieving its star.

The restaurant is unusual for a Chinese restaurant. It has an open kitchen. A “C” shaped bar counter runs along one end of the kitchen where you can sit and have your meal. Tables are bare, no tablecloths, just starched napkins or ‘laptops’ as I call them. Stainless steel cutlery and chopsticks. No fine china, just reasonably ‘jada’ plain white plates. Tables quite close to each other. Bustling. The clientele consists of a mix of regulars, walk ins and reserved tables. Almost entirely white diners, we were the only two browns, much later 4 yellows walked in. Staff, largely a mix of Orientals, some white Eastern Europeans, no English as far as we could tell.

We had the tasting menu of some 10 courses plus amuse bouches. I am not going to describe each one. The Tasting menu is described as a “Taste of China” menu which gives you food from different regions, a sort of Top 10 Chinese Dishes.

All the food was excellent. No dud dishes. The food, in reality is traditional Chinese, with authentic Chinsese flavours. However, it is beautifully presented. Lots of tweezers at work. Lots of sauces, in fact, the food is sauced in a Western way not the gloopy sauces we are used to in India which we use like ‘Daal’ with our noodles. The 10 courses were served quickly unlike at the Ritz, which I have written about earlier. No flagging, except, at the time of the very last dessert.

The produce used was all top class. Lot of high quality Wagyu beef used, in small portions befitting the tasting menu. The beef was well cooked, seared on the outside, rare in the centre. Luxury ingredients like Lobster, Foie Gras and Abalone were also used. Very high quality of cooking and plating.

The only down side or bad bit was the quality of the covering on the Dim Sum and the Pancakes on the Duck. Thick, chewy. Very strange. Was this intentional to give texture or just poor quality, I do not know.

The dessert described as “Poached merengue with fruit textures” was, in my view, a bit of technical wizardry. The outer layer was a thin layer of caramelised sugar, like the sugar in a Crème Brulee. The next layer was poached meringue either a Swiss or Italian meringue. The core was Peach. Fantastic. Also offered was poached Peach with an utterly delightful Salt, Chilli Powder and Sugar powder. Much like we have with Peru or Guava in India.

The meal was a tour de force of skillful, inventive and creative cooking. The atmosphere and service were excellent. The food came out at short intervals and not long uneven pauses. Negatives? As I wrote, thick skins on Dim Sum and probably, if I am being nit-picky, a bit of a wild atmosphere for such sophisticated food. A quieter restaurant, white tablecloths and finer crockery would have been perfect. But these facts did not in any way diminish the food.

A tasting menu, for 1 without booze and service is GBP 90 or INR 9,000/-. A. Wong should be your choice if you want to upgrade your Chinese food experience from the usual Black Bean Pork and Ho Fun Noodles. This is quite different, though staying close to the real thing.

Of course, recommended.

Apologies for a couple of blurred photographs.

Barbecued pork jerky / Char sui / Grated foie gras

Pickled Watermelon

Zhou dynasty cured scallop, stuffed crab claw, wasabi

Cut open. The outer layer is Prawn

Dim sum duo. Har Gaw on the left, Shui Mai on the right

Chengdu street tofu, soy chilli, peanuts, preserved vegetables

Shanghai steamed dumplings, ginger infused vinegar

‘Memories of Peking Duck’

Anhui province red braised fermented wild seabass

Wuwei smoked duck ‘birds nest’

Braised abalone, shitake mushroom, sea cucumber and abalone butter

The buns for the Shaanxi pulled lamb ‘burger’ with Xinjiang pomegranate salad

Shaanxi pulled lamb ‘burger’ with Xinjiang pomegranate salad

Yunnan seared beef with mint, chilli and lemongrass served with a pulled noodle cracker. The noodle you see are hand pulled. I have never seen such fine hand pulled noodles.

Dai’ seared wagyu beef with mint, chilli and lemongrass         

‘Soy chicken’ with ginger oil and Oscietra caviar wrap

Ma Po’ tofu with crispy onions and coriander        

Coconut water ice, blackberries, dried mulberries, yoghurt and mochi 

Poached merengue with fruit textures

Poached merengue with fruit textures, cut open

Apricot with Salt, Sugar Chilli Powder

White Chocolate with Raspberry filling

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Goodman Mayfair London

The Goodman Restaurant opened its first outlet in Maddox Street, Mayfair in 2010. Goodman is Russian owned, the boss being Mikhail [Misha] Zelman a 42-year-old baby Oligarch. Over the years, the Goodman Restaurant Group has expanded dramatically. The group now has 3 Goodman’s in London, several Burger & Lobster outlets in the UK, Dubai and the Gulf, a standalone restaurant called Beast, and, Zelman’s Meats in two London locations. A large operation by any standards.

We had been to Goodman a few years ago when we had a riotous evening when our friends from Bombay the Le Grand Fromage the Tax Lawyer, his friend, and, our Friend Philosopher and Guide from London joined us. Then for some reason we did not go back to Goodman. Over the years we had our steaks at Peter Luger in New York, Cestr in Prague, Girarrosto Fiorentina in Rome, Hawksmoor and the Guinea Grill in London, all of which I have written about. The answer to the inevitable question is Peter Luger by a country mile.

HRH the Queen of Kutch wanted to eat a burger, so I suggested we eat at Goodman, who make a really good burger, which she could have, while I could enjoy a steak. A booking was made and on a very mild early Autumn evening we walked to Goodman.

A large 150-seater place with a very clubby feel. Wood paneling on the walls, a wooden floor, wooden tables with no tablecloths, leather upholstered banquettes and plain wooden chairs were the décor. A bar ran along one wall where you could sit and have your meal. An attractive proposition if you were a single diner. Warm happy buzz as our coats were whisked away and we were seated at a large 4 person table. Most surprisingly, pleasantly I must add, many of the senior staff were English speaking with English as their “Mother Tongue”.

One side of a single A4 sheet had the menu, a separate Cocktails and Spirits list and a separate wine list were handed over. On the wall was a blackboard listing the special cuts that were being offered as daily specials. A Gin Martini with Olives for HRH the Queen of Kutch and a Vodka Martini with a Twist for me were ordered while we looked at the short menu and settled into our seats. A burger, medium rare with Bacon and Cheese [no onion] for HRH the Queen of Kutch and a USDA Sirloin 350 grams also medium rare for me. A side order of Spinach with Chilli. The burger came with chips so we did not order anything more.

The wine was ordered - 2013 Bodega Norton D.O.C, Malbec, Lujan De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina. What turned up was a 2015 vintage, not that it made much difference to us. I sweetly asked if it was OK if I took photographs of the food [I always do rather than being told later that you cannot and have an embarrassing moment] to which I was told, of course. Not only that, the manager offered to take us to the kitchen for a tour. Goody!

The Martinis were as they should be, cold and bracing. Well made. Soon the starters turned up. HRH the Queen of Kutch ordered a smoked Burrata on Sourdough which was truly excellent. Burrata is a modern creation. It is made with a centre consisting of hot Mozzarella combined with cold Mozzarella leftover bits and cream. The whole ball has two textures, a chewy outside and a much creamier centre. The smoking was light, just having put a pale yellow colour on the skin of the Burrata. Coarse Pepper and Salt Flakes were sprinkled which added pop. The inside was creamy. As I said, excellent. My choice was a favourite of mine – Lobster Bisque. Hot as in ‘garam’ well seasoned and really tasty. Suffers in the looks department with a muddy colour. Well begun.

HRH the Queen of Kutch got her magnificent Hamburger. The burger here is made with aged meat and is for grown-ups. This is a “clean” burger where you can see each component. There are no messy sauces and caramelized onions to mix up tastes. This is a classic burger with the classic ingredients, pickle, tomato, lettuce and patty garnished with ketchup and mayo. Extras added were bacon and cheese. The patty makes this burger special. The meat is the aged beef used by Goodman for their steaks. The grind is coarse and has a healthy fat content. The result is the patty almost tastes like eating a steak. The burger is large, probably 50% larger than the Patty & Bun burger, and, is really enough for dinner. The bowl of chips was magnificent. Large golden chips with a crisp outside and a soft center. Really good chips. I stole quite a lot.

My steak was good. One of the better I have eaten. I requested a Pepper Sauce with my steak as well as some English mustard. Mustard is fast becoming our condiment of choice. The spinach looks as good as it tasted. A large helping. I was rather pleased with my meal.

After we finished the Manager invited us for the kitchen tour. This was going to be exciting. The kitchen had a large meat room in which were several cuts being dry aged. Also, in the room were the American steaks which come in plastic bags. These are then opened and dry aged. The smell in the room was distinct, pleasant and very sweet. Not the smell of meat, frankly, slowly aging i.e. rotting to put it crudely. This was fascinating.

Next, we went to the hot kitchen in which I saw the Josper Grills in action. I have read a lot about these grills. Many restaurants proudly state that they use Josper Grills. Josper is a Spanish company which makes these grills. They are unique in as much as they use coal. A lot of coal, and have the advantage of allowing you to use different types of coal like combining the Japanese Binchotan with normal coal. You can even add wood to flavor the food. The Grills are versatile as you can use the rack to grill directly or place the food on a pan. The heat is intense, so the food really roasts and does not gently bake. Saw some steaks being cooked on them, the chef in charge said he turns them every 30 seconds. In the photo you will see a line of timers, crucial when cooking multiple steaks. Once done, the chef took the meat out and used a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature and consequent level of doneness. I was impressed. Such a sensible thing to do.

Tour over, it was time for dessert. Anne-Marie’s Outrageous Cookie Sundae, Chocolate and Caramel Sauce and Whipped Cream sounded just right, so a single was ordered. Childish but very good. Chocolate chip cookie, ice cream with bits of Fudge. How could you not like this?

In the end, both HRH the Queen of Kutch and I reached the conclusion that Goodman was a far better experience than Hawksmoor. Both are priced similarly, but here at Goodman the slightly more formal atmosphere and more sophisticated clientele seemed to make a big difference. In balance, we will probably continue to visit Goodman and give Hawksmoor a miss.

Of course, you should eat at Goodman. The steaks are really good. Just a few perfunctory fish dishes. This place is for meat and red wine.

Our meal of 2 starters, 1 burger, 1 steak and 1 side dish and 1 pudding cost GBP 80 i.e. INR 8000. Service and booze are over and above this. Well worth it if you ask me.  

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Hemant Oberoi

My birthday was brewing up. You, dear readers, know we do like French food, which is simply difficult, if not impossible, to get in Mumbai. However, I had a flash of inspiration. Why not have dinner at the Hemant Oberoi Restaurant? In theory it seemed the perfect choice. Do read the following three paragraphs I have extracted from the restaurant website. Typically, full of hyperbole. I do like the braggadocio of gems like “he took the fine dining culture to unbeatable heights.” and the fine dining restaurant is set to elevate the dining experience and create culinary history! “

“Chef Hemant Oberoi introduced Indian diners to cuisines from across the world. His knives have carved the evolution of the culinary industry in India. Whether it was Mediterranean cuisine at the award winning Souk, Sichuan at the iconic Golden Dragon, Japanese at the world ranking Wasabi Chef broke boundaries in gastronomy. At the legendary Zodiac Grill he took the fine dining culture to unbeatable heights.

Today the same celebrated master chef has created his own company -OB Hospitalities, a brand that will change the dynamics of hospitality. Already making waves across continents Chef Oberoi he has finally launched his flagship outpost in Mumbai. Named after the maestro itself. Hemant Oberoi, the fine dining restaurant is set to elevate the dining experience and create culinary history! 

The menu takes guests on a global culinary journey with European, Peruvian and Asian inspired dishes. Each dish tells a story with the focus on introducing the city to new flavours, unique presentation and exquisite ingredients.”

Bottom line, leaving the swagger aside, this was a fine dine restaurant serving European food helmed by a Chef who knew his onions. I agree that the menu is not totally French or European, it does have other cuisines too. So, a reservation was made for a Monday evening at 8 pm for 3 persons, HRH the Queen of Kutch, Senior Mrs. Stonethrower and myself.

The restaurant is at BKC in the Jet Godrej Building which shares a compound wall with the MCA Club. The building also houses a bakery Elementaria, O Pedro, Toast & Tonic, Gateway Tap Room and Butterfly High [a “restobar” from the folks who gave you Shiv Sagar],  All these are for the Millennials and Instagrammers. Hemant Oberoi stuck out like a sore thumb with a hugely different clientele.

As you enter, on the left is the bar with a few tables, the main restaurant is on the right. Very high ceilings, I mean really high. Faux wood wallpaper lends a clubby feel. Lots of hard stone surfaces, a black unpolished granite floor, heavy curtains somehow did not give you an impression or feeling of luxury or elegance. Tables had white tablecloths and napkins, decent heavy cutlery and reasonably poor quality “jada’ or thick crockery. Certainly not Bone China or Fine Porcelain. The plates were make by RAK Ceramics from the UAE. The Glassware was decent – Schott Zwiesel.

Menus were handed out, just one a la carte and a drinks menu. Gin & Tonic each for HRH the Queen of Kutch and me and a Ginger Ale for Senior Mrs. Stonethrower. Simple enough. It took 20 minutes to arrive. While this was bad enough, to my horror, the cans of Tonic and Ginger Ale were carelessly popped opened at our table, poured out and the cans [albeit not empty] were left on our table. Shocking in my book.

About the time we started to order our food, the waiter told us that the Chef was in and he would be happy to “curate” – his words – a meal for us. He named a few dishes that he would have offered us, but they seemed to be uninteresting so we continued with Plan A and ordered our food.

By this time my blood pressure was shooting up, and my critical eye was becoming larger and larger. Looking over HRH the Queen of Kutch’s shoulder I noticed a light with a fused bulb. By this time about 40 minutes had passed since we were seated. Our reservation was for 3. Directly in front of me was a 4th place setting still remaining uncleared. The phallic table napkin was irritating me no end. I felt like slapping it down. Suddenly there was a flurry of activity, the setting was cleared and an amuse bouche was served.

This where it really got beyond the pale.

On our charger plate was placed what looked like a Commode. I kid you not. In the centre of the Commode was a perfectly cut cube of pink jelly and a splodge of white cream. A waiter grandly announced that this was an Amuse Bouche. It was being served compliments of the chef, it was free [yes, I swear he said that] and that this would set the palate afire or something to that effect. I hesitatingly took a bite of the contents of the Commode. It was Raspberry Jam with Truffle Cream. Yes, folks Raspberry Jam or Jelly. To start the meal!!! Cloyingly sweet, as you would expect of Jam.

Hmmm. Not a good beginning at all.

Next up came the first courses. HRH the Queen of Kutch ordered Oberoi’s signature dish, the Brie and Truffle Souffle, Senior Mrs. Stonethrower ordered Beetroot Cured Salmon and I ordered a Torchon of Duck Liver.

The Souffle was the best dish. But even this was mild and quite flavorless. Needed much more Brie and the cream required more Parmesan or Gruyere and real Truffles or better quality Truffle Oil. It was a good Soufflé but was not going to win any prizes. A poor replica of the truly magnificent Souffle Suissesse served at Le Gavroche.

The Beetroot Cured Salmon was tasteless. No Salmon taste, no beetroot and frankly no acid. Just looked damn pretty. According to me served on an inappropriate plate. A plain white or even blue plate would have made this look even better.

The Duck Liver Torchon, in theory, is supposed to be a Foie Gras Terrine. A classic French dish. To be technical, a Foie Gras Terrine is made in a Terrine dish so is shaped like a brick and served sliced. A Torchon is the same preparation and is cylindrical in shape. Here I was served a slice. It was beautifully plated. However, there was no Liver taste giving me the impression that there was very little liver and masses of whipped cream to bulk it up. The texture suggested exactly that. Why did this happen? Possibly because, Indians can’t handle the strong taste of liver, or, to cut the cost Oberoi simply adds more cream. Anyway, poor.

By now we were really worried. The start had been poor.

HRH the Queen of Kutch, had ordered the Miso Black Cod, a dish made famous by Nobu. She was warned by the waiter that it would be sweet, which she was well aware of. Senior Mrs. Stonethrower had the Butter Poached Salmon with Cauliflower Carpaccio and Cauliflower Puree. I ordered the braised Lamb Shank.

Miso Black Cod [above]

Cauliflower Carpaccio and Puree waiting for the Butter Poached Norwegian Salmon 

The Salmon being plated. The damn cans of Tonic are still there!

The finished dish. Excellent

Braised Lamb Shank. No. I did not eat the chilli

To our collective surprise the main courses were knockouts. Excellent, each one of them. Also ordered was a side of Mange Tout with Almonds. Brilliantly cooked. This was skillful cooking, tasty and correct. We heaved a sigh of relief and devoured our food.  

Now, a man was striding around the restaurant with a proprietorial air. Senior Mrs. Stone thrower said he looked like Oberoi’s son. She was right. Siddharth turned up and started chatting. Not knowing who he was I happily told him the starters were rubbish but the main courses were excellent. Then he told us that he would be introducing Indian food, with a twist [it always has to have a twist]. We groaned. Obviously, the restaurant is burning. Indian food is now the rage in Mumbai, as ridiculous as it sounds. Earlier it was Chinese and then Pan Asian. Now its twisted Indian – Pao Bhaji Fondue and Pani Puri deconstructed. Sad.

For dessert, we asked for Crepes Suzette which would involve tableside action. We said we would share. After absolutely eons, trolleys were wheeled over, flames lit, sugar caramelized some flambé action and lo and behold the Crepes were served. There were three of us. Only two crepes were served!! I mean really!! Can you not count? Can you not see? The Crepes were acceptable. HRH the Queen of Kutch got none.

In the end we had a pleasant evening. The meal was schizophrenic – the first part bordering on poor and the second much better. Service was by any standards poor. Drinks took eons. Leaving that aside, the service was of the “now who has ordered what” kind. This is simply unacceptable in a restaurant that calls itself fine dining. This is OK at a Pizza Parlour or Indigo Deli, but not here. There was a lot of irritation with the music. First it was inappropriate, ranging from almost EDM to R&B and Soul. Should have been soft Jazz. The volume was inappropriate. Some requests from us resulted in the sound levels being reduced to tolerable limits.

The restaurant had just two tables of 3 each being occupied. At one end was a large table of, I am not joking, ONGC officers and their wives. Obviously, men and women sat at opposite ends of the table. I am mystified as to what ONGC would have eaten.

As we exited at about 11.15 pm, yes, it took 3 hours to serve 3 courses, we saw hordes, literally hordes of Millennials and Instagrammers from the next-door restaurants and bars in the adjoining places. Obviously, Hemant Oberoi is barking up the wrong tree with his morgue like restaurant. Could it be wrong food, for the wrong people, at the wrong price point, in the wrong area?

We paid Rs 18,000/- for the three of us including service excluding booze. Was it worth it? Probably not. Would we go again, not sure. Should you? Probably not. Will it last? At this level no way? Can Indian with a Twist work? In my view, Oberoi has missed the boat, Kalra with his Farzi Café and Punjab Grill has taken this far far away.

No culinary history is being created.