Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Michelin-stargasm: A Wrap-Up

So I accumulated 37 Michelin stars in 35 days, covering a range of restaurants and countries in the process.

Now that it has concluded, it's time to compose the thoughts; compare and contrast; reflect. This... is the Michelin star wrap-up (in chronological order).

il Convivio. Rome. 1 star. One of the worst Michelin-starred meals of the trip, if not the worst. While the restaurant is lovely and the service good, the food was lacking for me. Nearly every dish had a flaw.

Cracco. Milan. 2 stars. Spectacular meal. In the top 5 of the trip, but only just. Excellent food and service, but lacking just a little something to make it as enjoy as the best of the trip.

Trussardi alla Scala. Milan. 2 stars. Kick-arse cooking. While it wasn't as intricate as some places, or as experimental as others, it made up for it by just tasting brilliantly. Coupled with good service, comfortable seats and an excellent vibe. I'd rate this around 5th or 6th of the trip.

Paul Bocuse. Lyon. 3 stars. Stars given for respect, not for anything else. Everything was dated. Sure, the food was good (great even), but it was from another era/decade/century/time. Go there if you want to worship Bocuse, not if you want to have a meal on par with the best in the world.

l'Assiette Champenoise. Reims/Tinqueux. 2 stars. Dessert destruction. Some very, very solid food in an excellent looking restaurant. Truly devestating quantity of food (my fault). Out of the top 5, but not by much.

Le Pressoir d'Argent. Bordeaux. 1 star. Some of the worst service of the trip, coupled with excellent food. Unfortunately, excellent food that isn't good enough to make up for the service. But I think we got them on an off night so I don't want to give an overly negative impression of the place, because with good service it could be a great place.

Senderens. Paris. 2 stars. All very solid, but not as good as the top places in either food, experience or service. I'd like to return again to eat more dishes before making up my mind on this place.

Le Celadon. Paris. 1 star. An excellent weekend lunch menu. Extraordinary value for the food on offer.

l'Atelier de Joel Robuchon. Paris. 2 stars. The second best meal of the trip behind Guy Savoy. The experience of eating at the counter was such a welcomed break from everywhere else and the food was great (the marrow on toast: Jesus died for that). Although this place got help because we went so nuts and gorged like crazy.

Le Cinq. Paris. 2 stars. I wasn't expecting the food to be that great but it was actually quite good. Coupled with a stunning dining room and some of the best service of the trip, this was a good one.

Guy Savoy. Paris. 3 stars. Without a doubt the best purely fine dining experience I have ever had. Breathtaking food, utterly flawless service and, incredibly, buckloads of fun! Also incredibly expensive ($800AUD). Was it worth it? Yes, yes, yes.

Taillevent. Paris. 2 stars. One of the big disappointments of the trip. A legendary place in terms of history, but the food did nothing. The service was also only average.

Michel Rostang. Paris. 2 stars. While I didn't get the truffle sandwich I'd heard so much about, I did get a fantastic meal. That quenelle in seafood sauce was stunning. Everything else was also excellent. Some of the best "pure" cooking of the trip, with none of that new-world/molecular stuff getting in the way. I'd love to go back and try more.

Lasserre. Paris. 2 stars. Come for the excellent food, but stay for the ambiance. When that roof opens the place feels magical.

Lasarte. Barcelona. 2 stars. I really wanted to try more of this place. While there were a few minor flaws, the food was original and fantastic. That pig trotter dish was a killer.

Cinc Sentis. Barcelona. 1 star. Good food, good flavour combinations, good techniques and good value. Everything about this place was solid.

Comcerc 24. Barcelona. 1 star. It tried a little too hard for no reason. Some dishes were average, some dishes were killers. But in the end it was a good dining experience. If it relaxed it could be even better.

La Terrazza del Casino Madrid. Madrid. 2 stars. One of the top 5 meals of the trip. Great experimental food (Ferran Adria consulted on it) alongside a good wine list and top service.

Ramon Freixa. Madrid. 1 star. A tremendous quantity of good food. It kept coming and I kept eating. The best of the 1-starred places I ate at.

La Broche. Madrid. 1 star. A huge amount of dishes (again), but not all of them good this time. It tried hard, but the execution was missing in parts. Still, there were some good parts.

Restaurant Tavares. Lisbon. 1 star. So much gold and mirror in a dining room. So much. Good food. It didn't blow me away but it kept me happy enough the whole time.

Lion d'Or. Geneva. 1 star. Breathtaking, panoramic view of Lake Geneva, even if it was slightly overcast. Coupled with good food, service and wine and you have an enjoyable meal.

So what was my best Michelin-starred meal? Guy Savoy.

What was my worst? il Convivio.

What's my opinion of the Michelin star rankings? Like any restaurant rating system, it isn't perfect, there are restaurants that could go up or down one. But the main problem with the Michelin rankings is the stars given to restaurants purely because they used to be good. Food is all about now, not decades ago. Tastes change and restaurants need to keep up to date with them.

This Isn't Tetsuya's 2: Spring

Spring is such a great season to cook in. As the days progress (and the number of layers of clothing reduce) the landscape of seasonal food shifts so dramatically from the root vegetables and hardy fruits towards the tropical bonanza that is sitting around the corner in summer. If you time it right you can ride these two opposing seasons and create some incredible dishes that use the best of both late winter and early summer produce, with some of the foods that thrive in the temperate spring weather for good measure.

For me, spring is also about moving away from those hearty winter stews towards light summer dishes. I always try to straddle those opposing forces and create lighter food that still keeps some of that comfort left over from winter. How much comfort is entirely dictated by the day.

And so for this season's This Isn't Tetsuya's dinner I'm trying to capture that conflict between winter and summer and make dishes that could be enjoyed in either season, but also in neither season. I've also incorporated a lot of my recent European travels in the food, with every dish being influenced by something consumed or experienced in one of the greatest culinary regions of the world.

Will it come together? What changes will I find myself making at the last minute? Will the guests enjoy it?

Keep reading to see an experimental dinner party come together.

Notes from the first round of testing, experimenting and questioning:
- The cocktail is perfect in terms of ingredients, just need to work on quantities. At the moment it looks like the balance is equal parts grappa, pedro xim and iced tea; plus a splash of brandy and a big slice of orange zest. All over ice.
- What tea do I want to use?
- The perfect ratio of sardines to orange is 2 orange segments to 1 fillet of sardine (1 side). Top with thinly sliced fennel, olive oil, a few drops of red wine vinegar (not too much) and a pinch of salt flakes. All on top of a toasted baguette.
- The starters need to be one-bite-sized. Bite-sized is more enjoyable. Two bites or more creates the awkwardness of eating with your hands.
- The pancetta for the carbonara needs to be watched. Don't let it crisp or fry. Cook it on a low heat until the fat softens and becomes edible.
- The mix of cheese for the carbonara: equal parts reggiano, pecorino and triple cream. 3 eggs. Need to test this. The triple cream cheese is adding luxury and cream but not the flavour I want. The pecorino might bring this out.
- It works with the pickle flavour, which cuts the richness. You can have your cake and eat it too.
- Given the inability of my freezer to make ice cream, what do I do for the dessert? Bought ice cream, homemade chocolate mousse or homemade chocolate ganache? Would a mixed mousse or ganache of dark chocolate and milk chocolate add to the dish?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Charlie & Co. Burgers

So Westfield Sydney opened today. I didn't know it was going to open today, and quite frankly I didn't care. That was, of course, until someone behind me started yelling while I was waiting to cross the road on the way to lunch.

"Justin North," he said. Getting my attention. Oh yes, I am aware of that man. Than man of Becasse/Etch/Plan B/etc fame.

"Wagyu burgers," he continued. Yes, I am aware of those creatures.

"At Charlie & Co." Wait. What? What the fuck is a Charlie & Co?

"Open today."

Come on, man. Out with it. Where?

"Westfield Sydney, Level 5."

I spun around and saw an old man dressed in old fashioned newsboy attire. In his hand was leaflets. Leaflets that would lead me to a wagyu burger. Nearby.

The little man in the light went green.


I snatched a flyer from his hand and walked as fast as I could to Pitt St. It was only 12 and I felt confident of beating the rush to getting a succulent burger. I've had Justin North's wagyu burger before and, oh, how I enjoyed it.

I found the store and noticed no queue to order and only a small queue picking up food. Yes, today would be my day. I placed my order and drooled.

Flash forward 45 minutes and I'm still 10 tickets away from getting my wagyu burger ($16) with fries ($6 for normal, $7 for herb, $8 for parmesan and truffle). The kitchen is so far behind that the staff have stopped taking orders.

Shit has hit the fan.

Problems have teethed.

In 45 minutes, I've counted only 10 people getting their takeaway order (you can "dine in" or takeaway).

I get my burger and it's exceptional, as expected. The bun looks tremendous, the patty thick and inviting, the beetroot relish striking the perfect sweet/sour balance.

The chips are just as good. Pillowy inside, ultra crisp on the outside. Tossed in a little parmesan cheese and truffle oil for flavour.

Can any burger be worth a wait of over 45 minutes? I doubt it. In the time I ate this I could have almost gone to Becasse, had lunch and come back. But I'm willing to put all of this down to teething problems.

BUT PLEASE NO ONE ELSE EVER GO THERE. Because if they get the wait below 10 minutes then this has to be THE ULTIMATE quick/luxurious lunch destination in the middle of the city.

More info here:

Saturday, October 23, 2010


After breakfast in a castle in Porto (some pretzels, really) and lunch in Geneva, we're in Amsterdam, eating some sort of unidentifiable fritter... thing. It's not bad considering how dodgy everything looks around here.

Not that we're after a gourmet experience. We're just lining our stomachs before heading to our next stop: Vesper, a cocktail bar that has gotten a lot of buzz for serving up top notch cocktails in a cool, relaxed setting.

We get there and it's almost surprising to see that it is indeed cool and relaxed. I'd been getting used to hugely deceptive online reviews from ignorant Americans.

The barman tells us that it's last call, which is disappointing, but less disappointing than being told to go away.

With only one drink I want it to be a good one. I ask him what he would recommend. He extracts from me that I want something rum based and I find myself drinking a rum manhattan or something like that. Two types of rum, some red vermouth, a few drops of something secret and a twist of orange zest and it's there. It's awesome. Really, really awesome.

It's a quiet night so he chats with us about where we've been, what we do, Amsterdam, things like that. Risking the friendship, the drinking companion asks if we could possibly, maybe, have one more drink. He says okay and life is good.

This time something gin based is what we're after and he recommends the Vesper martini. It's freakin' good. A perfect balance of flavours. He tells us the history of the drink and it's origins in James Bond.

We drink that and talk more about things like the economy, super-yachts, smoking laws.

It’s so good that we decide to come back the next night.

We decide to go for the luxury cocktails, since you only live once. The Goldfinger—Remy Martin XO, Billecart-Salmon Brut NV and gold leaf—is good (and just under 40 euros), but it’s the old-fashioned that is the real winner.

We also have to have the Zombie, which is normally a godawful rendition of a tiki drink packed with so much terrible rum that you get sick more from the taste than the 4 types of rum that the recipe calls for.

But here, it’s excellent. Good rum helps, but so do the small touches that are added in like fresh passionfruit and a little (I think) cayenne pepper. It’s so strong that they make you sign a contract saying that you’ll only have two of them. Which is cruel, because it’s tremendously addictive.

And even though our friend from the night before isn’t behind the bar this night, the rest of the staff are still very much cut from the friendly/cool/unpretentious mould.

An excellent place to visit if you like cocktails in a cool/relaxed setting.

Things that Sydney needs #42098: This.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Lion d'Or. One Star.

We needed to get from Porto to Amsterdam. Not a hard task; plenty of options. But why not fit in one more Michelin starred restaurant before we run out of places?

And just like that we were flying to Geneva. Just for lunch. My final Michelin-starred meal.

Similarly to Portucale, we're in another “panoramic restaurant”, this time it's one-starred Lion d'Or and we're overlooking pretty much all of Lake Geneva. It's an overcast day, but it's an amazing view.

And some amazing looking food to match the view.

For the starters I have some langoustines seasoned with curry powder that are cooked perfectly. The dining companion has lobster that also looks pretty good.

In the glass is another of Jacques Selosse's champagnes. The “Substance” we had at La Broche was so good we've gone for another of his. And, again, it's damn, damn good. It’s a shame this guy doesn’t produce a lot of wine every year because not a lot of it makes it down to Australia (that I’ve seen at least).

For mains I'm having the lobster with puff pastry and Chinese vegetables. Dining companion lucked out and is having the duckling, again in a Chinese style. His duckling is exceptional—gamey, tender, sweet. On the side is a spring roll filled with duck meat. My lobster is very good, but lacking anything truly special about it. Maybe slightly (slightly) overcooked.

Cheese cart time and a selection of Swiss and French cheeses. All excellent, but the 24-month aged gruyere steals the show.

And to desserts. A plate of different styles of chocolate (oh, that's right, we're in Switzerland) is very nice. The mysterious “pastry chefs favourite” which is a sort of floating island sitting in caramel and filled with tropical fruits and custard is apparently excellent, according to the dining companion, who suddenly doesn't want to share.

We finish up and it has been a pretty successful (albeit expensive, those Genevans don't mess around with their prices) detour. Good food, great wine, great service, top-notch sommelier. ALL OF SWITZERLAND IS THEREFORE GREAT, RIGHT?!?!

Michelin star tally: 37

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Portucale was going to be an interesting meal, in a fearing for the worst sort of way. It was a dining room described as a “panoramic restaurant” (*gag*), it had been designed around the 70s and not updated since, and the word of the street (internet street) was that the food and service was also trapped in that magical decade.

And it was all pretty much spot on.

But you know what, it wasn't that bad. I dare say it was actually a good night. Albeit with a bit of outside help. But let me backtrack.

The dining room was nearly empty when we arrived and were presented with the menus. Yep, totally stuck in the 70s. More traditional Portuguese dishes sat alongside “international cuisine” staples of that decade. We decided to play it safe(r) and opt for the Portuguese sounding things that couldn't be messed up.

And it pretty much worked. Clams in garlic butter was a good, simple starter.

The mains were equally good. Wild boar with chestnuts was good, and the kid stewed in red wine was simple but comforting and delicious.

To accompany the mains I opted for a wine that had no chance of succeeding. A cheap Portuguese red from 1985, when I'm pretty sure it costed around 10 cents.

They retrieved it from the cellar/time machine (or wherever they keep their wines) and it was utterly caked in dust. You could barely see the label. And to decant it they opted for the old school method of using a candle to avoid decanting sediment, which, at this stage of maturity, probably represented around 20% of the wines total volume.

They offered a taste and I was all ready to drink vinegar. They called it a special wine, and I thought that was a joke. But the funny thing was that it was actually really good. Delicious. Matured and well structured.

And it was about that time that the fireworks started. Not in the restaurant or in the food or the wine. Outside in the city. An endless barrage of fireworks began and lit up the entire city, for which we had a perfect and complete view. Turns out there was some international fireworks symposium on in Porto and they were putting on a demonstration. A demonstration which went for something insane like an hour.

The main courses were utterly huge so we avoided the dessert cart (which looked alright) and opted for some cheese from the cheese cart (which looked a bit sadder).

We had that and, fireworks still going, we had a coffee before leaving.

Was it stuck in the 70s? Totally. But the 70s had some good things about them. Maybe it was a little overpriced compared to other places in Porto, but it's a pretty cheap city so that isn't saying much. If an international fireworks symposium is on, I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Lisbon. Restaurant Tavares. One star.

We arrived in Lisbon and I quickly learned that Portugal was going to be a conflicting country for me. While the thought of port wine was going to be comforting and potentially provide much enjoyment, it was also a country where the culinary landscape was essentially carved into the side of a salted cod.

Yes, salt cod, or bacalhau, one of the most important dishes in Spain, Portugal, Brazil and a number of other countries that really should know better.

The non-culinary landscape was also very shaped. Lisbon was a pretty fucking hilly city. Want to go somewhere? No problem, it's only 200 metres on the map. Oh, wait, it's 200 metres up a sheer cliff face. For someone that spent the greater portion of the last three weeks self-medicating with foie gras, this was not an enticing prospect.

There aren't a whole lot of Michelin starred restaurants in the main cities of Portugal, but there was on in Lisbon that looked like it was worth a visit. It was originally opened something like 200 years ago as a cafe, but has evolved into a room where the only things allowed into it are gold things, mirrors to accentuate gold things, and chefs.

It goes by the name of Tavares. It has one Michelin star.

I think the appetiser pretty much sums up this restaurant: two spoons arrive on a block of wood. One is a spherification of olive; the other a fried olive that may or may not have contained salt cod. In other words, new techniques and old flavours mixing together, sharing the same stage.

And so we found ourselves again in the midst of a degustation. And Tavares wasn't half bad at the act off delivering one. The first proper dish arrives at the table with a cloud of smoke emanating from underneath a glass rectangle that contains a bunch of sea animals, and some white swirls. The sea animals (prawns, clams, etc) are well cooked and it's a damn refreshing dish.

I forget the details of most of the other dishes, but I remember the pigs trotters that are spectacular. Diced up pieces of fat sitting with other excellent flavours, hiding, waiting to stick to your sides. It makes me want to start raising pigs, just so I can chop their feet off and eat them.

While the details aren't sticking out, I do remember it being an enjoyable meal. Maybe the dishes weren't perfect, but there was a lot to like in this room filled with gold and mirrors.

Michelin star tally: 36

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I Call This One "This Time We Killed Once"

Our final day in Madrid and we have to kill a lot of time. There is time between checking out of the hotel at 12 and getting the overnight train at 1030, and it has to be killed.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. I had stuff planned. Mister Social, right?

First I had a booking at two-starred Sergi Arola, which looked totally awesome. But then that fell through. No worries, I made a booking at Zaranda. But then that fell through too, so I had a lot of time to kill in Madrid.

The day started with sandwiches. We'd found a store near the Puerta del Sol which had heaps of jamon, cheese and, for today's purposes, sandwiches. They were thin and sold by the half sandwich for 80 cents. They were good. The simplicity of bread and topping is forgotten sometimes in favour of as many toppings as possible, in some sort of bizarre, twisted concept of getting more value. But these were just right.

A few more hours were spent wondering how to kill the time. First we went to a park, and that killed some time. Then I looked at the map and saw something that looked like a market, so we headed there. It turned out to be nothing more than a small shopping centre.

Then I did something bad.

I don't like Starbucks. I don't like the way they're everywhere, and I generally don't like the people that go there.

I went to Starbucks. It was mostly motivated by a desire for both coffee of any guise and bathrooms, but none the less I went there. And I ordered one of their abortions of a coffee. And I liked it. Good lord, where has the Starbucks frappucino been my life? So much sugar, it's fantastic, in a sort of “did I really just spend $5 on this just to get a caffeine hit/I definitely have diabetes” sort of way. I quickly planned when my next one would be.

We then went to the museum of contemporary art, which appeared to be demolished, so that was another waste of time. So we went to see the palace (or maybe one of the palaces; every European city seems to have multiple). Then we went to Starbucks again. A different one.

Then we killed more time and it was looking like dinner time. So we stopped killing time and went in search of food.

The other day we'd noticed a bar sort of thing that had a lot of excellent beers in the window. We went in search of that because, even if they didn't have food, they'd have beer.

But they had food. Oh my how they had food.

They had a tapas on toast section in the menu where there were 7 choices of things on toast. Things like jamon, anchovies, smoked salmon and cod. We got one of each. And they were sensational. Coupled with sensational beers, this was a very good time indeed, friends.

But we were still hungry (and thirsty) so I noticed they had another tapas section in the menu. Six of those, please. And more outstanding beers.

And those tapas were just as good as the first ones. More outstanding things on toast. This time there was cheese too, atop those noble loaves.

We contemplated why Sydney doesn't have a place like this—a place that serves outstanding beers and has simple, cheap, but more-ish snacks.

And with enough time killed, we asked for the bill. How much were we going to have to pay for the privilege of have 13 different tapas, olives, nuts, a handful of beers that retail for around $10 each in Sydney? Sixty euros. Combined. We were stuffed, satisfied, well fed, well watered, for only $30 each. Dare I say a MERE $30 euros?

Things that need to happen in Sydney #82: This.

Monday, October 11, 2010

La Broche. 1 star. 35 stars reached.

Like Lasserre back in Paris, this booking was a total knee-jerk reaction. I was supposed to be going to Sergi Arola the next day for lunch, but for whatever reason they decided not to open that day. Fearing that I wouldn't make my goal of accumulating 35 Michelin stars, I booked the first restaurant I could find that would be easy to book. Enter La Broche. Ironically, Sergi Arola's old restaurant/kitchen.

I didn't really have any preconceptions going into this one. My main motivation was just to hit the star target. When I booked it I had no idea that it would be THE restaurant that would have me hitting the target.

Located in a fancy hotel north of the city, La Broche appears to be attempting to fuse modern Spanish food with French flavours and techniques. What this entails, it appears, is having the waiters add the sauce to your dish, for every dish. It also follows the Spanish trend of assaulting you with a neverending barrage of dishes.

I'm delighted to see that the wine list has Jacques Selosse champagne, a wine I've been wanting to try for ages but have never seen around. It's an interesting one. A non vintage that includes grapes made across something like 14 years, and is made like a sherry wine, not a champagne. It's awesome. Salty, honeyed, rich but mineral.

It starts interestingly enough with a plastic sachet of foie gras and a dish of consomme. You dip the foie gras in the liquid and the plastic dissolves as you place it in your mouth. Then you drink the soup.

There are a few attempts at creativity throughout the meal, like when we get the fish with cuttlefish sauce and they bring burning sticks to the table. Why, I'm not too sure.

The food is good, but there aren't many wow moments happening. Food wise, it's not really up to the standard of a lot of other starred places and sits towards the bottom of the scale, near Il Convivio. But the chef has some great ideas and there are interesting things on the plate, so my attention is kept for the entire time.

And just like that, the star tally is hit. And with ten days to go as well. 35 stars in 25 days. Not bad.

Not bad. But not over.

Michelin star tally: 35

Ramon Freixa. 1 Star.

After another late night dining, I wake up late in the hotel room and only have a small amount of free time before I have to get ready for lunch. This seemingly endless cycle—wake up late, groggily shake off the last night's dinner, get ready for lunch, head to lunch, eat for three or so hours, either kill a couple of hours nearby or come back to the room and change, feel sleepy, afternoon snack, feel sleepier, get ready for dinner, head to dinner, eat for three or so hours, collapse into bed around one or two AM—has dominated my time in a few cities. I'm fuelled by the thought that there isn't that much longer to go before I'm back in Sydney and I can eat and function like a normal human being again. I can't wait to wake up, have some cereal and yoghurt for breakfast, do normal, boring things, have something small and healthy for lunch, then do more normal, boring things.

Part of me feels sorry for food writers an restaurant reviewers. It's not easy eating like this for a long period of time. Am I starting to ache?

I ponder this as I walk around what appears to be a rich area of Madrid. I'm not sure of the socioeconomic breakdown of this city—and it isn't marked on the tourist map the hotel front desk gave me—but having each corner of an intersection taken up by a high-fashion boutique (which relegates the likes of Burberry and Hugo Boss to mere observers) is a pretty good indication.

I'm on my way to Ramon Freixa, a one-starred place at the bottom of a fancy looking hotel. I arrive around ten minutes late for the 1:30 booking, trying to do the fancy European thing of being late, but I arrive to an empty dining room that's still having it's finishing touches applied before service. They seem somewhat surprised to see me there that early.

I sit on a glass of cava and nervously wait for other any diners to arrive so I don't feel so weird, with six waitstaff hovering around for... me.

The chef comes out to take orders here, which just makes sense. Why aren't more places doing this? He can answer questions around the food and begin the dialogue with the diner. It's a connection between the kitchen and diner. I like it. I order the largest of the degustations, which seems to include at least 20 dishes. Surely not.

Finally some other diners arrive. It's nearly 2PM and the dining room is still nearly empty. It will be another hour before it looks closer to full.

A stream of appetisers come out. A plate with 6 or 7 different “bites” on it. They're all really good. That wasn't part of the degustation. Oh...

There are so many different appetisers that the line is blurred between what is a welcome gift and what is actually the meal.

But the point where it gets serious is definitely the mushroom and ham soup. Some mushrooms sit on top of a bowl with holes at the bottom. The waiter pours over some ham soup and it disappears. He tells me to eat the mushrooms and he'll come back. I eat the mushrooms and my god they are so good. I have fallen for mushrooms in a BIG way on this trip. When they're done right, they are nothing short of incredible. I sigh, contentedly, and the waiter removes the part of the bowl that contained said mushrooms. Below is, surely enough, the ham consomme. And, damn, that's really good as well.

I polish that off and start on the side dishes. Yeah, that's right, side dishes for entrees. Each dish that comes out has more dishes on the side, making it impossible to keep track of how many things you've eaten.

It also makes it really hard to remember what you ate.

I remember only flashes, like the perfect razor clam served with a bean puree. And the excellent Bollinger RD I got to go with the food. That cheese course (three separate dishes) that was utter perfection in terms of flavour and texture. And the “final” dessert, that was actually six large bowls on the table all at once. And after everything, after enough dishes to feed an African village for a day, the waiter coming over and offering chocolates.

There was so much more to it than that though. So many excellent dishes. All of a fantastic standard.

Of all the other one-starred places I've been to so far, this one has to take the cake. And that cake is actually served, deconstructed, in twelve separate bowls on table at once.

Michelin star tally: 34

Sunday, October 10, 2010

La Terraza del Casino Madrid. 2 stars.

After leaving Zaragoza we headed west to Madrid to find the first triangle shaped lift of our journey (success! It was a right-angled one). I'd had some difficulties with restaurant reservations, but I was still looking forward to eating in this place. After the excellent food in Barcelona, I was keen to get another fill of innovative Spanish dining. First stop: La Terraza del Casino Madrid.

Recipient of it's second Michelin star in the most recent guide, La Terraza is (as the name suggests) situated in Madrid Casino, an old gentlemens' club near the middle of the city and is somewhat known because El Bulli's Ferran Adria consulted on the restaurant when it opened and has been known to check on things from time to time. So it should be good, right?

Yep, it's good.

We get to the table and they whip up the opening cocktail of a whisky sour, using liquid nitrogen at the tableside to make a smooth sorbet. It is certainly sour.

On to the proper food! Olive oil butter comes served in a tube that you have to open and squeeze into a pastry pod of sorts. It would be nice if it was nice, but olive oil butter isn't doing much for me. It tastes like, well, olive oil butter.

On to really proper stuff. Snacks. Some bites on a plate like black olive muffin and tomato and pesto cake. Then a truffle made with yuzu that is damn good-texture and balance. Then trout roe tempura, which is so satisfying it's like trout roe was born to be in tempura, not trouts. Take that, nature.

Into the “tapiplatos”, the proper dishes. The first “wow” moment comes with oyster tartar. Uncomplicated but rich. A rare dish that actually improves on a natural oysters. Then an awesome hachi parmentier with lobster. Then two amazing dishes (seriously amazing dishes): the carbonara egg nest—where the “pasta” is actually a ham consumme that melts in the mouth and an egg where the white is a parmesan cream, the yolk still a yolk-- and the royal of pigeon with truffle and foie gras, made spectacular by sitting pieces of truffle and pigeon in a foie gras cream sort of thing and a rich sauce.

The tuna belly with lettuce marrow that follows is okay—and a good idea for a dish with the tuna resembling steak—but it doesn't quite work as well as other dishes. Then the final main dish of slow-roasted wagyu beef with pork raviolis that melts in the mouth.

The liquid nitro cart comes back for a palate cleanser and it's into desserts. Excellent balance of flavours in all.

We finish up and are presented with a printout of the menu. Not uncommon, but here they give you a copy that includes the date and the wines that you ordered. For someone that struggles to remember dishes and, in particular, wines ordered, this is an awesome touch.

Couple the excellent food with the good service, the room and the other touches and this was an excellent dining experience. While it didn't top the experience at l'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, or the everything at Guy Savoy, it's definitely towards the front of the pack of restaurants chasing third place for this trip.

And, maybe even more importantly, it was a sign that I was going to enjoy my time eating in Madrid.

Michelin star tally: 33

Saturday, October 09, 2010

On Zaragoza, Baby Eels

So, in terms of food, Barcelona was awesome. Amazing even. Everything I ate was incredible. It was like everything was turned up a notch. So good I couldn't imagine going back to living in Sydney and eating just “good” food.

But all good things come to an end. And they did this time too. Ironic.

From Barcelona we headed to Zaragoza, which I think is Spanish for “nothing is ever open but, hey, we sure have a lot of useless fountains around the place, did you see the fountain?”. Granted, we were there on a Sunday and Monday. But still... so many things were closed.

One day I finally found some stores selling cheese and meat. But when I went back around lunch time to purchase some to eat, THEY WERE ALL CLOSED. They close for around two hours for lunch, and then only open up for an hour or two afterwards WHEN YOU ARE NO LONGER HUNGRY BECAUSE YOU ATE AN ARTICLE OF YOUR CLOTHING OUT OF DESPERATION LIKE A LAME MAN VS WILD EPISODE.

So Zaragoza was pretty much two days of finding tapas bars, wondering where to go when the tapas bar you wanted to go to was closed, eating decent tapas, waiting for things to open and sitting in the hotel room drinking the pedro ximenez left over from Barcelona, and the grappa left over from Rome.

One place did stand out. I forget the name of it, but we hit it up for dinner on the second night. It looked pretty unassuming, but when we got the starter of a selection of eight tapas, we knew we were in store for something... assuming?

Each tapas was an interesting creation or had a twist on a classic/traditional dish. One that stood out was stuffed calamari on toast. The reason it stood out was because on top was fried baby eels. I'd heard about these but had never seen them before. They're so tiny, about the size of a matchstick, and have an interesting texture that's a little like spaghetti and a subtle fishy/eely tasty.

My main was interesting. A fillet of beef topped with shaved, frozen foie gras and potato chips. It reminded me of the sort of thing you'd see at a super-innovative restaurant elsewhere. But here it was being served in a small bar in a city like Zaragoza.

It was a nice dish, but the execution didn't match the concept. Eating steak with potato chips just felt... wrong. And that was the story with the tapas too. Great ideas, but a little bit short of perfect.

Still. A good impromptu meal and pretty decent value. It was innovative cuisine without the prices.

And that's all I'm going to say about Zaragoza.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Comerc 24. 1 star.

The final dinner in Barcelona and I've booked us into Comerc24, a one-starred place named after its address. Very original. It's fairly well known by association: the chef worked at El Bulli for a many years. So people pretty much come here expecting to see shades of that style of food. I guess I was no exception.

Were given menus but strongly (basically guilted) into avoiding the a la carte options and going for a tasting menu. For fear of being bludgeoned with blunt instruments we opt for a tasting menu. THE GRANDEST FESTIVALEST MENU OF ALL. Or something. It sounds elaborate.

It is. Over the course of nearly 4 hours we consume around 300 courses. Or maybe it was 24 courses and that's the real reason behind the name?

The aim of the game is both flavour combos and techniques. For example, the spherified parmesan, truffle and basil in a broth. Sometimes it works well—really well--but other times it doesn't. I suppose you get that sometimes when you try 300 new flavour combinations.

Like the tuna tartare with caviar and egg yolk. That was great. But then there was the sardine and orange with a crunchy thing (a crunchy thing that appeared in a few dishes). The balance was way off; nowhere near enough orange to counter the saltiness of the sardine.

I suppose that was pretty much how the evening went. There were dishes that worked, others that didn't, but a lot of them didn't work (or weren't as good as they could be) because they weren't executed perfectly. If you're trying interesting flavour combinations then it is paramount that you get the balance right. You can dazzle us with technique but at the end of the day it has to taste good.

So did I like Comerc 24? Yeah, it was good. It wasn't great, but it was interesting. I like interesting. And for 300 courses or whatever it was, you could probably go elsewhere and pay a lot more for the privilege.

Michelin star tally: 31

Cinc Sentis. 1 star.

A beautiful Saturday in Barcelona, and what better way to get started (after a long sleep-in as a result of last night's activities) than at Cinc Sentis (five senses), which received it's first Michelin star some time in the last couple of years (ed: great research there...).

Forget about a la carte, they just have two tasting menus. Short and long. Easy. So we go for the longer one and opt for matching wines, which is pretty much default setting.

The dishes that follow (there are a lot) pair a few different flavours/ingredients together and play a little with texture and incorporate newish techniques like foams, ices, gels and all of that business. And there's a heavy reliance on seafood (especially cod) throughout the meal. It's nothing too crazy, just good flavour combinations on a plate. Simple, interesting, delicious.

Service is friendly and the sommelier matches the wines well.

We want to conclude the lunch with a couple of glasses of pedro ximenez, but we're told that as a result of the strikes, they're waiting on a delivery of wine and only have one glass of one type left. Finally. I was wondering when the strikes were going to affect us.

Afterwards, we swing back past the market, get some more juices, pick up a cheese, some incredible jamon (for 170euros a kilo you'd want it to be), a bottle of pedro ximenez and head back to the hotel room for a rest (ed: how do you rest with cheese?). Thankfully, no strikes got in the way of that pedro xim.

Michelin star tally: 30

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Espai Sucre

What a thing. Not only is it a restaurant that specialises in desserts, but it's a dessert restaurant that only does degustations (with matching dessert wine, of course). And it's a little fancy. I'd heard about Espai Sucre a couple of years back and knew that I had to go there one day.

A day like today.

The problem with this restaurant was that I wasn't sure if it was recommended to eat before going there, or if you were expected to only have dessert items for dinner that night. I'm a cautious guy. So, stomachs full after the earlier (just then) dinner at Lasarte, we walked into the restaurant.

We were presented with the menus and, oh, they do have some savoury dishes in the degustations, as well as dessert only ones. Wanting to compare the savoury dishes as well, I opt for a five-course tasting menu with two savoury and three sweet dishes. The dining companion opts for a more reasonable three-course, dessert-only degustation.

First the savoury. A scallop and mussel dish that's pretty good. Simple, good flavours. Then a piece of beef, slow roasted so you can eat it with a fork and spoon, with a grain and sweet nut sauce. The sauce is quite sweet and definitely gets you in the mood for dessert.

Dessert time and I'm ever so excited/full. The dining companion is in pain and is telling me what he wants done with his body when if something happens to him. I made a mental note of it and dig into my dessert.

I can't remember a lot about the dishes themselves--it had been a really long day--but I remember the expert way they controlled flavour, sweetness and texture. These were serious desserts, and they tasted seriously good. The use of sourness kept the whole meal somewhat refreshing, and even though I'd eaten dozens of things already today, I felt like I could still eat more.

While the savoury courses were okay, the desserts here are definitely top notch. A great restaurant concept, talented pastry chefs and great food.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Lasarte. 2 stars.

With the sugar rush from all the earlier juices, I got ready for what was going to be a very challenging evening.

See... there's this place I'd wanted to go to ever since I heard of it a year or two a go. It's a place that was opened by a pastry chef and does dessert degustations. More on that later, but it troubled me somewhat. Firstly, if the place only does dessert, surely I have to have some savoury food first?

So I made a booking at Lasarte, which just received its second Michelin star in this year's guide. It's also the only restaurant in the city to have multiple stars.

Ah, but another problem. Lasarte's earliest booking is 8:30, and the late sitting at the dessert place is 11. And it's across town. Not a lot of time to change over.

So in the interests of time (and diabetes) we walked into Lasarte with the intention of not only ignoring the tasting menu, but also ignoring the dessert menu.


By some lucky twist of fate, Lasarte also offer “small” entrees. Entrees designed to be eaten in a couple of bites. You don't say...

And so, with some careful ordering, we had a DIY degustation. We would each order a different mini-entree, entree and main, and eat half the dish each. Brilliant!

Lasarte came to the party by bringing out some tasty appetisers and bread.

So we kicked off with a mille-fuille of eel, foie gras and apple. Kind of like a mini lasagne really. Great flavour combinations and fantastic texture. I took 55% of that dish.

A swap and dish of langoustine with a sea urchin mousse with some other things I forget. It's also good, but not as good as the mille-fuille.

Entree time and I kick off with one of the most expensive dishes on the menu, sea cucumber rice with, if I remember correctly, apple and black pudding. It's good. Very good. Like a paella, but with sea cucumber instead of normal toppings. Salty and luxurious.

A swap and I have a some jamon as well as some toast, lightly brushed with tomato. The jamon is damn good and the bread doesn't taste superfluous like I feared; it works well.

Main course time and I stuck with the old “fat is flavour” saying and went for pigs trotters stuffed with black pudding and some other stuff. What comes out is monumentally unctuous. The fat has been taken from the trotter, stuffed with a rich filling and then cooked. It's soft, gooey, sticky, rich and so, so good. When the suggestion is made to only swap 1/3 of this course, I pose absolutely no resistance. I finish and the dining companion is still eating his course. I'd flown through the trotters.

But the time comes and I sadly part with the trotters. In exchange I get the rack of lamb. Frankly, it's boring. Small pieces of lamb and a few adornments. It's excellently made, but unsatisfying. I want my trotter back.

We still have a little time up our sleeves (or so I think), so we go for some coffee. The coffee is excellent and the petit fours well thought out, unlike some of the merciless onslaughts I got in France.

We leave, and my only regret is not having enough time to return for the degustation. Well, that and giving away the trotter. Concerningly, we're both full and the dessert degustation starts in half an hour.

Michelin star tally: 29

Monday, October 04, 2010

La Boqueria. Quimet y Quimet. Juice.

Our first full day in Barcelona began like it does for most tourists, with a walk down the famous as Ramblas, a collection of shops that run down a pedestrian street that slices right through the city. While it basically resembled any shopping street in a major western city, it does have one thing which not a lot of other cities can boast: a huge food/produce market right in the heart of the city.

I'm sure that La Boqueria has a lot of history (people were taking photos: a sure sign) but I didn't really care for any of that. What I cared about was the jamon hanging in stalls, the Spanish cheeses that are so different to their French relatives, ripe fruits and vegetables and, unexpectedly, a hell of a lot of juice. Probably a dozen stalls selling fruit juices, in fact. Juices of combinations and colours that just isn't seen in Sydney.

After walking through the market and picking up some salt cod fritters to munch on, I headed for the juice stalls. But what flavour to try? Hell, how about all of them. So I pretty much did. Combinations like blackberry and coconut, dragonfruit, pineapple and orange, kiwi and coconut, coconut on it's own, coconut and strawberry. For a dude that gets off on sweet beverages (not literally) this was dangerously good. I say dangerously good because I don't think a dozen juices can possibly be good for you.

After the onslaught of juice, we were in the mood for some tapas. I'd read about a place that was well known for montaditos, which is pretty much tapas that comes on toast. So, after walking along a sidestreet that had a lot of dodgy phone shops and even dodgier looking prostitutes, we arrived at Quimet y Quimet and planted ourselves at the bar.

Beer to start, which was easy because this place had a good selection, particularly some interesting boutique American drops. But then it got a little perplexing. In front of us was a cabinet filled with ingredients. Things like prawns, razor clams, dried beef. How does that work? Do we order a prawn? I don't think I want to eat just a prawn. Or a tinned mussel. Is that supposed to be good?

Someone Spanishy steps to the bar and says “langoustine”. The guy behind the bar grabs a piece of toast, spoons on some tomato, adds a dollop of cream, a prawn, some caviar and drizzles over some oil and vinegar. He hands over an amazing looking morsel of food. The sort of thing that would probably cost 5-10$ at a tapas place in Sydney.

I throw caution to the wind. Dos langoustine, per favore.

He retrieves two pieces of toast and methodically creates two more of the morsels. We stand at the bar, sip the beer, and dive in. It's good. It's so freaking good. The vinegar has been caramelised so it adds a sweetness to the bite. The whole thing is simple, but so, so good. Just like most Spanish food I'd experienced.

So having cracked the code on how to order, we dig in. The dried beef comes with roasted capsicum and capers. Incredible. Razor clams are served with nothing but a light chilli sauce. We keep ordering and it keeps knocking it out of the park. We finish with a fantastic cheese plate and ask for the bill, worrying a little about how much it could have been for all of that food and beer. Fifty euros... Fifty euros for two big guys to stuff themselves on deliciousness and wash it down with beer.

We leave content, and end up swinging by the market for some more juice, because that's what you do when you're in Barcelona and you're in a good mood. You drink juice.

Now for... Barcelona. Mil921

Thanks to some delays to our flights (“sorry folks, we had some technical issues with the plane. But don't worry... it's a completely serviceable aircraft”) we arrived in Barcelona fairly late, checking into our hotel around 9, with a healthy appetite (lobsters and partridges from lunch now digested). Bags were dumped and we headed straight out to find the first thing that looked okay.

Thank god the Spanish eat late, because most places were still open and fairly full. It's not easy choosing between empty restaurants. And I don't yet know what “sorry, we're closed” sounds like in Spanish.

One place nearby looked great, a bustling restaurant/bar that looked a lot like Sydney's Bodega restaurant, but there were no free tables to be found.

A street away from the hotel I notice a dimly lit place filled with a lot of dark timber, which is pretty much how I imagine heaven to look like (is this review blasphemous?). The menu looks fine—all of that eating in Spanish restaurants has paid off—so we go in and, knowing almost no Spanish, I point to a vacant table and say something like “por dos?”.

It seems to work because the waiter nods and says “si”, which I do know means yes. A good start.

He says something very Spanish.

I look blankly, pause, and say “habla Englese?” which is either asking him if he speaks Spanish or if he's the son of an opera singer.

He looks blankly and says no.

I manage to get some water (somehow, asking for sparkling water has become the most important thing to know when looking at the translation book) and some menus. Everything looks damn good.

We point to a few things, point to a wine and everything kicks into gear.

The wine comes out, and it's excellent. For only 28euros it's an absolute steal. An appetiser comes out, which I think is a cauliflower cream with basil oil, and that too is good. Spain is feeling pretty good so far.

Entrees arrive and I've got some jamon and melon. A dish I've had before, but this is easily the best one. Perfectly ripe melon, delicious jamon, a little salt, a touch of vinegar. It's exactly how I imagine Spain to taste, that perfect harmony between salty and sweet.

We also get a tuna tartar, which is very, very solid. A great start.

For the main we decided to go for the 1kg steak for two. It comes with a selection of salts that are the only accompaniments you need for the big slab of steak on the plate, dressed only with pepper and oil (a refreshing change from the heavy French sauces). Not the best steak of all time, but simple and satisfying.

After the success of everything else we opt for dessert. A dark chocolate churro sort of thing, and a strawberry and cream pastry. Simple, effective and good value at around 6 euros each.

All up, great value, excellent looking restaurant, friendly service, great food. Welcome to Spain.

Chez Michel

It was nearly time to leave Paris, but there was time for a quick lunch before heading to the airport. For that meal, I'd heard good things about a place called Chez Michel and I was keen to give it a go. These “good things” I'd heard were related to the menu they have.

The way it works at Chez Michel is that there's a three-course menu for around 36 euros. That gives you the choice from five or six options for each meal. But there's a little something called the supplement menu. Now, at most places a supplement menu will usually be something like “get a nicer cut of meat for 5 euros” or “get some cheese before dessert for 10 euros”. But at Chez Michel, the supplement menu is a ticket into some VERY interesting things. So most people will get the set menu, but exchange every course for something on the supplements board. So they charge you for both the set menu and the supplement, which makes sense but seems to cause confusion with some people.

The other thing with the supplements board is that the stuff on there is anything but ordinary. Depending on the season, you may be able to choose from a selection of wild game dishes. I've even heard that sometimes they have super-rare baby eels. But what this means for the tourist with only basic French is that you can be stabbing in the dark at these bizarre/uncommon names on the menu. So point and hope is a good strategy.

Take our meal for example.

We kick off with a foie gras and truffle sandwich (+20e) and frogs legs with mushrooms (+15). The truffle sandwich is a big slice of bread, covered in a thick covering of foie gras and then burried beneath a sheet of truffles. Surprise, surprise... it was good. The frogs legs (no, I had no idea I was ordering them) were also excellent, sitting in a bath of garlic and parsley.

At this point an American girl comes in and takes the table next to ours, tucking her luggage under the seat. She too has heard about this place and came straight from the train station to the restaurant for lunch.

For the mains, my dining companion picked first and went for the lobster (because it was the only thing he understood on the menu) (+30). There was no way that could have been bad after they brought out a huge and live lobster to show it. Yes, he got the entire lobster. Bastard. Utter bastard. Because it was good, utterly good.

I took a stab and ended up with what I believe was an entire roast partridge (+20), sitting proudly atop potatoes and mushrooms. It wasn't an entire lobster but damn it was good. And I was damn full, with dessert still to come.

The American girl has also gone for the foie gras and truffle sandwich and the partridge. She only makes it through half of the bird before giving up and admitting defeat.

At this point part of me wanted to know what other mains we'd missed out on, but another part of me didn't want to know for fear of cancelling the rest of the trip to just eat here every day.

For dessert, I didn't go for a supplement, opting for the Paris-Brest-Paris dessert, which I believe is a pastry filled with nut cream that was created to celebrate a bike race that occurred some time ago. The fellow diner went for a petit suisse, which was pretty much a good looking strawberries and cream.

All up, an extremely memorable meal at tremendous value.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Lasserre. 2 stars.

With the stinging reviews of the local Parisians still ringing in my ears from the night before, we headed off to two-starred Lasserre for what could have been a very interesting dinner.

I wasn't supposed to be here though. Originally, this meal was booked for Alain Passard's legendary (and three-starred) l'Arpege. But due to a fire or something of that nature, it was no more. With only a week's notice I scrambled to book the first dinner I could at a sufficiently starred restaurant (with the tally in mind). That place was Lasserre.

It almost wasn't here, in fact. After the Louvre I wanted to be a lame tourist and go to McDonalds and order a Royale with cheese, a la Pulp Fiction. But I couldn't see just the normal Royale on the menu, so I stood back. But my travelling/dining companion didn't. He ordered an entire meal. Large, of course. For reasons that are still not clear. Due to equal parts fullness from that meal, and anger towards me for not getting anything, he nearly bailed on dinner. I think he still has a while to go before he realises that eating is sometimes more related to a pushing through of the pain barrier.

We get the lift up to the dining room on the second floor and the beauty of the place hits you immeditely. A lot of white, lillies, some moss, green, gold trimmings and, oh yeah, AN OPEN ROOF! That's right, Lasserre has a retractable roof. And when it's open and the cool breeze (that smells so sweet because it's Paris) hits you, it feels damn good.

We're seated near two incredibly scary-looking/powerful men and their dates, probably the two most beautiful women in the entire world. Creatures so divine that they are too precious to risk taking them outside in the day. But I don't look because those men will probably kill me without too much bother. So we get stuck into the tasting menu. That will distract me.

And the food is good. Those Parisians were crazy (clearly they were if they thought Taillevent was great). It's not world-beating, but it's damn fine. Dishes like the foie gras stuffed maccaroni with cheese and truffle sauce. And the pigeon with foie gras. They were all good.

The Parisians did have a point though, the place wasn't cheap, particularly if you ordered a la carte. It wasn't mind-blowingly expensive either though.

Lasserre was more about the experience than the food, I think. While the food was good enough to compete with a lot of the other restaurants at the same level, it's strengths were in the service, which was excellent, and the setting, which, as mentioned above, was stunning.

Also a good place to go if you have two of the most beautiful women in the world on your side and you want them to get some fresh air, but also don't want them to go outside.

Michelin star tally: 27

Michel Rostang. 2 stars.

This was going to be an interesting one, I figured.

Because there were some things to do in the afternoon (sneaking in a viewing of the Louvre before dinner), I couldn't really go for the full-on degustation. But I'd heard about the famous truffle sandwich and I was pretty sure I wanted that. But how, if it isn't in the set lunch menu? Maybe add it as an additional course? From what I'd read, it cost around 85 euros. Pricey “supplement”...

I got the menus and disappointingly/thankfully there was no truffle sandwich to be seen.

Instead I started with a foie gras ravioli with veal consomme. Pretty good. Soft, soothing, rich.

For the main, I went for something I didn't really understand. Could have gone either way, but what came back was a stunner of a dish. A huge, and I mean HUGE, quenelle (think rich loaf of bread) sat in a bath of lobster sauce. The plate was closer in size to a platter. And it was all mine.

Now, I can eat a lot, and I mean A LOT, but this was a test for me. It was so fantastic, a thick bread mopping up the gloriously rich and salty sauce, with some basmatti rice on the side (some fried grains giving it a fantastic taste and texture), but MAN IT WAS SO MUCH.

After that, an excellent dessert that I forget the details of, but it was some sort of ice cream with a sorbet in the middle of it, coated in jelly to look like a piece of fruit, and sitting on top a biscuit. Fantastic.

Great meal.

Michel Rostang doesn't pull a lot of surprises, but this guy can COOK. Everything was cooked perfectly and was seriously tasty. If I had the chance, I'd love to go back for the full degustation.

Michelin star tally: 25

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Taillevent. 2 snores/stars/averge.

After the supreme success of Guy Savoy, I did some laundry (hey this story is going well...) and prepared myself for dinner at two-starred Taillevent. This was going to be an interesting one. While Guy Savoy is one of the more progressive chefs in Paris, Taillevent is a restaurant with a rich history that is very much forced to respect tradition.

Taillevent has been open for around 60 years and held three stars for the majority of those years. It finally lost a star a couple of years ago and has been on that level since. While I'm not entirely up on the history of the place, my understanding is that it has been a fairly important restaurant in the Paris dining and, more importantly, political scene.

But, more importantly from my perspective, how was the food?

In a few words, not very good.

For the first time on this trip, there were multiple dishes that I considered failures. The langoustine dish was a disaster. Why would you put a sweet langoustine and some very subtle sauces on the same plate as a zesty orange marmalade? There was no cohesion at all.

Other dishes weren't as bad, but were still fairly forgettable. So much so that I'm writing this only a few days later, yet I remember almost nothing. With other places I can remember most of the courses.

Service was also a bit dull. While Guy Savoy was great because the service was fun, Taillevent is overly formal and dry. Nothing about the restaurant was exciting.

After dinner a group of local Parisians dining at the table next to me asked me what I thought of the food. I should have sugar-coated it but I really couldn't be bothered. I told them that the food was okay, but nothing special. And that the restaurant seemed to be respecting it's past too much. And that about summed it up for me. Either the menu needs to be totally pulled into the current, or they focus on the classics and don't try to do stupid things like pairing marmalade with langoustine, which tasted like it was trying too hard to pull off both a classical and a modern taste. You can be happy enjoying heaven and hell, but eating limbo is unfulfilling.

As we spoke more I mentioned my plans for tomorrow—Michel Rostang for lunch and Lasserre for dinner. Concerningly, they were united in their dislike for Lasserre, particularly the price. They recommended other places, but with such short notice I was locked in. That could be a worry.

Michelin star tally: 23