Review: Texture

London,
18 September 2013

It’s strange to turn 41, a rather meaningless age. So instead of getting too side-tracked by all the crap that has happened already on this trip (to be detailed in a subsequent post), I decided to treat myself to a good birthday lunch.

Wanting a solid experience on the north side of central London, I chose the 1-Michelin Texture. I had wanted to try it during my last trip, but it was during the restaurant’s summer break. So I made the short trek towards Marble Arch, dodged the dodgy lot loitering near the station, and arrived in the modern eatery.

Now Nordic chefs have really expanded their profile not just in the region, but all around the world — and Texture, with its Icelandic chef Agnar Sverrisson is no different. I’ve heard excellent things about Texture, so my expectations were reasonably high. After the excellent meal at similarly 1-Michelin Medlar the evening before, I was hoping for the continual change of my luck with Michelin-starred restaurants.

I was seated at a nice corner table by a very efficient staff, and promptly enjoyed a birthday martini to start the day…no better way to do it. After placing my order, using the a la carte menu instead of the lunch menu, the amuse bouche arrived.

AB_cauliflower

This cauliflower-based start was quite cute, and as someone who really likes cauliflower, this was a good start. The flavoured ice was a nice touch for an Icelandic chef.

After switching to a nice white, thanks to the suggestions of the excellent sommelier, my first course was presented.

1_scallops

This presentation of scallops was pretty interesting, served as thinly-sliced ceviche. Now these were extremely nice. I was at first a little conflicted as the passion fruit base was noticeably acidic, and my altesse being surprisingly forceful. However, after the second bite of the scallops, the flavours all came together. Now this worked out extremely well. Now this was a great combination, and the pairing of the Gilles Berlioz wine really sealed the deal.

Now this is what a sommelier at a Michelin-starred restaurant should do — have these amazing pairings that bring out the best of the dish. Very rarely do I sit back and say wow to the pairing and combination, but this was one of them. Easily one of the dishes (and pairings) of the year.

By now I was really happy, and I actually stayed with the altesse for my second course, the Elwy Valley lamb.

2_Elwy_lamb

The plating was just beautiful, using the veg in a perfect way. The lamb was juicy and tender, and tasted of proper lamb (not the crap we’re served too often and called “lamb”). The combination of best end and shoulder pieces brought out two different sides of the lamb, and it was a perfect balance once again.

This has been a fantastic meal so far, and I was certainly happy this was my birthday lunch. It made me forget most of my current life headaches, as if things were really moving well onto the upside.

sorrel_mid

Next was a palate-cleanser based on sorrel. Again, the love of ice… And in anticipation of my dessert I ordered something I was surprised to see on the pudding wine list — the Leonardo dessert wine made by Marjan Simčič in Goriška Brda in Slovenia. This is one of the harder-to-get gems of dessert wines, going off-recommendation from the sommelier (who was nodding his approval at my recognition of this beautiful ambrosia). Now this was a heck of a birthday treat, alongside my dessert.

3_skyr

Ah, skyr…I’ve missed you… This wonderful Icelandic yoghurt-ish item is nice and fresh, and the vanilla and berries really added to the overall flavour of this dessert. I’m not a dessert person, as my readers know, but I enjoyed this — even more with that beautiful glass of Leonardo…

petits_fours

After that voluminous and excellent meal, I was spent — and had no room for this cute closer. I have to say this is one of the best birthday lunches I’ve ever had — definitely better than last year’s dodgy sandwich at Longyearbyen Airport!

Texture is an excellent restaurant well deserving of its 1-Michelin star. In fact, it probably deserves a second, for its excellent service, fantastic food, and expert sommelier. It’s better than most 2-star restaurants I’ve been to, and it’s helped redeem the reputation of Michelin-starred restaurants in my eyes.

(That is, until I read that the rather inferior Dinner by Heston Blumenthal somehow got a 2nd star upgrade and the extremely chaotic Ametsa with Arzak Instruction got a star for an empty restaurant…)

Texture
34 Portman Street
London, England

Advertisements

Review: Medlar

London,
17 September 2013

It’s the day before my birthday, and I figured I deserved a good dinner. I chose to dine alone, to have a quiet night with good food. I was planning to be on the edge of Chelsea in any case, so chose the well-regarded Medlar for this meal.

The staff were extremely friendly in making the booking, so I already felt comfortable when I arrived. I sat in a corner seat, already laid out for 1. I felt immediately relaxed, even before the martini arrived.

Medlar is known for excellent modern British cooking, so I was looking forward to a very good meal. What I didn’t expect was such innovative and out-of-the-norm wines that I paired the meal with. This was such a pleasant surprise.

My readers know I’ve been rather soured at Michelin-starred restaurants recently (Medlar has 1 star), but this evening will change my luck for the better. I began my pre-birthday feast with the crab raviolo with samphire:

crab_raviolo

Now I love samphire, so this was a natural choice for me. The raviolo was rich, with a generous amount of crab. We paired this dish with an excellent assyrtiko from Santorini, which worked so well with the rich crab and the samphire. Loved it!

Now this is the sign of a Michelin restaurant that *deserves* its star. I had mentioned, looking at the menu, that I love sand eels (it was on another dish I didn’t pick). So with my starter they brought out a few large ones for me…

sand_eels

Wow, these were excellent, larger than the usual ones you find in other restaurants. What a nice little treat — my first birthday gift of the year! Excellent!

Took a little rest and then my main course arrived next. I was told this was one of chef’s signature dishes — the underblade fillet with snails.

fillet

The beef was tender and flavourful, not needing any of the jus or the bernaise that came on the side. The snails was a nice extra, with a slight crisp. The wine I chose to pair was a special surprise, an excellent gamay from the Negotin region of Serbia. The richness of this red worked fantastic with the beef, without overpowering it.

I was extremely happy with this meal so far, not to mention the server who was utterly stunning — she was almost a twin of actress Cote de Pablo. I was utterly mesmirised…

Then the dessert course came, an rich chocolate pavé with malt ice cream. The chocolate was so filling and rich it nearly killed me. Fantastic stuff.

chocolate_pave

And to go even wilder on the wine selection, I chose an icewine from northern China (!!!!!). Yeah, I was skeptical myself, worried about the dodginess factor. But it turned out very true and tasty, made from the well-loved vidal grape. Turns out Chateau Changyu has been around for awhile and has quality products. Who would have thunk it!

Wow… I barely had room for the petits fours when they came out. I was full and spent. This was a perfect way to mark the end of my year before turning 41 in a few hours. Excellent food, wonderful staff…this is what a Michelin-starred restaurant is all about. There’s a lot of mis-starred places in the US and Europe that needs to learn from places like Medlar. Fantastic.

Medlar
438 Kings Road
London, England

An Odd Trek Across the Pacific Ocean…All While in Los Angeles…

It’s pretty obvious by my last few reviews that I have been in Los Angeles. Originally the trip was designed to help a friend, but that turned out to be unnecessary. So basically, it turned into a few days of unwinding. I had been sorting out possibilities and looking at apartments back in the East Coast before getting to LA, so I needed to chill and do some serious and deep thinking…

But the first few hours of LA would prove to be characteristic of my entire trip. The cross-country flight was very quick at 4.5 hours, but I lost 1.5 hours waiting at the absolute SHIT car rental company called Dollar for the right to drive a piece of shit with crap suspension and dodgy alignment. Welcome to Lalaland…

During the trip I had some good meals, bad meals, and amazing meals. The best meal was clearly at Il Grano, my favourite restaurant in the world. Another excellent meal was an offaly good night at Hakata Yamaya, my favourite Japanese BBQ. The Tsujita meal was so-so, The Hart & The Hunter not bad, but there were a few I chose not to mention…

One pleasant surprise, however, was a visit to Seoul Sausage. I had heard plenty about this place from my friend Simon Majumdar, so I had to visit. Too bad Simon was out of town on his epic Fed White & Blue journey. I ordered one of each of the sausages on the menu for lunch, and had the spicy pork sausage first.

spicy_pork_sausage

Very tasty, the spice mixing well with the apple slaw. Could be hotter tho, but that’s just me. A nice oily mess. The second was the galbi beef sausage.

galbi_sausage

This one was more ordinary, bearing that sweet sauce from the BBQ favourite. The kimchee and garlic aioli added to the flavour, and it was a nice treat. I like the spicy pork one better.

It was a very pleasant lunch sitting outside in the sun. I found it very funny that a few Angelinos that were also sitting outside ran inside after a few minutes, complaining about the heat. And me, Mr “I Hate Heat and Sun” is sitting outside enjoying himself… Oh, before I forget, I was left with a dilemma upon paying for my food, as the fine folks there somehow accidentally managed this…

badcash

Anyone have an idea what to do???

In any case, this was an example of a good lunch. A poor lunch unfortunately happened as we shot symbolically through the middle of the Pacific from Korea to Hawai’i as I drove all the way to Carson to visit Back Home in Lahaina. The other location in Manhattan Beach, the one I have been going to for years, had closed sadly…

I got to this location and was not impressed. No bar, looks like a complete kitsch-bomb… I ordered my usual, the kalua plate.

kalua

Oh dear, this was done rather poorly. I’ve never had a poor plate of kalua at the other, now shuttered location. I was saddened by this. I barely finished the very tough and dry pork, and left most of the sides. Now what do I do for my Hawai’ian fix whilst in LA? Sigh…

Anyway, I didn’t get the rest I really needed. I thought a lot, but didn’t resolve anything. Caught up with a few friends, which was much needed. But really, kept this very low key and ended the trip with a very low key dinner — a steak.

I drove to Santa Monica to Ushuaia, a steakhouse named for the town in Patagonia on the southern tip of Argentina — on the way other side of the Pacific from Hawai’i. This restaurant was at the former Drago space, a place I have had many good meals over the years. So it was oddly familiar inside.

It wasn’t very busy on a Saturday night (albeit it was Labor Day weekend), and I had an so-so meal. The rib-eye was cooked well, but I wonder about its sourcing…it wasn’t a particularly good piece of beef…

ribeye_edited

The flavour was really not there. It sadly really needed help from the three sauces they offered… Compared to the amazing Argentine steakhouse in New Orleans, La Boca, this was really not up to snuff. If anything, the veg was better than the meat…

veg_edited

Oh well. I couldn’t drink much due to driving (again, one thing I hate about LA), so ended up having a dessert — a nice flan.

flan_edited

It was a nice dessert and I headed out with rather mixed feelings about the last meal before I headed out of Los Angeles.

I have to say there have been some highlights, but a few places missed. There seems to be a great proliferation of restaurants in the LA area; however, I seem to feel the “New York disease” hitting here, where the innovation has dropped for “concepts” that are more PR-driven than food. London is mired in this already, and it’s made NYC dining pretty lame most of the time.

Oh well…back to New York…

Seoul Sausage
11313 Mississippi Avenue
Los Angeles, California

Back Home in Lahaina
519 East Carson Street
Carson, California

Ushuaia
2628 Wilshire Boulevard
Santa Monica, California

Review #2: Hakata Yamaya

Torrance,
30 August 2013

Aside from my favourite restaurant in the world, Il Grano, I always make a point to return to another of my favourites whenever I am in the Los Angeles area, Hakata Yamaya. It’s a no-frills Japanese BBQ that does excellent horumon — or offal. My readers know I love offal, so this was a natural place for me to frequent (the review of my last visit here).

I made the drive down to Torrance on a Friday night and I was seated after a short wait. I was happy to be back. It was not very hot outside (despite it being hot during the day), so sitting next to a burning furnace wasn’t as bad as you may imagine. The flame was so hot, btw, that my tongs snapped and I singed a bit of arm hair during the dinner… All worth it tho!

I began my feast with a nice mug of beer and one of their specialties, raw sen-mai (3rd stomach).

sen_mai-sashimi

Excellent snack in sesame oil, chewy and tasty. I rather eat these raw than cook them, as the cooking does very little to change the flavour of this offal. I didn’t touch the dipping sauce, as the flavour was nice enough. After this, as the grill got hot, the first set of dishes arrived.

harami_veg

I had ordered the harami, or skirt. Also, of course, was a large selection of vegetables (onions, cabbage, mushrooms, asparagus, cucumbers, etc) to last me the rest of the evening. The skirt was very tender, didn’t need much seasoning. Excellent.

I also ordered some giara, or the 4th stomach. The staff sent me some more beef on the house, which was nice. They remember me from previous visits, as I do tend to feast here quite heavily.

giara (4th)

The giara were chewy and tasty, and are quite solid pieces of tripe. I really do enjoy these offal feasts! Again, little extra flavouring is needed from the sea salt and peppers they season these with. Excellent.

Took a wee break, had more beer, and embarked on the second round. This started with the kalbi and the tongue.

tongue_kalbi

The kalbi, or rib, was rich and amazing, needing only seconds on the flame to sear. The tongue, also extremely tasty, needed not much more time to not overcook it. Both were fantastic, again, needing only a touch of sesame soy sauce to add to their excellent flavours.

I then had a last run of offal, the mino, or 1st stomach.

mino (1st)

These were very solid pieces, and had a excellent taste with just a tad of sesame soy flavouring. It was a very good way to end a meal. However, I needed a dessert, and what better dessert than mentaiko?

mentaiko

I enjoyed these spicy pollock roe as a last treat, helping me finish my last beer. Again, I was the last one out, and I told them I’ll be back next time I’m in the Los Angeles area. It’s an automatic. It’s pure, unpretentious and laid-back. Perfect.

Even for those who don’t like offal this place has plenty to offer, from the finest cuts of beef, pork and chicken, to many other seafood dishes and hotpots. But for those of us who love beer and offal, you really can’t beat this place.

In fact, I haven’t done my laundry since I got back to NYC, and I can still enjoy a last whiff of Hakata Yamaya on my shirt…mmm… Awesome, can’t wait to return…

Hakata Yamaya
2529 Pacific Coast Highway
Torrance, California

Review: Tsujita

Los Angeles,
29 August 2013

One main reason for visiting Los Angeles for food is to enjoy the rich diversity of the Japanese cuisine that’s offered throughout the area. One of the best areas to experience some excellent food is around a short stretch of Sawtelle Boulevard just north of Olympic.

It wasn’t easy to decide, and I was in no mood for ramen (the craze has overwhelmed the area), so a good choice was Tsujita. During the day (and at its annex) it is ramen-centric, but in the evenings it’s about everything but.

I was seated at the counter at what I thought was an early hour to dine (6:30pm), but I forgot people eat rather early here… I enjoyed a nice flavoured sake while I began my feasting. My starter was some grilled roe.

roe

I am a big fan of roe of all sorts, from bottarga to beluga, so these were quite nice. Salty enough to make me drink more sake (in the background). A good start. However, I need to limit my drinking as I am driving…one aspect of LA I really, really hate…

Then I embarked on the main dish, which is featured as one of their specialties — the ox tongue steak.

tongue

The texture of the tongue was very soft, bearing a very nice flavour to the slices. It didn’t need much, they were naturally delicious. A generous serving, but I chose to skip the rice and side dishes…probably not a good idea. Nothing special, but nice.

Instead, I was still a little hungry. Maybe that’s due to me skipping lunch running errands. One thing that annoyed me was that several of the items I tried to order were out (eel sushi special, eel tempura, special torched mackerel). So stupidly since I ordered another small bottle of sake I went for another “main” course without rice or sides, the pork kakuni.

pork

This was way too big…I struggled mightily finishing it. It was not easy to eat this without a knife. I’ve had better kakuni before, such as at NYC’s Sakagura (plus the size was more sensible). This was flavoured very well, but the meat itself was stringy and rather tough at places, and the fat had a odd consistency.

I was nearly stuffed to death as I headed out. I needed some fresh air so had a walk around before jumping back into the crap rental I got. It’s nice to be able to walk around in LA sometimes, as the evening as crisp and nice. It’s been a long time since the days of smog hell…

Not a bad meal, but wasn’t the excellent stuff I was hoping for. Maybe the focus for this (and so many other places) has been too much on the ramen…

Tsujita
2057 Sawtelle Boulevard
Los Angeles, California