Review #2: Joe Beef

20 May 2014

A trip to Montréal without a visit to Joe Beef is like going to Las Vegas without gambling — it’s just not right. It’s always one of the highlights of visiting this cool town, and this time, due to my schedule, I had to visit it on my final night in town.

As my readers know, this trip has been very food-laden. Some good stuff in Toronto, but spectacular stuff in Montréal, from a multi-course wonder at Hôtel Herman to a spectacular omakase at Park, my appetite has been satisfied to a rare extent on consecutive evenings. I had even skipped lunch in preparation for my session at Joe Beef, knowing what tends to happen there!

As I walked up Notre-Dame from Lionel-Groulx Station, I ran into David McMillan, who welcomes me and walks me into his restaurant. Great timing! I plop down at the already busy bar (raw bar section), my usual area, and got myself ready for a spectacular feast. As usual I’ve left everything up to the amazing team at Joe Beef. Many of them remembered me from last year’s visit (or even further back), and I was glad to see so many familiar faces! You know a restaurant is good and the owners are awesome if the staff retention is so high!

The drinks are poured and the shuckers are busy, and soon my first course arrived — fresh in-season snow crab legs and razor clams.

01-snow_crab-razor_clams

Mmm… You just gotta love fresh seafood. The great thing about the Joe Beef philosophy is to emphasise local stuff that’s in season, and this is a great example of it. The crab was sweet and the razors were scrumptious. Mmm, mmm, mmm. A great start!

Dish number 2 gets a little heavier, the crab and shrimp dip.

02-crab_shrimp_dip

This was a really nice item that emphasises the fresh seafood once again. It looks thick, but it really wasn’t, and it was easy to eat the lightly-pickled cucumber with it. The pickle worked well as a make-shift spoon actually! And when I was working on this, dish number 3 came out — the smoked meat croquettes.

03-smoked_meat_croquettes

Montréal smoked meat is an institution, and here it was made into croquettes. Unlike many of my friends that love Spanish cuisine, I am usually not one to like croquetas. But these were rather nice, and the flavour of the Montréal staple came out very strong. Actually I was dipping it in the seafood dip at one point…not supposed to do it, but it was decadently good… Not sure if David and Fred planned that!

For some odd reason I was starting to get full. This usually doesn’t happen until at least course 5 in previous sessions. Perhaps it’s the cumulative effects of so many good meals that my body is sending me a message. Even the staff noticed I was eating slower. The food was spectacular, but my body was just tired from this trip…it was too good! The next dish worked well with this situation, the guinea fowl soup.

04-guinea_fowl_soup

The broth was rich and direct, no covering up stuff here. You want guinea fowl, you get guinea fowl. The bird was tender and not dry. A good selection of veg, and some shrimp, made this a very nice bowl of soup to enjoy. Excellent, and was good at getting my stomach back to work!

The drinks were still flowing, which was fantastic. They really treat me so well here I feel so at home. One of the best front-of-house teams ever. They should get some credit for friendly and extremely knowledgeable service in both English and French.

Then the next course came. I thought at first it was a steak…it looked like a steak, it smelled like a steak…

05-mushroom_edited

Nope! It’s actually a large and thick slice of giant abalone mushroom! But the richness of the gravy, alongside some nice escargots and other garnishments, you’d never know it wasn’t meat! Spectacular stuff, and it was just a humble (but giant) mushroom!!! Nice! I bet you thought it was meat!!!

It was a hearty portion I must admit, as the heaviness was starting to slow me down again after that short second wind. The next course arrived and it was utterly awesome — fiddleheads.

06-fiddleheads-duck_egg_edited

These beauties, fresh and just in-season (they don’t last long), were served with a nice duck egg. Now rarely I get a chance to eat these, and this dish really, really exemplified Joe Beef’s philosophy. These rarities are in season, so let’s bring them out and treat people! Excellent, lovely flavour, with the duck yolk adding a layer of richness to the baby ferns. Totally awesome.

At this point I was slowing down as that was a big plate, and that duck egg was rich. The last plate came soon, and was clams and sausage. It was rather dark and my phone failed me with the picture, so no picture. But I also could not finish it! This from a guy who challenged David last time to try to kill me — and won, but loses so early tonight! Nevertheless it was a spectacular meal…

I was spent…really spent. Not just tonight, but the whole trip. It has been a spectacular eating trip, and it was time to step back and get back to reality. I stayed and had a few more drinks chatting with the crew, which again, are amazing people. I just feel at home here. Spectacular food, awesome staff, great drinks. What’s not to like?

But alas, it was time to go. Not just back to the hotel, but back home. Back to some sense of reality. It was a nice divergence from all the Ukraine-related stress, but it’s time to depart this fantasy world of fiddleheads and snow crabs…sigh…

Awesome, awesome, awesome. David, Fred & crew are just the most awesome people in the biz. Can’t wait to come back — and to challenge David again!

Joe Beef
2491 Rue Notre-Dame Ouest
Montréal, Québec

Review: Park

19 May 2014

There are so many awesome restaurants in Montréal, readers may want to know why I tend to repeat the same places. Why? Because I know each meal would be spectacular, and special. There is something about these restaurants in Montréal that bring out something extra wonderful each and every time, something I don’t get in many other cities — especially New York and London.

I was introduced to Park by two good Twitter friends, who tried to convince me the stuff made by Chef Antonio Park is as good, if not better, than some of the top omakase places around the world. Last visit (which sadly I did not review) was fabulous, and I wanted to do a big review this time and go all out.

I was dining solo this time sadly, as my friends had an unexpected emergency that took them out of town. I ended up at the sushi counter watching Chef Park work all night, and that was a fantastic experience. This turned out to be one of the top meals of the year. And yes, this guy can easily compete with the biggest omakase names out there. Easily.

I sat down and enjoyed a drink as I anticipated a special evening of food. Everyone was glued to their smartphones as the Canadians-Rangers game was about to begin, but Chef was diligent and focused on his work (despite being a die-hard fan and many of the players enjoying eating his food) when there was food to be made. I left my menu up to him totally, and my drinks too to the excellent staff. My first course was red miso soup.

1-red_miso_soup

Not your usual miso, this was deep, wee spicy and rich. This had a really good kick, which was very nice to start with. Good opener. And for the second dish, something you usually don’t see on an omakase menu — burrata.

2-burrata_salad

Mmm…now this was nice. Unexpected and nice. The pickled vegetables were not overwhelming (like when I was in Budapest), and worked very well with the burrata. A cute salad, capricious and fun. A great exhibition of Chef’s interesting background on this and several other dishes.

In the meantime I see Chef Park slicing away fish for nigiri that I thought was for one of the tables. Turned out it was for me…wow…

3-sushi

Mmm, this was a very nice selection. Chef does do more to the fish than I am usually keen on, but it worked really well. They are not obtrusive at all, it actually complements the overall taste of the fish. The top row comprised of white tuna, a very bloody bluefin (sustainable, they specifically got these), the neck toro of that same bluefin, and snow-crab. The bottom is of Chinook salmon, hamachi and kampachi. This was fantastic, especially the neck toro. Mmm, an excellent selection!

I was still savouring the nice fish when the next dish arrived, a happy local lobster.

4a-lobster

Love the presentation, the meat was a combination of this happy creature and the snow-crab that’s in season as well, all with some daikon. This shows off Chef’s creativity in presentation, and it was mighty tasty too. A little small, but it’s a good balance for a long tasting menu!

5-uni

I don’t think I need to explain what this beautiful dish is. My readers know how much I love this stuff. Again, wonderful presentation, and it was lovely and rich. Mmm…

I was really having a good time, chatting with Chef Park, the staff and others at the sushi bar. Everyone was enjoying themselves, and the other dishes that came out for other diners — especially the sushi — was just amazing looking. Check out the website for some of these pix, and follow Chef on Twitter (@chefantoniopark) as he posts stuff all the time. And of course, his Instagram feed for even more amazing pix. You’ll drop your coffee if you look at some of these dishes he’s done…

Just as I thought it couldn’t get much better then this comes…

6-sashimi

Now some sashimi. Mmm, excellent generous slices of good fish, plus the snow-crab claw. This was a nice little treat. The aji was nice as was the more than happy toro! Goodness, wow…just melts in your mouth. Mmm… And just to think we were slowing down, here comes more!

7-sushi

Another excellent selection of sushi, one that really gives you exposure to different parts of the bluefin. The back row consisted of the bloody tuna and also a nice piece of arctic char. But the front row was the magnum opus here. This was a tasting of toro from different parts of the fish, from neck to belly. There are subtle differences in the texture for each of them. You truly need to taste it to appreciate it, especially these subtle differences. Wow…

At this point I think Chef was playing with me a bit, so he brought out more stuff for me to sample the good fish:

8-sashimi

Delicate and subtle, it didn’t need the sauce it was sitting in, but it was darn good. Melt-in-your-mouth good. I was pretty much spent but Chef had the final course for me, and it was a doozy…

9-beef

You’re saying, what? Yes. It’s good, special “1855 Angus” beef. To be honest I was too full to really enjoy this, and with it as nigiri (meaning rice) it was too much — especially after last night’s feast at Hôtel Herman. I had to take most of this to go and also the dessert…

I stayed for awhile chatting with people and also with Chef as unfortunately the Canadiens lost again at home. I’m glad I chose to come here instead of finding a ticket for the game, as this was just much more memorable of an experience! Going all out and having someone like Chef Park work to get you there is pretty awesome. And he’s just a really good guy too.

Seriously, readers, you gotta go to Montréal. Just to eat. You do my 3 favourite restaurants here in 3 nights — Joe Beef, Park and Hôtel Herman — you’ll never want to leave this town again.

Wow…

Park
378 Avenue Victoria
Westmount, Montréal, Québec

Review #2: Hôtel Herman

18 May 2014

After a few low-key days in Toronto, I headed to what has become one of my favourite places in the world, Montréal. I allocated 3 days of good eating in town, and it wasn’t difficult to plan the three big dinners. The first of which on Sunday early evening was at Hôtel Herman.

I remember visiting Hôtel Herman a few weeks after they opened last summer and loving the food, so I made a return visit to a place that does genuinely good food, drink and service — what any restaurant would aspire to do. It has a similar spirit to my late Elettaria, for a reason that’s hard to describe.

I sat at a prime position at the big wrap-around counter and began enjoying my evening of food, drink, and good banter with the good folks there. I decided to go all out and really stretch my stomach as I had not eaten anything all day, so why not, right?

My first dish of the day was based around raw Atlantic halibut.

1-halibut

A very nice dish, accompanied by asparagus, herring roe and a few other treats. A very nice combination, as the roe really brought out both the fish and the asparagus. Very spring-like, excellent!

My second dish of the evening was the razor clams. I just love these things and couldn’t pass it up.

2-razor_clams

Mmm, these were fantastic, with oyster emulsion. Wow, this really brought the already tasty clams out really, really far — almost like it was another dish. This was really out there, some excellent use of strong ingredients. I don’t quite remember my wine pairing for this (sorry, I still need to replace my failing phone so I can take proper notes!) dish but it was excellent.

I was very happy with my meal so far. I had a tough time choosing between the razor clams and the snow crab so I got both — so that’s my next dish.

3-snowcrab-celeriac

Mmm. You can’t really see it because of the celeriac on top, but beneath them there’s a heavenly serving of crab beneath. Excellent, flavour of this Québec delicacy! Fantastic! Now they brought out a comped mid-course, a cute little urchin.

4-urchin

Nice. I am really liking this place. Good wine, good people, and excellent food. The perfect neighbourhood restaurant! My next offering was the horse tartare.

5-horse_tartare

I know what some will say, but I like horse. It’s nearly impossible to get in the States, and I always take advantage of it when I see it on a Montréal menu. A lean and delicious treat!

I was pretty full, but I knew I must continue to my last. I had told them I’d skip dessert for a fantastic self-crafted tasting menu, so I waited mightily for this final dish — the rabbit.

6-rabbit_white_pudding-kidneys_morels

Wow, what a dish. An interesting way of doing rabbit, presenting it in a white pudding. In addition, it is served with rabbit kidneys and morels. Wow, wow, wow. Perfect set of flavours, cooked delicately without “hiding” the true flavours of the rabbit — especially the kidneys. Game lovers will die over this dish!

At this point I was extremely full, rather tipsy after some more after-dinner drinks, and was swelled and spent. The sun was just starting to go down here in Montréal, so I took my leave and made the long walk back to Centre-ville to my hotel.

It has been a good night here in Montréal, and I’m so glad to be back in this wonderful town — especially after such a wonderful dinner. To think, I got 2 more amazing dinners to go on this trip. Wow…

If I haven’t said it enough times, Hôtel Herman is beyond highly recommended. It’s in my trio of the best restaurants in town alongside Park and Joe Beef. And wouldn’t you know, those are my destinations the next two nights… <grinning>

Hôtel Herman
5171 Boulevard Saint-Laurent
Montréal, Québec

Review #2: Yuzu no Hana

16 May 2014

Last week I spent a few days in Toronto, one of my favourite cities. Despite the headaches getting there (several major fails by usually-convenient YTZ — Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport), I was looking to spending the late week and part of the Victoria Day weekend there by the lake.

One of the restaurants I was hoping to revisit was Yuzu No Hana, remembering a pretty good meal I had there back last year. I got there on a busy but early Friday evening. The place seemed pretty hectic as it was really difficult to get staff to notice me. In fact, the service was actually so chaotic I almost left before my food arrived, but thank goodness I didn’t, because the meal that ensued was fantastic — one of the best I’ve had in Toronto in ages.

I was at the sushi bar but thanks to the most idiotic of modern Japanese dining developments, the ordering is (as usual) done by wait staff and not through the chefs. I really, really hate this. Thank you California. There were several specials and I think I misunderstood how they worked — and thank goodness I did! The first item that arrived was the live scallops.

scallops

Nice presentation. The scallops were not as sweet as during my last trip, but were sound. The small additions of the trimmings in nigiri was a nice touch tho, actually the best part of the dish. Next up were a few pieces of sushi I had ordered.

hamachi_hokigai_escolar

The hamachi (left) was nice. The hokigai (clam) was really nice, fresh and textured. The escolar (right), consumed at limited numbers of course, was just fabulous — one of my favourites. Nice stuff. Next up was the whole mackerel…

whole_mackerel

I had thought it was just sushi, but this was a very pleasant surprise. The fish was fresh and very tasty. And they took the head after I was done, and this soon came back…

mackerel_fried

Mmm, nice and deep-fried. The bones were nice, but the head was extremely tasty. Didn’t need any sauce, fantastic! I took a little break and had more sake before ordering another round, this time more nigiri.

ebi_tako_otoro

Hmmm… The ebi was fresh and very tasty, and I liked the deep-fried heads as an addition. Tasty stuff. The tako (octopus) was nicely textured. I really don’t like ultra-soft octopus. The o-toro on the right was a little odd in presentation; one was seared and one was not. Tasty, but honestly spoon was a little deep to eat this as a spoon or as a dish. But the fish was excellent.

I was nearly full and once again I misread the specials menu because my closing anago appeared next.

anago

Wow. This was a tasty large segment. I’ve not had eel with eel sauce in awhile as I don’t like eel sauce (takes away from the taste of the eel), but this was good and not drowned in it. And you can’t see it from the picture, but there’s a small bit of rice under the eel in the centre, so when you slice it down you do end up with a piece of sushi. Cute, and voluminous.

I was full and happy — well, happy with the food. The service was clunky still, but the food made up for it. I left pretty happy despite the issues, noting the food was utterly fantastic. Glad to see Toronto do Japanese food well!

Yuzu No Hana
236 Adelaide Street West
Toronto, Ontario

Back on the Danube — Further Adventures in Budapest

After a so-so two days in Warsaw, where the stress of everything from Ukraine to jetlag, as well as a sub-par dinner at previously-praised Nolita, I was happy to get to Budapest. Not even the excellent tasting menu at Senses lifted my mood much as I arrived in Budapest — for that mood to be further cloudied being shouted at by a set of drunken Russian (they were reeking of vodka) tourists wearing garish “patriotic” outfits…

It took a lot of effort to ignore and walk away…

I chose to stay a little further away from the river this time near Nyugati Station, a nice 15-minute walk in or a simple Metro ride. Even though I had skipped my “usual” brekkie at Warsaw Chopin Airport of kiełbasa due to my hangover from Senses, I just wasn’t in the mood for a serious lunch today…

So fast forward to dinner, a late dinner, with a dear friend. There weren’t too many options on a Sunday late evening, everything was closed — or closing — so we had to hit a tourist trap, either in Pest or up on the Buda hills. So we went for the latter, and settled with Citadella.

The view is spectacular, as the panorama restaurant has some of the best views in all of Budapest. The food and service was, well, less spectacular. My starter was not bad though, the scallops with wild mushrooms.

scallops

Not bad, it was cooked well enough and it presented nicely, and the mushrooms were plentiful. But for the main it all fell apart as they brought out the wrong dish for my friend, so all went back…and by the time it came out, my catfish tasted rather bland…

catfish

Oh well, what can you expect? Yes, there is a piece of local catfish under the greens…

They seem to want us to get out of there also, so we tried to take out time just to irk them a little. I don’t like that kind of attitude, especially at an overpriced tourist trap. Eventually we headed out and cabbed it back to Pest, where I headed to the bar for a nightcap before crashing out…

The next day proved to be not too busy, but a little running around that got me a little sweaty. The way this mild, spring heat is already affecting me I am not gonna survive the summer… For a late lunch I dropped into a place I had been looking at online, the oddly-named LaciPecsenye.

The place is done like a gastropub that specialised in meats. Mmmm… Some of the photos I saw were extremely tempting and I sat down inside in the air conditioned room (most people sat outside) and looked forward to a fine lunch.

goat cheese

My starter was goat cheese with various pickled vegetables… Oh geez, this reminded me how much Hungarians love pickled vegetables, and how I can do without most of it. The goat cheese was extremely bland and the pickles actually made it even blander…

suckling goat

My main course was suckling goat. I was really, really looking forward to it. It wasn’t that great, it was okay, but it could have been so much more. The meat was done well, but it had soaked in the olive oil too long after plating so the skin was getting soggy. And it was more olive oil than jus, which really ate into the taste of the goat. Meat was of good quality and it tasted nice, but it could have been so, so much more… I left a little disappointed…

Had to run some errands through the afternoon in the heat, and once my clothes were begining to get soaked I realised I needed to hide from this mild heat… So I headed back and was drenched by then… I am getting more and more intolerant to any heat each summer that comes along…

I headed out for a late dinner on my own as everyone I seem to know was either out of town or busy that evening, so I walked around and had a few possibilities. I went back towards the same area and settled on Kispiac, another meat-centric bistro.

They seemed to be really disorganised and the service was just shockingly bad. People stood around while diners were waving for service. They seemed clueless about basic customer service. Even the locals, who are used to dodgy service, were utterly flustered and several walked out before they were served! It wasn’t even this bad in Russia in 1992 when I was there! Just awful!

It took 25 minutes to order something… I had some questions but the server didn’t know and I said just bring out the better of the 2 dishes I had questions on — the belly or the rib. The rib won, apparently, after it appeared 20 minutes later.

ribs1

This was actually quite tasty, a rib done in a roast with the crackling on top. I enjoyed this treat although it was on the small side. I had not ordered a starter fearing it to be too big. I was going to order something else but the server had gone AWOL and it took me another 15 minutes to track him down. By then the kitchen was shutting down, so I left. Ridiculous. Good food, failed by service.

The next day’s lunch I didn’t want to risk it so I went to Klassz — somewhere I know is solid. My lunch here in the autumn of 2012 was excellent, so I went back anticipating another good lunch. It was even warmer this day, so I was happy to once again sit inside this cute winebar and enjoy some chilled local whites.

pea_soup

My starter, once again a soup, was a nice pea soup. Creamy, with a poached egg. The soup was flavourful and rich, and perfect for someone like me who loves the flavour of peas. Excellent! Plus, the wines were fabulous. This is one of the best places to have wines by the glass, with a very wide selection.

duck_wild_garlic_risotto

My main was utterly fantastic: duck with wild garlic risotto. Wow, two of my favourite things. The risotto was excellent, with enough of the wild garlic to make you want more. The duck was cooked perfectly, retaining the deep flavours without it being too lightly cooked. Excellent! Best meal in Budapest, to be perfectly honest.

I have to say Klassz has never let me down. Food has always been fabulous, the wine selection superb, and the service efficient. This is one of the hidden gems of Budapest. It’s worth going just for the wines, but the food is excellent. One of my top recommended places for this beautiful city, where sometimes finding a combination of good food, drink and service together is difficult…

It was my last evening in Budapest and I had made a booking at the Michelin-starred Onyx, where I had a wonderful meal before. I was meeting a colleague, a well-known British-American political figure, for an evening of stories and discussions. So the focus for me was less on the food.

As I waited for my friend, I had asked for a martini. They had suggested the local sparkling instead, but I like having a martini before a political discussion. Goodness that was a bad move. My friend arrived the same minute my martini did, and even he had a second glance at the glass… I think they poured about half the glass of vermouth as it was noticeably off-coloured. It was utterly undrinkable…

A Michelin-starred restaurant that cocked this up that badly? Very poor, very poor… I’ll spare you the photo of it… I sent it back nearly full and took a glass of the aforementioned sparkling…

After a somewhat mediocre amuse (oyster) I was more interested in the conversation than the food. Nevertheless my starter arrived, the gulyás.

1-gulyas

The menu said this was a course they presented at the Bocuse d’Or when chef Szabina Szulló competed in 2013. Not bad, rich and deep flavours. A nice start.

2-lamb

My main course was a strangely-plated lamb selection in 3 parts. Sorry for the odd angle, as I tried to get it all in without blocking the light or leave a big shadow. To be honest, it was pretty bland. I really like my lamb to stand out. This tasted like some bland, cheaply-imported New Zealand stuff that is reared to have no distinct flavour. Just didn’t do it for me, and I actually lost interest in the dish. I could have this in some mediocre cafe back home in Virginia.

Oh well, this wasn’t as good as last time, not at all. But the conversation was excellent and we both ordered the goat cheese tasting:

3-goat_cheeses

Well, not quite what I thought. It seemed to have tried too hard to “dessertify” the cheese course, which defeats the purpose. I rather would have some solidly good Hungarian cheeses instead of an overly-creative platter…

My colleage had a deadline so he departed as I took one last drink before leaving myself. I was happy from the conversation and company, disappointed from the food and especially the martini debacle. It shows a lack of care and complacency on their part, to be honest.

To be perfectly honest, this was not a great eating few days in Budapest either. If the food stood up, the service surely did not. Problems everywhere, from the dodgiest martini I have ever had to running around the block trying to find the AWOL waiter. Only Klassz was up to par — again. It’s clearly the best of the lot — again.

Coda: The next morning I headed out of Budapest with a headache as I had a long drinking session later on with some other friends and colleagues. I had to skip my “other” usual at Budapest Liszt Airport, a stop at the excellent Leroy Bistro. But at the time I didn’t know what I was in for getting back to London. I should have had some mangalica before I left…

Welcome to London…where the IT system of Immigration failed and the queue was 2-3hrs long… Welcome to London… 

Oh wait, there’s a Tube Strike and Heathrow Express Strike too… Welcome to London…

Citadella
Citadella sétány 1

LaciPecsenye
Sas utca 11

Kispiac
Hold utca 13

Klassz
Andrássy út 41

Onyx*
Vörösmarty tér 7-8
Budapest, Magyarország

Special Event in LA — Collaboration of 2 Amazing Chefs

I’m actually very sad I can’t be in LA this weekend, because there’s a special event on Friday the 9th and Saturday the 10th. My favourite restaurant in the world, Il Grano, will be hosting a very special event — a 12-course tasting menu from the collaboration of Il Grano’s own genius Sal Marino and beloved sushi maestro Mori Onodera!

If you are in LA, this is one you really got to check out!!!!!

And please, if you go, live-tweet or post photos!!!

My previous reviews of Il Grano:
10 January 2013 – 1st review
28 August 2013 – 2nd review
15 November 2013 – 3rd review

Review: Senses

Warsaw, 26 April 2014

This trip to Warsaw was shorter than usual, just 2 days. After my poor experience at previously-lauded Nolita, I was concerned about doing a new place. I have heard rumours about a place called Senses, which seemed rather new and still off the culinary map. But the menu looked good, and I was hoping to manage a tasting menu finally.

I had a few meetings throughout the day, mostly on the Ukraine crisis which has dominated my attention for months, so really needed to relax. Even though I was flying out early in the morning, I felt like having a full experience tonight. A curveball was thrown at me when Michelin-bearing Atelier Amaro contacted me saying they had a cancellation, but I declined. Wasn’t blown away my previous visit, and frankly wanted to see this new place.

It had been raining steadily all day in Warsaw, and it was still pissing down as I emerged from the Metro and made my way to the restaurant by foot. And after 10 minutes I realised GoogleMaps on Android has bloody failed me again, as the compass suddenly jumped 180 degrees — I was walking the WRONG WAY again. Damn! A flashback to my L2O night in Chicago…but that meal was fantastic, so…

I got to Senses and was seated upstairs…wow, no one here. Perhaps it’s new, but Warsaw seems to have a “weekday busy weekend empty” feel for top restaurants. I’ve seen this over the years here, it was always easier to get a booking on weekends… I was later told the restaurant had just opened and it was somewhat of a soft-ish opening, so it made sense. But it was a nice space, modern with history — as the old brick wall of the past juxtaposed with the sheer of the contemporary design.

From the beginning you can see from the service that these guys are serious, and are gunning for Michelin. I learned later that many had been veterans of the aforementioned 1-Michelin Atelier Amaro. As I enjoyed a martini with rhubarb chip, the nice bread selection arrived.

A-bread

Aside from the interesting housemade butters I liked the apple essence offered. It was quite a treat meshed together with the butter. So far so good. Sommelier showed up and offered me a pairing. Extremely professional and knowledgeable, so I left my selection to him. And yes, thank goodness, they were more than happy to have me enjoy a tasting menu — and I opted for the biggie, the 9-course.

AB-mackerel

The amuse bouche was a nice mackerel-centric item. Nice. BTW I do apologise for the poor photo issue. My phone was losing power fast (about to be replaced) and had to conserve to be able to get through the entire tasting menu. But so far so good!

01-foie_gras_rhubarb_boletus

My first course soon arrived, and it was centred around foie gras. I do like the use of wood for plating, which is a trend throughout the Baltic Sea region. The foie gras was balanced, and the rhubarb was nice. The mushrooms were too demure, but a nice start. Another apology, my notes app crashed (yes, phone is being replaced soon!) and I lost the listing of wine pairings, but I do remember a nice sparkling here.

02-eel_scallops

The second course brought out some flare. It came on top of a jug, which was filled with burning embers. And you can just smell the smoke on this dish…wow… If you love smoke you’ll love this dish and the presentation. The eel was very soft, almost softer than the foie gras of the previous dish. The scallops were also excellent. But the aroma was just brilliant, both from the dish and from the jug — where the embers were still smouldering. Mmm….a feast for all senses! Wait, isn’t that the name of the place, lol…

03-langostine_caviar_asparagus

I was pretty happy I chose this place over Atelier Amaro by now. Then the third course emerged, the langostine. The picture does not do this justice, as the shellfish tasted totally awesome. The caviar was a nice touch (sorry you can’t really see that in the picture), but the sweetness of this piece was fantastic. Flown in, from what I was told… Mmm…

04-squab

After a palate-cleansing sorbet that was rather good (good enough for a dessert), the next course arrived — the squab. Once again, the photo doesn’t do this dish justice. The breast was very lightly cooked, bringing out all the goodness of the small bird, while the leg had the necessary treatment to make sure the fattier parts work in complement. A nice little quail egg topped up this fantastic course.

At this point I also noticed that the sommelier had pre-decanted reds for later courses, which is much appreciated. Many sommeliers don’t bother to do this for tasting menu pairings I’ve noticed, so this was sharp. Looking at this photo again, I curse my phone, because this was a brilliant dish — this coming from someone who is usually not a gamebird fan.

05-trout_celery

We move back to the water with a local trout for the next dish. And a little more flash, this time with a jug of fragrant goodness. The celery rounds out the trout. Not bad, but perhaps a little underwhelming with the whole production. It wasn’t as stunning as the eel dish, but solid. And once again, good pairing.

06b-lamb

As some of the hearty reds pre-decanted is served I know we’re on the meats. We now have lamb. A very juicy piece of baby lamb from France, utterly soft and tender. Maybe a bit more tender than I like, since I do like my lamb more rustic. But for 99% of lamb lovers, this is pure heaven. Sorry again for the picture, though the plate colour really doesn’t help this presentation much. But an excellent, excellent piece of lamb.

Another slight breather of palate-cleansing sorbet, needed after the strong flavours of the lamb. I am pretty happy with this dinner so far, it’s been a good tasting menu. As my readers know I am very picky about my tastings, and I have trashed many a 2-Michelin renditions as poorly executed and planned (such as the rubbish and thank-goodness dead Corton & the roller-coaster-into-trainwreck at Haerlin). So far this is on the top half of the table, maybe top fourth. Serious stuff.

07a-red_mullet

Next was a fantastic dish, one of the dishes of the year. Usually I’m not a red mullet fan as I think the fish is rather tasteless, but this was an excellent dish — both in presentation and taste. I usually don’t do this but here’s another perspective.

07b-red_mullet

The fish was de-scaled, and the scales prepped to make them edible, and re-applied to the fish, which was rather good. But for me the highlight of this dish was the “curry” on the side…oh my goodness this was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted in ages. I ended up drinking most of the extra they left on the side… The use of bison grass was a wonderful local touch. Mmm…they should bottle this stuff!

I am really cursing this camera now, as these photos don’t do the dishes justice. This was awesome. And the final savoury dish was the “feral hog” sourced locally…

08a-feral_pig

Wow. The different parts of this beast was presented and the taste was fantastic. Not the pre-packed game stuff you get in the States, this really tasted rustic — which is what I love to eat. Again, photo does not do this dish justice. A fantastic end to the savouries!

I relaxed a bit and the sommelier suggested something different for dessert — and I totally agreed. Armagnac. Good choice. I am not really a fan of the sweet wine + sweet dessert thing, so this works. The first of 2 dessert courses arrived soon.

09-apple_almond-muesli

This was based around apple and muesli, and not a bad way to get things started. You can see the love for apples since the bread service, and this was also a nice touch. Again, sorry for bad photo — from the picture it looks almost like a fish dish!

10-chocolate

Finally, the final and 10th course (yes, it was supposed to be 9 courses, but…) was the chocolate. This didn’t do much for me, though I like the chocolate. The gold was really, really, really not necessary. I really dislike the use of gold for food. And I was pretty full by now…

One comment I need to add here is that the timing of service has been spectacular here, especially the progression of dishes. Too many times you had crazy timing for tasting dishes even at 2-Michelin places (like the aforementioned Corton and Haerlin). Here it was perfect.

I enjoyed a calvados and really savoured reflecting on this fine tasting menu and evening as the excess of the kitchen arrived in the form of petit fours…

PFs

Too much for me! At this point Chef Andrea Camastra took me for a tour of the kitchen. He is very simpatico, and you can see his love for his work. Showed me his lab (very impressive) where he uses modern chemistry to perfect flavour (examining pH and other qualities). He eschews “molecular” per se, with the foams and unnatural preparations that has inundated the art, but chooses to use chemistry to refine and enhance taste. Maybe not my school of cooking, but it worked pretty well this evening.

We ended up chatting for over an hour as he told me more about this grand project and his vision. I can see him helming this to a Michelin once it gets moving; the front-of-house certainly is at a 2-Michelin level. He seems almost tortured by his craft. He seems to want to move chemistry in cooking back towards the fundamentals rather than the abstract, and I wish him luck.

As I headed out on a cab (it was still raining, so didn’t want to walk 20 minutes in the rain), I smiled having had an excellent tasting menu. Rarely do I feel this satisfied after a tasting, especially one that is rather unproven (restaurant was weeks old). And I was actually told I was the very first to order the 9-course full tasting.

Imagine, being the very first to taste the work of a budding star. You’ll hear about this place again, once the word gets out. Atelier Amaro has some serious competition now in Poland, a rising destination for fine dining.

Senses
Bielańska 12
Warszawa, Polska