Figlmueller, Vienna 04-2012

When you look up the various options for wiener schnitzel in Vienna, the name Figlmueller (since 1905) frequently pops up. It has gathered opinions ranging from best schnitzel the world has ever seen (rated restaurant #19 in Vienna on tripadvisor) to a simple tourist trap. Of course it is difficult to know without going there.

I'm a believer that "touristy" does not always mean overpriced/underqualitied, although it is certainly more common than not. Nonetheless given there were no consistent other nominees and that multiple sources rated this as the godfather of schnitzel venues (guidebooks, maps, hostel staff, internet various sources) there was no way other than to try it. In any case, despite serving 1400 schnitzels per day between two locations they are all (allegedly) hand cut from pork tenderloin, flattened to 34cm wide and 4mm thick, breaded with kaiser roll crumbs and fried a few at a time.

Once you reach the place and stand in line with other tourists (there is a small original venue in an alley and a larger expansion around the corner) you understand why so many write this off just from the principle of it.

After a 45min combined wait in line & at table after ordering, the recommended dishes of Figlmueller Schnitzel and Potato-Fried salad with styrian pumpkin-seed oil arrived.

I'm not an expert on schnitzel as I don't eat it often - but I would like to think I can recognise a decent one. Although deep fried, there is only a slight of oil on a napkin pressed against it - a nice start. The pork is very thin, reasonably juicy with a lovely crispy coating of golden crumbs to give it texture. It is huge - I could have finished it but the repetitive taste would need to have been broken up by something. The salad was adequate (nothing special) and not enough in itself to offset the fried crumbs/pork flavour.

Not an unreasonably expensive dish at €13.90 considering how popular and tourist-frequented this place is, but I was certainly content with it. The central areas were a little softer than the edges but I suppose this is expected as it cools down and the crumbs were far from the soggy-falling-off kind that I would expect from a thicker schnitzel or have certainly had in pubs back home.

Next time I would order the Figlmueller schnitzel again if I was a first-timer. However if I was to go again, or alternatively with other people, I would go around the corner to the Backerstrasse location to try the Veal version (more expensive at €19.50 and more authentic, but reputedly less flavoursome as pork which is why Viennese apparently prefer pork nowadays.)

Steirereck, Vienna 04-2012

Located in Vienna's Stadtpark, the world's #21 restaurant (and #1 in Vienna) was always going to leave me with high expectations. After a disappointing food experience in the region (ie. Prague), I had some doubts as to just how good this place would be. Suffice to say it was sensational.

The degustation menu gives two options for each course - I let my waiter select what he felt were the better dishes, with the exception of the cheese platter (as I know I can't eat that much on my own).

Part of what makes Steirereck in the top 50 is attentive and particular service. Part of what makes it special is the location. Part of what makes it unique is the small "cheat cards" for each dish which allow you to read them in anticipation and analyse what you are eating, rather than the usual procedure of having the waiter overwhelm you with a paragraph of information which is rarely remembered.

And so to the food; 4 appetisers appeared (radish with powdered rhubarb, basil leaf with morels, raw celery marinated in juice with housemade salted sherbet, a dish of apple and cabbage). All were nice introductions into the meal; the celery was the most unique with a powerful sweetness accompanying the usual raw bitter flavour.

In addition an enormous selection of bread appeared for the choosing. All kinds of white/brown/sourdough with nuts/fruit/herbs for the picking and served with normal butter and sour cream butter. Of particular note, the Loaf with Black Sausage was superlatively sensational - a moist rich buttery bread with flavoursome black sausage running through its texture. One of the best breads of my life - I wanted to buy a loaf to take with me but they politely declined.

Of the set course:
- Schwarzauer Mountain Trout with Melon, Cucumber & Purple Salsify Shoots (amazingly delicate raw trout enhanced by the sweetness of honeydew)
- Green Asparagus with Sheep's Cheese, Hop Shoots and Bergamot (asparagus with a sweet, slightly sour orange flavour)
- Danube Salmon with Broccoli, Black Rice and Camomile (a white-fleshed salmon superbly treated which restored my faith in ordering cooked fish from a restaurant; the side accompaniment had a slightly unpleasant bitter taste)
- Jerusalem Artichoke with Peppers, Red Onion & Duck Offal (duck heart was nice, the stomach and other ingredients unremarkable; a few too many flavours and textures to identify individual quality)
- Barbecued Cap of Alpine Forerib with Beans, Truffle Potatoes & French Sorrel (medium-rare, well seasoned, luscious soft beef with a crispy surface, salty sauce and potato and a citrus tangy sorrel to balance flavours)
- Moro Orange with Rosa Bianca Aubergine, Angelica & Malt (good orange and sorbet, but the puree and celery/orange mix was quite strange)
- Rapeseed Custard with Vanilla, Mango & Toffee Icecream (lovely toffee and salted caramel icecream, maiji leaves juicy and absorbing the mango/passionfruit flavours)

The course was finished with a selection of dried citrus fruit/rinds (much too strong for me) served with different types of chocolates.

All in all a great meal which restored my faith in the ability of food served in the region to be more than meat and potato stews.

Next time I would order the degustation menu again (although the a la carte options look like excellent alternatives) - definitely order both Trout and Salmon dishes, Forerib and the Rapeseed Custard as they were all fantastic dishes. I would swap the Asparagus for the alternative (currently Mushrooms, Cashews) and similarly the Duck dishes (for Duck Breast with Fennel/Prunes/Pistachioes). If you are a cheese person, the selection is well known here (more than 120 types) but otherwise i would omit the Blood Orange dish and get the 6-course degustation instead.

511, Tokyo 01-2012

There are many reputed Kobe beef venues in Tokyo, although if you read extensively very few are actually Kobe, but rather similar types of cow bred elsewhere. In order to be designated Kobe beef, the specific black Tajima-ushi cow breed that is born, raised and slaughtered in Kobe. It seems that only a few Tokyo restaurants serve authentic Kobe beef, which may be imported beef directly from slaughter or a variation on a theme of importing the entire cow for slaughter elsewhere (not technically Kobe, but close enough...)

After much research, I settled on 511 for their reputation of serving award winning Kobe beef (Grade A5 Beef Marbling Score 11 - hence the restaurant name) and also being one of the few that serves it as a kaiseki menu as well as the usual beef steak only option.

All guests other than us were Japanese, and my language skills (and their English skills) were not great in conveying which cuts of beef and added ingredients were being served. It didn't detract from an superlative meal.

The starter of seared Kobe beef with cod roe was a little teaser of the quality of beef and a salty roe kick to enhance the flavours. The 5 appetisers were from various parts of the cow, all nice but none particularly memorable. The chawanmushi was wonderful with uni (I adore good uni) above and tender beef underneath. The miso beef was reminiscent of Nobu's cod except with a heavier core. The monkfish was a refreshing break in between two beef courses, wedged on the other side by two beef sushi - one served with grated ginger and the other topped with salt.

We were then treated to an additional extra of Kobe beef jerky - salt cured and wetting appetites for the main attraction.

The A5 B11 Kobe sirloin was amazing. The proportion of fat is evident from the photos. Each slice was a melting flavour of beef and fat. It was unparalleled to any Wagyu beef I've previously tried all outside Japan - there is no competition. Sadly for me I paid a bit extra for the eye fillet, which had a much less percentage of fat (I read later this is expected given the different muscles areas) and was cooked more medium than my preferred rare.

Some rice and dessert dishes rounded up the meal but I remained transfixed on the beef that had just passed and contemplated whether to order any sirloin steak just to relive the experience. I refrained. I will go again.

Next time I would order the kaiseki menu again. The experience and variety is a much better overall dinner than I imagine a rich fatty steak alone. Choose sirloin, remember not to count calories and give thanks to the cows.

(Other places serve other cuts including rib-eye and chateaubriand - I'd be curious to know how their marbling compares with sirloin. If you only have one experience though, I'd definitely recommend sirloin for price and to know what you're getting.)

MEATliquor, London 03-2012 & 12-2012 & 10-2013

Obviously eating well incorporates some of the simplest food pleasures, just done extremely well. After reading through the London burger blogs, I came up with the list of ones to get around during the year (consisting of MEATliquor, Honest Burgers, Lucky Chip, and also potentially Hawksmoor and Opera Tavern although these last two probably serve better other courses than burgers).

In any case MEATliquor was very close to a shopping trip at Bond Street and so seemed only natural.

On a Friday evening at 8pm the wait outside along the side of the building was similar to waiting for nightclub entry. You could peer insideto reveal an enchanted atmosphere of smiles, drinks and social people. This is certainly not somewhere to go alone in the evening.

Each few minutes of the 30-40min wait we inched closer to the entrance until burger aroma wafted over us. The wait outside led to a short wait at the bar before being seated. Enjoy the ceilings as it nominated one of the best decorated food places in London for 2011.

We ravenously ordered a fat-filled meal of Green Chili Cheeseburger, original MEATwagon Cheeseburger, Dead Hippie burger, Chili Dog, Chili Cheese Fries and Onion Rings. This was sealed with a Crack Pie with Ice Cream.

My Green Chili Cheeseburger was sensational - a thick rare patty of unadultered beef flavour, layered with green chili, cheese, pickles and sauce. The bun was soft, greasy and rich. Not a healthy burger, just full of tasy sin. My friends attested their burgers were equally sensational (equivalent to their experiences at Lucky Chip and the hidden burger joint in NYC).

Chili Dog wasn't all that great. The frankfurt tasted quite ordinary and similar to the cheap boiled kinds, although it was the toppings of chili, cheese, jalapenos and mustard were the main reason to enjoy it. Similarly the fries weren't particularly crispy but the toppings (same as the Chili Dog) are what it's all about. Onion rings were large chunks wrapped in crispy coatings - nothing special but a more simpler flavour to contrast the richness of everything else. Dessert was a simple effective way to wash down the meat, cheese and fat flavours.

Next time I would order any of the beef burgers. The Deep Fried Pickles also caught my eye and are apparently very noteworthy also. I'm sure the pork and chicken options would be good too, but if I only had one opportunity here the beef is definitely the go.


The opening of the first offshoot called MEATmarket in Covent Garden was an excellent choice. A great central location in a different part of town, a place that didn't require queuing ridiculously and accepted takeaway, and some of the greatest hits from the MEATliquor menu to keep your stomach happy. It doesn't have the same atmosphere as the original place, but this is about a more relaxed atmosphere with the same great food.

The magic was the Ripper Hot Dog (although I thought it was a different name when I had it). A deep-fried bacon wrapped pork frank topped with mustard, onions, danish sauce and spicy relish. Easily the best hot dog I've had in my life (I haven't had *that* admittedly) but with such an explosion of delicious flavour I couldn't deny lusting. Unfortunately it wasn't on the menu the several times in 2013 I went back to find it. Not to worry - the burgers are still great.


Headed back to the original MEATliquor for some lunchtime burgers in the quiet empty venue. The Green Chili Cheeseburger and Chili Fries still get my attention every time. What is new (and possibly not so great) is the intense smell of burger/meat in the air resulting from probably a lack of ventilation. Leaving the place was akin to the adherent odour from Tayyabs - not so nice. It's a shame.

They've also opened MEATmission in Hoxton, which I never was able to try. The Burger Sundae looks like a dream.

The Triple Chili Challenge is also something to keep in mind next time I venture that way...

MEATliquor on Urbanspoon

Best of Eating Melbourne

Melbourne has been voted the best overall city in the world numerous times. It certainly isn't because of a large number of sights, photo opportunities nor general tourist interests. But one of the big factors is certainly the multicultural volume of restaurants, the lazy cafes and the quality of places that succeed. I wouldn't pick it as a place to spend a holiday in, but if you live there or simply passing through you can eat well anywhere.

My recommendations of places are not ones that I have been to often (as I always like trying new places or usually cook at home), but they are venues that I can almost guarantee you will enjoy and I do choose them when lazy and indecisive. The latest wave of popular venues incorporate the concept of shared plates and thus community and socialising. It's something that has taken over Melbourne and equally many of the newest and lately popular places in USA and London.

If you're from Melbourne then if nothing else you can see if your tastes are similar to mine:

Favourite Restaurant in Melbourne - Longrain
Favourite Meal of 2011 - Newmarket Hotel (3 course sharing menu)
Favourite Breakfast/Brunch - Three Bags Full, Mitte
Favourite Socialising/Sharing - Longrain, Newmarket Hotel, Izakaya Den, Mamasita
Favourite Fine Dining - Jacques Reymond, Cutler & Co., Ezard

Favourite Chai Latte - Three Bags Full
Favourite Vietnamese - Pho Chu The
Favourite Thai - I Spicy 2 (general), Paladarr Thai Issan (northern), Longrain (modern)
Favourite Malaysian - Laksa King (general), Blue Chillies (modern)
Favourite French - Madame Sousou (general), Jacques Reymond (fine)
Favourite Chinese - Taipan (yum cha), Golden Dragon Palace (yum cha), Pacific Seafood House (Cantonese)
Favourite Japanese - Yokoyama (general), Koko (overall), Shira Nui (sushi), Verge (fusion)
Favourite Tapas - Anada
Favourite Steak - Cutler & Co, old Bistro Guillaume

Places to try - Dandelion, Attica, Cumulus Inc., new Bistro Guillaume, Coda, Golden Fields

This post will be updated as I go along.

The Ledbury, London 03-2012

I hadn't actually heard of The Ledbury until a friend made a booking on our behalf. I didn't realise that it was ranked 29 in the World Top 50 for 2011 making it London's highest rated restaurant. To be honest since I hadn't spent much time researching or reading about it, I wasn't overly excited about going despite the reputation.

In a rather quiet road in Notting Hill at 930pm it seemed an unusual time to be preparing for a large degustation, but minimal daytime food prepared our stomachs.

We started with a light snack (seaweed cracker with savoury cream, roe & dill - correct me if I've remembered incorrectly) as a nice salty way to kick off the evening, followed by the first formal course Amuse Bouche (kataifi quail egg, chestnut puree & shaved truffles) - delicious, fantastic.

The menu rolled on as such:
- Cornish Oyster Chantilliy & Tartare with Horseradish & Dill
- Flame Grilled Mackerel with Smoke Eel, Celtic Mustard & Shiso (the best dish by far, uniting flavours of the world in each beautiful mouthful)
- Hand Rolled Macaroni Stuffed with Rabbit & Celery with a Veloute of Toasted Hay & Truffle (any excuse for truffles)
- Roast Cod with Crab, Pinenuts, Cauliflower & Blood Orange (quality cod, excellent crab salad. The raw cauliflower slices seemed odd and out of place)
- Berkshire Muntjac Slow Cooked Shoulder with Parsnip, Apple & Juniper (nice flavours but not as tender as I'd expect from slow cooking)
- Berkshire Muntjac Loin with White Beetroot, Red Wine Lees & Bone Marrow (wonderful cooked meats in different styles, the rare slices being my favourite.
- Pre-Dessert (burnt meringue, mango sorbet - of what I remember)
- Caramelised Banana Galette with Salted Caramel, Peanut Oil Parfait (galette was average, parfait with peanuts was wonderfully sweet, refreshing and creamy-crunchy end)
- Petit Four (chocolate ganache, macaron, jelly cube - all too sweet for my liking)

Overall I liked the food; but I found the Flame Grilled Mackerel to be the only course that made me think this is different, incredible and delicious. To their credit, all dishes tasted between the spectrum of good-to-great and none were declared plain nor strange. You are guaranteed to eat well here and £105 is extremely reasonable.

Next time I would order still the tasting menu. Considering a 3 course is £80 and the tasting menu is £105, you're getting much more diversity for a small additional price. The Flame Grilled Mackeral is otherwise the only dish I would without-a-doubt order again.

The Ledbury on Urbanspoon

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, London 03-2012

Excitement was high when booking London's biggest restaurant opening of 2011. After my experience at The Fat Duck in 2009, this was probably my most anticipated place when food reading about London.

Between 6 of us, we managed to try much of the menu. Excellent quality bread whet our appetites (the white being tastier than the wholemeal) before the entree procession started. The overwhelming favourite was the famous Meat Fruit (mandarin, chicken liver parfait & grilled bread) - a splendid presentation of the creamiest parfait (similar to pate) with a delicate sweetness. Simply superb. My other favourite was the Savoury Porridge (roast cod palette, smoked beetroot, garlic, parsley & fennel) - a warm tasty almost-risotto like dish with fantastic flavour. My colleagues were also struck by the Rice & Flesh (saffron, calf tail, red wine). We also tried the Buttered Crab Loaf (crab, cucumber, pickled lemon, herring roe & stone crop) which had good crab flavour but nothing especially unusual.

My main was the Black Foot Pork Chop (spelt, Iberico ham hock & Robert sauce). Honestly my pork chop was surprisingly tough and I wouldn't order it again, but the spelt risotto and pork crackling side with it was gluttonously tasty. I sampled some of the Powdered Duck (smoked confit fennel & umbles) which was a sensationally tender piece of rare duck (apologies about the photo). My company also tried the Cod in Cider (chard & fired mussels) which had the expectedly seafood punchiness and Spiced Pigeon (Ale & artichokes) which they didn't really comment particularly on. The Triple Cooked Chips (specially request them if you aren't getting steak) were the texturally best I've had - supremely crisp housing a moist core.

Desserts were the Tipsy Cake (spit roast pineapple), Taffety Tart (apple, rose, fennel & vanilla ice cream) and Chocolate Bar (passionfruit jam & ginger ice cream). My favourite was by far the Tipsy Cake which was basically a juicy sponge accompanied by tasty grilled pineapple.

Next time I would order an entree of Savoury Porridge (for myself) and/or Meat Fruit (to share) and try the main of Wing Rib of Aberdeen Angus for 2. The waiter told us outright the Hereford Ribeye was simply "steak and chips" so I think the Wing Rib would be more impressive (granted it is for 2 people and more than double the price).

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal on Urbanspoon

Meursault, London 03-2012

As this place is only a couple of weeks old, coming here made me feel at the front of London's eating scene. The Japanese-inspired addition to l'etranger revealed a sophisticated bar and a stunning dining room designed by a 30 year old Italian artist. I spent a good 15 minutes waiting for my company to arrive just admiring the ceiling.

Molecular mixology came in the form of 'Bang Bang You Shot Me Down' - three liquid nitrogren crumbled sorbet Mojitos layered above wild blueberry/raspberry/strawberry compote and topped with caramel carbonated sprinkle (aka pop rocks).

Food highlights were the Crab & Lobster mayo mini-burgers - tasty shredded crab and lobster chunks served with a rich cheese sauce. The lamb burger was also good, but both beef burgers seemed quite uneventful.

Tuna with osetra caviar had a little too much soy, but gave me enough to realise they have good quality fish (we didn't try any sashimi, but the platter served over dry ice looked fantastic).

Off the a la carte menu, the standout for me was clearly Pan Fried Foie Gras, Cinnamon & Date Pudding, with Yuzu infused Endive & Lagavulin Chocolate Ice-cream. This harmony of flavours and textures was one of my favourites - fatty salty foie gras, heavy sweet pudding, sour endive and chocolate sauce (effectively). Note that none of my company liked the combination, but I thought it was sensational.

We also tried the Abalone & Foie Gras Toban Yaki (excellent quality abalone and foie gras - can't go wrong), Charolais Beef Ribeye Steak (nicely cooked tender meat, but nothing out of the ordinary), Sea Bass, Nori & Asparagus Tempura with Truffled Ponzu Sauce (tasty, but again nothing special) and Miso Grilled Aubergine with Ponzu & Aubergine Caviar (plain grilled slice of aubergine with a miso dipping sauce - good sauce, standard aubergine).

The wide range of sorbets and macaroons (with the exception of salted caramel) were nothing special to me, although next time I'll try the formal dessert and salted caramel ice-cream (they didn't have any that evening)

Next time I would order definitely the platter of 3 Crab & Lobster mayo mini-burgers and Pan Fried Foie Gras, with consideration to the Foie Gras/Abalone only if I had people to share the foie gras with. I would also be interested to try the Caramelised Alaskan Baked Cod with Miso (and compare it to Nobu's) and Grade 9 Wagyu tartare.