Vila Chaumieres Restaurant, Port Vila 12-2010

I did a lot of online reading trying to find a good restaurant for the last night of an extremely memorable trip to the unexpected delight that is Vanuatu. Sure, not everything went smoothly or according to plan, but that certainly didn't discount the quality of the journey. The final day in Port Vila was quite quiet in that there wasn't anything specific to do, so we ended up doing a marathon spa-massage session. What better way to end it than an excellent meal.

I wanted somewhere walkable but in the end selected Vila Chaumieres which required a taxi to a beautiful setting overlooking a lagoon with the water so clear that small fish and starfish could be seen below. Watching the sunset here was magical.

I had read about the (controversial) dish of coconut crab and saved the moment for this meal.

Vila Chaumieres Famous Coconut Crab 5600VT was a dish of remarkable sweetness and excellence. I can't describe the flesh other than incredible.

Bea's Beef Wellington 3200VT tempted me with the specific name in the title and the organic Vanuatu beef fillet. It was nice but nothing particularly special.

What I should have gone for instead (and certainly toyed with the idea beforehand) was the lobster. Seeing the enormous lobster on others' tables made me envious. Even they couldn't believe how big it was. I'd have to estimate at least 1.5kg. Next time. 

I'd definitely be back if fate ever brings me back to Port Vila.

Kaishoku Michiba, Tokyo 2007

After years of religiously watching the original Iron Chef Japan on SBS each weekend and marvelling at the rushed creations of Michiba, Sakai and Chen, it was natural that my instinct was to find their restaurants in Tokyo. Sakai has La Rochelle but French isn't my favourite. Chen's dishes interested me with the chilli and heat but I thought Michiba was the most invincible (other than the German chef who beat him in the peppers battle) and his food being modern Japanese would be the most memorable.

On the 8th floor of this building in Ginza, the two of us were the only non-Japanese people in the restaurant. They did have an English menu translation and so I'm sure there have been tourist Iron Chef fans before us to make that worth their while.

Although Michiba wasn't there himself, the meal was spectacular. Tradition mixed with modern, in combinations well before their time in the world of fusion. The flavours were strong and typically Japanese with a little something extra.

One of my favourite meals of all time.

Hors d'oeuvre platter
- Deep fried scallop & yam ball coated with broad bean bits;
- Konbu seaweed infused seabream sushi wrapped in cherry leaf;
- Grilled cheese aged in miso & sake lees;
- Boiled tiger prawn with vinegared taro potatoe in saffron jelly cube;
- Tender simmered sweet-soy flavoured baby turbo shell;
- Blanched nobiru chives served with a vinegared miso;
- Fragrant new season's bamboo shoot sprinkled with bonito flakes.

- Soft-shelled turtle ball rolled in tapioca, served in a delicate bonito broth, sprinkled with chopped leek & ginger juice.

- Bonito, sea bream, squid.

Grilled Dish
- Grilled hairtail, octopus, tripe & steamed vegetable salad, served with a truffled dressing, garnished with salmon roe. This dish was truly remarkable in flavour.

Simmered Dish
- Sharkfin in a thickened golden bonito broth, served on a savoury egg custard with soybean-milk-skin & nameko mushroom.

- Green leaf pickle sushi.

Main Course
- Fresh fish of the day simmered with burdock in a sweet flavoured soy sauce;
- Japanese lobster served simmered in a sweet miso sauce.

Rice & Noodle Dish (served with pickles)
- Mackerel aged 3 years in rice bran (nuka-saba) on rice with a light dashi broth;
- Michiba style "curry udon" (thick wheat noodles served in a curried broth).

- Seasonal fruits, apple sorbet, sampokan citrus jelly served in its own cup.

Don Julio, Buenos Aires 11-2016

Argentina is known for beef and the parrilla. Therefore all carnivores naturally should eat the meats on offer at a respectable parrilla. Of course there are cheap ones and higher end ones and not all beef and not all chefs are created equally. After testing the parrilla waters and enjoying Patagonian specialties at La Tablita (, the cheap everyday version at Nuestro Parrilla, and also something in between as El Desnivel (, it was time to finish with the reputed star of the show. La Brigada was another nearby option in San Telmo and La Cabrera another big reputation place, but I couldn't go back the San Pellegrino rating for Don Julio in the decision.

Don Julio is listed in the SP Top 50 Latin American restaurants this year at #21. For a steakhouse that's a pretty big accolade. For it to therefore be the highest rated parrilla in Argentina is another accolade. It was convenient that Don Julio was open on Monday which was my last night in BA - if not, I may have been likely to have been there earlier and so the meat journey may have descended rather than finishing with the culmination.

The neighbourhood of Palermo is nice to walk through, although I wish I'd know the nicest looking streets to walk down are probably Armenia from Costa Rica onwards, and so spent less time above it closer to Plaza Italia. Nonetheless walking from MALBA to Palermo was a good way to initiate hunger. The reservation was at the opening time of 7pm, very early for a BA dinner. I'm glad though because it was a nice time to eat, leave just as night was settling in to catch the bus back to San Telmo. Additionally from about 8pm onwards, there was a constant large group of people waiting outside having a drink and waiting for a table.

I really would have liked to have tried a starter of fried empanadas, mollejas (sweetbreads) or kidney, or the provoleta or chorizo. In hindsight I should have starved myself more tactically beforehand but in the end I came for beef and was leaving with beef in my stomach. The SP information page says the owner recommends housecuts like rump and skirt. I'll be honest and say I wanted that sirloin has been my favourite cut since the meal at A511 ( when I finally understood that at the highest end fillet gives you a tiny bit of extra tenderness for a lot less flavour. My sirloin was asked for "MUY jugoso" and then confirmed in English as rare. What surprised me was the waiter asking how we wanted the ribs, "medium?" The question took me by surprise and I never knew ribs were cooked to order as always low and slow but cooked through, especially since undercooking the ribs will mean the meat sticks to the bone. Sure, medium sounds good.

A large selection of bread is served initially with a mixed chilli/chimichurri, a tomato and onion salsa, butter and 3 strengths of EVOO. I've never been given a choice of EVOO strength before and naturally the strongest and best was quite grassy.

- Bife de Chorizo ancho (thick sirloin steak) ARS311 - an immaculate piece of perfectly rare meat, with a nicely seasoned crust and exceptional slightly salty flavour to the meat. It was wonderfully tender and a joy to eat without needing any condiments;
- 1/2 Asado de Tira (short ribs) ARS333 - medium ribs served medium with a pinkish hue belying the tender layers of meat and fat in short cross section. Similarly exceptional flavour, probably a little stronger saltiness than the sirloin given the higher ratio of Maillard surface. The softest beef ribs I've had without exception (although expectedly less tender than the sirloin);
- Salad of quinoa, roasted squash, toasted hazelnuts, green onion, fresh mint ARS165 - the salad was presented beautifully at the table. The waiter asked which strength of EVOO to add then proceeded to mix everything up before I could take my photo. Oh well. The salad was a nice complement of textures and some balsamic added for tang;
- dessert of caramel flan with cream and dulce de leche ARS125 - this was an unnecessary sweetener to finish the meal. It was fine but if I had stomach space, I'd go for a meat appetiser next time.

Are they the best pieces of beef I've ever eaten? The ribs is an easy yes for that cut. The sirloin may be (perhaps second only to 511 but different prices, availability and reasons to enjoy each) and if not then equally or pretty damn close. Both cuts were superb and if again I'd probably opt for the sirloin of the two. However the best would be to go with a few extra people and share the full rack of ribs or a ribeye and some starters.

It makes me wonder how good Asador Etxebarri is to be highest rated woodfired grill and smoke in the world. Hopefully I won't have to wait too long to find out.

The Fat Duck, Bray 10-2009

With the recent stint of The Fat Duck in Melbourne (and my inability to win a place, although the price was a little ridiculous), I have been reminiscing about my own adventure at the mothership.

I remember anticipating this meal greatly. I was going to finally book the #2 restaurant in the world for one of the meals of the century. During a short term contract in northern Tasmania, I made the phone call one late evening. I wasn't particularly keen to use my mobile to ring the UK, but the work phone operator was only too happy to connect my call through. With only a few available dates, the 1/10/2009 was keenly booked, and then it was only a short two months before the day.

The restaurant isn't all that conveniently located. It requires an overground train to Maidenhead, then a taxi to the restaurant in Bray. Of course all the taxi drivers know it - it probably contributes more business for them than anything else in the area. The unassuming building stands like a old tavern. The fine dining inside and the French-accented staff elevate the mood to elegant.

Green olives with subtle flavour and fantastic bread with crunchy crust with spreadable salted and unsalted butter start things slowly. Then comes the procession of overwhelming sensory load.

Amuse Bouche
- Lime Grove (nitro poached green tea & lime mousse) - mousse bathed in liquid nitrogen then sprinkled with green tea. Cleansed the palate.

- Red Cabbage Gazpacho (pommery grain mustard icecream) - mustard-flavour icecream with a sweet cabbage sauce;
- Fat Duck Film - a delicate film which gives a mint/oak flavour to your tongue in anticipation;
- Jelly of Quail, Crayfish Cream, Chicken Liver Parfait & Truffle Toast (with oak moss) - water is poured over the oak moss to create a mist of oak scent flowing over the table. The moss flavours the air whilst you eat the parfait and truffle toast.

- Roast Foie Gras (president plum puree, braised konbu & crab biscuit) - delicately soft foie gras. The alternative (for my friend) was a sublime piece of aubergine;
- Mock Turtle Soup c. 1850 "Mad Hatter Tea" - hot water added to the golden medallion of dashi/konbu broth surrounded by gold leaf. This tea is added to a bowl consisting of layered beef & fat, tofu (i think) with mushrooms, a few cucumber and pickles and thus mock turtle soup is born;
- Sound of the Sea - seashell with an iPod playing ocean & beach soundtrack, sashimi of yellowtail, mackeral & halibut, sand of tapioca and fried baby eels, foam of seaweed and vegetable stock, added sea jellybeans;
- Salmon Poached in Liquorice (artichokes, vanilla mayonnaise, golden trout roe & manni olive oil from Tuscany) - exquisitely cooked and flavoured salmon, better than Nobu's miso cod;
- Powdered Anjou Pigeon c. 1720 (blood pudding & confit of umbles) - perfectly cooked pigeon.

- Taffety Tart c. 1660 (caramelised apple, fennel, rose & candied lemon) - the tangy candied lemon syrup with the blackcurrant sorbet is a whole new level of iced desserts.

The Not-So-Full English Breakfast
- Parsnip Cereal - chips (similar to almond slices) with parsnip milk poured on top. I adore cereal, but this tops them all for sweetness and flavour;
- Nitro-Scrambled Egg & Bacon Ice Cream - an 'egg' is cracked into a pot. liquid nitrogen is poured in. they stir... and bacon-flavoured ice cream that looks like scrambled egg is formed;
- Hot & Iced Tea - a drink of sweet lemon tea that is hot, before a hit of ice cold tea in your mouth.

That tea is followed up by an enormous menu of actual tea, should you fancy.

- Chocolate Wine "Slush" c. 1660 (millionaire shortbread) -  chocolate and delicate wine mixed and aerated. Rich chocolate, a layer of caramel, crisp shortbread base;
- Cheese platter selection;
- Wine Gums (historic trade routes of Britain) - 5 wine gums of mead, cognac, madeira, sherry, rum.

Finally a bag is handed to you with a small selection of designer sweets to take home. Added in is a printed copy of the menu.

"Like A Kid In A Sweet Shop"
- Aerated Chocolate (mandarin jelly);
- Coconut Baccy (coconut infused with an aroma of black cavendish tobacco);
- Apple Pie Caramel with an Edible Wrapper;
- Queen of Hearts (white chocolate with fruit compote).

It is unlike anything I've experienced before. With the passage of time, I think I've had meals with overall flavours that I've enjoyed more, but the multi-sensory journey that this brings is still unparalleled.

The menu itself was £130, but added onto this was the price of the arrival drink, cheese, service and the trains. Altogether it came out to £190 or so. Considering these days the UK Fat Duck charges £180 and the Australian one was $500 per person, I think my time was a bargain, and at the height of its powers. I count myself lucky for that opportunity. I don't know if I'll dine at The Fat Duck ever again, but I will return for Dinner (

Click to add a blog post for The Fat Duck on Zomato

Martin Berasategui, San Sebastian 06-2012

Martin Berasategui's restaurant has a large number of accolades. It was in the Top 50 restaurants in the world for 6 years, culminating at 27 before falling out in 2012 and also holds the TA #1 position for San Sebastian, which is a feat given the quality of restaurants in the town. Online reviewers comparing the great restaurants of San Sebastian often suggest that his 'greatest hits' menu is the one to go for and is perhaps the most friendly, accessible and easily liked cuisine in amongst the gastronomy restaurants.

The restaurant was quiet for lunch in June, with only one other table that day. After a taxi ride, we ended up in a lovely restaurant that included a balcony area overlooking the grassy hillsides of the region.

The menu €175pp seemed to be more recent than I would expect for a greatest hits, but was full of bright colours, foams and tasty jellies with no dish disappointing or tasting awkward. He seems to especially like green.

"I propose that you allow me to seduce you in small mouthfuls... seductive, light and succulent, they will whet your appetite and be the introduction to a magnificent meal"

- 1995 Mille-Feuille of Smoked Eel, Foie-Gras, Spring Onions & Green Apple - flavour mix of buttery foie gras, sweet apple, salty eel;
- 2001 Squid Soup, Creamy Squid Ink Ravioli served with Squid Crouton - deliciously strong squid dish, slivers of soft flesh, sweet ink morsel.

"This will be followed by:"

- 2011 Oyster with Cucumber, Kaffir & Coconut - cold oyster in a beautiful salty sweet Thai-style broth;
- 2012 Morsel of Asparagus & Raw Truffle, Air & Juice - strong truffle flavour, light cheese, roast sunflower seeds adding texture;
- 2009 Little Pearls of Raw Fennel, Risotto & Emulsion - raw crispy fennel topping soft sweet 'risotto' of fennel pieces, air emulsion;
- 2012 Smoked Balloon with Mille-Feuilles of Endives, Oily Fish, Watercress & Chickweed - smoked fish liquid balloons with smokey mackerel pieces, watercress broth, light cheese;
- 2011 "Gorrotxategi" Egg Resting on a Herb Liquid Salad & Dewlap Carpaccio - perfect poached yolk, beetroot pieces, green herb sauce, truffle oil & vintage cheese;
- 2001 Warm Vegetable Hearts Salad with Seafood, Cream of Lettuce & Iodized Juice - gorgeous plate of colourful salad ingredients, tomato water, jelly salad;
- 2011 Roast Red Mullet with Crystals of Edible Scales, Tail & Marine Salad with Sesame & Nuts - meaty portions of pig tail, soft mullet, juice tasting like wakame, almond cream;
- 2011 Grilled Sirloin "Luismi" over a Bed of Swiss Chard Chlorophyll & Cheese Bonbon - rare local San Sebastian beef, good combination with cheese, salt and chlorophyll.

"And desserts to finish:"

- 2012 Melon with Caipirinha, Lemongrass Sorbet, Crispy Flowers & Sheep's Milk - alcoholic jelly, sweet melon, delicious subtle lemongrass sorbet;
- 2012 Chocolate Frost with Mint, Asparagus, Caramelised Pumpkin & Bitter Coffee Icecream - chocolate & orange aerated sponge, bitter coffee icecream, mint, ice, asparagus pearls;
- tower of petit fours - cinnamon milk drink, alcoholic cranberry juice, portions of pistachio nougat chocolate.

Overall an excellent meal. The flavours were great and no dishes were questionable. In comparison to Akelare and Mugaritz, I think Martin Berasategui had the most straight forward dishes using fine gastronomical technique, although the other two probably have a more inventive edge.

Eleven Madison Park, New York City 10-2011

I was lucky enough to dine at Eleven Madison Park at possibly the height (so far) of their acclaim - it was the night they became the first restaurant in the world to jump from one to three Michelin Stars. A few weeks ago it was also elevated to rank 10 in the world on Restaurant Magazine's 2012 list.

I picked this as my choice of fine dining options for NYC based upon it being the only restaurant that provided a different experience - all the rest seem to be variations on typical French fine cuisine. Eleven Madison Park has the exciting menu concept of picking a few ingredients and the restaurant will create a series of dishes. It is to be noted that the tasting menu negates this concept, but nonetheless I'm not disappointed in my choice.

Sadly all the detailed notes I had written on the night were obliviated when a Facebook album was deleted via iPhoto. However the photos remain and the memories of the experience still linger.

The main things that stood out were:
- not all dishes were delicious; some were a bit strange (the tomato tea, cucumber salad), but at least they were creative;
- the ingredients were the finest collection I've eaten together - matsutake mushrooms, white truffles, black truffles, caviar, sea urchin roe, thick slabs of foie gras...;
- the white truffle supplement of USD95 per person seems excessive, but my first experience with the explosive flavour was gourmet-life changing;
- the service and hospitality is impeccable (notice all the waiters only walk in one direction around the room) and being invited to the kitchen to watch and be served a liquid nitrogen cocktail was a fine touch;
- at the end they gave my partner a nice jar filled with housemade granola. 

Keep in mind to total bill for 2 with white truffle supplement and 2 glasses of wine was USD600. Added tip was USD120. This is not a cheap meal!

Next time I would order the tasting menu again. Although I want to pick from their matrix of ingredients for fun, the experience of the full courses is worth the money and all for the lust of food.


Luck would have it that I decided to clear some space on my phone. I opened the deleted section of my phone's notes and found entries dating back to 2010. An entry popped up that made me smile "Eleven Madison Park" from 2011. All was not lost after all. Even though I can't quite remember dish for dish (with a couple of noticeable exceptions), at least this is something:

- Beetroot & goat cheese lollipop
- Tomato tea & parmesan
- Scallop ceviche & yuzu
- Raw tuna & black pepper on rice cracker
- Goat cheese croquette with vinaigrette
- Apple, sea urchin caviar, foie gras & dill
- Long island style clam chowder in a pot, clam with basil, clam with caviar, corn
- NYC flour bread with goat milk butter with dill, sheep & crispy faro milk butter and fleur de sal
- Cucumber with buttermilk dressing mustard seeds
- Foie gras terrine with pickled onion, plum & almonds
- Artichoke, sweet bread, truffle & jus
- Poached lobster, matsutake mushrooms, jus topped with fresh white truffle slices (probably the greatest dish of all time)
- Pork, butterscotch palms, scallion jus & plum
- Gooseberry EVOO, melon, peach & ricotta
- Egg cream drink, milk syrup, malt milk, EVOO & seltzer water
- Chocolate sponge, coffee cream, & hazelnut icecream 
- Petit four
- Liquid nitrogen passionfruit cocktail


One day clearing out old travel documents stored for eternity, I came across the original menu from that night...

Eleven Madison Park on Urbanspoon

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.

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