…In the mean time our “sommelier” Yair, opened the two reds on offer:
Vosne- Romanee 1 Cru, Les Suchots Domaine Confuron-Cotetidot 2006
And the 2006 Charmes-Chambertin Tres Vieilles Vignes Grand Cru, Domaine Joseph Roty, these can breath for the time being…at least until the lamb is properly roasted…
The Vosne Romanee from Domaine J. Confuron Cotetidot , is a highly suitable wine for the occasion since the Confuron family are an old winegrowers family, (since the seventeenth century), they even have a strain of Pinot Noir named after them – Pinot Confuron. The domaine has some Grands Crus vineyards and “our” Premier Cru vineyard of Les Suchots, certainly one of the very top domaines of the Côte de Nuits. The tradition of whole-bunch fermentation is still practiced, producing this extra deep scent of berries plums and ripe dark red fruits. One of the strengths of Confuron Cotetidot wines is their ability to age and develop, (hence the long decanting time). I guess our state of mind will allow them to be approachable in the medium term as well.
The 2006 Charmes-Chambertin, Très Vieilles-Vignes, Grand Cru, Joseph Roty, Côte de Nuits, is a deep red-ruby almost purple wine. filled with deep notes of black cherry, liquorice, flint , leather and wet soil. needed quite a long time to open, eventually exposing the sweet flavours of dark berries and spiced strawberry confiture reflecting the full ripeness of the 2006, yet still retaining enough acidity to keep the fruit freshness and balance for it’s anticipated longevity. (another bottle opened several years ahead of time…)
Our wines are slowly evolving in their decanters and the leg of lamb properly rested, it’s juices evenly spread within, were “calling” us back to the table, Etienne following me back to the kitchen, as I steamed the tender spinach, cut the oven baked shimeji mushrooms off their stem, and the roast potatoes, all in their serving dishes and off to the table where our first red the Vosne Romane , Les Suchots 2006, was already poured to glasses,
Etienne insisted on the joint being carved at the table, not before he orchestrated several photos with the roasted joint still intact (as you can see),
he watched over me, as I carved the joint of meat, nice and juicy, steaming off the aroma of thyme, rosemary, mint, and a delicate touch of garlic, just as intended (it does not always come out like that, lucky again…)
There was lot of everything to be had and we dug into it, perfectly paired with the wines. The one that followed, the: Charmes. Chambertin Grand Cru, Joseph Roty 2006, was equally well paired with the dish, and so we took our time, enjoying our main course commenting on the wines and food and Etienne’s stories of his “holy land” impressions, he really enjoyed visiting Jerusalem and the Galilee following historical footsteps of 3000 Years of human religious history, than recalling his recent visit to Beirut Lebanon, his joy of meeting old friends in Beirut, and I was envious, political boundaries forbid me from visiting Lebanon, the city I heard about from my father who studied there in the mid 1940’s describing in details the amazing pastry sweets, the cool Booza (a local ice cream with Mastic and Salep, which provides it with the ability to resist melting at the speed that other regular ice creams are affected by, thus withstanding the local heat of the summer) it has an elastic chewing gum quality (extra special touch on the tongue and palate, Devine!!) how would I know? They have a few places in Jaffa, Galilee and other Arab neighbourhood who still make them, with a varying degree of success. I read that In the Old City of Damascus, there is a shop called Bakdash, بكداش that is famous throughout the Arab world for its ice cream and gum Arabic, used to be a popular attraction for tourists, who knows if it still exists, after all we live in a turbulent neighbourhood…, I would like to think it is still there, after all places of tradition, know how, secret recipes and excellence should last forever (very much like Hugel family wines.)
Etienne was not talking specifically about his own wines, he spoke of all the wines upon their specific merit, which is commendable, after all we all know people who can’t stop talking about themselves or their own wine which tends to be tedious sometimes but not in this case.
We cleared the table off the empty main course dishes ready to receive our “cheese and biscuits”.
A very special wine accompanied our cheese Philippe Bornard -“Les Marnes” Cotes Du Jura 2005 a wine from the village of Pupillin near Arbois and the Swiss border, this is the “home” of “vin Jaune” also made from 100% Savagnin grape, It does not have the same deep dry sherry quality of proper vin jaune, as it is not left to oxidise under a film of yeast, known as the voile, on the wine’s surface for almost six years but rather undergoes a different process, at first the wine begins a long, slow maceration in fiberglass container, then moved to large older oak barrels for maturation, which lasts about one year. Wines are of two appellations: Côtes du Jura as is our wine, and Arbois-Pupillin, and reflect beautifully the terroir of the Jura. This is a wine that shows a masterful balance between aromatic richness and minerality. All the meticulous work and emotion of Philippe Bornard is revealed in this great wine. The vinification under the yeasts – “voile”, gives birth to a Savagnin that mixes roast hazelnut and walnut yeasty aromas with white fruit, superb bottle.Bullseye choice for the cheeses (Thanks Judy…)
Halfway through Etienne could not resist the temptation of pouring the Nectar of the evening – Hugel & Fils Gewurztraminer Selection de Grains Nobles, 1976, an amazingly perfumed and aromatic wine, scent of botrytis engulfs you as you swirl the wine in the glass white peach mango and passion fruit juice, shooting out of the glass enchanting the palate with it’s smoothness, light fruity sweetness emitting the scent from within upwards sublime! (since 1976 the next vintage this wine was produced was 1988) What a delight that went so well with our cheese and dessert : Tart Tatin of Pears and Ginger, this is a take off on Marco Pierre white award winning dessert from the mid 1990’s with an added twist of ginger julienne and slivers to fit Alsacien grape verities, and it did .. at one stage Etienne “grabbed” the serving plate and “devoured” the tart from the large plate to everyones delight.
The incident that followed before coffee and petit fours were served, is private between us five and will remain between us four (now that Etienne has taken the secret to his grave, and we will all in turn…) all I can tell you about it is Etienne comment: Ai Yai Yai…!!!
The next morning after all the sweat, tears of laughter and blood of course…when everyone was gone I opened the Pink Box of delights, and what a sweet surprise!! it was a box of the best ever tiny Baklava pastries from Douaihy – Lebanese Sweets, full of goodies with a taste that still lingers on the tip of my tongue, excellence in mid eastern pastry making, my favourite sweet!! from the most excellent but “forbidden source” the city of Beirut, and my fathers stories all came into context, imagine just one hour north of the border!!! a place I would visit every weekend if only possible.
My friend Etienne is gone but not the memories of this warm night in May 2012, this was my first and last meeting with him in person we kept in touch and planned to meet later this year but alas it was not to be.
Farewell my dear friend, these fragile tastes and smells will endure, more persistent, more faithful, and will remain poised a long time, like our souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest.
Sweet rose, fair flower, untimely plucked, soon faded, Plucked in the bud and faded in the spring. Bright orient pearl, alack, too timely shaded. Fair creature, killed too soon by death’s sharp sting, Like a green plum that hangs upon a tree, And falls through wind before the fall should be. I weep for thee and yet no cause I have, For why thou left’st me nothing in thy will. And yet thou left’st me more than I did crave, For why I crave`d nothing of thee still: O yes, dear friend, I pardon crave of thee, Thy discontent thou didst bequeath to me. sonnet 10-"The passionate pilgrim" by W. Shakespeare (1599 edition)
press play for background music
My friends Judy and Yair Judy Yair and Etienne Hugel Chez moi
My friend Judy Chang is a food and wine Junkie of the 4th kind. She’s always on the look for the Best in Wine and Food wherever she is, and she gets around A LOT!!! She is almost “obsessed” with food and wine, follows the best of the rest in each category in all 5 continents, relentlessly guzzling and drinking her way to oral and nasal senses heaven.
She is an American of aristocratic Chinese decent (Taiwanese), with a Jewish Israeli Chutzpa – (Yiddish word that can’t really be translated but is something between “outrageous”, “insolence” or “audacity” “impudence” or “cheekiness”) this is where her charm lies and usually acts as a door opener, she finds her Aladdin Caves of food or wine and opens them with the right command, but one day she will say “Iftah ya simsim” (“Open sesame”) in a wrong place or at the wrong time she might be faced with the “Forty Thieves”…(Ali Baba is the good guy)
In short She Loves Wine, Food, Wine & Food, Food & Wine and anything in between, still she prefers the best of what Chinese, Japanese and French cuisines have to offer. She is more beautiful than any of the most beautiful dishes she ever had (and she’s had quit a few…) and she is Soledad Bleu 😦
She wrote to me recently:
You need to get to NYC and teach the Spotted Pig (Michelin) how to make a proper tarte tatin!! Dono what’s going on here but its too soft and floury and quite unedible!!! It’s more like a darn fruit cake/half ass scone! (She’s a bit biased in favor of my cooking I guess) we all know the disappointment of getting something which is just not IT.
Since I cannot get to NYC right away or in the very near future all those concerned will have to do with this post.
Tarte Tatin is basically (as you know…), an upside-down caramelized fruits tart. (The fruits in the original recipe were apples)
Tales of origin
Some claim that Tarte Tatin was first created by accident by the cook, Stéphanie Tatin at Hotel Tatin. The hotel was run by the sisters, Stéphanie and Caroline Tatin in Lamotte-Beuvron, France, (150 km South of Paris), sometime during the 1880. sister Stéphanie Tatin, who was in charge of cooking at the hotel, started to make a traditional apple pie as part of her daily chores, but left the apples cooking in butter and sugar for too long. Smelling the burning caramel, she tried to rescue the “dessert of the day” by putting the pastry base on top of the pan of apples, and put the pan in the oven for the pastry to bake, after the pastry was baked properly she turned over the tart, and served it hot from the oven. She was astonished not only to find a pleasing result but also to learn that most of the hotel guests requested a second helping.
It must be said that the concept of the “upside down tarts” was not a new one. Chef patissier M.A. Carême (The King of Chefs and the Chef of Kings) already mentions glazed gâteaux renversées adorned with apples from Rouen in his glorious cook book “Patissier Royal Parisien” in 1841.
Originally, Tarte Tatin was made with two regional apple varieties: Reine des Reinettes (King of the Pippins), and Calville. But my choice of apples is Granny Smith or Cox which are hard and will hold their shape while cooking, and tangy and sour enough to balance the sweetness of the caramel (toffee). “Toffee is basically sugar and butter, Caramel is sugar and cream or milk, with butter occasionally in the mix.”
Tarte Tatin can be made with other fruits or vegetables such as pears, pineapple, and even tomatoes or onions and leeks. As for the pastry top/bottom the Larousse’s recipe opts for shortcrust which is in my mind the downfall of all those attempting this simple dish, my pastry of choice and the only pastry suitable is puff pastry which is certainly NOT the pastry used at the Tatin Hotel. (I’ve learned the basic ideas for this recipe, ages ago from the award winning recipe Pear Tarte Tatin – tarte tatin de poire by Marco Pierre White voted as the best dessert of one year during the 90’s) I must admit I use less than half the recommended butter and sugar and simplified the method to fit home cooking. (and it works!!!!)
For a Tatin dish 28cm diameter serves 6-7 people:
6-7 green apples: a mix of Granny Smith & Cox is best
100g Demarara sugar
70g butter + 30g butter cut to dots for spreading on top of the apples
1/2 a teaspoon of fresh ground cinnamon
A 20 cm square of best ready-made butter puff pastry
- Core and peel the apples and cut into quarters (keep in cold water with a squeeze of half a lemon, can be prepared well in advance) (if using pears core peel and cut in half)
- Melt the butter in the Tatin dish on low heat making sure not to burn the butter and sprinkle most of the demarara sugar on top. Crowed the apples as much as possible (round side down core side up), no need to arrange the fruits in any particular order the apples will “arrange” themselves. Turn the heat slightly up and allow the sugar to start bubbling.
- Dust the puff pastry (room temperature) and kneed to a circle 5 cm larger than your dish.
- Dot the apples with the remaining butter sprinkle with sugar and the cinnamon evenly.
- Cover the dish with the pastry circle and tuck in the extra pastry around the inner rim to “hug” the outer ring apples
- Keep on medium heat the pastry will balloon up and the butter and sugar will start to caramel at the edges wait until dark amber brown color froth appears at the edges around.
I stand over the dish at this stage with pastry leftovers patching up any punctures in the dough that deflate my balloon. Once the edges turn the right color place the dish in the center of a preheated oven 190º C
- Bake the tarte Tatin for about 20-25 minutes, or until golden, with crispy dark brown caramel pieces bubbling up from around the edges. Take it out of the oven. NOW you need to turn it over, which isn’t hard – but you do need to be careful with that hot caramel. So get a serving plate larger than the dish wearing oven glove. Put the plate on top of the pan, then quickly in a smooth confident move, turn it over don’t worry if the occasional apple gets stuck onto the dish, use a Silicone spatula to collect the caramel and “drop” the apple to its place in the crowd…and the remaining caramel/toffee all over.
- Serve with the best Vanilla ice cream you can get your hands on while hot.
And most importantly the wine pairing for this dessert, All of these are suitable depending on personal taste my selection:
of course the Hugel Vendange Tardive Riesling 2001 (for those who feel LARGE…)
Or a good 4-5 Puttonyos Tokaji
As Judy would say: YUMMM!!!!!!!!
BTW she’s at soledad–bleu-etoile.blogspot.com check her out.
Bill Withers – Ain’t No Sunshine
Writer(s): MOLINA JR., ARTURO/WITHERS, BILL
Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone
It’s not warm when she’s away.
Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone
And she’s always gone too long
Anytime she goes away.
Wonder this time where she’s gone
Wonder if she’s gone to stay
Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone
And this house just ain’t no home
Anytime she goes away.
And I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know………..
“Bring the sense of FUN”.
A Feast at The FAT DUCK
10:38pm Late September 2011 a “rain” of emails from my old buddy Spike in London, came pouring down on me: Hey Buddy – we have a table for lunch @ the Fat Duck next Tues. – really really really looking forward to it buddy sweet dreams SPIKEY X”
“The table is booked 12.30 as that was all they could get so we have 2 leave earlier – fergus p.r@ st J. did it & he said it was a right carry-on lets make sure we get there on time innit?
looking forward 2 it buddy sweet dreams SPIKEY X”
The buzz of enthusiasm caught me as well, a visit to the Fat duck, is a meal I “promised” myself for the last 10 years (since the Restaurant got its first Michelin Star) and the raves regarding a new star in the culinary sky started to tickle my taste buds and imagination, but somehow I never got down to arranging it well ahead enough and kept missing my opportunities for a meal at “The Restaurant at the end of the Universe”. This is: “The ultimate hot spot for an evening of apocalyptic entertainment and fine dining, where the food (literally) speaks for itself”. (From “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe”, by Douglas Adams.). Spike, through his web of connections finally managed to arrange a meal at the Fat Duck, the restaurant that serves Bacon and egg ice cream, snail porridge and all, molecular cooking (As it is often described in the media) Such a sense of culinary anticipation had not struck me since I (obsessively) dined, ( 20 years earlier), with the world greatest: Fredy Girardet, Joel Robuchon, Bernard Loiseaux, George Blanc, Jacques Lamellose, Pierre Gagnaire, Alain Ducasse, Marco Pierre White, Pierre Koffman, Daniel Boulud to name but a few… As a matter of fact I like this feeling of tastes and flavors hype that engulfs you at a perfect meal, (a kind of addiction), it is as if these guys (Top Chefs), know of the anticipation and expectations most of their customers come with… and have this magic touch to form the perfect setting for that very day, for the man who came to dine (ME). I must admit I’m not much into culinary terms such as Molecular gastronomy or molecular cooking as the “great” Mr. Herve This, calls the cooking at El Bulli or The Fat Duck, or the “late” term”: nouvelle cuisine”, which is actually an old term (since the 1740s) used throughout the centuries for anything new at the time, in the preparation combination or presentation of food, for example, the cooking of Vincent La Chapelle 1735, or François Marin was described as nouvelle cuisine of the time, in 1890s the cooking of the great Auguste Escoffier, the epitome of traditional cuisine was described with the term “The modern” – Nouvelle.. I like restaurants that try and succeed to “give pleasure and meaning to people through the medium of food”. As our host Heston Blumenthal neatly put it: “Build food while predicting the effect on the eater.” We did arrive on time, and Bray is not a big place, but if you don’t look up and catch a glimpse of the Restaurants Logo you will not find it as it is well hidden behind the walls a modest looking English country House, no boasting, very dignified, and we missed it (what anticipation does to you…) so we strolled up the street to peek inside the ‘The Hinds Head Pub’ 30 yards down the road and ask for DIRECTIONS. You open the door yourself (I like that), it feels like entering your own home, no gate keepers, or other paraphernalia which is inseparable in some 3 Michelin star restaurants. Thank God I can’t stand these tedious manners. They let you settle down and do all the necessary bits and bobs of bread, water and wine. Which is if you think about it a necessity of any restaurant, but also a traditional welcome almost in all cultures: bread and water or bread and wine were served as a welcome gesture since biblical times.
So we ordered a 2004 Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru, Boudriotte, Domaine Ramonet That went very well with the first half of the dishes in the menu. Now we are “all set” as the restaurant needs our full attention with the opener which I would call an Amuse-bouche, usually a “mouth amuser” which serves here as a Meal amuser The LIME GROVE- Nitro poached green tea and Lime mousse. The liquid Nitrogen is bubbling and evaporating in a white mist in a container into which a ball of lime mousse is tossed in and turned around in a freezing temperature of −196 °C as the mousse hardens, a dust
of green tea is sprinkled over and just before you’re requested to put it whole in your mouth the finishing touch of Lime fragrance is sprayed over your head and engulfs you with the aroma of lime inside and out and the mousse melts in your mouth as you bite the “hard / soft” ball of delight. It is fresh and fun and tingles your taste buds with the sense of fun it is intended, still with the correct concentration of the flavor of what it is meant to be: a lime mousse in a bite. Welcome to the Fat Duck, Here life is beautiful… The theatrical curtain opener is over, but as in the theatre the show must go on and the first course is served: RED CABBAGE GAZPACHO served with ice cream of Pommery Grain Mustard. Well, Pommery mustard, also known as Moutarde de Meaux, this is truly a culinary historic gem. This jewel of condiment comes from Meaux, France, (just northeast of Paris). It is said that French kings have been dining on this mustard since the early 1600s. Of all gourmet mustards, this particular mustards blend is on the top of the list, both for its richness and its simplicity. It is said that the secret recipe for pommery mustard originated with an ancient religious sect that lived in the town of Meaux,. In the year 1760, the secret was revealed to the Pommery family, and they have kept it safe ever since.
Back to the dish, though the photo speaks for itself, a deep purple smooth Gazpacho or traditional Russian Borscht (both would fit the description) decorated with a delicate grained white ice cream with a hint of very fine mustardy flavor that looked like the sun setting into an ocean of purple bliss, as in the Deep Purple song Lalena that came right to my mind (press play to listen to the song as you read on, to ease the pain)
When the sun goes to bed
That’s the time you raise your head
That’s your lot and life, Lalena
Can’t blame ya, Lalena!
Lalena is the name of the Russian girl eating her Borscht and sour cream… You dig? I can’t blame YA. Aren’t we having fun??? I am now as I was then, slurping the meticulously spiced almost “Gazpacho essence” with a morsel of ice cream to melt on my tongue on every bite. We’re through the first two dishes and your Tenzo is giving you a “break”, as I was given between each and every dish (of around 15-20 leisurely moments) for our five senses to sink into the meal’s atmosphere We slid down the rabbit hole and still have 10 more dishes to go,so patience my friends,
Create one mouth full of food with 3 separate flavors Feast at the Fat Duck
…We cleared our palate from the delicate Gazpacho, flavored with a hint of the tiny cucumber cubes (brunoise) and mustard, with the excellent breads on offer (which bread would you like Sir?.. a bit of both, of course! …) especially when enhanced with the voluptuous sea salted french butter, I love good bread it is so basic yet can reach heights of pleasurably delights under the loving care of a good Baker, and even better, wrapped up with some more sips of the fresh Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru, Boudriotte, Domaine Ramonet 2004 , served by the capable, gentle, and knowledgeable Mr. ISA BAL the Duck’s head sommelier . Though the 2004 is not the best vintage year for Bourgogne’s whites, Boudriotte always displays finesse, elegance with a long, ripe finish yet crisp with a strong sense of green apple peel, balanced with notes of crème patissière and toasted butter brioche. My wine of choice to fit the occasion, it went very well with the first four offerings. Now, the table is being laid down with the stage setting of act 3 of the show: “welcome to your very own tiny oak forest, the only place truffles grow…”. It is a wonderfully orchestrated Homage to Alain Chapel legendary dish Jelly of Pigeons with 3 chicken oysters and young vegetables, The FAT DUCK version: Jelly of Quail, crayfish cream, chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss & Truffle Toast. A game of associations…A long name and an elaborate setting to go with it, first a wooden box with Oak moss that looks like a rectangle piece of grass, which brought another smile and sense of fun to the table with two “fat duck Oak films” to melt over your tongue which has a delicate aroma of Oak that spreads around your mouth and evaporates through your nose with an oaky bark sensation and a touch of wet oak moss,
as the films melt over our tongues the waiter pours hot water and oak scented oil on the turf box causing vapors of oak scented mist, to crawl out of the box and over the table cloth onto our laps, what a wonderful sight luring you into an enchanted forest where truffles may be found under the Oak trees.
Quite rightly Spike said: “Heston Blumenthal must b mad as a brush!” What a load of fun… And that is the basic Idea behind all this so far wonderful meal, innit? The whole scene immediately reminded me of Woody Allen’s father’s “Piece of Land” from the movie Love and Death (Have a look and tell me I’m wrong!
The rest of the dish is laid around with sensuous pastel colors of brownish peach and some surprises after you dug in (if you dare) to disturb the beauty of the triple wrapping “Babushka” arrangement of, outer layer of liver parfait covering the quail’s jelly with the “mushy peas” inside like a savory “Mozart” chocolate (Salzburg Mozartkugeln) course you do bite on it almost impatiently, after all we came to eat!!
All the rest is a bonus. The liver parfait is light and smooth coating a concentrate of quail stock jelly that really tastes of quail stew that bursts open to reveal a galantine pea mousse a smooth “mushy peas” style flavor and all of that swimming in a bowl of Langoustine cream.
We ordered some more bread and wiped the bowls shining clean Superb!The truffle and oak toast was forgiven due to mitigating circumstance concerning the time of the year being way beyond the truffle season. Most diners, (I know I would), could easily be fooled by some drops of good truffle oil or white truffle paste to enhance the aroma and flavor of the truffle toast, we happily settled with the Oaky atmosphere that was bestowed upon us.We were in a state of constant blissful smile which threatened our facial skin so I looked around the restaurant and literally every guest was HAPPY! The sense of fun caught all forty four of us diners, mission accomplished as far as the Kitchen and the Ducks philosophy is concerned : ” We believe that cooking can affect people in profound ways, and that a spirit of collaboration and sharing is essential to true progress in developing this potential.“ So Bring in the sense of FUN in life” through food and a visit to the restaurant. I too, always felt, that this is the idea behind a good restaurant, a good meal, a good food and wine outing.
Next came the Snail Porridge, Jabugo Ham, Shaved fennel. A dish always mentioned when the restaurant is in the media. Personally I’m not too keen on “Porridge” in its traditional preparation form, it’s not a food I was raised on or “learned to like” at early age, and you can’t deny it’s an acquired taste kinda food and consistency… neither am I hot for snails, they usually disappear in tons of herbs and garlic. This is my “challenge” dish and there it came the first thing that came to mind was the fresh parsley green color the same unique parsley green color of Bernard Loiseau’s legendry dish: Escargots Au Veloute De Persil. The Porridge was not overcooked and mushy (which is probably what I dislike about porridge), and the scent of the Jabugo Ham* added depth to the dish that was decorated with some braised and then butter sautéed snails, and some shavings of fennel.
Needless to say it was again meticulously spiced and well balanced. *They say that “Jabugo breed pigs are the only animals of this species in which stored fat is redistributed thoughout the body, infiltrating the muscle fibers. These pigs consume a diet with a high acorn content their fat is of superior quality, giving the flesh its characteristic texture, aroma and flavour.
We were now served the Roast Foie Gras, Gooseberry, Braised Konbu and crab biscuit.
The foie gras was made to perfection, the pinkish late season, gooseberry coulis was a great compliment to the foie gras yearning for a touch of fruity acidity and the Konbu (Japanese sea weed) and crab thin and crunchy biscuits added antagonism in texture and taste with its sea saltiness to complete the balance. Great !!! As I went out for a short break and a phone call to my dear friend Yair to consult on the next wine I am about to order from a shortlist I have prepared the night before, I thought to myself, what a pleasure it is to enjoy a really good meal in the right lighthearted manner and pleasant fellow dinners And until I do decide upon the suitable wine I leave you till next time…with seven more dishes to go, where we’re invited to A Mad Tea-Party with ALICE.
Like Alice in wonderland we were only half way down the rabbit hole, we were falling the very deep and wondrous well, and had plenty of time as we went down, Alice, Spike and I, to look about us and to wonder what was going to happen next. One thing I was sure of the wine we ordered is about to finish and a new bottle suitable for the next 4 courses should be ordered. Now the wine list at the Fat Duck is fairly large in volume and selection and I dislike reading book size wine lists in the middle of a pleasant meal so I made the effort and looked into it, the night before (Hooray for a good internet site) such as the Fat Ducks: http://www.thefatduck.co.uk/The-Menus/The-Wine-List/ and made myself a shortlist of about 5 wines (Spike drinks only whites) after being satisfied with my first choice I thought a more “reddish” white wine will be more suitable, and the meal was so enjoyable up till now, I decided to consult with a “telephone friend”. Yair my dear friend was the obvious choice and although he and later Isa (the house sommelier) tried to direct me in a more fresh and elegant direction, and even tried to “warn” me of the extra oakiness of Mounir Saouma touch, on this specific wine. Still I knew I wanted to taste the wine of my fellow countryman Mounir who “made it big” in Bourgogne which is not a trifle matter and so I opted for the Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru, La Romanée, Lucien Le Moine 2004, which turned to be on the day a wine well suited for the rest of the meal. While the bottle is opened and given a much needed “breather” let us have another look at the oaky mist (this time) from our very own table:The break is over and I felt like the March Hare mumbling to himself: ‘Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late!’ I returned to our table to get ready for the next dish: MOCK TURTLE SOUP “Mad Hatter Tea” , In the words of Lewis Carroll it is : A Mad Tea-Party (CHAPTER 7, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll 1865) As the card by our plates explains Turtle soup was highly popular in 19th century England but was so expensive and hard to get (sea turtles were rare and difficult to import) that a mock turtle soup was developed using calves head and feat (that is why Lewis Carroll, mentions in length the story of the mock turtle and John Tenniel whose drawings accompany “Alice in Wonderland” drew the Mock Turtle with calves head and feet). Welcome to our very own Mad Hatters tea party. We are each served a 24 karat gold leaf plated, fob watch, which we put (or dip) into a cup of tea and boiling water are poured over it, we’re in the scene: “The March Hare took the watch and looked at it gloomily: then he dipped it into his cup of tea”
our mock fob watch dissolves like a tea bag and glitters of gold leaf “swim” in a cup of boiling water that turns into a brownish broth (the mock turtle soup), with a deep meaty concentrate aroma and flavor. The bowl in front of us is a setting of the complimentary scene: what goes with mock turtle? Mock turtle egg It looks like an egg but the white is turnip mousse and the yolk is Swede and saffron nothing is what it is it just looks like what we think it is… confused?? Add some enoki mushrooms to keep the wonderland atmosphere going, and an ox tongue and Colonnata Lardo (from Fausto Guadagni) Terrine that gives the fatty feel of what is described as genuine turtle soup.
“Colonnata is a small village in the hills of Tuscany that happens to make the world’s best lard. Fausto Guadagni is one of the last, and best, of the traditional producers. The Lardo is treated with spices and matured for six to eight months in marble tubs, known as conche, in caves cut out of the same stone. The result is fragrant, melting and joyous.” Now, garnish the bowl in your mind with cucumber, pickled turnip, truffle cubes, and some leaves of micro parsley. pour the golden broth from the cup onto the enchanted scene bowl, and there you have it; Mock turtle soup. I trust Heston this is as close to turtle soup as you can get!! And as in the the Mock turtle sad song, on the day it was:Beautiful Soup, so rich and green, Waiting in a hot tureen! Who for such dainties would not stoop? Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup! Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!It was glorious in the bowl and wonderful on your tongue and over your palate as you swallowed each spoonful of golden fairytale in a bowl. And yes we’re still having fun and yes the wine is a bit over oaky but the bourgognian Chardonnay from La Romanee, (chassagne) is powerful enough to withstand the wood without losing its character. Can we hope to proceed with anything to match the ingenuity and originality of the wonderland soup?
A large Conch a symbol of old, is laid down in front of us with a pair of modern I Pod ear phones sticking out of it…
The conch, this is one of the most important emblems of the India God Vishnu. He is the protector of the world and the restorer of moral order (dharma). He is peaceful, merciful, and compassionate. The blowing of the conch symbolizes the primordial creative voice and Indian mysticism links it to the sacred sound OM , which is said to be the breath of Vishnu, pervading all space. This is a good sign to what is going to come, but are we going to say OM or sigh UMMM to the taste of THE SOUND OF THE SEA.
A sea shore scene on a glass slab is laid before us here’s the sand made of Tapioca mixed with fried grounded baby eels, some Japanese sea weed for taste and decoration, with a triptych of sashimi of mackerel, Halibut and yellow tail, and the foam of the sea I guess a foam of a fish consommé to “kiss” the sand and the fish. The sound of sea waves and sea gulls take you to somewhere on a British shore line, the tapioca sand is really sandy between your teeth, with a deep but delicate sea saltiness flavor and aroma added by the ground eels, and the foam is a fine touch to wrap the sea taste in your mouth and mind, we went UMMM, but felt the breath of Vishnu pervading our taste buds and nose, OM we blessed the chef…for serving us a “sunny day down at the beach”, on a plate. Today, the conch is used in Tibetan Buddhism to call together religious assemblies. During the actual practice of rituals, it is used both as a musical instrument and as a container for holy water. We kept the earphones in for a longer while as the sound is calming and the total effect is outrageous or as Spike put it on an email to his friends: “…a dish called SOUND OF THE SEA came: a conch shell with headphones 2 put in yr ears (it had an ipod inside) b4 they brought over a beach on a tray with frothing sea + sand + seafood – all edible – whilst u listened 2 seagulls + waves, I kid u not baby!” We are still before our main dishes of fish and than Pigeon and a whole lot of desserts and sweets. All or at least mostly in part 4 to come real soon. but at the moment we savor our Chassagne-Montrachet, and cherish the joy this meal is giving us.
Our next dish Salmon poached in Liquorice with Artichoke, Vanilla Mayonnaise and Golden Trout Roe, is a perfect example of cooking which utilizes the scientific knowledge of what is called Molecular Gastronomy, and turns the knowledge into eatable food of the highest quality and finesse which is in one word cooking or even Haut cuisine for some. Not the bubbling mist of ultra cold gases in their “frozen” liquid form as they warm up in room Temperature, (although I must say it is a lot of fun), or other stunning paraphernalia (I like firework displays), but cooking at its highest standard with precision and care in which the ingredients are scrupulously picked from the best producers of each ingredient around the globe, and then prepared to perfection. (Pommery Mustered from Meaux, France, Jabugo ham from Huelva, Andalusia, Spain, Konbu from Japan,Lard.From Fausto Guadagni in ColonnataToscana, Pigeons from Anjou etc.). Still, all the time keeping the flavor taste and texture of each ingredient meticulously.
Two separate ingredients rarely or never assembled together in one dish are combined together because they contain a mutual chemical compound, Asparagine; (One of the 20 most common natural amino acids on Earth). Originally the dish was constructed of liquorices and asparagus both have very high content of Asparagine, combination that in Blumenthal words brings the Bitter sweet effect (bitter being the Asparagus and sweet the liquorice) but kitchens get “tired” of the same dish looking the same and tasting the same day in and day out, so changes are made with the “decor” or the secondary ingredient of the dish, but not with the idea behind the basic thought, or the essential core that combines the dish. We were served the Salmon poached in Liquorice, with Artichoke as a veggie bitter touch. Artichoke contains mostly phenolic compounds such as chlorogenic acid, but also asparagine and other substances. Connection re achieved!!!
The substance to this dish is a nice square of fillet of Salmon which is strong, fatty and “rich” enough to withstand the overpowering strength of Liquorice. And it works! The slice of pink salmon is cooked in “the Lab” (poached in a sous- vide bag under exact pressure of 60mbar at precisely 42ºC for around 25 minutes (puphhhhhhh) thank god there’s a restaurant with all that equipment, no wonder they reach near perfection in depth of cooking, texture, color, and consistency, but I must confess all that is not good enough if you don’t have a good sense of taste and that they do at the Fat Duck.Add the Vanilla mayo, the Golden Trout Roe, and the pink grapefruit individual fruit cells, (for acidic touch, which is also glorious on the plate as decoration), combine them all in one bite, and the balance as much as it is hard to predict is amazing this is a real achievement in taste of “paring the impossible” (Though I’m not mad on Liquorice, it’s taste and after taste, I was impressed.)I will Iet you into a small secret (I left myself some of the Chassagne Boudriotte), enough to go with this dish and they went famously together.
Our next serving is POWDERED ANJOU PIGEON (c.1720) Blood Pudding Potted Umbles, Spelt and Pickles According to British historian Joan Thirsk, this is a periods of excess cereals. In post-Black Death Europe, the smaller human population meant grains could be put aside for feeding birds; similarly, the low grain prices in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries also translated into increases of raising pigeons. Spelt which is basically a wheat species, was an important staple in parts of Europe from the Bronze Age to medieval timesDuring the Baroque era, English cuisine consisted of various breads, meat pies, fresh fruit, sweets and desserts. for the first time the dining room became a clearly defined space within a house dedicated to one particular purpose-the service and enjoyment of food and all the pomp and circumstance that can surround it. In the French manner, at each course all the different dishes were placed on the table at the same time and in exactly prescribed locations. The diners would help themselves to whatever was near at hand without moving the dishes, and if necessary pass their plates to their neighbors to get food that was out of their reach. At large dinners this meant that it was impractical for guests to sample all the dishes, so it was important to have an interesting selection of foods near each guest. And this is precisely what we have here,
a plate adorned with Pigeon Ballotine (powdered with Transglutaminase powder), pigeon and duck crunchy crackers, Pig’s blood black pudding, baby turnips and Grelot onions pickled in a foam of junipers berries brine, and a second violin a bowl of Potted Umbles mousse and puffed Spelt with some whole sautéed pigeon livers on top. As in the concerto where the violins rush after each other meeting at times in a crescendo of sounds the dish does the same in your mouth, the tastes and flavors separate and join together with volume and intensity that gradually increases and all the time keeping the deep dark complex flavor of this wonderful game bird.Just looking at the photo reveals the fact that the meat was cooked/prepared to perfection with the aid of the transglutaminase but the surprise of the dish is without a doubt the smooth black pudding with a rich chocolate ganache color, feel, and look which is also quite deceiving at first and cleaned off the plate completely at the end. Magnifique !
Before we start our desserts we are served the Fat Duck Palate cleanser, HOT& ICED TEA, Palate cleansers, by nature, are used in the middle of a meal to remove lingering flavors from the mouth so that the next course may be enjoyed with a fresh perspective and that is certainly required after the intensity of the pigeon & Co.
They use earl grey tea but the aroma flavor and medicinal effects of Lemon verbena infusion could be a winner here. You have to gulp it in one go and Yes it is both cold and iced at the same time and yes it is a jelly of tea using Gellan F. to form Tea flavored jellies, cold and Hot (over 70ºC) assembled vertically in a glass.
I is THE BIG FRIENDLY GIANT –THE BFG, THAT’S ME… (by Roald Dahl) Feast at the Fat Duck part 5
Our palates are cleansed and the first dessert TAFFETY TART (C1660) Caramelizd Apple, Fenne,Rose and Candied Lemon, is served.Not before we order our dessert wine. Not because I think it is necessary but because Spike usually does…so we order by the glass, Tokaji Aszú, 6 Puttonyos, Oremus, Tokaj-Hegyalja, 2000. As tokajis go this one is a youngling to the ones I would drink at home (I love good dessert wines), but I’m not chez moi (unfortunately, wine wise I mean). TAFFETY TART (C1660) I wonder what happened in 1660 or who wrote the recipe for this tart in mid 17th century England? This is really a wonderful desert to look at and of course to sample (which is not the right word to use) since we finished it to the last drop of anything. I think a photo of spike eating it will sum up our feelings.
The elegance which you see in front of your eyes is really the call of the WILD, into this wonderful dessert which is just at the right amount of sweetness (meaning not too sweet still crisp crunchy and fresh and voluptuous, I think it “speaks for itself.
As a matter of fact “toffee” (or “taffy”) is a relatively new word, (early nineteenth century). It must surely be related to “taffeta”, which has referred to a glossy fabric since at least the fourteenth century, ad for taffeta we find recipes for Taffety Tarts, which usually contained apple. It is a spectacularly fragrant version – the apple pulp scented and flavoured with orange, quince, rose-water, and violets, This recipe is first published in The Cook’s and Confectioner’s Dictionary” 1724) Mix a quarter of a Pack of Fine Flour, with a quarter of a Pint of Yeast, and as much hot Liquor as will make it into a stiff Paste, with two Pound of butter, the Yolks of twelve Eggs, and half a Pound of fine Sugar; make it up into small Balls, and then roll it out into thick Plates; wash round their Brims with Milk: Boil Pippins soft, peel them and scrape the Pulp from the Cores, mingle the Pulp with fine Sugar, a little Marmalade of Quinces, the Scrapings of candied Orange-peel, and Rose-water: Make up your Tarts, dry them in a warm Place, bake them, scrape Sugar, and sprinkle Essence of Violets or Roses over them, and serve them up.
So the cake we are served is a fine and delicate assembly of all that is described in the recipe above in a manner that makes sense. (I’ve read thousands of recipes and cooked from them, but the above C.1724 instructions, will amount to nothing that looks or tastes like a tart. Thanks H.B… for your High end of “tart couture”, it is indeed made in the finest tradition of Haute couture.
Taffeta (sometimes spelled taffety) The word is Persian in origin and means “twisted woven”, It is a crisp, smooth woven fabric made from silk or nowadays synthetic fibers. It is considered to be a “high end” fabric. This “Tart” is laid down in style and colors which resemble Elizabethan fashion
The Next desert is THE BFG Black Forest Gateau. During the 80’s you could find horrible BFG’s in every English supermarket or food chain which gave the cake a bad name and shivering memories down my spine – it consists of several layers of chocolate cake, with whipped cream and cherries between each layer. Then the cake is decorated with additional whipped cream, maraschino cherries, and chocolate shavings.But we’ve been in Victorian wonderland why can’t we be “thrown” into 20th century fantastic stories of Roald Dahl’s The BFG: One dark night, an orphan named Sophie is snatched from her bed by a giant, and whisked away to another world. Fortunately, her abductor is the Big Friendly Giant (BFG for short), a likeable guy who spends his time giving good dreams to children. He’s also the only one of his species who doesn’t eat humans, but as the smallest and weakest, he’s powerless to stop his brutal neighbors. As long as Fleshlumpeater, Bloodbottler, and all the rest are free, Sophie will never be safe, so she and the BFG concoct a plan to stop the evil giants and save humanity – once and for all!
This BFG is a Black Forest Gateau and it is not your everyday BFG, it is a fantasy of how this southern German dessert / cake: Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, literally “Black Forest cherry cake” should have always been it restores English German relations and gives a good name to the Black forest horrific landscapes that inspired Grimm’s fairy tales. Anyway it really burrows its name from the specialty liquor of that region, known as Schwarzwälder Kirsch(wasser) a kind of eau de vie or Schnapps distilled only from the Schwarzwälde region tart cherries. HB: ” the pastry chef at the Confiserie Gmeiner had told me that the cake should contain four tastes sweet sour salt and bitter” with contrasts in taste and colors,
add the Kirsch and sour cream ice cream and you have the complete requirements in a compact dolls house of 8 layers of various chocolates mousses and cherries hidden behind the chocolate dusted outer layer with an amarena cherry on top and as before the secret remains well hidden until the first bite of cut through the cake. This BFG restores this traditional cake’s reputation.You like wine gums? I do I always did not the sticky artificial flavor version we have today … The Whiskey Wine Gums in the “spirit” of wine gums, arranged over a map of Scotland Ireland (and one from the American Colony in Old Tennessee) all 5 wine gums, taste different in strong whisky flavors as if your having a deep sniff into a glass of well distilled spirit.
My favorite was No.2 West Highlands Oban-The little Bay and so it is, look it up in the Map.
With our coffee we receive a pink stripped paper bag (like the goodies bag you get on birthday parties) Called Like Kids in a Sweet Shop bag which contains sweets and “surprises” (all edible of course including the wrappers) and all tasting deliciously rascally. Each and every one winks at you with a childish mischievous look.
Well our dinner is over and we are happy, satisfied and amused and what more can you ask from a dinner I ask you and myself and to those who think I am new to these occasions, and that is why I am so thrilled by this joyous Lunch experience, rest assure I am experienced enough to understand how good it is to enjoy the work of an artists whose satisfaction is your joy. All the intricacies of this meal are directed with the thought that this is their mission and I say mission accomplished Spike and I and all the diners with whom we had eye or verbal contact where feeling the same. As for the restaurants requirements from themselves let’s have a look at their goals and see if they were achieved in our view:
ONE : Three basic principles guide our cooking: excellence, openness, and integrity. Check!
TWO: Our cooking values tradition, builds on it, and along with tradition is part of the ongoing evolution of our craft. Check!
THREE: We embrace innovation – new ingredients, techniques, appliances, information, and ideas – whenever it can make a real contribution to our cooking. Check!
FOUR: We believe that cooking can affect people in profound ways, and that a spirit of collaboration and sharing is essential to true progress in developing this potential. Check!
Allow me to wave off with (almost) ridicule and contempt those who have not been WOWed enough or those who suggest that the price is too high let me tell you that for this amount of thought, use of ingredients (some very expensive), amount of kitchen stuff work, number of stuff per diner, quality of glassware and silverware, and sheer 5 hours of contentious fun and enjoyment this meal is more than fairly priced!!! As a matter of fact it is rather inexpensive at around £150 plus service charge!We slid happily down the rabbit hole and came out through the looking glass, and on the day The Mock Turtle soup turned into a real, most precise and pure consommé of turtle, like the one in Babette’s Feast, the one you saw, read, heard about but would never be able to taste, and there it was caressing my taste buds and filled my heart with childish happiness, and so were all the other dishes served upon us with love and care guests deserve.
*Although not specifically mentioned I have used “The Big Fat Duck Cookbook” (a wonderful “cook book” by the way), as a reference and insight into the ingredients and ways of prep of most dishes and Mr. Blumenthal’s “notes” on the ins and outs of the Fat Duck dishes. Thanks H.B and all at the FAT DUCK, I know I have missed some of the dishes and I do intend to return this time for dinner (we had Lunch), after I visit the new venue Dinner by Heston Blumenthal at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in London.