Category Archives: Europe

Amazing Arzak

We had an amazing meal at Arzak when we were in San Sebastian this year.  There were just so many things that were so right about the experience.  The phenomenal food only represents one part of the experience.   The service is spot on, the decor is lovely and inviting, the ambiance is lively and calming and you don’t have to spend big bucks on the amazing wine that they have.   Elena Arzak actually comes out to great each table personally for a chat and she was so lovely.  I was really impressed that she remembered so much about her trip to Melbourne a few months ago.

I am definitely going back the next time I’m in the region!

Started with a few small bites for the table…

Fish of the day with “patxaran” and purple corn – full of taste and textures

Scarlet prawn with krill – this is perhaps the greatest dish I have ever tasted

Lobster – so much drama on a plate, and so pretty to look at

Egg with corn

Fish according to the sea – there’s a choice of which fish you’d pick.  Honestly don’t remember what we chose but I do remember it being amazing!

Sailors lamb

Orange pigeon

Summer frost

Square moon

Petit fours –  how pretty!

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OMG Osteria Francescana

Believe the hype.

It’s been over a year since our visit to Osteria Francescana but it’s one of the greatest meals I’ve ever had and so memorable that I had to post the pics.  We had the Greatest Hits menu which had no less than 11 dishes, not including the little entrees and the additional dessert and petit fours.

The first 4 pics below are of the little bite sized treats we started with and the beautiful bread.  After that it was dish after dish of perfection.  Super tasty, inventive, surprising, and beautiful.  Enjoy!

Tribute to Normandy

Lentils are better than caviar

‘Riso Levante’

Mediterranean sole (yes, there is some fish hidden under there)

Autumn in New York so beautifully presented and then when the broth was poured in, it was stunning.

Five ages of Parmigiano Reggiano in different textures and temperatures.  People say that the crunchy part of the lasagna is the greatest dish but I actually think this one is.  It was seriously out of this world amazing with the different types of cheese.

The crunchy part of the lasagna.  I know I said the dish above was my favourite but this was mind blowingly good.  Like unbelievably good.

At the dinner of Trimalchione: fowl in the ancient Roman style

Croccantino of foie gras I loved this one.  Bite sized, rich in foie gras and with balsamic vinegar running through it.

Caesar salad in bloom

Oops!  I dropped the lemon tart  Highly anticipated and did not dissappoint.  It was a piece of art to look at and to eat.

L’Avant Comptoir de la Mer (Paris)

Since the first time visiting this bar (in 2014), it has become one of the favourites.  We’ve been here every time we visit Paris as it’s an easy, casual bar with fantastic food.  The guys who work here are never shy about recommending a good wine to go with the food, and believe you me, the wines are brilliant.  Here’s a couple of pics of the yum yum dishes.

Fried soft shell crab…

Lobster in a cream sauce (it’s really good!)…

Octopus on tiny baked potatoes….

Prawns wrapped in potato strings

Cured salmon wrapped in nori...

Cured tuna... which taste like bacon.  Must be the same curing technique.

Prawn gyoza...  super delicious…

For more info, visit the restaurant site here.

Dining at the #3 Restaurant in the World: Mugaritz, San Sebastian

We were in San Sebastian in September 2012 and paid a visit to the #3 restaurant in the worldMugaritz .  The restaurant is a short drive out of San Sebastian, and as the party got into the cabs and headed up the hills, were heady with anticipation.   The scenery around the restaurant is breathtaking – rolling hills, lush greenery and fresh oaky air.  From the outside, the restaurant looks like a homely cottage but once you get inside, it’s bare minimalist modern furniture (but still very woody looking).

We were greeted by the wait staff and whisked away to a tour of the facilities and kitchen.   They showed us the working kitchen and gave us the spiel about the creative labs where they invent dishes.  We were then presented with macaroons that had a secret ingredient – blood!   If they didn’t tell me there was blood in there, I still would have picked it.   It had that metallic taste but was strangely sweet.

Chef holding macaron that has blood infused

First dish up was described as “edible stones” which was basically roasted potatoes covered in some sort of edible ash.   It tasted like an extreme potato (which works for me as I love potatoes!).

Edible stones

“Fishbones” with nuances of lemon, garlic and cayenne pepper” was an interesting dish – dried fish and bones which were crispy and salty.   We were served a mouthful but I could have had bowls of this stuff.  Would have worked wonders with beer.

"Fishbones" with nuances of lemon, garlic and cayenne pepper

The “flax and wheat “Kraft” paper with marine accents” was interesting – it really did taste like a sweetened sea.   Texturally interesting as well with the brittle paper.

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Carrots and their smeared flowers” was as described – delicious perfectly cooked carrots with a carrot sauce.  Also pretty as a picture.

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The “tomato and sweet garlic” rocked my world… the tomato was sweet and light and the black garlic was crunchy.  Both worked wonderfully with each other.
Tomato and sweet garlic... cremed legumes

The “tagliatelle of concentrated milk lightly soaked in a silky juice of roasted squash and tomato” really tested my taste buds.  It was really subtle but the textures was the surprising element.   The wrap was sticky and the tagliatelle was crispy and there was a creamy sweet sauce with it.
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The next dish that came out was the “cremed legumes”.  It involved us (the diners) pounding on sesame and other dried spices in a mortar and then adding a crunchy vegetable to it (turnips?) and a creamy brown sauce which was savory and piquant.  It was lots of fun grinding the spices up and making the tinkling sounds that vibrated through the restaurant!

green cheek peas in a gelatinous stew with resinous perfumegreen cheek peas in a gelatinous stew with resinous perfume

Interesting... mixed grainsInteresting... mixed grains

Following that fun dish, we had “portion of home-made cheese, cured in it’s own rind, mushroom and fleshy leaves “ which was like a mystery whilst we ate it because we had no idea what the cheese was made of!   Tofu?  Chocolate?  Plastic?   It tasted good, like an unwashed cheese but without the strong salty rind odours.

Portion of home-made cheese, cured in it's own rind, mushroom and fleshy leaves

Finally, a dish that was as described!  “Hazelnut and beans stew ” was a nice humble subtle dish.

Hazelnut and beans stew

Green cheek peas in a gelatinous stew with resinous perfume”… resinous perfume eh?  I was too afraid to ask how they made a resinous perfume…  so I didn’t and just ate my dish.  It was tasted good – good sturdy peas in a sauce that was like a hearty beef broth.

Green cheek peas in gelatinous stew with resinous perfume

The “coastal fish with crunchy trimmings of aged sourdough and aged sweet pickled onion” was sensational!  Perfectly cooked white fish with crunchy and tasty bread scattered on it.  Yum!

Coastal fish with crunchy trimmings of aged sourdough and aged sweet pickled onion

Roasted loin of hake with clashing grains of aged marapone, cauliflower and fresh almonds “ is one of those dishes that makes you think “wow”.  Very similar to the “marron, lychee, turnip, macadamia, celery” dish from my dinner at Loam.  It’s a nice piece of well cooked fish sitting under a sprinkling of shaved veges, nuts and grains which is a dry and crunchy in texture.  The texture and taste of the shavings brings the moist sweetness of the fish out.   Beautiful!

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When I saw “crispy sweetbread with house-made capers, bitter leaves and artisan praline” on the menu, I was a bit afraid.  I’m not normally one for sweetbreads.  But, I suppose if I was to have it, it would be at one of the best restaurants in the world (how could they not make it taste good?!).   It was delicious.  Tasty seasoning, texturally it was crispy outside and firm inside (so much more bearable for me) and in a small portion!

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The “crunchy terrine of iberian pig tails with a bunch of bitter leaves and Txakoli sediments” was totally unexpected (in a good way!).  The pig tails were made into a terrine and then finely cut and either baked or fried till crispy.  Tasted fantastic!

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The “toasted milk and butter with cheese shavings and frozen pear cream” was divine!  It was light, tasted beautiful and had great textures.  So, so good!

The “small bite of milky wafer with lemon ice cream” was good – sour and tangy ice cream on a sweet crispy wafer.

Small bite of milky wafer with lemon ice cream

I have no point of reference for a ““traditional” almond fairy cake” but was very sweet and lovely.  It was cold, almost like a ice cream.

"traditional" almond fairy cake

The next and final dessert, “candies of frankincense, the perfume of eucalyptus barks” was not the usual dessert.  For one, it looked like a pot of burnt incense.    And it smelt like bark and candy.  And we had to eat the sticks, which looked a bit scary, but tasted like musk sticks.  Interesting to say the least.

Candies of frankincense, the perfume of eucalyptus barks

Lastly, we were given scented hand towels (no, they are not edible!).  Nice way to wrap up the afternoon.

Scented handtowelScented handtowelScented handtowelScented handtowel

In summary, I really enjoyed the experience but I think some things were over complicated.  We were on holidays so I’m not sure if we fully appreciated the cerebral and intellectual aspects to the meal.  It’s a beautiful restaurant that serves beautiful food, but it’s got big competition in the little tapas/pintxos places in San Sebastian itself (some of which was extraordinary).   And I think we have food in Australia that equals or betters this (e.g.: Loam and Royal Mail).

Homage to Paul Bocuse at l’Auberge du Pont de Collonges

We were in Lyon, and had to pay our respects to the legendary Paul Bocuse by visiting his restaurant Auberge du Pont de Collonges.   I knew what I was in for when I made the booking, which was a restaurant and menu that had not changed since 1975.   And yep, it was exactly what I got.  Rich, luxurious, scrumptious and excessive food!

Since I’d gone all the way there, and the chances of returning are fairly slim, I’d decided to go all out and have the Menu Grande Tradition Classique.  Seven courses, which included a whole Bress chicken and dessert trays that you could select anything from.  Just a small piece of advice if you ever go there: make sure you’re hungry!

Before we started, we had the customary amuse bouche which was a lovely bisque.

Amuse Bouche

First course was “scallop of foie gras, pan-cooked, verjus sauce“.  The foie gras was beautifully seared on the outside and soft inside, and it was served with crispy potato lattice on top and a sweet sticky sauce.

Scallop of foie gras, pan-cooked, verjus sauce

Next up we had the famous “Truffle soup V.G.E.” which was a dish created for the French President in 1975. A dish that has been around for over 35 years must be good to stand the test of time.  I’d expected a thick soup under that puff pastry but it was actually a clear soup with veges and truffle.  Be warned: a bowl of this soup was $82 euros!

Truffle soup V.G.E.

The “filet of sole with noodles, à la Fernand Point” was devine!  Lovely soft and sweet sole with a creamy white sauce (which had been lightly grilled to give it that browned taste) with noodles.

Filet of sole with noodles, à la Fernand Point

We then had a palate cleanser which I thought was worthy of mention: “Beaujolais winemaker’s sherbet“.  It was like icy red wine – really powerful and unexpected.

Beaujolais winemaker’s sherbet

Next we were served a whole “Bresse chicken truffled cooked in a bladder“.  It’s quite scary looking (a chicken in a bladder that’s puffed up from the steam whilst cooking) but really delicious!  The chicken was carved up and served with a creamy sauce filled with morel mushrooms, and a side of rice and spring vegetables.

Bresse chicken truffled cooked in a bladderBresse chicken truffled cooked in a bladder

After that we moved on to a “selection of fresh and matured cheeses from La Mère Richard“.  We were presented with a cart full of cheeses of various varieties and could select any that we wanted!  Divine!

Selection of fresh and matured cheeses from La Mère Richard

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And then came the “delicacies and temptations”, which again involved a cart full of desserts that we could choose from.  I went for the fruit, crepe and cream options whilst my boyfriend went for the sweetest items in the cart.

 Delicacies and temptations

Last item for us was the “fantasies & chocolates” which was a beautiful stand of chocolates and treats.  Note the figurine on top of the stand (it’s a mini Paul Bocuse!).

Fantasies & Chocolates

Overall, it was quite an experience.  Very old school formal, classic dishes, excessive surrounds, immaculate service, luxurious feel throughout the whole experience.   If you have the means and time, definitely do it.  Being a lover of all things French, especially the food, this was a chance to live and breathe French gastronomy.

Pressed Lobster at Pressoir D’Argent, Bordeaux

When I’d heard that Pressoir D’Argent had a lobster press (and apparently there are not that many in the world), I had to check it out.   What is a lobster press?  It’s a heavy silver contraption that you put the cooked lobster shells into and press it (manual turning of a handle) to get all the lobstery goodness out.

That aside (yes, sounds like a strange novelty!), the restaurant was great.  Hard to believe they were awarded only 1 Michelin star considering the restaurant was gorgeous, the service was impeccable and the food was some of the best I’d ever had (innovative and tasty).

Upon arrival, we had a lovely glass of champagne and a few small treats including gold dusted macadamias (just a bit over the top) and salmon tartare in a crispy cone.

Macadamias in Gold Dustsalmon tartare

For entrees, we had what was described as scallops in foie gras and langoustines and foie gras.  Cooked scallops were encased in a sphere of foie gras and wrapped in savoy cabbage.  It’s then sat on top of a crispy piece of bread, on some tasty foam, and a green sauce.  Whilst it looks a bit weird, it tasted really really good.  The langoustines dish consist of plump juicy langoustines, sandwiching a piece of pan fried foie gras, with foam and champagne/seafood jelly.  Presentation for this was gorgeous, and it tasted fantastic.

Scallops in Foie GrasLangostine with Foie Gras

Then came the lobster.  A few lives ones were presented to us for selection, and then whisked away to be poached.  It all comes back out, and the lobster shells are pressed and the sauce is cooked before us.  The sauce is then served with the poached lobster and a side of rice with veges (so similar looking to Chinese fried rice but didn’t taste anything like it).   The pressed lobster sauce was unbelievably good.  It was like the most intense buttery lobster bisque.

LobsterRice with Veges

We were then given a fruity palate cleanser before moving on to dessert.  For dessert, we ordered what was described as citrus and wow I was totally blown away.  The plate consisted of little pieces of foam, jelly, mousse, biscuit, gelati and cream and it was perfect in every way (balance, texture, taste).  Phenomenally good.

Palate CleanserCitrus

To finish, we had coffee and a beautiful plate of petit fours.  The sweets specialty of Bordeaux is caneles and  we were also given a little box to take away.  The caneles are browned on the outside and a bit chewier, but soft and stickier on the inside.  Very rich consistency, and I can eat lots of them, but in very small bites!

Petit Fours

All up, fantastic dining experience.  All dishes were spectacular and the service was first class.   The restaurant is located in a beautiful building in the main square of Bordeaux.   I loved the star of the dinner, the lobster, and all it’s accompaniments.   If I’m in Bordeaux again, I would re-visit to have the lobster again!

For more info on the lobster press, here’s a link.

Old School French at Benoit, Paris

We were in Paris in September and really wanted to try an old school French bistro so we decided to dine at Benoit, owned by the delightfully charming Alain Ducasse.  Wood paneled walls, clean crisp white tablecloths and waiters that are nice but slightly stand offish was exactly the atmosphere I was after.  Also, as you can see from the pics below, even the plates had the name of the restaurant printed on them – so French!

Something I noticed in France, was when they give you an amuse bouche or complimentary food item to whet your appetite, it’s almost like an entree serve in itself!   We were presented with fluffy cheese puffs and rabbit rilette with toast.   The cheese puffs were light and hollow, but packed a punch and the rilette was delicious (perhaps the best I’d ever had).

Now, I chose the foie gras as my entree, which came with a toasted brioche.  Whilst it tasted good, I was overwhelmed by the two slices that I had.  Being from Australia, you rarely get to eat more than 3 mouthfuls of foie gras.  I managed to eat one slice, and I felt terrible wasting such a divine piece of food.

My boyfriend chose the crayfish soup with creamy chives and the mouthful that I sampled was divine!   Tasted spectacularly of crayfish (surprise!).

For my main course, I chose sole with wilted spinach.  I was watching Masterchef Professionals UK and Michel Roux Jr. stated that this was one of his favorite dishes.   Sole is not something you can commonly get in Australia, so I had to give it a go!  It was fantastic.  The fish was firm and had a light sweet taste to it.  The sauce on top was a lobster bisque and the spinach and cream at the bottom was delicious.  

The boyfriend chose the beef fillet with marrow bordelaise sauce served on the side with a macaroni gratin.  The steak was cooked perfectly as was the side dish, and the marrow sauce (the star of the show) pulled it all together.

Dessert was the classic vanilla millefeuille, and I have to say, it was the best millefeuille I’ve ever had.  The layers were cooked to the point where it was just caramalised and has that burnt butter flavor and the cream inside was thick, rich and creamy.

One memorable part of this dinner was that menu’s are not available in English, so listening to the patient waiters translate it over and over again to the non-French was quite amusing.  I kept expecting them to throw the towel in and start swearing, but they kept their cool and pushed through.

All up, it’s exactly the charming bistro you would expect, complete with great French food.   The restaurant was packed on a Wed night.    I would definitely recommend it, and I would go again.