In photos: Norman Musa & Ning London

I was never much of a cook until I came over to England. I always wonder if I’d be where I was today (cooking-wise) had I not left home – as one of my main aims of cooking has always been to recreate the food of home. What else can one do when there is a lack of good Malaysian food in London?

Which is why I was intrigued when I heard about Norman Musa‘s Malaysian London supperclub venture, aptly named “Ning London” after his restaurant in Manchester. I’d heard good things about Norman through the Malaysian foodie grapevine, as he is one of the more well known Malaysian celebrity chefs, and had always wanted to try his food. Another plus is that Norman hails from Penang, which is of course the best place in Malaysia for good food. Maybe I’m a little biased, but… it’s true! Ha.

All the photos in this post were taken with my phone, so please excuse the rather grainy photos (oh the plight of taking food photos in mood lighting). In my defence, I didn’t really feel like whipping out my dSLR in front of a crowd of people I had never met (it’s totally different for friends and family who are used to my photo taking, naturally).

Kerabu nonyaKerabu Nonya. This Malaysian “salad” (kerabu) incorporates a wonderful mixture of herbs – including the fragrant (and hard to find in London) ginger flower, or bunga kantan as we call it back home. I wasn’t expecting it come with rice noodles (bee hoon), but it worked really well. I might even have to borrow the idea for a quick summer meal – if summer ever comes, that is.

otak otak 2 Otak Otak. I still don’t know how this dish got it’s name, as “otak” translates to “brains”. But despite the slightly odd name, this Malaysian take on fishcakes is one of my favourite things to eat. The fish is marinated in spices, galangal and lemongrass; then wrapped in banana leaves (to add fragrance); and cooked on the grill.

Assam pedas ikanKari Kapitan Ayam. (Kari = curry, Kapitan = captain, Ayam = chicken). An old-school Malaysian chicken curry with a complex blend of herbs & spices,  that was a favourite of captains in the ancient port of Malacca.

Kari limau udangKari Limau Udang.  (Kari = curry, Limau = lime, Udang = prawn). This sweet and sour prawn curry is cooked with coconut milk, tumeric, chilli and a hint of lime. This was my favourite dish of the night.

Kari Kapitan Ayam
Assam Pedas Ikan. (Assam = sour, Pedas = spicy, Ikan = fish). We Malaysians like spicy and sour flavours, and this is a dish that showcases it well. The key ingredients in this dish are assam (I can’t for the life of me think what it is called in English), bunga kantan (ginger flower), and daun kaduk (polygonum/laksa leaves). Salmon was used in this, which is a little atypical (salmon isn’t eaten all that commonly in Malaysia), but I would imagine that this was to conform to the British palate.

Kangkung belacanSayur Goreng Belacan. (Sayur = vegetable, Goreng = fry, Belacan = fermented shrimp paste). This is a very classic vegetable dish – belacan is renowned for it’s strong smell, and those who are not used to it may find it rather unappealing. But believe me when I say the final product always tastes fantastic… why else would we use it as an ingredient in so many dishes?

yee kwan lemongrass and lime sorbetLemongrass & Lime ice cream. This was sourced from Yee Kwan – who by the way, makes the best black sesame ice cream ever. I tried it at a food fair a few years ago, and have yet to try a better version since.

CendolCendol. This is a very popular dessert, which comprises of pandan (screwpine leaf) flavoured “noodle strands”, red beans and shaved ice; served in a coconut milk base; and topped with palm sugar (gula Melaka) syrup. If I remember correctly, there weren’t any red beans in this version, which was a shame.

Seri mukaSeri Muka. (Seri = happy/smiley, Muka = face). This is a traditional Nonya kuih (sweet dessert) that showcases pandan, glutinous rice, and coconut milk. Lots of coconut milk. As a child I used to only eat the green (pandan) bit of the kuih, but I now happily scoff it all up. The more carbs the better, eh?

ning london teamThe service from the team (pictured above) was wonderful, and Norman himself is a charming host. He worked his way around the room and ensured he said hello to everyone who was there. I also thought that their service of offering pick up/drop off from/to the station was a nice touch, as it caters to those who do not know the area well.

norman musa chocolates Norman also has a range of spice-inspired chocolates – my favourite is obviously the pandan, as it totally appeals to my obsession for it. (I incorporate pandan into anything I can…)

All in all, I had a lovely evening at Ning London. I think that the standard of food was high, but it wasn’t always completely authentic. I suspect that this is because Norman had to cater to a range of palates – he mentioned how he had to tone down the chilli to ensure everyone could enjoy the meal.

Let me put it this way – it is not the best Malaysian food I’ve ever eaten, but it’s certainly the best Malaysian food I’ve had in London. Would I return to Ning London? Most definitely.

p.s. Norman is hosting a ‘Malaysian Street Food‘ themed supper club on May 24th & 25th, featuring the very famous roti canai (Malaysian flatbread), satay (chicken skewers), and most importantly – nasi lemak bungkus. I am rather upset that I am working that weekend, or I would be there in a heartbeat.

Ning_logo®-02

Ning London
£35 per person, BYOB
http://www.normanmusa.com/restaurants.htm

Disclaimer: I attended the supper club as a guest of Ning London, but all views expressed are my own.

Plum Valley Restaurant, Chinatown

I’m a creature of habit. I not only frequent the same restaurants, but I also order the exact same thing most of the time. Unsurprisingly, I have my list of favourite Chinese/dim sum restaurants in London. In fact, I don’t think I have tried dim sum at any place that isn’t on that list in recent years.

Having said that, I do like discovering other good restaurants, and had the opportunity to do so recently, courtesy of Cox and Kings. Cox and Kings are one of the world’s oldest travel companies, and pride themselves on specialising in high quality cultural (both group and private) holidays all over the world. In particular, they have a wonderful selection of holidays to China (a country I am yet to explore!). In line with the whole “China” theme, they invited a group of bloggers to review a selection of restaurants in Chinatown – with the aim of showcasing the range and standard of Chinatown eateries.

So this is how I ended up at Plum Valley.

Plum Valley offer both an a la carte and dim sum menu, but we chose the latter as it would allow us to sample a wider variety of their dishes. It also enabled me to perform a fairer assessment of the food, as dim sum offerings tend to be fairly standard (with a few exceptions, naturally!)

plum valley har kau

Prawn dumplings (Har kau). These steamed dumplings are a dim sum staple, and are personally a must order for me, especially in a new restaurant. These were good, with thin skins and a succulent prawn filling.

plum valley siu mai

Pork & prawn dumplings (Siu mai). Whilst the prawn dumplings were good, the siu mai unfortunately fell a little short. The pork used for the dumpling fillings seemed a tad too gelatinous, which resulted in a rather chewy texture.

plum valley black cod dumpling

Black cod dumplings. I was intrigued by these, as it was something that’s not seen commonly on dim sum menus. I was rather excited when they came to the table, as they looked rather intricate and pretty! Unfortunately they did not taste as good as they looked – the dumpling skin was very doughy, which led to a rather sandy texture. The black cod filling also seemed to be slightly overcooked. A shame, because this held much promise.

plum valley crispy eel cheung fun

Crispy eel cheung fun. I am a huge fan of contrasting textures, and this certainly delivered. The crispy fried eel worked well with the soft cheung fun – although it admittedly tasted a little more Japanese than Chinese!

plum valley scallop dumpling

Scallop dumplings. I was surprised to see them using some gold leaf on the top of these – pretty yes, but rather un-Chinese really. These tasted fine, but I would have preferred a larger piece of scallop – I suspect a whole scallop had been sliced into three to top these, which is a little stingy. I would prefer to pay more and get a whole scallop, but perhaps that is just my greed talking.

plum valley chicken feet in black bean sauce

Chicken feet in black bean sauce. This was cooked well, and had good flavour.

plum valley venison yam puff

Venison yam puffs. A slight tweak on the classic yam puffs. The ‘yam puff’ bit was rather well executed, but the venison filling lacked that ‘oomph’ I was hoping for.

plum valley xo fried rice

XO fried rice. The humble fried rice, which should be easy to whip up, is in reality quite a hard dish to get right. One of the most important aspects of any wok-fried dish is something called ‘wok hei’, which not-so-literally translates to “breath of the wok”. This dish had plenty of this, and was something I’d order again. Doesn’t look like much, but it delivered on taste.

A quick note on other aspects of the restaurant: Service (which is often poor or non-existent in many Chinatown restaurants) was actually pretty good – the food arrived in good time, and all requests were promptly dealt with.

Lastly, decor was fairly modern, with a decent amount of space between the tables. A little too posh perhaps, but in all fairness they market themselves as a ‘fine dining’ restaurant. I would have preferred it if the dining area was slightly better lit though – this is purely a personal preference stemming from the fact that I never saw a dimly lit Chinese restaurant growing up!

pplum valley dim sum

So yes – there were highs and lows of the meal. I cannot say I would rush back to dine here, but I would not rule out returning to try other offerings on their menu. At the end of it all, I feel that the quality of food is similar to the other Chinatown restaurants I have tried – but I maintain that better dim sum can be found outside Chinatown itself.

plum valley

Plum Valley
20 Gerrard Street
Chinatown
London W1D 6JQ

Disclaimer: I dined at Plum Valley courtesy of Cox and Kings, and also received a wine voucher as a token of appreciation. However, all views expressed above are my own. This review will also be published in ‘Compass’, their in-house travel magazine.

In photos: Taste of London 2011

Yes. You read that right. This is a post about Taste of London 2011, twelve whole months ago. This is the problem with eating too much, and not blogging enough..

But anyway, since Taste is coming up again in a matter of days (21st-24th June 2012), I thought it’d be best to post the photos from last year. You know, because technically it’s still ‘current’, as this years event hasn’t taken place yet. (Who am I kidding?) But better late than never, right?

For those of you who don’t know what Taste is all about, you can read more about it in my previous blog post here. Or you can visit their website here.

Warm smoked Loch Var Salmon, lemon verbena jelly, pickled cucumber and sweet rye from Skylon. This came second in the ‘Best of Taste’ awards.

Iberico pork & foie gras burger from Opera Tavern. This was my favourite dish of the day. I’ve since tried it in the restaurant itself, and I still love it. In fact, it’s one of my top ten dishes in London!

Jamon carving at the Opera Tavern stand

Spicy duck popcorn from Club Gascon

Now, I have no recollection of what this dish is (besides the fact that it’s a terrine), nor any inkling of which restaurant it was from. I only remember liking the pistachios in it… I’d look it up in the Menu Card but I can’t find it. Highly annoying, especially when I have the menus for 2009 and 2010 (and I thought, for 2011) safely on my bookshelf. I bet I’ll find the menu after I publish this post… Sod’s Law.

Foie gras burger & summer truffle from Club Gascon. This won the ‘Best in Taste’ Award – but I must say I personally preferred Opera Tavern’s burger.

Summer truffle risotto from Gauthier Soho. This was so good that we booked a table at Gauthier for the following month.

Lamb cutlets (I think) from somewhere.. another dish I can’t recall. Apologies!

Mexican doughnuts with mojito sorbet from Asia de Cuba. I really liked these, and they were a great sweet to end the day with.

I never fail to stop by the JINGTea stall…

… because who can resist good tea? 😉

The Laverstoke Park Farm stall, with lots of little nibbles.

Buffalo milk ice cream – very good indeed!

Whole Foods ‘spin the wheel’ challenge. I LOVE Whole Foods. I’m a little obsessive when it comes to arranging stuff perfectly, and the way they arrange the produce in Whole Foods in perfect pyramids… *swoon*.

Malaysian food stall, with some VERY important pantry staples most Malaysians have in their pantries (minus the ‘kacang botol‘, which is perishable – we tend to eat this with ‘nasi ulam‘). Milo is probably my favourite of the lot (I even made a Milo ice cream!), but Nestum comes a close second. And for those of you chilli lovers, you MUST try Maggi’s sos cili bawang putih (garlic chilli sauce). It’s quite different from Siracha as it has a different kick. I always have both Maggi and Siracha to hand. 🙂

Waitrose Cooking School session – I think they were making pavlovas with strawberries…

Blue skies (this was when it wasn’t pouring with rain – the weather was very erratic!).

They didn’t have these tables set up previously, it was good to have these as it gets quite hard to eat and balance your plate at the same time!

Try to pretend you don’t see the copious amounts of mud on the ground…

And that, dear readers, is my take on Taste 2011. It wasn’t easy to remember everything from a year ago – certainly a good reason to be a little less tardy with the blogging!

* If this post has made you curious, do check out my more comprehensive post on Taste 2010 here (which in comparison, I blogged about very promptly).

In photos: Jean-Georges, New York.

I must admit, one of the main reasons I wanted to dine at Jean-Georges was because of an episode of Friends (where Chandler managed to snag a last minute reservation for his & Monica’s anniversary). I am rather obsessed with Friends, but that’s another story for another day.

Of course, I wouldn’t have made a reservation had there not been good reviews for the restaurant.. I’m not that Friends-mad! And obviously, the fact that it holds three Michelin-stars was a factor.

In keeping with my ‘trying to be more efficient at blogging’ thing, this will be a a photo-centered post.

p.s. We dined here in mid-December 2011.

Bread. Good, but not great. (Nothing can beat Eleven Madison Park’s warm, flaky bun goodness. )

Amuse: Flavours of fall. From L to R – Cheese & truffle spring roll with lettuce; Salmon smoked with chilli; Sweet potato soup with apple & basil.

Scallop sashimi with crispy rice and chipotle mayo. This was my favourite dish of the meal. There was something so simple, yet so good about this.

Sea urchin on black bread, with jalapeno. I was impressed at the freshness of sea urchin – I normally am not a fan but was won over by this.

Crab dumplings with celeriac & meyer lemon tea. This was light and refreshing.

Comte risotto. This came with the (extravagant) option of having white Alba truffles shaved atop the risotto, which I decided against.

Chicken leg confit with parmesan crust, artichoke & lemon sauce. I order anything with artichoke in it. It’s another one of my obsessions, having only discovered the wonders of artichokes in the last year.

Caramelised beef tenderloin, with comte beignets, spinach & wasabi pea puree. Is it wrong that I enjoyed the beignets more than the beef?

For some reason, I didn’t write down the name of this dish! From memory, this was a chocolate pear cake, with shaved ice in the bowl. I can’t for the life of me remember which alcohol was used in the shaved ice, but I do remember it being extremely boozy.

Chocolates, one of which was adorned with ‘JG’.

Macarons. Again, I didn’t note down what flavour these were – oops!

Vanilla marshmallows. These were delightful. The restaurant stores them in giant glass jars, and cut them for you with scissors at the table.

Jean-Georges
1 Central Park West
New York
NY 10023
www.jean-georges.com

NB: This site houses the 70-seat Jean Georges dining room (which is where we dined), and also Nougatine at Jean Georges (a more casual bar-style dining room).

As the restaurant was just next to Central Park, we took a slow stroll across the park (and ended up in the Upper East Side). I didn’t have my tripod with me and it was getting quite dark, but I wanted to share a few photos I took at the time, even though they are not of the best quality.

Man, I ♥ New York.

The Modern, New York

One of R’s friends went to New York last week, and we gave her a list of restaurant recommendations… which included The Modern, the restaurant at MoMa (The Museum of Modern Art). This helpfully reminded me that I had yet to blog about our meal there (that took place almost 7 months ago!), so here goes:

NB: We ate in the bar area, as the restaurant (which I believe holds a Michelin star – but I might be mistaken) was unfortunately closed for lunch!

Bread rolls – I enjoyed the mini baguette rolls more than the sourdough, I think it was the novelty of miniature rolls!

Quail terrine, with a fennel and grapefruit salad. A delicious start to the meal. Loved the inclusion of pistachio bits in the terrine.

Artichoke soup, with pearl barley, almonds and ricotta salata. I always order artichoke dishes whenever they are on a menu, and this soup didn’t dissapoint. The accompanying biscuits were buttery and crumbly, just how they should be.

Crispy Atlantic cod, celeriac Granny Smith apple salad, and sauce gribiche. A slightly “healthier” take on fish and chips, where light celeriac/apple cubes replaced the chips. (Secretly I think I’d prefer some fat-laden chips though.) The cod batter was deliciously crispy, and the cod itself perfectly cooked.



Long Island duck breast, with peppercorn crusted apples and pistachio truffle dipping sauce. This was SO DELICIOUS I could have eaten another plate. By far the best pan fried duck I’ve ever eaten, hands down. I also loved the peppercorn crusted apples – they were so good that I would choose this over potato wedges/fries (believe me, that rarely happens).

Pan-Seared Skate with crispy rock shrimp, creamy grits and brown butter vinaigrette. All I can say is: YUM. The brown butter vinaigrette was an inspired sauce for the dish.

Citrus Carpaccio with lemongrass gelée and green apple basil sorbet. I never would have thought that a few simple segments of grapefruits and oranges could make for such an elegant dessert. I liked the crispy ‘sugar’ halve that came with the dish, as it added extra texture to the dish.

The Modern: bar area. It had emptied significantly when I took this photo, it was extremely busy around lunchtime, and were were lucky to get a table within 20 minutes. I highly recommend planning ahead, and booking a table! You can always wander back to the museum after you finish your meal.

The Modern Bar Room in a nutshell:
– Simple yet delicious food, I enjoyed every single dish!
– Has the bonus of having MoMA next door, and believe me when I say MoMA is a MUST visit.
– Gets very busy: reservations are definitely recommended
– Service was lacking at times, I suspect they reserve their A-list team for the restaurant perhaps?
– If I get a chance, I’d go back – but I want to try the restaurant next time around!

The Modern
9, West 53rd Street
New York 10019
themodernnyc.com

Jason Atherton’s Pollen Street Social

In my last post, I mentioned that I would be making a few changes to the way I blogged to ensure I’d be able to blog more often. One of these changes will be to do more ‘photo’ orientated posts, where I won’t write much – I’ll let the photos do the talking instead. I will primarily do this for restaurant and travel posts, as I was never all that good at describing dishes anyway! This will hopefully allow me to blog more regularly whilst I’m on my ‘student’ year.

I visited the very talked about Pollen Street Social recently, and this was what I ate:

Dining area

I adore the little ridged platter that the butter was served on – I would LOVE to have one of these. Ah, the joys of prop hoarding. 😉

Warm bread rolls – I enjoyed the french loaf (pictured above), and the mixed seed roll.

Full English breakfast – tomato puree, slow poached egg, crispy bacon pieces, crispy croutons and morels. The tomato puree was an intensely tomato-ey, and absolutely delicious.

Escabeche of quail, chicken liver cream, nuts and seeds. Perfectly cooked quail – need I say more?

Roasted halibut, Catalan paella, sprouting broccoli and pork-ham fat. The paella.. oh, my. Absolutely delicious. Better than any paella than I have eaten in Spain, thus far anyway!

Braised oxtail with carrots and mash. Don’t let the simple description of the dish fool you, for this packed a whole lot of flavour, and was a total ‘comfort food’ type dish.

The much talked about Dessert Bar

Pastry Chef Emily hard at work

(Complimentary) ice cream – passionfruit ice cream and lime sorbet. The passionfruit ice cream stood out for me, as it had a perfect balance of tartness and sweetness.

PBJ – a playful twist on the traditional peanut butter & jam sandwich. Peanut parfait (which tasted like frozen peanut butter!), cherry sorbet, cheery tagiatelle, cherry halves, cherry jellies, and toasted rice puffs. One of my favourite restaurant desserts, ever. I would happily eat this over and over and over again.

Tiramisu. This is one for any chocolate lover: dark chocolate mousse, chocolate shards, chocolate ‘fronds’, chocolate sand, mascarpone mousse, and kirsch jelly cubes. Served with chocolate coffee on the side (which can be drunk separately, or poured on top of the tiramisu).

The ‘chocolate’ coffee. Luxurious, thick and creamy. I couldn’t actually finish this as I hit my level of chocolate overload (which is very hard to do, believe me!).

View of the kitchen, from the dessert bar

Pollen Street Social in a nutshell:
– Lovely food, and brilliant desserts
– Dessert Bar – an inspired idea!
– Service was good, but not fantastic
– The set lunch menu is excellent value for money – but skip the desserts on the set menu, and choose something from the full dessert menu
I’m definitely going back! 🙂

EDIT: Pollen Street Social has been awarded one Michelin star, which is very well deserved! Extremely pleased for Jason Atherton and his team (and my tummy).

Pollen Street Social
8-10 Pollen Street
London W1S 1NQ
+44 (0)20 7290 7600
www.pollenstreetsocial.com

Akelare, San Sebastian

It has been a while since I last blogged, hasn’t it? I’ve been so caught up with lectures (I’m a student again for this year) and doing various bits of work that all the typing I’ve really been doing is the typing of my study notes! But a girl has to take a break once in a while, so I thought I’d blog about the epic meal we had at Akelare in San Sebastian. I can’t believe it’s been two months since I was there – how time flies.

Akelare is one of the many Michelin starred restaurants in San Sebastian (this region has the greatest number of Michelin stars per capita than any other city in the world), and holds three stars. The kitchen is led by Pedro Subjiana, who along with Juan Mari Arzak are known as the “founding fathers” of Basque cuisine.

Akelare is situated atop a hill – giving you stunning views of the Bay of Biscay underneath. I truly believe that the whole experience starts during the drive up to the restaurant, where you start to get glimpses of the magnificent view that awaits you. I mean, just check out the endless blue seas and skies! We left it a little late to book, so unfortunately did not get a window table, but got a table in the little ‘gazebo’ area of the restaurant.

We were there for lunch at 1pm (when the restaurant opens), and were the first people there… which was good as I could wander around taking photos! Whilst I was doing this, one of the lovely waiters came up to me, and offered to bring me on a tour of the kitchen.

The kitchen staff were having a coffee before the lunch service began –  I thought it was quite nice that they took the time to have a coffee together before the madness enfolds.

They also have a test kitchen in the restaurant – which I absolutely fell in love with. It would be hard to not be inspired to create delicious dishes when you had the amazing views of the Bay of Biscay right on your doorstep. There was also so much light in the kitchen, which I always think is important. I would love to have a kitchen like this in my own home, preferably with the views as well. 😛 One day, one day.

What I liked about Akelare’s tasting menus was that they offered 2 different ones: Menu A (Aranori), and Menu B (Bekarki). They allow each person at the table to choose their preferred menu, which I thought was a nice touch. Naturally, we each chose one menu – meaning we got to try a wider variety of dishes. Akelare also offers an a’la carte menu, which looked equally enticing.

To start off, we were served a set of ‘amenities’: On the back row from left to right – Tomato and basil gel, Idiabazal cheese moisturiser, Mouthwash cocktail. On the front row, from left to right – Onion sponge, Sea bath salts.

This was such an innovative appetizer, and I absolutely loved it. We were asked to squeeze the tomato and basil gel onto the onion sponge, and then to pop into our mouths. And oh man it was SO good. The onion ‘sponge’ bread was fantastic, and actually tasted like a sponge – it was crispy and was very flavoursome. I would do anything to learn how to make it (this turned out to be a recurring theme throughout the meal). The tomato and basil gel was also delicious, and I found myself squeezing it onto my spoon just so I could have more! If only actual handwash gel was edible, and tasted THIS good.

I also enjoyed the sea bath salts, which was essentially dried prawns in an edible plastic container. The mouthwash cocktail was made from sparkling cava – definitely the most tasty mouthwash I’ve ever had! 😛

The second appetizer: Oyster in an edible shell – the ‘shell’ melted away when you put it into your mouth, revealing a juicy fresh oyster within.

We snacked on some warm bread and olive oil whilst waiting for our first courses. Whilst the bread was good (we had a selection of traditional white, ciabatta, and multiseeded breads), the olive oil was fantastic – it was definitely THE best olive oil I have ever tasted. I mean, I would choose this olive oil over butter, and I love my butter. Upon questioning our waiter, we were told that this was an arbequina extra virgin olive oil, and some post-meal googling enlightened me to the fact the arbequina is a type of olive that highly aromatic, and is grown in large amounts in Catalonia region of Spain.

Aranori: Prawns and french beans cooked in “Orujo” fireplace. The prawns were cooked/flamed with wine, in a Le Creuset pot filled with volcanic rocks. They were then served with green beans, cream of green beans, and a powder made from prawn shells. The prawns were just slightly undercooked, were very fresh, and was delicious paired with the prawn shell powder.

Bekarki: Xangurro in essence, its coral blini and “gurullos”. This was a piece of crab claw meat cooked in crab juices, served with a crab roe blini and pasta which was shaped like rice grains (gurullos). The gurullos was a revelation – it was cooked al dente, and was lighter than normal rice. In a way, it was similar to orzo, just with a slightly different shape.

Aranori: Molluscs in fisherman’s net. This was a very flavoursome dish which tasted like the sea – a selection of shellfish (clams, squid, scallops and mussels) served underneath a ‘net’ made from rice flour.

Bekarki: Razor shell with veal shank. I never would have thought that razor clams could go so well with veal – but you know what, it did. It was served with a cauliflower mushroom which had a similar texture to chinese fungus. Overall, this dish was a great contrast of textures and flavours.

Aranori: Pasta carpaccio, piquillo and iberico, with parmesan shavings, truffles, and mushrooms. Whilst this might sound rather boring, it was actually one of my favourite dishes of the meal. The pasta was infused with the flavours of piquillo peppers and Iberico ham. I would happily buy this pasta and eat it plain, as it was so delicious.

Bekarki: Sauteed fresh foie gras with ‘salt’ flakes and grain ‘pepper’. The people of San Sebastian are huge fans of foie, and it appears in the menus of most restaurants, and of course Akelare was not to be an exception. The waiter poured over ‘salt’ and ‘pepper’ onto this dish, whilst saying “don’t worry, it will taste good”… it turns out that the ‘salt’ was actually flakes of sugar, whilst the ‘pepper’ was black rice grains. Absolute genius.

Aranori: Cod tripe. This was a piece of perfectly cooked bacalao, with a crispy and smoky skin. It was served with ‘tripe’ made from cod and veal, and finished off with a white tomato juice.

Bekarki: ‘Fried egg’ with green peas, and little farm vegetables. The fried egg was actually a poached egg, which was then tempura fried. I was amazed at the skill involved in cooking this, as the yolk was still perfectly runny. There was also a tempura-ed spring onion, and a mix of peas and broad beans. This was a nice refreshing dish, which was very welcome after the richness of the foie gras.

Aranori: Whole grain red mullet with sauce ‘fusili’. As with all the seafood dishes we ate, the red mullet was cooked perfectly. It was served with ‘fusili’ which were filled with a variety of flavours – parsley, soy, and garlic. This dish was called ‘whole grain’ red mullet because all parts of the fish was used: the head, bones and liver were used to form the red paste you see on either end of the plate. It tasted a bit like a very flavoursome and fishy tomato puree!

Bekarki: Turbot with its ‘kokotxa’.  This dish was made from various parts of the turbot, and it was served in 3 preparations: the fillet, a crispy “chip” made from turbot skin, and the ‘kokotxa’ (“cheek”) – turbot don’t actually have a ‘kokotxa’, so this was made from something else.. I just can’t remember what it was!

Aranori: Charcoal grilled lamb with the wine lees. A piece of charcoal grilled lamb loin, served with red wine sediments (the powdery red bits), a plum sauce (maple coloured), and a red wine reduction (dark red coloured). There was also a green tea and red fruit sugar “netting” that was served with this – I didn’t feel that this added all that much to the dish, and don’t think I would have missed it if it wasn’t there. Everything else was excellent though.

Bekarki: Roasted suckling pig, with tomato “bolao” and Iberian emulsion. The pieces of sucking pig (belly and loin) was first cooked in an Iberian ham broth, then finished in the oven. Whilst the pork tasted fantastic, it did lack a perfectly crispy crackling (it was slightly chewy in some parts) which was a shame. The tomato “bolao” was a sugary tomato “ball” which had a crumbly texture. This actually worked well with the rest of the dish, rather surprisngly!

Aranori: “Xaxu” and coconut iced mousse. The “xaxu” is a specialty of the Gorrotxategi patisserie in Tolosa, and is a creamy almond tart with a runny ‘egg yolk’ filling which was recreated specially with their permission. It was flanked by two blocked of coconut iced mousse, which was essentially a foamed coconut ice cream – I kid you not when I say it tasted like air. So. Damn. Good.

Berkarki: Milk and grape, cheese and wine in parallel evolution. This was one of the most innovative cheese courses I have ever seen, where we were instructed to start eating from one end of the plate where the cheese was lighter in flavour – the flavour and intensity of the cheese then increased as you progress throughout the plate, thus the “evolution”.

From the bottom of the plate:
– Grapevine, curded sheeps milk & walnut (this was very light, and went well with the powdered walnuts)
– Powdered fresh cream with chives & grapes (this was one of my favourites, as I felt the powdered cream just had the right hint of “dairy” to it, and paired well with the sweet grapes.
– Quark cheese with nutmeg and pink pepper aroma, must of tapoica & tomato
– Idiabazal semi-matured cheese with quince jelly & wine dust (this was my other favourite of the lot, as the nutty Idiabazal complemented the sweet quince jelly very well)
– Torta of Casar’s grape with soaked raisins in Pedro Ximenez
– Brandy sirpo with Gorgonzola cheese ice cream (I normally am not a fan of blue cheese, but this ice cream wasn’t as overbearing as the cheese itself, so I did actually enjoy it. Couldn’t eat too much of it though!)

Aranori: A different apple tart. This was a similar to a millefeuille – where two sheets of puff pastry were sandwiched with some apple cream. This was then covered with some specially made edible apple paper. I LOVED the edible paper, and wished that I could steal some from the kitchen and bring it home with me. I mean, that could be like my perfect “so-called healthy” snack!

Berkarki: Citrus shell and chocolate shaving. This was a sugar seashell filled with citrus cream, chocolate “cotton candy”, cocoa ice cream, and the crispiest chocolate curls I’ve ever tasted. Although flavoursome, it was surprisingly very light for a chocolate dessert, and didn’t fill me with a “jilak” (overwhelming) sensation you get sometimes when you eat a chocolate dessert. The sugar seashell was a little too sweet for me though.

We finished off our meal with some tea, and “bon bons”. The bon bons was served in a bowl covered with an edible paper, which the waitress slashed with great style before opening it up to reveal the goodies within (truffles with a liquid cherry/chocolate mousse centres, berry marshmallows and passionfruit pate de fruit). Oh and of course, the paper was edible – you can’t see much of it in the photo because errr… I ate most of it before I remembered to take a photo.

So yes, that was our meal at Akelare, and I enjoyed every single moment of it. The service was absolutely impeccable, and the food was both beautiful to look at whilst being delicious. In fact, I actually ate MORE than R, because he was too full by the time we finished our mains (i.e. I ate most of the FOUR desserts) – so yes, I do have a humongous appetite, thankyouverymuch.

Akelare also does an a la carte menu, and we fully intend on revisiting this fantastic restaurant to try this out if we’re ever in San Sebastian again – that’s how much we loved this place. Definitely a perfect place for a special meal, and definitely more affordable than Michelin starred food in London.

Akelare
Paseo Padre Orcolaga 56,
20008 San Sebastian
(+34) 943 31 12 09
akelarre.net