Still Alive and Kicking!

Jeez, it’s ages since my last post. Just back from a very nice trip to Basel. Had a fantastic meal at Stucki restaurant. The food was exquisite: the flavours sublime and the presentation elegant and not at all fussy. Had the Aroma Menu, which was pricey at CHF 170 (about €135), but given the quality, worth the money. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of Swiss white wine although this was also on the expensive side. We had another pleasant meal at Restaurant Balade. The interesting thing here was that every dish on the menu was available in three portion sizes: starter, small and big.

Food Report: Restaurant d’Aumale, Hotel de Bourgtheroulde, Rouen

We were recently in the fair city of Rouen in Normandy. On our meanderings through the town doing touristy things, we also kept an eye out for nice places for dinner. We came across the fantastic-looking five-star Hotel de Bourgtheroulde on Place de la Pucelle, thought the restaurant looked promising and booked dinner for later that evening.

We arrived at 8pm and were shown to a table for four that had been trimmed to two as all the proper tables for two had apparently already been booked. The table was also near the service area, which was not great but did offer some insights to subsequent events.

We were repeatedly asked whether we were ready to order when it was very clear that we were not. It would have been more appropriate to ask if we needed any help translating the menu, since French is not our mother tongue. Normally, closing the menus is a sign that one is ready to order. Service from the head waiter was brusque and unfriendly. After ordering the food and the wine, an amuse-bouche arrived. As we were seated near the service area I could see that our starters arrived before we had even finished our amuse-bouche. This was not so critical as both starters were cold dishes.

We were beginning to worry that dinner would be over much too quickly. To our horror, this was confirmed when we saw that our main courses arrived from the kitchen before we were finished eating our starters. Both main courses were hot dishes, which had cooled down by the time they were served and hence were not in peak condition.

There was absolutely no break between amuse-bouche, starter and main course. This would be bad at a cheap restaurant but it is unforgiveable at an expensive one.

We did not want dessert but rather were looking forward to the cheese course. I requested the wine list so that we could order a glass of red wine to accompany the cheese. The head waiter bluntly informed me that only bottles of red wine were available: no half bottles or glasses. I find this very strange. It is not acceptable that I should buy a complete bottle of wine when all I require is a glass with my cheese. Even if this is the case, the rude and unprofessional manner of the waiter was unacceptable. I would have expected some flexibility from a five star establishment: maybe a glass of wine could have been sourced from the brasserie or the bar. It is little things like this that make great restaurants.

When we declined to buy a whole bottle of red wine, the waiter seemed to go on “autopilot” and asked us whether we wanted cheese, dessert and coffee. It was like he was reading from a script. We declined all three and just asked for the bill. We left the restaurant one hour after we entered. That may be fine at lunchtime but it is just not good enough in the evening. We mentioned our dissatisfaction at the reception desk. While I could see their concern, all they offered was a business card with an e-mail address. This suggests a lack of training in dealing with complaints, which will occur from time to time even in the best-run business.

So to summarise, we unfortunately had a most negative experience in this restaurant. We felt rushed and unwelcome. The attitude of the head waiter was extremely rude and unprofessional. We have never been treated in such a manner anywhere before. Unfortnately I could not recommend this restaurant further, in fact I would have to advise that staying away would be the best course of action.

PS: Most of the text in this post was sent to the e-mail address supplied by reception. Surprise, surprise – absolutely no reaction.

Food Report: Düsseldorf

I have spent quite a lot of time in Düsseldorf over the couple of years. Since I was hotel-based during this time, I have got to try a good number of the restaurants that this pleasant city has to offer. For the most part I have listed restaurants outside the Altstadt, mainly in the Flingern, Pempelfort, Tußmannstraße and Zoo areas just to the north-east of the centre area. While, the Altstadt is fully of places to eat, many of these are aimed at tourists. The restaurants, with the exception of two, are in the above areas, and all are frequented by locals.

I’ll group the restaurants by area. The map at the bottom shows where they are.

Am Wehrhahn

El Ömmes – Wielandstraße 37, Pempelfort, 40211 Düsseldorf T: 0211 571914

This is a friendly cross between tapas bar and Gaststätte. The tapas are good, if a little oily and occasionally garlicky. Pimientos de Padron are excellent. Really busy at the weekends. Prices are keen. No credit cards.

Trattoria Emiliana – Adlerstraße 42, Pempelfort, 40211 Düsseldorf T: 0211 350123

This excellent restaurant serves great Italian food. There is a menu with pasta, pizza, mains etc but it’s best to choose from the blackboard, which changes weekly. They have a fantastic dip for the bread made with cucumber, garlic, parsley, oil and vinegar. Prices are good.

Bar Olio – Schirmerstraße 54, Pempelfort, 40211 Düsseldorf T: 0211 3677294

Very popular restaurant in a hut in an old railway freight yard. Food quite good but seems to hit the spot, as the place is permanently packed. Reasonably priced. No reservations.

Les Halles – Schirmerstraße 54, Pempelfort, 40211 Düsseldorf T: 0211 3677294

Across the yard from Bar Olio. Priced considerably higher. Dark and atmospheric. Again very popular. Does a good brunch on Sundays. Zimmer No. 1, which is just across the street does a very nice Sunday breakfast too.

Su Nuraghe – Am Wehrhahn 69, 40211 Düsseldorf T: 0211 354921

Tiny hole-in-the-wall pizza/pasta joint on Wehrhahn. Some of the best pizza you’ll eat anywhere, especially the simpler pizzas. Not many seats (stools really!) and usually busy. No credit cards. Closed on Saturday!!!

Frankenheim – Wielandstraße 16, 40211 Düsseldorf T: 0211 351447

Restaurant belonging to the Frankenheim Alt brewery. Used to be the brewery but now only restaurant and bar. Good solid German food and great beer. Good value.

China Restaurant Sichuan – Am Wehrhahn 59, 40211 Düsseldorf T: 0211 ???

Very popular Chinese restaurant, especially with Chinese expats. Lots of people also come for the buffet. I personally prefer the authentic Sichuan dishes from the menu. Excellent value.

Malkasten Restaurant & Bar – Jacobistraße 6, 40211 Düsseldorf T: 0211 173040

Trendy bar and restaurant, especially the bar. Good food but quite expensive for Düsseldorf.

Pempelfort/Tuβmannstraβe/Zoo

This is a real up-and-coming area. There are lots of restaurants and bars, so the ones below are those that I’ve been to a few times. Other restaurants in the area include Löffelbar, Ab der Fisch and Botschaft Mitte.

gu:s – Moltkestraße 120, Pempelfort, 40479 Düsseldorf T: 0211 20964085

Very well executed German food, with a modern twist and light touch: Himmel und Ähd, Rostbraten etc. Nice wines. Good value.

vin & mer – Moltkestraße 122, Pempelfort, 40479 Düsseldorf T: 0211 4846479

Nice restaurant next door to gu:s, specialising in seafood and wine. Very good quality but prices are quite high. Last time I was in the area, the restaurant seemed to be closed. Hopefully only for holidays.

This restaurant has now closed and been replaced by em brass. Not tested yet.

Tußmann - Tußmannstraße 63, Pempelfort, 40477 Düsseldorf T: 0211 4846350

Fusion restaurant. Good food and wine. On the expensive side.

Askitis - Herderstraße 73, 40237 Düsseldorf-Zoo T: 0211 6020713

Fantastic Greek restaurant: the best I’ve been to … anywhere. Great food, good Greek wine selection and friendly staff. The grilled octopus simply melts in your mouth. Prices good.

Himmel und Ähd – Nordstraße 53, Pempelfort, 40477 Düsseldorf T: 0211 4981361

Bar cum restaurant in a lively area serving German classics such as Himmel und Ähd, Schweinehaxe, Veal liver etc, all washed down with by excellent Alt beer. Only slight drawback is that is a Raucherclub and you have to put up with a little smoke.

Kirti’s Dhaba – Düsselthaler Straße 1a, 40211 Düsseldorf T: 0211 8604202

Best Indian restaurant I’ve found in Düsseldorf. It’s a simple place and you can’t be in too much of hurry, but the food’s really good and the prices reasonable. I have been there a couple of times with a group and we have managed to try a fair bit of the menu. Unlike many Indian restaurants, the dishes seemed to have their own distinct identity and consistency between visits was good too. There is a good vegetarian selection.

Flingern

This is a leafy area with lots of cafes and restaurants. I’ve only been to a handful: a situation I must address.

El Pescador – Grafenberger Allee 67, 40237 Düsseldorf T: 0211 2519153

This is a fish shop with restaurant attached. Prices are good and the fish is usually pretty good too. Things are pretty simple here. Very large portions.

Kytaro - Grafenberger Allee 119, 40237 Düsseldorf T: 0211 686048

This is a lively Greek/Mediterranean restaurant on the busy Grafenberger Allee. The food is good, the prices good and the atmosphere great. It is/was one the places to be seen. Unfortunately since the new smoking laws came into place, Kytaro has become a Raucherclub (ie smoking club), which makes life unpleasant for non-smokers, except in summer, when you can sit on the terrace.

As of March 2011, Kytaro seems to undergoing extensive renovation. Maybe has closed.

Altstadt

The Altstadt is chock-a-block with restaurants, mostly aimed at the tourist traffic. These are fine as far as they go, but not my thing. As well as drinking a few Alt beer in the Uerige brewery, try out these two restaurants, which are just around the corner and offer good food.

Fischhaus – Berger Straße 3, 40213 Düsseldorf T: 0211 8284564

Good fish restaurant with a vast range of fish at good prices.

La Copa – Berger Straße 4, 40213 Düsseldorf T: 0211 3238858

Excellent tapas bar, with a huge selection to choose from.

Food Report: Pierre Gagnaire à Seoul

During a recent trip to Korea, I had the pleasure of eating at the relatively new Pierre Gagnaire à Séoul restaurant. This stunning restaurant and attached bars occupy the entire top floor of the new wing of the Lotte Hotel in downtown Seoul. The three-star Gagnaire has recently gone down the route of expanding his culinary empire, but less so that some of his colleagues such as Alain Ducasse or Gordon Ramsay.

The restaurant is very stylish and features great views over Seoul. I snagged the last table in the main dining area, but there are also three private dining rooms available, which is practically a must in Asia.

There were two menus to choose from: L’Esprit de Pierre Gagnaire and the Hommage à Séoul in both short and long forms. The prices were fairly eyewatering at approximately €120, €165 and €225 respectively, including service and VAT. You can really pay through the nose for western food in Seoul and wine is also incredibly expensive. A glass of nothing-too-special Chianti Riserva cost €21.

I plumped for the L’Esprit de Pierre Gagnaire menu, which was at the limit I would countenance paying. An small amouse bouche and bread arrived. To my shame, I can’t remember exactly what the amuse bouche contained, but it was very tasty. The bread was excellent. An array of five starters then arrived, each little bigger than amuses bouches themselves. These were: salpicon of strawberry and key jo gae, chives cream with white balsamic; oyster foam, beetroot purée, buttered yuzu sablé; fried potatoes stripes, jun ao and salad with orange; Sicilian small ravioli, fresh goat cheese, bang ao tomato-basil; and Burgundian snails, eggplant purée with black chocolat. These were all little flavour bombs, with the snails being outstanding.

The main course was built around lamb cooked three ways: cutlet roasted with an aromatic blend, nayng-i (like spinach) with Bleu d’Auvergne, coconut milk with soft garlic; thin slices of saddle with cumin, slow braised chicory, fresh beans with black rice creaml; and melted shoulder with dry fruits, navarin garnish, vegetal cocktail. These were all very good, although the chicory may be a bit too bitter for some tastes.

The traditional cheese course was interpreted somewhat differently. A mousse-like ‘unctuous’ Camembert with apple juice, cucumber, calvados and guava leaf granité managed to be cheesy and refreshing at the same time. I followed this with a feather-light soufflé flavoured with yuzu, a East Asian member of the citrus family. This was washed down by a frankly disappointing espresso – especially at €9.

So all in all, it was a very memorable meal, but at those prices, it could only be considered on very special occasions, when you just happen to be in Seoul.

Food Report: Paris 9 – March 2009

On a recent trip to Paris, we based ourselves in the 9th arrondissement, which is a lively area just north of the Grands Boulevards. There was no shortage of restaurants in the area, so we decided to do our eating there. Officially we were being vegetarian for Lent but seeing as it was St. Patrick’s weekend and we were in Paris, we decided to let ourselves fall off the wagon, so to speak.

Le 7eme Sens, 7 rue Cadet, 75009 Paris

This small restaurant was around the corner from our hotel and seemed to be run by a family team. The food was good, although service was a little slow to start. For starters we had deep fried goats cheese in filo pastry and a pork terrine. I liked the terrine but Anna wasn’t crazy on the cheese. My main was a rabbit casserole and Anna had a sea bass filet. We had cheese and creme brulee, washed down by two espressos, to finish. The price including two glasses of champagne and a bottle of Cahors red wine came to €93.

Les Diables au Thym, 35 rue Bergere, 75009 Paris

This was a more upmarket restaurant than on the previous night but was fairly empty for a Saturday night. One of the nice things about France is the lack of any issue in eating veal, which featured heavily on the menu here. After perusing the menu over a couple of flutes of champagne, we decided to start with a crab terrine and the classic Tete de Veau with sauce gribiche. Neither were particularly memorable, but at least after years of wondering what Tete de Veau, or calf’s head, tastes like, I now know not to bother ordering it again.

The main courses were veal liver and Quasi de Veau, which seems to be a lean cut from the hind quarter. Both were good although, I would have preferred the liver a little moister. It seemed to have been poached and then seared. While it was very tender and tasty, it was also a little on the dry side, which ironically is often a side effect of poaching meat. The desserts were frozen lemon with ice cream and rum baba. The latter was exceptional. We finished off with two espressos.

The wine was a somewhat extravagant €44 for a nice bottle of Savigny. The total bill came to €146, which is a little more like the prices we’re used to in Dublin. While the meal was still better value than at home, it was far and away the most expensive, but not most memorable, meal of the weekend.

L’Orient D’Or, 22 rue de Trevise, 75009 Paris

At home we tend to eat out on Sunday evenings, rather than on Saturday: there’s more freedom to choose at short notice. We often choose ethnic restaurants for these meals. So although in Paris, why break an old habit? Not having any definite restaurant in mind, we ended up in the L’Orient D’Or on the corner opposite the famous Folies Bergere. This was a Chinese restaurant specialising in the Hunan Xiang style. The place was packed and most promisingly we were practically the only non-Chinese there.

I have spent quite a lot of time in China but am not too familiar with Hunan cooking, except knowing that it is la or spicy. We were offered some advice from our neighbour and ended up choosing jaozi dumplings, stir-fried Chinese cabbage with lots of chillies, aubergine and eel, both of which were prepared in the Xiang style. The food was excellent and along with a couple of big bottles of Tsingtao beer, the bill came to €53.

Chartier, 7 rue du Faubourg Montmartre, Paris 75009

Instead of having our usual extravagant going home lunch at Atelier Joel Robouchon we decided it was time to revisit the incomparable but incredibly cheap Chartier. Now, you shouldn’t go to Chartier expecting haute cuisine: it offers bistro classics, in a great space, and with a great atmosphere. You can’t be too precious here, as you’ll be seated wherever there’s room and will often share a table with complete strangers. This restaurant does not take bookings and is so popular that there’s nearly always a queue to get in.

We started with a celeriac salad and some prawns served with mayonnaise. Anna found the salad a little heavy but the prawns were simple and good. Mains were quenelles of pike and andouillete sausage. The quenelles didn’t contain too much pike but the andouillete was excellent. Dessert were the bistro classics iles flottant and coupe Mont Blanc. We finished with two espressos.

Along with a half litre of house wine the bill came to the grand total of €43. And we were also treated to a stand-up row between two of the waiting staff. Unbeatable!

Food Report: Bentley’s Dublin – Autumn 2008, Spring 2009

In summer 2008, I went to Browne’s on St Stephen’s Green to book dinner for a special occasion, only to discover that it was closed and due to reopen shortly as Bentley’s under the stewardship of Richard Corrigan. While slightly inconvenienced at having to look a little further for a dinner venue, I was nonetheless very excited about the prospects of a Richard Corrigan restaurant in Dublin. Needless to say the place was jammed for a few months, so we put off trying to get a table until later in the year.

Our first visit was late in 2008. I’m ashamed to say that I can’t remember everything we had that evening, as encycloFEEDIA.com wasn’t even a glint in my eye at that stage and correspondingly I forgot to keep the receipt. However, I do know when we arrived a few minutes early, we we brought upstairs to the club-like Aviator’s Lounge for a cocktail until our table became free. My Martini with oyster liquor was very tasty. Starters were a mixed plate of oysters and stuffed baby squid, both of which were excellent. Mains were fish pie and Dover sole. The fish pie came with a small bottle of green Tabasco, without which it tasted of nothing at all. However, with a few splashes of said sauce, it tasted good, but surely that should be taken care in the kitchen. The Dover sole was tasty but overdone: quite unforgivable at nearly €50. I can’t remember what wine we had, but overall we were satisfied enough to give the restaurant a second try.

Our second visit came at the end of March this year. This time there were thee of us. It was a Sunday evening, but the place was buzzing. Looking at the menu, I got the impression that prices had gone up by a euro or so for many dishes, but I couldn’t be 100% sure, as I no longer have the receipt from the previous visit. However, one thing is certain: several prices have gone up again in intervening period. This seems very strange at a time when other restaurants are dropping prices. I found it particularly hard to find any reasonably priced wine and ended up paying €18.00 for 250ml Albariño and €18.50 for 250ml Cahor, with €13.75 for another glass. These wines were nothing special, which makes the prices all the more scandalous.

Starters were 9 Carlingford Oysters at €15.50, Stuffed Baby Squid at €11.95 and Chicken Liver Parfait at €12.00. The squid was easily the best of these; the oysters were good; and the parfait was deemed ‘alright’. Mains were Bourride of Fish at €25.50, and Salmon Fishcakes twice at €16.75, as well as sides of chips and mixed greens at €4.90 each. The Bourride was very disappointing and not at all like a bourride. It was also very small for the price. The fishcakes had the opposite problem: there was too much. It would have been much better to serve just one each and add some chips or other side. On top of that they were dry, bland and had a suspiciously crunchy breadcrumb coating. For dessert we had the Tart of the Day and some cheese. The cheese was quite good. Finishing off with some tea at €3.50 a cup and espresso at €3.20, the bill came to €220.95, which already included a 12.5% service charge.

We felt ripped off and that the restaurant was living off the repuation of Richard Corrigan. The food was nothing special and for some dishes quite overpriced. Wine prices were extortionate. We had a follow-up issue that was not handled well and I may describe this in a future post.

We will not be back, which is a shame given the restaurant’s location and potential.

Pinocchio, Ranelagh Dublin

Pinocchio is a small and very friendly cafe-cum-restaurant at the Luas station in Ranelagh. It is one of our favourite spots for a cup of excellent coffee and a panino, with the added advantage of getting cooking tips from demonstrations on screens strategically placed around the room. It offers good quality and value for money for this kind of food. We’d seen that they had expanded the menu and are now offering restaurant dishes at lunchtime and in the evening. One recent Sunday evening, we decided to try it out.

Our first reaction was that prices were too high. The waiter informed us that several dishes on the menu were not available. I noticed that the missing dishes were the same as on two previous occasions when I had just ordered coffee and a panino. If there are going to be difficulties with availability, it would be better to use a smaller daily or weekly menu and be able to offer all of the dishes.

We ordered a large mixed antipasto dish at €16 to share. This was good but the accompanying bread was past its best and had been heated in an attempt to disguise the fact. For mains we ordered Penne alla Desperado, essentially a slight variation on Penne alla Arrabbiata, at €15.90, which was quite good and Ravioloni with butter and sage at €16.90, which was also good. However, the prices are way too high, especially for the pasta dishes. The ingredients for the Penne dish can’t have cost more than €1 at retail and the dish certainly doesn’t have much labour input. It is difficult to see how a price of €15.90 can be justified. Most main courses were in the mid-twenties.

Washed down with 4 glasses of very ordinary red wine at €5 per glass, the bill came to a much too high €68.80. While I appreciate getting real Italian food in Dublin, I’m afraid the prices will have to drop considerably before I go for dinner again.

Pinocchio website

On a Wild Goose Chase

We had recently booked dinner at Mint in Ranelagh, Dublin to celebrate Anna’s birthday. On the appointed day, we got dressed up in our finest and made our way to the restaurant, looking forward to another great meal from Dylan McGrath’s kitchen. However, when we got there, we found the place closed up, looking normal except closed. After the phone rang out a couple of times, we came to the conclusion that Mint had gone out of business. This is a shame as the food was excellent but the small size of the restaurant probably made it difficult to build up any kind of a cushion when times were good.

However, we were very disappointed that the restaurant had not bothered to phone its customers with reservations to let them know that it was no longer in business. This is only common courtesy and the least that could be expected. In our case, Mint is not too far from where we live, but you could imagine being somewhat riled if you’d driven a couple of hours to get there, or worse still, arranged an overnight stay in Dublin.

So in future, Dylan, show a little more respect for your customers!

In the event, we found a free table in the Wild Goose at the other end of Ranelagh village. This is a nice restaurant with a very good wine list, a lot of which is available by the glass. Although the Thursday, Friday and Saturday prices are still a little out of kilter with the current economic climate, there are very good 2 and 3 course options available on Wednesday and Sunday evenings. We had dry-aged rib eye and rack of lamb for mains and both were excellent, which along with a nice bottle of Zisola from Sicily ensured a good evening was had.