On a clear day you can see Mt Fuji
But not, as it turned out, during our four days in Tokyo. This mega-city, Japan’s capital, was our first stop prior to a nine-day cruise around Hokkaido, the country’s northern island.
As we had a couple of hours to spare before we could check in to our Shinjuku hotel, we headed off for a quick look at the views from the 45th floor of the TMG Building – a popular city viewing site. Unfortunately, a haze of pollution obscured the horizon and Mt Fuji was nowhere to be seen.
As we soon discovered, there are not a lot of English or other language translations visible – in restaurants, on ATMs or on train maps. A bit like Australia’s mono-linguistic signage really.
Outside most restaurants though are photos and plastic models of the foods on offer, but it is difficult for non-Japanese speakers to know what the dishes contain. In our experience with restaurant staff there was little English spoken so it was a matter of point, shoot, and hope for the best. Trick or treat was the general rule, especially for us vegetarians. Continue reading
Six of us decided to take off for the weekend and have lunch on Friday Nov. 23rd 2012 at this most exquisite place, certainly the best restaurant in my experience. The room is airy and calm, built around a central triangular glass atrium of birch trees, with the tables set far apart from each other, and additional privacy being provided by the movable furniture used to store things like menus, plates and glasses but acting like discrete room dividers, without cutting up the space. One feels comfortable at El Celler, there is no rush and everyone who works there is tuned into making your stay pleasant. The service is perfect, available when you want it to be and always ready to explain in detail what you are eating. Davide was our waiter, as he had been for our last visit in 2008, when El Celler strangely had only two stars. We all opted for the 165 Euro Menu Festival.
Unlike eating at El Bulli, with all the basic flaws that I listed in a blog review back then (basically: monotonous mushiness of all dishes, complete lack of consideration for wine, fundamental errors in the balance of tastes, manifest desire to mask out any taste associated with the ingredients), eating at El Celler is a precision affair. The techniques pioneered by Adrià are used here not to make the ingredient’s taste disappear, on the contrary, tastes are exalted and therefore Joan Roca uses prime local seasonal produce. Instead of making mushy or explosive or simply acrid morsels to shock a jaded decadent bourgeoisie like the master of Cala Montjoi, Roca keeps everything under control and always perfectly delicious and varied. In addition he develops a kind of narrative about an imaginary world tour, exploring the intricate relations between the local Mediterranean traditions and the many exchanges that happened throughout history between the Mare Nostrum and many faraway places. He is aided by his brothers, Josep, a brilliant sommelier with an interest in all wine (and not just Spanish), and Jordi, a pastry chef of incredible talent.
Villa Más, S'Agaró
This second visit to Villa Más was prompted by my father’s 80th birthday, and since he lives a few miles away from S’Agaró, I invited my parents for lunch there. The site is quite nice, especially at this time of the year, when the weather is good but the tourists are far away. The beach is a few steps away, so the Villa Más terrace is an ideal place for Sunday lunch for five.
My blogging is fairly sparse these days, so I hesitate to refer to my friend Joan Gómez Pallarès and Vincent Pousson as “fellow wine bloggers”; anyhow, both live in Barcelona and strongly recommended going back to Villa Màs.
I remembered from the previous visit how spectacular the wine list was, particularly on French wines , and especially Burgundy. What I did not remember is how good the prices are. Grange des Pères and Peyre Rose are both 70 Euro, which is amazing, considering that in France you would pay close to double that amount. Catalan restaurants have this nice habit of not charging 4-5 times the purchase price, which is standard in France.
The food at Villa Más is quite remarkable too. The chef really knows what he’s doing. My pig’s trotters (peus de porc) with sea cucumbers (esparenyes) were beautifully served – 4 circles of finely chopped meat topped with a thin disc of crackling and an espardenya. Beautiful visuals led to a wonderful array of textures, from the rich soft slowly cooked meat with its gelatinous consistency to the cracking crackling and the delicate fibrous sea cucumber, a great match, perfectly executed. Same goes for the rest of the family’s choices, like monkfish with iberic bacon, or “macaroni” with Idiazábal cheese.
Where to go for a light birthday lunch? We hadn’t been to Jardin Japonesque for quite a while so I grabbed a bottle of Pol Gessner from the fridge and we headed off.
On their lunch menu the description of Vegetable Domburi looked good, and so it turned out. Each generous serve included cubes of tempura tofu, silverbeet tsukudani, and avocado – on a bed of sushi rice – accompanied by a bowl of light miso soup. Great value at $14.00.
For dessert we shared a dish of Uji Kintoki Parfait – $9.00.
I’ll quote the menu description: “Green tea ice cream, green tea sauce, green tea sable, azuki paste, condensed milk, green tea powder, whipped cream.”
Uji Kintoki Parfait
The velvety, green tea ice cream was, to use a rare phrase, absolutely goluptious.
Glasses of mellow Pol Gessner (an inexpensive champagne from the house of Lanson) matched the food admirably.
Jardin Japonesque, BYO only. 3 Arcadia St, Noosa Junction, Qld. (07) 54480724.
There are few three-star restaurants that have the enchanting location and the splendid views of Gérald Passédat’s Le Petit Nice. More importantly, this is one of the best eateries I have ever experienced; I would put it on a par with El Celler de Can Roca (see review).
The view from Le Petit Nice - Anse de Maldorme, Marseille
Apéritif: Anchois en Tempura, sable céleri-rave, radicchio poulpe mangue xérès
Perched high on the rocks overlooking the Mediterranean sea, Passedat towers over any other restaurant on this French coast.
Dinner time at another newish place in sleepy old Noosa Junction. This one is Jardin Japonesque, run by chef / proprietor Kisa Juri Kobayashi – ex Noosa’s renowned Wasabi Restaurant.
First impressions were the unobtrusive minimalist white decor and the exquisite, antiquey looking serving bowls.
“Otsumami” appeared at the top of the menu, translated in brackets as “Appetisers / Tapas”.
And so we chose a few tapas-sized serves. First up was Soy-burned Roasted Organic Garlic. Four plump juicy cloves, caramelised to sweetness and with a mild, roast garlic savour. Continue reading
Not so crazy
Ipazzi Ristorante is a tiny new eatery in Noosa Junction, a couple of minutes over Noosa Hill from the Hastings Street resort strip. It is fast gaining a reputation as the best Italian restaurant in town.
Ipazzi, Ruby explains, means something like “We’re crazy!” Ruby runs everything front of house and Fabio, her husband, is chef.
The narrow room features well-separated small tables and is all red and white checked tablecloths with candles burning in old bottles. It looks like a full house would max out at 25 covers.
Fabio, I learn, prepares house-made pasta each afternoon and the choices on our menu are fettuccine, spaghetti and maltagliati. Continue reading
Uber-chefs, gourmets, cashed up bogans, credulous restaurant reviewers &c, are forever banging on about certain de luxe menu items. I contend that this is not because taste is the main consideration but is mainly due to factors of rarity, fashion and the ability to indulge in conspicuous consumption.
Here are the top five we’ve tasted over the years – without excitement.
Foie gras: bland, fatty, force-fed, cirrhotic goose liver.
Caviar: salty, fishy tasting sturgeon eggs of uncertain age and erratic quality.
Buffalo mozzarella: excellent texture, usually tasteless, has to be all dressed up “like a pox doctor’s clerk” to serve. Continue reading
XO Bistro Wine Bar Sunshine Beach Queensland
Melbourne visitors treated us to dinner at this newish eatery. Impressive. Busy and bustling. Helpful and friendly staff. Lovely gnocchi and the best pizza I’ve had in a long time. Extensive list of wine by the glass or choose a bottle from the integrated wine shop and pay a little more than retail to drink at your table.
By Noosa standards the prices were excellent. Highly recommended.
Two kinds of Tofu
Gary Hounsell, owner of Toolangi Vineyards in the Yarra Valley recently hosted a lunch at Urbane in Brisbane to celebrate Toolangi’s 10th anniversary; your itinerant reporter was there.
Gary showed guests a selection of his estate and reserve chardonnays and pinots dating back to the 2001 vintage. In an unusual approach to winemaking he explained that in its short existence, Toolangi wines were made by different winemakers at a number of wineries, among them Giaconda, Shadowfax and Yering Station.