Experiencing The Ledbury in London is like taking a hike in the wild. For one, traveling there takes you out of Zone 1 and into raw Westbourne Park (or Notting Hill, depending on which line you’re taking), where the streets are mercifully quiet and the grass in the gardens of the low-rise housing developments is untrimmed. For another, the typically cheery London weather (read: rainy with biting winds) made my girlfriend K and I look like a pair of inept hipster hunter-gatherers after the brisk walk from the tube station to Ledbury Road. Then there was the food itself; each of the eight courses on our lunch tasting menu took us on a sojourn, past bubbling rivers, through pungent loam, into the very heart of some unnamed countryside.
Brandon Chew’s first memory is of him eating chicken rice at the dining table of his parents’ old flat. His second memory is of him politely asking for, and receiving, a second helping of fries at KFC, which taught him two things: manners gets you places, and fries are the most awesome food known to man. Brandon has just returned to Singapore from New York and is happily exploring the food scene here.
“Foie gras is boring,” were the epigrammatic words of Antonin Bonnet before my dinner at Le Sergent Recruteur in Paris. Or at least, that’s what I think he said; it’s hard to recall bits of conversation after being plied with bubbly and Riesling. But it would be completely in keeping with the chef’s cavalier demeanor, and with the feel of this lively new place, which served up some of the most playful cuisine of my weeklong stay in the city.
I’ve just come back from a two-week holiday in London and Paris, during which I ate until I started hallucinating, and drank more wine than I had in the last twelve months combined. It was, as you can imagine, a completely indulgent vacation of hedonistic proportions, and a blow to my wallet from which it may never recover (hence justifying my purchase of a pretty new wallet from a luxury men’s store near Portobello market). Over this and my next couple of posts, I’ll share some of the more memorable, and hopefully less well-known, restaurants I visited, starting with Bocca di Lupo, a casual pan-Italian joint in London’s theater district.
As a sushi fetishist, I’ve been rather jaded by the recent flux of new sushiya – it’s all too easy nowadays to offer the ‘freshest’ toro and ‘melt-in-your-mouth’ uni, in an ‘authentic’ edomae setting. But the imminent opening of one Sushi Mitsuya, and the arrival of one of the most inspiring shokunin I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, has my fullest attention. Over the course of two lunches during the restaurant’s soft opening in February, I experienced a maturity and obstinate passion absent from other more glamorous sushi bars here. Quite simply, I fell in love.
I first met chef Nicolas Joanny during a quietly remarkable dinner at his eponymous restaurant earlier this year. His wasn’t the ‘best’ meal I’ve had in Singapore, but it was certainly one of the most earnest – more than anything, I remember chef Nicolas hunched over a counter at his open kitchen, putting the finishing touches on the evening’s courses before personally bringing them to our table. Here was a chef who wasn’t afraid to be in the thick of the action, a chef whose cuisine I wanted to explore.
My family’s been going to Gattopardo for two years now, and I still can’t figure out why the place is never crowded. It surely can’t be the quality – chef Lino Sauro, in my opinion, serves some of the most balls-to-the-wall Italian food in the city, with achingly fresh seafood and a technique that I can only describe as Sicilian voodoo. Some diners might be scared away, I guess, by the restaurant’s hermit-esque location in the Hotel Fort Canning, or by the prices, which are a slight notch above those at other Italian heavyweights such as Pasta Brava. I’d like to persuade these people to make the journey up Fort Canning Park to try Gattopardo’s set lunch, the perfect gateway into the restaurant’s gut-busting cuisine.
I’m embarrassed to admit that my travel experience in Southeast Asia is almost nonexistent. Having lived and holidayed in North and South America, various parts of Europe, and even Japan and Korea, it seems like I simply forgot to explore my own backyard – which, given the beautiful photos and pieces of travel writing I’ve seen from friends who have been to the region, is a huge shame. Which is why I decided to fly to historical Siem Reap in Cambodia over the recent long weekend. My girlfriend K had been anxious to visit the magnificent Khmer temples of the sprawling Angkor archaeological park, and I wanted to find out more about the country’s cuisine. Both of us came back happy campers.
My girlfriend K has been a wonderful companion on my journey through the restaurant scene here in Singapore as well as in New York, where we lived for close to three years. Pescatarian by choice, she also lived in Paris for a year, and, as a result, never fails to remind me that when it comes to food, the French, quite simply, do it better. It isn’t just about the razor-sharp techniques of the chefs there, she explains, but also about their commitment to fresh and quality produce, which makes something as simple as a summer salad – or even a baguette from a nondescript boulangerie – taste brilliant.
“There is no such thing as the best (chef)”, writes Ferran Adrià, who knows a thing or two about good chefs, “but it is possible to point out something more important – the chef who is the most influential, the one who establishes the way forward.” During my gluttonous tour of restaurants in Singapore and New York (where I lived for close to four years) I’ve encountered very few chefs who can challenge for such a lofty title; but, when I do find such culinary mavens, I’ve noticed that each one of them seems to have a unique philosophy, a kitchen ethos that both defines them and challenges the boundaries of dining. Recently, I had the unmitigated pleasure of speaking to one such chef – Singapore-based Andre Chiang of Restaurant Andre, who, to me, is one of the most inventive, innovative restaurant personalities in the world.