Diego Muñoz is a nomad, a surfer, and a master of his trade. I say these three things with utmost respect. A nomad because he has taken off solo and traveled the globe conquering kitchens and cuisines led by world-renowned chefs, in all corners of the world. His passion for surf keeps him grounded, balanced, connected to nature, simplified, and enjoying the outdoors whenever he has a spare minute.
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.
Some things in life are a necessary indulgence. Shinji by Kanesaka (of famed two-Michelin starred chef Shinji Kanesaka) which exemplifies the best of Edomae-style sushi, essentially falls into this category. In particular, when one is bestowed the privilege of having Master Chef Koichiro Oshino cut for you. The evening was made even more special as some friends brought along some rare wine gems for us to pair with the sushi.
For our second night attending the Noosa International Food & Wine Festival, S and I chose to attend a guest chef dinner at Embassy XO, a small but chic local East meets West restaurant. In addition to the one we went to, there were four other guest chef dinners happening in town, plus a massive eight course, eight (celebrity) chef Mediterranean Degustation experience held at Berardo’s restaurant and bar. S and I had chosen the Embassy XO dinner because the guest chef in question was Teage Ezard.
My greedy, gorgeous wife S and I have been to many food and wine festivals, in many different places, over the last decade and a half. We’ve attended festivals as speakers, as working journalists and as members of the public. Some festivals are rather high-brow. Others try hard to connect with the everyman. Many others fall in between, offering a mix of small, exclusive (which means expensive) dinners coupled with affordable experiences that can accommodate large crowds. This can be a hard formula to get right, and many festivals are still struggling to find the right balance. A few others, however, seem to have discovered the magic formula for food festival success.
A few weeks ago, S and I found ourselves attending such a festival. Not only has the Noosa International Food & Wine Festival (held in the small holiday/retiree town of Noosa on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast) perfected the balance between luxury and accessibility, it’s done so with a laid-back sense of humour that is utterly infectious. Before Noosa, I had never attended a food and wine festival in which everyone–the chefs, producers, participants, even the festival staff–seemed to be having so much fun. And for that alone, I would definitely consider going back again and again.
On my recent trip to Hong Kong, my lovely wife S and I had what was easily one of my best meals this year. We had both heard a lot about Chef Alvin Leung from Bo Innovation over the years. Some good, some not so good. Some outstanding. Which is often the case with chefs trying to push the envelope, i.e. trying to do new and very different things to familiar and classic foods. They’ll win over some very loyal fans who are totally blown away by the chef’s new ideas and his or her abilities to turn these concepts into delicious food. But this kind of chef will alienate just as many customers. And, of course, a good share of other diners will be impressed without really understanding what they’re eating. Alvin Leung is most definitely this kind of chef. And I very much belong in the first camp; that is, I am total fan.
My greedy but gorgeous wife S and I have wanted to try El Bulli for almost a decade. We first heard about this exciting Spanish restaurant in the late 90s/early naughties. In 2001, at Tasting Australia, we were lucky enough to attend an incredible two-hour long private demonstration during which Ferran Adria showed off some of his more innovative cooking techniques to a room full of journalists. Later that day, we were given a few minutes to interview this revolutionary artist-philosopher-cook.
While theoretically we’ve wanted to dine at El Bulli, I have to admit we never really did anything about it. We never tried making reservations or tried planning a trip. We just assumed that we’d get around to it one day. Of course, as the years passed by and booking a table went from hard-to-get to almost impossible, we started to wonder if maybe we’d been waiting too long. So, when a good friend — a restaurateur who is friends with Ferran — called me two months ago and said, “Hey, I’ve decided to swing by El Bulli on the way to the States in May. I have a table for 6 and am calling you first. Do you want to go? But…um… I need to know right now,” S and I jumped at it. And even though we had just decided to postpone a trip to Italy that we had been planning for September 08 to sometime in 2009 because we weren’t sure we could afford it, we said, “what the halibut” and have put ourselves into even greater credit card debt than we already are.
For the past few years, I have considered it a mixed honour to be one of the (few) jury members that help Restaurant magazine determine its annual list of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. I […]
I’m skipping our trip to Los Angeles and Orange Country briefly in order to write about one of the most amazing meals that S and I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying. (We do have a post on California in the works; that should be up by early next week.) This past Sunday, we had the honor of dining at, according to Restaurant magazine, the 9th best restaurant in the world. There are few things that need to be said about either Thomas Keller or Per Se. Both need no introduction. Better writers than I have described Keller’s skills, talent and passion in print and on the web marvelously. If you are one of the 4 persons on earth who hasn’t heard of Thomas Keller, pick up a copy of Michael Ruhlman’s The Soul of a Chef; a section of the book is devoted to telling this kitchen-magician’s story. Per Se is Keller’s New York outpost and one of only three three-Michelin-starred restaurants in the city.
Per Se is beautiful. From the moment you enter, you feel like you’re in a different world (which is a trait of some of the other, great three-star restaurants we’ve been to). Everything from the service to the interiors to the dining accessories are so perfectly polished and elegant. Upon sitting down, we were offered some Champagne, which we immediately accepted. And thus began a four and a half hour gastronomic extravaganza. The food was exceptional. The service was brilliant and we had three great bottles of wine. All I can really say about Per Se is that you must visit. Do whatever it takes to get one of their coveted reservations; it is an experience worth having and savoring. I’ve decided that instead of trying to describe every course (which would be a repetitive exercise of me writing, “yummy”, “sexy”, “delicious”, “gorgeous”, “witty”, and “brilliant” a dozen different times), it would be simpler to simply list what I ate (I say “I” because S and our dining companion J had slightly different things on their menu). I’ve also numbered the courses that are pictured (and grouped them) so you can easily refer to the pictures on this post.
Six months ago, in response to the way that Restaurant Magazine fashioned its annual list of “The World’s Fifty Best Restaurants”, I launched a little survey of my own. Through its results, I hoped to […]