Sunday, 29 November 2015

London - Smiths of Smithfield by John Torode

One of my foodie observations is how the zeitgeist has changed over the last decade, with the super star chef front and centre in people's consciousness.  This has almost certainly been driven by the transition of the chef moving out from the kitchen and into the television studio.  One cooking show in particular has taken the world by storm, and that show is Masterchef.  The original Masterchef kicked off in the UK before the concept was picked up by other markets and at last count, there were fifty countries that run a version of Masterchef!

While the concept started in the UK, the Australian version is credited with helping to transform the show, providing a more glamorous approach that, for me, was a little too heavy on the drama and was less about the food.  One of the great ironies of Masterchef is that the Australian version is hosted by an ex British chef living in Australia (Gary Mehigan) and the UK version has an ex Aussie hosting (John Torode) - go figure!

I was recently in the UK for work and looking for a place to check out, and my boss recommended a little place called Smiths of Smithfield, one of his favourite steak restaurants run by Jonty Rhodes.  I thought is strange that an ex South African cricket star would run a steak restaurant in London, but hey, the South Africans are well known meat lovers.  It wasn't until I made the reservation and had a look at the web site, that I realised that I'd heard wrong and that Smiths of Smithfield was actually run by none other than John Torode!  I felt like an idiot :)

While I'd done my fair share of solo dining in London (The Square, Marcus, Maze Grill), I was actually able to convince one of my colleagues to come along and check out Smiths with me. Hailing from the US and an avid meat lover, bringing KH along to visit a steak restaurant seemed like the right thing to do.  However, trying to find the place, especially for a couple of tourists, turned out to be a little harder than expected and there was a lot of walking involved to find the funky restaurant in Charterhouse Street.  Not an issue for me, but a huge one for KH, who'd been recovering for ankle surgery, who took a little extra time to find the joint.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Twenty Six by Liberty - worth the wait

What makes a restaurant desirable?  It's a question that many a restauranteur and chef has probably asked themselves a million times!  Long wait times to secure a table is often a measure of desirability, but is that all? Perhaps, but perhaps not!  I've entered waiting lists for many restaurants that have ended up being a let down, simply because of the elevated expectations by having to wait.  Equally, I've secured a table in restaurants with only a few hours notice, which have been incredibly desirable (luck plays a part!).

I've been lusting over Twenty Six by Liberty for a little while, ever since I came across some photos of Executive Chef Bjoern Alexander's take on modern cuisine.  The German born chef has an eye for the dramatic and his food presentation is nothing short of gastronomic visual porn. Having started his career in legendary American Chef Thomas Keller's French Laundry, before continuing onto countless two and three Michelin-starred restaurants, Chef Bjoern had created level of desirability that I'd not felt for a little while.

I will admit that my desire to check out Twenty Six by Liberty was fuelled by the fact that the place is nearly impossible to get into!  I'd tried without success to make a reservation on a Friday or Saturday night, and it wasn't until I tried to book on a Tuesday night that I managed to secure a seat.  I wasn't really sure if I felt like the ten course tasting menu mid week, but figured I could just about manage it :)

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Caprice - A generous and delicious tasting menu

When I rang to make my reservation at Caprice, I was reminded twice through the call that dress standards applied.  As if I needed reminding!  Caprice is one of the finest restaurants in Hong Kong and located in the exclusive Four Seasons Hotel, so I didn't really need to be told that dinner would be an occasion to dress up!

There was a touch of controversy in 2014, when Caprice lost both it's third star and acclaimed head chef Vincent Thierry, which meant that new face of Caprice, chef Fabrice Vulin had stepped into the lion's den.  Was Caprice on the way down, of was the loss of a star just a hiccup in the history of the great restaurant?  French born Vulin was certainly an inspired replacement, having run many two and three Michelin-starred restaurants across France and the rest of Europe.

We knew we were stepping into the heart of Hong Kong's elite when we crossed the threshold of the Four Seasons Hotel.  Not only is the building quite intimidating, the plethora of Ferraris and Bentleys parked out front reminded us that there was plenty of money in HK.  We'd not been to the HK Four Seasons before, but it's a beautiful building with immaculately presented staff that were only too happy to help us find Caprice.

We arrived right on opening time, and spent a few moment inspecting the immaculate entrance to Caprice, before our Maitre 'd noticed us and quickly came over to give us a hearty welcome. When we'd booked, we were told that we'd be unlikely to secure a window seat, so were pleasantly surprised when shown to our table that was right by the window and afforded us spectacular views of Hong Kong harbour.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Taipei - RAW; the new breed of restaurant

For more than a few years, my best mate the Big Boy has been living and establishing a business in Taipei.  It's a long way to visit from Australia, but just a short flight from Hong Kong, so I've been able to get across to visit a few times.  As usual, when visiting any country, I try hit up the better restaurants, so I can check out the local dining scene. During my first visit, earlier in the year, we tried to get into Taipei's hottest restaurant RAW; but to no avail.  That place was hard to get into!

I decided there had to be another way, so for my most recent visit to Taipei, I did a little more research and realised that their might be another way.  RAW is Andre Chiang's first foray into his native homeland after establishing himself as one of Asia's top restaurant, Andre in Singapore (ranked #5 in Asia's top 50).  As luck would have it, I became mates with a guy who was a little bit connected in the Singaporean food scene and was well acquainted with Chef Andre.  Before too long, I'd secured a table on a Saturday night!  (Thanks EB!)

I was pretty excited to be honest, Taipei has a burgeoning food scene, largely being driven by the likes of Andre Chiang, and RAW was said to be the pick of the new breed of Taiwanese cuisine.


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