This week has been genuinely uninteresting. Perhaps it was the limit reached on the credit card, or the two kilos I gained during the summer, doesn’t matter, we decided to lay low for a while. Its quite nice. No expectation of wearing anything else than soft pants and laying on the sofa. Thus, I am posting some more pics and tips from our trip to London. Continue reading “Wineweek 146: London Vol. 2”
June in Hong Kong is hot and humid: +35 degrees Celsius and a continuous pressure of rain in the air. It was not unbearable. Actually, if you are from Sweden (or Finland) you should not complain about warm weather. Its not allowed. However, regardless of warm weather being welcome, we sought refuge in air conditioned malls, underground tube tunnels and in restaurants and bars of course. That is what we came for: food and beverages. Hong Kong is truly a great place for eating. Continue reading “Wineweek 137: Hong Kong Highlights”
Even though I am physically in France, my mind still wonders back to New York and 11 Madison Park. It was definitely one of the best dinners of my life. So I really want to write something about it. Unfortunately, I was too shy to take a proper camera with me, so the photos are taken with an iPhone (thus they are barely mediocre). After buying the Nikon D5500, I have been completely obsessed with taking all my photos with it. The camera does most of the work. Continue reading “Dinner at 11 Madison Park”
This will be a quick one as I have not reserved much time for writing. We have eaten our way through the city, visited wine shops and discovered new bars and cafes. Here are a few things I have learned about New York and wine.
It is that time of the year again, that Guide de Michelin launches its stars for the Nordic countries. This is not that much of a star-struck region (compared to France or Britain for example). Its only a hand full of cities that are evaluated and I secretly suspect the critics avoid this part of the world during the winter. So we are proud of every single star we can get. This year, Stockholm was granted 13 stars (28 in Sweden), Helsinki 4 , Copenhagen 19 (26 in Denmark) and Oslo 7. Two restaurants in the Nordics reached that magical three stars this year: Maaemo in Oslo and Geranium in Copenhagen. Bjorn Frantzen in Sweden, who is said to be completely obsessed about that third star was yet again left with “just two”.
As we are semi-serious foodies, me and M, we do try to visit as many of these restaurants as we can get reservations to. Due to the absurd cost, we of course have spread these visits out as we cannot afford too many in a year. We always have something in the plan though. We have reserved Chef & Sommelier in Helsinki for Easter and I really want to finally visit Operakällaren, serving traditional Swedish cuisine in Stockholm. Perhaps something to wish for my birthday.
And now to the serious part of this post: what do I actually think about the stars? Is it worth all that fuss, and not to mention all that money? What I can say is, that it is definitely interesting. My best (ever) restaurant experiences have not been from the three star restaurants though. I rate many of the two star experiences much higher. Perhaps its the expectation versus what you actually get. However none of the three starred restaurants make it to my top-five list.
However, when talking best value for money, they have always been the one star restaurants (although the quality varies a lot). Or actually, lunch deals at the two and three starred restaurants. I don’t know why they don’t do this in the Nordics, but in London we used to go for set menus as great restaurants all the time. A three course menu with wine could be one third or even one fourth of the dinner price. For example Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester had an awesome deal for around 50£. Writing this post makes me miss London again (ETA 14 days).
So here is the list of 2016 starred restaurants in Stockholm. Even though many of these will cost you an arm and a leg (Stockholm is a expensive city), they are worth truing out. I have been to three of them: Gastrologic, Volt and Matbaren and can recommend all three. Perhaps worth mentioning though that I seldom find the wine lists that interesting (read: reasonable in price), so I am definitely there for the food rather than the drinks.
** Oaxen Krog (gained one star)
** Mathias Dahlgren Matsalen
* Mathias Dahlgren Matbaren
* Sushi So (NEW)
I would also like to mention that Fäviken up in the north of Sweden was also granted two stars (the prices doubled over night)
Have a great week!
A three Michelin-star experience is rare. We are foodies, so we do grab the opportunity when it presents its self. However, I am not expecting it to be the best (value for money) meal I have ever had. I am expecting it to be an unforgettable experience. And that it always is, for one reason or the other.
The L’Assiette Champenoise’ is the restaurant and family business of Arnaud Lallement, the ‘chef of Champagne’. Followed by the footsteps of his father and trained by world renowned chefs, Arnaud has not attempted to innovate, but concentrates of perfect produce. His food is also characterized as a beautiful dance between the product of the region, Champagne and traditional French cuisine. The restaurant also possesses one of the most interesting wine cellars of the region holding a wide range of vintages from Krug, the Rolls Royce of Champagne. The restaurant is located close to the center of Reims in Lallement’s old family home. Sounds very exquisite, and rather pricey, but we reserved a table anyway.
We arrived at the mansion early evening and were greeted by not one, not two, but four people talking to us at the same time. It was a confusing start to the experience. After being seated, we were handed menus and offered an aperitif from the champagne cart. We were faced with a dilemma: a cart full of wonderful champagnes (Pierre Paillard, Drappier non-dose Rose and several Krug vintages), but no pricing. Our experiences in Paris had made us careful, a champagne could cost anything from 7 to over 40 euros a glass. It is not like we cannot pay for it, but I am a sucker for value for money. And what if the Krug -96 in that cart was something of a bargain, what then? Through all of this contemplation, asking for a price list still felt a bit cheap, so we opted for the two non-Krugs on the list and held our fingers crossed that we would not regret it when we received the bill (we didn’t, but you never know).
After ordering the aperitifs we received menus. I cursed (in Swedish) as I saw the menu was missing prices again. However this was just my menu. I had received the discreet girl-menu, and prices were only visible for M. I am not sure if I object to this, but in our equal-rights obsessed Sweden, it feels a bit funny. Anyway, there was a choice between set menus and a la carte. The Heritage menu has a focus on Arnaud’s fathers legacy, excellent sauces, the Truffe D’Alba is a tribute to truffle and the Saveur is a flight through the a la carte favorites. We opted for the Saveur as it was the only one that could be served without seafood, a notion well appreciated by M who is not a fan of anything that lives and breather underwater. The a la carte was a viable option as well, but the set menu clearly better value for money (as some dishes were nearing a 100€ a piece, just feels wrong).
All in all, the food was amazing, by far some of the best I have ever had. I will not go into too much detail regarding the the individual dishes, but I would like to mention a few of my favorites: the pie-shaped amuse bouche with pate, the langoustine with curry spices and ginger and the fruit tarte that we had for dessert. The bread was crusty and warm, the butter perfect with a light saltines and the ‘cheese chariot’ offered a selection that can compete with a many specialty boutiques. As with many French-style fine dining restaurants, the petit fours were plenty and delicious. It is just that at the point where you receive them, you are already stuffed like a little pig. We finished our meal with some tea at the bar. The venue was very stylish and I could see a wonderful selection of bottles behind the counter. We were just too tired to opt for any more bubbly.
Regardless of the wonderful food, service was slightly sticky throughout the evening. We were wondering if it was due to the language. Our French s non-existent, so all communication was in English but at this type of establishment I would expect them to master English. So, compared to some of my previous experiences, this was something lacking of the three star experience. However, the venue is beautiful, the food amazing and the sommelier will not rob you blind; so well worth investing in if you are in the region.
Happy Sunday everybody! I am enjoying a lazy weekend, typing away with a perfect view of the famous Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore. This will be the last Wineweek I write a summary from this trip and it will cover almost two weeks of wine-action in the famous business-hub and city-state of Singapore. Travelling has been great as always, but I must admit I miss our home and our wonderful wine fridges. At least we have had much more drinks on our last leg. It has not always been value for money, but my oh my have I missed a glass of cold Cava or Champagne. What has also contributed to the expense-level of this trip is the declining Swedish Krona against a strong Singapore dollar. Anyway, everyone has a different perspective on value for money, and my point of reference dates to our days of living in London and enjoying a glass of good bubbly for £5.
I can categorize the last 10 days to three categories: wine, coffee and cocktails. That’s all we have done. Why did I not mention food? Well, because we have had food with all of them. We have first chosen our drink of preference and then had some matching food with that. Our days have consisted mostly of visiting cafes and restaurants with a marathon of walking in between. I find it is a great way to get to know a city, so we have soldiered on despite the scorching heat. Around here, most coffees are also served as cold-brews which is a good way to cool down after too much sun.
Wine has perhaps been the category with the lowest overall quality, but that was to be expected. Duties to import wine are high, and I think there is not a big enough market here. So prices for bottles can end up being 30-50% more expensive than what we would pay in the UK or Sweden. Don’t get me wrong, Singapore is like Disneyland for the wine-enthusiasts compared to the other destinations we have visited. Also, we have found a few exceptions to the wallet draining traps that I am happy to recommend for anybody living or travelling to Singapore:
1. Verre Wine Bar. Located in Robertson Que, a wine bar serving a wonderful Guy Charlemagne Brut by the glass. You can get two glasses for the price of one during happy hour, which makes the price per glass very tempting (9 SGD). We also tried some interesting red from Barossa-valley that will be up for a review soon.
2. Bar – A – Vin. Located in the Central Business District (CBD). Serves a good Gardet Brut Tradition by the glass, and I also recall them having some nice Australian Pinots.
3. Sabio. Located on Duxton Hill, Sabio has some nice Agusti Torello Cava and DelaMotte Champagne by the glass (16-24 SGD). The ambiance is nice and they have live music in the evenings to brighten the mood.
Cocktails have been a real treat! We have found some amazing places with real drink-talent. I think Singapore gives London a run for their money when it comes to good cocktail-bars and I cannot name many places in Stockholm that can compare. We accidentally picked up a local life-style magazine at a cafe that listed some interesting places and did two nights of cocktail-hopping to check them out. None of the mentioned bars disappointed, on the contrary we were very impressed. Here are our top three picks, and we will make a separate post on the rest in due time.
1. LongPlay is a new addition to the cocktail scene located on Haji Lane. We ran into this place by accident and were so impressed that we posted a review immediately (click here).
2. Bar Stories is also locted on Haji Lane. The entrance is very discreet, but clearly visible if one is looking for it. There is no specific cocktail-list but the bartenders think up something based on what you describe you want. This results to a set of very innovative and beautiful drinks that are as good in taste as they are in looks.
3. Operation Dagger, located on a side street to the famous Club Street is a speakeasy/ secret bar. Its too known to be a real secret, but you need to do your homework to find in. They do a set of very creative coctails with a bit of a “molecule” twist. It reminds me of Pharmarium in Stockholm.
Coffee-wise, we already knew Singapore was great. Not the best in class, but a city with a lot of potential. What is wonderful here is how good the food is at the cafes. I think I have overdosed on french toast, Eggs Benedict and good cakes. I hate the thought of a diet, but I may have to start one after this trip, I am way too used to having my daily sugar-high. Warm meals at cafes is not a common in Scandinavia or the UK. Yes there are cakes and sandwiches, but no foody dishes. Here in Singapore the cafe is the new bistro (and the bistro is the new casual fine dining), so our lunches were accompanied by a decent cup. Our top cafe pics are the following (in order of best coffee, not best food):
1. The New Black is a new coffee bar close to Clarke Que. They have an impressive collection of beans from around the world and use a new-ish technique similar to a coffee syphon to make a reliable good cup.
2. Common Man Coffee Roaster located on Martins Lane is a coffee bar with a good selection of hand-brews and also great food. You should remember to ask for their back-room selection for the more special beans.
3. Nylon Roasters are a real contribution to the coffee scene in Singapore. their beans can be found in many other places and they have a shop in Everton Park that you can visit. It used to be a small hole in the wall type cafe, but has now grown into post-hipster paradise. Of course more visitors means more variation in quality, but coffee-wise it is still one of the most interesting places to visit in Singapore.
Not to completely forget the food part, we have also been having some great meals. More about the restaurants will follow later, but just to mention a few interesting places: Jaan, Moosehead and Esquina.
That was a lot of lists! It is not that often that Wineweek is this comprehensive. On Wednesday we will be hopping on the plane back to Sweden and the snow. We have our wine-business waiting with just one more set of papers to return for being able to start business fully from Denmark. We also have some other interesting things coming up. We will be traveling to Portugal to visit some new and interesting producers, like Vieira de Sousa and Almeida Garrett, and later in March we will be visiting the “mothership” of cava, Sant Sadurni (and Penedes). So I expect it will be busy time for us and the blog and we will have many exciting things to share with you.
I must admit I came to the visit at Nahm with high expectations as it, with spot 13, is the highest ranked Asian restaurant on the top 50 restaurants in the world (and consequently also ranked number 1 on the top 50 list for Asia). Perhaps I should have known better as I am not always in agreement with the list makers at the Worlds 50 best restaurants (still cannot get that Dinner is number 5, yes a good restaurant but not really the top class to deserve such a spot).
Nahm is at the entrance floor at the Metropolitan hotel in Bangkok. The building has a distinct 70s feel to it but when walking into to the restaurant it looks very nice as the first thing I saw was the nice seats outside. We were unfortunately not seated there but if we would go again I would make sure to ask for a seat on the terrace up front. The decor inside is nice but also a bit boring, it could basically be an upscale hotel restaurant anywhere in the world. What gives away that it is either Asia or the US is the AC being cranked up so much I wish I brought more clothes. I have never really understood the need to lower temperature to 18 or so when it is 30 outside.
After being seated and handed menus we were asked about drinks. After quickly browsing the wine selection (pretty decent) and price level (as most places in Thailand a bit of a joke, for example a glass of champagne was around €35) so we opted for cocktails instead. The list was fairly extensive but surprisingly not that exciting for me or S. I opted for their twist on a Moscow Mule, a Strawberry Mule with vodka, strawberries, fresh ginger and ginger ale. Very refreshing and not sweet so would fit well with the dishes to come. S selected the ginger martini, also very fresh but they should really work on the presentation as it was just dull.
On to the main reason for the visit: the food. Australian born executive chef David Thompson together with head chef Prin Polsuk heading up this place are doing traditional Thai food with some slight twists. The menu was very extensive and split into six sections as well as a separate dessert menu. It had canapés, salads, soups, relish, curry and stir-fry/steamed/grilled. There is also a tasting menu offered for 2200 THB per person and that features a selection of canapés and a choice of one dish from each section as well as dessert.
Browsing the menu we quickly grasped that it would be a better option to just order what we wanted from the a la carte instead of taking a tasting menu. Trying to discuss the menu with the staff was however nearly pointless as their level of English was just not sufficient. We could not really get any information on how many dishes should be ordered and despite repeating several times that we did not want anything from the relish section it was repeatedly pushed by the staff.
Since we got nowhere with asking we just picked dishes that we thought sounded good and hoped it was not too much. We choose the following dishes:
– Grilled Mango Salad with Pork and Sour Leaves
– Coconut and Chicken Soup with Deep Fried Garlic,
– Green Mango and Chilli
– Wild Mushroom and Ginger Soup
– Duck Curry with Banana Peppers and Shallots
– Grilled Pork Cheek with Smoky Tomato Sauce
– Stir-fried Wagyu Beef with Charred Onions, Oyster Sauce and Thai Basil
We were informed that it would all come approximately at the same time as it is for sharing. We checked if there was an option to not have all at the dishes at once as food will go cold but not an option. I know that it is pretty typical but still prefer getting a few dishes at a time to be able to eat food while it is at least warm. The food did indeed arrive almost all of it at the same time. Only dish that took longer was the Pork Cheeks that arrived around 15 minutes later than everything else. We were served rice by a waiter walking around with a big bowl. That is of course fine but the problem is that the rice tends to need to be refilled and the waiter was not really attentive so often could be without refill of rice for 10 minutes with all the food on the table. Not a big issue but at a restaurant with ambitions that is not really good enough.
If I look at the food, all of it was good but not at all spectacular in any way. The Mango salad was decent but not really anything I would want to order again, pork was very tough to chew as well. The wild mushroom and ginger soup was also a fairly boring dish, did just have some taste of ginger and the mushrooms were barley noticeable. The other soup, coconut and chicken, was however very nice, pleasant roundness and a proper sting of spiciness. It was also good for warming me up in the cold restaurant.
It was at this point also clear that the we had way too much food, 3 or 4 dishes to share between two people would had been enough. Not sure why the staff could not manage to say anything despite asking several times. The Duck Curry had also sounded exciting but it turned out to be a very plain curry with meat that was chewy and not really tasty. The stir-fried beef was very good, nice texture of beef, good balance to the spiciness. My favorite dish was the pork cheeks or rather part of the dish. They were supposed to be grilled but only part of them appeared to be. Some were almost charcoal like while others were barely grilled at all. Lovely taste to the ones that were grilled properly but too poor execution for the full dish to be a success.
The food was in a sense pretty decent but I expect more from a restaurant that is this highly regarded and that charge well above the average Thai prices. Service was also poor, language skills were not good enough and there was a general lack of attention. The restaurant was not nearly full and there were lots of staff wandering around but still very difficult to get service. We ran out of drinks half-way through dinner but did not manage to get the attention of anyone so ended up not ordering any more drinks. When we finished the mains it was almost impossible to get anyone to bring us first the tea menu and to then take orders. It also appeared to come as a total surprise that after eating we want to pay.
Of the ‘fine dining’ restaurants we visited in Bangkok Nahm was clearly the worst. That is not saying that it was bad but I would not return while I would happily return to Issaya Siamese Club and Gaggan. Price for two was still decent, way too much food, cocktails, water and tea ended up with a bill of around 5 000 THB (approximately €130-140).
When planning for our trip to Asia, we did not have much fine dining in mind. However, after looking at the prices for tasting menus at some of Bangkoks hot spots, we changed our mind. An eight (8) course lunch at Issaya Siamese Club set us back only 1500 bath (below €50), so it felt impossible to pass by. After a sweaty walk (45 min in the scorching mid-day heat) we arrived at Issaya Siamese Club. A beautiful green garden surrounding a colonial style Thai villa. Looking at the pictures one could almost think the building is in the middle of the field with no signs of the concrete jungle on the other side of the walls. As we were hot from the long brisk walk, we opted to sit inside. The terrace looked nice as well.
We started of by ordering some cocktails (we are on holiday after all) to cool us down. The list was several pages long with thai influenced drinks. Reading the list made me even more thirsty. I went for the Pandan Cooler with good old ginger and some pandan leaf. It looked great and tasted even greater. They even took the time to make a little origami fish for me to swim around in the glass. How cute is that! For the love of God I cannot remember what M had, but it looked as well as tasted great. I could have went through the whole list, but it was perhaps too early in the day for that. For food, we chose the set menu with 8 dishes to share. It wasn’t the traditional one dish at a time menu, but rather a real Asian meal with food arriving when it was ready, some dishes at the same time, but clearly in three steps: appetisers, main and dessert. In addition we were served a lovely three piece “greeting from the kitchen” (amuse bouche) and some (take-away) marshmallows for an extra dessert. A casual 10 course lunch, nothing out of the ordinary (LOL).
So what kind of food did we have? The amuse bouche was a lovely trio: tuna tartar with Thai spices and chili, a lightly fried and battered shrimp with tamarind and aubergine and chicken with rice omelette. For starters we had banana blossom and palm heart salad with crispy shallots and roasted peanuts, slowly cooked ribs and grilled beef with fresh herbs and vegetables in charred birds eye chili vinegarette. After the starters, we got a small raspberry sorbet to freshen us up and to cleanse the pallate. For mains we were served some lovely lamb shank with massaman curry, volcano chicken (they set the chicken on fire) and tiger prawns with house pepper mix and holy basil. As a side we were served a lovely smoky multigrain rice in hot pot. The dishes made a wonderful combination. Ok at this point I was stuffed with dessert still to come. Luckily goodies go into a separate stomach, and the jasmine pannacotta in pandan leaf was also quite light. I was able to stuff it all in.
The service was really what made the final difference when considering how to rank the restaurants we visited in Bangkok. Perhaps we got some extra attention because the restaurant was not very full that day, but regardless of that we felt very welcome from the minute we walked in. The head waiter took some extra time to chat with us about the food also taking an interest in where we were from and what our preferences were. There was nothing pretentious or overwhelming about the wide smile we encountered every time a dish arrived at our table. If something could be improved in the service it is little things, for example clearing the empty plates briskly after we were done. This felt like the only thing in the way of Issaya getting a Michelin star (can’t comment on the consistency of food though, perhaps I have to visit again). All in all, I very much enjoyed our lunch at Issaya. It was the first ‘real’ restaurant we visited in Bangkok so it has set the expectations for the coming restaurants rather high.
Greetings from sunny Koh Samui! Its nice and hot here, feels much warmer than in Bangkok (temprature is actually pretty much the same). I guess it is the humidity in the air that really makes the difference, and it makes me crave for some cold, dry and sparkling even more. It was to be expected, but the selection of wine here on the island is even worse than in the Capital, obviously. However, in such a sauna, beer tastes almost as good. So we have stocked up with some local and local-ish (read: Asian) beer to keep the thirst at bay. I actually prefer to have my beer from cans. Like Coka Cola, it just tastes better from aluminum, or what do you think? But back to Bangkok for a while, the island edition is coming up next week.
We were so overly excited to find a decent wine bar in Bangkok, that we published a review immediately. You can find Ms review on the @494 at the Grand Hyatt here. We were equally offput by a Romanian sparkling wine we bought at the store, that we posted a Wine warning. A Wine warning will be issued when a wine has the look of something drinkable, but majorly disappoints when tasted. Some wines you already know will not be good, like many bag inbox, so you just have yourself to blame if you put it in your mouth. But the devious wines that manage to trick their way into my glass, they are the ones that will get a Wine warning.
What else did we do in Bangkok this week? We went to some very interesting restaurants. We had not planned for much fine dining, but it was much easier to reserve a table in the Bangkok top spots than one could have thought. We picked three interesting restaurants from the Asias To 50 -list (2015): Nahm (#1), Gaggan (#3) and Issaya Siamese Club (#31). The restaurant ranking lists are a bit tricky, and we found ourselves disaggreeing heavily (with the list, not eachother) on which one should come first. We will write some separate reviews on all of them, but I think it is worth mentioning here how we placed our votes.
1. Issaya Siamese Club
1. Issaya Siamese Club/ Gaggan (50/50 vote)
1. Issaya Siamese Club
Issaya Siamese Club was a beautiful, unique and very customer oriented restaurant that was very strong in quality produce and talented cooking. The only minus could be that it was hard to find, but perhaps we can only blame ourselves trying to be very Scandinavian and walk there (google maps really let us down). Gaggan is a restaurant doing Indian fusion (or progressive Indian as they call it), a style of food that has failed me many times. With a chef who used to work at the famous El Bulli’s food lab they do a bit of hokus pocus but still with focus on flavors and that it should taste good. There is an Indian twist, but not too forceful to take the focus off the culinary experience. This is very hard to achieve, so thats why M and I disaggreed on the first spot for food in our ranking. Nahm was good, but nothing that stood out from a good hotel restaurant anywhere in the world. Service in general lacks behind Europe and the US, but perhaps it is also how we want to be served compared to what the local culture considers valuable.
As I mentioned before, the lack of wine would perhaps be compensated by some refreshing cocktails. In general, I must say I was a bit disappointed at many bars we looked at. Even the Speakeasy on the rooftop of our hotel, The Muse, that was supposed to be one of the best in town was very average. I guess they ranked it based on the view. Cocktail list consist mainly of Mojitos, Martinis and the occasional Sex on the beach. This is what I can get at the local pub, equally boring and poorly made. I guess I was hoping for some nice fruity Daiqiris and a lot of stuff with lemongrass and ginger. But the three restaurants mentioned above did not disappoint in this area either. Gaggan had several pages of drinks under the title Mixology (yes a lot of smoke and dry ice) and Issaya walked the extra mile in both fresh ingredients and look of the cocktails. So we cast aside the wine lists and had some coctails together with our food. I am not a huge fan of the concept, but especially with some spicy Thai cuisine, a fresh cocktail works better than many wines.
Thats it for Wineweek 10. Next week will bring some more beach to the picture with posts from Samui. You can also expect more on street food, reviews from London (to keep up the focus on wine) and Ms coffee reviews. Btw. Did you know that coffee has around 1500 different tastes as opposed to wine having only 200. That my friends is why coffee deserves its own reviews. It is such an interesting subject that we have taken it as permanent part of our blog.