Return to Zilte

This past weekend we made our second trip to Zilte (which seems to have changed its name from the original ‘t Zilte) since we first went nine years ago. In the mean time the interior has been slightly remodelled, and they’ve gained another Michelin star, which makes them the only 3 starred restaurant in Belgium other than Hof van Cleve.

Untitled

The view across Antwerp centre has improved, as last time we visited it was grey and wet.

20210723_191546

There were two menus (carnivore or vegetarian) and a choice of seven or nine course for each. We went for the full-length carnivore. But first, nibbles.
Smoked eel, horseradish, cream of mussels tarragon, ray, cucumber:

Untitled

Taco with fermented quail egg and shiitake mushroom:

Untitled

Cabbage, crab, mango, feta:

Untitled

Chicken crisp, bird liver, umeboshi:

Untitled

Squid, tomato, aubergine, ‘nduja, reduction of basil, squid:

Untitled

And a courgette flower cracker:

Untitled

And now onto the main menu. Razor clam with fennel, codium, gherkin, sea bass and a nice sour cream and ill oil sauce:

Untitled

Caviar. First in a cone:

Untitled

And then presented in a fancy silver bowl. I need one of these at home. You know, for all those evenings I spend eating caviar on the sofa while watching Netflix.

Untitled

The lid rotates back to reveal caviar on a hazelnut and toro mousse.

Untitled

Langoustine with radish, yuzu,  sea urchin and hinohikari rice:

Untitled

Lobster with almonds, black truffle and cauliflower.

Untitled

This was then covered with a cheesy sauce which was lovely, but maybe a bit too much?

Untitled

Turbot and pig’s trotter (on the left, covered in cabbage) with peas, pil pil, and a vin jaune sauce:

Untitled

King crab with myoga, rutabaga, sancho pepper and dumplings:

Untitled

Pigeon with maftoul, artichoke and guanciale.

Untitled

Dessert wine selection:

Untitled

Dessert one: raspberry, white chocolate, pondicherry and hibiscus:

Untitled

Untitled

Dessert two: tarte russe with yoghurt, black calamansi, baharat and pineapple.

Untitled

This would have been a perfect way to end a long, filling meal as I don’t like desserts that are too heavy or strong these days. But they then brought us some dark chocolates which, nice as they were, slightly spoiled the delicate flavours of the tarte russe. I guess they would have made more sense if we’d had a coffee to go with them.

Untitled

But otherwise it was a gorgeous meal, well worth a return visit.

Untitled

Two Italian restaurants

OK, here you get two restaurant reviews for the price of one. Both visited during a road trip this August.
First, a return trip to The Cook. Since we visited in 2012 they’ve moved into slightly fancier premises in the centre of Genoa.

The Tables.

Untitled

The Menu.

Untitled

The Amuse-bouches. Even after 8 years the cook still likes to pair raw shellfish with fruit.

Untitled

And oyster with white chocolate. This one was a bit thick and too sweet for an amuse-bouche, much as I like white chocolate.

Untitled

A small focaccia with blobs of stracchino cheese and pesto. A nod to the local specialities.

Untitled

Then on to the menu, and a real step up in terms of presentation. Anchovies marinated in lime, with peppers and squid ink.

Untitled

Scallop, apricot, beetroot.

Untitled

Sea bass. The dots are flavoured with mango, red onion, lemon, coriander and chilli. Very strong flavours. And a plantain banana crisp in the little clip.

Untitled

Perhaps my favourite: a large raviolo filled with burrata and split into nine squares, each with a different topping, including shrimp, asparagus, and prescinsêua.

Untitled

Leerfish with strawberry jelly, courgette and asparagus. I wasn’t so convinced by this one.

Untitled

The Meat: this was a ‘deconstructed” vitello tonnato. Meaning that they don’t bother to combine the ingredients, just placing them separately on the plate. I never really saw the point of this approach to be honest. The ingredients were good quality and tasty, but why not just put it together properly? That’s the whole point of the dish.

Untitled

Fig sorbet, bergamot granita and parsley jelly. Meh.

Untitled

Basil ice cream, olive sauce and white chocolate. This one definitely worked.

Untitled

Some good ideas and excellent presentation, even if not everything convinced me. I’ll still go back another time.

A few days later we found ourselves with friends on the Adriatic coast in the Marche region, where we stopped for dinner at Uliassi (3 Michelin stars).

Untitled

It sits right on the beach, at the end of a long seafront walk lined with bars, and so it has a nice sea view. But considering how hot it was we opted for indoor air-conditioned comfort rather than a table on the terrace.

Untitled

Breadsticks.

Untitled

Of the three menus on offer (the other two were meaty and fishy) we chose the Lab 2020, which was a little more experimental.

Anchovies and fennel on toast.

Untitled

Raw octopus with lard on a ‘tigella’ bread roll.

Untitled

Foie gras and truffle wafer.

Untitled

Chard and sunflower seed éclair.

Untitled

Leek and tamarind mousse.

Untitled

Another bread cracker.

Untitled

Oyster with salami fat.

Untitled

Prawn with almond milk and coffee drops.

Untitled

Sole with lettuce and bergamot juice.

Untitled

Spicy snail, spinach and pine cone.

Untitled

Raw pigeon, cherry, liquorice and lavender.

Untitled

Endive with squid sauce. Possibly the least popular dish of the evening on our table, although I quite liked it.

Untitled

Bone marrow marinara. The opposite situation. My companions loved this, while I found it a bit too sticky and claggy. Not because it was badly made, but just because I’m not really into bone marrow.

Untitled

Pasta with herring cream and timut pepper.

Untitled

Spaghetti with black olives and eucalyptus. Both pasta dishes were gorgeous.

Untitled

Lamb kidneys with citrus fruit. Again, I liked this more than my friends did. Although I could see their point too, as it was a rich and unusual combination.

Untitled

White melon and pistachio granita, to cleanse the palate.

Untitled

Black Forest dessert. The red tree on the right is edible, not just the design on the plate.

Untitled

Coffee nibbles.

Untitled

Very impressive. Senigallia as a town doesn’t have much else to attract us back for a return visit, but if we’re ever in the area again I’d go out of my way to go back to Uliassi.

Hof van Cleve – third visit

And so our mini-splurge on fancy restaurants while the kids are away at camp comes to an end with a return trip to an old favourite: Hof van Cleve.

UntitledUntitled

As soon as we went through the door they gifted us a couple of branded hand cleanser sprays. Clients kept their masks on at all times when they got up from the table to move around (i.e. to go to the bathroom, or to leave), and only removed them when seated and eating or drinking. Staff had large fabric masks on at all times. Interestingly, the Belgian government is now advising against using the minimalist plastic mouth coverings we saw recently in L’air du temps.

Untitled

Predictably, we opted for the seven course tasting menu.

Untitled

But first the amuse bouches. Bouillabaisse, tomato, red pepper:

Untitled

Tartlet of eel, cottage cheese, fennel:

Untitled

Salty butter and a chunky knife:

Untitled

Given a choice of bread I opted for two flavoured with Orval and Duvel beer:

Untitled

Herring, earl grey, apple:

Untitled

Beef, miso, horzeradish:

Untitled

Oyster, tapioca, herbs:

Untitled

And now onto the menu proper. Langoustine with sorrel, cucumber and matcha:

Untitled

Langoustine with verbena and edamame:

Untitled

Shrimp, watercress sauce, caviar, sour cream. The shapes around the edge are cauliflower but I don’t think they added much in terms of flavour:

Untitled

Cod, leek, lovage, mussel:

Untitled

All this time I had been quaffing generous amounts of wine. My wife, who was driving, had an alternative pairing of non-alcoholic drinks, which I think is becoming more common. This one is verjus with a ginger ice sphere:

Untitled

At one point we jokingly asked the waiter how they kept their glasses so clean, with none of the cloudy residue we sometimes get in our dishwasher. Did they wash them by hand? No, it turns out that they use a “reverse osmosis dishwasher“.

Eel, fennel, celery, quinoa:

Untitled

For the meat we were asked to pick a knife handle:

Untitled

I chose one that looked like bone. I was then told that it was made from a fossilised walrus penis bone.

Bone appetit!

Untitled

Holstein beef, aubergine, sucrine lettuce:

Untitled

Accompanied by an intensely flavoured oxtail dumpling:

Untitled

We skipped the cheese course so as to leave room for dessert, although when I saw (and more to the point smelled) the cheese trolley passing by I did have second thoughts.

Dessert started with strawberries, buckthorn, elderflower and lemon:

Untitled

Mexican chocolate mousse with mango:

Untitled

And then another trolley with even more sweets. I had a slice of banana pie and a small bowl of rice pudding, which is something I haven’t eaten since I was a child. I could have done with a bigger bowl.

Untitled

The end. The next day they closed for the summer, although they’re only taking a week off this year, as opposed to the usual three, so as to try and make up for the months they had to stay closed during lockdown.

Untitled

Le Pristine

The first time we ate in a Sergio Herman restaurant was in Oud Sluis back in 2007. Last week he opened a new, Italian-themed restaurant in Antwerp called Le Pristine.

We arrived at lunchtime and were led past the bar into a large open dining area lined with concrete and exposed brickwork.

Untitled

Untitled

Idiosyncratic decor included deformed glitterballs and this tower of parmesan moulds.

Untitled

The back yard. Maybe they use it for cocktail evenings or private events?

Untitled

You can see the kitchen from the dining area, allowing you to watch the staff at work cooking and plating up.

Untitled

Sergio himself was there to lend a hand and supervise.

Untitled

Surprisingly there were no set menus on offer, so we had to go à la carte.

Untitled

We started with a black truffle negroni. The branded ice cube almost filled the whole glass.

Untitled

We also had to make our own selection of amuse bouches. We chose the sharing platter, which meant that it took longer to arrive, but it was worth it.

Untitled

Untitled

Oysters with straciatella cheese and grapefruit.

Untitled

Raw langoustine.

Untitled

Crab salad with sour cream and caviar.

Untitled

BBQ Vongole.

Untitled

Courgette flower. A lot of these tasters were based around seafood paired with citric and acidic flavours. Quite light and fresh in the mouth.

Untitled

They also make their own focaccia. Like most places outside of Italy they make it a lot thicker and drier than the original, but it was light and fluffy and tasty.

UntitledUntitled

My first proper course was a tomato salad with aubergine and burrata.

Untitled

To accompany the rest of the meal we chose a light, pinkish red. The name may have swayed us a little. Apparently it’s made by the guy who used to be sommelier at noma.

Untitled

For the pasta course we shared gnocchi with mussels and ‘nduja. The gnocchi were a little large and loose, but the flavours were there.

Untitled

My wife’s sashimi with seaweed and caviar.

Untitled

My main dish was young chicken (poussin) with farfalle and summer vegetables. The veg were nice and crunchy, but the farfalle were a little soft. Perfectly acceptable, but nothing spectacular. Although maybe that’s my fault for ordering chicken.

Untitled

We went for a cheese course instead of dessert. A forest of chicory.

Untitled

And inside, gorgonzola, pear mostarda and walnut.

Untitled

Followed by espresso. Something about the overlapping lines around the rim and the splashes above them caught my eye.

Untitled

And this came with some pralines and an interesting cannolo with ricotta and buckthorn seaweed.

Untitled

So, don’t go expecting traditional Italian food, as this is very much a modern Flemish take, incorporating many local ingredients. But it’s a winning combination, and I’m sure we’ll be back to try some of the other dishes we didn’t have time for.

Untitled

La Paix

Our first visit to La Paix, situated just opposite the Anderlecht market. Some distancing measures in place (more space between tables than usual, by the look of it), and staff wearing face masks.

View of the kitchen from our table:
20200702_193220

Fancy knives laid out on the table. Not explicitly assigned to a specific course, and in fact I never used mine as there was no course involving a large piece of meat to carve.

20200702_193400

The menu we chose:

20200702_193506

Some amuse-bouches. Gyoza in broth.

20200702_195129

Beef cheeks, parmesan, wagyu beef strip.

Untitled
Aubergine and bottarga cream.

20200702_195141

Three types of butter with our bread. Right to left: normal, rosemary, mushroom.

20200702_200227

A lemon. But wait…

Untitled

Caviar inside. And that’s not all…

20200702_201221

Tuna, stracciatella and courgette.

20200702_201332

A kohlrabi. But wait…

20200702_203007

Mussels, celery and daikon inside. Cold and very refreshing.

20200702_203051

A savoury canelé with sauce made from the head of a langoustine, and some al dente peas and beans.

20200702_204541

The main course. Lobster tail and claw, clam with mint and seaweed, a blob of squid ink sauce, and a rice roll. An unusual mixture of things to put on the plate together, but all very nice.

20200702_211132

Peach, miso and soufflé.

20200702_214716

Meringue, cream and strawberry.

20200702_220107

20200702_220200

Various biscuits.

20200702_221547

20200702_221550

Ice cream and cherries.

20200702_221908

Very satisfying. I’ll go again.

L’air du temps – post coronavirus visit

With the exception of a quick trip to a local food court for some fast food snacks, this was our first meal out since the coronavirus lockdown, and we decided to make a return trip to L’Air Du Temps. Our first trip in 2008 had been a bit of a mixed bag, but he made a much stronger impression with his residency at The Cube in 2011.

Since our last visit they’d moved to new, larger premises.

20200625_122953

Similar to Hertog Jan, the dining room looks out over a large herb and vegetable garden.

20200625_140430

The interior. Each table had a large bread cracker suspended above it. Note the apparatus on the bearded waiter’s chin.

20200625_123146

Here’s a closer look. It’s a more minimal version of the visors some shop and restaurant staff are wearing at the moment. A little too minimal, in my view, although the chin mount is handy.

20200625_151502

We were given a herby aperitif. For the rest of the meal my wife had the wine pairings, and because I was driving I had the non-alcoholic options. This usually meant various herbal infusions, made with things like verbena, pear, satay, and harissa.

20200625_123520

We selected the seven course Plant Supremacy menu.

Untitled

Amuse-bouches: peas.

Untitled

Cauliflower. Slightly spicy and quite tasty.

Untitled

Pear and ham.

Untitled

Shrimp (somewhere under all the leaves and petals).

Untitled

Here’s the first proper course: seasonal vegetables.

Untitled

The fish course came in three portions. Trout in kombucha.

20200625_135007

Marinated cabbage with roasted quinoa.

Untitled

And this little roll which contained some of the trout fat.

Untitled

The lobster course. The tail on a bed of rice.

Untitled

And the claw served with fromage frais, candied lemon and almond satay.

Untitled

A strawberry. This was listed on the menu as “edible mojito”, and supposedly had been soaked in rum, verbena and mint. To me it just tasted like a cold strawberry.

Untitled

Duck.

Untitled

A bit more duck, with some beans.

Untitled

The cheese course, presented in a roll of potato skin. Almost entirely tasteless.

Untitled

Two strawberry desserts, both of which were very nice.

20200625_153040

20200625_153048

A little box of goodies to go with coffee.

20200625_154213

Overall my impression of chef Sang-Hoon Degeimbre hasn’t changed since the last time. His presentations are exquisite and he has a lot of interesting ideas, using unusual ingredients in unexpected combinations. But it all feels a bit abstract and intellectual, and nothing we ate really made me want to eat it again. Except perhaps the dessert.

Da Vittorio

A 20th anniversary, while you happen to be in north Italy for the holidays was as good an excuse as any to visit 3 Michelin-starred Da Vittorio, just outside Bergamo.

We arrived at dusk and settled in to our room. Here’s the view:

Untitled

The hotel was fairly tasteful and the service exceptional. We were very well taken care of. After a brief rest we went down to the dining room. The table lamps were fun.

Untitled

Less fun was the fact that the spotlight shining onto my table was above and behind my head, casting a shadow over whatever dish was put in front of me. I guess it’s not always easy to know where to place spots when the tables may often be moved around to accommodate different numbers of diners, but it’s a minor irritant for those of us (i.e. everyone, these days) who like to take pictures of their dinner.

We took a look at the menus and wavered between the fishy menu and the truffly menu. My wife chose the truffles, and it would have felt weird anyway to be up in the mountains three hours from the coast and order fish (although I’m sure it’s perfectly fine).

Just as we were choosing, the waiters came along and offered a sniff of their truffle box, as if to say “Go on, you want the truffle menu, don’t you?” I notice they didn’t bring along a box of fresh fish for us to smell. Also, my wife got to inhale the tuberous odour but I was roundly ignored.

Untitled

Decision made, we got started on the starters. Spelt soup with sea snails, and pumpkin cream with goat’s cheese and bacon.

Untitled

A cannolo filled with ricotta crumble and chestnuts, topped with truffle shavings.

Untitled

Cauliflower, scampi, egg yolk, mushroom and potato cream, with a croissant. We were encouraged to view this as a breakfast, and to dunk our croissant into the savoury “cappuccino”. Nice.

Untitled

Mushroom and celery consommé, topped with a foie gras disc which we had to push down into the liquid inside the cup. And some truffle.

Untitled

Service was mostly fine throughout the meal, with a couple of minor hiccoughs. One of the waiters seemed to take himself rather seriously and was fairly solemn throughout. But my wife kept commenting on the fact that his jacket was too tight (and not in a sexy way). The other, more junior staff member was a bit more relaxed and friendly. I’m not sure whose fault it was, but they served one of the wine selection with the wrong course. It felt weird as we drank it after the consommé, as the sweet, strong alcohol clashed with the delicate flavours of the food. They realised their mistake and apologised, replacing it with a glass of the correct wine. So basically we got a glass of the “wrong” wine for free.

The only other complaint we had was that they were still playing Christmas songs on the restaurant sound system, even though it was already January 3rd, which just felt wrong. On the other hand it was the first time I’d heard Cliff Richard and Shakin’ Stevens being played in Italy.

Linguine with hazelnut crumble and truffles.

Untitled

The food had been coming fairly thick and fast, which we usually prefer, but this time it was a bit rushed and although we didn’t say anything, I think one of the constantly loitering waiters noticed our expressions as another dish arrived (as if to say “Wow, so soon? Give me a chance to catch my breath”), and so gently suggested that we might like a short pause.

With the next course we had a spectacular Barolo, which was even better on the nose than the palate. In fact I had quite a lot to drink that evening, and I felt it the next morning. The sommelier was fine, although he basically just read the labels to us and didn’t offer any kind of explanation or tasting notes.

Untitled

Semolina gnocco with parmesan foam. And truffle.

Untitled

Perhaps my favourite dish of the night, due to the robust flavours and textures after a series of rather, soft, creamy dishes: veal fillet with potato and foie gras.

Untitled

As it was the holidays they offered us a few small slices of home-made pandoro and panettone with ice cream and chocolate. Then came the brioche with whipped cream and truffle.

Untitled

And that was it for the truffles. On reflection, we probably should have gone either à la carte or for the fish course. Truffle is fine if used sparingly and as an ingredient, but when just shaved on top of another dish the flavour doesn’t really come through and it feels like eating small discs of musty paper. It reminded me a bit of a similar meal we’d had in Piedmont some years before.

Dessert: “fig” of ricotta and chocolate crumble.

Untitled

Untitled

The most fun presentation of the evening: a candy floss mountain featuring various little sweets. I picked at the candy floss for quite a while.

Untitled

MORE sweets.

Untitled

They did have a cheese trolley, but I wasn’t given the option, maybe because we chose the extensive truffle menu? It’s probably just as well, as I couldn’t have fit it in, but I’d like to have been asked.

And then we waddled up to bed and slept like babies. The next morning outside the breakfast room I noticed this amazingly well decorated marzipan version of the staff as they celebrate their restaurant’s 50th anniversary.

Untitled

Hertog Jan: The End

At the start of this year I read online that what I consider to be the best restaurant in Belgium, and even one of the best in the world, was closing down. The partners who run Hertog Jan announced that they would close their doors at the end of 2018. Their reasoning is one I’ve heard before in this industry, along the lines of “We’ve reached the top and achieved all we set out to achieve, so now it’s time to try something new”.

Having eaten there twice before, we snapped up the opportunity to go a third and final time. We arrived on foot, as our lodgings were only a 15-minute walk away. We settled in, please to see that we’d been given the table by the window, like last time. The restaurant filled up quickly; both it and the B’n’B are fully booked until the end of the year.

Untitled

We chose the special menu which was a kind of “greatest hits” package of the chef’s favourite dishes, plus wine, and we got a free recipe book thrown in.

Before the menu proper we received five amuse-bouches, and because Gert De Mangeleer is a millennial the first one was avocado, with tomato powder, salt and olive oil.

Untitled

Marinated cucumber strips curled around salmon with a jus of champagne and dill oil.

Untitled

Pork and pickles. There was a surprisingly large lump of meat under the pork scratching layer on top.

Untitled

Potato purée, vanilla, coffee and mimolette cheese. We’d had this one last time too.

Untitled

At this point we were invited into the kitchen (no special treatment: everyone had their turn) for a brief look at the prep work.

Untitled

While there we were handed our final amuse-bouche: passion fruit meringue containing goose liver and Coca-Cola.

Untitled

We were then invited to walk around the gardens with a glass of lemonade. As you can see it’s a serious herb and vegetable plot.

Untitled

The red tiled roof is the kitchen; the black low building is the restaurant.

Untitled

It was nice to get some fresh air, but it was quite fresh so we didn’t tarry and went back inside for the starters.

Untitled

Caviar and plankton on dill-dusted crisps.

Untitled

The sun came out just in time for the next dish: sea bass with herbs from the garden, tomatoes, radishes and oil infused with Balinese kaffir lime.

Untitled

Pumpkin dim sum with cream of langoustine and a dollop of passion fruit.

Untitled

Grilled white asparagus with potato purée and cod roe.

Untitled

Guinea fowl with herbs, sorrel and morel mushroom. Perhaps the most plate-lickable dish of the evening. The sauce was amazing.

Untitled

The main course: wagyu beef and spicy peppers hiding underneath mushroom discs. The orange blobs are Bernadine sauce (basically béarnaise but with added tomato).

Untitled

While my wife opted for the cheese plate I had raspberry mousse with vanilla and rose water.

Untitled

And finally, a surprisingly thick and chewy caramel sheet over passion fruit and chocolate.

Untitled

At the end of the meal one of the partners stopped by for a chat and discussed their future plans, which are still in flux, but which may include a more traditional Belgian-style bistro back in their initial location nearer Brugge. Whatever they do next, Hertog Jan will be missed, and I’m glad we got to go once, let alone three times.

Piazza Duomo

Piazza Duomo is currently ranked 15th best restaurant in the world by Restaurant magazine. It’s located in the centre of the small Piemontese town of Alba. We arrived around 1pm and in view of the evening’s plans didn’t want a huge lunch, so we just stopped for a glass of wine and some nibbles.

The nibbles were slightly more copious than anticipated.

Untitled

We were staying a a room above the restaurant, so when we emerged ready for dinner all we had to do was walk a few metres down the corridor to a discreetly marked door into the restaurant.

Untitled

The next morning I discovered the main entrance around the corner.

Untitled

The dining room is small and very pink. Not overly keen on the murals, personally.

Untitled

Various menu options. We chose “degustazione +”, which added two surprise dishes to the normal tasting menu.

Untitled

I didn’t take many notes so don’t expect detailed descriptions. Think yourselves lucky I took photos. There was a spotlight behind me that cast irritating shadows of my phone onto the food, so I had to experiment with different angles to get anything usable. There was a selection of pre-starter starters. This was an intriguing savoury creme caramel.

Untitled

Some kind of sesame seed cracker.

Untitled

More crackers.

Untitled

Olives which are not really olives, as they’re made of small rolled lumps of, respectively, shrimp and veal.

Untitled

Another olive, this time flattened out and rolled up and filled with ricotta.

Untitled

An anchovie cracker.

Untitled

Chard sponge with a blob of tuna inside. Just slightly too big to get comfortably in the mouth in one bite.

Untitled

In the background, a foie gras mousse with ginger and grapefruit. In the foreground, a peanut cracker. God, this chef loves crackers, doesn’t he?

Untitled  

The first proper, menu dish was a large selection of vegetables (plus a blob of fish: cod with yellow peppers and salsa verde). At top left are artichoke and avocado, and the salad at bottom left contains raschera cheese.

Untitled

Below is the only dish I really didn’t enjoy. Thin slices of raw sea urchin with tomato, water and gelatine. Sea urchin is a very strong flavour and not my favourite at the best of times, and serving it raw in gelatine only made matters worse. The name of the dish is “CapRiccio”, which is a multi-layered pun. “Riccio” is Italian for sea urchin, “capriccio” means caprice (as in pizza capricciosa) and thin slices of raw meat or fish are called “carpaccio”.

The name is more fun than the dish.

Untitled

It was accompanied by a blackened (yet soft in the mouth) bruschetta with calamari and sea urchin sauce, topped with dried seaweed. Much nicer.

Untitled

Next is the only dish for which I can confidently supply an exhaustive list of ingredients, because they gave it to us themselves. Chef Crippa’s signature dish is “Salad 21…31…41…51”, so named because it can contain anywhere up to 100 ingredients depending on the season and availability. 

Untitled

We were given a pair of tweezers with which to eat it, which makes sense as the leaves are so varied and distinct in their flavours that you need to try each one individually. The top layers were quite dry, but towards the bottom there was a light mandarine dressing. It looks quite small but there was a lot of interesting stuff in a compact and dense dish, and it took a while to get through it all. But it was probably the most interesting thing we ate all evening, and proof of the idea that food isn’t always about cooking and fancy methods as much as it’s about choosing great ingredients.

Untitled

By this point we were already pretty full, thanks to the vegetable selection and the epic salad. Thankfully the next courses were quite light.

Cod cooked at low temperature, in a cod reduction. With some flowers on top. Soft and creamy, but a little basic.

Untitled  

Shrimp with spring onion and bisque. And flowers.

Untitled

Asparagus with béarnaise sauce. And flowers.

Untitled  

Potato purée (very liquidy) with a dusting of Lapsang Souchong powder and a quail egg underneath.

Untitled

A surprisingly tough morsel of lamb hiding under a lettuce leaf, with some mushroom broth in the cup in the background.

Untitled  

Wine.

Untitled

Another of our favourite dishes: risotto with parmesan cheese, caviar, mastic (a type of small black berry) and squid ink spray. Very yummy and I’d have happily sacrificed the lamb and cod courses in exchange for a larger portion of this.

Untitled

My notes run out here, but this is the final course and it’s not on the menu so it must have been one of the extra, surprise ones.

Untitled

The main dessert was a beautifully light, crunchy “crepe caramel”. Not too sweet.

Untitled

More dessert nibbles.

Untitled

Untitled

And to go with your chocolates, a tiny bottle of vanilla milk and grappa.

Sans titre

There are some very inventive things on this menu but maybe I’d have preferred a shorter meal focussed more on Crippa’s strengths (which appear to be vegetables and salad, interestingly), and without the underwhelming fish and meat courses. Probably the best way to do it would be to go à la carte and just have the starters and the mega-salad.

And some flowers.

Random Japanese curiosities

Last piece on Japan for a while, I promise. This one’s just a collection of stuff that wouldn’t fit neatly into a coherent, themed post.

Electricity cables in the UK were undergrounded (yes that is a verb) a while ago, but in Japan they’re still all out in the open on top of poles. An awful lot of them.

Untitled Untitled

Most of the cars I saw in Japan were this snub-nosed, compact and boxy type. The engine mut be pretty small.

Untitled

One of the large chains of booksellers in Japan is called “Book Off”, which doesn’t make it sound particularly welcoming. But this time I found out that they also sell secondhand hardware in a sister chain called “Hard Off”, which sounds even less family-friendly.

Untitled

This place, on the other hand, has the perfect name:

Untitled

At most shinto shrines you can write a wish on a wooden card and hang it up on a rack.

Untitled

Untitled

A snack store in Harajuku pre-empted my own reaction to the description of its wares.

Untitled

Many of the clothes stores in Harajuku specialise in the Goth/Lolita/Alice In Wonderland fashion sub-culture, although this place seems to cater to even more obscure splinterings. “Qutie Frash”? Or maybe that’s the name of the brand? I didn’t go inside the check.

Untitled

Cat cafés. They’re a thing outside of Japan too now, and even Brussels has one. We visited one that specialised in Bengal cats and featured a faux jungle decor to complete the vibe.

Untitled Untitled

Another café in Kobe even offered an unique real/virtual cat combination.

Untitled

Other animals are available. We also saw ads for otter cafés, although a lot of these placed feature obviously doped animals, charge extortionate entrance fees and don’t even offer much in the way of coffee.

Untitled

Untitled

Idiosyncratic use of English is another Japanese cliché, but this one in particular caught my eye. No way you’d get away with a magazine title like that in an English-speaking market.

Untitled

Finally, two videos. One of the famously busy pedestrian crosssing in Shibuya. I crossed it a few times and there was always a large number of people (including myself obviously) filming or photographing as they crossed. Some of them even stop to sit on the floor to get a selfie of the crowds swirling around them.

And on one occasion there was a very un-Japanese commotion as a car attempted to drive through the crowd at speed, right past me, honking its horn repeatedly. As it passed I noticed the guy in the passenger seat reclined, covered with a coat and with his eyes closed, which led me to the assumption that he was injured and his friend the driver was taking him to a hospital. Police gave chase on foot, and I think they managed to get it to stop just after the crossing but I never saw the conclusion so I don’t know if they arrested them or let them continue on their way once they’d established what was happening.

And here’s a minute of Japanese cityscape scrolling past a train window. I don’t know about you but I could watch this kind of thing all day.