Saturday, 29 June 2013

Narisawa, Tokyo - 20 November 2012

Outside the restaurant
During my trip to Tokyo in November last year, I had the opportunity to have lunch at Narisawa, which is located in the upmarket suburb of Aoyama-itchome. Narisawa has received many awards and accolades from international guides including recently being awarded the title of San Pellegrino best restaurant in Asia and the 20th best restaurant in the world. It has been on this list for many years and high been as high as number 12 in 2011. Narisawa is also rated 2 stars by the Michelin Guide ("Excellent cooking, worth a detour").    

Narisawa does French cuisine and utilises the best ingredients that Japan has to offer, which is locally sourced and seasonal. Narisawa’s philosophy is “bringing nature to a plate”. This is achieved through the presentation of visually stunning food inspired by nature and also through their commitment to the environment and sustainable living, a commitment that earned them the 2013 Sustainable restaurant award from San Pellegrino.
     
The menu
I came for the 4-course lunch meal that was priced at 7,350 yen. This is a bargain compared to their 10 course meal served at dinner, which is priced at 21,000 yen. For those on a budget and want to experience Michelin-star food, lunchtime is always the best bet. Narisawa has since changed the lunch course to match the dinner course and is now priced at 12,600 yen, which still represents value.  
 
Do I eat off this?
Chopsticks and French food?
 
Bread
 
Dough rising and bubbling away
Dough goes into 'oven'
Bread 'oven'
To start off the theatrics of dining at Narisawa, the ‘bread of the forest’ is baked at your table in a stone pot scented with oak and yuzu. Once the yeast has risen with the aid of candlelight, the dough is placed into the pot and covered with a wooden board and baked for about 12 minutes at 300 degrees.    
 
Bread of the forest
This is the freshest bread that you will have at any restaurant. It was a nice, fluffy bread and the citrus flavour from the yuzu that has been infused into the bread was very pleasant. For me, although this was very good bread, I prefer a well-made sour dough. However, the ‘moss butter’ was amazing! The flavour of the butter was just as sensational as the presentation. A dehydrated black olive tapenade and green basil powder coated the whipped butter.  

Normal bread we were served later

Amuse bouche

Onion in black charcoal
For amuse bouche, I was served with this sweet onion tempura, the batter made of leek charcoal powder, which gave it a depth and nuttiness to such a simple piece of food. A pleasant snack!


Zucchini in a bread casing
My wife was served with this zucchini tempura. Another pleasant snack!

Course 1

Kamo nasu, eggplant
The first course was an eggplant that has been cooked 3 ways: pureed, fried and roasted. This was a very beautiful dish, garnished pine nuts, black olives, flowers, parmesan, shitake, and wrapped in tomato water gel. The flavours in this dish are very subtle and attempt to the showcase the natural flavours of the vegetables. While I really appreciate how technical this dish is, I felt like it could have done with a bit more seasoning.    

Bonus course

Bowl of 'ash'
Ash, spear squid
Next up was a complimentary course that was titled ‘Ash’. Yay for free food! Turns out this was the dish of the day, a ‘WOW’ dish in bold, capitalised letters. This was a truly impressive dish, with great balance of flavours and perfectly cooked squid. With dramatic presentation to boot! The squid was grilled over a mix of cherry wood and charcoal, and served with a paprika sauce and vinaigrette. The vinaigrette was served as a frozen powder, resembling ash, and was generously spooned over the squid on the table, creating a veil of mist. The squid was fresh and tender to the bite. All the components work with each other, the vinaigrette creating that “wow” factor that you come to expect from a top Michelin star restaurant. 


Ash, paprika
For my wife’s course, she was served a smoked red paprika instead of squid. She too enjoyed this course as much as I did!

Course 2 

Suzuki 'sea bass', maitake mushroom
Next up was a “Suzuki” Seas Bass with maitake mushroom that came wrapped in the bag that it was cooked in, and cut open in front of our very eyes. I really enjoyed this dish because the flesh of the fish was very tender and moist from the gentle cooking technique employed. The bag also locks in the flavour ensuring that no flavour is lost from the cooking process. Another top quality dish, although not as outstanding as the squid course.  


Tagliatelle, mushroom cream sauce
In place of sea bass, my wife was served a tagliatelle with creamy mushroom sauce. My wife enjoyed the al dente pasta and liked how it seemed like a nice, simple course. It had mushrooms and my wife loves mushrooms, so she was already pleased the moment this dish was served. The sauce did get quite after a while.   

Course 3
 

Free range pure bred pork, Kagoshima
Next up I was presented with this pork which was cooked using a traditional French technique of basting the meat in its own fat and olive oil. My first reaction was that the pork looked a bit underdone due to its pink centre but after the first bite I knew it was definitely cooked. The meat was tender and had amazing flavour. Yet again, another great course!

Assorted vegetables, buckwheat risotto
This was my wife’s 3rd course, which looked stunning. It was a mixture of leaves, Japanese tomatoes, vegetables and buckwheat risotto. This dish was absolutely delicious and was a plate full of fresh vegetables, which would keep any vegetarian happy.
           
Course 4
 
Waguri, chestnuts, apple

For dessert, we had this delicious chestnut Mont Blanc served with apple. We also noticed that there were salted potato crisps in this dish which was interesting but definitely added to this dish. The vanilla ice cream and granita were refreshing and rounded off a very nice dessert.

Petit Fours

Petit fours trolley

In dramatic conclusion, our waiter wheeled out this trolley.  Now this is what you call a petite four trolley! This was so awesome! So many things to choose from! This was our ‘kid in the candy store moment’. There must have been 10 or 12 things to choose and you can take as many as you want. We didn’t want to be greedy and take one of each but we probably should have. Oh well, next time. I don’t remember what each of these bite sized treats were (I have done my best), but they are absolutely delicious and make you want to go back for more.


Butter biscuit; Choux pastry, custard; Dark Chocolate macaron; Creme caramel

Sangria jelly, grape; Red bean paste, chestnut; Apple tart tartin :9
 

Verdict
Highlight: ‘Ash’, the bonus squid course. A dish that would put any restaurant firmly onto the world dining scene.
Lowlight: Not much. Everything about this meal was great generally. The eggplant course could have done with a bit more flavour.
Overall: Dining at Narisawa is not just about eating. It is also a show. The food is presented in a theatrical and dramatic manner. The cooking is precise and flavours are amazing. A restaurant worthy of a detour, as the Michelin Guide would say. 8.5/10 (Excellent)

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Sixpenny, Stanmore - 23 June 2013

Sixpenny in suburban Stanmore
To celebrate my birthday this year, my wife and I decided to head to Stanmore for lunch at the 1-chef hat restaurant Sixpenny (83 Percival Rd, Stanmore). We celebrated our first wedding anniversary at Sixpenny last year and had one of the best meals ever in a Sydney restaurant, so we thought my birthday would be a good opportunity to make the return trip.   

Sixpenny is quite a small restaurant as it only has 7 tables in the main dining area. The head chefs at Sixpenny are James Parry (previously at Noma in Copenhagen, Mugaritz in Spain, Oscillate Wildly and Rockpool) and Daniel Puskas (previously at Tetsuya's, Marque, WD-50 in New York, Alinea in Chicago, Oscillate Wildly and Sepia).  James and Daniel first met at Oscillate Wildly and decided to reunite in the kitchen and opened Sixpenny last year. Also both are former winners of the SMH Good Food Guide Young Chef of the Year award.  So these are two very talented chefs with impressive CVs!

The main dining area (we are sitting at the table against the wall)
One of the things I love about Sixpenny is that they grow many of their own vegetables in their garden plot in Bowral in the Southern Highlands. They have transformed the backyard of the restaurant into a productive herb garden, complete with greenhouse and working beehive. 

At Sixpenny, they serve a degustation only menu (6 courses for $115 or 8 courses for $135). This represents quite reasonable value for a tasting menu at hatted restaurant. As my wife had just gotten off the plane, we opted for 6 courses rather than 8. She was feeling a bit tired so it was likely she might not be awake by the 8th course if we had gone for the larger menu. Something to note about dining at Sixpenny is that you need to be prepared to spend 2 or 3 hours; there are no quick meals here. Any way, onto the food…   

Freshly squeezed apple juice
Freshly squeezed orange juice
Snacks 

To start things off, we were presented with a series of different snacks. These were all bite sized delights that I would be happy to keep eating and make a full meal out of.  

Chips and herbed yoghurt

See through potato chip
These kipfler potato chips were paper thin sheets that you could see right through. The chips were nice and crispy and seasoned with salt and vinegar, quite heavily I might add. They were really really salty and sour. Nevertheless these chips were addictive and certainly got the taste buds working. The herbed yoghurt is the perfect accompaniment to the salt and vinegar chips to cool down the taste buds. I wanted more herbed yoghurt dip though.    


Fresh curd and yacon
Next we were presented with a fresh goats curd paired with yacon, a South American plant that tastes like pear. I enjoyed the goats curd, which was silky smooth like tofu and had quite a mild flavour. The yacon was crunch and sweet so it complemented the goats curd nicely.   


English muffin and green tomato marmalade
Next was a cute little bite sized treat: an English muffin with house cured bacon for me and cauliflower for my wife. Now I could definitely eat a plate of these! They were that delicious. The green tomato marmalade was lightly sour and sweet and goes great with the salty pork.    


Smoky porter potato scallop
Next we were each presented with a potato scallop. I have not eaten potato scallops for a while now and this takes me back to my younger days growing up where I would go to the takeaway store and order a box of potato scallops. Except these are much much better. The batter surrounding the potato was thin and light and did not feel greasy at all. Again, I would be happy to be served with a box of these deep fried goodies. 


Sourdough roll
Mascarpone butter
The house baked sourdough roll is seriously amazing! Some of the best bread that I have had in a restaurant in Sydney. The bread was fresh out of the oven and piping hot. You can see the steam rushing out after you rip the bread. The bread had a brilliant crust and very good flavour. My enjoyment of this bread was enhanced by the wonderful mascarpone butter. So smooth and creamy and delicious when spread and melted onto the sourdough. This was also some of the best butter I have had in a Sydney restaurant. We were both so thoroughly impressed by this bread that we could not resist seconds!  

1st course

Celery and Celtuse Salad, Fresh Ricotta, Sweet Pickled Lemon
Our first course was thus celery and celtuse salad. This course demonstrates what makes Sixpenny so great. The focus is on high quality produce and these are showcased with minimal interference. The salad was fresh, crisp and the flavours were light, clean and enjoyable.     
 
2nd course

Crab, Silky Macadamia and Camomile
This is Sixpenny’s signature dish and is always featured on their menus. And for good reason. This dish is just divine. The sweet, delicate hand picked crab meat is wonderfully complemented by the smooth, creamy macadamia milk. The crab is topped with lots and lots of slithers of thin macadamia nuts. There were also the occasional chunks of macadamia nuts mixed amongst the crab meat, a nice textural element.

For the vegetarian course, the crab meat was replaced with white beetroot, which I have not seen before. The white beetroot is not as sweet as normal beetroot, but it has the earthiness.      
    
3rdcourse
 
Gently Seared Bass Groper with Nettles & Rye Butter
Perfectly cooked fish
This was my favourite savoury course of the day. The fish was perfectly cooked. It was tender, moist and succulent. No hint of dryness or flakiness at all. The rye butter was delicious with the bass groper and had a slight nutty flavour.  


Artichoke baked in a salt crust with Nettles & Rye Butter
The great thing about cooking in a salt crust is that the flavours are locked in the crust so no flavour is not lost. The artichoke was very tender and tasted superb with the nettles and rye butter. This was a highly enjoyable course for my wife. Why can’t all vegetables be cooked in a salt crust? 
 
4th course

Leg of Veal Marinated in Malt, Brussel Sprouts & Anchovy
Nicely cooked veal with pink centre
The leg of veal had great, strong meaty flavours. The meat was very well cooked to rare and had a lovely pink centre. The meat was nice and chewy, but by no means tough. Something so tasty is worth using the muscles in your mouth for. Even the brussel sprouts tasted great. They were not bitter at all. There was a lovely progression of courses through the meal and this was a great savoury course to finish on.    


Roasted egplant
Eggplant is one of my wife’s favourite vegetables so this was a course that she enjoyed a lot. The eggplant was nicely roasted til tender and had a wonderful sweet glaze. Unfortunately we don’t remember what the glaze as exactly but it was delicious.  
 
5th course

Milk Sorbet & Citrus Sauce
Now onto desserts! The milk sorbet was absolutely delicious! I tried some on its own and it was amazing! It was soft, smooth and creamy. The citrus sauce was mandarin. It was quite tangy and it was also quite bitter. The bitterness was there to cut through the sweetness but my wife found the bitter flavour to be a bit overpowering.   
  
Bonus course

Brined Pear with Intense Vanilla Ice Cream & Chocolate
To our surprise, we were given this extra dessert, which features in the 8 course menu. It was a great dessert with very good classic flavour combinations: fruit, ice cream and chocolate. Each element was well executed. I enjoyed the crispy pear which was covered in malt. Underneath the pear was the vanilla ice cream, which was the element that I enjoyed the most about this course. You can see the many black specks of vanilla bean in the ice cream. This is how all vanilla ice cream should be. The vanilla flavour was cranked up several notches and was awesome. And of course, pear and ice cream taste even better with chocolate.  
 
6th course

Pumpkin Cooked in Mead with a White Rice Ice Cream
The hero of this dessert is pumpkin, an ingredient normally found in savoury courses. The use of pumpkin in this dessert is just genius and makes for a great winter dessert. There is something comforting about having warm soft pumpkin, with its sweet, buttery flavoured flesh. Warm fruits are best enjoyed with ice cream, and in this case white rice ice cream.    

Bonus birthday course

Chocolate mousse

Inside chocolate mousse dessert
To my further surprise, the waiter takes out this chocolate mousse, a bonus birthday course. I had the biggest grin on my face when I was presented with this dessert. My grin got even bigger as I ate the dessert because it was very good. The chocolate mousse within was quite delicious, it was also light and airy. The mousse was made even more enjoyable by the crunchy bits surrounding it. This was a very good dessert that I would have been happy having as a course on the standard degustation menu.  

Dessert snacks

Sweet potato scallops and rhubarb sticks
If I hadn’t had enough sugar yet, we were given dessert snacks: sweet potato scallops and rhubarb sticks. The sweet potato scallops are just as enjoyable as the savoury version. They kind of remind me of banana fritters. And the chewy rhubarb stick kind of reminded me of liquorice sticks.   
 
Cookie Jar

Cookie jar
Petit fours
Every meal at Sixpenny is always concluded with petit fours served in a cookie jar. How cute! The petit fours were lemon shortbread, Anzac biscuit and chocolate & caramel biscuit. All were very enjoyable. My favourite was probably the chocolate & caramel biscuit for its pillow soft chocolate biscuit and caramel fudge in the centre.

So my birthday lunch at Sixpenny was another highly memorable meal, just like our anniversary dinner last year.  I must say that the first meal was probably better and had more ‘wow’ moments (I would have rated the first meal a solid 9/10).  This might be due to the fact that last year was our first time eating at Sixpenny so some of the surprise / excitement is gone from a second visit. It night also be due to James Parry and Daniel Puskas both being in the kitchen last year. This was not the case this time. Having said this, our meal this time had its fair share of highlights.   


Verdict
Highlight: As I said, there were many highs in this meal. The crab (2nd course) and the sea bass groper course (3rd course) are both outstanding savoury courses. And the 2 extra desserts is an obvious thumbs up to Sixpenny!  
Lowlight: Very few. The flavour balance of the mandarin sauce in the 5th course was slightly off due to its bitterness.
Overall: Sixpenny is my favourite restaurant in Sydney in terms of overall experience. Sixpenny use quality ingredients and the cooking is inspired with an emphasis on light, clean flavours. It is also value for money when compared to similar experiences at other hatted restaurants. The service is friendly, attentive and most importantly unpretentious. I consider Sixpenny to be the most underrated restaurant in Sydney and deserves more than the 1 chef hat that the SMH Good Food Guide has awarded it. I will happily dine here for many years to come. 8.5/10 (Excellent)

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