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Masterchef Pop-up Restaurant

A few months ago, I received an email about the one month Masterchef Pop-up Restaurant and Bar happening in London. Basically, several Masterchef winners and contestants were going to be cooking food every week over the course of a month (Mostly October 2014). Each week was featuring different chefs, and Tom and I decided to go and check it out. We do watch pretty much every iteration of Masterchef in the UK (some of the ones in other countries are a bit over-dramatic), so I chose a group of chefs that I remembered being really good: The 2012 winner (Tim) and runner-ups (Sara and Tom). I also opted to get the tasting menu that consisted of two courses from each of them.

So we arrived. The venue was the 10th and 11th floor of the Blue Fin Building near the Tate Modern. The bar was on an outside terrace with a few drink selections available. We started with Bloody Marys, but unfortunately, they were a bit lack-luster and the celery was a bit wilted. We also had some Pimms and I had a G&T. They drinks were okay, but nothing great. Also because the terrace is outside on the 10th floor, it got quite cold quite quickly, and it soon became obvious we weren’t dressed well enough. We tried to see if there was an indoor bar in the restaurant, but we were turned away. Luckily, they told us about some indoor seating someplace, so we got a drink to bring there where we could be slightly warmer.

At 7:30 we could get seated, and they presented us with a complimentary glass of champagne which was a nice touch. We were told that there’s an open kitchen area were we could look into the kitchen, so we decided to take a look before dinner. We did get to see a glimpse of Sara and Tom working, but Tim seemed to be missing that night. The venue itself is quite simple, but they did try a bit to make it a bit nicer than just a standard cafeteria-style area. We ordered some wine to go with the first two courses (champagne) and settled in for our meal.

We opted to get a bottle of champagne to go with the starters. They were serving Laurent Perrier, and while it’s not the best champagne available, it is always tasty and enjoyable. The first starter was a confit salmon with micro greens and lemon. And the flavor was really nice, but the salmon was a bit overcooked. The second starter was rabbit. And the rabbit was probably the best course. The tureen is really delicious, and I really enjoyed it, so with the first two courses down, I was really looking forward to what else there was to come. Although the fish was overcooked, the flavors seemed nice. We also managed to get quite a few bread refills. There was a white roll and a rye roll. Both were really great. Apparently other tables were offered a rosemary potato roll, but I think those ran out quite early on.

We now switched to a barolo for the mains. The wine was quite nice, so we were happy about that. The first main was fish again, and unfortunately, it was quite disappointing. The broth it was served in was really tasty, but the fish itself was incredibly overcooked. The mussel that came with it was also really terrible. The only saving grace was that the scallop was cooked well, but overall the course really lacked quite a bit. The fourth course of pork belly was tasty, but again wasn’t amazing.

For dessert, we got a half-bottle of the Tokaji. Again the wine was really tasty, but the two desserts were a bit disappointing. The first one of mango and passionfruit with candied olives isn’t an original flavor combination for me (we had something similar last year at Pollen Street Social), but the red sorbet it was served with was really tasty. The S’mores was also really disappointing. I was hoping for something really gooey and delicious, but it was just kind of boring. Since Tim is an American, I was hoping he’d get this course right, but it really wasn’t very exciting. The gold popping candy that came with it was really good though.

The service was a bit spotty as well. Even though our server Amber was really nice, she didn’t seem to know what she was doing. Even though she claimed we were her top priority table, it really didn’t feel that way. We also talked to one of the organizers of the event when she came by our table and when we were leaving. She asked us how it was, and given how much wine I had been drinking, I wasn’t shy in telling her that it was quite disappointing. The food was nice, but not great, and the execution of the dishes was really lacking as several courses were overcooked. Given there were 100+ diners there for tasting menus, it’s clear that it was just too many people to handle. Maybe a lot of them aren’t experienced with that kind of food, but I was expecting a lot more. So when we were asked if we’d come back if they did it again, I had to tell them no. That I enjoyed the experience of having food cooked by Masterchef contestants, but the execution and the set-up really let them down. It’s all a learning experience I’m sure, and maybe they can improve, but for £65 a head, there are far better places in London I could be eating dinner.

So overall the experience was interesting. I’m glad I went to try something new and experience some previous Masterchef contestants’ food. (Although the meal we had in Cornwall at a restaurant of another contestant was far superior to this.) I can’t say it was the best food I’ve had, but it was fun. So, for me it was a definite three star experience. I hope that they manage to improve things over the next few weeks, and maybe it will improve quite a bit if they decide to do it again.

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Posted by on September 15, 2014 in Restaurants, Travel

 

Lisbon: The Port Wine Institute and Belcanto

Our last port of call on our cruise was in Lisbon. A few days prior, we had been lamenting about the poor food quality on board the ship, and we started looking for fine dining restaurants and places to go to satisfy our foodie cravings. Unfortunately, in other ports we either didn’t have enough time to go to some of the places we really wanted or they were closed (Sunday is not the best day to be spending a whole day in Spain).

Luckily, we hit Lisbon on a Tuesday and Belcanto was open for lunch. However, we had a bit of time before our reservation, so we headed up to the Port Wine Institute to try some port and relax with a drink. At 11:00 am. Yes, we’re those sort of people. We walked through the streets of Lisbon (which is absolutely gorgeous by the way), and ended up on a hill where there was an amazing view of the city. This area was also directly across the street of the institute so it was conveniently located for us.

The institute is a pretty spectacular place. The green carpeting and comfortable seating really make you feel welcome and invited in. The service is a bit slow at times, but we ended up trying several different port wines while we were there. We started with the standard late bottle vintage (LBV). While these may not be as nice as the vintage ports, those were not available to try by the glass. However the ones we tried were nice, and we ended up picking up a nice 2003 LBV to take home. Next, we moved onto the tawny ports. Tom has never been a fan of them, but he figured if there was a place to find one he liked, it was at the Institute. Turns out, he likes old tawny ports, as he had a 1961 that was out of this world. It was actually a Colheita which is a single vintage tawny, so nicer than your standard one. That port wasn’t available in the bottle, only by the glass, so we tried a few others and ended up with a 1967 Colheita to take home. We also picked up a vintage port because we could.

At the restaurant, we opted for the tasting menu. It was six courses, and we asked about wine pairings, and they had one that had a glass with every course or one with every other course. There was no question as we opted for the full pairings. They were also all Portuguese wines which really made the meal special. I missed a picture of the first amuse bouche (consisting of a trio of olives), but got photos of everything else. The next amuse bouche was something that looked like a ferrero rocher, but turned out to be a bit of foie gras pate in a shell. Delish. It was served with a bit of a crispy cod thing. The last amuse bouche was barnacles! Barnacles! I’d never had them before, but was very impressed.

For the actual meal, the first course was a display of shellfish that looked like the ocean. The shellfish was all very tasty and the presentation was spot on. Course two was pickled fish with a beetroot an onion sauce. The fish was really soft and tender, and the beets were a great match. The wine for this course was spectacular as well. Course three is the dish that apparently got them their Michelin star this year. It’s a slow cooked egg with gold leaf and truffles. It was absolutely heavenly. Next was mullet with a liver sauce (made from the same mullet!) served with gnocchi to represent the sidewalks of Lisbon. Fifth was a course of suckling pig belly served with a sauce they painted on! There were also crisps in an edible bag served on the side. There was a pre-dessert of a frosted raspberry with wasabi. Interesting flavor combination and delicious! Last we had the mandarin. It was a mandarin foam inside of a mandarin jelly with sorbet and mandarin slices. One of the best desserts I’ve had in awhile. It was served with a sweet white port, and we realized we were missing out not trying sweet white port before (we had only had dry white and were not fans).

After lunch, we ended up walking around Lisbon looking for some of the wine we had just drank at lunch. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much luck, but we picked up a few other bottles of wine to bring back home and try. I didn’t get to see much of Lisbon, but I loved what I saw. We also picked up a couple of Portuguese tarts to have for later. Lisbon (and probably other places in Portugal) is now on my list of places to return to in Europe.

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Posted by on September 25, 2013 in Travel

 

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Casablanca (and Moroccan food)

One of the things I love about traveling is getting to try all the authentic local cuisine. When we went on a cruise recently, and it went to Casablanca, we knew we needed to find a good local place to have delicious food. Some of my friends who had been on a trip to Morocco recently had mentioned that Moroccan food can be hit or miss depending on the restaurant, and since we only had one day, we knew we had to find a good place to go.

The restaurant we chose was Restaurant Imilchil. Apparently Imilchil is a small town in the center of Morocco, but for food purposes, I was more concerned about the taste experience. As we sat down in the restaurant (and we weren’t even sure it was open because it seemed empty and closed) we perused the menu, and it was all in French and Arabic (as you’d expect in Morocco). Unfortunately, we didn’t bring enough British Pounds to likely cover the meal, so Tom had to run off to a cash machine to get some local money. Apparently the restaurant owner followed him (either to make sure he found it or he was coming back, we really have no idea). It did give me a bit of time to get some shots of the beautiful dining area as well.

We weren’t too sure what to get, so the owner recommended the salad, a chicken tagine and some couscous to share. It sounded perfect, but I had eaten at Moroccan places in the States, and I had a delicious sweet and savory pie made out of chicken and fruit wrapped in pastry and covered with cinnamon and sugar so I definitely wanted one of those. I managed to explain somehow what I wanted, and he said “Pigeon pastilla”. Apparently pastilla is what I wanted and it’s made out of pigeon (instead of chicken) so I was even more excited by the thought.

The salads that we had were fantastic. I can even describe the flavors on my palate. Definitely Moroccan and delicious. (And unfortunately, I was so hungry I forgot to get a photo.) The pastilla was heavenly. The pigeon was well cooked and had that liver-like taste that I love about it, but mixed with almonds and Moroccan spices. The sugar and cinnamon on top just added to the sweet and savory combination that I’ve learned to love. The tagine was actually my least favorite part. It was nice, but it could have been better. There were bits of liver in it that were nice, but the sauce and overall flavor was a bit lacking. An American traveler also came into the restaurant, and he had the lamb and prune tagine which may have been better. The couscous was a bit wet for my taste, but the vegetables on top were fantastic. Plus under the vegetables was a nice braised piece of lamb that was quite delicious. So overall, the restaurant was well worth our research and planning, and I would recommend it to anyone who happened to find themselves in Casablanca. The owner also suggested some Moroccan wine. We were intrigued and love to try wines from different places, so we had a bottle, and we were pleasantly surprised at how good it was. We may have to try to find it in the UK!

Unfortunately, Casablanca itself wasn’t that nice. It’s a bit dirty, and definitely doesn’t have the romantic feel you’d expect (but most of that is because of the Hollywood movie). We walked around a bit, and came across the market, but most of the stalls were closed. (Possibly just while we were there, but who knows?) We ended up there on a Friday and since that is the day of worship in Islam, it could be the reason why it just wasn’t that exciting around town. I had already found out that the giant and beautiful mosque on the hill was closed to visitors on Friday (unless you got there really early, and that was unlikely for us to do) so there was a lot of stuff we just didn’t get the chance to see. Honestly, I’m not sure I’d go back to Casablanca, but I’m glad I went. I even picked up my own tagine to cook in at home, so I definitely need to have a Moroccan night. Including making that delicious pastilla!

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Posted by on September 25, 2013 in Travel

 

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