Review: Tsuta – Michelin star ramen

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You’ve probably heard a lot about ramen – to be honest, it’s almost old news. Whereas sushi was the first morsel to whet the appetite for the fetishisation of Japanese food, ramen was surely the next.

As if to demonstrate they’re down with the cool kids that like to serve triple-cooked chips with a side of truffle oil to highlight that finer ingredients can indeed be used to exoticise the more mundane comfort foods we crave, the Michelin Star judges awarded Japanese Soba Noodles Tsuta, a tiny ramen joint in Tokyo, a Michelin star in December 2015.

As a matter of fact, Tsuta’s ramen actually does come with truffle sauce. And so it probably wins the Michelin Star Epitome Award. Continue reading

Review: Yauatcha, Dim Sum Teahouse, Soho

Some of the dumplings we sampled...

Some of the dumplings we sampled…

A contemporary dim sum teahouse. That’s how Yauatcha describes itself on its website and how could that fail to sound like a really fun idea? Lots of small dishes to graze upon, laid back chatter in between comforting sips of tea. It’s perfect for catching up with friends or a casual date. Add a Michelin star to its credentials, however, and my former student self begins to get nervous. Visions of minuscule morsels and a monstrous bill begin to rise in front of my eyes.

That’s why I couldn’t quite believe it when I saw an eight-dish tasting menu for two for the very specific amount of £28.88. It may only be available Mondays to Thursday between 2 and 6pm, but £14.44 a head just didn’t seem credible.

A Michelin-star restaurant that is actually affordable?! Yauatcha is a creation from Alan Yau, who previously developed the Wagamama and Busaba Eathai restaurant chains, so perhaps affordability shouldn’t be that unexpected. Except from that fact that he also created the high class Hakkasan, also with Michelin star and where prices are a casual £58 for a Sunday dim sum menu.

The catch had to be in the portions. The dim sum had to be so small that they might be accidentally inhaled whilst sneezing. One sharp intake of breath and the food would vanish forever, never once grazing the tongue.

These, however, proved to be wild fantasies. I left Yauatcha comfortably full and desperate to throw my money at them again: the food, in case you haven’t guessed, was beyond excellent.

Quite frankly, I have no idea why Yauatcha has escaped my radar, and if it’s not been on your map either, sound the alarms, get out your GPS and cancel your weekend plans – dining here should be an imperative for any foodie.

Sweet potato mushroom mei-si roll and baked venison puff

Sweet potato mushroom mei-si roll and baked venison puff

Behind a front of dark blue glass lies a sleek, modern interior with dark wood-topped tables, padded chairs and cakes. That’s right – beautiful, colourful and extravagant cakes lining a bar near the front window. The temptation is so blatant that it should be illegal.

We settled in, placed our orders and awaited the goods, fortunately with the desserts out of our line of sight. They were, however, soon forgotten as a myriad of delights decorated our table.

Sticky rice in lotus leaf

Sticky rice in lotus leaf

The first dish to come was sticky rice with chicken and shrimp wrapped in a lotus leaf. Simple though this was, it was one of the highlights of the meal. It was beautifully flavoured that I would have happily been served it as an entire meal and eaten a giant bowlful without getting bored. It was so delicious that I found myself trying to save some until last.

We were then presented with a variety of dumplings which banished unfortunate past memories of stodginess and really highlighted the subtlety that is so often lost in Chinese cuisine.

Prawn shui mai and Shanghai siew long bun

Prawn shui mai and Shanghai siew long buns

Each dish was a delight and devoured with pleasure, and perhaps a little sorrow: they tasted so good that they inspired extreme greed and cravings for more.

Prawn and beancurd cheung fun

Prawn and beancurd cheung fun

Particularly worth noting was the venison puff that carefully balanced sweetness against the rich flavour of the meat. The prawn and beancurd cheung fun (steamed rice roll), whilst not the most aesthetic piece to Western eyes – indeed it is sometimes called ‘pig intestine’ due to its appearance – was firm but light, and again disappeared all too quickly.

Even though we were embarking on an extraordinary tasting journey, we were aware of the high quality service we received: our waitress had exactly the right approach – that perfect balance between professionalism, genuine interest and pride in what was being served. And, of course, why wouldn’t the waiting staff be proud? They’re serving excellent food. Yauatcha is in a class of its own. 

Yauatcha 5/5 – Stop press. I think this is my first 5/5 review ever. I cannot praise Yauatcha enough.

Food 5/5 – Go try it for yourself. Words fail me.
Value 4/5 – Perhaps a little expensive for dim sum but you can’t fault the quality.
Atmosphere 4/5 – A laid back vibe, which is good because we were squeezed quite close to the other tables.
Service 5/5 – Completely on the ball.

Where: 15-17 Broadwick Street, Soho, London, W1F 0DL

Website: 
http://www.yauatcha.com/soho/

Review: L’Atelier De Joel Robuchon, Covent Garden

Inside

The stage…

I’ve not done Michelin dining before but it was London Restaurant Week so I thought I’d splash out on a three-course for £35 deal at L’Atelier De Joel Robuchon. As it turns out, they run the same deal anyway as a pre-theatre menu. But never mind. I was off to eat at an award-winning two Michelin star restaurant in Covent Garden. The website boasts that Joël Robuchon’s restaurants have gathered a total of 25 Michelin stars, more than any other chef.

This was serious business; this was the pinnacle of gastronomy.

This was also a trip to the circus.

Why the circus, you ask? Because L’Atelier De Joel Robuchon takes pretension to the level of blatant performance, leaving the entire experience hollow at best and discomfiting at worse.

Let me explain. The inside is dark. Very dark. Green leaves line one wall. There are a few tables and a sleek counter with high, red stools, focused around a central bar and kitchen. This is the stage for the evening’s entertainment – the waiters.

Peeking at part of the stage...

Peeking at part of the stage…

Highly aware of the pretensions and expectations of their wealthy customers, the waiters camp things up to the extreme. Their accents thicken, they glance knowingly at each other before executing some flamboyant gesture, and they call out “OOH LA LA” at every opportunity. Getting louder and louder in some form of competition.

I wanted to shout “BOOBIES” very loudly because I’m pretty sure that was closer to the original version of the game. You know, the game where you start saying something random/rude and get louder and louder to see which one of you will dare to shout it the loudest. Somehow though, I think “BOOBIES” would have been frowned upon in L’Atelier De Joel Robuchon, but maybe if I adopted French swear words it would have been acceptable. In fact, I think I might return just to see how loudly I can shout “Casse-toi, con!” and get away with it.

Sustenance

Sustenance

We perched onto the counter seats and awaited some food. They provided us with a basket of bread. This is a necessity in Michelin-star restaurants: it is to ensure that you don’t faint with hunger from the small portions and can at least make it out the door without collapsing.

Parmesan cappuccino

Parmesan cappuccino

We were served an amuse-bouche  – a Parmesan cappuccino with foie gras and a port reduction. The Parmesan flavour was strong but expertly balanced by the sweetness of the port and the richness of the foie gras. It definitely amused my bouche, although my dining partner was less amused. However, our evenings clowns were not going to be forgiving.

“Is something wrong with your amuse-bouche, monsieur?” A waiter inquired, a little too loudly and a little too directly.

My friend hastily ate up. “I got told!” he muttered.

Green asparagus velouté served with goat cheese ravioli

Green asparagus velouté served with goat cheese ravioli

For starters, we took “Green asparagus velouté served with goat cheese ravioli”. The velouté (a creamy sauce) was very mild and delicately flavoured and the goat’s cheese provided a stronger contrast of flavour. Definitely tasty, but three pieces of ravioli somewhat limited the enjoyment. Literally.

Veal

Veal roulade

Veal

Veal roulade

Beef

Beef with red miso

Then the mains. I wish – I wish – I could remember them well enough to describe them properly…but the fact I can’t probably is a good enough review in itself. I ordered beef in red miso, which was unspectacular. My dining partner took some kind of rolled veal,which was a lot tastier than my beef but a little chewy. I really can’t remember because, to be honest, the unfolding self-mocking cultural parody somewhat detracted from the food. At first, I found the scenario highly amusing, but it grew tiring.

Chocolate - hooray!

Chocolate – hooray!

The evening was saved by the fact that L’Atelier De Joel Robuchon was not too posh for straight up chocolate and a big portion of it. It may not have been the richest, most chocolatey dessert I’ve ever consumed, but it seriously elevated my happiness levels.

By the end of the meal, I concluded that maybe Michelin-star dining just isn’t for me. I can cope with that, and so can my wallet.

Petit fours

Petit fours

L’Atelier De Joel Robuchon 2/5 – Yawn. Unmemorable food in a ridiculous environment. 

Food 3/5 – It was pleasant but not tantalising to the taste-buds.
Value 2/5 – It was good quality. That’s what saves it from getting 1/5.
Atmosphere 2/5 – Counter seating and smart-casual dress code means it’s not  super-posh, but the weird performance by the staff awkwardly co-opts diners into the role of part-audience, part-participants. Not the most relaxing.
Service 2/5 – Stop the ooh-la-las. Please. And don’t try to embarrass your customers. That is not a clever strategy.

Website: http://www.joelrobuchon.co.uk/
Where:  13-15 West Street, London WC2H 9NE
When: Every day 12pm-2.30pm, 5.30-10.30pm