Le Comptoir

Address: 5, Carrefour de l'Odéo, Paris 

Phone: +33 (0)1 44 27 07 97

It's been about five months since our Paris food tour in February, and I'm missing Le Comptoir more and more each day. Of all of the places we have eaten in Paris this last trip (L'Arpege, Chateaubriand, L'atelier de Joel Robuchon, Frenchie, L'epi Dupin), Le Comptoir is definitely our favorite. Maybe we are bias because we stayed in Relais Saint Germain hotel next door (also owned by Le Comptoir Chef Yves Camdeborde and his wife Claudine) and get to eat the most amazing breakfast at Le Comptoir every morning, but it was the restaurant's $57 five course set menu dinner that totally blew us away. I haven't had baby eel (angulas) since Asador Etxebarri, and Chef Camdeborde's angulas with roasted garlic was superb, enhanced by the slight smokiness and aroma of the perfectly roasted garlic, this dish was to die for. Similarly, the mackerel with squid ink was the single best fish dish that we have ever tasted. The mackerel was grilled to perfection and served on top of a bed of squid ink. Who knew they'd go so well together? We were thoroughly impressed! The other dishes like oysters with lemon zest, lobster with macaroni and sweet breads were sublime as well. The highlight of the dinner was definitely the Le Comptoir generous cheese course; which restaurant in this world would hand you a large tray of different types of cheese like Timanoix, Beaufort, Brie etc with lovely Cerise Noir and tell you to enjoy it as much as you can before passing the tray to the next table? Needless to say, Gan and I were in cheese heaven that night. You may be surprised to hear this, but getting a reservation at Le Comptoir was actually harder than getting a reservation at Chateaubriand or Frenchie. When I first called the restaurant for a table in February, I was told that it was fully booked until May, and it will be impossible to get a table. But with a combination of research and luck, I discovered that the restaurant does reserve a few tables for its hotel guests at Relais Saint Germain hotel next door, and that was the only other way to score a table at Le Comptoir in February besides personally knowing the chef! 

Some of you may not know, but Chef Yves Camdeborde is actually a legend in the restaurant industry, known as one of the first few chefs who started the food culinary movement in Paris known as "Le Fooding" in the early 90s. Le fooding movement is all about going against the old fashion and inflexible standards and rules for French cuisines and their single and most important lifelong goal of pursuing the Michelin stars by reaching for perfections in every single aspects. Le Fooding is all about presenting elegant and creative food minus the pretense, snobbery and hefty price tag. It is about giving every food lovers out there a chance to taste world class, ambitious French cooking that is used to be available only for those who can afford to eat at places such as Le Meurice, Ritz and Hôtel de Crillon. We love Chef Camdeborde for paving the ways for new generation of Le Fooding chefs like Inaki Aizpitarte of Le Chateaubriand and Gregory Marchand of Frenchie restaurant, and for cooking amazing French food that does not cost an arm and a leg.

Just like the Noveau cuisine movement that had modernized French cuisines in the early part of the century, Le Fooding is the 21st century French culinary movement that will once again propel French cuisines to the next level, making it a world class cuisine that is current and here to stay.
Restaurant interior
oyster with lemon zests
angulas with roasted garlic
mackerel with squid ink
sweet bread
Lobster with macaroni
out-of-this-world cheese course

World's Best Restaurants - Top 10


In conjunction with the newly released S.Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants 2011, here is a short review of the 7 restaurants we've tried from the Top 10 list (pictures and links attached).

#1: Noma -- Hope to try soon!

#2: El Celler De Can Roca -- Need to make a trip to Spain again for El Celler De Can Rosa!

#3: Mugaritz -- One of our favorite restaurants. See posting and food pictures here.

#4: Osteria Francescana -- The food is so out of this world it's hard to describe in words (hence no proper posting yet). But here are some of the food photos for now:

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#5: The Fat Duck -- It's nice, but abit too gimmicky if you ask me. The whole experience was like going to a food circus, except all I wanted was to eat. Some pictures of the food we ate in Fat Duck:

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#6: Alinea -- Hands down the best restaurant in America. Grant Achatz is a genius.

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#7: DOM -- Next stop, Brazil.

#8: Arzak -- We are big fans of Juan Mari Arzak and Elena Arzak, and the Arzak restaurant. They came to say hi to everyone at the table and had proper conversations with us. Food was spectacular; even though we were already overdosed with our 13 course meal at Asador Etxebarri earlier. See what we ate at Arzak here.

#9: Le Chateaubriand -- The food was good, but we weren't wowed. Maybe due to chef Inaki Aizpitarte not present in the kitchen that night.

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#10: Per Se -- One of the best restaurants in New York. See posting here.

The French neo-bistrot movement

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When I read the neo-bistrot movement on the Wall Street Journal/New York Times, it made me think. What is it that makes people in food industry to want to make a statement, consciously or unconsciously?

To draw a parallel, this is not much different than another creative industry. Independent music has been changing how consumers listen and attend concerts. In a way, they are the anti-mass consumerism, anti-mass media appeal, anti-establishment of their industry. Food is no different. I think Anthony Bourdain captures the essence of the movement succinctly. If you are a young turk, looking to unseat the U2's of the world, it is your duty to piss on the establishments. High end fine dining and Michelin starred restaurants, take notice! This is the shot across the bow by the hippies of our generation.

Our trip to Paris is in a way, our pilgrimage back to where our fine dining culinary adventure began. As I sit comfortably in the Eurostar making its bullet fast trip from London to Paris, listening to Temper Trap's Sweet Disposition, I started pondering what we would find in Paris. Frenchie, Le Chateaubriand and Le Comptoir. They are not exactly still struggling to rise up. To be fair, they are probably an establishment even more difficult to get a reservation than L'atelier de Joel Robuchon or l'Arpege. I think Sarah had drawn up an immaculate list of the old U2 establishments versus the new Phoenix establishments.

I feel alive.

Hakkasan @ Hanway Place

Address: 8 Hanway Pl, London


Phone: 44 20 7927 7000
I like Hakkasan. Never mind that the restaurant has often been classified as "westernized" Chinese restaurant, the food is actually very familiar and yet creative. Quite often, chefs/restauranteurs who tried to create modern Chinese restaurants in the West got it all wrong; trying to create a haute Chinese restaurant without understanding the true origin of the cuisine, and the palate of the Chinese people often resulting in one dimensional and soulless Chinese restaurant. Sadly, New York City seems to have tons of these type of restaurants, for some reasons. But not Hakkasan, it is modern but really authentic at the core. The restaurant is sometimes called the Chinese Nobu of London, but honestly I feel it is better than Nobu (Sorry Robert DeNiro). I've heard about Hakkasan for as long as I can remember. Even though Alan Yau, the founder of the restaurant no longer owns it, head chef Tong Chee Hwee who has been running the kitchen since its inception in 2001 is still there. You can count on Chef Tong to continue serving his Michelin Star world class modern Chinese cuisine.

One word to sum up Hakkasan menu - exciting! I don't think I was able to contain my excitement looking at the menu, as there were so many interesting dishes to choose from. Hakkasan menu is a modern adaptation of traditional Chinese dishes that I am somewhat familiar with, but it sounds more fascinating than the traditional ones. Taste wise, it was even more satisfying. Roasted Silver Cod with Champagne and honey is chef Tong's answer to Nobu's famous Miso Cod. I think that Hakkasan's version is much better using Champagne and Honey! How can you go wrong with that combo? It's a lot more subtler than the Nobu version but still gives you the delicate balance between the sweetness of the honey and the tanginess from the champagne. I also really enjoyed the stir fry Venison dish we ordered. I remember growing up eating Venison in some restaurants in my hometown but haven't had it since I left Malaysia. Hakkasan cooked the meat perfectly, so tender and juicy. The dish that really surprised me most was the Japanese tofu with blue swimmer crab toban. A nice touch of vinegar made the tofu dish very appetizing. I could eat this tofu dish with rice anytime! Salt and pepper squid and ostrich wrapped in lotus leaf was really nice as well.

My only complain is that food photography is not permitted at the restaurant and the manager was so serious about it. I'm still puzzled as to why not? Are they not confident of their own dish? Other than that, I would say two thumbs up for Hakkasan! If only there are more modern Chinese restaurant like that in New York City! With that said, Hakkasan should have opened its first shop in the US in New York City instead of Miami. There's such a void in exciting high end, high quality modern Chinese restaurant here. Hopefully Tasameem, the Abu Dhabi-controlled property fund which owns Hakkasan will include New York City in its next expansion plan.
didn't get a chance to snap better photos of the dishes since the manager at the restaurant prohibits it. clockwise from the top: roasted silver cod with champagne and honey, stir fry venison, japanese tofu with blue swimmer crab toban, ostrich wrapped in lotus leaf, and salt and pepper squid.

Hakkasan on Urbanspoon


Address: 15-17 Broadwick Street. Soho, London


Phone: 44 20 7494 8888

Dim Sum is generally good in New York City but lacked options. There is a sufficient supply of good traditional dim sum places in Chinatown, ie Golden Unicorn and Oriental Garden but refined/high quality dim sum restaurants such as award winning Lai Wah Heen in Toronto and Ming Court in Hong Kong is almost non-existence here. Which was why I absolutely have to try the One Michelin Star Yauatcha when we went to London as Chinese food in London is said to be better than those in NYC.

Two dishes that you must not miss in Yauatcha is the restaurants famous Venison puff and Penang fried kway teow (kwetio on Yauatcha menu). In place of pork, the venison gives you a stronger flavor and leaner meat than you will find. It compliments well with the intense black pepper seasoning. We would even venture to say that this is even better than the five spice char siu (roast pork) fillings that we are so familiar with. Yauatcha's Penang fried kway teow is not as good as the actual ones in Penang, but it is darn close, and the kway teow here is famous among Malaysians in London. The refined touch that Yauatcha uses here is the scallops. Ask most Malaysians in London and they can tell you that Yauatcha's fried kway teow is their cure to kway teow cravings. The dim sums from the ala carte menu which we ordered, ie.  Roasted duck pumpkin puff,  Har Gau, Shiu Mai, Prawn and beancurd roll, Prawn and beancurd cheung fun, congee etc were equally memorable as well.

I was told that restaurateur Alan Yau who founded Hakkasan and Yauatcha no longer own both of these restaurants, Abu Dhabi's property investment company is the current owner. But it looks to be that the restaurants are doing just fine without Alan Yau. Hopefully he will open a restaurant in NYC, I think business will be just as good, if not better! 
圍蝦滑燒賣 Prawn shui mai with chicken
筍尖鮮蝦餃 Har gau
黑椒鹿肉酥 Venison puff
黑椒火鴨金瓜酥 Roasted duck pumpkin puff
香煎鮮蝦腐皮卷 Prawn beancurd roll
荷葉珍珠雞 Sticky rice in lotus leaf with chicken and shrimp
馬式炒貴刁 Stir-fry Penang kwetio noodle with prawn and scallop
腐皮蝦腸粉 Prawn and beancurd cheung fun
Yauatcha on Urbanspoon

St. John Bar and Restaurant


Address: 26 St. John Street, London


Phone: 020 3301 8069 

It's fascinating to see how Gan's face lit up and how he behaved giddily like a kid in a candy store responding to the menu he just saw at St John. "Ox heart! Vennison offal! Woodcock! Roast Middlewhite! Hake! Arbroath! I don't know what they are or how they taste like but I want to try them all!" I guess I made the right choice picking this San Pellegrino top 50 restaurant over the rest in London! St John's menu is absolutely worth getting excited with; where else can you get a taste of traditional English dishes that make use of a whole animal, which most people now no longer prepare or eat since they are more affluent and can afford premium cut meats? Offals, animal heads, game birds which used to be staple proteins for the commoners were brought back by chef and owner Fergus Henderson and cooked in the most scrumptious way possible, no wonder the One Michelin star.

For starters we ordered the langoustines and mayonnaise, roast bone marrow and parsley salad, braised squid and salsify, snail and oakleaf to share between the four of us. And for main dish Gan ordered Woodcock and I felt adventurous and went with the Ox Heart with horseradish and beetroot dish. All the starters were actually not terribly impressive, but my ox heart dish, my goodness it was absolutely heavenly. Char grilled to perfection with just enough chewiness and tenderness to make anyone completely in love with the dish. Thank you St John for this wonderful introduction to ox heart! I am now and forever a fan of this "cut" of meat. Gan's woodcock dish was rather interesting, and extremely challenging to eat even for the most open minded eater. The bird's head was cut in half with the brain exposed so it could be eaten with the bird. I couldn't tell if he really liked it. For sweets, we had the traditionally prepared Eccles cake and treacle sponge cake that our English friend recommended. Yummy!

Dinner at St John was perhaps one of the more memorable dining experiences we have had in London. We'll choose this place over Fat Duck or Gordon Ramsay anytime. Would love to meet chef Fergus Henderson and shake his hand for this special dining experience, but was told that chef rarely comes into the restaurant due to his Parkinson disease. But good to see that the restaurant is still doing well despite his absence, with attentive and unfussy kitchen and front of house staffs. St John is doing admirably, trying to preserve ways of cooking which may not be as appreciated by the McDonald's generation. But for each of them, hopefully there's another yaokui out there who is open minded and willing to explore the origins of modern civilization cooking.
Native Oysters
langoustines and mayonnaise
Braised Squid and Salsify
Roast Bone Marrow and Parsley Salad

Ox Heart, Beetroot and Horseradish
Steamed Treacle Sponge and Custard
Eccles Cake and Lancashire Cheese

St John (Farringdon) on Urbanspoon

Trattoria Sostanza

Address: Via della Porcellana, 25, Florence, Italy 

Phone: 055 212691
If you are planning a trip to Florence, Trattoria Sostanza is definitely a restaurant you must not miss. This tiny 147 year old trattoria serves some of the best dishes we've tried in Italy during our trip there in September. Sostanza's Tortellini in brodo, trippa alla Fiorentina and petti di pollo al burro (chicken in butter!) were absolutely fantastic, especially petti di pollo al burro. I have never eaten a chicken dish as good as the petti di pollo al burro there, it was like crack. Needless to say, we had multiple servings of it throughout the night.  The restaurant also makes one of the best bistecca alla Fiorentina in town, but we didn't get to try it since we've already ordered so many dishes. Don't bother spending extra money on wine, go with the restaurant's house wine instead and you will be pleasantly surprised by how good a cheap house wine can be. (EUR 3.50 for 1/4 bottle!)
Trattoria Sostanza is definitely a place you'd need to make reservation ahead of time as it's always packed. Also, expect to share tables with others since there are only long communal tables available. But I doubt anyone who goes there has any issues with that; if anything, I felt that sharing tables with strangers actually contributed to a more relax and convivial atmosphere.

Outstanding traditional cooking, lively atmosphere and amazingly wonderful wait staff made Trattoria Sostanza my top five favorite places to eat in Italy.
trippa alla Fiorentina - tripe in tomato sauce and cheese.
Zuppa Alla Paesana - a flavorful and hearty soup dish with bread
Tortellini in brodo - wonderfully prepared homemade tortellini in light broth.
petti di pollo al burro - Chicken in butter, one of the best dishes I have tasted in Italy!

Ai Fiori

Address: 400 Fifth Avenue, New York.  The Setai Fifth Avenue, Level Two 


Phone: 212-613-8660

Just when I thought I have tried all of Chef Michael White's restaurants (Convivio, Alto, Marea, Osteria Morini) and wonder if the chef could ever outdo his sea urchin malloreddus dish at Convivio, he surprised me with his sea urchin gnocchetti at his newest restaurant Ai Fiori. Located on the second floor of ultra luxury The Setai Hotel on Fifth avenue at Murray Hill, Ai Fiori is probably the most upscale restaurant the chef owns. When we went there, Ai Fiori customers seems to be the fur coat, fancy hat and expensive suit wearing kind of crowd. Albeit the crowd, ambience at Ai Fiori is not at all stuffy, which may be partly due to its friendly waitstaffs and maitre d'. The executive chef of Ai Fiori, Chris Jaeckle (who used to cook in Morimoto and Eleven Madison Park) even came out and chatted with us. Apparently, he has a friend who shares the exact same first and last name as me. Note to self: try convincing Chris Jaeckle that it'd be cool to have 2 friends with the same name. Always nice perk to know chefs or people in the food business, if only for their colorful personality. :-)

Since the big boys aka New York Times, New York Magazine, Eaters and Serious Eats have not yet officially published a review on Ai Fiori, we figured that explained why the restaurant was not fully booked when we went there on a Friday night. I'm glad that we had a chance to eat before it gets too popular, the food is really that good. With Michael White no longer affiliated to partner Chris Cannon and the Convivio and Alto restaurants, Ai Fiori will be the new best place for Michael White lux pasta and Osteria Morini will be the place to go for laid back comfort Italian food, and especially its pasta. Can you imagine MW was out of job just a few years ago? He sure is taking New York City by storm!

 Ostriche - poached wellfleet oysters, cucumber, sturgeon caviar, beurre blanc
Uovo with Fried Sweetbread

Just like in all of Michael White restaurants, the menu in Ai Fiori is simple and utilitarian (I think I've used the same description for Marea's menu), with adequate selections of wonderfully prepared Antipasto, Pasta, and Pesce/Carne main dishes to choose from. The menu here are French Riviera and Italian Riviera inspired, and they served a ligurian pasta called Trofie which is unique to places like Cinque Terre. I didn't order that but I had oysters for appetizer, sea urchin gnocchetti for pasta and poached lobster for pesce entree. Gan had the uovo (poached egg with sweetbreads), sea urchin gnochetti for pasta and rack of lamb for carne. I just have to say --- Ai Fiori's sea urchin gnochetti is absolutely heavenly, even better than Convivo's sea urchin malloreddus! Portion was larger and there were more crab meat to go with the rich creamy sea urchin sauce and the perfectly al dente gnocchetti. The poached oysters with sturgeon caviar dish delivered great satisfaction, and poached lobster dish for my third course was just butter-succulent. Gan's uovo was also pretty darn good - light foam with runny egg yolk complimented the fried sweetbreads nicely. Unfortunately he wasn't as impressed by the rack of lamb dish he ordered. For dessert, we ordered ligurian olive cake with ricotta and gelato al caffe, which was a nice finish to our perfect dinner at the restaurant. If you've been to MW's restaurants as much as we have, you should have noticed a few similar dishes reincarnated in slightly different versions such as the sea urchin pasta, uovo, and affogato. Say what you want, but MW knows what works and is adept in reinventing his food to keep it interesting and most of all, delicious.

Service was excellent throughout the night. We remember seeing some familiar faces in the front of house, and later on found out that Ai Fiori had in fact hired quite a few people from Corton, including Corton's director/maitre d' Susan Lee. Dessert chef Robert Truitt made the same trek uptown from Corton to Ai Fiori.  I guess besides ex partner Chris Cannon (who gave the chef his big break when he hired him at Convivio), Michael White will probably not be in friendly terms with Corton's Drew Nieporent any time soon? In the mean time, the restaurant war does not concern us diners, as long as we can still have good italian food and good pasta. Nobody does it better than MW!

Torchon - foie gras au naturel, spiced figs, ormeasco mostarda, pistachios, brioche toaste
Granchio - blue crab, avocado, grapefruit, tarragon, crispy farinata
Gnocchetti with sea urchin and crab meat
Ragu ravioli
Astice - butter poached nova scotia lobster, root vegetable fondant, chateau chalon sauce
Rack of lamb
Torta di Olio - ligurian olive oil cake, ricotta, pear confit, port, gelato al caffé

Ai Fiori (The Setai Fifth Avenue) on Urbanspoon