The Samovar

Best. Scrabble. Ever.
October 30, 2008, 9:26 pm
Filed under: Scrabble | Tags: ,

I finally broke the 500 barrier in Scrabble! Getting 3 words using all my tiles in the first 6 goes was certainly a good start (amorous, annealer and torrents). And the combined total was 933 – not too shabby.

October 26, 2008, 12:18 am
Filed under: Consumption, Food | Tags: , , , ,

My latest culinary adventure in Paris was a visit to a restaurant trois étoilés (with three Michelin stars). I found out that the restaurant L’Astrance has a lunch menu at a mere €70 (which for 3* cooking is a very reasonable price). The next problem was getting a table. L’Astrance only has space for 25 people and around 8 tables, so booking several months in advance is a must. The restaurant has a very unusual way of doing things, almost unheard of for a 3* restaurant: le menu surprise. You have no idea what you’ll be getting before it arrives in front of you. From what I’d read, I was told that they decided each day afresh what to make based on what was good at the market. That sounded improbable but it was always possible they had a set list of possible things they could make from which they chose afresh each day. After the meal I asked about this and they said the menu changes every month or so, so although there might be some day to day variation, it’s mostly going to be the same in any given month.

Anyway, the meal was absolutely fantastic and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone coming to Paris.

Here’s what we had (I don’t remember everything precisely):

  • Amuses bouches: sablé au beurre with thyme leaf, cognac infused grape, fresh walnut – this was just a little something to nibble while you looked at the menu (a wholly pointless exercise given that it doesn’t say what you’re going to get)
  • Palate cleanser: cauliflower mousse, mustard yoghurt, soy sauce foam – wow! this sounds kind of weird but it works incredibly well, somewhat like the grain mustard ice cream with red cabbage gazpacho they serve at Fat Duck
  • Starter: scallops coated in lemon zest with autumn vegetables and three sauces, lemon vinaigrette, peanut, and curry – another incredible dish. Next time I cook scallops they’re getting lemon zest on the outside.
  • Fish: red mullet (rouget) with autumn vegetables and peanuts, and a side dish of mussels with some sort of sauce – the fish was excellent, but for me it was the mussels that really shone here, I wish I could remember the name of the sauce they were with because it was amazing. Creamy, with some sort of fish stock base, and little bits of what may have been tomatoes or peppers or some such.
  • Meat: roast suckling pig with crunchy skin, vegetables “like at home” (err… no) – the only slightly disappointing thing. It was perfectly cooked and very tasty, but not terribly exciting.
  • Puddings – all four of these theatrically came at the same time with a suggestion to eat it in the following order:
    • Lemongrass and verveine (lemon verbena) mousse – a sort of palate cleanser bursting with flavour. Delicious, but slightly disconcertingly reminiscent of toothpaste!
    • Something with honey ice cream – I can’t really remember what this was now, damnit. Was pretty tasty though. I’m a big fan of honey ice cream.
    • Cylinder with various things including grapefruit and mango, and some sort of coulis with it – this one really blows your mind. You have this odd little white cylinder which when you crack it open has all these incredibly strong, tart fruit flavours which really zing!
    • Apple clafoutis with apple pieces and apple foam – for me, this was my favourite of the four puddings. Often I’m a bit dubious about apples because they’re almost always such poor quality, but here they were perfect, flavoursome and perfectly cooked, with the clafoutis just the right level of moist.
  • Petits fours: egg shells filled with egg yolk enriched milk with jasmine to drink, chestnut madeleines, various fruits – the fruits were a little odd, especially as they included tomatoes that were just unripe, but the chestnut madeleines were delicious and the egg shells were extraordinary. It may sound a little odd, but what was essentially cold jasmine infused custard or creme anglaise is a winner.

For reference, in case anyone is thinking of going, the choice of menus and prices when we went was as follows:

  • (Lunch) Dejeuner (70 euros, or 110 with selection of wines for each course) “3 courses” (actually somewhere between 5 and 10 courses depending which ones you count from above)
  • (Lunch) Automne (110 euros or more for wines) “5 courses”
  • (Lunch/Dinner) Astrance (190 euros or more for wines) “7 courses”