I honestly can’t believe October is just a memory and December just around the corner. I turned another year older during the multiple celebrations of food, and a meal at Becasse a few days after this momentous event seemed fitting.
“Hats Off” has been a staple of the SIFF for years. The idea is that various restaurants takes on the challenge to create a menu significantly different from their traditional offering. I still remember with very fond memories of Claude’s Hat’s Off a number of years ago where they move away from their traditional French menu and ventured off on Asian fusion that was simply delightful. This particular year we decided to go and see what Becasse’s Heroes and Masters Hats Off dinner is all about. According to them:
“This is a tribute to our heroes and masters and the dishes we’ve enjoyed over the years. Some we’ve endeavoured to replicate and others we’ve taken the inspiration, but all pay homage to these great chefs and amazing temples of gastronomy – Enjoy!”
First up was a homage to Thomas Keller of French Laundry and Per Se dish of Oysters and Pearls . The original dish consists of Island Creek oysters, pearly tapioca and Osetra caviar. I doubt the last ingredient was replicated, but the tapioca gave it an interesting texture.
Second was a tribute to Heston Blumenthal from Fat Duck, with Beetrot and Orange. The original dish played on the diner’s sense, with the orange jello being beetrot and vice versa. One can argue whether it is more of a taster than a dish as the whole experience is all about flicking flavour in one’s mouth rather like gargling with juice actually.
Third was Joël Robuchon of L’Atelier Paris – L’oeuf de poule cocotte et sa crème légère de champignons des bois. Translated as Egg cocotte topped with light wild mushroom cream, it was a lovely layering of flavours. There was the herb emulsion, digging deeper you will find the slow cooked egg, wobbling and oozing, but cooked in a way that retained the flavour of the yolk. The creamy mushroom puree provided a contrast to the flavours and this was all topped with crunch Jamon crumbs. Balanced on top was a piece of toasted brioche that was consumed very quickly. Needless to say this was my favourite dish throughout the evening.
Pierre Gagnaire, Paris – Ormeau, murex, amande et moules d’Espagne aux cèpes sèches, Bouillabaisse mousseuse et gelée d’oursin was in my mind bouillabaisse deconstructed to its base flavours.
Marc Veyrat, Le Ferme de Mon Pere – Le bar éclaté, laitance de chocolat blanc, sirop de citron vert et citronnelle was a gigantic let down for me. It was served with a paint brush to “paint” the mulloway with the lemon-lime gelee. I frankly don’t get it, it would have made sense if liberal application would change the texture or the flavour , but it made no difference and was rather gimmicky with minimum results. A huge disappointment for me was the fish itself. In texture it was between raw and steamed, with neither end being reached and the compromise was an unhappy one for: me, my paintbrush and the fish. I would love to know what the original dish taste like, because this was by far a very sad dish.
Andoni Aduriz, Mugaritz – A piece of veal, roasted and perfumed with vine cuttings and embers, cinders and salts with Joël Robuchon’s Paris mash and Marc Veyrat’s forgotten vegetables. Keep in mind that this was last meat dish of our degustation menu, yes we were incredibly hungry at this stage of the game. When the charred veal arrived, the first thing my dining companion noted was that it was a tiny, burnt little thing and we gazed even more sadly at the proportion of mash to be divided between the three of us. Like everything else throughout the evening, it was an interesting way to cook the food, but did not quite deliver a spectacularly different result that was mind blowing.
Raymond Blanc, Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons – Soupe à la fraise avec un sorbet au lait. Was a refreshing contrast of tart and sweet and brought us into the most memorable part of the evening.
Alain Ducasse, Louise XV Monaco – Louise XV chocolate praline was an extravagantly rich chocolate praline. T commented that the size differential throughout this meal was somewhat puzzling, this chocolate praline was easily twice the size of the veal and nearly tipped us into a chocolate coma. What can I say? Dark, rich and probably more than a single person can cope with unlesss you’re I who asked for a second serving half seriously and was given one by our bemused waiter.
To top off the night we ordered some tea again surprised at how insanely huge their teapots are and wondered if this degustation menu’s plan was to stuff us silly with pastries and tea all along. There were three different types of petit fours: a vanilla friand, chocolate ganache macaroon and brand snap. The brandy snap was the most interesting in terms of texture and flavour, but I enjoyed the subtle sweetness of the friand the best. As much as I liked the idea of “Heroes and Master” this was a rather lackluster dinner in many respect. Considering it was a set menu, the dishes came at an incredibly slow rate with up to 40 minute pauses in between meals, being visited by a cocroach halfway through the meal was not the type of distraction we were looking for. I know that the intent was to experiment and pay homage to some of the greatest chefs in the world, but somewhere along the line the meal itself was forgotten and the concept took over. On the other hand service was fantastic and the same goes with the dessert and bread and made me think that going back to experience Becasse’s usual offering would help to wipe clean my memory of this meal.