Travel Through Plates

When a plate of food is put before me, I photograph it immediately. This blog, decodes my favorite dishes. It's a happy blog, as I predominantly show you pictures of the winners, the ones I love,

My Greatest Plates!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Vistamar - Monaco's newest Chef Star!

Benoit Witz is no stranger to Monaco as he was part of the original brigade that opened the Louis XV with Alain Ducasse 1987. He's had the good fortune to begin his career in Lyon with the doyen, apprenticing in Paul Bocuse's kitchen before stints with Lenôtre at Pre Catalan in Paris and then working at several Provençal Ducasse outposts until he was plucked from L'Abbaye de La Celle in Brignolles (where he had gained a Michelin star) to take over from the retiring one star chef - Joël Garault here at the Hermitage Hotel. 

As is my habit I always like to give a new chef or restaurant a couple of months to get into rhythm before I review their offerings and a few days ago I went to the Vistamar to taste some of the magic. 

This restaurant is superbly placed to catch the light and even when the terrace is closed the room inside remains airy and luminous. The tables are set nicely apart to keep a tete a tete rendezvous private and this attracts the business and love-dove client. 

Now to the food......celebrating neo classical brilliance with a remarkable bias that showcases tip-top local ingredients, that are cooked with a modern mood, innovative yet with superb simplicity and classical restraint. 

I started with courgettes three ways, a raw lattice of wafer thin shavings, and then the zucchini warm, stuffed with a mirepoix of squid and aromatics followed by the blossom cradling even more tender fragrant vegetables. It was a plate of beauty that never forgot its purpose; to put this delectable vegetable on a podium! Profoundly well thought out and easy on the eye. See photo 

The pressé of foie gras was a grandiose, served with cherries in all their forms, raw, black pepper pickled, chutney and en gelée. The addition of baby raw almonds added a touch of welcomed texture. Boy do I love fresh almonds! Each cherry morsel was a calculated foil to the silken pâte which made the rustic toast almost obsolete. See photo

Next a homemade pasta was a revelation, nestling local red shrimp from San Remo - (that are simply the sweetest, most succulent morsels in all shrimpdon!) Served in an intense iodine broth of teeny shucked clams, with shards of grilled squid and a scattering of raw spinach. Whilst this was not the prettiest of plates on the day; for me this was my favourite by a long chalk with full points for yumminess the sum of its parts culminating into a triumphant saline celebration. Oh Benoit if you going to keep cooking like this you're going to see a whole lot more of me! 

I'm told that the pigeon with cherries (see picture) was very good but I cannot comment as i did not try it. 

The dessert was a deconstructed strawberry cake which is called a "Fraisiers" in these parts. The pastry straw was an exquisite crumbly flaky affair which celebrates butter and was good enough to be served all alone with just a cup of tea. The sliced strawberries were mounted around a dome of vanilla clotted cream and topped with strawberry sorbet. I wanted to lick my plate but let's face it strawberries and cream 
are a magic pairing.

There is a daily lunch menu for 48 euros which I consider extraordinary value for cooking at this level. 

If chef Witz keeps this up he'll easily be in consideration for Macaron number #2 and I for one would have no problem in agreeing with Bibendum on that. In fact it's only matter of time as this is his destiny. 

Perfect for a business lunch or dinner with very good friends. This is an address to keep on the tip of your tongue.

Instagram #montecarlomonaco

Twitter mcmonaco

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Yoshi Monaco Eclipses NOBU

I am so impressed by Robuchon's Nippon Dalliance, he's on point and his plating is breathtaking. 

Ultra fresh fish that is full of sublime, silken-subtlety, nuance and presence. His sashimi selection soars, and celebrates the simplicity and complexity of the selection with splendour and majesty. (See the picture below). A "simple" chicken soup is elevated to a stratospheric level of umami with a magic broth that I believe has reparative powers! Every grain of rice has been meticulously loved and prepared. His rice seasoning balances the sourness of rice vinegar, with the ultra white grains, each seemly separate (look at Maki rolls pictures in close up) yet together in harmony cradling the fish.

I am in awe! 

Yoshi is an oasis of calm, with a mantra like devotion to the fresh and fabulous. The lighting makes everyone elegant! Efficient for a business lunch, super for friendly get together but easily orgiastic with a lover! Having eaten and raved about Nobu - Monaco recently one must give credit where it's due and recognise that Yoshi is the Principalities champion of Japanese gastronomy and Mr Robuchon is the Maestro with a chopstick as a baton, conducting this symphony!

RESTAURANT YOSHIHôtel Métropole Monte-Carlo4, avenue de la Madone
Tél. (+377) 93 15 13 13
Email :

Elsa - Michelin Gets it RIGHT!

Organic from bread to dessert, ELSA reopens with a richly deserved first Michelin Star. I was at the second service of the year March 6 2014 and it was a sublime symphony of savours! Giving total respect to the Ligurian and Provence bio-produce. I'm sold from the BIO SAMA signature plate of shaved veggies with a pea "guacamole' to the velvet gnocchi served in "Garden" - the magnificent almond soufflé breaks new ground. The setting is exquisite, the service non intrusive but attentive and chef Paola Sari is as deft with asparagus as he is with meat and fish. Elsa also features a superb selection of organic olive oil which adds the zing across the plates with a green astringent pepper kick to the back of the throat, let me tell you it's all good in this garden. This guys rocking the good stuff out the kitchen. The Lunch Menu special in the week at 43 euros is a steal of a deal is it perhaps the best value one star deal on the planet! My prediction is that ELSA will be the Monaco address for the power lunch - all season! (see the photos)

    Monte Carlo Beach | Avenue. Princesse Grace- 06190 Roquebrune-Cap-MartinFrance +33 4 98 06 50 05

    Thursday, November 28, 2013

    Osteria Francescana 3 Stars in the constellation of UMAMI

    At Osteria Francescana There are three menus Traditions (Euro 110), Classics (Euro 150) and Sensations "Molecular" (Euro 180)  - There are also three Michelin stars! 

    To understand where something is today I often find you need to begin with the origins. Like a road map to the larder,  the Tradition menu allows you to decode the provenance of this chef, via each dish  you're probably meeting his family, his mother, grand mother, and what you come quickly to understand is his profound respect for his home region Emilia-Romagna. 

    His cooking proffers benchmark recipes, deeply perfected that follow the principal of it ain't broke there is nothing to fix. 

    This is where I strongly suggest you begin with the Traditions Menu.  

    I ate 9 courses and left  the 12 "Sensations" from the experimental molecular kitchen to my next visit... oh and if you are wondering I have no choice but to return.

    In restaurants the process of growth often repeats, a young Chef starts at the bottom peeling things, as they climb the brigade ladder they get to cook and sauce in better and better kitchens, learning from starry macaroon adorned chefs, climbing plate by plate till they get to open a new restaurant with their name on the door, blossoming like a butterfly's cocoon, initial menus tend to respect the past but then comes the requisite dabble in jiggery pokery which allow for the "metamorphosis" ! Next the lessons thus learned on the journey fly out the window and .. The results more often than not disappoint -  truth is that innovation in the kitchen is usually just window dressed as a re-tweak or nothing really new at all. 
    The Modena region is the home of some of the coolest Italian companies such as Ferrari, Maserati and Pagani, it is no wonder to me that food fashionably has to follow suit. This region,  Emilia-Romagna is after all at the origin of what most people around the world consider to be the touchstones of any Italian gastronomy. This is where Spaghetti Bolognese (known locally as Ragu) - Tortelloni, Parmesan Cheese, Prosciutto and the holy grail condiment - BALSAMIC vinegar call home. 

    As the University of Modena was founded in 1175 you can bet they respect and know a thing or two about the "old way" in these parts!  

    I had begun to question Michelin's three star protocols, having been let down by many of those they have chosen to promote into this gastronomic pantheon. With Osteria Francescana they could easily start a new  4 * category and no one would blink or argue that it belonged!

    I chose the Tradition menu and cherry picked a few dishes from the Classics menu as well. but to fully appreciate this restaurant it seems you must have two meals.  It is almost like there are two schools of cooking. A traditional one and a molecular one more in sync with the avant-garde modern art on the walls. 

    A bunker like metal door opens after you ring the bell and you are ushered into a sobre reception hall with hushed hospitality and men dressed in dark suits. I had requested a window when I booked and got table 6 which is a good table indeed! 

    No freebie starters at all beyond some bread (crisp crust sour dough) and grissini bread sticks:

    My menu

    Memory of a mortadella sandwich

    This is a strange pink colour mousse whose texture and mouthfeel is not obvious but mimics this most original of boloney with a peppering of curried pistachios and a cube of bread. This is an optical illusion; tongue style. Very surprising and quite delicious!

    Prosciutto from Parma by F.lli Galloni Langhirano
    Massimo Spigaroli Culatello antica razza aged 42 months DOP Traditional Modenese

    Forget everything you thought you knew about cured meats! I said everything, the Culatello was a biblical experience for me, sitting in front of the slices (see picture) a micro mustard oil apple chutney that is called Mostarda di Mele to act as italian "wasabi" for the slices of meat. The Prosciutto became moot, even insignificant once your brought the Culatello to your lips - a silky texture where it was impossible to discern fat from meat, a umami hit of immense satisfaction as the sweet taste slipped far too easily across your lips -  a caress to your mouth akin to a sensual act from your fantasy lover that all too quickly escapes like vapour into the night. Yes that's right I'm talking about just one bite of "ham"!!!

    Think Green (Classics Menu)

    An celebration of chlorophyll in its different states, some of this was iced, the sweetness of ground fresh peas, perhaps the popeye of spinach, and the verdant appreciation of just cut lawns, doused in warm parmesan curd. In fact this was the chefs tribute to the cows that produce the milk that makes his beloved Parmesan Reggiano cheese. Pretty neat when you think of it that way!

    Five ages of Parmigiano Reggiano in different textures and temperatures (Classics Menu)

    I was floored by the intense UMAMI hit on this plate. It was gorgeous and perhaps the most complete dish I ate here. Ages, Temps and textures all different. A strong farm funk aged Parmesan Tuile, cold parmesan turned into a cottage cheese, Parmesan Souffle, a creamy cheese custard and an airy foam. Each from a different age, all strangely familiar as if you are meeting the whole family as well as the uncle we don't talk about.

    Tortellini in cream of Parmigiano Reggiano 

    I noted that not one spice or herb ever stood out in any of the dishes I sampled,  in fact they all were here but the chefs light touch hid them from individual prominence so each contributed an essential oil but worked in unison to balance within the complex flavours. 

    The Tortellini were almost translucent handmade purses of goodness, artfully crafted - as if they were created by Italian leather artisans from another era. The corse filling packed a flavour punch of meat and mortadella which must have been cooked in a chicken consommé because of the profound richness.  The sauce coated each piece with a robe of hot creamy parmesan which evoked mmm's and ah's at tables around the room.  As they were being served from a copper casserole some diners in the room made the sign of the cross, another one became emotional after his first bite, wiping a tear that had weeped  - perhaps for a memory - a longing for his lost mothers kitchen?

    Tagliatelle with Bolognese ragù

    More than any dish I wanted to see what Chef Bottura would do - he gave his Ragu respect and stripped it literally to the marrow bone, no ground meat at all this sauce was about pulling and shredding the slow braised beef which was cut and worked by hand. The flavours here are deep like unctuous veal demiglace but with the meat left in to dance with the silken hand made super-egged tagliatelli.  For me this is the best Ragu I have ever tried! This Bolognese is rich with the wine that once wet the sofrito,  a plate that honours all of its Modenese heritage. 

    Mora romagnola ribs lacquered with Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena 

    Baby back pork ribs in a balsamic BBQ glaze. The ribs are cooked for hours in a water bath but the are finished inside the BIG GREEN EGG grill and smoker (see pictures) served with a smear of truffled celeriac and also mashed potatoes.

    As a huge BBQ fan - I was trumped by this sauce, the complexity of the vinegar, mixed with the braising juices was a heavenly revelation. The ribs so moist that the meat shirked off the bone with the barest nudge of my fork, after I had my wicked way with them, 5 bones laid naked on my plate, like fossils of what once was walking the earth waiting to be discovered my anthropologists. More than anything I tasted - I would travel just these ribs.

    Foie gras crunch with Traditional Balsamic Vinegar from Modena (Classics Menu) 

    I love meat on a stick!  Here in honor of an ice cream bar a rectangular cube of foie gras (quite cold) covered in warm roasted almond shards and filled with a balsamic vinegar centre. This popped and oozed as you bit into it - super yummy.

    Cold zuppa inglese 

    Interesting as this was a mixed temperature dessert with classic flavors.

    Oops! A broken lemon tart (Classics Menu)

    A slightly salted lemon sabayon dresses the shortest crust pastry I have ever tasted (no wonder it broke) centred with lemon curd ice cream make this mistake into a perfection as a dessert with humour - even the plate in "broken"!

    Petit fours came with the Naples coffee which were so original Tiramisu truffles, homemade and better than nutella type chocolates, raspberry and passion fruit jellies, warm bergamot scented madeleines and chocolate biscotti!

    The service is attentive and sincere, the sommelier is passionate. The kitchen is welcoming and forthcoming with information.  Faultless!

    If you consider yourself to be  a serious foody then this restaurant is a stamp you need in your passport! It is worthy of your custom and will make you leave Modena very happy indeed!

    The Hot Mix Pro
    A secret weapon in the kitchen

    As we left.. the Sun kissed the roof!

    Thursday, May 17, 2012

    Cipriani Monaco Review

    First the good news.....Ifoody is back!
    After months of waiting Flavio Briatore has finally opened.....
    Cipriani Monaco. I waited a week before venturing in as I wanted the kitchen to find it's rhythm, forget rhythm this restaurant is like a 100 piece orchestra with everything working in unison to fulfill your every desire..I have many.
    I had to pinch myself, I confirm that this is Beverly Hills style service in Monaco!! Before I talk about the food a word about Stefano, our waiter - the best experience I have ever had that clear, ever had! The perfect mix of advice, care and precision, never invasive, always ready to pour, share and serve; a waiters master class as he anticipated our needs, he may be psychic too. Very impressive!

    The team in Monte Carlo have been plucked like Mission Impossible from Cipriani's global outposts, the french Maitre D's from London, some come from Parma, some from Sardinia, Dubai etc...the chef is the group's stove Pope....and all this is good news for the people of Monte Carlo....I predict, this will be the hottest ticket for dinner for years to come. The room spreads the tables widely...they are a little low, immaculately dressed in shear starched Italian linen, that reminded me of the sheets at the Principe I Savoia hotel in Milan, the room was buzzy...table hopping and schmoozing was the lingua Franca ...dam good looking we all were too. The restaurant was filled with heavy hitters, power brokers, Russians, wobbly Louboutin shod giraffes and amazon's that had to almost squat to sit down as if they were eating on their knees. I went with Single Sam who knows a thing or two about women..."this is not the SAS set either" he helpfully pointed out "no hired help" (SAS himself had trotted down the street and was eating there too, perhaps a first) the air swirled and fogged with the dueling scents of 30 exquisitely turned out ladies who had come out, bejeweled and hungry. Everybody was simply gorgeous, ogling - Single Sam was forced to book his chiropractor to adjust his Cipriani twisted neck...without me the next night....he tried to return but room at this inn. Perhaps, now would be a good time to talk about the food...first surprise, it ain't expensive by Monaco standards, a better deal than, Piazza, Metropole, Maya Bay, Yoshi, and Rampoldi. Quick side note..Piazza still remains a personal favorite! The menu here is a classic and if you have ever been to any other Cipriani you would have a sense of return, of custom and familiarity. In fact once inside, with the exception of the portrait of Prince Albert you would not know you were in Monaco.

    A lobster salad becomes perfection for me when the lobster is not over cooked and not fridgey frigid. This was perfect, not swimming in evo but rather kissed by Venetian olive oil that glistened and canoodled the majestic lobster. The basil was snipped to order, look carefully no burned edges, the seeded tomatoes "popped" and cradled the sea food....the haricot vert snapped "al dente style" the plating was bounty rather than twee. Single Sam double dated every dish with me and Stefano took his Solomon duties seriously divvying the bounty with referee fairness.

    The treccia di bufala was a lesson in what a Caprese should be, prime ripe seeded coeur de boeuf Italian tomato, virgin white Neapolitan mozzarella flown in that day for you. To me it looked looked like a busty girl out on a date with her best red frock on.

    The plating of the Yellow tail was phenomenal, only eclipsed by the sublime taste. A palette of white with shards of green mint, julienned to filaments that spiked every bite with lime freshness. This is date food.

    For many carpaccio is the signature dish of Harry's Bar in Venice and it is worth mentioning that it is from there that Cipriani's have mushroomed around the globe, however for me the Rigatoni all Amatriciana is the bellwether, the gold standard, could Monaco's outpost rock that beacon for me.....I peeked over the edge as the serving dish was brought out and there was telltale hope, crimson bright tomato sauce clinging to the pasta...this looked promising...I twirled a rigatoni on the tines of my fork and then gingerly let it cross the transom of my lips, it hit my tongue and the first sensation was the ripe sauce with an immediate smoky hit of bacon, the pancetta and tomato were entirely two flavors that entwined in my mouth and came together as seasoned lovers would after weeks apart, full of longing, passion and desire. The next sensation was the al dente rigidity of the rigatoni, who showed up for the occasion clasping the fruits of this dish in its embrace. My eyes welled up, I'd been reunited with her, she's exquisite and she needs me like I need her, her name.....Amatriciana but alas I know she is not faithful and here lies the rub, she's been seen courting Pieter.

    Turbot is perhaps the most noble of fish in the sea, albeit a white canvas, whilst the flesh is firm, the taste is ready to mop whatever saucing takes the chefs fancy and as luck would have it was capers that danced this dance, the wallflowers were three lonely turned potatoes who looked out of place in the presence of the fish

    Pacherri al Genovese was a deft surprise, sold as a pasta dressed with 50% onion and 50% veal sauce we did not know what was coming but when I asked Stefano what it was his eyes rolled up into ecstatic acknowledgement that was akin to a blessing or benediction. All that was missing was a tap of the nose, a secret handshake and mystic door opening against a sidewall...I felt that I was being led into a private club of the knowing the choice to order this got me his benediction of approval. Don't let the picture fool you...this was an umami tousled epiphany...this is why we slaughter calves and why we should continue to do so for a very long time. This dish will cure vegetarianism!

    After the main courses were cleared three waiters appeared with a living dessert menu, each clad with two different dishes. We tried three in the interest of you dear reader.

    The triple chocolate cake was magnificent, the frosting swaddled the cake and creamy dark chocolate in a bittersweet creamy tango. The Venice cake was like a meringued Tropezienne light and gay, the final choice was made to order vanilla ice cream which was regressive and took me back to that poultice hot summer that was 1976 and the memory that ice cream can save the day.



    Cipriani Monaco
    1 ave Princesse Grace
    98000 Monte Carlo


    Sunday, January 9, 2011

    M:brgr Montreal's home of Burger happiness!

    There are a lot of pretenders to the burger throne, Jeff Dichter is not one at all! 
    He has good reason to be smiling as do his diners as he has created 
    M:brgr  A temple to the bun!

    Who would have thought I would have found such a great burger joint in Montreal! I'm talking world class good! Great service, that's our waitress above next to owner Jeff. I believe her name was Ariane, she was gooooood! So at M:brgr brilliant recipes, fun food and a deep menu dance together! 

    So it will not come as a surprise to you that ordering a burger is a touch more involved that simply cheese or no cheese. The permutations are endless as is the whimsy. 

    Perhaps it's better to steer past the hyped $100 Kobe Burger (2  patties, bacon, grilled pear, foie gras, brie, fig jam, asparagus, Piave del vecchio cheese, garlic roasted ham, porcini mushrooms, honey truffle aioli and truffle carpaccio.) PLUS sweet potato fries, regular fries, french fried onions, arugula and cherry tomatoes)with Fois Gras and grilled pear and Truffles 

    The first dilemma is to choose your meat. 

    Next Choose the wrapping, Whole wheat, white or Lettuce and then review and select the cheese and toppings menu; you might make a u-turn on the part of the menu labeled
     Crazy expensive! It's serendipity!
    (see below)

    and....just like magic!

    So what did I choose? After some scrutiny I went for caramelized onions and blue torta mascapone/Gorgonzola cheese cradled by killer white buns! 
    Click on the picture above for a closeup You want one don't you!

    A pulled pork sandwich, that would not shame a North Carolinian! The home made pickle relish is an exquisite foil for the dusky umami rich  smoked BBQ unctuosity!

    Beyond the burger M:brgr has a proper well thought out menu and in the interest of you dear reader I delved!

    Mac and cheese was a guilty pleasure!
    Gargantuan al dente Macaroni, showered with shaved parmesan spiked with pungent white truffle oil

    Chicken Tikka Tacos were fragrant and spicy!

    Sweet potato and onion fries were moorish, piping hot and correctly salted!

    Quebec's famous Poutine with homemade gravy, no comment!

    This is the scene of the crime!
    M:brgr- Is a gastronomic Cirque de Soleil!

    Desserts were outrageous! A huge hunk of home made Chocolate cake, was dark and drowned in a wet chocolatey glisten, thankfully they serve it with an ice cold shot of milk! God, I miss the frosting!

    Here, a deep dish chocolate cookie, served piping hot of course with first class vanilla ice cream! Which promptly melted all over the cookie!

    The Tiramisu here would not have been out of place in Rome, Milan, or Venice - it was a textbook execution with properly dunked coffee soaked ladies-fingers and an overflowing marscapone tophat,  with what I thought was the faintest hint of Marsala - all dusted with cocoa!
    Really, really good!

    I made some happy discoveries in Montreal and will be writing further on these restaurants in reviews to come but M:brgr is safely ensconced in my little black book of great world eateries.... 

    It has superb bar and hilarious generous cocktails and it's kid friendly, the prices don't gouge, I like the whole package here! Well done Jeff!

    2025 DRUMMOND
    Tel.+1 514.906.2747


    2025 DRUMMOND • MONTREAL, QC • H3G1W6 • t.514.90m.brgr (514.906.2747)