Molecular Xiaolongbao

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Xiaolongbao is probably the most famous food in Shanghai. It’s a dumpling filled with some meat or shrimp with a heavy dose of soup. When you eat it, you first poke a little hole in the dumpling and drink the soup. Only then do you eat the actual dumpling. If you don’t drink the soup first, it can squirt out and burn your lips.

I happened to be in Shanghai when there was a food festival going on. There were quite a few famous chefs who head many Michelin-starred restaurants throughout the world. One of them was Masterchef Canada judge Alvin Leung who helms the 3-starred Hong Kong restaurant Bo Innovation. He was in Shanghai to open two new restaurants on the Chinese mainland.

One of the dishes he presented was a molecular soup dumpling that I had heard so much about. I was presented with one big spoon with one big jiggly ball on top. It was a sphere of soup based on Ferran Adria’s method of spherification.  Through the magic of science the soup had formed an outer skin, leaving the inside fluid. When I bit into it all the soup came gushing out giving you a similar sensation to a normal soup dumpling. \

I was stunned. I couldn’t help but keep grinning. It was just such an amazing experience. Not only was it textural sensation, it also tasted superb. From that day on I consider myself a fan of Alvin Leung. Hopefully one day I’ll have enough money in my pocket to visit Bo Innovation.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test – 10

Mustard ice-cream

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For my 3rd anniversary my partner and I had an outrageous lunch at two Michelin starred restaurant Beluga in Maastricht, the Netherlands. The meal consisted of about ten courses with a major emphasis on fish and seafood.

There were quite a few modern techniques and interesting surprises throughout the meal, but the biggest surprise came when I bit into an ice-cream that turned out to be a mustard ice-cream. I’d never had a savory ice-cream before and of course mustard is a very strong and pungent flavor. The heat of the mustard and the cold of the ice-cream made a really unexpected contract that worked extremely well.

I’d never eaten at a Michelin-starred restaurant before, and I always wondered if a restaurant with a star really put up food that is so much “better” than other restaurants. It definitely is the case for Beluga. Not only is everything cooked to perfection and tastes amazing, it’s also full of surprises and is a feast for the eyes.

Fear Factor – n/a / Taste Test – 9

P.S. I can’t give it any score for Fear Factor as I didn’t know I was going to eat it.

Squid in squid ink

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I always thought that ink was for writing, but then I heard about squid ink pasta and a whole new world of colorful food opened up to me. Not exactly colorful though as squid ink turns your food pitch black. I first tried squid in its own ink at one of Jason Atherton’s restaurants in London.

This dish looked great with some fried baby squid served with a squid ink aioli. It all tasted very squidy, if that’s even a word, with a touch of salt and a hint of lemon. I wasn’t sure though if that taste came from the squid and its seasoning, or from the actual squid ink.

Later, at one of my own dinner parties I cooked a squid stuffed with chorizo served with a squid ink aioli as well. It turned out really great. I was surprised though how much ink I had to add to the aioli in order to make it black. I went through all my small packages. Next time I’d better buy a whole jar of it. Could come in handy if I need to write a letter too.

Fear Factor – 1 / Taste Test – 8

Braised pork cheek

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The thought of eating pork cheek had never occurred to me until recent years when so-called nose-to-tail dining became a recurring feature in restaurants and cooking shows alike. Two years ago, long before the existence of my blog, I had booked a table for two at Alain Ducasse’s “Aux Lyonnaise” restaurant in Paris.

The very affordable set lunch menu featured braised pork leeks in mustard with mashed potatoes which I was dying to try out. The mash was beautifully smooth, more butter than potatoes, but the pork stole the show. The cheeks were so incredibly soft that you could eat them with a spoon. The flavor was equally amazing. Rich, juicy pork that tasted so much more of pork than most cutlets or tenderloins I had eaten before.

If you like pulled pork, you will love pork chees. They are even juicier and more flavorful than American pulled pork. This might just have been my favorite ever pork dish.

Fear Factor – 2 / Taste Test – 10