Posts Tagged ‘degustation’

Verjus is Vergood

Saturday, February 16th, 2013

I have added another major tick to my “Culinary Adventures To Have Before I Leave Paris” list. Last night my friend Jen and I had a “Day After Valentine’s Day” date at Verjus – another highly prized, much talked about restaurant in the Paris foodie world. Located in the first arrondissement next to Louis XIV’s old haunt, the Palais Royal, Verjus is a bit more upmarket than previous restaurants we have been to and we went there for their 60 Euro degustation menu.

I should perhaps mention that my day began with a pre-breakfast meal of drugs – cold tablets, nasal spray and cough medicine. I wasn’t particularly impressed that my body had decided to give me a cold on the one day that I really wanted my taste buds to be fully functional. But being a non-believer in colds, I pumped myself full of drugs and ignored it all day.

Goodbye, cold.

Goodbye, cold.

We met for a drink at the Verjus winebar located underneath the restaurant and as we walked in we both agreed that the ten or so people in the wine bar would all be non-French, most likely American, British or Australian. CORRECT! Not a word of French was being spoken and I don’t think there were any French people in the wine bar or the restaurant at any point in the entire night.

The upstairs restaurant is small and cozy with lots of wood and great windows that look out at the Théâtre du Palais Royal and the little passages surrounding the building. We were served by lovely waitresses who told us about the set menu, happily gave us tap water and recommended a good bottle of wine to go with our food. And then it began…

I got to eat ALL of that!

I got to eat ALL of that!

We were served eight plates in total and we could have also had cheese for an extra 12 Euros but we figured eight was enough. Each plate was beautifully presented with bright colours and interesting mixes of ingredients. It amazes me how chefs know to put some of these ingredients together and in what sort of quantity/shape/texture etc. Nothing was disappointing or disagreeable – I even ate clams and scallops and enjoyed them! I was very annoyed that, despite ignoring it, my cold had taken over by this point and I didn’t get to enjoy my food as much as I wanted to. However, the highlight dishes for me were the clam soup, the hanger steak with carrots, and the chocolate ganache.

Duck.

Duck.

Steak.

Steak.

Somewhat strangely they brought the two dessert plates out at the same time which I didn’t really agree with because I had both of them staring at me and it was as if the dessert courses weren’t as important as the others. That said, it isn’t every day that I have two plates of dessert sitting in front me and I get to eat BOTH of them.

Two desserts, one spoon.

Two desserts, one spoon.

The cardamon panna cotta had a very gelatinous texture which distracted from the flavour but once you got over that and mixed it with the pears, dates and almonds it was delightful and light. The chocolate ganache was one of the best chocolate ganaches I have ever had (and I’ve had a lot) and the Golden Graham ice cream was amazingly creamy. I could have kept eating both of them all night. In fact, I could have started the entire menu again – it was all so good.

Chocolate.

Chocolate.

For 60 Euros it was one of the best value dinners I have had in Paris – the quality of the ingredients and the presentation and craftsmanship behind each dish was just wonderful. I will definitely try and go back.

Except next time I go, I am going to take a large bucket of socks that I have pre-rolled into balls that I can stuff into the mouths of all of the excessively loud American tourists who surrounded our table. I had my back to a window, but on every other side of the table were groups whose voices became increasingly louder and louder as they fought to talk over the top of the rest of the noise. I really wanted to stand up, blow a whistle and call “Time Out” and offer a small piece of wisdom that I learnt at Primary School – if everyone speaks softly then everyone can be heard and no one needs to yell! The problem with these situations is that you start eavesdropping on the conversations because you can’t hear anything else and you have to listen to their discussions about how they don’t understand how the degustation menu works or how the guy who likes motorcycles proposed to his girlfriend on the plane on the way over because it was Valentine’s Day and yet before their friends arrived they had a little tiff about how she didn’t have a clue where they were going and that was his fault. Wow. I should write a book about it.

Not Disgusting At All

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

Restaurants should really change the name “Degustation” because, in my limited but existing experience, they’re not disgusting at all. HA. Get it? Hilarious.

Anyway, moving on from that pun, while visiting the South-West last weekend, my parents demonstrated how much they love me by taking me to The Studio Bistro for a degustation. I think they REALLY love me. I have never had a degustation menu before but my ever growing love for food has made the idea of eating that many courses potentially the best possible thing to do. Ever. I was very excited.

The Studio is a relatively new establishment with an art gallery and restaurant under the same roof. At dinner time, they spread tables throughout the gallery so you sit amongst paintings and sculptures contemplating what you will purchase after you have had a few glasses of wine. What I really liked about The Studio was the lack of pretentiousness – while the food was of a high quality and there was a general feeling of elegance, I didn’t feel like I was under review or that I had to sit with my hands folded in my lap. This was potentially due to a couple of the wait staff who were clearly still learning the ropes of how to serve in fancy restaurants. Walk to table, place hand behind back, pour water from jug slowly into glasses…

Our dinner consisted of five main dishes, plus numerous little surprises in between. One of my favourite dishes was the amuse bouche – a slice of nectarine wrapped in cured ham. Very simple yet very yum. We had crab, hot smoked tasmanian salmon (an entire fillet – it was incredible), pork belly, fillet steak and then a chocolate mousse cake for dessert. The salmon was a highlight – it melted in your mouth and has a soft smokey flavour. I had never tried pork belly before as usually the idea of eating that much fat doesn’t sit well with my stomach or thighs, so I was keen to give it a go. WOW. Who knew fat could taste so good? Well… lots of people, probably. But as a regular remover-of-skin-and-fat-from-meat, it was news to me, and I am pleased to announce that I ate every last drop of artery clogging flab. Amazing.

By the time we had reached the fillet steak, my stomach was questioning whether or not I really needed to eat more food. Shut up, stomach, was my response. The steak was beautifully cooked and despite thinking I was full, I managed to move things around in order to fit it all in. Then came the dessert.

When I had first read the menu I became instantly excited by the description of the dessert – Caraway and chocolate mousse cake with compressed stone fruits and vanilla. Oh, yes please. Sadly, the description was better than the real thing. I was expecting a real kick from the caraway but sadly I could barely taste it at all. Plus the consistency of the mousse cake was very strange – they had created multiple layers of cake, mousse, cake, mousse, but as a result, the cake had spread out through the mousse layers, giving it a very sandy texture. Mousse needs to be smooth – it’s a fact of life.

Chocolate cake

Degustation Dessert

I am still trying to work out how the stone fruit was ‘compressed’. It just looked and tasted like a piece of peach to me. Plus it was under-ripe peach to make things worse – the consistency was like eating an apple. The plate had a drizzle of a peach and vanilla sauce which was probably the highlight of the dish – lovely and refreshing. The dessert wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t what I had imagined it to be.

I found that to be the case with many of the dishes in the meal – while the food was of a high quality, the ingredients were generally fresh and the presentation was nice (except for the steak that looked a bit like someone had thrown up on it), there was something lacking. Sometimes it felt that the chef was putting too many things on one plate, other times the combination of flavours didn’t quite work. There were also far too many dishes with carbohydrate-filled root vegetables so by the end of the meal you were feeling very heavy.

It has, however, sparked a new interest for me in long, multiple-coursed meals and I plan on trying some more. I suspect the French do it very well – it is their word, after all.