On Tuesday 26th October the four of us attended the Heroes Dinner at Becasse.
Justin North has always been a food hero of mine, and all of us like his food, so we booked in as soon as the Festival programs were available.
In this dinner, he has cooked a 9 course degustation, where the dishes were those of his own food heroes. I'll describe them all in detail as we go. Justin North described this dinner as 'A culinary journey around the world'. But he didn't just cook the food of these restaurants, I think he must have sourced the plates as well, because the presentation was as wonderful as the food. The whole meal was a visual spectacle as well as a taste sensation.
The Sleeping Engineer and I had the optional matched wine with our meal. (From now on in this post Justin North will be referred to as JN.)
The first course was from Alain Ducasse at Louis VX in Monte Carlo, 'Fougasse Riviera'. This was a small bread roll stuffed with softly melting confit garlic, sundried tomatoes and black olives. It was crisp, savoury and delicious.
The next course, and acccompanying the bread, was an absolutely stunning Tomato and Olive 'Martini', from chef Yamada of Yamada Chikara in Tokyo. This was soooo good we want to do it ourselves at home. JN had spherified black olive juice and green olive juice, and they came to us a small globes floating in a french Jam jar. The waitress carefully ladelled one each into our martini glasses,
then from a frosted cocktail shaker she poured clear tomato essence into our glasses, hence the martini. This was so refreshing and delicious!!
Course number 3 was from Joel Rubichon's L'Atelier in Hong Kong. This dish was Poularde farcie a l'ail at aux champignons (baked clams with purple garlic, mushrooms and spring herbs). Now, I am not a fan of shellfish and had sourced interest from the group as to who would fall on their sword and eat my clams. However, they were so tasty and flavoursome, slightly chewy from being baked, and so altogther delicious that I was begging the others for theirs, and could have immediately ordered a wagon-load. The clams themselves did not have much flavour, but the slightly breaded topping was a restrained delight where the mushrooms and garlic were balanced superbly.
Course number 4 was probaly the prettiest course, though this in no way lessens the fact that it was so tasty. From the fabulously talented team at Mugaritz in San Sebastian comes Pearly threads of crab, jelly of prawns, flowers and pistils of saffron. Served with a 2005 Cherry Tree Hill Reisling from the Southern Highlands of NSW.
The description of the dish does not do it justice. Glass bowls with dry ice in water were stoppered with glass pyramids, in which was a prawn jelly containing large prawn pieces, topped with shredded crab meat, and that topped with a sorbet made of young coconut milk. Smoke poured elegantly out the sides of the bowl, trapped as it was by the inverted glass pyramids, and colourful flowers topped the lot. It was a feast for the eyes as well as the palate.
Course number 5 was from Rene Redzipi's Noma in Copenhagen. Langoustines and Sea Flavours - Scampi tail, oyster and parsley emulsion, dried seaweed powder and rye bread crumble. Served with a 2008 Catherine & Dominique Derain Burgogne Aligoté from Burgundy in France.
This dish was served on a piece of granite. The scampi tail was perfectly cooked, grilled. The blobs of green and the oyster and parsley emulsion, both flavours so clear and defined. Some of the emulsion dots were sprinkled with a dark green powder, which was the powdered seaweed. Spread across the plate was the dark brown soil of the rye bread, which must have been baked as it was wonderfully crunchy and with a great depth of flavour. This was a beautiful dish both to look at and eat.
The 6th course was from Pierre Gagneau's eponymous restaurant in Tokyo. Grillé de boeuf - grilled Japanese beef, watercress and seaweed puree, soubise onion with sea urchin. Served with a 2009 Luke Lambert Syrah from the Yarra Valley in Victoria.
In the photo below the cream-colured smear is the onion soubise, a sauce of onions enriched with sea urchin. Not my favourite flavour, but the sea urchin's memorable taste did not overpower the sweetness of the onion. The beef was superb, full-flavoured but meltingly tender. I wasn't taken very much with the watercrss and seaweed puree; I'm not sure about the ozone-y flavour of the seaweed with the rich beef. At the beginning of the meal we were asked if there was anything we didn't eat, and at that time The Chocolate Freak asked for any meat he was served to be well done. This was brought to him just as he likes it, cooked all the way through without a hint of pink. So well done to them for doing that!
Our final savoury course was a palate cleanser. This was from Thomas Keller (of The French Laundry fame)'s new restaurant in New York, Per Se. It was Sweet pepper sorbet, kaffir lime, coriander gastrique. Served on a slice of slate, it was absolutely stunning to look at. The pepper was both sweet and savoury, the coriander gastrique (a sugar and vinegar-based sauce) was a beautiful foil to that sharpness, and the slightly chewy soil was both sweet and savoury (though I have no idea what it was!)
The first dessert course was enormous! And amazing! It was from Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir in Oxford. It was called Forest Still Life, and was served with one of my favourite wines, the 2008 Mas Amiel from the Languedoc-Rousillon. The wine, which is a red dessert wine, complemented the chocolate beautifully.
This dessert was an absolute work of art. Mushrooms made of meringue and icecream, one a milk chocolate and the other white chocolate. A boulder of chocolate sorbet. Soil of cake crumbs. Trees of toffee and agar-agar. Salted caramel almonds and cashews as small rocks. Chocolate leaves. It was very sweet to eat, perhaps a little too sweet for me, but we all ate every crumb and drop of icecream. It was a credit to the inventor and to JN's team for so faithfully re-creating it.
Our last course was from Martin Berasategui from his restaurant at Gipuzkoa outside San Sebastian. It was Liquid Petit Fours. I think this was one of the most creative dishes we had all night, because it was also fun. A plate arrived with 3 small dishes on it. The first, upper left, was green spearmint froth with a slice of dark bitter chocolate on it - A peppermint cream!! The second was a small glass bowl, containing bisciuit crumbs, lemon curd and meringue - a lemon meringue pie! The third was a tiny cake with a test tube sticking out of it - containing liquid caramel which you squirted into the cake - I don't know what this was except delicious. What a clever concept!
All in all a wonderful meal! The portions were small, just right for J and I, though the 2 young men had to stop on the way home for a snack ;-) But small portions let you enjoy the full experience without walking out wanting to let out all your clothes. JN has done a fabulous job with this dinner and I was very impressed with both the visual and taste elements we experienced. Pretty good value too - $160.00 each for food without wine, and an extra $40.00 for the matched wines.
If you haven't visited Becasse I recommend you do so very soon. Justin North is a great chef and his food is tasty, approachable and interesting. Absolutely worth a visit.
204 Clarence St