With reservation already made, I was extremely apprehensive after reading fellow chowhound 'Ay''s short and negative posting. Upon discussion with my gourmand buddy and weighing all facts and options, we both agree that, for a talented chef of Claudio Aprile's calibre to make a special trip to Spain and spend time to learn from the Michelin 3 star Super chef Ferran Adria, his food creation after the sojourn, no matter how miscue or bad, cannot be THAT bad!!! Furthermore, there must be some legitimate reasons behind James Chatto's raising of Senses previously 31/2 star rating to 4?! Keeping our reservation, we headed out yesterday evening to rendezvous with probably, one of the most incredible and spectacular dinner in our recent culinary memory! And thess included some pretty fancy meals from local stalwarts such as Perigee, Scaramouche, George and Splendido as well as some other great ones from the kitchens of Joel Robouchon, Alain Duccase, Daniel Boulud, Jean George Vongeriton and Iron Chef Hirioki Sakai!!
At the restaurant, my buddy and I both decided on the 14 course tasting menu with wine pairing. At $99 for the food and $39 for the wine, these alone must be the steal of the new millenium! ( El Bulli's multi-course tasting menu alone costs US$300!! ). Overall, every dishes we had were immaculately conceived and prepared.. The creativeness, attention to detail, presentation, texture, smell, taste and FUN of all the dishes were something to behold. For me to describe each and every course in detail will take ages. However, I'll try to do a short precis on some of the standouts.
1) Apple sorbet, cucumber and lemon verbena gin soda in a tall cocktail flute.
2) Pizza! A miniaturize panzarotti with mozzerella foam filling and caviar topping. Tasty one-biter.
3) Sunchoke pod, pink peppercorn, valentine radish, creme fraiche. A man-made pod that exploded in ones mouth releasing a whole spectrum of different texture and flavour.
4) Hazelnut, olive oil, salt, candy. Another candy shell pod with imaginative filling.
5) Seviche of lobster,uni foam,lake trout roe, yuzu presented in/on a block of ice.
6) Wokked squid, caramelized peanut sauce, green peppercorn paired with rare smoked squab breast,pommelo,asian pear. That morsel of squab breast was 'heavenly'!!
7) Hot foie gras, spiced mango, crispy bread, buddha hand, hibiscus. One of the best foie gras creation I've ever tasted!
8) Cauliflower two ways. Tempura on one side. Then, flip the dish over to reveal a mousse hidden on the other side. Drizzle of truffle oil onto the mousse transform it from mortal to immortal!
9) Bacon, cider, apple, parsnip, corn and tapioka crisps, chorizo sauce, blueberry. So many ingredients, so much effort for a slab of Spanish bacon. Worth every bit of it!
10) Spiced water, ponzu slush, aromatics. A Michelin star version of a palate cleanser?!
11) Triple seared beef tenderloin, scallion + beef short rib potato gallete, creamed spinach with corn, port sauce. The tenderloin was the only 'mild' dissappointment of the evening. However, the dish was rescued by the 'best' corned beef hash brown I've come across!
11) Ginger crunch, bee pollen panna cotta, apple, 'Hawaiian salt'. The 'salt' brought everything together. Interesting!!
12) Frozen vanilla parfait, black elderberry, olive oil cake. Second of three desserts. Thank god the cake was light as air!
13) Chocalate cake, snow, sorbet and bonbon. A plate of 'brown chocolate mess'!! But man! Was it Goooood!!
As for the wine pairing, we got served 10 different wines in '2 oz' portion. These include a Chianti, dry Spanish sherry, 2 Chardonnays (one French, one Californian), Cabernet Sauvignon from France, Pinot noir and Merlot both Californians, Malivor Gerwuztraminer, Cave Spring Riesling and Reif late harvest Vidal.
Stopping short of flying to Spain, Senses' tasting menu must be the best (value and taste) 'El Bulli' alternative this side of the Atlantic! Do give it a try!