Tag Archives: World Cuisines

El Bulli 1998-2002

We promised you a full review of this book. Well, here it is. For those of you who are not aware of El Bulli, it’s a 3 star Michelin restaurant in Spain, north of Barcelona. El Bulli has become so popular that reservations for its entire six-month dining season are filled on the day it begins accepting requests. Dinners there can exceed 30 courses. In 2002 it was given the accolade of Best Restaurant in the World. El Bulli only opens for six months of the year and for the rest of the time the kitchen rehearses and researches under the guidance of the man who made it all possible, Ferran Adrià. The food Adrià and his team produce has to be the most innovative in the world but like other innovations, architectural or musical, say, the innovation takes some getting used to. Still, anyone I’ve ever met who’s eaten at El Bulli, tells me the food is as wonderful as it is weird.
Many believe Adrià to be the finest Spanish artist in any media since Dali and Picasso. Here he’s meticulously and chronologically catalogued every dish he’s created during the five-year period – over 800 of them. These are augmented by stunning photography and a commentary in the form of charts, graphs and genealogies of dishes and concepts. Also included is a CD-ROM containing recipes for each dish, videos, menus from the restaurant and what Adrià calls ‘evolutionary analysis diagrams’. My initial scepticsm vanished as I got into the book and became ever more impressed with the purity and logic of Adrià’s concepts.
This mega-tome weighs over 9lbs but it’s no food pseud’s bible; more a scientific and creative exploration of just how far the frontiers of flavour can be rolled back. The photography, stark and uncluttered, enables the reader to get to grips with shape, form and colour without fussy distractions. The accompanying booklet makes a good fist of demystifying the hardback and the CD details the recipes and provides a further wealth of information.
All this avoirdupois and exotica coupled with high production value doesn’t come cheap. It will set you back around e100. So, given the high price, who needs this book? Every aspring young chef with eyes on ‘the Stars’. Who wants it? Me!

El Bulli 1998-2002
By Ferran Adrià

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Chai Yo

Where did all the Fun go? We (and in that roll call I include critics, restaurateurs, chefs and punters) have all got so damned serious about our food and wine that there are no laughs to be had any more. Until this week I couldn’t recall the last time I came back from having dinner in a restaurant with a severe case of belly ache – the kind brought on by uncontrollable laughter, not indigestion. I’m not talking works ‘Christmas do’s’ here: not enjoyment of the descent into alcohol-fuelled oblivion or “Guess who you were snogging last night” kind. I’m talking good old-fashioned rib-tickling Fun. With a capital ‘F’.
The evening began on a sombre note. The venue had previously housed a restaurant that was the subject of my first review for F&W, a Rant of Mass Destruction so apocalyptic I made Helen Lucy Burke read like Mills & Boon. I won’t go into details other than to say the evening started as a disaster and built to a climax, a fiasco I faithfully chronicled with a pen dipped in napalm. My editor pulled the piece, probably just as well. So, ulcer tugging at my heartstrings, I entered Chai Yo somewhat reluctantly though I should stress it has no connection with the former tenant.
Downstairs it’s a mainstream Oriental restaurant which, the night we were there, seemed to be populated entirely by gorgeous twenty and thirty something females. From what I saw the best advice I can give to the young fancy-free Dublin bachelor is to shun Café en Seine and Renard’s on Friday night and spend an hour or two practising chopstick technique before heading for Baggot Street.
The tables on the ground floor are communal, two of them, each capable of seating around ten people. A vast gleaming stainless steel raft is let into each one, concealing a mini-gasworks providing instant heat, and lots of it. This apparatus is called a teppan, the style of cooking, teppanyaki. It is not strictly speaking a traditional Japanese cuisine, as most Japanese did not eat the meat from four legged animals until the 1870s. Teppanyaki was popularised in the States by ex-boxer Rocky Aoki, subsequently finding its way back home from where the fad was re-exported.
There was no choice of starter. You slurped your obligatory miso soup, included in the price of the main course. Miso soup evokes fond memories it seems. My dining diva, the elegant Lady Cassils ventured “It tastes like the nourishing broth your mum brought you when you were off-school ill. I used to love being ill.”
Choosing mains didn’t exercise the intellect much. Prawns, chicken, fillet steak, seafood combination or veggie option, all teppanyakified, was the choice. The waiter was entirely amenable to my having a 50/50 split of steak and prawns, while your one opted for the combo. I got a good deal, for reasons I’ll go into later. Lady C got a fantastic one.
At this point, enter ‘Marlon’ the Juggling Chef with a tray of prime raw ingredients. The glistening seafood looked so fresh you’d have thought it had done tail-flips from Tommy Mulloy the fishmonger over the road. The fillet steak was deepest carmine not the usual pallid red. Marlon (surely not his real name?) executed a few throw-catch-and- twirls with his palette knife, all with the dexterity of a marching band stickman. Chopping downward with the same implement caused decapitated prawn tails to fly into a strategically placed bowl and, as encore, into his hat.
Then it got semi-serious. Thinly sliced vegetables were fried briefly on the hot surface before being slid onto plates and handed over. The seafood, sparsely treated to ‘a dash o’ this and a dash o’that’ in Arfurdaleyspeak, followed suit. Milady felt she’d won the lottery. Seven fat scallops, a fair-sized fillet of sea bass and a rake of prawns sat begging to be consumed. Amazing, it cost, what e30, and there must have been at least e15’s worth of Tommy’s finest on the plate. I scammed a scallop and a morsel of the bass to go with my own pile of prawns. Everything was superb, flavour and texture immaculate, good raw ingredients minimally mucked-about. The benefit of ordering steak now became apparent. It was entertaining to watch the flames lick the roof as the chef, now rechristened Marlon Brandy-o lashed eau de vie onto the hot steel. Next he showed us a smart conjuring trick with a raw egg, before smashing it on the teppan and stirring it into a pile of pre-boiled rice.
The restaurant was filling up. We were joined at table by another couple whilst the adjacent theatre of teppanyaki was occupied by a table of ten, bestowing the bonus of watching someone else’s floorshow whilst eating your own.
Later we hauled Marlon back to ‘cook’ dessert – an Arctic bombe of ice cream with hot fresh fruit, again generously slathered with booze. Simple, but so refreshing. We took coffee in the adjacent bar, singing along to a Lennon & McCartney medley performed by a pair of Filipinos. This was a curious aspect of Chai Yo, despite the name and the teppans there didn’t seem to be a Japanese in sight. The proprietor is Frank Murphy (best remembered as Ireland’s Olympic representative, in his day the 5th fastest miler in the world). His co-proprietor Mrs Yuk Chan is Chinese. Staff are mainly Filipino. The bill came to around e144, ex service including a quantity of William Fevre’s excellent Chablis, ordered largely for sentiment’s sake (I’ve met the maker) though it did drink well and complement the fish nicely. Excess might have been the reason for her ladyship dragging Frank up for a dance. All good things come to an end though and eventually we stumbled out into Baggot Street, laughing all the way home.

Chai Yo, 100 Lr Baggot Street, Dublin 2 Tel: (01) 676 7652
Open Mon-Fri : 12.30 pm-3.00; 6.00-11.30; Sat: 5.30-midnight
Sun: 3.00-10pm

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