Gypsy Chef’s exclusive dining experience at the Grill Counter is a thing of simple culinary wonder. And you need to get a seat before he leaves town
The recently reopened avant-garde restaurant in The Address Downtown offers a deconstructed take on the classics
From the ashes there rises a phoenix. The classic trope of something innately good and inspiring taking flight from the depths of despair and desperation. So the myth goes, anyway. It would be a convenient analogy to adapt to the recently reopened The Restaurant at Address Downtown, after the hotel suffered extensive damage in a fire that broke out over two years ago.
However, the analogy wouldn’t be quite right. The gastronomy and setting of the avant-garde French eatery — which displays a penchant for deconstruction at every opportunity — contains all the right ingredients and fundamentals for something extraordinary. But it is not quite ready to take flight with the sort of glorious swoosh and flourish that it is aiming for. Not just yet.
So, to answer Celine Dion’s (adapted) rhetorical question from the recent Deadpool 2 soundtrack: Can beautiful cuisine come out of ashes? It can. But it hasn’t yet, Celine.
The setting and the approach to the restaurant, through The Address Downtown hotel, is characteristically festooned in golden opulence. Wherever it’s possible to lacquer the interior in wealthy-looking detailing, it’s lacquered. So much so that even if you’re only nipping down to the hotel’s restaurant for a bite, you feel like you’re embarking on a grand occasion.
The layout of The Restaurant is simple. Spacious. Refined, even. Despite the kitsch splashes of colour with the minimalistic art pieces on the walls. And then, of course, as is customary for any Downtown establishment that wants to take itself seriously, there is the view of the world’s tallest building. Glittering every half an hour. Which you’ll see right in front of you if you’re lucky enough to reserve a table next to the balcony.
Add in glass tabletops, and what seems like an arbitrarily placed open shelving unit full of delicate vases and trinkets, and the contracting circular LED chandeliers that hover from the ceiling and you have a sense of the space being created at The Restaurant: something on edge, different, toying with a classic. Which acts as a fitting analysis of the food itself, and segues nicely into the menu.
For the evening, we let the waiter choose our three courses at his discretion. He returned the foie gras with a mulled wine jelly, a deconstructed beef wellington and an eton mess. Though, we would point out that the steak tartare, black cod and apple pie soufflé all caught our eye, too.
First, the foie gras. The flavours of this terrine exude all the buttery sumptuousness you expect from a luxuriant gras, but the experimental flavours that accompany it, are what make it an unusual but extremely satisfying starter. The mulled wine jelly (replete with a sprinkle of gold leaf), while not the typical pairing or obvious seasonal choice and the fig marmalade combine to produce an initial, subtle sweetness on the palate. And then the spicy crunch of the ginger bread cuts through with an underlying bitterness, taking the textures and tastes to a new place.
Then the star of the show arrives. But not as you expect it. I mentioned that The Restaurant likes its deconstruction. Perhaps is well-read in the philosophy of Jacques Derrida. And the classic beef wellington also gets the take-it-apart-and-rebuild treatment. A sizeable fillet – cooked to perfection, it must be noted – rests atop a nicely thymed duxelle, where the wild mushrooms feature prominently and offer a juicy complement to the red meat. But if there’s any contention here, it’s with the pastry. In this version of the classic, the puff wrapping has been done away with and a thin, biscuit-like circular layer of puff, full of mouse-cheese holes has replaced it, and rests on top of the fillet somewhat awkwardly.
As a concept — seeing inside the wellington, where the parts of the sum are laid out individually to stand in their own right — it’s quirky and intriguing. However, when it comes to a classic like beef welly, the sum is usually greater than the parts. What comes of this is in essence a gorgeous cut of prime steak with a duxelle garnish and a crispy puff hat that doesn’t really contribute to the taste of the dish. It’s an easy way of ensuring the steak is as juicy and sumptuous as possible without risking a soggy bottom to the pastry. But you’re left feeling as though you want the complete package with the wellington. It just feels like there’s something amiss with this interpretation of this Meaty Great. And makes one think of what might happen if there was ever a remake of Casablanca: it could go one of two ways, and it’s not a guaranteed success.
Onto dessert. And this is where the deconstruction works wonderfully. Eton Mess is essentially a deconstructed Jackson Pollock piece anyway, and when it’s done this well, you see why deconstruction works on the eye and in the mouth.
The meringue is improbably thin, one of the lightest you’ll bite into, and is stacked up almost like fortification, almost Stonehenge-like in its appearance, around the Chantilly cream and berries inside.
But the best part of the dessert is the scarlet red strawberry jus that the whole thing rests on. Sharp and fresh, you’ll be hard pressed not to mop up every ounce of the summery lake that this island of Eton Mess rests on.
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