Will there be lobster?

When we found out we were going to Prince Edward Island for my sister’s wedding all thoughts turned to the obvious. Lobster.  Yes, lobster and how to enjoy and take advantage (in every way we could), of something, that on the Pacific Coast is very much a luxury. Of course the ubiquitous lobster roll is available at almost every restaurant you may stop in (including Subway and McDonald’s - yes you guessed it  - McLobster). Less known perhaps are the lobster potato chips - strangely delicious - although perhaps not that lobstery? Not sure if lobstery is really a word but heck, it should be! Aside from these, we had three lobster dinner experiences in our travels through Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

Bluenose II Restaurant, Halifax

Bluenose II is a chain of family restaurants that reminds me of my childhood. Salad with thousand island dressing anyone? Homey and comfortable, this is a very casual dining establishment and for the most part seemed to be filled with Haligonians. (Isn't that a great word? - so much more grand that Vancouverites or Londoners.)

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The lobster supper ran at $23.95 (market price) for a 1.5 lb lobster and includes salad, with choice of dressing – if you grew up in the 80s you’ll remember the choices -  and choice of potato. An ample meal to say the least and on the surface would appear to be quite the deal.

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Of course they supply you with bibs and the usual lobster paraphernalia, but beware. A man at the next table asked where we from.  “Vancouver,” we proudly replied. “I knew it!” he exclaimed. When I asked him, “How?”, he proclaimed frankly, “Easy -  you put the bibs on.”  Harsh!  OK, so first faux pas, apparently.  How were we to know?

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As far as the lobster was concerned, I’m sad to say, I think it may have died in vain.  I found it to be more overcooked than I would like.  And no, I’m not just bitter about slights against my lobster fashion sense. Despite the texture, the flavour, was very good.  The accompaniments, especially the greek roasted potatoes, were very tasty - full of hearty flavour.  The staff was friendly and helpful in a very genuine way.

Dockside Lobster at Richard's Seafood

We didn’t go looking for this one but after a bike ride through the Prince Edward Island National Park,  near Stanhope, we found ourselves at Richard’s Seafood which consists of a dockside eatery where you can eat in, as well as a fishing shack where you can buy fish, oysters, clams and lobster to take out.

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We started out with some oysters.

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How could we refuse Malpeques at $1 each and $3 to shuck? The fellow helping us packed the oysters carefully in ice in a compostable take-away container and was quick with offers of tabasco.

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With those going down quite nicely, we found it equally hard to pass on the $9.99 per lb lobster. An extra $0.75 if you want it cooked .  We got two cooked between four of us and plunked ourselves down right outside on a picnic table to eat it up.

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In my opinion, this is the best way to eat lobster and of all our experiences, this was the best atmosphere. To be able to buy right from the fisherman and partake of the bounty right then and there was really something.  And you can skip all that anxiety of getting messy in a restaurant.

New Glasgow Lobster Suppers

One of the main planned events of the my sister's wedding weekend festivities was  a traditional PEI Lobster Supper on the day after the wedding.

After a glorious day on Cavendish Beach we made the short drive to New Glasgow.  There must have been 200 cars in the parking lot of the New Glasgow Lobster Suppers Restaurant. My first thought - "that’s a lot of lobster!"  True enough. Our waitress shared that they cook between 500-600 lobsters an evening. The restaurant's online video boasts that their tanks can accommodate 20,ooo lbs of lobster at any one time.

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The process is fairly simple, harkening back to the church supper tradition of these meals. You buy a ticket at the door for the desired poundage. A 1lb lobster is $34.95 but for the larger appetites (and wallets) a 4lb’er goes for $65.95. (Prices are market dependent of course).

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After taking our  seats, the server brought unlimited mussels and chowder as well as an appetizer salad.  Iceberg lettuce and pale tomato. Pass. The mussels were completely unadorned – just steamed and tasting of the sea. I mean that in a good way.

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I chose the 1lb lobster, which was perhaps in hindsight, a bit small, but it was perfectly cooked. I definitely wanted more.

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The ticket price includes dessert. Old-fashioned favourites like chocolate ice cream, lemon meringue and blueberry pie are the stars of the show.

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New Glasgow Suppers are a true experience - one of those 'has to be done' things. It was perfect for a big group like ours and it provides a pretty safe atmosphere to try it out if there are any lobster virgins among you.

But my favourite experience was the dockside lobster at Richard's - That atmosphere would be hard to beat in a 5 star restaurant. I'll know for next time to head first to the docks, seek out the locals and skip the bib.

New Glasgow Lobster Suppers

#604 Route 258

New Glasgow, Prince Edward Island

http://www.peilobstersuppers.com

Richard's Seafood

9 Covehead Wharf,

Stanhope, Prince Edward Island

http://www.richardsfreshseafood.com

Bluenose II Restaurant

1825 Hollis Street

Halifax, Nova Scotia

http://www.bluenoseii.ca/

Madly in love in North Rustico

By my second day in Prince Edward Island I was pretty much in love. The rolling hills, the white-painted churches, the tidy barns, the fields of wildflowers; They had me at hello. But when I arrived in North Rustico, I was head over heels.

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Fresh mussels overlooking the water. Oysters straight from Raspberry Point. The young couple beside us teaching their small children the finer points of how to eat a lobster. It was really too much. The sunset.  My nearest and dearest right there with me. Yep, I was a goner.

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The Blue Mussel Café was a bit of a find. Let me tell you, travelling with 4 others, 3 of whom are blood relatives, does not an easy restaurant selection process make.  Allow an extra 30 -45 minutes to walk around eliminating those we do not care for. But everyone was happy when we found this place.

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The setting is lovely. Casual and welcoming, the restaurant overlooks the water and the evening sun warms the patio. First rule broken. In my experience waterfront setting = bad food. OK perhaps that is somewhat harsh, but more than once, a beautiful location and a severe case of goldfish memory  has conned me into spending too much money on something quite mediocre.

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The menu features lots of Atlantic staples: chowder, mussels, oysters, halibut, haddock. I chose the fish cakes, served with crackers and a sort of mustard pickle. Not fancy but deliciously comforting. And exactly what I was after.

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Portions were ample but we did leave room for dessert and these were wonderful. We devoured them too quickly leaving this paparazzo no chance to capture them on film.

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We shared two desserts between 5 of us (pre-wedding diet in effect). They were a chocolate pecan tart with a caramel filling which was to die for and a blueberry bread pudding with a custard sauce that was like something someone's grandma made. No seriously a real grandma, not just a made up marketing one.

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But the highlight of the night was the sunset. More beautiful every minute. We sat there hoping to hang on to it.

The Blue Mussel Café

312 Harbourview Drive,

North Rustico Harbour, PEI

http://www.bluemusselcafe.com/index.htm

Finding Delicious on Nova Scotia's South Shore

After two days in Halifax, we took the well known journey along the South Shore and did the drive along route 333 to Peggy's Cove winding our way around the coast on the 329 and then the #3 to Lunenberg. This is a stunning drive along some spectacular coastline dotted by pretty little fishing villages. Peggy's Cove. Yes,it's a postcard stop that no self-respecting Canadian can pass and stop we did. This is a real working fishing village and despite its picture perfect beauty, the evidence of the working village, in form of the brightly painted fishing boats and neatly stacked lobster traps, is everywhere.

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I could have spent a day here easily. There are so many colours and textures to photograph.

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Continuing along from Peggy's Cove, we wound our way around the coast to Chester Basin where we had planned to stop for lunch at The Seaside Shanty Restaurant. We had got a tip  from a couple of  good friends in Vancouver who travelf frequently  to the Maritimes. (Thanks N & H) and we were delighted with what we found. The setting at Chester Basin is very picturesque , on the edge of a quiet haven filled with boats.

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You need to keep your eyes open for The Seaside Shanty as you don't have much opportunity to stop but with its brightly coloured sign and pretty painted building, it's hard to miss.

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The back of the building faces the water, with a neat row of Adirondack chairs overlooking the boats in the harbour. The bright flowers in the flower boxes made an appearance later in our lunch.

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The menu is full of staples of maritime cuisine. Chowder, mussels, scallops, lobster. I chose the lobster roll - my first of many on this trip. It completely filled a gap. Delicious and fresh and light, not overdressed. And beautifully presented.

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The chowder was rich and full of fish and shellfish, not like some you get where you have to chase one prawn around the bowl.

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Just like I can’t pass up a staple like crème brulee (I have a sort of running contest going), chowder is one of those things I always like to try to keep comparisons on. I don’t think that are any two the same.

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My mum chose the scallop burger and seemed to enjoy it. The scallops looked beautifully seared on the outside and again, like all the dishes we had were presented beautifully.

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Afterwards wth a brief photo stop in Mahone Bay, site of the famous Three Churches, where we also discovered that our rental cars tires were completely bald,  we set off in slight trepidation for Lunenberg where we would stay the night.

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We ate at Magnolia Grill. Sadly no photos but this was one of our favourite places of the trip. Solid homey food, not overly done, but just tasty with lots of choices for different tastes. Very important in our group. Besides that, the service was delightful and friendly and the room was cozy with little snug-style booths. A perfect refuge from the cold and drizzle outside that descended suddenly over us. The kind of place you’d like to stay all night.

The Seaside Shanty

5315 Hwy 3

Chester Basin, Nova Scotia

http://seasideshanty.ca/

Magnolia Grill

128 Montague

Lunenberg, Nova Scotia

Gregan's Castle

My current trip to Ireland is winding to an end. It's been great to spend some time with friends here and visit all the old places. But it's also been fantastic to find a few new ones as well. Gregan's Castle Hotel is located near Ballyvaughan in the Burren area of County Clare. The hotel itself is very comfortable, quiet and secluded, the kind of place you would go to to escape or hide. I've known of this place for years but never ever been there. Recently it seems they've brought their food to a whole new level and in 2010, chef Mickael Viljanen was named Bridgestone Chef of the Year. So as this was literally in our backyard from our base in Liscannor, Co. Clare, we set out to have a look. This is the view from the top of the Corkscrew hill at the edge of the Burren in County Clare. You can see the limestone area of the Burren in the distance. Corkscrew hill is not for the meek and if you are driving, don't take any chances - designated driver a must!

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The hotel has beautiful gardens and our table overlooking the gardens, and with views of the sea and the Burren was in a lovely light filled room.  Dinner started without delay as we quickly decided on the tasting menu option.  We chose 6 courses with paired wines but 9 and 12 course options are also available as well as an á la carte option.

Amuse Bouche:

These were simply darling, and were described to us as follows.

Pig Tail Bon Bon consisting of Black pudding and hazelnut mayo, Smoked Eel, Beetroot Meringue, Baked Potato Jelly, Rooster Liver Mousse. These were very beautifully presented and definitely set the scene for the type of cuisine we were going to enjoy. I think the meringue was the most interesting, it was light and melt in your mouth good and the slight salty taste of the fish combining with the sweetness of the beet. The jelly was very interesting and tasted of the skin of a baked potato but we all wondered if we would have been able to identify it had we not been told what it was.  The liver was great too, mostly from a textural point of view as the crisp it was served on was beautifully delicate and light.

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First Course: Foie Gras, honeycomb, pear and almond textures, pain d'épice for the ladies.

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The gentleman chose Raw milk with lovage, artichoke, rye and morteau sausage.

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Second Course: I chose skate with beetroot, fricassée of peas, lobster, girolles mushrooms and chicken oyster, caper shoot and raisin dressing, riesling velouté. The mushrooms were divine, the skate almost undercooked - but perfect - so beautiful and delicate.

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For my dining companions, scallop served with truffle, cauliflower, hazelnut, wood sorrell, smoked apple, leek and ash. (The leek was charred slightly). We all had a taste of the smoked apple which was amazing. Very bright.

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Third Course:

At this point in the meal, we'd been discussing Obama's recent visit to Ireland and how the Prime Minister of Ireland had got into trouble by using parts of Obama's Inauguration Speech without attributing it to the man himself. Then the pigeon arrived and to be honest, it looked terrifyingly rare. My friend exclaimed: Well, choose hope over fear! and it became our mantra.

The ladies: squab pigeon, new season carrots, date, vadouvan. This dish was served in two parts, with the main plate including the apparently rare breast, liver and heart of the pigeon. The breast was delicious and once I got over the sushi like look of it, I was pretty happy with the flavour.  We guessed it had probably been cooked sous vide so there was no colouring. The highlights were the beautiful new season carrots with flavours of anise and the beautiful mushrooms, which looked to me like enoki. This dish literally burst with flavour! I was not familiar with vadouvan, but it is sort of a mixture of caramelized onions, garlic and Indian flavours - I think cardamom, cumin and ginger were probably present. Delicious!

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The legs of the pigeon were served in a pan over burnt hay which imparted the smoky flavour to the meat. The smell was that first time you lit a bonfire smell. I enjoyed it although it alarmed some of the diners at the next table who started to wonder "what was burning?"

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The gentleman: veal sweetbread, madeira, peach, macadamia nut, fennel, liquorice. A very pretty presentation.

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Dessert:

Me: cherry, celery sorbet, goats milk, yogurt. No picture of this sadly. It was divine and had various textures and flavours. I always enjoy having lots to choose from so this was right up my alley. The highlight was the celery sorbet which was the perfect complement to the cherry flavour.

My companions: coffee deserts with caramel, green apple paired with champagne flutes of Murphy's stout.

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Petit Fours:

As if we hadn't had enough, out came the petit fours, with traditional macarons, jellies and some mini-magnums - baby ice creams.

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The entire meal was really bright and refreshing and despite the number of courses, I felt I had been able to enjoy and taste each one. It's a great special occasion place. The hotel and bar look lovely and I'm sure it would be an enjoyable stay as well if you wanted to make a weekend of it.

A very special thanks to O & J for treating me!

Cuban Lunch at Delux

This past weekend, I went to Toronto with my mum and sister to visit my other sister who lives there. Without giving too much away, let's just say we had an important task on hand. It involved shopping. And we needed fuel.  Somehow I'd heard about Delux on Ossington Street so we decided it to make it our pitstop for lunch on Saturday. I love the design of this place, beautifully simple and comforting place settings with a clear simple menu design.

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It seems Edison bulbs are popping up everywhere in restaurant design these days and despite their ubiquity, I do enjoy them. The warm soft glow they give is wonderful. Someone told me that Edison's original design was quite environmentally friendly compared to the bulbs that followed later. So it's interesting that we are now looking back to older designs for both aesthetic and practical reasons.

Delux offers a Cuban Lunch featuring traditional Cuban Sandwiches and other Cuban inspired dishes. I opted for the Achiote and Lime Chicken Avocado Sandwich which was served on lovely thick bread.  I also had a very fresh and light jicama salad.

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My mother chose the Empanada, which was really more of an open-faced galette style pastry. It was filled with chicken and chorizo and had a wheat flour pastry (as opposed to a corn style).  Despite the debate over the accuracy of the nomenclature, which ensued at our table, it was very delicious and yummy.

Dessert was one of the lovely highlights. We opted for traditional cuban coffee and donuts. The espresso coffee is served with sugar added and in thimble size paper cups.  I remember seeing this in Miami years ago so it brought back some memories for me.  The donuts were cake style vs yeast style, a gourmet Cuban version of the 'Tim-Bit' for the Canucks out there. The cream served alongside was drizzled with dulce de leche which made these irresistible and more-ish.

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More than anything, I have to commend Delux for the warm welcome and service they provided. Despite having just one person to manage the entire front of house, she managed to serve us promptly and with a friendly and engaging attitude despite having her hands very much filled. One of the best experiences I've had in a restaurant in a long time.

Sunday Mission

For our last day on our recent trip to  San Francisco, we headed back to the Mission District where we'd already spent a bit of time...but not enough. Mission Dolores

The Mission District gets its name from the Mission Dolores, one of the original California Mission Churches.  The Old Mission or Misión San Francisco de Asís was founded in 1776 and was also known as Mission Dolores due to the presence of a nearby creek called Arroyo de los Dolores.

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Holy Bread of a Different Kind

Having heard about Tartine which reportedly makes best loaf of bread in the world we thought we'd try our luck at coffee and a pastry for breakfast.  Given the line up which extended a block from the entrance they must be doing something right. Patience not being my biggest virtue we decided to move on and try it later.  We did manage a lovely biscuit later in the afternoon. Not bad. I can't speak for the bread but by all reports it's amazing and sells out within 45 minutes of 5pm when it hits the shelves each day.

We did a bit of a drive-by on Delfina which seemed to be the talk of the town. All weekend, anyone we asked recommended it as a great place to eat. There is a main restaurant as well a more casual pizzeria. Again - big line up waiting for the Pizzeria to open for lunch. It looked great but we were too hungry to wait.

Down the street is Farina, an Italian bistro, specializing in pizza and pasta. We were there for breakfast so didn’t get to taste the latter but really enjoyed the floor show in the open kitchen where pizza dough was tossed and rolled before being slipped into a forno style oven.  Another chef hand rolled pasta and made what appeared to be squash tortellini.

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Later we walked  around the Mission to take in the atmosphere and check out the murals which are very prevalent in this area. Some of the more elaborate ones, like the Maestrapeace Mural which covers the Women's Building, feature incredible detail.

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We would have been very happy to spend the entire weekend here. Such a lively neighbourhood with plenty of options for food and a great atmosphere. Definitely one of the highlights of our trip to  San Francisco.

Addresses:

Delfina, 3621 18th Street

Farina, 3560 18th Street

Mission Dolores, 3321 16th Street

Tartine Bakery, 600 Guerrero Street (at 18th)

Arzak

The lovely Mexican man at the next table said it best when I asked him what he had eaten, "That is the problem, I'm not sure that I can describe it - It's like nothing I can remember - I think that Arzak must be the Dali of food" There is no reference point for Arzak - and I will suffer the same problem as my Mexican Friend here. So below is a somewhat futile attempt to describe our meal. If nothing else, the pictures convey the beauty of the plates which really were works of art.

Amusements

A fish pudding on a stick wrapped in a fried noodle wrapper. - Satisfyingly tasty. White bean soup with apple. - Simply gorgeous, light, fragrant. Chorizo in tempura - which was really tempura with a chorizo flavour. No part of the texture of the chorizo remained. Crispy rice cracker with mushrooms of the area, called Hongos. - Surprising and yummy. Sardine with Strawberry - who would ever dream of putting these together? But I can tell you, this was the most memorable and divine taste of the plate.

First Course Foie gras and some roasted pepper pieces (I think?) served in a tapioca pocket. We were told to stuff the pocket which was light as air, and eat it  like an ice cream cone. Sorry - no picture - at this stage, I was completely overwhelmed. Super rich but light and airy.

Second Course

Lobster with a Potato Crunchie - the potato was  blown into a crisp - almost like a rice chip. Very interesting texture  combination. Lobster was succulent.

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Egg Course Arazak always does an 'egg of the season'. Ours was called an egg earthquake. The egg was orange in colour and perfectly poached with most of the white removed. Then there were little bits of crunchy sweetness mixed in with the dish. We were told to break the egg yolk and mix in the crunchy bits.  The only thing I can describe this to is when you are eating eggs, toast and maybe you have some maple syrup or other sweet thing on your breakfast plate and by accident the sweetness combines with the egg. Pure yumminess!

Fish Course Sole with Spinach and Walnuts. The walnuts were soft and were impregnated with smoked paprika. Smoked paprika is quite traditional in Spanish cooking so this gave it  a comfort feeling but the combination of flavours was so subtle it made it very elegant. The sole was divine. This was my favourite course up until this point.

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There was also a choice of Monkfish, which J one my companions opted for. This was delightfully playful - a veritable beach scene.

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Meat Course Choice of pigeon or lamb were recommended but the Maitre D also offered choice of Foie Gras or Beef. We all opted for the lamb save for J who took the pigeon.  The lamb was perfectly cooked, medium. More smoked paprika in a light oil and for the real surprise of the plate, a potato made to look like a marrow bone, complete with a lucious sauce in the centre to simulate marrow. The potato itself was coated with a white rind (like you'd see on a camembert) which completed the effect. (Quickly supplanted the sole as my new favourite of the night).

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First Dessert Course It feels like we had as many dessert courses as savoury ones. The Maitre D simply asked us if we all liked chocolate, pineapple, lemon etc at the beginning of the meal and said he would bring us several things to share.  For the first dessert course, I received some chocolate balls arranged in the shape of a grape vine in a strawberry soup with a basil ice.  This was the truly incredible part of the meal. The chocolate ball was like a delicate pudding ball that you had to handle delicately, like an egg yolk so it would not break. On popping it into your mouth, it was like having a malteser explode and liquefy. No crunchy malteser texture but the flavour of one.

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Super G had an opera cake made whose flavours included spinach and was incredible. We were also given Rosemary ice-cream and a raspberry. As with all the ice creams we received they had the most incredible texture somewhere between a sorbet and ice cream.

Second Dessert Course At this point, I couldn't believe that food was still coming at us and it seemed each course was getting more surprising as we went on. A deconstructed lemon cake which appeared to be morsels of lemon curd covered in a waxy substance that was served with a  honey water and cochineal fractal.  At this point, you may be wondering, what is that exactly so I will explain.  The 'honey water' was placed in a small bowl. It had the consistency colour and texture of an egg white. Into that was placed a drop of cochineal (red liquid). Immediately a fractal occurred in the honey water and we watched it grow bigger. We all gazed in awe as the waiter then stirred it up and poured it over the cake.

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This was accompanied with a second dessert named 'Lunatic's Dessert' which I can only describe as orange pudding explosions. They looked innocuous enough on the plate - almost like fava beans. We were told to scoop up the contents of the plate, sugar, salt and a black syrup and eat the 'bean' all at once. The result was this intense explosion in the mouth that liquefied in an instant and gave the most intense orange flavour.

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Coffee & Petits Fours At this point, I could't really eat anymore but the sheer beauty of the plate was so compelling we had to sample them. A truffle covered in smoked paprika wrapped with a bow of lemon peel like a beautiful present, a white bean and chocolate ball with crunchy rice. Incredible. I think Arzak has mastered something very fundamental about how animals are attracted to the brightest flower and has designed his plates accordingly.

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This is simply the meal of a lifetime. The flavours were incredible but it's as much about the experience, the creative plating, the artistry and the surprise. With all of the showmanship, I still felt like this cuisine was rooted in something more basic, and elemental. You could feel the love in this food.  The other thing I will say is that the chef himself was very present in the dining room, coming in and appearing to truly connect with his guests. We had been met by him at the door and he invited us in, calling me by my first name in a way that made this fairly formal experience a warmer and more natural one.  I will never forget it!