EDIT: Becasse has closed
If there's one thing you notice about Justin North's kitchen, it's how quiet it is. Forget the stereotyped image of a raging head chef barking orders at his brigade; the Becasse kitchen sounds more like a library, with a young team working steadily and efficiently under the guidance of head chef Monty Koludrovic.
Last night I had the pleasure of dining at the Chef's Table at Becasse, ahead of Justin North's appearance tonight on Masterchef Australia's masterclass.
Canape: Housemade butterpuff with green olive mascarpone
This was my second time dining at the Chef's Table at Becasse, visiting with friends on a group booking about six weeks ago. The dishes have all evolved since then, and I was excited to discover they had all improved, streamlining components to create dishes that were more focused, flavoursome and memorable.
Housemade whipped butter with wakame and black salt
We start with a butterpuff canape that was light-as-air on the tongue, topped with a soft dollop of green olive mascarpone. Warm freshly baked housemade breads follow, and even though I know it is foolhardy I can't resist eating one of everything, slathering the seven seed bread with whipped butter that has been piped into a tower of raindrops.
Housemade bread: Seven seed roll, mini brioche loaf and quince sourdough
Amuse bouche 1: Carrot jelly with kohl rabi and smoked scallop
The amuse bouche arrives in rounded glass bowls set on indented ceramics that look more like a pebble. We dig our spoons past a layer of kohl rabi mousse and hit the sunny orange base of carrot jelly, studded with shavings of smoked scallop. The sweetness of the jelly and the crunch of puffed grain whet our appetite.
Amuse bouche 2: Miniature bespoke Autun vegetable garden
The bespoke Autumn vegetable garden was one of my favourite dishes from my last visit and tonight we receive a miniature version to sample. If there's one dish that would convert even the fussiest eater to the joys of the vegetables, this would be it. We dive in and out of roasted carrots, baby radishes and a bed of sweet pea mousseline. Black olive crumbs and dehydrated goats curd is sprinkled over the top but the highlight is definitely the nut soil, a deliciously crunchy rubble made from walnut, hazelnut and pistachio.
Salmon cooked confit
Marlborough salmon, king prawn, pomegranate and Vietnamese dressing
Matching wine: NV Pelorus Cloudy Bay, Marlborough
Justin admits he doesn't often use salmon as he finds it can be quite flabby in taste and texture, however he does love Marlborough salmon which he thinks has a better flavour and consistency. This was a more complex dish on my last visit, paired with spanner crab, but tonight's version has been stripped back to a simple and elegant offering.
The salmon has been cooked at a low temperature, coated in a pomegranate jelly that has been reddened slightly with beetroot. Dabs of coconut cream and Vietnamese dressing and painstakingly dotted around the plate, garnished with dancing sprigs of baby Vietnamese mint.
Beneath the salmon is a circle of king prawn, butterflied out and flattened to a gossamer thin disc of incredible sweetness, subtle with the taste of the sea.
Justin North and Monty Koludrovic, Head Chef
Squid ink coddled hapuka, squid, Spring Bay mussels, cauliflower and miso
Matched with: 2009 Timpot Hut pinot gris, Marlborough
The squid ink coddled hapuka dish has also been tightened, losing the chicken and prosciutto cannelloni. This allows us to focus wholly on the hapuka instead, a fish that Justin grew up with, cooked to a sigh-worthy succulency. The squid ink adds an earthiness to the dish, and the borage flowers taste like an oyster on their own, Justin tells us. Amazingly they do, working well with the mussel, the cauliflower puree and the squid ink hapuka to create a well-balanced dish that tastes subtly of the sea.
Large 100g truffle being stored with rice and eggs
"I have a surprise for you," Justin says and he returns with his latest delivery of truffles, dug up in Tasmania on Tuesday and delivered to the restaurant on Thursday.
Justin sources his truffles from Tarago in Tasmania, grown by Australia's pioneer truffle grower, Duncan Garvey. A large 100g truffle is being stored with rice and egg to infuse them with truffle flavour. At the moment prices are between $1800-$2500 per kilogram, which makes the truffle above worth $180-$250.
Monty shaving a truffle
Plating the decadent truffle risotto
I'm rather incredulous when I realise how much truffle is being shaved onto our surprise course of truffle risotto.
Mushroom risotto with truffle shavings
The smell of fresh truffles is intoxicating - to me they smell musty and earthy with a sweet nuttiness. They don't taste as strong as they smell, but what I particularly love is their texture, shaved paper-thin and almost damp to the touch. The shavings will bend slightly before snapping on the tongue.
The risotto itself is incredible, cooked so the grains are creamy but still separate, and possessing an element of bite that makes you want to eat more.
Justin North saucing the forgotten vegetables course
Forgotten vegetables, smoked pork jowl, yabby tails with aromas of cedar
Justin has a soft spot for forgotten vegetables, explaining that when he was a kid, they used to grow sweet potato, turnips and swedes in the garden which his dad would wrap up in foil and cook in coals for several hours. Here, Justin sautees the potatoes then bakes them at a low heat with cedar to impart a subtle flavour.
We savour the forgotten joys of purple congo potato, Hawaiian sweet potato and turnip, cooked to a comforting softness. The yabby tail is tender and the shells have been used to create a yabby bisque which is trailed around the plate, a ceramic dish painted to look like a section of a tree trunk. The pork jowl is all kinds of fatty goodness and we can't help but be won over by the dramatic effect of the cedar shaving, set alight and extinguished to create a background of cedar smoke.
Pouring the pinot noir from an impressive Riedel decanter
Truffle potatoes baked in clay on truffle soil
Justin has pulled out all the stops tonight and shows us a wooden crate filled with two massive clay packages.
Truffle potatoes inside the clay casing
Inside the clay is a net filled with tiny potatoes infused with truffle. The clay casing was set in soil taken from where truffles were found, and then baked so the potatoes take on a truffle flavour. We didn't find there was much truffle flavour in the potatoes, but the act of cracking open the clay to reveal the potatoes was like having Christmas at the dinner table.
Cervena venison, sprouts, black pudding and Armagnac jus
Our final main is venison, sourced from Canterbury in New Zealand. The venison has a medium game flavour, not as strong as wild game, but exhibiting good flavours from farming in generously large paddocks.
This is an earthy dish that looks simple at first until you realise how many components are actually on the plate. We find dollops of Jerusalem artichoke puree, cubes of housemade blood sausage, roasted chestnuts, caramelised brussel sprouts, nettle puree, venison jus with Armagnac and curly tendrils of chickweed.
Pre-dessert: Apple three ways
Pre-dessert is a tribute to the granny smith apple, prepared three ways. Green apple is diced finely on top of a green apple sorbet flanked by columns of minted green apple mousseline that are as fluffy as fresh marshmallow. At the bottom of the exquisite glass bowl is a sweet wine jelly dotted with a dice of green apple.
Silken lemongrass and lime caramel, passionfruit fruit crunch with vanilla yoghurt sorbet
Matched with 2009 Escarpement Hinemoa Riesling, Martinborough
Dessert is a choice of two so Minh and I order one of each and share. The silken lemongrass and lime caramel is light and refreshing, zingy with a citrus salad and sweetened by shards of sugary meringue.
68% Alto Beni Zokoko chocolate cadeau and salted black cumin caramel
Matched with 2009 Escarpement Hinemoa Riesling, Martinborough
Soft caramel inside the chocolate cadeau
I remember I found the chocolate cadeau a little too sweet on my last visit, but now it's perfectly rich and bitter. We break open the sphere to reveal a huddle of molten caramel that is seriously sexy. A scoop of chocolate sorbet on the side is smooth and chocolatey.
Winter still life
The Autumn still life has morphed into a Winter still life, although it remains essentially the same. This is a dessert for licorice fans - even better if you love coffee and quince too.
The base of the plate holds a licorice and cocoa soil that is strangely soothing and comforting. Buried within the soil are surprise finds of poached quince, quince mouselline and caramel. Perched on top are meringue mushrooms capped with domes made of Baileys parfait and chestnut parfait. Fennel fronds are dredged in sugar and caramelised sugar twigs seem to curl from the wind.
Petits fours: Macarons and dark chocolates with armagnac
We find a little more room for petits fours to finish. And with our prime seating in the kitchen (it does get a little warm), it's hard not to take photos of the Becasse chefs in action. It's amazing to watch the team at work, and it seems that everyone knows how and when to wordlessly step in to help.
Justin North assembling the forgotten vegetables course
Grab Your Fork dined at the Becasse Chef's Table as a guest of Tourism New Zealand.
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Becasse Chef's Table (May 2011)
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7/01/2011 04:39:00 am