Surf Clams, Peach Granita, Olive Oil

Recently I cooked a degustation for Assistance Dogs Australia and 13 people. Eight courses. That adds up to 104 dishes! And it really came off well after many nights preparing and planning. One of the star dishes of the night was my Surf Clams, Peach Granita, and olive oil. I was originally searching for razor clams to recreate the dish from Mugaritz but they're near impossible to find in Sydney and Surf Clams actually paired perfectly with the granita and oil.

Transient

To make this dish for four people you'll need:

  • 20 surf clams (you can find them at the fish markets vacuum packed)
  • 110g caster sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 12 peaches, chopped
  • 1 cup apple juice

Dissolve the sugar in water in a saucepan on low and then put aside to cool. Blend the peaches with a stick blender and then extract the juice using a fine sieve. Combine with the apple juice and sugar water and then pour into a thin metal pan and put in the freezer. After two hours mix up and scrape with a fork. Break up the crystals each hour until the granita is light and fluffy. 

Heat the clams in recently boiling water until they open. Serve five clams (out of their shell) per plate with a scoop of granita and drizzle with olive oil.

So simple but very effective, trust me!

Mugaritz - The Meal Of My Life (Michelometer at 14*)

It's taken me a while to finish this post. My first answer is to say that it's just taken time - there were over 20 courses, after all. But to be completely honest, I think it's because it was such a personal and intimate experience and subconsciously I want to keep it all to myself. But in reality, if this post inspires someone to visit the amazing Mugaritz then it's all worth it.

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Let me start by saying my plans for San Sebastian were a bit ambitious. Some would even say stupid. I booked us in for two nights and planned to get to three of the best restaurants in the world in on the visit. So, in addition to Akelarre one night for dinner, this also required the herculean feat of visiting Mugartiz for lunch and then Arzak for dinner (more on that one in another post). Yep, that's 12 Michelin stars and over 50 courses in roughly 28 hours.

In any case, let me begin (and apologise for the longest post in the history of man).  

First up, "Fishbones" with nuances of lemon, garlic, and cayenne pepper. It was a very interesting and tasty way to start the meal. Very crunchy on the outside but the lemon and garlic was super smooth.

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I hate to say this, and I feel like a bit of a hypocrite, but the Summer truffle and "solera" was our least favourite dish by far. It was hard to put my finger on it but it was actually fairly bland. But you should have seen the waitress' face when the truffles collapsed before she placed it on the table! We had to reassure her a dozen times that it wasn't like she dropped it on the floor...

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Dish #3 was Small crustaceans bind with seeds and saffron cream. Just have a look at those little prawns! We were absolutely back on track with this dish.

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Now, Chef Aduriz is world famous for his Edible stones. Simple in concept - potatoes cooked in edible clay - but absolutely magnificent in execution. I mean, just look at these...

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The simple but flawless theme continued with Preboggion, which is a Stew of weeds, and crisp potatoes. And by this time we realised that the pace of the dishes was perfect as well. Just fast enough to keep hunger at bay but slow enough to interact with the staff and have a good laugh.

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Can you believe that our next dish was Green chickpeas with salt from the Anana valleys? I mean, seriously... simple ingredients at their finest. 

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This would probably be my second favourite dish of the meal - cold peach and razor clams. Who would have thought that those two went together so well? As soon as I can find some razor clams at the fish markets I'm giving this one a go.

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Things started to get a little weird with Tanned lobster flesh and fermented rice. The fermented rice would be straightout weird and probably not very nice, were it not for the mind-blowing lobster. This dish rocks! And it turns out they use a machine from Korea and its sole purpose is to make this rice.

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Sweet corn, milk cream, and seeds. I know this may not look that appealing, but trust me, it is. Oh yes.

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An interpretation of a shark fin with roasted cauliflower broth was next. One guess what this is?? If you guessed calves tendons then you've been here or you need some sort of prize. Never would have thought it. Never would have eaten it before but this was well worth the risk.

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Ok, this had to be one of the most fun parts of the meal and so indicative of the atmosphere they have created here. It was a dish of Poultry Royale, and a game of Astragals Royale. The dish was a poultry flavoured custard. But wait, we had to play a game with each other where you put a secret number of playing pieces behind your back and each person guesses what the other has. Turns out the Gourmet Female isn't very good at hiding her unused pieces so I won in a landslide. The prize? A massive tub of caviar that matched with the poultry custard in an absolutely amazing way.

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Now, I think they do this for most people but I don't care - I got to visit the kitchen of the fourth best restaurant in the world. It was awe-inspiring. And I even stole an idea about a wall sized chalkboard in our new kitchen.

When we walked in we were greeted with a little macaron. I jumped in a bit too quickly - as it was racing down my esophagus one of the chefs jumped in and asked, "Do you eat everything?". He looked pretty concerned so I started to wonder what I just ate. Turns out these geniuses have discovered that the protein in pig's blood matches that of egg white. So that tasty little morsel was a pig's blood macaron with a foie gras filling. I don't care, it was freakin' amazing!

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Back to the table and some Grilled squid with onion. I love the play on flavours and textures through all the dishes. Doesn't that look like burnt onion? Beautiful.

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Following next was Cantabrian sea Bonito and dark Marmitako juice. That dark juice was so rich and thick but it matched the Bonito perfectly.

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Next up, Red mullet in a butter of its own liver. With almonds and bread. Again, such an amazing combination of flavours and textures. Perfect.

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Sweetbread of suckling lamb with seasonal mushrooms. Not a sweetbread fan? You would be after this one. I would absolutely love to grow those little mushrooms. Not to mention the amazing and spicy flowers.

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Sheets of "entrecula", grilled steak emulsion and salt crystals. Pardon my French, but best-fucking-steak ever. See what's on it? That's a reduced fat emulsion of the steak itself. Come on. I can die now, thank you.

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So, once the savoury dishes were finished we were ushered out to the beautiful garden to enjoy desserts. I'm not sure if it's the wine or the anticipation but someone's ready for dessert!

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The mashed and dressed fruits with concentrated melon juice was so gorgeous I had to take a video of me pouring in the juice. Just beautiful and a perfect palate cleanser to start desserts.

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Following on was frozen almond turron. Very reminiscent of an ice cream cone in flavour and texture. Beautiful!

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Yeah, ok, the wine was kicking in by this point. Almost forgot to whip out my phone for the next photo. So, post-bite this is called "Glass. Sugar and cocoa as a cookie". And yes, it is as good as it looks. Better, actually.

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The next dessert was "Mocha in its lightest version". They weren't kidding - this thing almost disappeared before it passed my lips. So incredibly light.

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The last official dish was candy caviar. See the rocks the cone is set in? Cookie dough. Yep, we've reached "best meal of my life" status.

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We finished with the seven deadly sins. Want to know what wrath was? Empty. Genius.

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It's hard to say just what made this meal so amazing. Part of it was the glorious food, obviously. But part was the lovely and oh-so-friendly maitre d ("Where do you go next?" he asked. Zaragoza. "Ooooooh, th-era-go-th-aaaa". We still mimic it to this day), the interesting diners who were happy to have a chat, the kitchen tour, and the garden. But I think it also was because I finally said "screw it, I'm going to ask what's on my mind". And the end result? Number one was an authentic chef's apron from the kitchen! You can't buy these folks. 

Now I need the courage (and respect) to wear it. 

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But part of it was also scoring my copy of Mugaritz BSO, spotting Chef Aduriz at the end of the meal and getting him to personally sign it.

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Yep, definitely the meal of my life. I don't think I can ever go back as any other visit couldn't possibly live up to this experience. It was emotional. Thank you, Mugaritz, Chef and team. You made my holiday.

Unbelievably, a quick snooze and off to Arzak for dinner! More on that soon. 

The Holiday Hangover

I hate the holiday hangover. It feels like shit to go back to work after the completion of an amazing trip abroad. Recently we spent a month going around the world, visiting fantastic places, seeing incredible people, and eating some of the best food of our lives. We spent time in Hong Kong, Milan, Rome, Positano, Bilbao, San Sebastian, Zaragoza, Barcelona, Girona, Zurich, and Boston. We ate at Bo Innovation, Tim Ho Wan, Cracco, La Pergola, Imago, Akelarre, Mugaritz, and Arzak with many others in between. Now that’s one hell of a trip!

But once we return home, face the reality of regular life, the enormity of the credit card balance, and the growing expanse of my waist, a sinking feeling sets in. Wouldn’t it just be easier and much less expensive to simply stay at home? Why do we have this insane obsession with seeing the world?

And then we reflect. We spend an afternoon gazing through the thousands of photos we took on the trip. We open the gorgeous cookbooks and remember some of the incredible dishes we tasted. We read some of the tweets from the new friends we made around the world. And then it hits us – these are the reasons we travel.

It’s the so friendly and helpful people of Hong Kong, who not only helped us find Tim Ho Wan (1 Michelin starred dim sum madness) but spent time translating the full menu into English for us. It’s chef Alvin Leung (Bo Innovation) sitting down with us and giving us tips on the Spain part of our trip.

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It’s seeing the Alps for the first time on the train ride from Zurich to Milan.

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It’s standing on our balcony next to the Duomo in Milan, Nastro Azzuro in hand, watching the world go by.

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And it’s standing in the middle of the Colosseum, right where the gladiators walked into the arena thousands of years ago. It’s talking ourselves into spending a couple hundred Euros each to visit La Pergola and being seated outside in time to see the sun set over Rome and the Vatican. And it’s the look on my wife’s face when she sees the dessert surprise. It’s also another amazing sunset at Imago, above the Spanish steps, and having the most incredible ravioli we have ever tasted.

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It’s arriving at our room in Positano and having our breath taken away by the view. It’s listening to my in-laws (they crapped on about it for years) and taking the little-red-fish boat to Da Adolfo and having one of the best seafood lunches on earth. And it’s growing some balls and climbing up to a little rock arch and jumping off into the Mediterranean. It’s also about spending the night on our balcony, eating luscious prosciutto, and drinking fantastic Italian wine.

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It’s seeing a pinxtos bar for the first time in Bilbao and diving right in.

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It’s checking into our room in San Sebastian and realising that not only do we have a gorgeous balcony but it looks right over the sea. Not only that but realising that it’s festival time in the Basque country and that we’re smack in the middle of a weeklong party! It’s the sunset at Akelarre and then having some of the best food of the trip, top that off with meeting Chef Pedro Subijana!

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It’s being complete idiots and booking the #4 and the #8 restaurants in the world, Mugaritz and Arzak, on the same day… for lunch and dinner. Yep, that’s thirty-nine courses, and seven hours of eating later! But it’s having simply the most enjoyable meal ever at Mugartiz. It was the food, the kitchen tour, scoring an authentic apron, enjoying dessert outside, buying a copy of Mugaritz BSO and then being lucky enough to have Chef Aduritz sign it in person and then thank US for coming.

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It’s meeting both generations (and genders) of Arzak chefs the moment we walk into the restaurant for dinner. And senior Arzak telling us he loves a “little restaurant in Sydney called Tetsuya’s”.

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It’s making the best decision of the trip and spending an extra 60EUR a night to get a balcony in our room at Hotel 1898 in Barcelona. And then eating mammoth amounts of tinned seafood with cheap-ass sangria each night. It’s also having the best sandwich on earth – nothing but tomato smeared bread and jamon Iberico.

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It’s being convinced to hire a car and visit Dali’s house in Portlligat. And being greeted by a freaky stuffed polar bear as we walk in the front door!

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It’s being bummed that we couldn’t get into El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, no matter how much I harassed them by email and Twitter. But it’s then finding an amazing gem in NU Restaurant, where we sat at the bar and the chef cooked a mind-blowing degustation menu for us.

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And then him loving our Spanish attempts so much that he started ad-libbing dishes for us, taking a photo of us together, and plying us with shots of an alcohol available only in Girona.

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It’s finding out that Zurich is fucking expensive. No, really. Really.

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It’s seeing my parents and best friend for the first time in two years and my mother putting on her annual luau. And it’s my best mate looking like a complete dumb ass.

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It’s $12 lobsters in New England.

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It’s taking my mom, dad, and wife to a Red Sox game and my dad wearing his Australia hat for the whole day. It’s dad and my wife pissing themselves with laughter during the sixth inning. And it’s the Sox winning and my dad smiling like a little kid.

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It’s finishing our trip with a freaking cool ice cream sandwich at Coolhaus LA...

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and then having what some consider the best burger in the world at Fathers Office.

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And it’s giving each other a kiss on the cheek on the flight home.

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Guess all that travel is worth it after all.