Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Food inspired by El Bulli, Arzak and Noma at Sofitel

The Travelife Magazine and Sofitel teams
with Chef Jose Luis Gonzalez last night

Last night, the Travelife team was a guest of the dynamic and extremely likeable Sofitel management team for a private molecular gastronomy-inspired dinner. Our group of hosts was headed by general manager Goran Aleks and marketing head Chanelle Garvey, together with Christina del Carmen of Sofitel's PR office and Mari Litonjua of Fever. I'd been abroad since last week so it was my general manager Leah who coordinated the arrangements for the evening; she finalized all the plans and just reminded me to be at Sofitel's Fever Lounge by around 6 pm.


As usual, I was a little late since I was finishing up so many things in the office, including our wonderful Travelife Magazine June-July 2011 issue, which will be on sale by June 15. However, many of my staff went ahead to the dinner, so when I walked in at past 7 pm, the Sofitel and Travelife teams were all seated together in a square table at one end of Fever.

I've been to Fever several times now but only for events; so I've never seen it not crowded. So I'd never even noticed there were these two quite lovely square dining tables at the back where people can dine very stylishly. I was already envisioning hosting a gourmet dinner for 16 of my friends there.

"I didn't even know you could eat a dinner at Fever," I said to the Sofitel team, once I had made my round of greetings. Apparently, you can dine at Fever from 7 to 10 pm, and of course go on to party afterwards if you wish. Last night, for example, there was a big models' party at Fever later in the night so we started off with a very nice and intimate meal and by the time we got to dessert there was great music going and lots of things happening around. So we went seamlessly from dinner to a party.


The food at Fever is now being overseen by a very good, young Spanish chef named Jose Luis Gonzalez, who trained at many of the world's great restaurants including El Bulli, Arzak and Noma. Yes, you read right. Jose Luis did a variety of stints at these three very famous restaurants, and his longest stay was at El Bulli, which is now temporarily closed. We had a really nice chat about these three restaurants and he's going to help me craft a wonderful fine dining itinerary for my trip to Bordeaux and Spain later this year.

So we now have in Manila a chef who's actually worked in the kitchens of these world-class restaurants, and he's dishing up wonderful dishes at Sofitel's Fever. Much credit for bringing him to Manila goes to Sofitel's dynamic GM Goran Aleks who is forever thinking up of new events and projects at Sofitel. When he saw Chef Jose Luis, he immediately knew he had a winner and practically hired him on the spot. This is just one of the many new things going on at Sofitel. "I can't ever sit still," he admitted to me last night, and I have to say that I so know that feeling.


El Bulli, by the way, was named the world's best restaurant for many years in a row until it closed shop; and Noma has been named the best restaurant in the world by the San Pelligrino List for two years running now. Travelife's Contributing Editor Jerome Velasco dined at Noma late last year (he and his group are probably the only Filipinos to do so, so far), by the way, and he wrote a very inspired piece about his meal at the best restaurant in the world for the February-March 2011 issue of Travelife.

JUNE 19, 2011

Travelife Magazine just entered into a long partnership with Business Mirror yesterday, so we're going to be running our Noma story as well in the Travelife page in Business Mirror on June 19, 2011 -- so do pick up a copy of Travelife's Feb-March 2011 issue or the Business Mirror on June 19 if you'd like to read a first-hand account of Noma. A first-hand account is very rare, by the way, as a meal at Noma is fabulously expensive and reservations for one of its handful of tables is as rare as a 16th century coin.

In fact, after editing Jerome's piece on Noma a few months back, I actually went online to see how I could book a table for anytime this year. It's probably possible to get one of the tables for one of the meals for one of the days in 365 days of the year -- but when I checked what I needed to do to reserve, I basically gave up. The odds were just stacked up too high against scoring a table for any of the dates I could fly to Denmark all the way from Asia.

But, yes, Jerome, Travelife's contributing editor and fine dining columnist, traveled all the way from Manila to eat there, and he's written a piece on it which I consider among his best. Jerome himself feels his meal at Noma is one of the best he's ever eaten in a not very short lifetime of eating in the world's best restaurants.


So we have this charming and no-fuss Spanish chef in Manila with impeccable pedigree and pretty fantastic food. I especially liked his trio of appetizers, which I could have easily had several servings of, if I wasn't thinking about the five other courses down the line. These appetizers were a Parmesan mousse with Coppa ham, a caramelized melon cheese ravioli, and lobster with micro herbs and truffle vinaigrette. All three were wonderful but I have to say that the melon cheese ravioli certainly took the prize for originality and honest-to-goodness tastiness. Who would have thought that melon and cheese would go so well in a ravioli?

Caramelized melon and cheese ravioli

Lobster with micro herbs and truffle vinaigrette

STARTERS. We then had a lovely appetizer duo of sauteed shrimp coated with almonds and a foie gras cream cheese dip, followed by a poached egg with sweet mousse chorizo. The sauteed shrimp coated with foie gras was especially tasty as the tender shrimp went very well with the creamy foie gras.

Sauteed shrimp with foie gras cream cheese dip

FISH MAIN COURSE. Then just when we thought that dinner was over, it turned out that the main courses had just begun. We had a fish dish which was a big winner at our table, consisting of grilled sea bass with a tomato-olive emulsion and black olive powder. The emulsion really made this entree interesting as it provided a strange but very nice consistency to the soft seabass flesh.

Grilled seabass with tomato-olive emulsion

MEAT MAIN COURSE & DESSERT. For the meat course, we had grilled beef tenderloin with a double concentrated fungus essence. Meanwhile, dessert again was a very strange but delicious combination of pumpkin cream with beer ice cream (yes, ice cream with a beer taste), followed by a pistachio cream cappucino. Frankly, I didn't think the pumpkin cream and beer ice cream would work as neither is sweet enough for dessert -- but this dessert actually turned out to be among my favorites that night.

Pumpkin cream and beer ice cream

But perhaps what was even more interesting was the after dessert. As I mentioned earlier, there was a big party for some models at Fever and so our table just naturally got integrated into the party after we'd had dessert. We'd already said goodbye to our hosts -- but not such a serious goodbye, as we are seeing all of our Sofitel friends at the Travelife Magazine party tomorrow night, June 2 -- and I was preparing to leave and head over to Seventh Heaven to double-check on arrangements for our party.


If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know that I promised an account of good food and scintillating conversation last night. Well, here’s the scintillating part.

So I’ve said goodbye to my hosts and was ready to leave Sofitel for the second venue for the night when who should walk in but my old friend Z who’s regarded as one of these guys about town. He’s quite busy but he sometimes comes to events in our city and I do know that he makes not a few girls’ hearts flutter when he does make an appearance. I once was at a hotel dinner party when I overheard his name mentioned by some party girls, and there was a noticeable wave of excitement when it was found out that Z would be arriving soon. Apparently he’d texted one of the girls that he was on his way.


He’s pretty mild-mannered -- which probably adds to his charm -- but by now we’ve had enough interesting conversations for me to know there’s a lot of boyish naughtiness behind that innocent demeanor.

Well, he’d called me last week about some business so it wasn’t one of those haven’t-seen-you-in-so-long encounters last night. “You’re coming to our party on Thursday, I hope?” I asked him, the moment he sat down next to me.

He nodded and smiled. “Yeah, but I’m double-booked on Thursday,” he began. Of course he is. In this party-crazy town, who isn’t double-booked on a weekday night? Even I was double-booked on Thursday to very quickly attend the National Day celebrations of Italy and then to rush over and host my own party at the Fort.

“I really don’t care whether you’re double-booked or not on Thursday,” I retorted, but smilingly. “You’re coming to my party.”

He took out his phone to check what was the other event on Thursday. Then he showed it to me. It wasn’t Italy’s National Day, but it was something rather minor. “Goodness.” I said, after seeing what was written on his phone. “We shouldn’t even be having this conversation about whether you're coming or not.”


He smiled again. I knew he was just teasing me. Then he asked: “You’re going to have pretty girls there?” I replied: “Of course we are. I’ll make sure to introduce a couple of nice girls to you. What’s your type anyway?”

He thought for a moment. “Pretty. Sexy.”

Easy enough. Then just to tease him back, I said: “I have a question for you, though. Do they have to be smart?” This time, he didn’t even hesitate. Not even for a second. “The dumber the better,” he replied. I’ll leave you to guess whether he was joking or not.

And if you have received your invite to the Travelife Magazine party tomorrow, I hope you’re coming. Quadruple-booked or not.

Travelife's Special Summer Issue
with Angel Aquino in Boracay
Angel Aquino in Bora
for Travelife Magazine's April-May 2011 issue


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