October 16, 2008

The mastery of Philippe Rochat

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Today I finally met up with B, the kind-hearted big sister who went out of her way to help make my stay in Geneva enjoyable. She had kindly offered to show me around the shores of Lake Geneva, and also made reservation for us at the Michelin 3-star restaurant Philippe Rochat.

It rained today. Real bummer. My one free day on this trip and it had to rain. After driving along the lake from Nyon to Lausanne, we head north to Crissier – where the restaurant is located. We step through the doors a minute or two after 12pm, and immediately I sense that something is amiss. I am in a 3-star restaurant in French-speaking Switzerland, and I'm wearing jeans and a polo shirt! Realizing my faux-pas, I sheepishly decline the offer to hang up my jacket...

We find ourselves seated in the corner with good natural light for ease of taking pictures. What ensued was a 4 ½ hour lunch, and one of the best meals I’ve had in recent memory. There were two degustation menus, and after some debate we both decided to go for the same one.

I started with a glass of 2007 Chasselas Selection Philippe Rochat, made by Domaine du Daley, at the suggestion of the waiter. It’s a local wine so I thought I’d give it a try. Was not impressed. Perhaps the wine had been open since last night, and it has gone flat.

The menu:

Huîtres noisette Marennes-Oléron à l’osciètre – very nice Fine de Claires oyster. The jelly underneath tasted of brine, just like it would be if the oyster were freshly shucked. I love the white ceramic spoon used to scoop up the caviar.

Croquet de foie gras de canard à la gelée de cassis – a really nice creation here. The foie gras is very smooth, and worked really nicely with the thin layer of cassis jelly. The garnish – which includes pistachios and more cassis – adds another dimension to the dish. The warm brioche was very yummy.

Perciatellini aux truffles blanches d’Alba – what can I say except “wow!” The perfume of the white truffle hit my nose immediately. The interestingly-shaped pasta contains what tastes like filling made from spinach. It doesn’t take long for me to scoop up every drop of the truffle-infused emulsion. I had completely forgotten that it is now the season for white truffles! I guess the financial market turmoil has really taken a toll…

Soupe thaïe de crabe de Lannion à la citronnelle – an interesting Asian twist. It almost tastes like tom yum kung without the chili, with lemongrass, alfalfa sprouts and black sesame adding the crunch. There are also little raviolis with very small amount of crab filling inside.

Teppaniaki de lotte de L’Arcouest tiède bagna cauda – the monkfish has a chewy texture not unlike lobster (hence sometimes referred to as poor man's lobster), and I loved how the sauce and garnish worked so well with it. The interesting thin layer at the bottom is the chef's slightly more solid version of bagna cauda, an Italian dipping sauce.

Bouchée de Saint-Jacques d’Erquy au naturel – the scallop enclosed in a thin layer of carrot was deliciously sweet, while the very light emulsion was acidic to taste, with chopped carrots and celery adding texture.

Queues de grosses langoustines de Loctudy coraillées au curry vert de Bangkok – the langoustines from Loctudy were wonderful – sweet and tender and garnished with strips of green apples. The green curry was very interesting, with more bits of green apples inside.

Lièvre à la royale – the gamey hare meat was actually really nicely done, despite the slightly chewy and dry texture. The sauce was heavy and made from blood – exactly how the duck blood caneton tasted like at La Tour d’Argent. A heavy dish but not too overwhelming for me.

Sélection de fromages frais et affinés – I tried a bunch of local cheese here, including at least 3 varieties of Gruyère. I didn’t believe B when she told me that Comté is actually the same as Gruyère – the difference being which part of the Jura they come from and the fact that Gruyère is now a Swiss AOC. But after tasting these, I have to admit that the taste is almost identical. The Reblochon is also pretty good.

Espoumas de poire Williams aux baies de sureau – delicious and refreshing, with a sprinkle of pistachio bits on top of the foam.

Moelleux de chocolat Manjari au café Arabica – the warm-centered chocolate cake using the best ingredients. The café Arabica ice cream is wonderfully intense and aromatic.

Macarons, pâtes de fruits, chocolats pures origines – all very delicious. B was full so she decided to pack them home…

We shared a half bottle of the 1999 Marc Morey Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Virondot. This turned out to be a wonderful wine. Golden, honey-colored after a few years of aging, the nose was also full of honey, butter, pear Anjou and green apples. You can taste the ripe fruit on the palate, and there was a good acidity balance and a reasonably long finish. Excellent!

We were the last table to leave the restaurant, past 4:30pm... It really was a fantastic meal, and I can't thank B enough for everything. Hopefully I will be able to repay her kindness when she and her husband visit Hong Kong next year.

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