fête (& food) for a queen

In honor of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, a menu of right royal pedigree is reigning supreme inside London’s Roux at The Landau. Through June 9th, Executive Chef Chris King – with the input of father and son chefs Albert and Michel Roux Jr. – is showcasing a Jubilee option at the celebrated eatery, marked by a crown on each of the daily lunch and pre-theatre menus, reflecting traditional dishes with blue-blood backstorys that have been given a twenty-first century spin. I recently got a glimpse of three of the dishes, but I’d expect there’s going to be a few more sovereign surprises up this King’s sleeve.

In 1952, the year of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, Albert Roux moved to London from France and worked as an apprentice at Cliveden, the illustrious Berkshire country house where he often served soft Cotswold Legbar Hen’s Egg à la Reine  to the likes of Lady Astor. Sporting the title à la Reine, meaning “to the Queen,” the dish is a combination of chicken and foie gras poached in Madeira then bound with truffled mayonnaise and used to fill a traditional brioche a tete. A soft-poached Cotswold Legbar hen’s egg is perched on top and garnished with slices of summer truffle. Roux went on to earn three Michelin stars at Le Gavroche, yet still recalls the dish as one of his most refined – and who can blame him.

Often referred to as the “King of Chefs and the Chef of Kings,” the great Chef Escoffier was born in France but resided in London for many years. He took great delight in naming his dishes after famous people or places, but one dish in particular proved to take the fancy of royalty: Gewürztraminer Poached Var Salmon Royale. And not just because of the royal honorific – when any of Escoffier’s fish dishes ended with the word royale it meant the garnish was crayfish. In this version wild Var salmon is poached in an aromatic Gewürztraminer court bouillon and served with a kingly version of Escoffier’s original garnish – shelled crayfish tails, tiny quenelles of herbed salmon mousseline, and a parisienne of potatoes flavored with crayfish essence.

Hereford Strawberry Queen of Puddings sounds like a champion bitch at the Westminster Show but it’s actually a dessert made famous by Queen Victoria – Britain’s longest-serving monarch – following a trip up north to Manchester. The local residents felt their custard and strawberry jam pudding was too plain for the Queen so they added meringue to dress it up. Her Royal Highness loved it so much it became a staple. The Roux version is much lighter than the original recipe yet calls for rich custard thickened with brioche crumbs. It’s offset with a lightly-set fragrant jam of Hereford strawberries from Oakchurch farm and a mound of glazed Italian meringue.

Roux at The Landau  is in the legendary Langham, which opened in 1865 as Europe’s first Grand Hotel. The hotel also happens to serve one of the swankiest afternoon teas in town in collaboration with luxury goods brand Asprey – yet another excuse to toast British heritage and 60 years of The Queen.

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top 100: kin shop

My only gripe with Harold Dieterle’s fantastically unfussy contempo-Thai restaurant, Kin Shop, is the lighting. Though the dim interiors go a long way towards making everyone seem that much more attractive, it’s heinous for the amateur iPhone photographer. So, you’ll just have to trust me on this because my snapshots can’t begin to do the meal justice. Also, I’ve never been to Thailand (something I hope to remedy later this year) so neither can I vouch with any authority on esoteric matters of authenticity, yet I can safely say this is the best Thai food in New York – certainly following the all-too-brief lifespan of Lotus of Siam. Like a novice at a night market, I enter just a bit overwhelmed by the thick smells and smoky air. Immediately want a taste of everything. Instead me and my merry band do the next best thing, putting ourselves in the hands of the kitchen and opting for the five-course tasting. (At $65, it’s a smart bargain.) Things get off to a bang with miang, a traditional Thai street food of tasty bits ‘n’ pieces wrapped inside a leaf. Here it’s a mix of fluke, lychee, chili jam, and crispy fried garlic on a shiso leaf. A myriad of contrasting flavors and textures, it’s the canape equivalent of an aperitif; a wake-up call, which tingles the palate in preparation for what’s to come: grilled prawns spiked with fresh lime and Phuket-style black peppercorn sauce; a succulent king-size crispy oyster over fried pork, peanuts and mint; squid ink and hot sesame oil soup (as delicious as it sounds disgusting). I’m made even happier when the special of the night arrives amusingly enough as the equivalent of a pasta course: grilled ramp congee with Chang Mai sausage, crayfish & crispy garlic. It’s the Greenmarket version of Thai comfort food, creamy, thick, and satisfying, with the addition of ramps, no less – the locavore’s answer to crack cocaine. Two versions of duck arrive next: a perfectly pink and tender roasted breast under a fragrant mound of fresh herbs, topped with green mango and accompanied by tamarind water and a spicy duck laab salad riddled with birds-eye chilis that more than earns its four-alarm fire notation. (So potent are the effects of the chilis that more than one person in my party navigated a bout of gastrointestinal distress the following day. Me? I’ve never tasted such an exquisite mix of meat and heat in a single forkful. I could easily eat this dish over and over again.) And that’s a prime example of what’s so enjoyable about Dieterle’s menu. Even if it’s not necessarily always a traditionalist’s version of Thai food, there’s a mutual regard for both the cuisine and the diner that meets way above the middle. Except for desserts, there’s no dumbing down here for ignorant palates. In the piquant hands of this Top Chef everyone and everything rises.

 

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stars in the skies

Air France is already known for pampering passengers with a certain je nais sais quoi – especially in the newly revamped Business Class cabins. (Not to mention free Clarins facials and massage at Paris-Charles de Gaulle, too.) Now the airline has upped the ante even further with the introduction of an unexpected – and exceptional – culinary experience. Since December France’s national carrier has been featuring dishes from some of the country’s leading chefs on long-haul flights out of Paris. Inaugurating the collaboration is “Chef of the Century” Joel Robuchon. With 27 Michelin stars to his credit you’d think Chef Robuchon had little left to prove but apparently haute cuisine at 30,000 feet is his final hurdle.  Known as an advocate of “sublimely simple” dishes which emphasize product quality and ease of execution, one of his mile-high dishes is Basque shrimp and turmeric-scented pasta with lemongrass – as described by Chef Robuchon in the onboard menu, “a simple recipe, absent the superfluous, with a purity through which the full flavor of each ingredient is fully expressed.” Another signature plate, Crayfish pasta with Nantua sauce. Now here’s something I never thought I’d say about airplane food: it’s making my mouth water. Rotating every six months, the gallivanting Gauls lined up to partner with Air France read like a gastronomic who’s who. Next up, chef Guy Martin, whose Grand Vefour is a Paris institution. Now about the wine list …

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