Le Gavroche

Plate still empty
If you happen to be in London but feel the urge for really old-school French gourmet dining look no further than [Le Gavroche](http://www.le-gavroche.co.uk/main.html). The settings resemble of an antiques store and the full two-dozen strong hierarchy of waiters (all French, *bien entendu*!) are so stylishly arrogant that I almost felt let down by the gray-haired gentleman who first welcomed us at the door: he was actually willing to shut an eye on my blue jeans on the condition that our whole party of three men wore the ugly blue blazers he lent us…
At least on your first visit, stick to the 8-course *Menu Exceptionnel* (with wine pairing). My favourites from that shockwave of tastes remain the grilled scallop and hot foie gras with cinnamon duck. And the word is that people travel from all over the world just to try Chef [Michel Roux Jr](http://www.michelroux.co.uk/)’s (who was also visibly present at the venue all night) cheese souffle.
[Our full culinary trip is available as a photoset here](http://www.flickr.com/photos/seikatsu/sets/72157604148051496/).
**Verdict:** Le Gavroche might have lost one of their top Michelin stars since the eighties (today they have “only” two), but they are still very much worth your four hours of time and money.

Encounters with the Really Smart Cab Drivers

In October, I had what I figured to be one the weirdest cab rides ever. Our driver in Tokyo revealed surprising knowledge of Estonia and the Baltics, which he gained through his interest in… maps. If you assumed that the brave men of this trade limit themselves to just studying local street names, think again. (5 minute video clip of that ride available on Blip.tv)

Now, half a year later in London the following dialogue took place in an ordinary black cab, heading home with friends around midnight.

Driver: “Excuse me, listening to you speak I can’t help but wonder – are you from Norway?”

Us: “Close, but it’s actually Estonian”

Driver: “I though it sounded Scandinavian! I’ve never met Estonians before! Actually, you’re right, I was quite off – your speech sounds more like Finnish. Suomi, or how you say it. But again, this is the same Fenno-Ugric language group as Estonian, silly me…

You know, I know some Turkish and there are some resemblances there as well. If I’m not mistaken, Estonians started moving from the Altai mountains towards Europe, along with Finns and Hungarians about 10,000 years ago, wasn’t it? Hungarians came in waves, right, there was some tribe first and then the Magyars… Did you know that Turks have this interesting legend that their Heartland once expanded as far as Finland?”

Us: “umm… uuuh?”

Driver: “Coming from Scandinavia, I’m sure you like Knut Hamsun? I just love him, you know. His writing has this sense of clarity…”

Us: “He could have been in our mandatory reading in highschool, but can’t really remember…”

Driver: “Really? That’s surprising, I would have imagined that in Estonia you read more of Bulgakov and Dostoevsky. I do love reading these chaps as well! In Master and Margarita, I’ve always admired how Bulgakov teases the Russian Orthodox church, that was not a common practice at all at his time…

But speaking of these lads, you have to agree that they could not have been if it wasn’t for Mikhail Lermontov. That Raskolnikov character in Crime And Punishment would never have existed if there wasn’t the legacy of A Hero of Our Time…

Other than these, I don’t really appreciate Russian literature of the 19th century… Too streamlined, if you asked me, to be honest. A Hero of Our Time truly was ahead of its time, written in 1890, was it, but the rest of it…

Anyway, don’t want to keep you for long, lads, here we are. Very nice chatting with you, let’s carry on next time, ‘aight? Cheers!”

And off he drove.

Leaving me and my friend no other option than sit down in the closest pub to transcript this encounter with a suspected literature and linguistics professor in disguise. He did miss with that Lermontov date by a few decades, but still…

Notting Hill Breakfast

If you have moved to London for four weeks, your son has fallen sick on the first night, but thankfully, two doctor occurences and five days later he can actually hold some food in, the sun is shining and spring is in the air, and to top it all, it is a Sunday which happens to be the (British) Mother’s Day, do no more than head to Tom’s Delicatessen for breakfast. And even if you’re lucky enough to escape the context we had by today, I can still recommend the place.

Get a fresh juice, one of their excellent coffees and, if you are not the full English breakfast type, Eggs Royale with salmon and caviar (pictured above).

Googling around I’ve found people calling this the best breakfast in Notting Hill. Have to agree, even if I haven’t had many out here. And, they are extemely kid friendly.

By the way, they say that Tom is the son of Terrence Conran. And what a talented, but down to earth gourmet son he is then. See more of his places to eat.

Sushi heaven

Ikeda chef
This is actually a very very simple restaurant review: [Ikeda](http://www.london-eating.co.uk/1981.htm) has the best sushi I’ve had outside Tokyo. Period.
When (shouldn’t be “if”!) you go there for a first time, say Omakase!*, sit back and watch the chef’s choice of freshest sushi and sashimi magically appear on the red counter pictured above.
Apparently Ikeda has been around for 25 years already. And there is a reason why.

*Footnote: *In Japanese, “Omakase” means “entrust” or “Chef, I’m in your hands”. (Taavet)*

Which Michelin gave Hakkasan Their Star?

Canadian jumbo crab
Hakkasan (SkypeFind reviews) has been on my to-go list for a long time. Can’t even remember who was the very first to recommend it (and maybe the place was just better a year+ ago?). It is right around the corner from our London office, but for a reason or another I never made it.
Now I did and what a complete disappointment it was.
* Those who had ’em, praised the cocktails.
* Dimsum & duck appetizers were nice.
* That’s it.

* Well manned (headcount-wise), but careless service. The wet wiping cloth coming between you and your food kind.
* Robotic sommelier who says his lines and just does not listen if you ask something about the wine. As in ignoring you.
* Loud and overcrowded as a cocktail bar… on the restaurant side on Monday night.
* Most appetizers could not compete on Cheap Chinese Takeaway championships if they tried.
* My crab (pictured above) tasted like paper towels. I rarely leave my seafood uneaten.
* All this and more for about 100 pounds per head.
Who exactly decides on Michelin stars these days? Some Anatoli Michelinovski running a parallel business in some dark alley?
And #19 in the 50 World’s Best Restaurants list??? Come on…
PS: my friends say that the same owner’s Yauatcha is still a good place for dimsum.

Nice Welcome Surprise

Estonian welcome in London
At some point the Radisson Edwardian hotel I usually stay at in London started leaving me hand-signed welcome notes to the room when I arrive. Nice touch, even if common for regulars at many hotels.
Now they’ve taken it a step further – the note speaks my mother tongue. And quite familiar in tone, I must say. (“Kallis” is usually used in the very friendly context where “darling” if not “sweetheart” is appropriate, as opposed to casual “dear”).
Thanks for the neat surprise, Radisson! Estonian has just a bit over 1 million speakers globally, so we don’t get service in our own language abroad too often.

Emotional Hours at Wembley

Blue sector
The Estonia-England Euro2008 qualification game at Wembley was quite an experience. For the most part, not for the devastating game but the emotions around it. Roughly 2000 Estonians trying to outshout & -sing 84600 English supporters. Apparently, our Song Festivals are not that unique after all.
A few more mobile shots here. Note to self – you actually could bring a decent camera to this stadium, no matter what the back of the ticket warning says.
And a trivia quiz: Who is now the first Estonian to score a goal at Wembley? (Hint: the score was 0:3)