Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Aubergine: The Grand Tour

I'm Counting My Lucky Michelin Stars -

At Aubergine, Drabble & Tomasin Rolled Out The Red Carpet!

Photos & Text By:
Paula Jonvik

I had read somewhere that the pairing of World Class Sommelier and MCA, Thierry Tomasin (formerly of Le Gavroche), with Michelin Star Chef Bill Drabble at Aubergine- "was like pairing Chateau d'Yquem and Roquefort!" Whoever made this statement hit on the perfect analogy for this award winning team.

In my humble opinion, one of the finest laid tables in London can be found at this Chelsea address- It is a proper jewel of a restaurant!

I arrived well before the first reservations for the evening, so I could sit and relax on the comfortable sofa in the very pleasant company of manager Thierry Tomasin and Chef Bill Drabble. Enjoying the early evening air- through the open glass front doors- sipping a flute of House Champagne, we traded opinions over the various flavors, undertones, textures and colors of some Hawaiian 'Grand Cru' chocolates that I had sent them.

Drabble insisted that we try his chocolate, as he slipped away down the stairwell to his kitchen. He reappeared with a lovely 3 compartment, ice glass, rectangular tray with several small squares of each dark, light and white chocolate. The aroma of each square, even before entering the mouth, was rich and voluptuous- and had the most exceptionally creamy texture on the tongue. He won't share his secret though... It is special chocolate that he gets from... his dark Yorkshire eyes sparkled as he teased... he won't say!

Tomasin laughed at his Chefs playfulness and offered me a tour of the dining room. A wood framed, glass paneled, walk-in wine cellar to the left (with a growing selection); and a lovely, refreshing flower arrangement to the right; frames the entrance to the comfortably hued room. New high backed, nicely padded chairs in pleasing wide stripes of two rich tones, are sure to make each guest even more comfortable. The art work has changed, which always seems to give a lift to a room. Tables well spaced. Linen crisp and white. Silver and crystal shine. Lighting- subtle and flattering. The mirrors at the back lend the illusion of openness and casts a warm glow over the entire room. I personally do not care for the wooden floor, as it does not seem to enhance the soft nature of the rest of the room, although I can appreciate that it is much easier to keep spotlessly clean than carpet. I like the room. It is not opulent or dripping, not sparse or cold. It's just comfortable.

My cover had been set- but before I could dine I was to have 'The Grand Tour' of the kitchen. I couldn't wait!

Thierry's Dining Room

A Well Schooled Expert
Enhanced The Entire Experience

Text & Photos By:
Paula Jonvik

Thierry Tomasin was destined for a brilliant career in front of house.

Born in Toulouse, and raised amid the splendor of the South of France, he left football camp at the behest of his grandmother, and took up his culinary training at the local catering school. He began as a cook, but was drawn to service.

After fulfilling his military obligation, Tomasin worked in Grand Hotels on The Cote d'Azur, first in Room Service, then rapidly promoted to Room Service Manager.

He wanted to learn to speak English, so made application to three distinctive London restaurants. He decided to take the offer from Le Gavroche, intending to stay for only one year. That was in 1991. He remained at Le Gavroche for 12 years before joining Drabble at Aubergine. During that time he was able to hone his skills under legendary Managing Director, Silvano Giraldin.

Tomasin continued to polish his knowledge and expertise by earning the highly respected title of M.C.A. (Master of Culinary Arts) from the Academy of Culinary Arts of Great Britain, in London. He was also the President of The Sommeliers Club of Great Britain for many years, and his involvement with top industry organizations and competitions as mentor and judge, has helped raise the standards and excellence of fine food and wine service in the United Kingdom. His philosophy is very positive and energetic. His experience regarding 'the art of the table' is equal to any top restaurant worldwide. He is approachable and professional without being stuffy and enjoys providing superior service, as evidenced by an award for Best Front of House Service Team in London earlier this year.

Having had the pleasure of handling, tasting and serving some of the finest wines in the world, Tomasin utilizes that expertise by applying it to the selections of bottles for his guests. Imagine the vintages from Domaines and Chateaux most people will never see, let alone sample or drink! (Because of him, I was able to view a very rare bottle of Chateau d'Yquem 1849, the only bottle of its kind in existence! Thank you again for that experience, Thierry!). Aubergine's wine list is in a constant state of upgrade and expansion to reflect not only a wider palate and value to the guests, but also to compliment Drabble's new and exciting combinations. Tomasin's influence is also being felt in top restaurants across London, by being at the forefront of beer and high end food pairing and service.

He plans to change the reception area by enclosing the work area and changing the position of the front desk, which will add to the ease of entry for, and comfort of guests. He has other plans, but we will all have to wait and see what they are.

Aubergine is in a state of becoming. Perhaps becoming a two Michelin Star restaurant? It is certainly becoming one of the most sought out tables in London.

Bill's Kitchen

A Free Spirited Chef, Not Saddled
by Convention &
Brilliant with Foie Gras!

Text & Photos By:
Paula Jonvik

To get to the kitchen you must navigate a narrow stairwell one flight down, and at the bottom you'll want to take a left which will bring you to the largest open area of floor, consisting of a few paces in any given direction. Once there, an evident penchant for cleanliness and organization are the first things noticed. A must in a kitchen of that size. The brigade of 5 to 6, including a Patisserie Sous by the name of Miles, who dreams of motion picture stardom, are ready and waiting to spring into action.
"Bill, you have a bit of a reputation..." I stated, "For cooking the finest saute of Foie Gras in London!"
By the look on his face he was the last to know.

His eyes opened a bit wider and he replied- "Really? Who said?"
"Guests who frequent the foodie websites, restaurant review sites, and some others", I said smiling.
"That's nice to know!" he added as he turned to his sauce station to check his mise en place.
"Howard..." I began to say...
"Oh yes!" Drabble replied, "he does love his Foie Gras!"
Drabble and Tomasin created a special 'Foie Gras Burger' for one of their valued customers. That speaks very highly regarding the level of attention paid to a guests personal likes and individual personalities. That sort of service is hard to find.
Chef also has a reputation for rich, glossy sauces that pump up the volume on many of his delicious creations. Each reduction is made fresh daily, their heady aromas permeating the small kitchen from the early morning.
Drabble's menu flows with the seasons, more appropriately with the days. The fresh markets and trusted family owned purveyors far afield, entice him with special bits and bobs they have selected especially with him in mind. He then inspects with his 5 senses, gently examining whatever is on offer, admitting that the weather plays a big roll in his decisions about how to prepare the final dish.

The daily menu changes pose absolutely no problem what-so-ever to Tomasin, whose palate is well trained. He can offer many reasonably priced bottles to pair superbly to any number or combination of dishes.
That little kitchen is ship shape though. You would be hard pressed to find a cleaner more orderly kitchen. As a matter of fact, it may be likened to the cozy bridge of a sailing ship, with the Captain at the helm, along with his trusty First Officer surveying the decks, sailing in a vast culinary ocean. She's a sound ship, with a good crew. I predict continued smooth sailing for them in the future!
I gorged myself on Foie Gras that evening. I had it two ways. Each dish as unique as the Chef who cooked them, and as smooth as the gentleman who served them.

Scratch, All Scratch

"We Deal With Everything We Require Right Here... "

Text & Photos By:
Paula Jonvik

Fresh bread rolls. Baked twice a day. Lovely doughs in a perpetual state of readiness. Some plain, some wheat, some flavored with fresh herbs. All designed to be complementary to his daily offerings.

Bacon. A glossy side of fresh bacon. Smokey and firm. Beautiful stripes of lean meat running throughout the thickness of it, not too fatty though. Came from a farmer up North, way North. Close to the Scottish border. I relished bits of that very bacon in one of my courses later that evening. It was what bacon in the United States used to taste like when I was a child. It took me back. Nice bacon! Really nice!

One by one, the reach-in and refrigerator doors opened to reveal the most exquisitely clean and organized mise en place a person could hope to find!

Succulent Duck Breasts; Quail Breasts; Galantines of Duck; Guinea Fowl; Grouse... Oh! The fresh Grouse. That was art. The Foie Gras... Was... Beyond words.

Parma Ham Wrapped Veal Sweetbread; Best End of Lamb.

Lobster Tails; Fresh Diver Scallops; Langoustines; Snails; Mussels; Caviar.

Red Mullet; Line Caught Sea Bass; Fillet of Turbot; Fillets of John Dory.

A Variety of Fresh Wild Mushrooms.

Fresh Blackberries.

Angus Beef Rib, a beautiful steak just crying to be cut off the gross and simply grilled... Oh!

Those few minutes spent in the kitchen viewing all of those beautiful foods was the best 'Amuse' anyone could hope to digest. I returned to the dining room upstairs, took my seat and waited to see what these gentlemen had in store for me. I was not to be disappointed.

Aubergine's Beautiful Food

Game Fowl:
Ready To Fire

Photo By:
Paula Jonvik

Beautiful Trays of Foie Gras

Photo By:
Paula Jonvik

Lobster & Diver Scallops

Photo By:
Paula Jonvik

Some of the Finest Fillets in London Town

Photo By:
Paula Jonvik

More Assorted Fillets For Someone's Dining Pleasure

Photo By:
Paula Jonvik

Fresh Cepes for Glazing:

A Garnish for Parma Ham
Wrapped Sweetbreads &
Caramelized Onion Puree

Photo By:
Paula Jonvik

The Grouse

Photo By:
Paula Jonvik

All Starters

An Evening At Aubergine:
Immersed in an Autumn Bounty

Text & Photos By:
Paula Jonvik

I can tell you that my first course was Chef's 'Saute of Foie Gras, Braised Peas, Onions and Bacon'.

Peas cooked with a slight firmness remaining; and translucent, sweet caramelized onion in a slightly thickened broth; with saute small dice of that particular Smokey Bacon all topped off with a perfectly seared slice of Foie Gras... The dish had a distinct earthy quality, which was brought out by the bacon and was perfect for the turning weather outside. Heaven!

Thierry happily poured me a special glass of Opitz One, a '97 Austrian charmer, to accompany my starter. He tasted a little and exclaimed- "Ah! Yes! Apricots!". When he was examining the bottle earlier, he had mentioned that dried apricots and nuts would be his first choice to pair to it (as he remembered the wine to be fat with apricot), the second being Foie Gras.

Right about then Howard showed up. I finally got to meet him. So the rest of the evening was filled with tasting, sharing and chatting. I savored delicate Poached Lobster nestled on a fresh Cauliflower Puree topped with thinly sliced Sauteed Cauliflower with a splash of Truffle Butter Sauce; Roasted Scallop with a subtle Apple and Ginger Puree, Roasted Langoustines on Tagliatelli of Courgette, (or Zucchini to an American) with Tomatoes and Tarragon; An extremely tender and flavorful Galantine of Duck, which had atop it another perfectly Seared slice of Foie Gras and this time a sweetish Prune Compote. Quite a pleasant departure from the first treatment. There was another course, but I was glassed over with pleasure and it escapes me at the moment. Chef was cooking whatever moved him, and Thierry continued to pour glasses of wines that I can't begin to recall the names of, but I didn't need to, as I trusted that his selections would be perfect. It was not at all a case of unmemorable dishes or wines, more a case of not being pedantic about each dish, or vintage and just flowing with the evening. Letting go. Totally enjoying myself. Boy, did I ever! I even sampled spoonfuls of Howard's Assiette of Sorbets. My favorite was the Raspberry. His, the Mint. Although the Mango was a close second.

My desserts, there were 3, of which I was more than happy to dispatch, a Passion Fruit Mousse with Lychee Sorbet, a Fresh Vanilla Ice Cream with fruit and my favorite was a Chocolate Crepe filled with rich, creamy Mousse, drizzled with a decadent Chocolate Sauce, Bottled Cherries and some of their liquor, accompanied by a scoop of the richest, most delicious Chocolate Ice Cream (I don't think it was a Sorbet, too creamy and rich for that, but I am not completely certain), I have ever eaten in my entire life. I know it was made with that special secret chocolate!

So my evening ended as it had began, with magnificent chocolate. Food of the Gods. I was completely done in.

I asked Bill if there was anything he wouldn't cook and serve. "Yeah, Aubergines!" "Why?" I asked. "I just don't like them" he said.

Yes- Of course, I thought. Aubergine is just a vehicle for other flavors...