Restaurant review: The French are coming

Newsroom 07/04/2008 | 15:36

So proudly step forward Chef Alain Cortesi, a guest chef in the Novotel THIS WEEK ONLY, commencing Tuesday 8th for five days, ending on Sunday. From what I can see, this fine fellow should be ignored at your peril. Rather than I promote him, do your own research on his restaurant website Now let's consider what he has in store for us.
However, prior to my making any further comments, please bear in mind that Chef Alain will arrive in town after my press deadline. Therefore I am working from the menu Novotel has mailed out in its promo, and I am anticipating how each dish will be prepared.
This is not as crazy as you may think it to be, because French cuisine is largely inflexible and as such it becomes utterly predictable. I consider this to be a good thing, so all we have to do is to anticipate hereafter the skill of the Chef.
For what we are about to receive, the prices simply beggar belief in terms of good value when compared to alternative offerings in town. So, look if you will at two out of five starters, namely.
‘Duck Fillet and Foie Gras with crystallized figs, with Balsamic and onion sauce.' At RON 40. OK, what a perfect harmony. I don't know if he will serve this as a terrine (I hope so) or as a hot dish. But look: Foie Gras is now always accompanied by a fruit friend and is generally complimented by a sweet, almost dessert wine. I presume his Balsamic and onion sauce will be a concentrated ‘drizzle' but I may be wrong! This will be my starter of choice.
But when I go there, my dining friend had better watch out because I will shamelessly mooch her food off her plate provided that she orders ‘King Scallops in puff pastry, with a crystallized apples and pears in a cider and cinnamon sauce.'
At a mere RON 30, I will order an extra carry-out, doggy bag so that I can feed both my date on the night, and take the carry-out home to my girlfriend to spoil her in the morning.
Men with mistresses and ladies with lovers should do the same and take something home to their spouses/partners in order to keep the peace, because they will never see bargains like this again. And let's face it – this menu is food for love, so please read on.
And what could be more loveable than ‘Lamb Saddle with tapenade, tomatoes and zucchini with Parmesan, apple crackers in a lemon and thyme sauce'? Wow! Saddle of lamb is the most tender and expensive cut comprising two sides of tenderloin, an ‘eye' and a ‘T bone'.
Never confuse this with a ‘lamb chop' as it is far more sophisticated. If you close your eyes as you eat in a silent, gossip-free and nagging-free environment, you will discover a different texture and quality in each of those components.
In order to stuff this with tapenade, Chef will have to de-bone the saddle and roll it into a ‘noisette', But since tapenade is a puree made from anchovies, capers, Parmesan, olives and sweetened with fresh basil, I am curious to see how the salty savoury balances with his sweet lamb. It's only RON 40 to find out and I bet he will pull it off successfully.
But I am crying with anticipation as to how he will make his ‘King Scallops and Monkfish with apples and pears with mixed onions, mushrooms and bacon sauce'. At RON 55, this is a miracle considering that scallops, (the absolute, unchallenged king of all shellfish) cost more to buy than lobsters.
Add to that the ‘wild card' of monkfish and Chef has a challenge. You see, monkfish was protected from human consumption for millions of years because when alive, it is the most hideously ugly, scary-movie creature in the seas.
But that belies the secret that when skinned and cut into cubes it is the most delicate, sensitive and fabulous fish you have never tasted. But it has one drawback, namely: it absorbs the strongest accompanying flavour in the pot. So, if it absorbs the flavour of scallops, no problem! But if it picks up totally the flavour of bacon, big problem. OK Chef, let's see you separate these competing flavours and keep the monkfish flavour ‘alive'. No doubt about it – he will do it!
There are other selections for real meat eaters such as ‘Guinea Fowl and ‘veal Cannelloni' which I know full well will not be the Italian version of that much misunderstood dish.
Away we go to the desserts, and yet again we have a fabulous selection, out of which I shall only describe two of them.
So, there is a classic ‘take' on a very ordinary French dessert which has been sexed up by changing the ingredients. Traditionally you had ‘tarte tartin' and upside down cake made with apples or pears. Clever Chef has changed it by baking it with pineapple and mango in a jelly of orange marmalade and served with vanilla caramel and ice cream. Are you in heaven yet?
Then if not, try his twist on a traditional ‘cr

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