Friday, September 17, 2010

Colombia - El Cielo Restaurant - Medellin

Last night was amazing.  It's not cheap compared to the rest of Colombia where we are in El Poblado, the fancy part of Medellin,  so the budget has gone out the window, we'll have to make up for it at a later date. So, while we were at it, we decided to blow the budget completely and made a reservation for El Cielo, a molecular gastronomy restaurant a few blocks away from our hostel.  Its claim to fame is that, its head chef trained in El Bulli, which is supposedly the best restaurant in the world, and after watching some of Heston Blumental's antics we thought the 'molecular gastronomy' experience would be fun.  So, for the bargain price of about 40euro each we were given a 20 course meal of little delights, the whole experience lasting about three hours.  (Wine was extra.)

The restaurant, was modern and trendy with lounge music and nice lighting, the crowd were quite casually dressed, but there were a good few freakish plastic surgery jobs going around, which actually seemed to fit in nicely with the spectacle of the food.

When we first sat down at our table, there were two huge shiny wine glasses on the table, a white linen napkin and a giant tweezers.  Shortly afterwards the waiter came over to us and placed a big glass bowl with water and white flowers inside in the centre of the table.  He placed in front of each of us a shell with a pearl inside, the pearl actually looked like a big mint. After failing to understand the waiter's Spanish explanation, we looked with puzzlement at the dish and just as Brian was contemplating popping the pearl into his mouth, a girl at the next table kindly explained to us in English that we were supposed to pick the pearl up with the tweezers and place it in the flower bowl for a few seconds.  The pearl then expanded and turned into a towel which we used to clean our hands.

Next we were given an aperitif, which came in what looked like a mini wine glass with a long stem.  The cocktail was made of little round balls of jelly, triple sec, vodka, some pineapple juice and after it was placed on the table, the waiter popped in some frozen pineapple chunks from a silver tray of smoking liquid nitrogen.  It was potent and delicious.

Then, on another large shell we were served some 'chocolate caviar'.  It looked just like caviar served on a kind of prawn cracker, with a little chocolate dust on top, but when you tasted it, it was like a chocolate flavoured jelly, and had a really pleasant but strange texture. Delicious.

Next was probably the most decadent event or 'moment' of the night, as our new English speaking waiter kept calling every course.  "This moment will awaken your senses."  Two large bowls, again containing bunches of large white flowers were placed in front of us.  The waiter asked me to hold my hands out over the bowl with my palms up, he then poured hot melted chocolate "from the Santander region" of Colombia, over my hands and then urged me to 'bathe my hands in the chocolate' by rubbing them together.  He then encouraged me to taste the chocolate, so I tentatively licked a bit off, before he washed my hands over the bowl with another jug of ice cold water.  Afterwards I wished I'd had more chocolate because it was so delicious, but it felt very weird to be licking food off your hands in a fancy restaurant, but anyway, our hands smelled delicious for the rest of the meal.

After this prelude, we were finally given the menu options and wine list! The two choices were 11 courses which included one big main course or 20 courses where you could taste everything so we went with that.

Our starter was relatively simple but it was really well made and was absolutly delicious.  A rustic looking wooden chopping board was brought out with a blue cast iron mini casserole dish and two long skinny oregano foccaccia sticks.  Inside the pot were warm tomatoes with rosemary and emmental cheese, which we were encouraged to mix together and eat with the bread, it was perfect.

The timing was great so we had enough time to recover after every course and enjoy the anticipation of waiting for the next surprise. 

After that, we were each given a large white dish with two slices of caramelized starfruit and a little green blob of concentrated basil on the bottom.  The waiter then poured over a soup made of gruyere, pecorino and costena cheese (cheese from northern Colombia).  It was really cheesy and intense but gorgeous, the carmelised star fruit was a really nice contrast.

After this, on a little white rectangular plate, we were served a dome of tomato mousse, which had sprinkles of caramelised basil on top and a little round ball of what tasted like mozzarella, this was a strange texture combination, and it took a few goes to get used to tomato flavoured mousse.
The next "moment" was absolutely delicious, it was roblado, a kind of white fish, served on top of a fruit paste, with a side of jet black mint flavoured couscous, which had a tiny sprig of mint on top, it was really gorgeous.

After that since our senses were getting a bit tired, our waiter informed us that we needed to have them "reawakened" again.  A dish of red liquid was put in the centre of the table, which was actually some kind of strawberry essence, with maybe a bit of sherbet.  Then some liquid nitrogen was added and it all smoked up all over us, and we were encouraged to smell it all in.  That was kinda funny, Brian was annoyed cos there was a draught from the door, so it kept blowing towards me so I got most of the smell.
After all that smelling we didn't know whether we'd be able to fit in any more courses but we persevered!  Next, we were served a huge and perfect single prawn in a pool of mango and chive sauce.  The mango sauce was a bit too creamy for our liking, the first complaint of the night - not bad at all, and still more to come!

"To change flavours" we were given some lime and spearmint sorbet with green tea foam on top.  This was lovely and came with an ingenious spoon that was also a straw so you could slurp up any melted bits of sorbet and foam.

Next, we were on to the meat courses.  Our first meat was chicken in an onion sauce.  This was really surprising, it was like no chicken we'd ever had. The texture was perfectly soft and kind of spongy which took a bit of getting used to. There were absolutely none of the characteristic stringy chicken fibres to be seen. Turns out this chicken had been vacuum packed with onions and slowly boiled.  This was actually quite a big portion too.
After the chicken came kobe beef nigiri, which arrived with a yoghurt foam, a pickle of some sort and a drizzling of sweet and thick clove flavoured balsamic vinegar. It was nice, an overload of flavours maybe but the clove vinegar was a bit of a revelation.
Next we had some more sorbets.  This time passion fruit and triple sec sorbet with honey and coconut foam, again with the spoon straw.
After that possibly the most delicious and perfectly cooked dish of all, a mini beef tenderloin, served with a buttery wasabi and potato mash, with smoked oil drizzled on top.  This was amazing and big enough to last a while too.  We thought the next course was a brilliant idea.  It was a snack of a blood cracker, like black pudding, with guava and blue cheese paste.  Absolutely delicious.

We were a bit disappointed when the waiter announced that the next course was a dessert because we knew the adventure was nearly over but we were getting a little full.  Our first dessert consisted of coconut ice-cream with crumbly cheese.  After that we were given peanut and basil ice-cream with milk and honey foam and toasted chocolate bread.  The basil ice-cream was lovely.  Next was a "deconstructed" brownie with lavender foam. The lavender was really strong but delicious.

After this was another spectacle.  We were told we would be served a gooseberry flavoured candy, which we should put in our mouth really quickly after drinking some water.  The waiter rushed out from the kitchen with a slate holding two loudly crackling 'candies' wrapped up in cellophane.  So we shoved them in our mouths as quick as we could and then smoke came out of our noses and our tongues were completely frozen, whatever it was must have been frozen in the liquid nitrogen too. When it melted a bit it tasted like a frozen yoghurt, but it left a weird sensation in ours mouths for ages.  And so we took that as a sign that the meal must be over.  But actually there was one more 'moment'.  We were each given two perfect red rose petals between which was a handcream made from a native Colombian plant, so we rubbed them between our hands and were left smelling lovely.

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