Posted on Thursday, 3rd October 2013
The Lotte Hotel in Moscow only opened three years ago, but in that short time it has managed to earn the top spot on TripAdvisor as the number one hotel in Moscow as well as string of other awards such as Conde Nast Traveller Readers’ Choice Award for the Best Hotel in Russia 2012. It’s easy to see why. The hotel, within walking distance to Red Square, is finished to the highest standard and boasts of conference rooms, a state-of-the-art fitness centre and a Mandara spa. The rooms are spacious and comfy with many classy touches such as an easy to use touch-pad lighting system and an impressive bathroom that boasts of Molton Brown products, a heated loo seat and a automated bidet. The Lotte Hotel chain is little known outside its home country of South Korea but it is one of their most respected top ten brands, and all the ingredients that have made it such a success there have been brought to the Moscow location.
What I also loved about the hotel was it’s wonderful buffet breakfast containing a beautifully presented spread of delectable goodies. Apart from the standard eggs, breads, cereals, cheeses and select hot foods that grace most breakfast buffets, there were a few highlight items that set it apart from the rest of the field. There was a daily changing dish of the day, Iberico ham on the bone that could be carved to order, and decadently, salmon caviar with blinis and sour cream for the picking. Also impressive were the patisseries including some classically made French tarts with superb pastry bases. Add to the mix waiters that fawned all over you and breakfast was a real joy.
Lotte Hotel Moscow also famously houses Les Menus by Pierre Gagnaire, the second Pierre Gagnaire restaurant to be opened in a Lotte Hotel (the first was in Seoul). The restaurant was a joy to look at with its gold and silk French-styled furniture and Russian ornaments. The result was not only a nod to a French and Russian union, but the creation of a beautiful space with a sense joie de vivre (very Pierre Gagnaire). The head chef was Johannes Nuding who spent three years at Pierre Gagnaire’s three Michelin starred restaurant in Paris, although the Gagnaire also comes to cook at Les Menus twice a year.
Along with the a la carte menu, there were also petite tasting (6,500 RUB – about £127) and grand tasting (10,500 RUB – about £203) menus. Settling for the latter, amuse bouches included a fine selection of tasters such as a bread soufflé stuffed with a citrus ricotta cream cheese, a croquette filled with a cream of tarragon that was deliciously fragrant, and a supremely tasty rabbit with a delicate green apple cream.
The first course was a perfectly cooked roasted duck foie gras with a chilled cream of fresh green peas ‘à la Française’, a salad of fennel, pink grapefruit, raspberry, parmesan and turnips braised in port that made for an usual, yet delightful combination. The foie gras was rich, the peas were beautifully creamy, and the fruit was zingy and sweet. There was a beautiful decadence to the turnips as well, and the parmesan gave the dish a resounding depth. There were many elements to this delicious dish and while it worked as a whole, it was equally enjoyable for each of its parts.
A dish of pan-fried Carabineros prawn, Irish langoustine and a scallop from Hokkaido was spectacular, with the intensity of the flavour of each of the seafood lingering on your palate long after you had finished the dish. In the centre of the plate was a slow cooked egg wrapped with a stunning curry marinated lettuce leaf and a wholesome wild mushroom purée. The dish was intriguing for the lack of acidity on plate, yet the combinations worked excellently together.
A denti fish with a crispy crumb coating was beautiful. The fish was sweet in taste and firm in texture, and the crumbing was perfect, giving the fish a delicate crunchy effect. A Mediterranean-styled tomato confit with Colonnata ham was amazing with little bursts of flavour coming through from the use of some finely chopped shallots and chives.
Fresh lobster meat in lemon jelly bisque with Espelette pepper was tasty. The lobster meat was sweet, and there was a lively acidity and sweetness to the creamy bisque. On the side was a scrumptious lobster bisque.
The main course of fricassee of yellow farm chicken with onions, capers and zucchini was a pleasant dish, although it didn’t have the look or feel of a fine dining dish. It was more akin to a plate of chicken with vegetables and it felt dull.
Accompanying the chicken was a thick ‘soup’ of corn purée, topped with a slice of fresh goat’s cheese and caviar, a combination that was unconvincing. There was also a gratin of black venere rice with gorgonzola cheese. This was quite strong from the use of the blue cheese, but overtime this developed into something lusciously rich and tantalising. The side dishes were interesting, but it was hard to understand how each of the various components of the dish were meant to come together.
The cheese course was very ‘Pierre Gagnaire’ and consisted of an interesting take on some well-known cheeses. The centrepiece was some comte cheese served on a bed of white chocolate with a mix of kefir leaves, granny smith and shiso leaves. There was freshness coming through from the use of the fruit and herbs, but the chocolate overpowered the delicate nature of the cheese.
Two sticks of Roquefort cheese wrapped with dried apricot marinated in a sauterne syrup was heavenly as the strength of the Roquefort was well balanced by the sweetness of the apricot. Slices of ratte potatoes served with a carbonara cream and melted Morbier cheese was also scrumptious. The Morbier oozed with lusciousness and the combination with the cream and potatoes made for something rustic and homely.
‘Desserts by Pierre Gagnaire’ came in the form of a staggering five different desserts. As with the concept behind Pierre Gagnaire’s three-star Michelin restaurant in Paris, desserts are meant to play as big a part in the meal as the savoury courses. Accordingly desserts feature heavily in the Les Menus’ tasting menu. It was great to get to taste so many desserts, but it was virtually impossible to finish them all.
From the bottom of the photo in a clockwise direction, a vanilla panna cotta paired with chocolate ganache and chocolate sorbet was divine. The panna cotta was rich with vanilla, and its gentle flavour contrasted well with the decadent ganache and rich sorbet. Completing the dessert were some crystallised rucola that was both sweet and crunchy and half-dried melon that added texture to the final result.
A hazelnut dacquoise was nutty in taste and boosted by the use of some caramelised pears. Add to the mix some pastry cream and a topping of crunchy, sweet caramelised hazelnuts, and it all came together in the most delicious way. There was also some lovely pear sorbet on the side for a fruity touch.
Tandoori apples created a hint of spice, and were complemented by red berries and an almond cream for a balanced, yet resplendently fruity and refreshing affect. A puff pastry stick accompanied the dessert and was light and airy.
An Izarra parfait coated with a chocolate glaze, topped with dried grapes and a peach compote, and served on a bed of almond and apricot cream did not particularly appeal. Finally, a lemon grass jelly with citrus segments and candied grapefruit slices was sharp on the palate. Contrasting with the acidity was a burrata sorbet that balanced well with the refreshing dessert.
There was no denying how exquisite the ingredients were, particularly the seafood that smouldered with flavour. No mean feat, considering how difficult it is to source quality fine dining ingredients in Russia. And the menu was nothing short of edgy, daring and original. The combination of certain taste sensations and how they had been harmonised together proved thrilling as well as thought provoking. Yet a small number of dishes were difficult to warm to, although this came down more to a question of taste rather than any technical deficiency. Les Menus was an interesting journey of discovery – an excellently executed dining experience that was on par with the best fine dining restaurants in Europe. But more care could have been taken with the service, which although it was pleasant and accommodating, could have been more diligent in clearing down the table from unneeded items, especially for a restaurant of this standard.
Les Menus – Summary Information:
Food rating: 4.5/5
Service rating: 3.5/5
Petite tasting menu – 6,500 RUB (about £127)
Grand tasting – 10,500 RUB (about £203)
Three courses from the a la carte menu – 4,100 to 6,900 RUB (about £78 to £132)
Excludes drinks and service.