We were all quite excited about Alinea, of course, we’d seen it on Chefs Table and fiancee had their cookbook over 10 years ago. I was slightly sceptical after being disappointed at Pujol however very keen to check it out.
After travelling for months my mum had decided to join us for part of the trip and was excited to go to her first World 50 Best Restaurant. We tried to book a table of three, however, discovered it wasn’t allowed. Alinea seat for the entire table only. I messaged asking if there were any exceptions and they literally copy and pasted the FAQs from the website for me. They were kind enough to offer to increase our table for two to a table of four though.
We invited my friend Sammy to join us and off we went. It’s very non-descript outside and the only thing that confirms you’re at Alinea is the Valet Parking sign. We stood outside for a bit before realising the door was already open. They were very nice welcoming us and we went up to the top floor. With only a slightly snarky comment that we had four people.
On our table is a word find which were told resembles our menu. Exciting! We take turns looking for words and I’m instantly determined to find all the answers. It’s dimly lit in the dining room and the service is nice.
We’re given the option of the wine pairing or to just go with the wine list. Having already spent quite a bit on dinner we opted for the wine list and to get a bottle of bubbles to share. It comes out quickly and the cork is kept in a cool little holder. On the table is a bowl of oranges that we all have the feeling might be incorporated into a course.
The first course is Terrarium |Iceberg, avocado, herbs which are brought out with Smoke | Osetra, Sunflower, Onion, Lemon. The lettuce is in its cup almost like a taco. Very cold and not amazingly flavourful. The sunflower with caviar is good and the smoke gives it a nice touch. There is more element in the surprise though.
Sure enough, after our next courses are brought out the oranges come to life with dry ice, the smoke from adding water to it created an incredible smell that wafted over the table.
Our courses are Ranina Ranina | Spanner Crab, Coconut, Curry, this one is quite delightful and it’s nice that they had an Indian element coming through.
This is served with Glow | Spiced Orange which is like a lolly and matches the orange scent coming from the centrepiece perfectly.
And Lentil | Chickpea, peanut, ice cream which for me resembles a PB and J. Our guests are loving it at this stage.
The orange centrepiece is replaced with a coal and we’re told “It’s about to get lit”, I thought this was hilarious.
Up next is Black | Olives, Artichoke which was hidden in the little “coals” on the table. Clever plating! It’s very different.
We notice the grater on the table and it’s to grate the black lime into Ink | Octopus, Scallion, Black Lime. This has a Korean BBQ sauce and it really feels like a BBQ with the fire in front of us. This is by far my favourite course, it’s sensational, rich and clean.
Chopsticks are put on the table before we’re taken downstairs for a kitchen tour, cocktails and their take on pizza. I’ll let the chef explain the pizza. The cocktail maker is super cool! Alinea has two out of the 30 in the world and they were invented in New Zealand!
Lavender is placed on top of the fire to create a nice aroma on the table. On top is Perfume | Scallop, X, Lavender. This is a very clever dish with the mouse resembling the dumpling bun.
Paper | Langoustine, Boullabaise, Olive Oil, the bouillabaisse is good and the paper resembles noodles.
Crunch |Rouille, Nori, interesting! It’s nice to see the different flavours from around the world represented in the dishes.
As they clear the table the coal and a piece of lavender is left behind. I wonder what this is for!? It’s all a very theatrical production. Soon they start digging out of the coal and bring out a potato that’s been cooking in the salt. It’s cleaned and is used to make The Cape | Clam, Potato, Bacon. I was excited about this as it’s some of my favourite components however the flavour fell through and the table all decided it was their least favourite dish so far. Also as clever as the potato in the fire was we did kind of see it coming.
Our final “main” courses are as follows:
Coal | Squab, black forbidden rice, binchotan – perfectly cooked
Wrinkled | Beet, mustard, chilli – OK
Bean | Tenderloin, spices – this is served in a vanilla jar and resembled a soft, sweet beef jerky.
Ear | Woodear, foie gras, Wagyu – missing the punch and these are some of fiancees favourite flavours.
Tea | Matsutake, lemon, thyme – wonderful
Overall it was a nice and playful representation however we all felt it was missing something.
Our interlude to dessert was Heirloom | Peach, begonia, nasturtium, which was quite acidic but I liked it.
And Shot | Pineapple, aloe, shiso, served in a shooter glass which you had to draw out. Again a fun concept but missing the bang.
Our Nostalgia courses are next, Still Life | Cherry distillation, banana, vanilla, this is plated like a baby banana, unfortunately, it tastes like an off banana and isn’t very pleasant.
The famous Alinea Balloon | Helium, Green Apple comes out and it’s really cool to see and fun to pop with your mouth. Quite gimmicky though, and sticky! We were promised hot towels which take a while to come to the table.
Our final “course” is Nugget | sesame, brown butter, gold. It’s a nice little candy to finish off the night.
Overall when leaving Alinea I felt a bit like my balloon, deflated. While we appreciated the effort and creativeness that goes into creating some of their masterpieces there just wasn’t that flavour punch to back it up.
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