Eleven Madison Park – 12 April 2019

Oh you gorgeous place. I remember seeing Eleven Madison Park come in 4th in San Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best. It sounded like a nice place so I wrote it on my list. Little did I know that a year later, it’d come first! All of a sudden, my “little” restaurant was the most sought after in the world. Then it closed for renovations, and when it re-opened, was no longer the “best” restaurant in the world. Phew! That meant it would be *slightly* easier for me to get a booking. As a fully prepaid restaurant, the stakes were high, but all my bookings have been successful, where an online booking is available, so it was on!

I promised myself no spoilers, but considering I follow them and Daniel Humm, it’s hard to completely eliminate all news, but I like the odd tidbit now and again, because it keeps my eye on the prize. However, I also caved into reading the Eleven Madison Park cookbook (first one) at my local cafe and I actually liked it a lot more after that. I’d considered it to be almost too “perfectionist” after reading an article about Noma’s chaos versus EMP’s order, but it actually sounded fun, too, and not that formal.

Welcome to the table. My friend and I got a cosy, couchy corner, and because the couch ran the entire corner, we actually had a lot of space! The green velvet was so pretty looking too. This box is present on every table, and is made by an artist who also has an installation in Madison Square Park. Too bad I’m no good at remembering names, and none of the sculptures I saw came to mind when seeing this box.

Anyway, this is a box to put your mobile phones in. It’s not compulsory, but they do make it an option if you really want it, but with one caveat – if you put your phone in the box, they take the box away, and don’t return it until the end of the meal. Man it was so tempting!! I’ve never felt so compelled to surrender my phone into a mystery box at a restaurant, but at the same time, I was thinking, what if I need my phone to take a picture because my camera couldn’t do it? Oh no. I’m so sad. I decided to keep my phone as a backup camera.

A poor shot of the space. We were on the “upper” floor, with the lower floor only being a few steps down, where all these staff were headed.

The layout of this floor is actually really important to note. There are tables along the edges, then there’s the table in the middle and the bay where the wines are kept. This means that the only real walkway between these tables, is actually a sort of oval shape following the gap between the wall tables and the centre table. To keep this organised and to prevent any crashes, all the staff – and I mean ALL – have to walk around clockwise when they enter the stairs, and all the way around to get to the kitchen, and those leaving the kitchen do the same – walking clockwise around to exit at the stairs, or even to get to the table immediately to their right – they have to go all the way around.

This allows them to work at high speed in a small space with very low risk, so it was fascinating to see how “busy” this made them all look! It was crazy, like a massive human roundabout, but it worked, and it was sort of like some insane high speed perfection.

I also actively sought out little installation. I’d seen it mere hours before my meal here, and good thing I didn’t completely eliminate spoilers, otherwise I would have never thought to look into the corner where this shiny silver balloon is! It’s so random but so cute! You can really see Daniel Humm’s love of art here.

Dosa with black truffle and parmesan

Here we go! We’re starting with a bang! Straight out of winter, and truffle’s still in season! We got these cute little truffle dosas to start off with.

The dosa was paired with these two treats, parmesan on the left and I think apple on the right? Look at those leaves lovingly placed on the puree! I love that this was eaten with hands, it was great to dip the truffley dosa into the two and enjoy!

There was also some truffle tea brought out, at roughly the same time. Wow these starters come out quick! This was a really subtle flavour, not overpoweringly truffle, yet so tasty to drink!

Yum potato and truffle! And those were big slices of truffle! I’ve never seen this size of truffle get served at an Aussie restaurant before! I loved the little soft potato balls underneath the shaved potato the best!

What a great start!

Pear, lemon, chamomile

I chose the juice pairing for this, but alas, no Zaltos. That’s okay, Riedels work fine too. Just not quite as pleasing to look at haha. The first drink was meant to resemble champagne, and this had a tiny bit of fizziness while being very light and bright. Well, if there’s champagne, that’s supposed to pair brilliantly with…

Souffle! Well okay, souffle’s not the only star here.

It’s actually this almighty delectable spoonful of caviar! Interesting that it was served on wooden spoons instead of mother of pearl, but it goes so nicely with all the other wooden pieces that have been used so far.

Caviar souffle with clam, leek and potato

Hahaha!!! Remember Vue de Monde and the awesome deft spoon of chocolate in the super insane perfect chocolate souffle?? Well this was the DIY version!

What I mean by that is, the two items were presented separately, and the chef who served this to us recommended taking a spoonful out of the souffle, and then putting the spoonful of caviar in the gap we’d made ourselves.

Well, me and my “oh gosh I wonder if I can make this look as pretty as I’ve seen a fully trained and experienced waiter can!” kind of… didn’t happen. Look at my little nonspecific shaped blob of caviar all off centre in a visibly dug out souffle! I guess I should stick to my day job! This was delicious though, I love that the caviar got to warm up in the souffle so it was just the right temperature to eat, and the souffle was full of flavour too! What a cute combination and I love the fun i had putting these two together! I did also sneak in a tiny bite of the caviar separately!

Apple, horseradish, white balsamic

Wow. This was a different kind of drink. I think it was meant to sort of resemble a gin and tonic in a way, and what a cool concept to put horseradish into a drink! It actually was really pleasant to drink.

Also, look at that massive cube of ice! I feel so lucky to have gotten a massive cube, because those are usually reserved for whiskies! To put a massive cube in a mocktail is pretty epic!

But before the next course, bread! It came in a cute little pouch before I took mine out and placed it on my bread plate. It was lovely butter too! The bread was so light and flakey, it was almost croissant-like in a way? It’s hard not to make a mess though, so I ended up with crumbs everywhere!

Scallop cured with kohlrabi, sea urchin and apple

Look at this blobby thing. So flat and unassuming! However, this is the first of three “choose your own adventure” dishes. At the beginning of the meal, our waiter advised that there would be courses where we’d had to choose one of three dishes, and we had to make the decision at the beginning. After some agonising, the waiter recommended choosing what I liked, rather than what I “should” get. I ended up with the scallops because I love scallops so much, and I totally love getting my fill of sea urchin! I’m such a seafoodie!

And how it looked underneath. The top layer was an alternating set of pickled kohlrabi and smoked scallop frill (I think), and it was so delicious, I love the texture of scallop frills! Then, there were a couple of deep orangey red tongues of sea urchin. Again, I thought that with the colour, they might have been the metallic tasting kind, but they were also very sweet! Hooray! And then the scallop at the bottom. No wonder I had a horseradish based drink, everything paired so well!

Pu-erh, rooibos, lapsang souchong

Wow a tea based drink this time! This was dark and smokey, and quite interesting – definitely had a savoury flavour to it. I’d actually forgotten that they mentioned rooibos as part of the mixture, so I couldn’t stop sniffing it and thinking there was rooibos or something equally sweet smelling in there. I guess my senses aren’t too bad after all!

Halibut roasted with black shallot and shiitake mushroom

Can you believe I decided to choose the fish over the lobster? What kind of crazy person was I! Lobster I’ve actually had from Luke’s Lobster, and I eat plenty of marron back home, so I decided to eat the fish that I don’t usually come by, and that is the story of the one time I chose fish over lobster. I mildly regretted the decision at the time, but not by much. And I certainly didn’t regret it by the end of my trip. The fish was actually really nice in texture, though I’d almost say it was a tad over. It could have been marginally softer, but the rectangle shape was fascinating for my brain to process because it makes me wonder what happens to all the wonky bits! To cut it so straight, generates waste. I wonder if that was a staff meal or something instead.

Yeeeah tableside service, this is what I live for!!! I really wanted to go see this in action at Eleven Bridge in Sydney too, but alas, I was never there when it rebranded, and now it’s closed. Hence I feel so lucky to see it here! I was marvelling at this so much and was so excited, taking photos and everything that even the table next to us told me, “don’t worry, they’ll cook it for you!” lol. I must have looked like such an excited child who’d never seen something like that before. Little did they know that I see these often and saw them at Greenmarket, and that I love oyster mushrooms to bits and hate that my local farmer’s market doesn’t sell them but one slightly further away does, and that I’m sad I don’t go there just to get the mushrooms, but at the same time so glad because otherwise I’d spend all my money on oyster mushrooms and other interesting varieties and then get really poor. Haha. Gushing aside, our waiter explained that this was brought out so that people could see what the mushroom actually looked like before it was cooked.

It was even placed on our table so that the waiter could make room to put the cooked result on the trolley, so here’s a close up.

So pretty!

Aaah so ugly!!! Hahaha look at that sad blobby thing that almost looks alien or brain-like! What a huge contrast! And that’s why they show you the before. The after is so underwhelming!

I loved watching the waiter season and finish this off tableside. It’s so pretty and I love the theatre because you can watch on when others get it, and then others watch when you get it, and each section has a different waiter so you can imagine the conversations can vary wildly and make for a super unique experience!

Golden oyster mushroom roasted with pine and coriander

And this is so dark and poorly shot, but it’s about how it looks. There’s no “nice” side! It tasted great through! I love mushrooms so much!

Oolong, mushroom and honey

I got so excited that I forgot to take a picture of the drink pairing, which was a more interesting version of the previous tea. A very interesting combination with the mushroom in there, but I can’t remember too much about this one.

Lavender, hibiscus, lapsang souchong

It’s interesting that teas feature heavily in a lot of these drink pairings. I think it works really well because just straight out juice is always too sweet, and also, too simple. Yes fruit can have some great aromatics, but there’s nothing quite like tea to really stimulate the senses and mix with the other flavours you add!

Oh yeah. Here comes the red meat knife. Also, look really closely – you can see that the knife is EMP branded! Wow! When I’d inspected the silverware, none of that seemed particularly unique to this place, but these knives are definitely their own! That’s so cool!

Duck honey and lavender glazed with napa cabbage and pear

And Eleven Madison Park’s signature dish, the only one that Daniel Humm has felt that he’s perfected. Amazing. Funnily enough, this was actually the final choose your adventure dish. Why would you ever choose anything other than the duck! The crust was actually very interesting because it felt like all the different herbs and spices held well but kind of kept their form, rather than falling off, or losing texture. That was actually a really interesting thing to observe.

For some reason though, I don’t think I have a favourite or standout duck dish from all my restaurant adventures? Everytime I think back, I go back to Rockpool’s strange flavour pigeon which was the tastiest game I’ve ever eaten.

Leeks with cheddar and parsley
Winter squash with brown butter and thyme

Two little side dishes also came out with this course. Both were very lightly flavoured, relying on the ingredients’ own flavours to really shine. The leeks were quite good, but I’ve never really taken a huge liking to squash. These slices were super cute though, and the shape reminded me of mandarin pieces or even canned peaches! I also feel like I’ve actually eaten a similar kind of pumpkin (but probably not the same), as my local farmers markets actually sell a variety of pumpkin other than kent/butternut/japanese. It’s got a kind of pale grey skin, but the distinctive feature is that it’s a very bright, deep coloured orange flesh which actually looks like it shreds or falls apart easily, like you can see the fibres shaped a an awful lot like citrus cell/pod things. I am really bad at describing this stuff!!!

But yeah, it’s like Attica – I just don’t like pumpkin that much and it’s not the fault of the restaurant!

Ceylon kombucha

Wow a kombucha! The tea theme keeps going! I have a feeling that this one was also made in the style of an alcoholic drink, something that would pair well with cheese. I love kombucha, so this was something I immediately enjoyed!

And along came the chef! This chef presented this same dish at another table, but pot was not set on fire on a different table, so I was really worried we wouldn’t get this performance, but my luck held out!

The chef casually walked over wheeling this, proceeded to dip a matchstick in OUR CANDLE to light it, and then casually stuck the match into the hay and leaves that was in this copper pot. This was gonna melt some lovely cheese!

Harbison washed rind cheese fondue with mustard and pear

Oooh yeah. This cheese fondue was great! After the cheese had melted, little mustard buns were brought out, and the cheese poured on top. That was some really tasty flavoursome mustard bread! And not the spicy kind either! This was like a flavor powerhouse that just packed some insane punch! It was so good!

This was the table right next to us, who’d finished their meal at this point. They’d actually put their phones in the boxes, and I noticed that when their phones were returned, there appeared to be cards in the box too. Makes me curious what they were, and I will never know!

However that’s not even the best bit. Look at those smiles! The mum is loving it, the dad is smiling and the kids are happy! The reason why is because earlier I heard this family talking about Shake Shack, and now lo and behold – the stories are true – they actually went out and bought burgers and shakes from the shack outside, dressed them up, and even put a candle in one of the burgers for the birthday boy, and then presented this to them!

Wow!!!!!! This is the very definition of EMP! They make such special memories like this, and this is why I love this place! There’s so much about having Will Guidara having thought up this idea that makes this place so precious! Even though I knew this kind of thing existed, I had no particular wants for my meal to make it special, but to see this done to someone else – I realised, that was exactly the special thing I wanted to see! It didn’t have to be me, I was so happy to see this happen to someone else! The surprise and delight of this family was the best memory of this place for me!

Cold brew, coconut, sarsparilla

While the family was happily attempting to tuck into their burgers (on a full stomach too!), we received the drink for our dessert course. This was my favourite, and no, not because there is coffee! This was a smooth, really well flavoured creamy drink and it was just really really easy to consume. It wasn’t acidic, it wasn’t too sweet, it was a good balance of flavour and texture.

Pumpkin cake with butternut squash and sarsparilla

And it was dessert time. I liked this pumpkin dish way better than the savoury side! For some reason my tastebuds are more aligned with sweet pumpkin than savoury, and this paired incredibly well with the cold brew drink. What a great dessert that wasn’t heavy handed with the sugar!

And that family was done. So done. I’m pretty sure the boy managed to eat the most of their bonus food, and that’s a pretty valiant effort on the shake! But alas, when you’ve eaten a full meal at EMP, you really can’t fit that extra burger in. Maybe at Vue de Monde you could, if the joke still holds true from several years ago hahahaha. But I jest. The mum barely got two bites in before calling it a day!

The after shot. All cleaned up, and now the waitstaff were resetting the table. They even use a mini iron to smooth out the linen! What! Where do I get such a cute contraption? I want a mini iron just like this because it’s so cool! I can’t believe that’s how they prepare the cloth. Do other restaurants do this too?

With dessert done, it was time for the tea and coffee round. Honestly, I can’t remember what I chose. It was probably earl grey. However, the tea didn’t stand out that much, it tasted much like any other tea. It does make me wonder what their traditional tea service is like though, as I saw a post about that, but didn’t ask further since I already opted for the non-alcoholic option.

Chocolate covered pretzel

Aah their iconic chocolate pretzel. What a lovely meal. And what made it super enjoyable included all the things that were not-food – the observing of the waitstaff, the tableside service itself, the surprise shake shack for the family, spotting the silver balloon – all of it was just so fun! I think that Daniel and Will really do achieve that here, it’s like lighthearted elegance. I am also not sure if Will was actually on the floor that day, I kept staring at someone who looked like him but I wasn’t actually sure and I was too afraid to ask because I have such a bad facial recognition system! But I will forever remember that I was unsure and that’s always a fun story to tell too!

I am so glad I got to visit this place!

There was one final drink, in an almost celebratory style. Usually diners here would be handed a full bottle of alcohol to finish off as they please, but since I had specified non alcoholic options, we got this sparkling french cider! Cause remember, cider is only assumed alcoholic in Aus. In the rest of the world, it can be a non alcoholic drink!

Cheers EMP staff, you have made this a wonderful night!

Even the bill looks so personalised! As all the food was prepaid, the balance was only for the beverages. And they handwrite the bill! Wow! I can’t believe they take the time to do that, but it’s so cool! What a souvenir! I just love everything about this place! It definitely made me all warm and happy, and it’s worth the cost, especially if you receive a special surprise!

I “leaf-heart” Eleven Madison Park!