Se7en Oceans (Hamburg)

Se7en Oceans is best described as a collection of eateries within the Europa Passage. There’s a sushi bar, casual bistro, Michelin-starred restaurant and even a cigar lounge located in a cluster on the upper floor level. This review will be about their fine dining restaurant, set in an enclosed glass dining room with a wall of windows overlooking the Alster Lake.

As the glass door shuts, a quiet serenity envelopes me, calming the bustling city life I just encountered from the Hamburg streets and shopping mall. Seated by the window, even during the rainy day, this Lake view and people watching vantage point was a delight.

With a name like Se7en Oceans, it shouldn’t be a surprise that their menu is heavily seafood based. We ordered the menu for two people (€58 per person) featuring dishes made with a whole Breton sole.

Light bites started off the meal with shrimp chips adorned with tiny prawns and edible florals. Beside the chips was a savoury creamy hors d’oeuvres that I’ve forgotten, which in general was my impression of the amuse bouche: fine but forgettable.

A cracker topped with a savoury mousse and carrot gelee was better. Except, while we were eating, the whole time we were fixated on the sardine can accompanying it. Our waitress noted it was “not for eating now” and opening the lid revealed a can of rocks. After a bit, we realized it was just a paper weight for the note, which specifies that Se7en Oceans undercooks their fish so it’s “glassy”. 
Personally, I felt the note was unnecessary as most diners eating in a reputable seafood restaurant would expect this and just served to confuse us.

The following appetizer was an interesting combination of poached egg, crispy chicken skin, mustard seeds and savoury gelatin. It is light but has powerful flavour and textural elements from the chicken skin cracklings and plump juicy mustard seeds.  

Their bread is warm and delicious – I chose a pillowy cheese brioche and a rustic potato bun. But, it’s the accompanying whipped cheese with flowers that’s unique and beautiful. Although, I’ll admit, it’s a tad tangy and floral for the breads I chose and ate them plain instead.

Our first course finally featured the Breton sole. The whole fish was brought out after ordering as evidence of what was about to be served (without its head and tail for those who are squeamish). The fish was wonderfully cooked with a crispy spiced crust and juicy flaky meat. The neutral white fish was paired with luscious barely cooked scallops, fresh vegetables (zucchini and green beans), a strange jello-textured lemon rice gnocchi and crispy rice kernels. Overall, a delicious dish with a light ponzu jus that went well with everything.

Between the two fish courses was an inventive sorbet. Unlike normal palette cleansers, this one was huge and could have easily been dessert. The tangy mango sorbet sat on top of copious amounts of fluffy coconut cream to resemble an egg. I loved the soufflé-like slightly salty whipped coconut mousse, which went wonderfully with the crunchy grain bits.

Even though the fish was similarly prepared in the next course, it was much earthier. There were carrot and asparagus purees, citrus elements and a curry flavour mixed into everything. Personally, I enjoyed the first representation of the fish better, but I see the progression of the courses as this second dish was richer and heavier. 

We skipped dessert knowing there was bound to be petit fours. Luckily, we weren’t disappointed as a platter of delicate raspberry macarons, soft cakey madeleines, a dense rich brownie and creamy dark chocolate truffles arrived.

For a Michelin-starred restaurant, prices are reasonable, albeit bottled water (€9.80) is where the mark-up occurs. Liquor is surprisingly more cost efficient - a bottle of Herforder pilsner for €3.90 or glass of Hofgarten Grauburgunder wine for €10.50.

Se7en Oceans was awarded its Michelin star in 2012. From my experience, Chef Frédéric Morel certainly knows how to cook fish, it was prepared perfectly: a golden well-seasoned crust and moist meaty interior. So, if you think Germany is all about meat and potatoes, think again. Places like Se7en Oceans can easily dispel that myth, if you just give them the chance. 

Overall mark - 7 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Hamburg, Germany
 Address: Ballindaam 40

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

The Libertine (Toronto)

The Libertine

The Libertine has new owners - friends Matt, Phil and Swiss who have worked there previously and understands visitors. Libertine has similarities to its predecessor: the mysterious speakeasy theme, a small plate format menu and champagne glass cocktails. Customers continue to visit the Toronto lounge for their laid back vibe: there aren’t snooty bouncers, minimum spends or dress codes in effect.

But, with the new ownership comes a new menu. Most dishes are snack style, with the sole larger plate being a panko cod with slaws ($30).  It’s certainly multi-cultural with Middle Eastern, Asian, Italian and American influences. Given Chef J.P.’s background, the Middle Eastern plates are the strongest with well-balanced flavours and sparks of originality.

The falafel blinis ($9 for three pieces), is a dish made up of many tastes but is combined in a way that works. Spiced falafels are flattened slightly to give it more surface area to develop a crunchy crust. It’s then placed on a sweet maple blini and topped with candied bitter melon, swiss chard slaw, crunchy fennel and a smooth cumin tahini. These are certainly much too delicious to be gluten-free and vegan friendly.

The Libertine Toronto: falafal

Another delightful gluten-free vegan dish is the coconut and pecan arancini ($7). The creamy risotto, cooked in coconut soy milk, gives the balls a tropical Thai feel. But, it’s the gochujang (a fermented Korean chili paste) almond butter, paired with the arancini that makes the dish: adding a nutty spicy kick to balance the risotto’s sweetness and keeps the dish savoury.

The Libertine Toronto: arancini

Libertine’s hummus ($6) is rich and smooth with soft chickpeas on top to give the dip a meaty texture. Plenty of smoky paprika coated pitas accompany the hummus for dipping.

The Libertine Toronto: hummus and dip

The mac ‘n’ cheese balls ($8 for three pieces) is definitely not short of flavours with the chipotle mayo and garlic & cheese sauce, which is strong and sharp. They arrive piping hot with a wonderful crust, but would be even better if the cheese sauce had a molten stringy texture... it’s the gooey decadence that makes it coveted and sinful.

The Libertine Toronto: Mac N Cheese Balls

The pork and potato Asian slaw ($9) would excite any carnivore with its meat to vegetable ratio - there are so many pieces of soft pork tossed in a sweet Chinese cha shiu sauce! The slaws are dressed right before serving so the cabbage retains its crisp texture. I would have liked the chips to be served on the side as once mixed into everything they become soggy. 

The Libertine Toronto: Asian pork slaw

A popular dish at Libertine is their baby clam po’ boys ($9). J.P. dresses the sandwich with pickled white turnips, rainbow chard, an apple cilantro mayo and a spicy kick from the scotch bonnet sauce. It was only the house-made buttermilk bun that was a miss for me - although delicious on its own, it was much too heavy and overpowered the delicate clams.

The Libertine Toronto: clam po boy

Their daily dessert ($7) was cinnamon sugar dusted churros that came with a fabulous coconut dulce de leche sauce. I could have had that sauce on anything – pound cake, waffles, crepes – it makes anything delicious.

The Libertine Toronto: churros

Most people go to Libertine for their drinks. Although they all look similar, the flavours couldn’t be more different:
  • The Giver ($14) is my drink - refreshing and aromatic made with gin, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, chartreuse and lime.
  • The Marguereta ($14) is the most easy drinking of the four with tequila, Aperol, orange juice, lemon and honey.
  • The Queen bitch ($13) is surprising – I wasn’t sure what gin, cacao, lillet and lemon would taste like together. But, the cacao is a great addition adding a lovely aroma and unique flavour.
  • With the 94 proof kraken black spice rum you know the Dirty Nellie ($15) is going to be strong. Then there’s bourbon added to it as well! Although it’s by no means a light drink, the lemon and grapefruit does help to mellow it out.

The Libertine Toronto: drink

Even if you’ve been to the Libertine, with the new ownership, it may be time to check them out again. The menu’s been simplified with food as varied and unique as their cocktails. But it’s their laidback friendly vibe that keeps you coming back. I’m over the days of waiting in lines only to be crammed into a bar like a sardine. So, it’s refreshing to find a place you can visit in flip flops or heels and feel just as welcomed. The fact that you can get a great arancini when you’re drunk, that’s just a bonus.    

Overall mark - 7 out of 10
Disclaimer: The meal was complimentary. But, as noted in Gastro World's mission statement, I will always provide my honest opinion.

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 1307 Dundas Street West

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

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Zomato Meetup at the Kathi Roll Express (Toronto)

Kathi roll express

Still under a year old, Zomato Canada has taken our market by storm, expanding quickly in North America with their takeover of Urbanspoon. Of course, many factors contribute to their success - having a dedicated team in each city and ensuring restaurant information is kept up-to-date with reoccurring staff visits, being some. 

They are also the only review site that attempts to build a relationship with the foodie community to ensure tons of quality content is being added to their site. After all, wouldn’t you prefer an opinion from someone who eats out a lot and makes the effort to provide details more than just “the food was delicious” or “food’s okay, but service sucks”?

One way of connecting with bloggers is through Zomato meet-ups. Small groups of bloggers are invited for a meal where we can meet staff members, connect with other writers and try a new restaurant. It’s an intimate event I look forward to and was recently invited to one at The Kathi Roll Express (“TKRE”).

To take advantage of Toronto’s limited summer weather, we started off on TKRE’s patio: a vibrant enclosed haven at the back of the restaurant. Sipping on cocktails it was an excellent opportunity to speak to the entire group, as once you sit down at a long table it’s difficult to converse with more than a handful of attendees.

Dehli cooler Kathi roll expressThe Delhi cooler ($6) is a crazy concoction made with vodka, mint, coriander, limca (a citrus soda), and garnished with chaat masala powder. There are spicy, tangy, savoury and sweet elements all mixed into one drink. Cumin, coriander, black pepper, chili powder and the sweet soda are all prominent flavours. The drink is an acquired taste and you have to be the mood for such a flavourful drink; for me it’s not one for sipping, as it feels like a meal in itself.

The theme of varied flavours continued with a plate of papri chat ($5.99). Sumit, owner of TKRE, explains the dish is generally served on food carts and eaten in the summer. I can see why this would be perfect for the hot weather as there’s tons of cooling sauces (yoghurt, mint and tamarind) and the crushed pieces of the fried dough wafer, diced potato and chickpeas makes it substantial without feeling heavy.

Chaat Kathi roll express

You can’t go to TKRE without trying their namesake kati rolls. A portable dish develop in Kolkata, India, it consists of a skewered protein wrapped with paratha bread. In watching the chefs make the dish, it first starts with a thin egg crepe. Then a semi-cooked paratha is layered on top and cooked together before being stuffed and rolled. 

That evening, we tried four of TKRE’s chef rolls (all $9.99):
  • Peri peri chicken tikka was my favourite with tender pieces of chicken slathered in a fiery sauce made from chili. Aside from the heat, there was also refreshing citrus and aromatic spices elements added to it.
  • Butter chicken tikka wasn’t overly saucy and therefore didn’t leak out of the wrap. If you can’t take very spicy foods, the butter chicken is a good option as its flavour comes from masala, garlic and a mild curry sauce rather than ground up chilies.
  • Shami kabab consists of a patty made from lentils, ground lamb, egg and spices. The lamb becomes lost with all the legumes but of all the kati rolls this one retains its temperature the best. I would have liked something else other than the caramelized onions, maybe bell peppers, to add contrast to the shami’s soft texture.
  • Paneer shaslik is a great option if you’re vegetarian or not in the mood for meat. The paneer (an Indian cheese) is cooked in the tandoori oven to give it a smoky crust. Bell peppers, onions and mint sauce is included to give it crunch, sweetness and moisture.
Kati roll

Most visitors will likely stick with TKRE’s kati rolls. But, that’s such a shame as their tandoori dishes are fantastic - in my opinion, even better than the rolls. The piping hot oven is right at the entrance allowing them to churn out delicious barbequed dishes.

The tandoori fish ($12.99) is beautiful, served on a hot plate so the aromatic spices permeate the air. The golden turmeric rice is a slightly saucy but still retains its distinct kernels and goes so well with the layer of onions on the bottom which caramelizes adding sweetness to the dish. The white fish, which I believe is tilapia, is moist and flavourful. The stunning dish is so well balanced in flavours: strong enough for interest but doesn’t overwhelm the fish.  

Without a doubt, the dish everyone wanted more of was the tandoori wings ($8.99 for 6 pieces), one was simply not enough! Sumit notes they are always made fresh, so takes about 20 minutes to cook. The chicken has a lovely fragrant crust and the meat inside is tender and flavourful.

Kathi roll express tandoori wing

For dessert I tried my first piece of milk cake ($2.99), which tastes like sweet compressed cous cous. I was surprised to learn that there wasn’t any starch in the dessert, rather it’s made from taking milk, sugar, ghee and spices and cooking it until it curdles to become the texture of cake.

Kathi roll express milk cake

Shots of mango lassi ($2.99; normally served in a larger cup) ended the meal. TKRE’s version has a strong mango flavour from the pulp it’s made with and the pinch of cardamom is what makes the lassi distinct from a smoothie. The Indian yoghurt makes it perfect for pairing with the spicy food.

Kathi roll express mango lassi

During the meet-up it was a great opportunity to learn more about Zomato. The idea came about when Deepinder Goyal, founder and CEO of Zomato, made a simple repository to store menus from local food courts for him and his co-workers. It expanded as people in surrounding areas starting hearing about it and requested access. Eventually, he quit his consulting career to start Zomato in India.  Seven years later, it has become a global company and continues to add to its foot print.

If only Goyal could attend the Zomato meet-up at TKRE. I’m sure he would be amazed that what started off as a helpful gesture is now uniting Toronto foodies on the other side of the world … all over quick-to-eat kati rolls that likely graced the menus in his first database. 

Overall mark - 7.5 out of 10
Disclaimer: The meal was complimentary. But, as noted in Gastro World's mission statement, I will always provide my honest opinion.

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 692 Yonge Street

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

Is That It? I Want More!

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Kultura Festival: Celebrating Filipino Culture and Food!

Hosted by the Kapisanan Philippine Centre for Arts and Culture, the Kultura Festival has grown from a small local celebration in Kensington Market to a multi-day affair at the prominent Yonge and Dundas Square. This August 5th to 9th, head downtown for a glimpse of beautiful art exhibitions. The main event will be on August 9th, where they will also have unique items for sale at their marketplace and Filipino street eats to satisfy hungry visitors.

Prior to the event, Kapisanan invited me to sample a couple of the dishes that will be served in the Street Eats Competition. With six chefs fighting for the title, you'll be able to try everything from spring rolls, lechon, fried chicken, taho, biko squares and Nutella delights. Each dish is $3 to try or you can save time and money by purchasing the Kain Kalye passport ahead of time. The best thing is that you'll decide on the winner, by using your ticket to vote for who's eat is the most delicious!

Kanto by Tita Flips is featuring two tastes of taho, a dish that is eaten throughout the day but particularly popular in the mornings. Using their house-made silken tofu, it's presented with two types of syrup (brown sugar and simple), tapioca (the pearls you'd find in bubble tea and the smaller dessert version) and garnished with pear slivers and peanut brittle.

Another sweet delight is the biko squares, which is a delicious sticky rice cake made with coconut milk and brown sugar. Topping each square is a thicker syrup for extra sweetness and chopped pistachio for textural contrast.

Aside from the competition there will be drinks for $1 and more substantial dishes for $5 or $7. Kanto will be serving a delicious sounding Filipino poutine and steak and eggs, while Las Pinas a pork belly bao with adobo glaze.

Regardless, the Kultura Festival will open your eyes to the Filipino culture. August 9th is going to be a busy day packed with vendors and entertainment. Head to their Facebook invite for the full schedule.

How To Find Them
 Location: Yonge Dundas Square, Toronto
 Date: August 9, 2015, noon to 7pm 

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Royale Fine Dining & Banquet 皇家御宴 (Toronto)

Royale Fine Dining & Banquet

When getting a table at Ginger and Onion became too difficult, a search for another Scarborough dim sum restaurant started. Fingers crossed, but the foodie gods may have answered my prayers with Royale Fine Dining & Banquet. 

Royale’s regular prices are $2.80 for S, $3.80 for M, $4.80 for L, $5.80 for XL, $6.80 for SP and $7.80 for J. If you dine between 9am – 11am, all S, M and L dishes are $2.80, with a cash payment. Since it’s a great deal, other customers tend to dine at this time so be prepared to wait if you arrive after 10:30.

Of course, they offer the traditional dishes: steamed pork siu mai (L) and shrimp har gow dumplings (L). The fish roe on the siu mai adds an essence I’m not crazy about, but the pork mixture is delicious with shrimp and straw mushrooms mixed in. The har gow is brimming with shrimp and well-seasoned, although it doesn’t contain the fish maw (the dehydrated air bladder of a fish) listed in the description. 

Har gowSiu mai

Other steamed dumplings include a crab meat and egg white (L) and steamed stingray shaped dumplings filled with shrimp and fish (L). Both are beautifully presented, but the crab meat one is rather bland. Although the beady eyes are slightly creepy, the filling of shrimp and white fish in the stingray dumplings is succulent with some diced asparagus adding a fresh element.

Crab and shrimp dumplingShrimp and fish dumplings

Royale also has a fried dumplings filled with shrimp & pork (L). While the pork was non-existent, there was plenty of shrimp with chives. All is encapsulated in a sticky slightly sweet wrapper before being deep fried. A bowl of consume accompanies the dish, acting as a dip or just something to sip on after having the crispy treat.

A popular old school dish that’s starting to make a comeback is shrimp toast (L). It was one of my grandfather’s favourite dishes, so I decided to order it in his memory. In between the bread and wonton wrapper is shrimp paste and comes with a spicy radish soy sauce dip. It’s nice and crunchy but too oily for my taste. Overall, a decent version of the dish if you like shrimp toast.

Shrimp toast

Another interesting shrimp dish is the steamed prawn’s tails stuffed with shrimp mousse and glutinous rice (L).  Although not the most photogenic, it’s rather good with a shrimp being wrapped in shrimp paste and a layer of sticky rice. As the dish steams, the sticky rice soaks in the shrimp’s sweet juices – just eat it quickly to avoid having the rice get too soft.

The steamed beef balls mixed with old age tangerine peels (S) are a fair size. Like other restaurants, chopped parsley is mixed with the beef; there wasn’t any citrus as noted on the menu.

Underneath the steamed curry cuttlefish Singapore style (L) were potato pieces, soaking in the flavourful curry sauce. The cuttlefish were just cooked through and thankfully not rubbery.

Unlike other restaurants, Royale doesn’t have many steamed rice roll choices. The Chinese yellow chive and prawns (L) is the better of the bunch with large prawns and pea shoot leaves to vary the flavour. If you enjoy the silkiness of the rice roll, the version with minced pork and parsley (L) is ideal – there’s not much filling but plenty of carbs.

shrimp rice rolls

Other substantial dishes include the popular sticky rice options. The steamed lotus leaf dumpling filled with glutinous rice and dried scallop (L) has been a varied experience. Once, there was plenty of well flavoured minced pork, mushrooms and a quail egg inside. While on another visit, the minced pork and mushrooms were swapped out for plain diced pork pieces and shrimp (sounds delicious, but made the dish bland).

Or there’s the steamed glutinous rice dumpling filled with pork and wrapped in bamboo (M), which is boiled in the wrapper and contains a big hunk of fatty pork, a salted duck egg and mung beans held in the sticky rice. 

Royale’s baked barbeque pork buns topped with puff pastry (M) are salty and sweet, adding a flaky buttery crust to the traditional pork bun. Since they always arrive hot out of the oven, there’s such a lovely sweet yeasty smell that accompanies the dish.

BBQ pork pineapple bun

The pan-seared glutinous rice rolls filled with Chinese sausage (L) isn’t properly named as the wrapper is a steamed bao rather than the thin rice roll. A savoury sticky black rice mixture is studded with diced Chinese sausage.  

Although the deep fried spiced octopus tentacles (XL) are not breaded, they are very crispy. There is a sweet and savoury taste to the dish as the octopus seems to be basted in a light teriyaki glaze prior to be deep fried. As a warning, unlike Mediterranean grilled octopus, these are thinner and the texture tends to be harder and chewier.

For dessert, the thousand layers coconut cake (L), steamed green tea steamed glutinous rice cake (L) and steamed sponge cake traditional style (M) are my top choices. All are sweet enough to satisfy, but different in taste and texture. The thousand layers cake is airy with alternating layers of steamed cake and coconut custard; the sponge cake has the same airy texture with hints of coconut and rock sugar.

Meanwhile, the glutinous rice cake is chewy with a thick green tea paste inside. To make the dish sweeter, I suggest letting them cool down prior to eating.

Overall, Royale isn’t the best dim sum in the GTA, their dumplings aren’t as seasoned so some may find it bland. However, the food’s quality is relatively consistent and their service has been attentive and helpful. Additionally, if you’re able to arrive at the restaurant, get seated and ordered before 11am, the $2.80 price point is a pretty good deal.

Apprehensively, I’m completing this post. I’ve finally found a new go-to dim sum place and of course want to share it with Gastro World readers. But, here’s hoping not many of you will visit on Sunday. After all, it’d be a shame if Royale became too busy and I’d have to such for another place all over again.  

Overall mark - 8 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 648 Silver Star Blvd.

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

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