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Restaurant Carmen, Cartagena, Colombia

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Death by Lemongrass

L’amour est comme la citronnelle

Quiconque prétend la cuisiner

Doit se méfier de son appel

Car il convient de le refuser…

Considering the bar had a mean cucumber martini (Hendrick’s gin, of course) and that the first lunch, waiting for one’s room, resulted in the best ceviche of one’s life, temptation was strong to go for the full Carmen experience, a 7 dish degustation menu with wine pairing. One should have remembered Se7en, our topic of the week: gluttony is a deadly sin.

Only too late one realised the person to have recommended the restaurant as “one of the very best in Colombia” was of half-Thai origin. Here it was, looming on one: death by lemongrass. Let’s refere it as “IT” from now on.

As early as the amuse-bouche, an octopus croquette’s aioli was loaded with IT. Little need one guessed that the seed being planted, IT would play under the radar for a while… The first starter, an overcooked shrimp, was accompanied with an improbable alliance of truffle, squid ink and melted camembert. There is definitely something interesting to be done with squid ink and truffle and that is NOT melting camembert on it. Also, it was presented in an eggshell, for some reason. Trompe-l’oeil?

Second starter was an octopus/white fish/shrimp ceviche, with coco tiger milk and wakame. What’s tiger’s milk? Coco milk infused with… IT (and other spices but they bow to IT). So far it was pleasantly exotic. The sugar-an-spice pairing with lambrusco was inspired.

Followed a good crab cake paired with a Chilean Chardonnay, the claws being added for effect and not very rich in flavour. A surprisingly successful tangerine vinaigrette helped with that: that was the best dish of the lot. One should have stopped there. IT was ready to attack.

There was some clams with a lobster sauce (IT took the furtive form of an espuma) totally occulted by other ingredients and too much salt. Argentinian Sauvignon was… duh. There was a revisited Pad Thai mixing prawns, shrimps, soba (ouch!) cold peach, some very bitter algae and once again too much salt – the chef has a real problem with seasoning. And Pad Thai of course means… all together now… IT! LOADS OF IT!

It was that time of a degustation meal you start dreading the next course because it will be worse than the previous. Why was the chef stuttering on IT, with for sole result a succession of identical dishes? One braced oneself.

After a red snapper, paired with a Chilean Merlot, was served with sweet potato, pineapple and banana, a welcome oasis of sweetness in another unsurprisingly over-salted dish, there was a gap. Quite a long one. One was praying for something sweet, anything really. Even a strawberry fountain would have done.

Then fuck, a duck! That was the other good dish of the meal actually, paired with the mandatory Malbec and presented with a blackberry glaze and a foie gras/truffle something. Incongruously, some salad was ruining the plate dressing but IT shone by its absence. Then another gap, even longer. One started building stupid structure balancing tableware. That is never a good sign.

At last dessert arrived, and of course IT was there, laughing, vanquishing one’s appetite, numbing one’s soul: « LEMONGRAAAAAAASS!!!! », one screamed, planting a trembling fork in what revealed itself as guava sherbet under a camembert mousse in tiger’s milk…

Carmen Cartagena Website

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