Le Channel

During my recent visit to London, I stayed with my cousin who used to take care of my siblings and me when we had little weekend breaks during the school year in boarding school.   She would spoil us with her wonderful cooking, from French crepes for breakfast to aromatic Malaysian curries for dinner, interspersed by a trip to a good Chinese restaurant.  She is equally an avid foodie like I am, and our meeting-ups are filled with conversations constantly revolving around the topic of gastronomy, to which her sons are perplexed about.  So, on this last trip to the UK, she asked me to reserve a day to make a day-trip to Calais, France.

Le Channel, Calais, France

Le Channel, Calais, FranceHaving driven with her and another couple for an hour-and-a-half to the white cliffs of Dover, we took a ferry that transported us smoothly across the English Channel sailing for around an hour (Hovercrafts are just too choppy of a ride, albeit faster).  After getting off the boat, we immediately used GPS to search for Le Channel, a Michelin-worthy restaurant hugging the French coast not far away from the port that we disembarked from.  Since we had arrived earlier than our reservation time, we walked around parts of the city while our anticipation for fine French cuisine was stirring in our minds and the increasingly hungry bellies.  At 12:30 p.m., the time of our reservation, we walked into the restaurant and took our seats by the expansive window.  I will write this review starting with the photos and the food description of the various diners’ dishes, followed by the review.

Le Channel, Calais, France
Amuse Bouche: Cantaloupe, Iberian Ham, Shrimp, and Russian Vegetable Salad.

Le Channel, Calais, France
First Course 1: Fruits de Mer – Crab, Shrimp, Scampi, Welts, Oysters, and Brown Shrimp.

Le Channel, Calais, France
First Course 2: Foie Gras with Black Salt and Armagnac, Eggplant and Buffalo Mozzarella Caviar, Tender Artichoke Hearts, Yellow Tomato Gelee, Brioche and Cooked Vegetables.

Le Channel, Calais, France
Second Course 1: Oven Roasted Red Mullet Fillet, Basque Red Pepper Sauce, Fried White Onions.

Le Channel, Calais, France
Second Course 2: Salted Cod Brandade, Sea Bass Beignets, Fresh Peas, Creamed Emulsion of Cooking Juices.

Le Channel, Calais, France
Second Course 3: Skillet Steak with Raw Butter, Smoked Eggplant Rounds, Parmesan Cone with Mushrooms, Avocado Sauce.

Le Channel, Calais, France
Second Course 4: Sole Murniere, Seasonal Vegetables.

Le Channel, Calais, France
Cheese and Dried Fruit Plate – the waiter’s recommendation of three of the strongest cheeses in the house.

Le Channel, Calais, France

Chariot de Dessert: Mille Feuille, Opera, Multi Fruits, Paris Brest, Iles Flottantes, French Trifles, Mousse de Chocolat, Mousse de Café.
Le Channel, Calais, France
Dessert Plate: Multi Fruits, Iles Flottantes, French Trifle.

As the saying goes, “A picture speaks a thousand words” or in this case, many photos. Looking at them, they represent what the true experience was about: top-quality fresh ingredients as in the huge starter of Fruits de Mer, exceptional cooking, creative pairing of ingredients as in the Avocado Sauce and Smoked Eggplant with the Steak, well-seasoned components as in the  heavenly Potatoes cooked in stock with my Sole Murniere and the Basque Red Pepper Sauce with the Red Mullet, the eye-opening variety in the menu with the incredible array of Desserts and Cheeses, and the incredible value for this to-die-for meal at this high fine dining level (31 Euros and 39 Euros).  The décor was impeccable yet not intimidating, service was efficient and a bit cheeky at times, and the ambience conducive to truly enjoying the experience and savoring the delectable dishes without being pressured or rushed – we took 3 hours (aren’t we supposed to, anyway?).  All the diners at my table were constantly effusive about their own selections with the exception of a couple who found some of the cheeses way too strong in smell and flavor to be palatable.  I enjoyed every crumble of strong cheese that I would not get to taste in the US due to pasteurization laws, and the dried fig and apricot were the perfect foil and palate relief to the assertive dairy.

Calais, FranceHaving lunch at Le Channel was truly a highlight for me and I am thankful to my cousin for organizing this wonderful gastronomic trip.  Interestingly, we all walked away from the table well-sated on my levels, yet we were not waddling out of there despite the quantity of food we had ingested.  I tagged along my cousin to the local Hypermarket where she stocked up on all the local produce to bring back to her home in London.  Walking around, I couldn’t help but marvel at the quality and variety of ingredients that inspire the French to appreciate good cooking and make food an integral part of their culture.  A simple meal on the trip back of French Baquette, Mushroom-scented Brie, and French Ham was a good end to this marvelous trip that is well-imbedded in this reviewer’s mind, and it will be replayed over and over again until the grove is worn down.


The act of eating, in my estimation, falls under three main categories beyond the physical need to nourish the body: reliving and satiating memories or conditioned gustatory habits (my ailing grand-uncle used to “get full” by watching my siblings and I devour his favorite dishes); understanding and setting reference points about peoples, cultures, or cuisines (travelling and/or discovering new ethnic and regional cuisines); and exploring new gourmet experiences much like finding the latest designer outfit or recreational drug (which food is for some, including me).  So, when I received a text message from a friend saying that she needed to use a gift voucher for the highly acclaimed restaurant Volt and a reservation had been secured, I did not hesitate or vacillate in responding, much like an alley-junkie having stumbled across the next fix.

Front Facade

Located in Frederick, MD, we drove 50 miles outside of Washington DC through scenic rolling hills and farmland in order to get to Volt before our 5:45 reservation.  Cruising through the historic downtown area, we were immediately gravitated to its quiet bucolic charm.  We managed to find parking a few feet away from the restaurant, which was immediately recognizable by its bold glaring steel letters framed by a 19th century red-brick facade.  The restaurant sits on the ground floor of the Houck Mansion, a prestigious-looking Victorian building constructed in the early 1890’s, and it commands a noble presence within its vicinity.   Volt was opened by Bryan Voltaggio before he shot to fame as the losing finalist on the popular culinary show,Top Chef.  Entering its doors, we were greeted by an army of young staffers dressed in casual suits whose formality was mocked by brown flat Converse sneakers as their footwear.  The ambience exudes luxury with the cream pale color palette from the banquette to the table cloths.  I requested a table with sufficient light for my photography, and we were escorted to a corner table close to the large arched window overlooking the street.

Screech!! You may be expecting me to be gushing by now about the dishes and this once-in-a-lifetime culinary experience.  But I will hold my review of the restaurant until the end of my presenting the courses that we chose that night.  Since the menu started at the minimum $80-per-head for four courses, we opted for this instead of the 7-course menu or the $150 Chef’s table.  Here are the dishes in order:


Amuse Bouche (complementary): Beet Macaroon stuffed with Foie Gras Mousse, topped with Apple Sauce and dusted with Cara Cara Orange Zest.

First Course 1

First Course 1: Kimchee (Noodles), Daikon Radish, Chicken Thigh, Quail Egg, Basil (Oil).

First Course 2

First Course 2: Salsify, Quince, Country Ham, Hazelnut (Dust).

Second Course 1

Second Course 1: Turbot, Butternut Squash, Brussels Sprout(s), Radish.

Second Course 2

Second Course 2: Sweetbreads, Sunchoke, Black Kale, Bacon.

Third Course 1

Third Course 1: Sturgeon, Toasted Barley, Broccoli (Puree), Lemon Pith.

Third Course 2

Third Course 2: Lobster, Black Forbidden Rice, Coconut (Sauce), Madras Curry.

Pre Dessert

Pre-Dessert (complementary): Parsnip Cake, Cheesecake Ice-cream, Applesauce, Walnut crumble.

Dessert 1

Dessert 1: Coconut (Ice-cream), Black Sesame (Cake), Pineapple, Banana (Sauce).

Dessert 2

Dessert 2: Chocolate (Mousse), Marshmallow, Peanut (Ice-cream), Caramel.

Post Dessert
Post-Dessert (complimentary): Macaroons, Lemon Merengue, Pomegranate Jelly, Chocolate Truffles.


I have been sitting at my computer for some time struggling to form my thoughts about how to objectively assess the food and the dining experience at Volt with all the knowledge and acumen that I have in this regard.  Ultimately, I have to resort to my gut feelings and the overall lingering impressions, without too much of a cerebral filter, in order to continue writing this review.

Firstly, I must admit that during the meal, I was rarely excited about the dishes and the way the ingredients were treated.  It was already a bit off-putting that the menu was quite allusive as it only alluded to the essences of the ingredients, and not the manner they were cooked or presented as part of the whole picture – notice the parenthesis in the descriptions that showed the lack of clarity on the menu.   I believe that as diners, we usually get sated by filling up on quantity and/or by the saturation of flavorings and gustatory (that word again) excitement – the former was only fulfilled during this meal by the reordering of the bread basket and the amount of sugar from the four servings of desserts, which my companion and I thought fared the best.  But that is really just carbohydrate and sugar!!

Secondly, there were some serious and some rudimentary missteps in some of the dishes.  The opener of the Beet Macaroon paired with the Foie Gras Mousse did not “amuse my mouth” except saturate my palate with a mineral quality found in both ingredients; the dusting of the Cara Cara Orange zest did nothing to the dish nor could one discern this specific hybrid.  The Kimchee Noodles did not have a single hint of the fermented vegetable, even when surrounded by an extremely mild broth; the chicken thigh did not contribute any flavor factor to elevate the dish beyond a flatline.  The two meager slivers of Country Ham barely left a footprint on my tongue nor did it speak of any exceptional quality.   The Sweetbreads was seared on the outside but completely raw (not rare) inside, and my companion literally pushed her plate away after the first bite (I think this put her on the potty for a few days); I sent the dish back to be recooked and it came back barely cooked enough – no reputable kitchen would serve a raw organ meat in this manner as we were that night!   The Sturgeon fillet was overcooked and it had the consistency of a moist pork chop – unforgivable for seafood, especially from this calibre of fine dining.  The Madras Curry sauce in the Lobster course was a total misnomer as its flavor had no hint of South Asian spices.  The Black Sesame Cake tasted of Chinese food from the crushing of the black seeds that released the oil which permeated the whole cake (toasted seeds are rarely crushed in Asian desserts for this reason) – my companion and I were nibbling at it as glutton for punishment as we tried to wrap our brain around this “culinary joke”.

Lastly, the service was efficient and professional.  But puhlease, I have not seen so many anally-retentive young people in a long time.  The attempt to provide high-end service only came across as characterless, unamiable, and after some time plastic.  All this did was reinforce the lack of soul and connection my companion and I got from the dishes and the experience.  I tried to joke with a couple of them but all I got back was silence or a are-you-serious chuckle – maybe they were not used to my remarks and dishes that were being sent back to the kitchen (I’m not easily intimidated by food or fine dining establishments, unlike some diners I noticed there).  The staff need to lighten up!

Whew! I got that out my chest now.  Normally, I would not do a write-up that would trash a food establishment.  Perhaps my struggles with this review is partly the above and my sense of obligation to write honestly about my experience at one of the area’s finest restaurants.  I could have been one of those diners and tourists sitting at the $150 Chef’s table, mesmerized by the high-tech hoopla, bells and whistles, and the hype that this restaurant has garnered.  Not me.

Volt on Urbanspoon