Mission: To respond thoughtfully and responsibly to my experiences of drinking and dining at restaurants with regard to the quality, service, preparation, presentation and overall experience received thereat. The standpoint is one who respects the crafts of the chef and sommelier and who seeks to understand their choices in the kitchen and cellar and grow in knowledge. In this, I will seek to be fair, reasoned, direct and constructive and aim to keep my ego in check on our mutual journeys through the worlds of food and wine.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Three Nights, Three Wine Dinners - Stoked, Sapore and Nadodi

April 6th 2017

Wow…  three wine dinners on the bounce this week. Photos are a bit grim, having been taken with the Samsung. Getting a bit lazy to take the old Sony, and the big flash does annoy the table guests. But I think we still can see the dishes quite well - welcome to another slice of my food scribbles!

French Duck Breast - un peu froid
First off was a Banfi Wine Dinner at Stoked on Monday April 3rd. Second was the Amanti della Cucina Italiano at Sapore on Tuesday the 4th. And third was an IWFS food tasting at Nadodi on the Wednesday April 5th. It is now Thursday the 6th and I am pretty muzzy and fuzzed - that little tweaking behind the eyes that tells you "tonight you must take a night off the sauce". But then you remember you have a couple of half opened bottles in the fridge and you think "how to not finish them off?" We'll see - some of the wines don't do too well after a chilling in the fridge and grudgingly get poured down the sink - some not salvageable even by the little aerator thingy or blending with other half bottles in the fridge. Damn sad.

Iberico Presa - beaucoup froid!!
I digress. Castello Banfi at Stoked started well with a delightfully light and fruity fizz going with some raw fish and woody truffle canapes. The white was equally pleasant in a chugging cheery kind of way with just enough of a hint of character to pique the interest - quite unusual for Pinot Grigio in my experience. It also paired well with the sweet and tasty Prawns and Burrata Cheese - lovely combo this, and well zinged up by the sweet boozy vinaigrette. Two reds came out with the duck and the Bolgheri Rosso was lovely - medium lush and chewy fruit and tannin in a lovely even balance that had us buying another bottle for an end of the evening nightcap. Friendly prices too, though not for the long term - two years, maybe three, but lovely drinking now. The Chianti was a bit standard Banfi - lean and taut - whilst the Brunello was firm and full but frankly forgettable. Also got recognised by Banfi Regional Manager Guillaume Blanchard who was on hand to host and guide us all through the wines. Lenglui and I had attended a Banfi dinner some years back at Le Meridien when it used to have an Italian restaurant there. Better wines tonight than then. Far better. That previous one had frankly put me off Banfi wines - found them thin, fierce, and tight. Tonight it got redeemed. 

May and The Money
The Money and the Banker
Foodwise, the evening got a bit marred by two dishes coming out cold and needing to get sent back and, in the case of the main pork, needing to get replaced with beef as no more pork available. Not sure what went wrong, but all were full of apologies and an extra glass of the good stuff got poured to help recompense. Hmmm…   not sure what it is with Stoked - it has evenings that are total Brahma, and then it trips up with something like this. I think there were some new staff drafted who were perhaps not as fully trained as might have been hoped for. Chef Yau's fish dishes are pretty much always on point - the raw fish canapes and prawns were excellent - but somehow the meat dishes don't always seem to hit the mark for me. Sorry, but I never feel as stunned as I feel I should be. But then Chef Evert's meat at Soleil was similar, but eventually he started putting out some wonderful meat. I live in hope. 

Lenglui and new friends
120 Jalan Kasah, 
Medan Damansara, 
50490 Kuala Lumpur

Trio of Canap├ęs
Banfi Tener Brut NV

Tai Fish
Sweet Prawn, Burrata Cheese, Champagne & Honey Vinaigrette
Banfi San Angelo Toscana IGT 2014

French Duck Breast
Plum, Fennel, Blueberry Caramel Sauce
Banfi Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva 2013 
Banfi Aska Bolgheri DOC Rosso 2013

100% Acorn-Fed Iberico Presa
Portobello Mushroom, Pecorino Cheese, Edible Flowers
Banfi Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG 2011

Coconut Sorbet
Coconut Water, Baked Banana, Coconut Chips

Coffee or Tea

Petits Fours

Sapore is a new kid on the block and the latest venture of Chef Federico. Cutting his teeth at Pietro and getting some chops at Marini's on 57, he is now going back to his roots and serving up some damn fine home style Italian cooking. From start to finish, the food was outstanding. We started with ham, mortadella, salami and the most amazing lardo that was total tongue zapping gangbusters with some salty oven baked bread. Next was a Wild Boar ragout with large tubes of Rigatoni pasta (some said a shade overboiled, but I found mine pretty much perfect) which was all taste and firm whack in the craw. The Suckling Pig was magnificent - tender, cooked, smelling and tasting of thyme and rosemary - fantastic. Roast potatoes could have been crisper (a shade mushy on the bite) but the pig…   I later noticed it was not on the menu so perhaps it is special order. Tiramisu dessert was damn near perfect - light, coffee, cream and cold. Belter.

We brought our own wines - a Vivo Prosecco and a 2013 Fontodi Chianti. Prosecco was pleasant, and kept quite cool in the IWFS Bag. The Chianti was a bit mean - thinnish fruit and prominent tannin. Austere would be a good word here. But the leftovers got blended with a roughish jammy leftover bordeaux at home to produce a half drinkable nightcap.

Sapore is well worth a return visit though be advised that unless you are desperately lucky, the parking in the area sucks. I ended up halfway down a dark road outside someone's large and well electrified house. Chef also does a 1.2kg Steak, so that sounds like a date with the Baron at some near future time.

Nadodi Maitre D' and friend
18 Persiaran Ampang, 
Desa Pahlawan, Ampang 
55000 KL
Tel +603 42666362
email: sapore18my@gmail.com

Antipasti tagliere
Mix of the best of Italian cold cut from parma , capocollo , salami , Lardo di collonata , mortadella , served with pickled vegetable

Rigatoni pasta with Tuscany style  and pecorino romano

Suckling pig porchetta style served with roasted potato

Home made vanilla gelato

Nadodi (which apparently is Hindi for "wanderer") is the latest place to take the premises that once housed the legendary Il Lido on Jalan Yap Kwan Seng. There have been a couple of attempts to kickstart subsequent eateries on the premises, though none seem to have taken hold. The Architect seems to think the Feng Shui there is not so good - it is muscled in on pretty much all sides by some bigass neighbours that tower above it. Whatever, some serious money has been spent on it, and it now sports a fine dining Indian Cuisine restaurant on Level One and a swanky bar on Level Two. 
Destroyed Staple - evaporated in a single bite

The menu blurb runs:
"Modernity and tradition go hand-in-hand at Nadodi. Our artisanal creations make creative use of exclusively sourced ingredients and specialty farmed produce to earn a place at our table, and on your plate. We harness completely contemporary techniques and retrofit an age old traditional recipe with modernity. This can result in surprising discoveries and an absolutely fresh perspective on familiar cuisine tropes that must be experienced."

Lactose Free - Fish Flakes and Sambol - two bites
So it was not Indian Fusion cuisine as someone along the line had told us. Some foodie friends had been under the impression that Nadodi was Indian Fusion cuisine - it is not; there is no other cuisine with which the recipes were fused. But one does need a bit of a sense of adventure to come here. And also to mentally get away from the mindset that sees Indian cuisine as the preserve of the roadside. But the rewards are very pleasant. It is indeed fine dining Indian cuisine with some lovely touches and delightful tastes.  The evening had been organised by the Doc with a view to hosting a future IWFS event there. And on this showing, it looks like it should happen soon. 

Out Of The Shell - Scallop and Foam
Alleppey Lobster and Coconut Crumble
We spent a short time at the upstairs bar with our glasses of bubbles, and gawping at the single Twin Tower we could see peeking behind one of the neighbours. This bar is beyond swanky - red and black and high end sofas with some open air space to listen to the low hum of the Jalan Ampang traffic. Tiger prints seem to abound, and there seems some association with a London club of the same name. It felt a bit overwhelming and macho, and I didn't feel quite comfortable (never quite seem to in these muscle bars) and was glad when we got called to dinner. Though the staff there were most friendly and accommodative. Paid RM53 for Lenglui's VAT (Vodka and Tonic - anyone remember Minder?).

We got sat in a private room that will take about 16 at a stretch and Maitre D' started us off with a nice bit of theatre whereby what looked like a large empty wall frame became a window into the kitchen. We were to have what was billed as the Six Mile Run - a six dish degustation of revisited Indian cuisine. The first two courses did not look promising in terms of diners feeling full at the end of it all - both were half bite size morsels of wonderful tastes and blends but frighteningly tiny. More than half the table thought we would be heading for Char Kwey Teow supper, which thinking was reinforced by dishes three and four - barely two bites apiece. But it all came together with dish five - basically Chicken Biryani with solid rice and amazing sauces. And second helpings of rice and sauce if needed. This brought it all together and laid the replete stomach foundation for dish six dessert which came across like creamy cold and crunchy cendol. 

Dravidian Nation - Chicken Biriyani and sauces - yum!
The quality of the food, its presentations and descriptions, the service of both food and wine were top class. Well worth a visit to impress friends and educate those who feel one should not pay top dollar for food you can get on the streets for a fraction of the cost. We paid RM200 for the six and I would definitely go back for a similar experience. Winewise, we had various Champagnes, a delightful SB from a new NZ vineyard discovered by The Money. The Architect brought a bottle of Pingus, there was a CdR to finish and I think a Bordeaux somewhere in the mix. And May brought a Rose, which was found to be perfect with much of the food, especially the lobster. 

Mind of a Coconut - sounds like some people I know...
Slight gripe on the parking - was told valet would be RM10 (I think only valet is possible - little to no parking anywhere near the place on the outside) but only got RM30 back from a fifty. Might have been a genuine mistake, but I was in a rush and only found out on getting home. Thinking on it, perhaps this is why the place cannot ever take off - there is no easy parking, and one thing that Malaysians DO tend to expect when it comes to eating is easy and free/cheap parking; if cannot park within ten yards of the eaterie then no matter how good the food they'll cold shoulder it. Maybe Nadodi should buy the chunk of land next door and build a car park - now THAT will make money. Maybe I should talk to the Architect...

The Ceramic Football of Biriyani
Lot 183 of, Jalan Mayang, Kampung Baru, 
50450 Kuala Lumpur, 
Open 6pm to 10pm
Tel: +603 21814334

Menu - The Six Mile Journey

Destroyed Staple

Lactose Free
Fish flakes, Sambol

Out of the Shell
Chettinad Scallops, Tamarind froth

Silence Of Our Lamb
Sous Vide Lamb, Curry Leaf Ash
Alleppey Lobsters
Poached Lobster Tails, Coconut Mango Crumble

Dravidian Nation
Country-chicken Biriyani, Silver Burst

Mind Of a Coconut
Cane Sugar, Sea Coconut

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Emirates "Fort Knox" of Wine

Another good article from Bloomberg reprinted in the Malaysian Reserve Jan 12th 2017 talking about the top end wines available on Emirates first class flights. The author is James Gaddy.

Seems Emirates began a wine programme 12 years ago to develop "the best wine list in the sky" and has spent about US$500 million so far in doing so. 

The article notes Emirates Senior VP Joost Heymeeijer sharing that the wines have been built up through selective smart and early purchases through the years and stored in a Fort Knox style facility in Burgundy where they are stored until deemed ready for drinking. 

On the planes, the fizz gets served in a larger than normal flute and the wines are decanted into carafes for pouring. Nine million glasses of champagne were poured on Emirates flights in 2016 and it is one of the largest buyers of Dom Perignon in the world. They went long on Yquem 2005 and the customers are sucking it down (though perhaps more for the snob value than the infanticide of drinking any Sauteurnes under 30 years old). 

Other First Class delights include 2000 cases (10% total production) from Corton Charlemagne (Probably 2013 - was bought in 2015), and Super Tuscans Ornellaia and Solaia. Business class passengers must suffer with Tignanello, Stags Leap Chardonnay and Chateau Palmer. O the pain, the pain...

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Wine Trends in 2017

Cute article by Elin McCoy, Bloomberg's wine buff and writer, pinpointing what to look for in wine in 2017. Is a bit USA focused, but still a good read. Source is Malaysian Reserve Jan 11, 2017 and the link below.

In sum, these are

1 Sparkling wine from more places - fizz is on a global roll with demand for bubbles up across the planet. Should mean more nations will embrace methode champenoise and produce cheaper yet fair quality fizz to satisfy the thirst. English fizz is establishing, but look out for good Lambrusco, Cava and output from Tasmania. 

comment - unlikely in Malaysia. Taxes going up, very niche, have to compete with established lines on price. Well worth a punt if overseas, though.

2. The Loire Valley should make an impact, with more elegant wines at reasonable prices. Given the grim winters in Bordeaux and Burgundy (and the consequent price hike due to scarcity of good booze), the happy Loire harvest should reap vinous dividends.

comment - sounds good. Hopeful Dear Leader or others might bring in at value prices.

3. Light red wines should boom because they're easy to chill (and taste better as a result), easy to drink and perfect with food and friends. Think Loire, Alto Adige, Alsace Pinot and Austrian Zweigelt. 

comment - totally works for me. Great with all the styles of cuisine we get in Malaysia. Bit hard to find though...

4. Chugging wine from cans took off in 2016 and is expected to not slow down any time soon. They are easy to chill, no need for glasses or corkscrew, and easily recyclable. Also look for "cortas" - flat short plastic Bordeaux style bottles that fit through a letter box. 

comment - Cans...  not for me. I would fear a metallic tang. Decent wine deserves a decent glass. But Cortas - absolutely. Now we can have daily deliveries - does anyone remember the Milk Man? Though I can't quite see the Romanee Conti coming in a Corta. Not that it comes in the first place...

5. Less snobby wine lists - goodbye to the leather tome, and hello to the Ipad. Or magazine. Or something more fun and less austere. 

comment - maybe not yet in Malaysia - restaurant wine lists are rarely extensive enough to last beyond five pages and the connoisseurs BYO anyway. Though I could see it happening in Singapore. 

6. Public wine on tap - there is one in Ortono, Italy which is there to nourish and refresh the pilgrims walking the Cammino di San Tommaso route. The Pilgrims fill a glass from the taps and give thanks and praise. And it is 24/7. 

comment - free public booze? In Malaysia? Never happen. Unlikely anywhere, for that matter. Except maybe for the White House - El Trumpo apparently has a vineyard and free samples would make sense. Keep the US rakyat skulled for the next four/eight years…

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Soleil Corkage Policy

Got a reply today from En Azul bin Zainal, GM at Soleil, on the corkage:

Dear Mr,. Brian,

Greeting from Soleil Restaurant !

Thank you for inquiring us for your upcoming dining plan, First of all, apologize for my late reply on your inquiries. As per your request, i attached our wine list for your reference, and as for the wine corkage, yes we do have wine corkage charge at RM100 for every 750ml wine or champagne opened. Please refer to the first page of wine menu for further details.

Please do not hesitate to contact me directly via this email or via my mobile at +60173394339 should you need further assistant.

Thank you

This is taken from the front page of the wine list:

SOLEIL’S Corkage Policy
Soleil Restaurant & Wine Bar brings a diversified range of quality wines to our customers at attractive take away prices. Hence, in the event the wine is consumed in the restaurant we implement a reasonable dine-in corkage which you will find under our Dine In prices to compliment the array of cuisines catered by our talented Chef, Evert Onderbeke.

Corkage fee for wines brought in externally will however, carry a charge of RM100 for every 750 ml volume.

Further, our customers will be entitled to a 10% discount off the takeaway price when you purchase at least 12 bottles from our wine list. And you will also enjoy corkage free while you dine with us and complimentary storage at our sister company SW Wine Depot.

Note: Please allow 3 days’ notice for wine to be transferred back to Soleil from the storage.

Looking at the wine list, there are indeed different prices for takeway wine and consumption at Soleil. In this context, it becomes clear - buy their wines at the takeout price, enjoy a bulk discount and storage and get to drink them here in the future at no corkage. Otherwise, BYO is RM100 a bottle or pay the Soleil premium for buy and drink there (which, looking at the differences between drink in and takeaway, appears to be a straight RM85 across the carte - so Lenglui did hear incorrectly on the RM120. Have to check her source).

The corkage policy does make business sense. Given the ownership link between SW Wine and Soleil, buying wines for storage and then consumption at Soleil becomes a perque for customer loyalty. And the wines selection (massively French weighted) is interesting and catering to a wide range of wine afficionadoes, and the prices not too unfair. So less of an Alamak than first feared and quite competitive compared to others in the same bracket. Have to check when the Baron is up for a tryout. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

Soleil in DC Mall - excellent food, but is anyone home?

January 4th 2017

Aren't expectations a pain? Especially when you have a previous experience at a previous venue with previous people to compare with? I think it's best to preface this report on the new Soleil by bearing this context in mind when reading and assessing. It's always tough moving to a new gaffe and with pretty much a new team in situ. Read with caution. Yes. 

The new Soleil in DC Mall
We recently found ourselves having been set up for a dinner at the new Soleil. We knew that our old favourite would be opening in a spanking new Mall in what was being called Damansara City and had been wondering when we would get the chance to visit. It came sooner than expected in the form of a hastily rearranged IWFS Committee meeting equally hastily organised by President David to let Committee members try out the new Soleil with a view to having an event there for the members at some near future date.

Soleil entrance with the steel and glass wine cellar
Short version - overall, the food remains the quality it used to be, and if anything has improved in tongue titillation terms. Chef Evert has clearly been busy researching and has assembled a darned good team there in the kitchen. In contrast, the service appears to need large and quick attention and determine single chains of command in both food and wine service terms. There seemed to be a lot of staff on our night (perhaps stops had been pulled out in an effort to impress President David) so whilst food serving and clearing were generally swift I got a sense of an occasional lack in confidence and a bit "straight out of college" feel in the staff.  They just need a bit more time. And it was good to see that the ladies got their food first. The food prices look fair, though I did not get to see a wine list and couldn't find one on the website (which was still showing photos of the old PJ venue). I have been trying to check corkage policy and pricing and have been waiting for an email reply for seven days and counting - I went through the general email line. I then messaged through Facebook on Day Five of the Wait and got a response saying someone would reply to my email. Still waiting three days later. Hmmm.....   

Soleil Bar
At its previous venue in Section 17 PJ,  Soleil had been a default restaurant of choice pretty much since the time it had opened in 2013. Warm, quiet, with exquisite dishes and exceptional wine service, it was a destination when you needed that special place with that special person and could be confident of a superb evening. Lenglui and I have had many memorable evenings there with different friends and foodies. It was when we learned that the founding staff were moving on that slight misgivings started to rumble, and indeed in the later visits it felt that something quintessential was missing. Not that the staff were anything less than equally friendly and efficient, just that… well, Yuhei and Fendi were the heart and soul of the place and with them not there it wasn't quite… Soleil. So it goes, but we continued to patronise because Chef's Tomahawk Steak was the total business and the new staff were still some of the best in the city. Then mid 2016 we heard the Soleil was scheduled to move to the newly built DC Mall at the end of the year, which made us a bit sad - I think that despite all the corporate mantras that we all should joyfully embrace change, no one really likes it, especially when it is a favourite food place where (to steal a line from the song) everybody knew our name and were always glad we came. So we crammed in a few more Tomahawks with the Rubber Baron ahead of the move and supped our wonderful wines and hoped that the new Soleil would rise to shine as brightly as the old. Then we heard that some of the existing staff would not be joining the new place, which always give pause and raises the question "why?" Often it is transport issues - if it is a hard slog (which it is most times) to get in and out of town for work and parking for a new job compared to the existing job then people often prefer to find a new job closer to home. Maybe…  but the new is barely a mile up the road from the old, though the DC parking charges would probably make a dent in the gaji (ie wages - staff could probably get away with parking free around PJ). It had also felt that a slight hike in pricing had crept in to our later meals at the old Soleil. The Tomahawk had become a little less than competitive vis a vis other eateries offering this cut. The service aspect can often be put down to the transition and people's minds being in two places rather than just the one in which we were eating. The pricing could be the slow relentless decline of the Ringgit. It happens. Nevertheless, we were hopeful that not too much would be different in the new, and that the food and service be as good, the prices would not have gone up too much to pay the new rent, and that we would like it. Whatever, it was certainly a ballsy move by management to upgrade as they did so kudos for that. Got to hope that it all works out. 

Getting to the DC Mall entrance proved a bit roundabout. On driving there from KL, we had to do the round of the Damansara City - coming from Jalan Semantan (ie SPRINT) or Jalan Maarof, cars cannot seem turn into the Mall, though coming from PJ SPRINT seems okay (it may be that we can turn in from Semantan, but I didn't see much direction signage - will take another look next time we are in the area). Equally, the main entrance proved elusive in signage terms as did directions to the Car Park. We passed one entrance claiming Jockey Park which looked more office than Shopping Mall so we drove on. We stopped at a second entrance at which the Jockey Boys said this indeed was the entrance to the Mall and that Parking was somewhere "around the back, Encik". Okay…  Given Lenglui's continuing issues with stressing out her healing broken toes, we opted to Jockey and go up the escalator to the restaurant (Jockey was RM14 and they came to deliver the keys at the restaurant when they were closing - the car was parked right outside the escalator. Champion.) 

Table setting in Private Room One
Lenglui wandered off for some shop research and I went up the two escalators to Soleil. The new place takes up a whole corner of a floor, all shiny and open plan looking. There is an open island style bar along both the inside Restaurant and the Mall walkway and the entrance opens into a cafe style layout of chairs and tables that lead toward the kitchen. At the entrance is the Glass and Steel Prison that is the Wine Cellar, housing a lot of mostly high end Bordeaux lovelies (at least that was what was visible). High ceilings and towering steel and glass gave a modern Steampunk feel for me - bit of edge, bit of art, but ultimately lacking warmth. Perhaps there was too much space, though this was in early evening light and perhaps the dark would offer a less stark feel. 

Service Window into the Kitchen
Our meeting was in one of the private rooms at the back which would also be our dinner seating. Initial impression of the room was… "cool" in ambiance terms. A bit like modern office board room with panel boards parked together that opened or closed out depending on how many were wanting to seat together. Also, oddly dark in the growing gloomy daylight which was masked by a large artsy photo print of a crystal decanter pouring what looked like Gin or water and taking over the whole back wall. And at one far end was a mirror wall - not sure what the Feng Shui folks would have to say about that, though at least it wasn't facing the door like the twin infinity circular one in the other private room. Table and chairs also felt functional rather than grand, though they were comfortable enough. The lighting was soft, with bare-bulb-on-wire style light shades and low wattage halogens. Seems that the room for us fifteen could extend to the other private room and take a total forty, though my feeling was that it might not leave much room for the waiting staff to get around with the food, water and wines. Their initial squeezing through the doorway and around the chairs was already proving a bit tight. 

But it was functional, and there were wine glasses and water on the table, so I plugged in my old Sony laptop of 12 years service and we did our meeting business.

Looking along the table...
After the meeting, we vacated the room to let the staff work their table setting magic and repaired to the reception area to sip on some fizz and relax with the squeezes and friends who would be joining. President had negotiated a special price for the five course dinner with corkage waived - goodwill is a wonderful thing. I took a brief wander to find the bathroom (note - fewer restaurants in the newer malls seem to have their own toilets; all now require you to exit and wander off to where the general tandas is located, and Soleil DC is now added to this list). On the way back, there was a promising looking Indian cuisine restaurant downstairs so I detoured to grab a look at the menu and steal a card. Going back up the escalator, Soleil had gained a slight sense of less imposing Emerald Palace feel about it. I needed to rush as everyone had seated themselves and were waiting on me to help cheer the New Year. 

On getting seated, first thing to see was the absence of tablecloths and a fairly bare setting with cloth napkins and two sets of cutlery. In fairness, there was not a lot of space on the table for much else in the way of fighting irons. There was a side plate for bread and butter which was of the same magnificent standard as previous - warm, soft crunch with that good doughy miel - the omens were good. 

The Barramundi Ceviche
First out was the Ceviche which was excellent. The Tomato Salsa and the melting pineapple crystals made for a fabulous vinaigrette with the pepper and fish juice - almost like a fish and fruit sorbet. The coldness of the ice crystal lent a pleasing contrast to the room temperature fish as well as each providing a texture counterpoint to the other. Very nice way to start indeed.

Given that I had brought two bottles of the same wine Casa Yin How Spanish Albarinho, it was decided to start with that, so as to give everyone a glass of the same. Well, and okay, though this went against my guess that the wine would be a gangbusters match with the upcoming Octopus and Paella. But no point to be too precious over these things - everyone getting a first glass of the same made sense. I would set a glass aside for the Ocky. As it turned out, the Casa Yin How fared nicely with the Ceviche, with that slightly oily consistency in the Albarinho helping to offer a velvety ripe persimmon mouthfeel and a rich chewy finish.

The Octopus and Paella was well prepared and darn tasty, with that chewy rubbery tentacle texture giving good firm bite to the well tasty rice Paella. The addition of the peppery Chorizo spiced the thing nicely and the whole ensemble blended well for a good whack in the cheeks. Though I did feel that perhaps the portion could have been slightly larger to let the whack in the mouth get matched by a similar one in the belly. 

Someone had decided to pour out the Markowitz Pinot Noir brought by The Money to go with the dish which worked beautifully. There was enough cherry and acidity to tame the fats in the food which led to a great sense of complementarity between both. The Markowitz is a wonderful wine both on its own and with most forms of food - sweetish and cherries and understated power on the finish, I have drunk this on many occasions with delight. Not sure how many The Money has left in her cellar - have to see if she is up to flogging some off. 

Incidentally, my glass of Casa Yin How was indeed magnificent with the Ocky Paella. I have found that to drink the Albarinho alone is not altogether good - it is not at its best as an aperitif or a nightcap. But with food the boy does come beautifully into focus. Its slight industrial whack got diluted by the Chorizo fats and the wine's natural acidity lifted the edge off the somewhat dry-ish oily texture of the rice (regret no photo). Good match, this one. 

The Baby Emperor
Next out was the Baby Emperor. This was one where all the various elements came together to make for a wonderful salty mouthful of tastes and textures which hit most of the buttons and bases - salt, sweet, umami, and a wonderful crispy soy sear on the fish - so, so good. For me, the genius was matching the Apple with the Shallot - we had the sourish apple against the oily sweet onion to give a weird and wonderful sweetly sour undercoat and overcoat to everything. At the same time the textures matched brilliantly. Wicked good. There was a Chablis doing the rounds to pair with it, though I can't remember if any made its way to my glass. I was very happy to see off the remains of the Marko. 

The veal came out to great fanfare, though for me it did not sadly match this entrance. Looking very good on the plate, I found it a bit chewy and somewhat of a mouthful to bite through. it tasted very good, but it seemed to be a bit of a fight to chew it. Everything else was on point - great Jus, excellent artichoke and croquettes - but for me it just felt a bit more beef than veal. But bear in mind I am not a great fan of veal, and there were no complaints from the table. There was also a bit too much of it on the plate (Ed: Whaaaat?? You complain earlier of not enough, now is too much? Aiyoooooo….) and much of mine went back to the kitchen. Too much work to eat this puppy cow. 

Doc Su and Allie Tan with the Gin pouring in the background
The Kiwi shared a bit of his specially prepared Duck. It was done well, tender and excellent quality meat. Worth to try on a return visit (also no photo - we will have to go back. David, are you reading this?).

The wines were coming out at various times and in such various orders that I think most people had decided to just go with what they preferred. A Hugel 2013 Gewurtz was doing the rounds so I opted for it. Classic Gewurtz, lovely sweet and spice and Turkish mouth. Wonderfully easy swig, this one. I have a memory of the Kiwi opening a secret Red which would turn out to come from Georgia. Impressively structured, rich in deep fruit, drinking like a well made North Italian with excellent length and full on finish. 

Dessert was…   my note says "odd". It was a very good mix of tastes and textures, and way less sweet than I expected from the visual. It was good but…  somehow not quite "dessert". Maybe it was Chef's challenge to the expectations of sweetness by the general foodie. Certainly worked from that perspective if so. I didn't eat it all. 

The very not sweet Dessert
We would finish off with a Sauternes which would prove delightful. Clean and sweet, crunchy and crisp, not too bold but with lively and lovely chewy dancing in the cheeks and on the tongue. One of those where all the elements balanced nicely and made for a charming end to the evening. 

Service was a bit….  not the standard I have come to expect from Soleil. Odd little lapses which seemed to suggest that the waiting staff have not quite been trained up enough and as a result are not yet quite as refined as previous. Either this and/or they were confused by the presence of a General Manager helping on the floor and wondering whose orders they should follow - their Boss, his Boss, or someone else stalking around who looked like they might be another Boss. There was one occasion where one waiter was laying our cutlery and two minutes later another was coming round taking it off. This was then followed by a third coming back to lay it out again. And all three pretty much doing this particular round all at the same time. Felt a bit blur, though as said it is well early days and the new staff need time to embed and gain confidence in both themselves and their new surroundings and compadres. Nothing that clear lines of communication and command can sort out. In contrast, the wine service was not bad. President David had determined a wine theme of "Old World" and the wines brought were in the end quite broad and challenging given the food. Our Sommelier had been given some initial direction as to what wines to pour and when, but when the sequence seemed to evaporate, he was sussed enough to bring everything and ask which of the available wines we preferred with the dish before us. Some lovely wines on show, though I didn't get much in the way of photos thereof. Hope the Kiwi did. 

Doc Stephen and Doc Su Kim. You sit opposite me, you get a photo in the blog. Yes.
Would I go back? Not immediately, though probably soon enough. Whilst Chef Evert is clearly still on form, the floor staff need to settle in and proper lines of reporting need to be nailed down. There is also a warmth and a soul that have yet to get established at the new venue. I got a sense of professional friendliness seeping in rather than the efficient warmth that was Soleil in the heydey of Fendi and Yuhei. 

Also (as said) the ambience needs adjusting for me - bit too open and bright and shiny with all the glass and steel and lacking a warmth in which to relax and chill. And feeling a bit more cafe than restaurant Maybe I'm getting old and this bar and cafe style is what the young folks want or is what is felt necessary to compete with the other eateries in the Mall. Fair enough. But then it will be a different Soleil and I will need to adjust and be romanced sufficiently to embrace it as a continuing favoured destination rather than the present fond memory of how it used to be. 

But it is the lack of communication with me that I find a bit troubling. Feels like the lights are on but it doesn't seem like there is anyone home. This is a Serious Fail. Come on, guys - Communication is KEY. You surely got to respond to us punters, yes? If you can't respond, then just SAY you can't and say that you will when you can. But silence? And no follow up? Aiyo...... 

It seems Soleil does a Chef Table degustation which Lenglui is keen to try at some time. Though her getting stiffed for RM50 for a glass of pre-prandial house white will need a darn good reason to go there. Might have to go teetotal. Alamak…

Even more alamak - Lenglui advises that she heard anecdotally that corkage is apparently now RM120 per bottle. This naturally assumes that she heard right (and I have only ever known Lenglui to hear wrong on a rare occasion). Seems also that wines can be bought at Soleil but if consumed at the Restaurant then the RM120 also gets added. Which feels a bit ouch. Actually, it feels a LOT ouch. Will DEFINITELY be teetotal if this be the case. Will let everyone know when Soleil confirms. 

NB Soleil has now confirmed, corkage for BYO is RM100 not RM120 - buy at the restaurant, the premium effectively becomes RM85 - see next posting.

PS - Also hearing a whisper that Cilantro has increased their corkage. Possibly a trend is forming - squeeze the wealthy for wanting to enjoy their luxury booze at a restaurant. Not for long, boys, not for long - my money is on chefs doing more pop ups at people's houses. Rent the chef rather than pay for the restaurant and sup your own booze with friends whilst chef prepares the delights and the maid serves. Or rent the restaurant and bring your own food, chef and booze. Watch this space.

The second Private Dining Room. With Infinity Mirror.
Facing the door. Good Feng Shui? Hmmmmm.... 
Soleil Restaurant
DC Mall Plaza DC, 
Lot 7 & 8, 
Jalan Damanlela, 
Damansara Town Centre, 
50490 Damansara City, 
Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Hours - Weekday 10am to 10.30pm, Weekend 9am to 10.30pm
Telephone +603 2011 8261; +6012 612 5989
email enquiries@soleil.my


Pequillo Pepper, Tomato Salsa, Coconut, Pineapple Crystals

Paella, Turkey Chorizo, Black Garlic Aioli

Baked Apple, Shallot Jus, Sake Cream, Fennel Chlorophyll

Jerusalem Artichoke, Sweet Corn Croquettes, Foie Gras

Caramel Cremeux, Tonka Ice Cream, Dark Chocolate

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

IWFS Kuala Lumpur Visit to Champagne, Burgundy and Alsace September 2016 - Epilogue and Day Eight


This is a rounding up which is followed by a Day Eight report. 

My reason for having the Epilogue first is that Day Eight has little in the way of interest food or wine wise and consequently be likely a bit boring in that respect for general reading. At the same time, I wanted to put something up for the sake of completeness for my side of the Pilgrimage. Pilgrims can thus feel free to ignore Day Eight, though there are some BA and One World experiences that might be of interest. Also, navigating Heathrow by Wheelchair might prove instructive. 


Writing all of this up some weeks (now months) after the event, I am struck at the intensity and vibrancy of the memories that seem to have burned into the brain. Impressions absorbed from the various towns and places visited seem to have a richness about them which has made the writing feel somehow more full and direct than previous scribbles. The main memories that seem to come through are the ambience and service at the restaurants and the grandeur of many of the places we visited. Some dishes also shine through, though possibly more for their contrast against the general fine dining throughout the week - the Baeckoffe in Alsace and the beer and sausage plate in Strasbourg stand out wonderfully. But it is mostly the places and the people that get remembered. Dinner at Ruinart, the Pommery tasting room, lunch at Les Parc des Crayeres, Ms Moneypenny in the vines at Bollinger, seeing Big Tony in total bliss sipping the Bolly in the Bolly cellar, Napoleon the bus driver getting nicked for using his handphone whilst driving and the subsequent Gendarmerie Escort through Beaune, meeting and eating with Fabrice Amiot at the Montrachet and Romain Taupenot at his winery, the morning walk with Fabrice through his vines, tasting Olivier Leflaive's first press of the 2016 vendange, the "light" lunch at Taverne Alsacienne, the delightful ambience of Domaine Trimbach, the stunning aspect of the Auberge de L'Ill and the evening chilldown in the gardens, Hugel and the Riquewihr church, the Baeckoffe, the group walk through Colmar and the whiskey at L'Atelier du Peintre, the boat trip and lunch in Strasbourg and huddled in the wet damp cold at the Strasbourg station waiting for the train to CDG at the end of the trip. And the generally brilliant weather we had. These moments stick. 

Some of the wines also stick - the Amiot Magnums at Le Montrachet and the Daume Taupenots in Morey St Denis, also the Bollys and the Domaine Weinbachs and the Hugels and the Coche Dury Meursault at Buerehiesel - but this trip ultimately became for me more a sense of place and people than the gastronomy aspect. I will remember this trip for the great fellowship, the camaraderie, and the general great humour on everyone's part (except occasionally mine - Mr Grumpy can sneak up on me sometimes when plans don't seem to pan out or after a restless night of music in the ether). A brilliant trip, and brilliantly organised by our Dear Leader to whom I feel all us Pilgrims should be grateful for creating such memories. I share some sympathy with the whinge that the scheduling was hugely intense and crammed one heck of a lot of stops into seven days. I certainly would have liked a bit more down time to absorb the impressions and let both lunches and dinners get properly digested. But I also get it that we need to cram as many food and wine experiences into the time available as is felt possible. We knew what we were in for when we signed up, so we can't really complain. And we can always opt NOT to go for that unmissable Michelin lunch or dinner. Can't we?

I think what has also come out of all of this is a sense of connection which in many respects I find quite odd - I am not normally one for connecting to too much or to too many. I have always been a bit detached from the world, preferring to observe rather than participate in it. But this felt different. I found myself connecting on a range of levels - physical, emotional, intellectual, and a bit spiritual - with both people and place. The Pilgrimage has forever connected all of us together both as individuals and a group (yep, including the idiot Napoleon). The hippies used to call these things a "be-in" - getting together and communing with each other and the place where we are, er, be-ing. Sounds not unfair - as it says at the end of Contact - The Movie, the only thing we have to banish our loneliness is each other. At the same time, I feel the Pilgrimage has also connected me with the places we collectively visited. Feels like there are bits of my soul that will reside forever in the Bolly vineyard, the slopes of the Cotes de Beaune, amongst the vines of Trimbach and in the Riquewihr church. Not sure if it can be called spiritual, but it doesn't feel far off. Though it could just have been the wines… 

It has been a tremendous amount of fun writing up this trip. All the food, all the wines, along with some personal memories and observations. I do hope everyone has enjoyed reading these posts and that, for the Pilgrims, they brought back some pleasant remembrances. And Pilgrims, do please feel free to add via comment and photograph. One Pilgrim has passed a previous comment that they look upon these scribbles as a gift for the future to look back on and bring back fond memories of our Pilgrimage de Gastronomy et Vins de Champagne, Burgundy et Alsace 2016. I do like that, and I do hope all the writing and photos have indeed that effect. Anyone want to throw money to produce a book of all this, also can la...

Salut-salut mes braves and here's hoping the next Pilgrimage will not be too long in coming!!

PS just one story to finish - my Singo foodie friend Julian shared that he was researching whether any Sparkling Wine makers introduced gas into their winemaking process to fizz things up. He said his search for "gas and champagne" got directed to my blog posts about Trombones in the ether…


Saturday, 1st October 2016

This was a restless night of sleep, with three get ups to pee or drink water or check email. We took a 7am wake up to pack and get down for 8.15 breakfast. I could not eat anything - the sight of the food was just not appetising at this time of the morning especially after the Buerehiesel beano of the night before so it was just a brief coffee to kickstart the system and down to check out and wait for the bags. 

I don't really like travel connections. They stress me out which is why I like to have plenty of time between them. So when the front desk suggested 9am taxi for a 9.57 train I was a bit "hmmmm…"  Still, one must presume that they know best so that was what we had opted for. But it never quite stems the anxiety I get - I just like to have large margins of time in case something goes wrong. Some people who were on the same train to CDG had booked earlier taxis and had all left pretty much on time. 

Lenglui sauntered down with some packed ham rolls for later in the day on the train, which were most welcome at about 10.30 speeding through the Lorraine and Champagne countryside. The taxi and the bags came smack on time, in we climbed and 15 minutes later rolled the bags into the station. Some of the earlier departees were there, and we figured safety in numbers near the platform entrance waiting for our departure platform to get announced.  It was a bit wet and cold and we huddled and chitchatted - quite a miserable end to the trip. So it goes.  We also took the opportunity to validate the tickets as had been reminded us to do on a few prior occasions. Non validation on the French Railway incurs a big Euro fine and no negotiations possible. We had to go through some automatic glass doors to reach them which would then not open from the inside - had to wait until someone else wanted to come in before we could get out and back to our bags. Bloody French. 

On the validation side, mine got done quite briskly, but some of the others tickets would not seem to get easily accepted by the machines - bit sensitive for some reason. Finally all got punched and printed and we were all set. 

The platform got announced, we headed straight up an escalator (unusual in French stations in my experience) and walked the length of the platform to get on the train. We managed to snag the luggage space at the end of the coach and parked in initially the wrong seats but quickly changed to the correct ones - each coach has the same numbered seats but the coaches are not all labelled clearly. Bloody French. A check on the electronic signage on the side of the coach verified the facts and we got sorted. 

Two grey, dozing and uneventful hours later we pulled into CDG station, got the bags off and followed signs up the escalator after which we said goodbyes as we went separate ways for different airline check ins. Here was where my anal need for connection time let me down as we could easily have made the 2pm BA flight (I had booked the 6pm, figuring we could be a bit lazy in Strasbourg and not counting on all the train tickets being booked en masse and at the same early time. My bad). To change to the earlier flight would have cost Euro285 each at which point we opted to lepak around the airport with coffee and lunch and free wifi until check in for the flight opened at 3pm. Which was actually quite fun - read papers, watched planes, went into my No Zone of daydreaming into the distance and communed with the rain. Ommmmmm…..

Lenglui had ordered a wheelchair at check in which got us through into the terminal shops quite smoothly. It was at this time that she found her phone was missing. I ran back to the security but nothing had been handed in. My guess was that it had been stolen - someone dipped into the bag and lifted it. They must have been damn fast - very few opportunities and we are normally quite careful. But Security rushed us a bit and I fancy this was where it might have happened. Though I will check Lost Property in CDG - one never knows. 

One point on the check in - we were not permitted to check our bags straight through to KL even though both BA and MAS are part of the One World Alliance. Seems the rule is that one must book the entire flight through One World for this to kick in. Bugger. So we had to retrieve the bags at the Terminal Five luggage carousel and then lug them to the transfer terminus for further lugging across to Terminal Four. 

It was a good simple flight to Heathrow, again opting for a wheelchair processing on landing. We were wheeled by a seemingly dour Londoner who turned out to be quite the raconteur. He told us stories about who he had pushed in his wheelchair. Bit like the proverbial London taxi driver - "Oi 'ad that Victoria Beckham in moi cab larst week" kind of chap. He shared that his most memorable passenger had been Pele, and said that it took an age to get him to the destination because everyone wanted to shake Pele's hand. Cute story, non? No one stopped to shake Lenglui's hand. 

On reaching the Transfer desk, we got told it would be at least a forty minute wait for the Special Wheelchair bus to pick us up. What to do? We were pretty locked into wheelchair process so figured we just had to ride it out. I went for a walk and found the toilet. Forty minutes naturally became an hour - but we had plenty of time so no major panic. During this time I witnessed an incident between a BA staff member and the wheelchair assistance receptionist during which he reduced her to tears through his bullying manner and accusations of her not seeming to be caring about a lost elderly passenger he was trying to locate. I passed a card to offer myself as a witness which the office later took up (I wrote and emailed a report, heard nothing since, doubt that I will but there you go. The BA Staff member was unnecessarily mean. Hope his next crap is a Durian). 

We got loaded on the Wheelchair Bus and swiftly transferred with the bags to Terminal Four and straight to Business Class check in. At the last minute Lenglui decided to check in her hand carry and take out her toiletries. This would cause a twenty minute delay as security would yank it to check for explosives. There were quite a number of people getting their liquids checked. One woman had come through with a bag full of toileteries - looked like she would be there for an hour. It does unnecessarily delay things because the checking takes up personnel and backlogs passengers on what was supposed to be the Express Lane. There is a case for Spot Fine to encourage people not to bring liquids through, though enforcing it would be a nightmare - need a trained linguist to communicate with all the various nationalities. Anyhow, the upshot of all this was we only got to the MAS Lounge at 9pm ahead of a 9.50 flight. I managed to down three cans of Guinness and some finger food and nuts - absolutely wonderful. Could totally feel the valves letting out their steam and relaxing thanks to the magic that is the Booze. Lenglui went for the Gin and Tonic. 

We were seated separately in Business Class for some reason but no matter - supper and a sleeping pill and after half a movie I was asleep and getting woken for breakfast two hours ahead of a 6pm touchdown. Got swiftly through customs and immigration, and our bags were almost the first coming out on the Carousel. I booked a limo at the counter, negotiated the KLIA Exit gate, clambered into the limo and we were home just before 8pm. Brilliantly smooth through KLIA and the MEX Highway. 

And that was pretty much that. We unpacked, loaded the washing machine, poured ourselves a couple of Gin and Tonics and turned on the TV and waited for sleep. Tomorrow would be a working day. Back to the world. No bad thing. As the old song goes, it's so nice to go traveling but it is so much nicer to come home. Word.