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.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

"Fine Dining Chinese Cuisine" - IWFS Dinner Noble House Restaurant 23rd August 2012

"Fine Dining Chinese Cuisine" - IWFS Dinner Noble House Restaurant 23rd August 2012

It's not always easy to match a range of wines with Chinese style food. In the West, our focus is more on taste whereas in the East the emphasis is more on texture. And where sequence in the West generally goes from light to heavy in terms of richness, the East would look for each preceding dish to be followed by one that often contrasts and contradicts to cleanse and rest the system for the next in sequence. It's a different harmony of senses where the alcohol is replaced with often high quality Pu Erh tea. 

Notwithstanding, many Chinese style dishes do pair extremely well with wine. The meats and fish dishes in particular can be nicely matched with a range of varietels and blends. So, since the IWFS Kuala Lumpur had not had a banquet style function for a while it was decided to book the Noble House Restaurant for the August gathering. 

The Noble House is a member of the Oriental Group of Restaurants serving fine Cantonese gourmet delicacies. Opened in January 2003 it quickly established a reputation for being one of the top fine dining Chinese restaurants in Kuala Lumpur, serving the finest Chinese gourmet creations and delicacies in a refreshing contemporary setting. Over the years it has garnered numerous awards, and has been twice placed in the Miele Guide for 2008 and 2010. 

At the food tasting, the Vallaformosa Cava NV brought by Prakash was a lovely glass of fizz that paired nicely with the somewhat salty appetizer. Great bubbles and bead with yeast on the nose and lemon apple in the mouth. Very elegant, very friendly. The La Forge Chardonnay 2009 that I had brought paired very nicely with the Baked Cod Fish. Firm rich texture with enough oak and acidity, it was a pleasing complement to the soft flakes of the cod in its sweetish crisp glaze of soy sauce. So the whites for the function had uickly sorted themselves.  It was decided the remaining wines would be red and we managed to source some suitable candidates from a local supplier. 

Party people!
At the dinner itself, 37 intrepid IWFS foodies and guests gathered, being welcomed with a glass of the well chilled Cava. Taking our seats, we were immediately presented with the appetizers. Deep fried eggplant strips and crispy prawn chips with a lemon mustard mayo dip made for a pleasant amuse bouche, though the pepper dip accompanying the cuttlefish cakes was somewhat fierce. 

Everyone had been shocked by the sudden passing of past IWFS Kuala Lumpur president Ellen Yeow, and President Dr Rajan asked all present to stand for a minute silence in her honour. 

Dr Rajan then introduced Ms Ong Li Dong to tell everyone a little about the Noble House restaurant and chef, which was followed by a description of the food and wine pairing by me which everyone seemed to find amusing. 

The three style abalone first course was quickly consumed. Abalone is a highly regarded delicacy in Cantonese cuisine and its serving is highly respected and regarded as a mark of the wealth of the host. On its own, it has little taste but the texture is delightful, a firm yet soft nut crunch on the palate. The three styles showed off the culinary and presentational creativity of the chef, with minced, sliced and marinated showing on the plate. Most visually pleasant. The slight oil in the dish got crisply cleaned by the Cava.  

The second course Shark Bone soup was different from the original Double-Boiled Seafood Soup in Old Cucumber we had at the food tasting. Seems that the holiday season in Kuala Lumpur meant that the soup ingredients couldn't be sourced so got replaced. The new soup didn't work for me. It came across as quite starchy and tasted of potato and celery for some reason. Killed the Cava and the Chardonnay which was appearing in the glass. Most of our table left the soup relatively untouched.

Baked Cod Fish
The table seemed most pleased with the pairing of the Cod Fish with the La Forge Chardonnay. The full, plush texture of good Burgundy style white with slight oak gained a rich nuttiness whilst retaining a smooth balanced finish. Good match. The excellent and crunchy Kai Lan vegetable that followed gave some necessary green fibre to tthe meal, though as with most green veg it killed the wine.

For the Iberico style Pork Rib, a Spanish wine had suggested itself and it was decided to pair it with a 2005 Vina Real Reserva Rioja. The wine supplier had uttered those two most magical words the English language has produced - "special price" - and we were hooked. The blurb said it was intense with autumn fruit and spice, good acidity and balanced with good length. We found it slightly fading, but still with enough bite to stand up to the ribs. Velvet on the tongue, the ribs did indeed tame the acidity and oak, but the fruit came through to underpin the peppered and sweet meat and made for an excellent match. 

It was at this point in the evening that differences in approaches to wine with food were revealed. The traditional view in the West is that reds should be served room temperature and whites slightly chilled. Chinese style Restaurants in Malaysia normally chill all wines as a matter of course since that is generally what their patrons expect. We guess that the assumption by the staff was "why should the IWFS be any different?" And so it was that we enjoyed extremely chilled reds with the remaining courses. Everyone was entertained by the sight of restaurant staff running around offering hot towels to warm up the wine for those who preferred their beverage more at room temperature. The remaining wines were removed from their ice buckets. 

The tasting change as the wine warmed up was actually quite interesting as different aspects of the wine's character came through. The iced Rioja gave a little dark cherry which became damson with warmth. 
Jeremy and Kalsom Diamond

For the pan fried Australian Beef Fillet we plumped for the special price 2009 Zinfandel from the Ravenswood winery in California's Sonoma Valley. Normally quite muscular, this expression had more of a feminine feel with full fruit, good balance and a round lengthy finish. Less bold than the Rioja, yet retaining the cherry brambly feel in the mouth, the Zin was able to stand up to the beef without overpowering it. The beef itself tasted slightly sweet, and someone remarked that this seemed to be a theme running through all the courses - there seemed to be a sweetness in everything. Not that it was unpleasant; just that it was…   sweet. Maybe it's the sauce that is used to baste and glaze the meat and fish. It was getting a little difficult to distinguish. 

On the home stretch now with one more wine to go. I don't quite recall how the Morande Limited Edition Cab Franc 2008 ended up on the list. I think it was that we don't see much Cab Franc in this part of the world and when the wine supplier gave a silly rather than a special price for it we must have thought "why not?" 

It had been paired with the final course of rice, scallop and crab meat in a superior crab soup. This was where western wine sequencing ran up against eastern food sequencing;  the rice always comes at the end. Traditionally, it is considered good form not to touch the rice as so doing proves to the host that the preceding food was sufficient. Here, it was a delicacy that completed the food sequence with a dose of much needed carbo. So the Cab Franc and rice soup became somewhat unwilling partners. 

In the end, it was not unpleasant. A bit dense with cloves and coffee on the nose and a slightly baked feel, the wine had a pleasant  "end of the night"  kind of quality about it that kept the drinking members at the tables long after everyone else had gone home for the night. The rice soup had a nutty sweetness (that word again) which cut through the tannic structure and lent a counterbalancing sense of velvet on the tongue and palate. 

Li Dong and Rajan with Noble House manager and chef
With snow pear and crispy pancake filled with kaya paste, the evening wound down to a close with Li Dong introducing the chef to the gathering and thanking all for coming to support the function. The food was good to very good but for me fell short of being excellent. The Noble House has found a formula which works extremely well as evidenced by the success of the group and the rest of the restaurant being fully booked out. And they should be commended for being able to turn out consistent well prepared and fine quality dishes for upwards of two and three hundred patrons every night. Perhaps in the phenomenal growth of the group something of the original authenticity has got a little lost in the desire and need to be all things to all people. We see it with hotel restaurants, seemingly a shade fearful of taking a culinary risk and possibly alienating guests of the hotel. Our foodie purists felt that as an expression of Cantonese cuisine the food was way too sweet and would have preferred a more simpler style. 

In all, a most pleasant evening with some sparkling company and lots of laughter and discussion about the food and wines. The pairings for the most part seemed to work well, the iced Rioja was an unexpected experience, though the seeming continual sweetness of all the dishes started to cloy a little after a while. In retrospect, the evening became a good way to honour the memory of our recently departed, engendering that continuity of the spirit in which we all joined the IWFS in the first place - food, wine, fun and friendship. Think maybe Ellen would have enjoyed that. 


International Wine & Food Society Kuala Lumpur

"Fine Dining Chinese Cuisine"

Special Four Appetizers
Crispy Prawn Cracker Thai Style
Cuttle Fish Thai Style
Deep-Fried Eggplant with Chicken Floss
Sea Clam & Lily Bulb in Oyster Sauce

Masia Vallfarmosa Xor del Ray Cava Brut, Macabo, Xarel Io, Parellada NV

Course One and Two
Noble House’s Abalone Three Treasures
Double-Boiled Seafood Soup in Old Cucumber

Masia Vallfarmosa Xor del Ray Cava Brut, Macabo, Xarel Io, Parellada NV

Course Three and Four
Baked Cod Fish with Chef‘s Special Sauce in Dragon Fruit Boat
Stir Fried Hong Kong Kai Lan with Apricot Mushroom

Paul Mas La Forge Estate Chardonnay, Vin de Pays d'Oc, France 2009

Course Five
Charcoal Grilled Pork Rib

Vina Real Reserva 2005

Course Six
Pan-Fried Australian Beef Fillet

Ravenswood Vintners Blend Zinfandel 2009

Course Seven
Two Variety Rice with Scallop & Crab Meat in Superior Crab Soup 

Morande Limited Edition Cabernet Franc 2008

Course Eight
Chilled Hasma in Snow Pear 
Crispy Pancake


Masia Vallfarmosa Xor del Ray Cava Brut, Macabo, Xarel Io, Parellada NV
Vallformosa Winery Cava Brut is a fresh Cava, with a light, long lasting taste and an excellent bouquet - the result of two years ageing. Clean, clear straw in colour, well-integrated bubbles, good yeasty fresh bread aroma with hints of apricot, apples and spice with lemon sherbet on the finish. Rich feel, but elegant and cleansing in the mouth, hinting at the elegant, classical finish to follow. 

Paul Mas La Forge Estate Chardonnay, Vin de Pays d'Oc, France 2009
A rich and smoky Chard with nuanced toasty aromas and flavors of wood-grilled red apples with a caramel drizzle, peach pit and Key lime citrus. Solidly structured with good heft, a long finish and prominent acidity that keeps the wine from going over the edge and being too flabby. Well balanced and very accessible.

Vina Real Reserva 2005
Indicative blend: 90% Tempranillo, 3% Mazuelo, 3% Graciano, 3% Garnacha tinta. Area: Rioja Alavesa Deep ruby and cherry red, with the lightest hint of a terracotta edge. Good intensity on the nose, with ripe autumn fruits, warm spices and elegant toasty oak. The palate is rich, warming and velvet, with good acidity and noble tannin. The vanilla from the oak is beautifully married with the raspberry fruit of the Tempranillo producing a find, rich, complex palate and length of finish.

Ravenswood Vintners Blend Zinfandel 2009
Area: Sonoma, California USA. Raspberries, blueberries, black cherries, and spicy hints of oak spring forth from the fruit-laden aroma of this wine. Well- balanced with supple tannins and a long, fruit-forward but not too jammy finish make this wine a pleasure to drink now and for the next couple of years. A sophisticated yet easy drinking wine.

Morande Limited Edition Cabernet Franc 2008
Area: Maipo Valley, Chile. Deep-red with shades of purple, dense and shining. Black fruits, coffee and dark chocolate. Spicy, with hints of vanilla and cloves. Fresh, rounded and intense with flavours of chocolate, raspberry and black coffee. Great tannins and long persistence. A little funky and cheesy on the nose, with leather, olive and leafy berry fruit aromas. The palate feel is staunch and tannic, a little baked with some heat and smoke but also flavorful and generous.

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