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, December 4, 2012

IWFS Vintry Ampang Nov 2012 - Excellent wines, okay food


The latest IWFS Kuala Lumpur eating adventure took place at the recently opened Vintry in Ampang. Located in the middle of a row of shophouses just off the main Ampang road, this third in the Malaysian chain sports the warm and welcoming shelves of wine to choose for enjoying with the dinner that is served in the upstairs section. Lots of wood and barrels doubling as bars for drinks and chat set a homely rustic feel. 

Champagne ladies!
Billed as "A True Vintry Experience" both the food and wine looked promising matches. French style entrees with Wagyu beef or Iberico pork ribs as the main being paired with French and Italian wines. Chef Esther as resident chef at the Ampang outlet was joined by Chef Wayne from the Vintry outlet in Singapore who had been flown in to join the culinary fun. 

There were 54 members and guests in attendance on the night, all being welcomed with a glass of freshly sweetish prosecco. The Vetriano was billed as a classic dry style with citrus and lemon nose and crisp apple acidity and lemon zest on the palate. The sweetness got a bit cloying by the fourth glass, though perhaps this was more the wine warming up. Went very nicely with some amazing canapes - goat's cheese and apricot jam on crackers and the skewered prunes wrapped in bacon were a total delight. Vintry really does the finger food tremendously well.

YC Yap, Barry Shaw and Brian Mack
Everyone got herded up the stairs to the dining area and seated in a medieval style setting on benches of tables with two smaller groups parked next to the bar. A bit of a tight fit but no one seemed to be complaining. The airconditioners were blowing full blast and got a bit cold if one was sat directly in their path. When it was discovered that the kitchen was downstairs at the back of the restaurant and that the food had to run the gauntlet of all the airconditioning, the more pessimistic started grumbling about the spectre of the food coming out cold. The more optimistic felt all shoud give the place a chance. 

The first wine out of the blocks was the Les Heritiers de Lafon Vire Clesse 2010. An Allan Meadows 91 pointer, Vintry owner Wong Yin How's verbal introduction suggested crisp minerality whilst the tasting notes spoke of a "fresh bright nose of ripe yellow orchard fruit" and "generous, seductive and opulent medium-bodied flavours that possess excellent intensity on the vibrant, balanced, palate staining and long citrus-infused finish." The table bibbers got apples and oak on the nose and palate, a crisp full body with melons and apples and a slightly chewy texture and a long citrus finish. 

There seemed to be quite a time gap between the wine and the food arriving at the table, with the result that half the wine had disappeared before the food made it from downstairs. This can make the exercise of seeking to comment on the wine and food matches a shade redundant, especially if the policy in place is a single glass per person per course. Which seemed to indeed be in place since no refilling bottles appeared evident. At least the subzero aircon did sterling work in keeping the wine nicely chilled in the glass. It did eventually warm and started giving off honey notes on the nose.

The first course of Papillote of Cod topped with Ikura and drizzled with a sweet lemon and butter emulsion eventually appeared and was ultimately worth the wait. Preparing food en papillote means the food is wrapped "in parchment" paper and steamed in a conventional oven, with liquid occasionally added to give flavor and the steam. It is a delicate process, requiring foods that cook quickly whilst remaining sufficiently able to absorb the range of herb and seasoning in the bouillon. Non oily fish is the default choice. 

Papillote of Cod
The Papillote texture was one of a beautifully fluffy omelette that floated across the tongue, given sweet and crispy wings by fresh tomato and salt from the Ikura. Most commented that the Papillote was similar to Otak Otak, a South Asian fish cake made with fish paste, herbs, spices and eggs, though the Papillote lacked the bite of Otak Otak. It cut the minerality in the Lafon, thus enhancing the fruit whilst maintaining the crispness of the wine. A most pleasant match.

The second dinner wine was the Guigal Crozes Hermitage Blanc 2010 from the Rhone. The Guigal reds are regular wine choices when seen on the wine lists in KL's restaurants. A Wine Advocate 89 pointer, the Guigal had the same blend of grapes as the Lafon, though with more minerality and higher acids as well as less flesh, depth and fat. It is a stylish, Chablis-like Crozes to drink in its first 4-5 years of life."  Yin How suggested apricots and honeysuckle to be found in the wine, it was a shade overchilled so no nose was immediately apparent. We got flint and steel minerality and honey and melon in the mouth, though a shade oily in texture. Liquorice and nutmeg, cinnamon spice, long lovely finish. 

Again, the gap between wine and food seemed to border on the interminable. The second course was Provencal Style Bouillabaise Infused with Saffron and served with garlic bread wafers. Seems the soup had been simmered for half a day with a combination of fishes. Our fears of the effect of running the subzero aircon gauntlet were realised when the Bouillabaise came to the table with the fish pieces cold and a bit overcooked. Oddly enough, no one sent it back, possibly fearing it might take a second age to come back to the table. The broth is traditionally the key to great Bouillabaise and the Vintry offering came across as spicy though not overly so. The garlic bread wafers gave a butternut sweetness to the broth whilst both let the Guigal give off some persimmon fruit on the palate. 

There was a comment to the effect that having two fish dishes follow each other did not somehow feel proper and that maybe a different texture might have been more appropriate. Research could not find anything to suggest that having two fish courses served one after the other was wrong. The web experts seem to say that so long as there is contrast in colours, tastes, textures and temperatures and the entire menu has a sense of movement and unity, nothing is improper. 

Stephanie, Edna and Lily
The third wine was the Domaine Taupenot Merme Chambolle Musigny 2008. Developed by the 7th generation brother and sister team of Romain and Virginie, the notes of this Allan Meadows 86 pointer spoke of an "airy, bright and pure red pinot fruit nose nuanced by a hint of minerality that transfers over to the lilting and lacy middle weight flavours that are supple, forward and refined." Yin How suggested it to be a classically elegant and aromatic Burgundy and so it proved to be. Lovely nose of black cherry and liquorice, light in body yet supple in texture with firm tannins beautifully balanced, spice on the palate with a clean medium finish. 

Third course was a Foie Gras Mousse and Goose Salami duo served with strawberry coulis on brown bread. This was a bit strange, reminiscent of an open sandwich that had been shrunk. Tastewise, the bread overpowered all else that came on top so that any blending of food tastes and textures got lost in the rich darkness of the rye. When separated, each element was excellent - the goose salami paired particularly well with the Chambolle whilst the Foie Gras mousse pretty much evaporated on contact with the roof of the mouth. Someone once described Foie Gras as "meat butter" which would make the mousse more of a whipped meat cream. Possibly a shade molecular for many tastes and needing a less rich bread base. Credit for seeking to experiment, though maybe a case of the parts being better than the sum. 

The fourth wine was the robust Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino 2007.  Apparently served from magnums and decanted for three hours, this Wine Advocate 93 pointer "bursts from the glass with freshly cut flowers, violets, leather, licorice and black cherries. Firm underlying tannins lend vibrancy to the voluptuous fruit."  Beautiful wine. We got a powerful nose of brambles and black cherry and spice with chocolate and coffee notes. Firm astringent tannins, lovely full body and long on the palate with a firm medium finish. One to keep, 

Fourth course was a choice of either Smoked Spanish Iberico Pork Loin Ribs or Braised Wagyu Beef Cheeks with hand-picked wild mushrooms with each being served with the same truffle infused mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables. The lightly peppered ribs were excellent and an excellent match with the Brunello, though the chef's decision to cut them short rather than leave them long drew some comment from those who presumably like to chew on the bone. The meat cut the tannins nicely and let the fruit come through to dance with the pepper on the tongue. 

Wagyu Beef Cheeks
Wagyu is the meat that comes from those breeds of cattle which have huge levels of fat lined through the meat, hence the term "marbled". There is an art to developing the marbling, and the cattle are treated like royalty with special feeding of top quality grains, beer, and the legendary massaging. Originating in Japan, the cattle are now bred in both the US and Australia where feeding the cattle is more economically sensible than needing to import the special feed for the cattle in Japan. A quick taste of the beef cheeks with the garlic mash found them to be of very good texture with that traditional melt in the mouth oily coating that good wagyu gives. The sauce was nicely bland, givng the cheeks enough gravy for taste though not so much to mask the meat - a welcome change compared to the wagyu decisions of other restaurants. They showed off the wine quite nicely, though, with the sauce and texture mingling with the fruit to give that great sense of well being that ony great food and wine can truly give. A good expression for those who enjoy the wagyu. 

Dessert was Caramelised Peaches, Apples and Apricot Clafouti served with vanilla ice-cream which was a sweetly crisp and crunchy way to round off the evening, as was the generosity of the staff with the remaining Brunello and Chambolle. 

In sum, the wines were wonderful whilst the food ranged from average to very good. The canapes were totally off the map tasty, the ribs were excellent whilst the beef cheeks were well prepared and not over sauced. The Papillote and the Bouillabaise broth had nice body and texture. The progression of the menu was visually pleasant and texturally good, though maybe a question over having two fish dishes follow each other. Some found it a bit odd. The Foie Gras mousse came across as experimental but the ensemble missed the taste mark completely, thanks to the overly rich bread. The cold fish was disappointing. 

As an occasional regular at other Vintry outlets, it does seem to be a Vintry characteristic that the pork dishes are consistently very good whilst other types of fare tend to pale in comparison. They seem to lack that smack inside the mouth quality that the pork dishes regularly display. The offerings are consistently good, but always seem to lack that quintessential quality that would convert the dining into "fine". The Vintry in Ampang should prove a most pleasant detour and watering stop should one find themselves shopping at the excellent Ampang Mini Market on the corner of the block. As a destination restaurant, the prospect of fighting the Ampang Road traffic to get there for those of us living on the other side of town is a daunting one. Great for those living on that side of town, but the rest of us will stick to the Ribs in Damansara. 

 Photos by Jan Shaw

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