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.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Wonderful dinner at Chateau Cordeillan-Bages in Pauillac, Bordeaux France

April 14th 2013

Background: IWFS Kuala Lumpur Committee member Wong Yin How had decided to organise a food and wine trip to Bordeaux and San Sebastian touring Chateaux and restaurants. He originally said he had space for 16 but this had expanded to twenty by the time the trip came around. So it was that the group flew out of Kuala Lumpur bound for Paris midnight April 13th. After an uneventful and pretty sleepless 12 hours, we arrived in Paris CDG airport at 6.30am and our tour bus only left at 8.45am after a slight delay in getting our group of twenty herded to where the bus had parked. A supposedly five hour drive to Bordeaux took nearly eight as a result of slowish driving plus the fact that EU drivers need to take mandatory 45 minute rests after three hours on the road. Joy. 

So we were all a bit road weary and frazzled as we checked into our rooms at the Pullman Hotel around 4.30pm. I got even more frazzled due to having to repack and change rooms as a result of the safe, sink and aircon not working. Fair play the hotel let us change without question - but making the 6pm deadline for the bus to our dinner was a rush.

Restaurant interior
For the first dinner on our IWFS Bordeaux Pilgrimage, Yin-How had selected the Chateau Cordeillan-Bages in Pauillac. Originally a 17th Century mansion house, the Chateau is now a hotel with restaurant nestled on a hill just outside the village of Pauillac in the heart of the Medoc. It is also a working vineyard, with two hectares of vines that produce the Chateau Cordeillan-Bages  made by the staff of Chateau Lynch Bages. Unfortunately, we didn't get to try this wine - maybe next time, if there is one.

The bus pulled up after a pleasant forty minute drive along the snakey Bordeaux road and we degorged freshly showered and dressed for dinner. The sky was a lovely pastel sunset blue and shone fiercely as we posed for photos in the outdoor reception gardens area whilst clinking our glasses of Taittinger NV Prestige Rose. This proved terribly more-ish with its amazing crispy light cherry mouth and sleek rousing finish. It also proved an able companion for the equally moreish appetizers - olive crisps with goats cheese, meatball croquets and a crunchy fishmeat mini pie. We were all pretty hungry after little more than a ham and cheese baguette for lunch and the appetizers got demolished quite quickly. There were some vines growing various varietals and some were already budding in the warmth of the early spring sun. 

We lingered on the grounds for about thirty minutes until the evening chill drove us indoors and we ambled in to the restaurant. Two long tables had been set for the twenty of us. For some reason, we seemed to naturally divide into vintage and new growth members. Perhaps this was why our table was the more noisy as the evening passed.

May Peng, Chef Rocha and Yin How
Chef Jean Luc Rocha came out early to present the menu to us. Having been second in command to Patrick Henriroux at La Pyramide in Vienne, and then Thierry Marx at Cordeillan-Bages (both two starred), Chef Jean-Luc Rocha took sole charge of the Cordeillan-Bages kitchen in 2010.  Combining technique with tradition and rigorous technical skills with a thorough knowledge of the modern school of French cuisine, Chef Jean-Luc presents  a "delicious, no-nonsense, balanced cuisine to which he succeeds in adding a touch of fantasy and sophistication." It is perhaps these qualities that earned Chef the coveted title of Meilleur Ouvrier de France in 2007. 

Our Amuse Bouche indeed amused with a foamy crunch. My notes are illegible, except for the fact that the cauliflower foam kept finishing long after it should have done. Quite a number of repeat performances and encores with this one, though the Rose Fizz tamed its drum section well in time for the first gastronomic movement. 

The fizz got finished off and the Dagueneau "Pur Sang" Pouilly Fume 2007 got poured. This was a difficult one to put into words. It had the aroma  and mouth of a Riesling but finished like a fine white burgundy with baked apples and ouzo on the throat. Slightly industial on the finish and a shade high in alcohol, but drank like a champion. 

It seemed that we were having Yuzu butter with our bread. The Yuzu fruit is native to Japan (though apparently originating in China) with a citrus taste like a cross of grapefruit with mandarin orange.  The citrus element to the butter naturally counterpointed oil with acidity and made for an interesting sensation on the tongue. 

Dungeness and King Crab
The Dungeness and King Crab were beautifully presented with the crab's orange-red and the green of the mousse standing out on snow white plates like a national flag. Peeling like tender threads, the crab tamed off the industrial aspects of the Pur Sang to let the apple crisp finish kick in a little firmer. The aniseed mousse gave a little umami boost to the crab but the real deal was loading the Crab and Mousse on the slightly salted fresh bread and Yuzu butter. There was butter crab with creamy lemon and carbo and….  ooof. Total Mind blower. Haven't had the mind blown like that since…  wow….  just had a total flashback of colours and lights and Close Encounters with mushrooms... but that's another story.

Whilst the Pur Sang handled this mind blowing combo nicely, the Leflaive "Clavoillon" Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru 2008 brought it full on to another level. Though somewhat tight on the nose, the fresh apples and firmer structure made for a creamy mouth full of orange blossom and complex buttery heaven. The absolute business. The 2008 drinks very well. Matter of fact, all the vintages drink very well….   Stunning wine.

The Leflaive was scheduled to last through the Cod loin and most of us were disciplined enough to ensure that it did. Those of us who had kept some Pur Sang were also nicely rewarded with a somewhat texturally sweeter sensation, with a crisp acid honey character coming through. Such a verstaile wine - could also be used as a dessert wine at a stretch. The Leflaive was naturally excellent with the Cod and the Cheesy raviole brought out the butter without sacrificing the backbone and firmness of the wine. Good match.

Cod Loin with Raviole
The fish itself was excellent - firm tender flakes from the sea given a wood and earthy touch by the mushrooms and beef broth - you want surf and turf, this is a good way to go. Not sure how the cheese ravioli fit into all of this, but it did give creamy carbo to the broth and was nicely soaked up by the bread. In fact, the broth was better with the bread than with the fish. I guess I am a peasant when it comes to food - give me a bowl of rich thick soup or gravy and a hunk of crust bread and I'm happier than a dog in a mudpool. Quite what I am doing talking about all this haute cuisine is sometimes beyond me. But there we go. Sometimes you just have to trust and hope that there is some higher purpose in all this scribbling.

Our wine drinking seemed to be moving faster than the food was coming out with the result that the Pommard got poured slightly earlier than optimum. On balance, it might have been better to have waited for the lamb, but after eight hours in a bus it did not seem wise to argue with the group. They looked, and in fact clearly were, thirsty. Pouring it early did give the wine a chance to air in the glass - always a reason for everything, eh?

The Pommard was unusual - a bit farmyard compost and mushroom to start but opened out into somewhat less compost. Cherry nose with sour cherry and soursop mouth feel and a sweetly sharp finish. Stern in character, but full in body. 

Suckling Lamb
Wikipedia defines Quenelle as "a mixture of creamed fish, chicken, or meat, sometimes combined with breadcrumbs, with a light egg binding." So it was that the Conger Eel Quenelle came out like a mousse of lightly scrambled eggs into which the pre-sauted Eel had been, er, scrambled. The seaweed butter emulsion made for a rich salty zip which went better with the Leflaive than anything else. The butter just made the Pommard taste sharp though the Pur Sang did quite well - the burgundian finish undercut the egg and supported the eel nicely. 

The meal to this point had been brilliant, but the Suckling Lamb proved to be the piece de resistance. It was simply and utterly fantastic. Grilled chops with a crumb crust, it was amazingly tender and massive in taste. Firm but soft, some chew but still melting in the mouth. Like the most perfect taste of lamb you could ever get in a lifetime. Beyond words and way, WAY off the planet. Never knew lamb could taste like this. That's the downside when you taste something like this - most of what you will eat in the future will pale in the comparison. A high price. But given the taste of this lamb, absolutely worth every future mouthful of meat. Could almost turn vegetarian after this. Almost.

Chocolate dessert
The Clos Rougeard was poured and proved an excellent partner. Crisp cherries and dark fruit on the nose and coming over like a light Bordeaux in body, it brought out a slight orange zest in the lamb. It somewhat outshone the Pommard in the matching regard. Given that lamb and cabernet sauvignon are standard partners, the Bordeaux quality of the Clos gave it the edge on this occasion. A totally lovely wine, with flowers of spring and summer and a breath of fresh French air across the vines - life giving, lung filling, pure enlightenment in a bottle. Would be interesting to match the Pommard with a duck, though. That acidic punch would tenderise the purines a treat.

Dessert was a melange of dark mint crisp goo and dark mint nibs with hints of greenpepper across a firm pear sorbet which, when all put together, came out like Lime sorbet with crushed nuts. A good chocolate crunch on which to end the evening, though some of us preferred to finish off the Pommard. 

The service was excellent all through the night, though maybe a few more descriptions of what we were eating would have proven useful. Napkins got replaced on bathroom visits and glasses refilled quietly and efficiently. Bathroom had real cotton towels and was clean and light. Top end. 

In sum, a magnificent meal in a wonderful venue with excellent service and great wines and company. When we had signed up for this trip, we had little to no expectations as to the food or the wine or the restaurants. We figured whatever we would get would be good. And if Cordeillan Bages was to be a precursor of food and wine to come, we were in for a magnificent ride. Chef Rocha is worth every inch his awards - the ensembles work well together whilst his mains are prepared and presented almost to perfection. And Yin How's selections proved to be both wines of tremendous character and excellent matches to the food. No hesitation in recommending Chateau Cordeillan Bages restaurant to dine. Be sure to bring Yin How to choose the wines.
Good Night!!

Chateau Cordeillan-Bages
33250 Pauillac
Tel - 33(0)5 56592424


Pre Starter
Wines, take a bow...
Dungeness and king crab, aniseed flavoured mousse and garden greens
Cod loin, Cantal cheese raviole, mushrooms and toast flavoured beef broth
Conger eel quenelle, seaweed butter emulsion from Maison Bordier
Suckling lamb in a zesty Viennoise crumb, grilled chop, oriental style carrot
Pre dessert
Guanaja chocolate cream, caramelised cocoa nibs and pear sorbet
Sweets and pastries

The Wines

Taittinger NV Prestige Rose
Dagueneau "Pur Sang" Pouilly Fume 2007
Leflaive "Clavoillon" Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru 2008
Comte Armand "Les Epeneaux" Pommard 1er Cru 2001
Clos Rougeard "Le Bourg" Saumer Champigny 2006

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