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, October 22, 2013

Haute cuisine in the Highlands - The Olive at Genting

The dinner came about as a result of friend Speedy Hotrod asking if we were free to join him at an MIGF dinner in Genting and could we send our CVs to the organiser. This duly happened over the next few days and on the day of the dinner we found ourselves rushing home to get dressed "elegantly" ahead of a 90 minute and RM80 rain filled taxi ride up the Highland Mountain to the Genting Grand Hotel. We ended up being so glad to have chosen the taxi option - by the time we got there the heavy mists had rolled in and we would have definitely got lost.

We were greeted by name by the staff at the hotel entrance (wow!) and escorted to the restaurant to meet up with Speedy to sit and chat with a pleasant glass of Ronin Pinot Grigio and a great selection of Italian and Spanish cheese and crispies. Light body, a whisper of alcohol and reasonable acidity, good balance though not really forward in anything. Little in the way of finish, but then it is meant as a welcome wine and not out to whack any home runs. We didn't get to try the canapes.
Interior of The Olive
The restaurant itself comprises two large-ish rooms, one of which was a bar and reception area with a piano and singer on hand to entertain. The ambience of the reception room was pleasanat and soothing. Lovely pastels of red and green with cool blues on the tables. With the pianist and singer crooning the oldies it made for a delightfully relaxing way to start the evening. 

People arrived and we met the hosts Datuk Steve Day and Datin Su of Vision Four Media. A little socialising with a fairly high powered dining group, including some old acquaintances from our entertaining days. I do envy people who are so clearly at ease in this kind of situation and who can flit and glide easily around the room - definitely blessed with great social skills.  Host Datuk Steve gave a brief speech of welcome and invited all to take seats through at the restaurant area. Walking in, we were greeted with two beautifully laid out tables of ten and about thirty staff on hand to guide to the seats. We had the whole place. The restaurant itself has an open kitchen concept where you can see the chef conducting the orchestra to create their culinary symphonies. Not that many of us seemed to be paying much attention. Too busy getting to know our table neighbours. Lenglui and I were separated on this occasion and I found myself next to Tunku Dara and opposite Datin Su. Hugely pleasant company. 

The breads quickly came out with the fizz. I stole a hunk of what the bread man said was Squid Ink Bread, which was a first for me and so demanded a tasting.  Felt a bit firm in the mouth, a shade mealy maybe, but was a knockout bite with the olive tepanade. I think I understand the concept, though perhaps the bread was in need of a shade more salt to bring the ink a bit better to bear. The soft roll would prove very good with the Duck Liver

The appetiser of Water Melon with chilli, shallot, shrimp, pistachio, mint and balsamic looked a strange combo on the plate but proved one which worked extremely well in the mouth. The water melon was genius - lending a soft watery texture and sugar to offset the powerful tastes of the other ingredients. The mint gelee in particular matched the melon texture brilliantly and the pistacchio crunch and balsamic salt gave a cute kick. The chili proved a pleasant rasp on the throat as it went down and as a result gave the dish a long finish. And finish on a dish is something you don't often think about. Finish on a wine, yes, but on a dish? This was new. 

Pairing this complex Appetiser with a sparkling wine made absolute sense, though for me the Poeti Prosecco from the Veneto lacked sufficient body to stand up to the dish. On its own, it came across as medium sweet strawberries and syrup, though thin in body and acidity and consequently not really cleansing enough. A firmer glass of bubbles would have made for a far more memorable experience, something a bit more robust like a Cava or a sparkler from Oz to cleanse the palate and give the dish its proper due.

Salmon starter
The starter Salmon was perfectly poached and pairing it with beetroot puree was wonderful - the sweet acid cut the fish wonderfully and I got a hint of Yuzu in the sauce which brought the sweetness down to just perfect. Lovely smooth chew with a zip of lemon. Again, given the melange of flavours, pairing the dish with something sparkiling made sense, though again a firmer fizz would have transformed the dish. 

The Truffle Cappuccino soup with Chicken Essence and Candied Almond made sense in context as a break from the previous complexity. The truffle aroma in the foam promised much, but for some reason became a bit anticlimactic in the mouth. The broth was rich and not overseasoned, but the chunk of truffle in the soup had lost its soul by the time it made it to the spoon. Pleasant enough dish, but not spectacular. Put me in mind of Brands Chicken Essence with a dash of truffle oil. Now there's a thought….

We were next served the Chapoutier Muscat de Beaumes 2010 from the Rhone. Odd but pleasing perfume nose of Rose Water and almond wafer. Crisp and medium sweet in the mouth with full dates and fig. Nicely balanced, the finish is full and rich. A very good pairing choice, giving good sweet crisp texture to complement and cut through the purine laden Duck Liver.

Entree Duck Liver
The entree Duck Liver felt a bit gamey and powerful on its own, but again the ensemble was out of this world. The plum jam and pomegranete pickles cut the purines in the Duck Liver beautifully and help set off the gamey liver that threatened to overpower everything. The popcorn wasabi was a cute textural zippy crunch, though the brioche came across as a bit sweet and cakey. The Plum Jam had already done the sugar duty so the cherries and sweet brioche felt a bit overkill. The crumbly brioche texture also didn't do it for me. I would have preferred something toasted to lend better texture foundation. Having some of the soft unsweetened bread still on the table was good as a chunk of solid carbo to load the dish combo onto and feel it slide slowly across the tongue. Heaven. 

The 2006 Meshach Old Vine Shiraz we were next served came out full of blackcurrant, smoke and coffe on the nose. Macho and potent, it exuded testosterone. Rich full body of dark berry fruit with the tannins not quite evened out after eight years. Long, rich supple but slightly fierce alcohol finish. Serious big wine with a lot more time left in the bottle.

Veal Shin
The Veal Shin main came to the table looking a bit like a cinderblock - all dark and moody. The veal had apparently been braised for six hours. The result was a somewhat dryish hunk of meat that really didn't go anywhere for me. Firm texture over taste and tending toward dry. The Meshach gave it a bit of life but not really enough to elevate it beyond the ordinary. Sorry guys, the veal didn't work for me. But the potatoes did. These little roast babies were stunning - firm, slightly sweet with crunchy salt skin and so full of a flavour I haven't had for years - could have easily eaten these all night with a bottle of light Bordeaux. Perfecto Potato, double stellar and the best of the night for me. The Pea Risotto was excellent, soaking up the jus a treat yet retaining a sweet freshness and crisp bite. 

The match with the Meshach was okay, I guess. The food evened out the tannins but the sweaty saddle body came right through and pretty much overpowered the food. Perhaps this was a result of the sadly mediocre and under bodied meat, but the wine felt too forceful and bold. Perhaps a Bordeaux or a firm Barolo would have paired better. The Shiraz needed something beefier and more robust to tame it. 

The Dessert was very, very good. A contrasting Fruit Granite with Chocolate nibs and ice cream was delightful - chocolate crunch and creamy goo with a parmesan chocolate crisp to salt the mouth - excellent. Though I couldn't quite fathom why Sommelier would want to pair this with a Port, and a twenty year old one at that. On its own, the Port was somewhat fierce at first, though the high alcohol and sweet tawny mouth were full on. Texturally light to medium bodied, it got better as the mouth adjusted to the high alcohol, though the balance never quite seemed to come into equilibrium. It did nothing for the dessert other than give an alcoholic kick and the ice cream pretty much just swept away the sweet full mouth.  I understand the snob value that serving Port holds over diners, but Olive could have have done away with the port and maybe used the money saved to upgrade the Sparkling wine to something more flattering for the excellent Appetiser and Starter dishes. Chocolate doesn't really benefit from fruit alcohol, though it can be good with Japanese whiskey. Chocolate really prefers coffee, and the espresso that came slightly late was a far better match. My Port went pretty much undrunk, though the funnel type glass in which it was served was charming and a novel way to sip.

I decided to forego the Grappa and Limoncello that were offered which would have indeed put a perfect cap on a most excellent evening of food. 

The restaurant had given us a report card on which to record our views and responses. I kept mine to write this report with a promise I would give it to them. My excuse was they would not be able to read my writing. Quite often, I cannot read it - boozy scribbles get lost the day after. Must say that the Olive Report Card was a very useful template with lots of categories and scorings. They are appended below.

The Olive is clearly a destination restaurant and so naturally needs to offer something over and above what is available in the city to get people to travel up and back down the mountain. For the MIGF they were offering a special rate on overnight stay at the hotel, though whether this will happen in normal season is not clear.

Well done Chef!!
Genting has a reputation as a rich man's playground, possibly as a result of the hangover from the days when it was seen as casino first and resort second. Certainly, the Olive prices are beyond what most Malaysians would be comfortable paying. But then most Malaysians would not want to visit the Olive - only the foodies. And the foodies should be well impressed with the offerings of what is indeed a very good restaurant. The food is excellent to amazing. Chef has talent with a superb sense of pairing fruits with flesh textures. His water melon with shrimp, beetroot with Salmon, pomegranete with Duck Liver - all were brilliant combos of contrasting tastes and textures yet all of which worked magnificently. The wine list is pretty good, though perhaps on this outing some of the wine suggestions fell a bit short. If you know your wines then maybe take your own and brave the corkage. Or order from the list and argue for a discount. The service was efficient and discreet and of very good standard, though given the calibre of the dining group I suspect the staff had been lectured to be on top form. They certainly were. Foodwise, I certainly got wowed by most of the dishes, and the Olive was definitely a dining experience to remember. In sum, yes - it is worth braving the mountain mists to check out the Olive offerings for the MIGF Festival.  Drive safely!

Scores (out of 20)
Ambience - 16
Festival Decor/theme - 12
Canapes - we had the cheeses with Pinot Grigio - 15
Appetiser - 16
Pairing (Prosecco) - 13
Starter - 17
Pairing (Prosecco) - 13
Soup - 12
Entree - 17 (had to minus one for the pastry like Brioche)
Pairing (muscat) - 17
Main - Veal Shin - 14
Wine - Meschach - 18
Pairing - 11
Dessert - 
Wine - Port - 15
Pairing - 9
Service - 18
Value for Money - Food 19, Wine 11
Creative Dining Experience - 18
Overall Dining Experience / Wow factor 17

Compress Water Melon
Chilli, Shallot, Shrimp Powder, Pistachio, Micro Cress, Mint Gelee, Aged Balsamic Yolk
Bottega Vino dei Poeti Prosecco Pink Gold NV, Veneto, Italy

Mi-Cuit Tasmanian Salmon
Marble Confit Potato, Baby Leek, Beetroot Puree with Vin Jaune Cream Sauce
Bottega Vino dei Poeti Prosecco Pink Gold NV, Veneto, Italy

Truffle Cappuccino
Chicken Essence and Candied Almond

Duck Liver
Popcorn wasabi, plum jam, coco brichoe, glace cherries, pomegranate pickles
Muscat de Beaumes de Venise 2010, M. Chapoutier, Rhone, France

Veal Shin
Smoked, Braised, Pea Risotto, Pickles Girolles, Roasted Root Vegetables, Brocollini
Grant Burge Meshach Old Vine Shiraz 2006, Barossa, Australia

Chocolate Fleur De Sel
Berries, Popcorn Ice-Cream, Parmesan Chocolate, Green Apple Snow
Grant Burge 20 Years Old Tawny, Barossa Valley, Australia
Full Festival Menu
RM398 nett per person with wine
RM288 nett per person without wine

Festival Restaurant - The Olive
Cuisine - Western Continental (Pork-Free)
Capacity - 75 pax Inclusive 2 private rooms
Lobby Floor, Genting Grand, Genting Highlands Resort, 69000 Genting Highlands, Pahang

GPS Coordinates
N 3 25.437
E 101 47.558
+603-6105 9668 / +603-6101 1118 ext 7706
+603-6105 2690

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