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, March 6, 2014

Soleil Delivers Again!! IWFS Wine Dinner Feb 27th 2014

Following on from our brilliant tour of Penang and a fantastic four nights in Tokyo celebrating the launch of our newest cousin club in Roppongi, the IWFS KL foodies were definitely in the mood for some good hearty Western cuisine. The Penang Laksa and the light as a dreamy feather Tzukiji Fish market Sashimi needed to make way for something that needed to stick in the craw and satisfy that part of us which some call the soul. So it was that the Soleil became the choice for our February gathering. Reservations had all been snapped up well in advance and the numbers had been expanded from the snugly fitting forty to the slightly belt straining forty five on the night. Given that there was another function going on upstairs, it looked as it might be a challenge. It was, but it was adequately and well met.

Soleil Interior
Located in the sleepy Section 17 area of Petaling Jaya to the west of KL, the Soleil restaurant has quickly garnered a well earned reputation for quality preparation and fine wine presentation. It is operated by the SW Wine Group, serving mostly modern European cuisine with subtle Asian influence. The restaurant boasts a plethora of fresh imported and local seafood options as well as other delectable items including a small selection of meats and pastas on its menu. We first heard about it six months ago and have had the opportunity to revisit on four occasions since. Young Belgian Chef Evert Onderbeke has continued to impress with his preparations. The restaurant is managed by old friend Azwan Effandie (previously at Sage) and Wine Sommelier Yuhei Teraoka (previously at Vinum). Our most recent outing there was a fun filled New Year's Eve with our Rowdies and our own wine. Raucous party and great food. 

Arriving a bit late due to to bad traffic on all roads, the party was already in full swing with everyone quaffing the crispily dry Raventos bubbly. A biodynamically produced 3 grape fizz popular in such 3 star Michelins as El Bulli and Arzak, they refuse to adopt the Cava label preferring instead their own Denominacion - the Conca del Riu de Anioa in Penedes. The notes spoke about the wine being "straw coloured with fine bubbles, a nose of brioche, yeast and citrus fruits. Zesty and balanced, it is medium bodied and finishes with a good length." Certainly had the length though lighter in texture and very more-ish. A great easy drinker though with enough for the connoisseur, it provided a good ice breaking start to the evening. 

It was also being paired with the Fresh Crab and Citrus Salad appetizer. On its own, this was lovely. The crab was absolutely delightful, a melange of soft flaky textures and creamy tastes that wafted across the tongue and palate. Against this, the Bloody Mary sorbet gave a cold ice contrast and the addition of Basil sauce became genius, pulling all the textures together with a herby fusing of flavours that just sang together. Rich, opulent and totally luscious. The salad felt like a bit of an afterthought taste-wise but looked good on the plate. Not sure the fizz would have been first choice pairing but it did well. 
Crab and Citrus Salad Appetizer

The Volcano Black Salt sitting in its dish like grated gravel gave a spritzy seaside zap to the butter on the freshly baked bread that fired up the taste buds a treat. A veritable cracker with the fizz and forcing more requests for refills from the nice man with the bottle. He complied. Many times.

The clean and crisp Valdesil
The second wine out was the 2010 Val de Sil Godello (Valdeorras) from Galicia, in Spain. Valdesil is a family-owned winery with grapes produced in slate soil along the River Sil from the oldest Godello vines in the world and acknowledged as some of the top white wines of Galicia. The notes talk about a wine that is "light, bright gold (with) Expressive aromas of citrus, white peaches and floral notes. Richly textured and dry, with a clarity of the gently smoky orchard fruit flavors dominated with fresh apricots and peaches. Finishes on a firm mineral note and some lees influence with firm and well judged acidity." We got a clean crisp bite, smoky fruit, persimmon, with a bit of oil on the tongue. In the mouth it felt like a Steen or Chenin Blanc with that slight oiliness in the texture. Nice lustre on the finish, feeling firm in the descent. It would prove a good match with the langoustine, which was absolutely deeee-lightful. Perhaps a shade overcooked but nevertheless sweet and chewy with a good firm bite. The Pea Coulis and Eggplant Puree lent a vegetal gunge feel to the ensemble which coated the tongue and throat with a slightly salty edge that the wine was able to cut through nicely. But the butter with the volcano salt was still master of the tongue - could chew on this all night. 

Pan Fried Langoustines with Eggplant Puree, Green Pea Coulis and Sauteed Snow Peas

The service of both the food and the wines was proving very good and timely with the starting dishes having come out quite quickly and in brisk succession. Our experience of the restaurant suggested that the later dishes would take a little more time given the timings involved across both lamb and beef. But having two great dishes out early we were now in no great hurry to get fed. A bit of time to enjoy the wines and the company. 
YC Yap, President Rajan and Past President Dato' Jeremy Diamond

Third wine out was the 2011 Albariño, DO Rías Baixas, Pazo de Señoráns, Spain. We were clearly seeing a real Spanish theme in the wines which fit the cuisine nicely. The winemaker's notes talk about a "superb straw colour with green shades, floral aromas and ripe fruit with hints of apple and grapefruit on the nose. Round and well balanced with great length and a lingering finish.” 

Critic Stephen Tanzer gave it 92, noting its "sappy orchard fruit and melon flavours are braced by tangy citrus fruits and dusty minerals, with a touch of tropical fruits emerging on the back half.  Dry, focused and deeply fruity, finishing with impressive clarity and mineral cut.” We found it nicely lean with an opulent feel of sweet honeyed apples in the mouth. Got floral nose with hints of lavender and fresh meadows. 
Tasmanian Ocean trout in Bouillabaisse Broth with Fine Vegetables

The matching Bouillabaisse broth was somewhat light and delicate for me - I like my bouillabaisse to be firm and full and hearty to stave off the nasty winter chill while waiting for the grapes to grow. This evening's offering was well seasoned fish stock lightly salted though with lots of taste, Some later commented that it was a bit "bouillabaissey" which I took to mean over stocked and tending toward the fishy. Perhaps, though not overly so in my book. Just felt the need for a shade more whack in the craw on the way down. The chunks of Ocean Trout felt like lightly poached salmon in the broth and were excellent, whilst the clams felt okay only. I didn't and generally don't do mussels. There's just something about that orange and black on grey and that fringed rubbery look like a pair of schoolgirl's knickers that says yuck. My mussel got swallowed by YC, he clearly taking pity on seeing my disdainful visage. He's good like that.

Past President David Teh (right) and friend
The Albarino stood up nicely to the broth and the salmon chunks, though I find wine and soup are rarely easy to pair together well. Often the best we can hope for is that the wine pushes the soup down and clears the mouth and palate for the next spoonful. Which the Albarino did very well. Good neutral choice with enough body to enjoy on its own whilst coating the throat to ease the food on its way to gustatory oblivion. 

It's always a bit of a bind when there is a choice of main course and when both the two dishes and wines on offer come out at different times. Manners and etiquette demand that no one starts until all the food is on the table. Equally, one likes the proper wine being paired to be on the table with the food. Whilst this was fine for me, it seemed that one guest was unable to start due to the stated pairing wine not being on the table. I think the Barolo was a bit late and he was having the beef which had come out surprisingly fast. Well, yes and okay and I have been equally picky in the past, but lately if there is food on the table and wine to hand then why not? I had the lamb and a glass of something red next to it and was eagerly waiting for the get go. But good manners must prevail, and whilst those waiting for the beef were kind enough to invite those with food to go ahead, most of us didn't. Got to keep the kitchen on its toes under the fear of having the food sent back for getting cold on the table. As said, the beef came out quite quickly. Good timing in the kitchen!

IWFS Wine Sub Comm Chair Prakash with Dr Jag
Normally, the books say a Cabernet is the default wine for lamb. However, the 2009 Kanonkop Pinotage from Stellenbosch had been chosen for the nonce. Seems the Pinotage grape was "invented" in 1925 by the University of Stellenbosch's first professor of viticulture Abraham Izak Perold when he physically brushed a flower of Pinot Noir against a flower of Cinsault (known locally as Hermitage). This created the cross-pollinated variant we know as Pinotage. So. The notes talk of "distinctive spicy, earthy, and smoky flavors along with red fruits especially cherry. Medium to full bodied, it is intense and has a good length." We got dark cherry fruit with rich damson and plum in the mouth though a bit of a claggy throat grip on the finish, not dissimilar to having a glug of cough syrup coating the tonsils. But interesting, nonetheless. 
Oven Baked Rack of Lamb with Sauteed Green Vegetables, Herbs Crumble and Tarragon Sauce

The lamb was magnificent. Tender, and lean though maybe the jus was a bit on the rich side for taste. Matching with the Pinotage was a great move and a revelation. As said, normally the default for lamb would be a Cabernet Sauvignon based wine but this absolutely worked, with the lamb taming the even tannins to let the fruit fully shine through and up the balance to very pleasant indeed. The wine needed the meat there to cut through the clag and render a lovely silk finish on the wine. As a result the wine kept on giving and giving down the bottle. A masterly choice.

President Dr Rajan, Restaurant Manager Effandie and Chef Evert
I had a bite of the roast beef and O what a bite it was. The Soleil has a little bit of a lower reputation for its meat preparation compared to its seafood but tonight it was totally on song. Very nicely done with a good firm bite and chew. The kitchen is clearly improving in the beef regard, though the seafood is still the business and the gift of the chef.

The matching wine selected was the 2001 Paolo Scavino Barolo Carobric. Founded in 1921 the winery produces seven different styles of Barolo, including four single vineyard Barolos. We were having a blend of Cannubi, Rocche di Castiglione Falleto (80%), and Bric dël Fiasc, hence the name (Ca + Ro + Bric). The notes tell of a "slightly bricking medium red violet color. Balsamic, herbal, tar, grassy nose, it opens in the palate with tangy, tart red fruit, cedar, spicy cherry, and green herbs with firm tannins. It finishes medium to long."

We found fair fruit though somewhat lean and slightly harsh on the finish, notwithstanding a six hour decant. It was open enough, just not really enough body or fruit to stand up to the food for me. Not sure if it was worth the WA 94 or WS 93 it had been accorded. Maybe a bit past its prime food wise but still a pleasant enough late evening quaffer. No one else seemed to be complaining. Maybe it was just me. A gobful of big wine can often consume a lighter and more delicate offering - perhaps this was the case here with the Barolo following the Pinotage. Maybe it was just a light Barolo. Maybe I'm getting too prissy about my chug. After all, it's only wine (cue howls of "Sacrilege!! Heresy!!"). It is. Only. Wine.  Yes, we will seek out and drink the magnificent when opportunity allows and enjoy it to the hilt, but otherwise I stand firm that us wineys should not allow detraction from perfect to cloud our enjoyment. All wine is good wine except for that which is chemically undrinkable. The rest is a matter of taste and appreciation. Make observations rather than judgements. Yes. End of sermon.

Orange Tart with Vanilla Jelly served with Lemongrass Ice Cream
Dessert was a jaunty affair of crunchy biscuit with citrus fruit and a very nice combo to boot. Good refreshing fruity acid crunch which set well against the ice cream which itself was creamy light and smooth rather than throat claggy or overpowering.

The staff were getting a bit over-keen of removing glasses and on three occasions I had to restrain them. The glasses were not empty and had remnants for later reference. Got a bit irritated at the third restraint. Yuhei, please take note! However, this aside the IWFS Dinner at the Soleil was delightful. We had some very well thought out wine pairings with some very good tasting and well prepared food and there were very few complaints on the night. Totally excellent evening and always happy to return. No wine was left over. Always a good sign. Cheers!

SOLEIL Menu 27th February, 2014
Pre Dinner
Raventos I Blanc L’Hereu, Penedes, Spain

Fresh Crab and Citrus Salad with Basil Cream and Bloody Mary sorbet
Raventos I Blanc L’Hereu, Penedes, Spain

Pan Fried Langoustines with Eggplant Puree, Green Pea Coulis and Sauteed Snow Peas.
2010 Val de Sil Godello (Valdeorras), Galicia, Spain.

Tasmanian Ocean trout in Bouillabaisse Broth with Fine Vegetables
2011 Albariño, DO Rías Baixas, Pazo de Señoráns, Spain.

Main Course
Pan Seared Black Angus Beef Tenderloin with Sauteed Seasonal Vegetables, and Szechuan Pepper Sauce
Oven Baked Rack of Lamb with Sauteed Green Vegetables, Herbs Crumble and Tarragon Sauce
2009 Kanonkop Pinotage, Stellenbosch, South Africa.
2001 Paolo Scavino Barolo Carobric, Piedmont, Italy.

Orange Tart with Vanilla Jelly served with Lemongrass Ice Cream

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