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.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Artisan Wines at Soleil - hmmm...

Hmmm….   feels difficult to grade this one. On paper, it looked amazing - the menu, the wines, the venue. And foodwise there were excellent standout dishes. It just didn't quite feel… value. Not to say that it wasn't value, given the wines and the food; I just didn't…  quite….  FEEL the value. Whenever I eat more bread during dinner or make a sandwich at home for supper, then the belly clearly feels there was not enough whack in the evening's food. And being sober enough to actually make the sandwich and remembering to drink water suggests the wine pourings were perhaps a bit thin. But as elsewhere said, there is always a context. Perhaps it was coming off the back of a hugely generous wine dinner hosted by Cave and Cellar at the Enfin a few days previously. Perhaps I'm getting greedy. Certainly not losing any weight - putting it on if anything… 

Upstairs at the Soleil
Arriving at the Soleil and getting greeted by both Yuhei and Effandie and climbing the stairs we got met by Dave Chan of Artisan Cellars and a glass of his very pleasant champagne. Artisan Cellars are Singapore based and have just opened an office here in KL. Their focus is on wines that naturally have an artisanal quality about them and seek to bring them to wider market. In my readings, there seems occasionally to be a sense of the cult about some of the wine makers in this particular genre. But it was an opportunity to try some wines of the style and so get direct experience on the tongue rather than the views of others.

The NV Chartogne Taillet Sainte Anne Brut champagne itself had good character and taste, not too sweet and with medium body. A blend of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir, the notes talk about "mineral driven…bright and floral, with a supple refined texture and a subtle richness and depth on the attack… the finish is lively, dry and precise." We got not much in the way of fruit but did get good clean bubbles which for some reason I was able to smell the biscuit in them. The staff were not too enthusiastic in refilling, probably feeling the need to retain some for the Oysters. Well, and okay, but there seemed to be quite a few empty glasses being toted in the pre dinner mingling which felt not quite right.

We were also advised to try the Champagne in a white wine glass instead of the flute. Recent new vinous nous suggests that flutes do not show off all of a sparkling wine's expressions and these can be better appreciated in a traditional glass. The white wine glass did change the wine's character, though the bubbles evaporated more quickly. We'll see. Time was, sparkling was thought only servable in the Marie Antoinette cups, still beloved of wedding fountains. Think I'll stick to flutes.

Fine de Claire Oysters - ooo la la...
The lovely and freshly baked bread rolls came out and so did our Fine de Claire Oysters. Fine de Claire Oysters come from Marennes-OlĂ©ron in Southwest France. The name derives from the refining process these oysters undergo before being sent to market. For one or two months, they are placed in the Marennes-Oleron salt marsh ponds known as "claires" which presumably "clear" the oyster and give it its delicate less fleshy texture and slight hazelnut taste. It was less firm in texture than those we normally get at the hotel buffet, and somewhat smaller. The trouble with oysters is that they slip right down before one has the real chance to feel any texture. Having said that, these were indeed lovely, and giving a nice salty zing to the fizz. 

Steamed Dutch Mussels
The Dutch Mussels that quickly followed were brilliant - amazingly fresh and steamed in white wine with some raw chopped Serai (lemongrass) added for taste and crunch to the broth which really set the thing off. Perhaps a shade more pepper bite in the broth would have added a slight zing for taste, but that's just me. Pairing with the light 2010 Domaine De L'Ecu "Orthogneiss" Muscadet made sense, nothing too complicated to get in the way of the food. Apparently available in restaurants such as Noma, Bernardin and Astrance, the notes spoke of "one of the best bottles in the region. The marine spirit is immediately suggested by an intense minerality." For us it gave meadow fresh apples and acacia on the nose and a light lemony tinge on the tongue. Light and easy, with enough body to maintain interest. Must have missed the minerality. Not sure if it would match Malaysian or Chinese cuisine, but it was excellent with the shellfish. 

Grilled Turbot
The delightful grilled Turbot felt like it had a drizzle of oil and butter which helped to boost the Saffron sauce and give an overall rich texture to the dish. This helped it pair very well with the oily and voluptuous 2011 Vin De Pays "Romaneaux Destezet" Blanc from Herve Souhaut. A blend of 90% Roussanne and 10% Viogner, the notes talk of "a glorious, floral wine that has freshness and elegance as attributes and avoids the unctuous flabbiness and excessive oakiness that wines from this area can suffer from. It is wonderful and generous but also precise and true." Elsewhere, Wine Anorak says "..they are utterly beautiful, elegant creations, made from old vines with very little sulphur dioxide added." We found it nicely balanced with chewy apricots and spice tropical fruits, it retained just enough acidity for the fish to cut through and produce a velvet opulence swishing around in the mouth. Fabulous dish and a great match. 
Two Lenglui
The 2010 Marsannay Cuvee Marie Ragonneau from Charles Audoin had better balance, though a bit farmyard on the nose. The Burghound notes talk of "…aromatically similar to the Bourgogne but a lot more complexity to the ripe and distinctly earth-suffused nose. There is good detail and punch to the attractively layered favours that are phenolically mature tannins on the balanced and solidly persistent finish. This is a lovely wine that should reward well short term cellaring."  Nice light cherry, balanced with chewy tannins, spicily sweet. Classically Burgundian - light and easy and drinkable. Though the table felt it would not really be a keeper. Maybe with about two years left in the bottle. But it showed well tonight and drank well with the tenderloin.

In contrast, the 2011 Gevrey-Chambertin Vielle Vignes from Olivier Bernstein showed a big, bold nose of herbs. People were getting tarragon, rocket and dandelion. The Burghound notes say "A notably ripe nose of dark berries, earth and underbrush leads to rich, round and quite suave middle weight flavours that possess a lovely sense of underlying tension of the delicious, well balanced and persistent finish. A quality villages that should be approachable young if desired." Certainly very young in the mouth with fair fruit with sharp bitter tannins and shades of stalk on the finish. Quite a demanding wine, and not one to be drunk alone. For me, it didn't buzz any bells. The Gevrey somehow "felt" artisanal, with perhaps too much character and not enough refinement that I could detect. I also did not feel there to be enough fruit or acidity for it to be a keeper. It did get better down the bottle and showed off its fruit, spice and pepper cherry character. It was just… not really enjoyable to drink. Lacked a degree of finesse that I somehow have got used to. Maybe it worked with the Pigeon. Didn't do much for the Beef.

Beef Tenderloin
Service of the tenderloin was quite erratic with several coming out quite late. One can normally give some leeway, but with only 27 diners it needs pointing out. My tenderloin felt a bit overdone on the edges but got better into the meat. Lovely texture and taste with the char adding enough for crunch. The potato was equally excellent. 

Neighbour Richard had sent his back, having previously asked for rare and getting medium. When it came, I snagged a taste. Wow. So this is how it would taste to the lions. Lean and raw, chewy. Now I understand the appeal of rare, though the meat needs to be top quality. It could also have been perhaps a 100g more of it on the plate which would have tipped the balance more to the better side of replete. 

Chocolate Fondant - magnifique...
The Chocolate Fondant Dessert was wonderful. Dark chocolate nibs with a coconut bite and butter taste. Rich chocolate goo in a souffle chocolate crusty crunch sponge and milky smooth ice cream. Darling, total and absolute darling.  

In sum, the food was very good, the champagne okay, the muscadet light, the Roussanne firm and bold, the Marsannay a classic easy burgundy and the Gevrey a bit TOO artisan. Soleil is legend for its fish and tonight was up to its usual stellar standard. I think I have said elsewhere that the meat dishes do not match the fish standard, though they are getting better. Not sure if portions are shrinking. No one else has said so it's probably just me. Feeling was that the wines were a bit the wrong side of price friendly for what they were. I'm all for biodynamic and organic wines and will pay some premium for them. But the premium here felt a bit too heavy compared to what is available in the market. And from this experience, the artisanal may well be an acquired taste. Nonetheless, a productive educational experience and good exposure to a wine style we don't often get. They mostly paired extremely well with the European style food at Soleil but might have a hard time with other cuisines in this part of the world. 

The Wines
2 Fine de Claire Oysters
NV Chartogne Taillet Sainte Anne Brut

Steamed Dutch Mussels with White Wine and Lemongrass
2010 Domaine de L'Ecu Muscadet de Sevre et Maine Sur Lie "Orthogneiss"

Grilled Atlantic Turbot with sauteed Green Asparagus and Saffron Emulsion
2011 Herve Souhaut Vin De Pays "Romaneaux Destezet" Blanc

Roasted Pigeon with Sauteed Baby Spinach, Natural Jus and Sweet Corn Croquette
Pan Seared Black Angus Beef Tenderloin with Sauteed Baby Spinach, Red wine Sauce and Roasted Kipfler Potatoes
2010 Charles Audoin Marsannay Cuvee Marie Ragonneau
2011 Olivier Bernstein Gevrey-Chambertin Vielle Vignes

Valrhona Araguani Chocolate Fondant with Turmeric Ice Cream

April 3, 2014

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