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, July 3, 2014

Menage A Trois with Lanson Champagne at Brasserie Enfin

8th April 2014

This one has been lying on the desk for clearly too long so time to get it up in the blog as it was a cracker of a night. Notwithstanding some occasional iffy pairings, it was an evening of great food and fizz. 

We were a bit apprehensive of going to this one, given our horrendous traffic experience of the previous visit to the Enfin. Indeed, the view of the road from the office was horrific. We opted to try a different roundabout route on the NKVE which proved surprisingly swift - forty minutes in heavy but moving traffic. Lesson learnt - avoid the Federal Highway in the afternoon. Although previous experience in driving back to KL from a wine pickup at the Cave and Cellar suggests that the NKVE is still slow - well, at least the slip road going up to it - a continuous massive jam across all the lanes from the toll booth with cars and lorries jockeying to get into the one they want. Federal back is also not much better - backlogs trying to join up with it through and often past the Sunway turnoff. Nightmare. 

So it was we found ourselves in the Ara Damansara Oasis with about forty minutes to kill before corks up. We wandered around the complex, working up a thirst and checking out the various outlets. Not greatly busy at this time, though the concept is pleasant - food eateries around a pool which spouts water and gets lit up prettily after sundown. Worth a visit just for the buzz. 

The Lanson range
The evening was to be a showcase of Lanson Champagnes paired with Chef Justin's excellent food. We were joined by Anson Hobbs the Lawson rep for Asia Pacific, who once lived in Hong Kong and was now based in Reims. We told him of an impending trip to France in September and he said it was a good time to visit. Can get a TGV from CDG which takes 29 minutes to get to Reims. Tempting…

We were being joined by The Doc and The Geezer who was a late addition and also got surprised when fellow Porkie May Peng and IWFS kaki Rhian also got parked at our table. Oh dear. This could get boozy. 

The Lanson Range
The notes say Lanson is one of the oldest Champagne Houses, blending Pinot Noir and Chardonnay sourced from the region's best Crus - Verzenay, Avixe, Bouzy (what a name!) and Oger. The grapes go straight into press and fermentation and bottle with no secondary malolactic taking place - owner Victor Lanson decided to maintain a unique freshness that results from leaving nature to do what she does without too much interference in the wine making process. The claim is that this "allows the best aromas of the fruit to develop and reveals the original purity of the grape." Okay, we'll give it a go.

Our host and rep for Lanson Anton Hobbs got up to say that Champagne was the drink of Kings, with Royal Warrants and Seals being given only to the best. Lanson was a bit unique in that its crest was the English Cross. Not many English families get a French Warrant to make champagne for the King. Lanson is also a regular sponsor for both the French Open and Wimbledon, selling about 25,000 bottles per event. Never see a bottle being shook on Centre Court, though - maybe a marketing opportunity being missed here? He talked a bit about the presence of the Malic acid which could be found by virtue of the apples taste in our first fizz. Certainly a unique tasting champagne with the apples, though tending toward coming off like a fizzy cider. Nice, though a bit of a shock to those used to more biscuit and neutral bubbles. 

The first fizz out (Lanson Black) was sweet and big lemon spritzy on the tongue, reminiscent of a good bottle of Cream Soda Pop. Lovely bubbles. To join it was the Chef's complimentary - a macaroon laced with a combo of wasabi, natural obiko and black olive paste. Total umami and salt which set off the sugary and dissolving macaroon very nicely. Here, the apple champagne showed its chops - the apple gave the fruit on the tongue whilst the bubbles seared the tastebuds and ripped the sugar from the cheeks a rare treat. Zippy? Double zippy. A full blown sweet salty blitz with fizzing bubbles zapping everywhere. Total bzzzzt on the tongue. 
One Oysters Trio of Strawberry Gastrique, Watermelon Gazpacho and Grapefruit Gelee

The Oysters fresh from the West Coast of Canada came out a bit warm at room temperature, which again was a shock given the usual penchant for them to be served cold and on ice. But they were huge, big suckers and damn beautiful in the mouth.  Truth be said, they were more of a throatful than a mouthful, and being able to actually bite into an oyster rather than the usual let it slip down the throat was wonderful. Each oyster had a different fruit taste and texture, with strawberry, watermelon and grapefruit combined with occasional chili to give off tremendous sensations across the mouth. Very tasty. The paired lanson Black Label gave out pear and citrus and grapefruit, which was claimed to be a great match with the grapefruit oyster. Well, and maybe - there was a bit too much seashore in the oyster to tell for me. But truth be told I was just enjoying their hugeness and the sensation of chewing was delightful. A good full bodied starter, though perhaps a better fizz would have made it phenomenal. Chef James started talking about UMAMI which he said is a savoriness you generally get from meat. He said he was able to heighten the umami in the oysters through use of the fruits to increase the saliva factor. Okay…  I may have got this wrong, maybe hearing one thing and understanding another. Maybe better check. Notes say the sugar from the strawberry gives a bloody umami to the oyster and the same with the watermelon. Whatever.

Not for the first time did there appear to be a lot of instructing and explaining from Chef James going on. There is a reason - the chit chat gives the kitchen a bit more time to get the food out. Makes sense, though the belly can be a hard task master when it is hungry. At least we had had the oysters and amuse bouche to quiet the grumbles. 
Boston Lobster Ceviche with Rose Essence and Crab Cucumber Tian with Coriander and Avocado Creme

The Boston Lobster Ceviche with Rose Essence was being paired with the Lanson Rose. We were told that the wine is not left on the lees since this imports tannins which are not desirable in fizz. Make sense. The Rose was a nicely brisk and dry brushsweep across the tongue, though the balance felt a bit on the acidic side. Natural strawberry notes, but the bubbles seemed to die quite fast. It did indeed bring out the floral rose in the Lobster Ceviche. giving a sense of Turkish Delight about the whole thing. The downside was that this was pretty much all there was - didn't get much of a lobster taste in the lobster. It was all roses and texture and somehow missing something on the tongue. For some reason it reminded of Crocodile meat we once had in Cape Town in South Africa - chewy, slight rubber texture but more tender and with a nice bounce on the bite. It did cut the acidity in the Rose giving rise to a much better balance in the wine, though somewhat at the expense of the food. Unfortunate.

The Doc's fizz seemed far less fizzy than ours, so we sent the glass back suspecting some washing up liquid left in the glass was the culprit. It was.

The crab was excellent - textured and juicy sweet meat which went double belter champion with the avocado. It was also far better with the first fizz than the Rose, boosting the fruit and amplifying the sweet crab. Outstanding match - shame it couldn't have been the official one. The Rose was a bit floral for the crab and tended to mask the avocado.

The 1999 Vintage Lanson Gold Label came out ahead of the Chicken and came over as somewhat masculine in its bold acidity and firm bubbles. A complex biscuit on the nose, it was in beautiful balance. An easy drinker with clean bubbles, rich and full in the mouth with almond, honey, and apricot marmalade leading to a somewhat throat oily rich finish. Yum. Wine of the night. We asked for many refills. Candy obliged. Nice girl. This fizz showed its class later in the night when it got revisited after some time in the glass; still retaining an excellent body and character even after the fizz had, er, fuzz…

The Mushroom has a splash of vinegar which cut nicely through the earth notes. Abalone I have yet to really get - all is mostly texture, though the salt and zap of the mushroom gives a nice blitz on the back tongue.

Whole Roasted Free-range Chicken stuffed with Baby Abalone and French Herb Butter with Jus of Exotic Mushrooms in Chardonnay
The Chicken is well cooked - great juice texture with a nice salty zip on the tongue. Good chook. The combo with the mushroom is magnificent in an earthy, peasant and rustic kind of way - total fulfilling soul food. The potato is in similar style, like a sweet fritter with an oily fat crisp crunch about the thing. Just like mother used to make - roasted spuds with the chicken and getting all its flavours from the fat. A taste of childhood rekindled. Priceless.

As said, the fizz was beautiful but was not really a match with the chicken. Would have been better served as an aperitif with some salty appetizers to spritz the start of a night, though the need to showcase by order of class is understood and necessary for comparison. In contrast, the Rose (now warm) is far better and cuts a wicked swathe through the light grease of the meat. 

The Landon Ivory demi sec came out and across as apples and honey and hugely sweet, though with enough acidity to give a lovely balance across the mouth. The bubbles and methode of making gave a fizzy crispness and ended up like Corona Lemonade, the taste of growing up as a kid in Grangetown. Mars Bars and Pop, as John Lynch would have said. Though this one naturally had more of a kick! 

Charlotte Enfin of Durian Creme and Cinnamon Croissant
The Charlotte Enfin was essentially a croissant pumped full of durian creme to end up like an eclair with a light cream topping. For some reason it gave off mint when paired with the Durian Creme. Quite an odd juxtaposition of tastes and textures which somehow worked. My notes say it was odd, but good - good odd, if that makes sense. Chef showed his genius with a sprig of basil across the top to give a pungent herb kick to the combo. Belter. Though the durian whacked me for an intestinal six. More repeats than CSI on the Astro and Durian breath for days. It is definitely a vicious fruit. Beware.

For some reason there was not much interaction between the table guests. Perhaps this is because the Enfin tables are a bit on the wide side, and this can make getting to know people across the table a bit difficult. The space becomes a divide and consequently a barrier - the distance makes for difficulty in hearing against the background noise which also diminishes the conviviality a bit. Seemed the same on the other tables. I did try to engage everyone with a "cheers" and while our end of the table lustily obliged, the other end seemed a bit reluctant. There you go. We had a good time. I hope they did.

Cave and Cellar were selling the various Lanson at various prices in combo sets. We didn't buy - nice at is was, at an average of RM250 a bottle you can get the branded stuff a shade cheaper. And we are not that much of connoisseurs with the fizz - it is not a style we salivate about and would much prefer a tasty Bordeaux or a fine Burgundy. But certainly a pleasant experience to try some of the different stuff and well worth the trek to the Enfin. See everyone in Reims one day - Salut!

Amuse Bouche

One Oysters Trio of Strawberry Gastrique, Watermelon Gazpacho and Grapefruit Gelee
Lanson Black Label - Brut

Entree Two
Boston Lobster Ceviche with Rose Essence and Crab Cucumber Tian with Coriander and Avocado Creme
Lanson Rose Label - Brut NV

Main One
Whole Roasted Free-range Chicken stuffed with Baby Abalone and French Herb Butter with Jus of Exotic Mushrooms in Chardonnay
Lanson Gold Label - Brut NV

Charlotte Enfin of Durian Creme and Cinnamon Croissant
Lanson Ivory - Demi Sec

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