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 21, 2014

Chateau Lagrange Wine Dinner at Lafite - good!

October 3rd 2014 - The Shangri-La Hotel F&B outlets have taken a lot of stick from me in the recent past due to the seeming sneakiness of staff not offering a tap water option to diners at functions at the various F&B outlets and then stiffing us with a bill for the bottled water they pour (see posts elsewhere in this blog). I just feel it is not becoming of an establishment of the standing and prestige of the Shang to not advise that water is chargeable at private functions. It should feel itself to be better than that and consequently above such an apparent policy. From fast talking "chinaman" style traders, maybe such an approach can be tolerated - but not from the Shang, please.  

All my previous ranting might seem to suggest that I don't like the Shang. Not true. I have many great memories of the place going back twenty five years. Perhaps my expectation has been raised by my long association with the place.  What's the saying: it's often hard to criticise a friend? Maybe. And the Shang has been a great friend over the years. So maybe it was about time to give the place another shot. And the deal being offered for a pairing of Lafite cuisine with four Chateau Lagrange vintages and a second growth starter wine by Vintry's Yin-How seemed like the perfect opportunity. Perhaps I could find something nice to say about it. Perhaps. Okay, I did. Find something nice to say. Here and there.

As ever, it started with an email from Yin-How inviting us to an evening of Bordeaux wines at the Lafite at a special discount for friends of the Vintry. A quick check with the Lenglui and we signed up. We are suckers for good Bordeaux and the chance to sample Lafite cuisine being paired with it could not be easily passed up. Outside of the water issues, we have had some very good wine dinners at Lafite - Chateau Beychevelle made the blog but there are a number of others we have attended there over the years. We were hopeful of being able to add another to the list of enjoyable and excellent wine dinners. 

Renowned and recognised many times over the years for its French style cuisine, Lafite remains one of KL's finest and premier establishments for a splurge style evening. It's still probably THE place to go to impress a client or a date, and THE place to celebrate landmarks and milestones; a place with style and class and the epitome of haute cuisine in the city. My first visits in the early days of my time in Kuala Lumpur are locked in my soul.

That being said, I have noticed a gradual…  slipping that seems to have started about the time when the place got renovated about ten years ago. Perhaps it has been the succession of chefs it has seen in that time, but for me I have been sensing an element of creeping complacency and arrogance - a kind of "We are Lafite, We are Shang" air of invincibility. Sort of like "we've been the standard for so long now, we have absolute Prestige as a result, we regularly win all the awards, we will always be the standard". Well… maybe. My MBA says this can be symptomatic of Groupthink at the top - senior management seeing what is wanted to be seen and possibly overlooking the realities on the ground. Could also be I'm seeing too much and being melodramatic, but for sure to be able to assume such an attitude you have to keep delivering in the face of some very good young bucks looking to shake up the old guard. And as noted elsewhere, my recent experiences have been memorable for the wrong reasons.  It used to be first choice for serious celebrations due to its prestige and its prospect of a total top tier dining experience. Not any more. Perhaps my familiarity over the years has bred a degree of contempt? Maybe. But the experience is certainly not the same. There was always a sense of occasion before, a sense of "once in a lifetime" - it is this that seems to have diminished. Don't quite feel the sense of occasion there as much, certainly not in comparison to the likes of Sage and Cilantro, and I don't know why or how it disappeared and that makes me sad. As said, the place has a piece of my soul, and it irks that I'm no longer able to access it when I return. There you go. Those to whom you give your soul will often find a way to break your heart.

We were a shade late thanks to a backlog of traffic on the Sultan Ismail road coming from Jalan Kuching. It looked clear on the Waze but as we got there it all suddenly locked up. We tried another way around an unyielding red traffic light which ended up a dumb move given that there was even more lock up on that side. Added another ten minutes to the trip. 

Parking in the Shang was relatively easy - not too many people here tonight - and we elevated ourselves to the Lafite entrance where we got ticked off the guest list. I noticed that The Governor was also sat at our table. Oh dear, going to get a rocket for being late….  Going inside, I spotted the Milawa owner having a glass with someone. So THAT'S who was organising this shindig. A brief hello, didn't see him again until the end of the night. Entering the main restaurant area showed its easy ambience and pockets of light on tables and soft tones of earthy reds and greens in the shades. Nicely relaxing. 

There were about fifty punters sat at the various tables in the restaurant. We said a couple of hello's on the way to our table, which probably irked the Governor who rightly takes a dim view of lateness or tardiness - though I couldn't see any food yet out on the tables so perhaps we could get away without getting verbally whacked. Everyone at our table was entirely kind and genteel and we got a warm welcome and sympathies for being stuck in the traffic. Relief! Everyone on our table turned out to be IWFS - Dr Jag, Suzuki, Chee Leong, and the Governer and our respective better halves. Presumably Yin-How had facilitated that. The Governor looked resplendent in his usual dark blazer and stripey shirt with gold tie and all on the table were sat in his usual "men at one end and ladies at the other" seating design, which I have yet to understand. It is certainly not Japanese, because if it was we would have done it in Tokyo. I did some research on Debrett's Guide to Etiquette for seating and there's nothing there on this style of seating requirement. It's only the Governor that seems to arrange the seating in this way. I must pigeonhole him sometime and enquire - it is quite intriguing. 

The staff came to enquire about water preferences and, true to form, the option of tap was not offered, though everyone on the table seemed to have a glass of it. Maybe they have been reading my scribbles. We requested warm, and got tap. Yah boo sucks to you. 

The first wine was already out and poured. The 2009 Les Fiefs we were drinking was the second wine of Lagrange. Good nose of berry fruit with brambles in the mouth. Good firm tannins and excellent balance across the fruit and alcohol. An eminently drinkable and food friendly wine, though perhaps lacking the full body of the senior siblings.

Tearing a piece of the brown bread to nibble with the wine, it felt a bit dusty for some reason, kind of like a dry soot feel on it. It all got soothed by some butter, but still an odd early sensation. Maybe too used to excellent bread being served elsewhere - the one here was a little bit not up to that mark.

First course came out pretty quickly after we had sat, suggesting they had all been waiting for us. Ooops. 

The salmon tartare was very tasty, a nice musky smoked feel on the fish, with good smoky salt spritzing the sides of the tongue. The Porcini Soup was equally well salted, with a good full earthy mushroom whack in the mouth mingling with a creamy broth. Very potent, this one. Lovely grip going down the throat. But it was the Roulade which stole the dish - it was excellent, the light biscuit marrying deliciously with the cheese and the soft salty beef into a delightful bite that zapped all the right places. Score one to the Shang for this.

Salmon Tartar and Fresh Frisée Salad Porcini Soup, Truffle Emulsion Air Dry Beef Roulade, Cream Cheese and Fresh Herbs
Don't seem to have a note on the match of this dish with the wine. Too busy enjoying the Roulade probably. The match must have been fine enough. Sometimes no notes is good notes. 

The 2005 came out ahead of the food. Nose was a bit tight at first, though it gave way to blackcurrant, bramble, some chocolate and a hint of mint. Powerful, long and elegant in the mouth, with dark chocolate to the fore. Surprisingly soft tannins made for a wonderfully silky smooth finish. Drinking very nicely, though perhaps a question mark over its longevity? I sometimes think that these wine dinners get organised partly as a good reason to clear the cellars to make way for new stock. Which probably suits most of us - we get to drink the good stuff based on the cellarmaster's view of whether it should stay on the racks or go to oblivion. Maybe we pay a premium for it, but so it goes. And if we brought the wine to the restaurant, we'd get whacked for corkage. And think of all the aircon expenses over the years to keep it all at decent temperature...

The Terrine came out with a wafer on the side, so that got first bite. It felt like sucking on flour, quite dry and flakey. Certainly did the terrine no favours, which proved way better with the table bread. The Terrine had good meat, salt and texture and, like the soup before it, gave a rich grip in the throat. Combining with the sweet crunch of the Lentil Coulis and the salty smooth Porcini chutney, they created an ensemble that covered all the bases in the mouth and left it very, very happy. All the elements helped even each other out in a kind of counterpoint sort of way without any one overpowering another. As said, I loaded some of some of the combo onto a chunk of bread with a dab of everything else and the result was perfect. Absolutely perfect. The carbo was the necessary piece de resistance that catalysed and brought the whole thing together for a lovely taste of quintessential France. Got taste, texture, foundation, bite and chew with a gunky swallow. Felt transported. Score another one to the Shang. Though a second taste of the wafer proved it to be indeed dry and dusty. Not sure who the baker here was, but it really got in the way of the Terrine.

Roasted Duck Liver Terrine, Puy Lentils Coulis, Porcini Chutney
The 2005 cleared the throat a fruity treat, with the food bringing out some alcohol fire to supplement the clean balance. A wine to sip and thoroughly enjoy with great food. Great Bordeaux is absolutely wonderful with the right food, and this was a well excellent pairing. The 2009 Les Fiefs that was still on the table fared equally well. In contrast to the finesse of the 2005, the 2009 is a rustic chugger, a lively and vibrant soul waiting to share its enthusiasm for living. With the Terrine, it gave a big whack of fruit in the cheeks, a full mouthful of big texture and mid weight tannins leading to a somewhat overfirm finish. Lovely jubbley (anyone remember Del boy in Only Fools and Horses?). Good as it was, the 2009 didn't feel quite at home with the fine food on show. It needed a good Cote de Boeuf to riff with, something like the half-cow we get at our favourite Paris Bistro Chez Paul. Now THAT would have rocked. 

The Monkfish came out as a generous portion though it felt a shade overcooked. The flesh was quite firm on the bite. Other friends on the table felt their fish was indeed overcooked. I didn't notice if any got left on plates to send a signal to the kitchen that this was so. On the night, it was not a worry for me since the firmness lent a good foundation to showcase the tasty layers being given off by the chestnut puree and wine sauce. Individually pleasant in their smooth kinds of way, the combo gave a good balance across the textures and a taste somewhat reminiscent of boiled sweets for some reason. My note says "wow" so I clearly enjoyed it. The addition of smoked salmon gave a slight textural dimension to the whole, but I didn't quite understand its addition to the dish. For sure its omission would have left the dish sufficiently balanced - as it was, its addition just seemed to raise a question as opposed to providing an answer. The textures ended up fighting with each other. Felt the whole needed something to bring it all together. Perhaps some fresh herb? Or maybe I should have tried the fish meats separately with the other bits on the plate. Or maybe it's just that Salmon doesn't like Monkfish. Some fish are like that. Same with some people, eh?

Roasted Monkfish with Smoked Salmon, Chestnut Puree and Red Wine Sauce
Pairing a Bordeaux with Fish was always going to be a problem. But this is the world of Wine Dinners and both wine maker and chef do what they can with what they have. As it was, the 2000 had been determined as the vintage of choice. One of the generally accepted better years for Bordeaux, it promised much. And totally delivered - beautiful rich ruby in the glass with a tight nose that gave off mint and eucalyptus on a swirl. The taste is magnificent - rich and opulent with full sparky fruit in lovely balance with tannins and alcohol. This is a cracking wine, with a leather bootsy feel in the mouth like an old man's Shiraz. Lot of power here - could keep this one in the mouth all night. Finish is equally full, though not so as to thud when it hits the basement. It's nice now, but it has a long long way to go before its peak; at least another five years and probably longer - the fruit and tannins can even out even more and produce a stunner of a wine. 

Drinking the other wines after the 2000 served only to highlight its power - the 2009 Les Fiefs became thin but easy whilst the 2005 showed sleek, easy, and classy elegance and did quite well with the Monkfish. Definitely more feminine in character, with grace and charm. The one the guys would take home to meet the mother. Take home the 2000 and she might get ravaged. Was certainly ravaging me. Chain me to the table.

Service was brisk, and plates got cleared smoothly and without fuss or chitchat. Nicely unobtrusive, except for the delivery of the food when a brief description of the dish got given. No such fanfare with the wine, save for an announcement of the vintage and a reasonable pour (though not according to the Geezer, who later opined that the servings were a bit lean - but then he always says that). 

Out came the 2010, on paper one of the vintages of the century. Initial impressions looked good - lovely ruby and garnet in the glass, full on the nose with herb notes and a hint of mint. Medium bodied, good fruit though a bit sharp on the finish. Not comparing favourably to the others at this point in the proceedings. Felt a bit bleeeagh and lacking some element of fire for a decent Bordeaux. Maybe some food would let it come out. 

Forgot to photo my beef, this was next door's, er, lamb?
It was being paired with the Wagyu Beef which came out to great fanfare and pleasingly hot. The Potato and Porcini Girolles proved excellent - bite, smoke, lightly salted and beautiful firm texture that gave a pleasant drying out sensation as they danced across the mouth (though not enough to parch). The Rossini sauce had a slightly sour vinegar note on the finish, though all went nicely with the wonderfully tender and lovingly seared beef. I had the middle of the cut which had good bite and char, though my note says it lacked a little….   beef. It was fine, fair, and an excellent cut of Wagyu; just seemed to find myself saying "where's the beef?" It was clearly there, just somehow…  not there as well. Odd. Perhaps it was too fine for me and my rustic leanings. Maybe in time. No one else was complaining. But no one else was enthusing either.

The 2010 indeed started showing out with the meat, letting an elegant, soft, fruity but firm wine to come through. The 2010 seems more of a steak wine compared to the 2000 which would stand up nicely to a hearty beef casserole. 

Naturally, I had to try the wonderful Girolles with some of the bread. It is a very British thing to slather a hunk of bread with anything on the plate. Some of us grew up on Chip Butties, or French Fries in a sandwich dripping with butter. Makes me salivate just thinking about them. On this occasion, the Girolle Buttie was… filling. But the starch and the carbo did no real favours for each other. Better to have left the Girolle to soak up the Rossini sauce. Or not, as the combo had the effect of clagging up the throat so bad that not even the grip of the 2000 could shift it. Sat there sipping the top end Bordeaux and hoping that it would dislodge the clag in the throat was a shade heartbreaking. Especially in the face of no more top ups coming out. Maybe the Geezer was right.

Strawberry Soup with Vanilla Olive Oil, Warm Raspberry Financier
Which became the perfect cue for the entry of the final 2009. Being paired with the dessert was clearly a non starter, but it did do sterling work in clearing the throat. Nearly removed the tonsils too and definitely grated a layer of enamel off the back of the teeth. This was one fierce brother of a wine. Huge fruit and tannin, though somehow a bit thin on the finish - the heft in the mouth did not seem matched with heft in the descent. Perhaps the throat scrape was getting in the way. Indeed, so this proved when the 2009 was drunk after dessert - there was a lot of grip on the finish. 

Dessert was very, very pleasant, a kind of cold strawberry soup with lots of sweet added. Not unlike a Lassi but with the freshest fruit you could imagine - brilliantly crisp and sweet and so, so fresh. The ensemble reminded of Opal Fruits we had as kids but in liquid form. Belter.

The Financier had a sponge, suet pudding feel, a bit like the Jam Roly Poly we would have for our school dinner dessert. Strange how some tastes come back to you at odd times...

Feeling very mellow, it was only at this point that we realised that no one had said anything about the wines. Seems that our guest of honour missed her flight from France, though whether she had been booked on Air France and they had cancelled due to the pilot's strike was not clarified. Rant alert - Air France had also cancelled mine and Lenglui's return flight to Paris but KLM stepped up to the plate brilliantly and sorted everything out by getting us on MAS planes there and back. And all through Facebook. High, high praise for KLM - definitely will fly with them when the occasion merits. 

The Governor getting his tie wiped. As one does...
Seems all the wines were in Magnum which I was told helps the wine keep longer and consequently taste better in the long term. Fair enough. Storage must be a pain, though. Can't fit them in a wine fridge. 

The Chateau Lagrange wines on the night
The Governor rising from his seat signaled the end of the night. We got told that some people had tackled the chef about the overcooked fish and felt a bit miffed that he did not own up to it. Talking to other people, they said their Monkfish was excellent. Such conflicting responses to the same dish usually point to issues in the timing and getting it out of the kitchen and on to the table. The choreography here can sometimes get a shade slow when guest numbers are high and courses are delicate and complex. It is often the price we pay for getting a good deal on the food and wine combo - kitchens cannot always cope with numbers and the Monkfish that some felt was overcooked would seem to suggest that the Lafite is no exception. As said, is a price we pay. 

So, yes, Lafite pretty much delivered for me on this occasion. Way, way better food than the disaster that was the APZ dinner in July 2013 in the Selangor Room. Thoroughly enjoyed the Amuse Bouche, the Terrine, the Girolles, and Dessert. My Monkfish was firm, but given the context of getting food out to fifty punters, acceptable (though on a normal night I might indeed have sent it back - as said, overloading the kitchen and staff is a price we pay to enjoy the wines) but Somehow I didn't quite get the Tenderloin or the Salmon. So it goes. The Chateau Lagrange wines were delightful, showcasing the differences in the vintages and with some stellar expressions on display. Thinking on this, some of the other 2010s I have sampled also haven't seemed to stand up to the apparent stellarness of the year. The Chateau Pontet-Canet and Chateau Fieuzal spring to mind. I do subscribe to the view that one should not normally drink Bordeaux for at least ten years. And there is clearly life in both the 2000 and 2005. But for the 2010 it seems to be a consistent feeling like there is not really enough of anything to warrant keeping it for the long term. We have some 2000 and 2005 Bordeaux in the wine fridge at home - on this evening's drinking, they still have a long way to go. But it doesn't look like many 2010s are going to be taking up residence there any time soon. Life can be full of such difficult decisions. I should be so lucky - Cheers!!

Chateau Lagrange Wine Dinner Menu
3 Amuse Bouche to start with:
Salmon Tartar and Fresh Frisée Salad Porcini Soup, Truffle Emulsion Air Dry Beef Roulade, Cream Cheese and Fresh Herbs 
Château les Fiefs de Lagrange 2009

Roasted Duck Liver Terrine, Puy Lentils Coulis, Porcini Chutney
La Terrine de Foie Gras Fumé, Coulis de Lentilles du Puy, Chutney de Cèpes 
Château Lagrange 2005

Roasted Monkfish with Smoked Salmon, Chestnut Puree and Red Wine Sauce
La Lotte Rotie Piqué de Saumon Fumé, Purée de Chataîgne et Sauce Vin Rouge 
Château Lagrange 2000

Wagyu Beef Tenderloin with Rossini Sauce, Potato and Porcini Truffle Fresh Girolles
Le Tournedos de Bœuf Sauce Vin Rouge, Truffe de Pomme de Terre et Cèpes, Girolles Fraîches 
Château Lagrange 2010

Strawberry Soup with Vanilla Olive Oil, Warm Raspberry Financier
La Soupe de Fraise à l’Huile d’Olive Vanillée, Financier Tiéde à la Framboise 
Château Lagrange 2009

No comments:

Post a Comment