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.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Topshelf and Villa Maria Wine - not bad!

Topshelf in TTDI
August 17, 2015

Started writing this one about two months after the dinner - seemed to be no time before or since a Douro River cruise. Also been a lot of dinners and drinking all this month of October, though mostly house parties and, though they have been magnificent food and wine adventures, they do not really seem to be the stuff of blogging. But it takes a toll. Waking up after a grim night's sleep does not put one in a particularly creative writing mood. There is a definite need for some serious drying out and a respite from the booze. Though at this time that does not look at all in prospect. Very large weekend and week ahead. It does catch up and there is a need to plan and be disciplined on the nights off. The sleep I get on these is beautiful. 

Got this Wine Dinner through the Doc Wine and it all looked good. We have been to Asia Euro's Villa Maria wine dinners on a number of previous occasions.  Leonardo's in Bangsar springs to mind circa 2011 cos we bought the Cellar Reserve Pinot for Lenglui's big birthday that year. There was also one at Senja in or around 2013 cos they gave out a free Credit Card USB drive and business card holder which are still lurking around the apartment somewhere.

Interior of Topshelf
This one was to be at a newish restaurant receiving good reviews from the foodie community. Topshelf is located on the far side of Taman Tun, where presumably the rents are reasonable and the parking is easy.  Their Facebook page bills it as "Casual French dining located in the heart of Taman Tun… serving up classic French dishes like Coq au Vin, Beef Bourguignon with neighbourhood friendly prices. They say their wine list is modest, with select boutique labels alongside offerings from the big boys to cater for all tastes and wallet sizes. 

We have been to one other place in this area, and which nearly made the blog but for some reason got left in the Pending folder and has not been able to tickle the brain sufficiently to return and finish it. Maybe one day.

The Bar
The traffic was quite easy getting there at rush hour, though I had to pull a barge-in from the wrong lane to everyone's consternation and honking. We followed the Waze instruction and got there bang on 7pm. Found a space just up from the place and in we marched. Initially, it looked a bit dark, with a total window frontage letting in natural light giving that glare feeling. But it soon mellowed as night fell into a cosy modern cafe/bistro feel. But it was darn noisy - all hard walls and glass and low ceiling which made for the place having the acoustics of a steel box - voices bouncing and echoing off the walls and windows and get naturally amplified and reamplified. Would be great for our accapella group Six2Eight but it was deafening for civilised conversation - I could barely hear what anyone was saying across the table.

Chef Christopher came out to welcome everyone and introduce Simon from Villa Maria who gave some brief background on the winery and the wines. Only note I made was he said that 2014 was a hot year which meant less acidity and more fruit driven wines resulted. Okay. The night would tell.

Wine Doc with Villa Maria Rep Simon
We had been sipping the 2014 Sauvignon Blanc which was also to be paired with the Amuse Bouche Lobster Ravioli. Billed as a wine of "vibrancy" and "freshness" it was proving a pleasant quaffer with a clean acidic grip and spritzy finish. Though the general consensus was that it was not worth the special RM128 asking price. This would be the common refrain for all the wines on the night - nice, but not THAT nice. (indeed, we got it on special for RM90 a month later which felt a bit more realistic. Can't say where from). 

One of our table thought the Lobster Ravioli looked a bit deconstructed, though for me it looked more like a dumpling you might find at the Dragon Eye. A shade on the cold side, there was a nice hit of mint on the firm bite through the lobster meat. Also got radish, carrot, and apple tastes and textures. I would have killed for a cracker for some texture (where was the bread?) to give some undercut to this.  The Bouillabaise was a bit on the thin side, though maybe this was no bad thing - anything firmer would have emasculated the Ravioli - and it gave the Lobster just enough season for taste. It also gave the wine lots of soft fruity layers  - Dragonfruit and Passionfruit - along with a thyme herby hit. Very pleasant together, these two. 

Lobster Ravioli
Not much in the way of top up so far, and the Chard got poured quite quickly. Strange wine, this one. Billed as "food friendly" I got a sashimi fresh fish like hit, almost sake. It drank very nicely - this one was indeeed vibrant, with orange peel, little bit of oil somewhere, and in great balance. Also got apricot, raspy acid and some sour pear. AND got citrus and spice from some oak. Nice to drink but definitely needed food (WHERE WAS THE BREAD??) although exactly what kind of food it could best be matched with would be a tough one - there was so much going on in the thing. Maybe best left as a barbie wine, parked in the ice bucket and quaffed with friends and fried prawns. That would work. 

Out came the mushrooms, which had great texture and a good vegetal hit from the basil and rocket which fought a little with the pesto zip. For me the parmesan cheese let the whole thing down - all these soft textures needed some carbo or crunch to underpin and bring them together (WHERE WAS THE #$@$$$ BREAD??)  - today's parmesan was soft. There seemed to be a lot of acetic bite in this dish - splashes of balsamic maybe - which helped kill off any thought or real possibility of matching between food and wine. Both food and wine were good in their own ways, but a veritable fail in matching terms. 

Shrooms and Pistou
After some hounding of the kitchen by one of our group, the bread arrived sometime before Dish 2 plates were about to be cleared. The butter arrived about three minutes after, by which time most of the bread had vanished in a soaking of the remaining second course goo on the plate. In fairness, it was very very tasty sourdough style bread, with excellent crust and miele, as the French call it - that soft doughy bit in the middle. But it would have been total gangbusters had it been ready in time for the aperitif and 1st course sauce. Presume the kitchen had a hard time getting 1st and 2nd courses ready and someone forgot the bread. But as said it was darn tasty when it came. There you go - sometimes is best to just shut up and eat your food as and when it comes. 

I had opted for the Beef cheek and it was excellent. Great texture, just the right amount of season for enough beef taste in the meat without overpowering. With a full but even jus, the blend of both was outstanding. The mash was creamy and did a wonderful job of softening the jus just enough to take the slight salt tang away. The total combination was excellent, and made the more so with some toasted garlic buttered bread which gave it a sweet oily zippy kind of zap on the tongue to liven up the potato and meat mush in the mouth. The whole made for a creamy beefy coating of oily butter and fat in the mouth which perkily nipped the cheeks on its way through. All was totally well with the world.

The wonderful Braised Angus Cheek
The Cellar Selection Shiraz with which it was being paired came across as well made, with light bramble and dark fruit nose, good balance and medium weight, easy grip on the tannin side and a clean blackcurrant finish. Easy and pleasant to drink, later on in the glass the nose gave off some surprising notes of spring herbs and hedgerows - like somehow the wine had taken you into a field and the springtime breeze was bringing nature's scents directly to you. Kind of made you feel young - always nice when this happens. And even more so when the winemaker is generous with the pourings! Managed to get them to part with a bit more of the reds than the whites for some reason. So it goes.

Baked Seabass
I had a glass of the Pinot which felt jammy at first but gave way to some frisky cheek pinching dark fruit with reasonable grip and some chestnut on the finish. Darkly sweet yet sweetly lean, for some reason it put me in mind of Bella from the Twilight series - broody, beautiful, mysterious, lot of depth. Not entirely sure that the Seabass made much of an Edward Cullen to counterpoint for her - perhaps some fatty duck or goose would have been better suited as a partner into which she could get her teeth. 

Dessert came and went with my usual lack of ceremony and notes and got totally vacuumed off the plate. This Mille Feuille was excellent - fruits, sauces and pistachio ice cream made for a brilliant finish. I have no note on the Gewurtz, but memory serves that it was a bit thin to really stand up to the dessert. Nice wine, but you really need to be a fan to want to buy. We don't eat so much Asian food either at home or outside to warrant the purchase and storage. SB and Chards do us for our Chinese and Western destinations, though the chilled Gewurtz would be belter with anything spicy. 

The excellent Mille Feuille Framboise
Possibly because it was a Monday evening, everyone seemed to call it an early night. Also, the wine seemed to have stopped pouring and I think we all felt we'd had enough. As said, it went well enough with the food, but didn't do the business for late night chugging when no one seemed to be in the mood. Perhaps we had had enough of the echo chamber in which we were sitting and needed the quiet of the car ride home. 

All in all, at RM198++ a person, this was a very good deal and though part of me thinks perhaps they could have been a shade more generous in the pourings on the night it didn't matter. The wines paired magnificently with the most excellent food but did not really merit much drinking on their own. 

"Smile please." "What? Sorry I can't hear. Say that again?"
We will go back to Topshelf on a less noisy night. The food easily merits another try without a stressed kitchen and we understand it is quite a wine friendly place. I don't think anyone bought any of the Villa Maria on the night - at RM128 for the SB, Gewurtz and Chard, it felt a bit stiff for purchase. Same with the Shiraz and Pinot at RM158 and RM188 - not quite the right side of price friendly, especially with the Ringgit falling as it was. Doc Wine says there is far better which can be got at similar price and where the quality is off the map. He does know his wines and New Zealand is naturally his speciality - he has turned us on to some lovely and occasionally spectacular booze. Total disciple of the vine. Got to respect that.

Topshelf French Restaurant
61, Lorong Rahim Kajai 13, TTDI
03-7727 7277


Amuse Bouche - Lobster Ravioli
Minted Pea Puree, Lobster Vinaigrette & Bouillabaise Sauce
Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Appetizer - Shrooms & Pistou
Grilled Mushrooms, Homemade Petsto, Greens & Parmesan
Cellar Selection Chardonnay 2014

Main Course - Baked Caught Wild Seabass
Roasted Vegetables, rosti Potatoes & Tomato Jus
Reserve Pinot Noir 2012


Braised Angus Cheek
Braised Angus Beef Cheek in Red Wine, Charred Endive, Potato Puree
Cellar Selection Syrah 2013

Dessert - Mille Feuille Framboise
Raspberries, Vanilla & Pistachio Cream
Private Bin Gewurtztraminer 2013

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