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, November 3, 2015

John Doe at Stoked - seriously excellent!

November 1st 2015

Must say I thoroughly enjoyed this one - excellent food and wines and a great atmosphere amongst all the diners on the night.

It all started with an email from Yin-How saying he had met some chaps in the UK whilst in the process of buying his Bertha oven for Stoked. They run the John Doe restaurant in Notting Hill London where they have their own Bertha and it all ended with them agreeing to come to Stoked to cook for a week. Hence the concept of the Pop Up Restaurant - the John Doe would "pop up" in Kuala Lumpur with chefs bringing their meat and veg direct from the London suppliers to feed the thronging hordes. Yin-How would match the wines for those keen to imbibe.

For me it was a no brainer - top class British restaurant with chefs expert in the Bertha grill bringing British ingredients. And some stunning looking wines at not unfair prices. Though Lenglui and others were a bit apprehensive at some of the proposals on the menu - things like Duck Hearts and Venison drew comments of Donald and Bambi and were felt to be not quite to everyone's taste and palate. O Walter Disney, the shadows you cast….  Seems Lenglui was not alone in preferring to avoid consuming Bambi's mother (or father) as Yin-How came back quickly with alternatives. Everyone was happier at this. Eventually got seven signed up with five of us ready to brave the hearts and bite the Bambi.  

Vivien and Barry
John Doe itself opened in October 2014 by Chefs Paul Fox and Mark Blatchford on the Golborne Road in Notting Hill, London and quickly gained critical acclaim from the foodie press. The website (www.johndoerestaurants.com) says the restaurant concept seeks to "shun the stuffy red leather Gentleman's Club cliche of game, while [seeking] to serve traditional dishes in a contemporary and accessible way." Both chefs have impressive CVs, with extensive experience in cuisine drawn from a wide range of positions. The restaurant prides itself on being at the forefront of wood and charcoal cooking in the UK and focuses on creating dishes built around Wild British game produce (ie venison and pheasant) and using sustainable British charcoal and wood. Seems a clear influence from Etxebarri in San Sebastian here. Why it is called John Doe is not clear and was not explained along the way. There is also a John Doe in New York, though presumably this is a separate operation as no connection between the two seemed evident.

Brian and Reto
The hordes did indeed throng. Our night was jam packed with nary a seat visible and everyone in a clear mood to enjoy. Lot of IWFS members here on the night who sensibly brought their own fizz to start the night - it did cross my mind to bring but got forgot in the last minute rush to get ready. Getting senile. So it goes. I had had Yin-How calling me to advise that chefs were not happy with the way that the hearts and venison had acclimated to the Malaysian humidity and had opted not to prepare and serve it. Instead we could choose either Bone Marrow or Chicken Sate for entree and Angus Beef or Pork Chop for main. The wines were screaming "beef" so my choices were determined - marrow and beef.

One of our party didn't really know the food and opted to follow my choices, the seeming reasoning being that I was "the expert" and that my choices should be sound. Hmmm….  not quite sure about this - my tastes are my tastes and it somehow doesn't feel right that they should be adopted simply because I am seen to have more food and wine experience. It kind of feels I might be held to blame if the food is not to one's personal taste. Additionally, we each of us have varying degrees of adventure in our food choices which can further be influenced by mood and gastric state. I think I'm trying to say there is always a context within which our choices are made. We are all on our individual food odysseys and need to bring our own journeys to bear both when and whether to choose to follow what others may opt for. I can always give my reasons for my choices, but it woud send everyone to sleep. No one likes a Foodiebore. Except maybe another Foodiebore

It would turn out that our table friend did indeed not like the Bone Marrow, even though for me it was darn outstanding. There you go - live and learn. Think I ended up stealing it from the plate. Along with the bread. Waste not....

We had bowls of bread on the table and these got consumed quite quickly with some truffle butter, er, truffled for the occasion. The bread felt a bit dusty and dry, somewhat ashen on this occasion. Not sure if it was baked on the grill but that might explain it. So it goes.

Barry and Kelvin
The first wine was proving very pleasant, zingy acidity and excellent balance, with orange and peach looming large in the fruit section leading to a lengthy sleek and clean finish.  The Heretiers Lafon is one of Vintry's standby wines which we sometimes pick up at the sales and it proved a most excellent partner to the leek.

First course of leek looked pretty on the plate and the wood clearly infused into the dish with a strong carbon zap on the tongue. It was soft and crunchy and a total delight on the teeth. I love that slight stringy chew as the fibers get stuck on the gums and the sweet vegetable gives up its goodness to the tongue. I seemed to get a baked bean tomato sauce feel on the tarragon and lentil sides along with a slight hit of pepper and oil. 

Ash Roasted Leeks
The second wine (Trimbach Pinot Gris from the Alsace) was like a grenade in the cheeks, total fruit bomb of peaches and nectarines exploding and countered by a honeyed rosehip note and a scorching banana finish. Very full body and very tasty, though perhaps a shade unctuous for longer term quaffing. 

Matching with the Octopus made good sense, with the chewy saltine tentacle deftly undercutting the wine's weight and fire and softening the peach mouth and finish. The octopus itself was quite firm on the bite, with lovely char from the grill and sweet from the aioli. Chickpea made sense to give a fibrous backing, though it felt that the herb adds got a bit lost in the mix. The aioli was the genius that brought the ensemble into focus, lubricating both octopus and chickpea into a delightful texture that satisfied both tongue and belly with deft and heft. Excellent match between wine and food. 

Roasted Cornish Octopus
Everyone was starting to warm up as the CdP came to the table. It was an immediate crowd pleaser which everyone supped with so much deep joy that a bottle got bought to extend the pleasure. It was a darling - wonderful grip on the roof of the mouth. Big and lush, voluptuously chewy dark sweet fruit, with everything in wonderful mid weight balance. Bramble and berries on the nose, all frisky and deep forest fresh. A lovely, lovely wine. 

The bone marrow came served in its hunk of bone. Previous bone marrow dishes I have been served have been "handled" in the sense that the marrow seemed to have been scooped out and repacked in the bone. This one was a solid chunk of lardo- like goo that eventually tumbled out onto the plate with a single swift dig of the fork. It had a light though fatty gelatin-like texture with a taste beyond words save to say that I hope to return in any future life as a butcher's dog. Yes. Get three Big Woofs for this dish. Amazing taste and texture, like a firm lump of dripping lard laced with Bovril. Certainly doubt you could ever get this anywhere in Malaysia, and a masterstroke to serve with the bone dry toast. One for the ages. 

The amazing Bone Marrow - woofwoofwoof!
Another masterstroke to serve it with a CdP - the firm tannins slashed through the Marrow like a steel samurai which supercharged the fruit and gave a tangerine and wild herb hit that took the whole ensemble straight to vinous church - slight citrus zap and mid weight full dark fruit paired with the boney gunk and bread giving a total beyond words boom in the cheeks. Brilliant match. 

The next dish we found a bit strange both in taste and location within the menu. The coal baked crab claws is on the John Doe menu in London so it is "British" in that sense. But the presentation and taste had clear elements of Thai, Indian and Malay. We got sambal, spice, santan and satay sauce - and o so beautifully sweet and soft crab meat. The ensemble felt a bit on the dry side which was exacerbated by the addition of chopped fried garlic which added some useful texture and heat. Consuming it with the CdP was not really a match - the slight fire in the dish fed the slight fire in the wine. The result was that it all felt a bit confused; the dish was excellently prepared and tasted really good, but we would expect to get it in a Thai/Indian/Malay kind of environment rather than a British eaterie. It was very good to eat, but we got a bit confused with the context.

Crab Claws
I think perhaps the kitchen was in a no-win. From a degustation perspective the crab would clearly offer good relief to the palate to come between the marrow and the main. Yet from a wine match perspective it should have come after (or even before) the Octopus. Indeed, an earlier menu did have it after the Octopus. The dish is also quite oriental in taste and texture, and perhaps for it to come earlier would have whacked the tastebuds into pepper oblivion so that appreciating the wine pairings would become practically impossible. There was also the menu change necessitated by the chefs deciding not to go ahead with the Duck Hearts which would also help swing the balance. Hobson's choice, choose the option that generates less damage. Fair enough. Have to find out what the thinking was here.

The Brunello was magnificent. Full in the mouth, hitting the entire surface with a massive whack of ripe dark plum and damson. Not over tannic, Very sleek finish, and pleasantly long and full, got a hit of gunmetal carbide and a slight liquorice gaaaack on the finish - that shock of something perhaps somewhat off somewhere. Might have been the tannin hitting the teeth and taking some enamel from them. Quite a masculine wine, though one felt perhaps there was a gentlemen hiding somewhere underneath the macho exterior.

The magnificent Scottish Angus Wagyu Beef
The beef was little short of totally wonderful - the meat was perfect in its tenderness, the char had smoke and ash, a little hint of salt and magnificent underseasoned jus. It got served in slices with a side of gravy. One of the absolute best chunks of meat to ever get chewed by these teeth. Perfect char, perfect meat, perfectly prepared - excellent, excellent, excellent. My only complaint was that there was not enough of it - we only got about three slices each when the whole side of the Angus would not have been enough. It also took the gaaack off the Brunello to bring the wine into excellent focus. Magnificent dish and pairing. 

Chocolate Terrine
For once I remembered the dessert, despite a distracting glass of Nikka whiskey from David. Full salty chocolate that filled the senses and coated the cheeks with total cocoa. The pistachio got swamped by the total envelopment that this small chunk of chocolate did to everything. Smooth silken cocoa throat that brought this magnificent evening to a perfect close. 

What an absolutely wonderful evening. Food, wines, people, wandering the tables saying hello, lots of new memories. And no Kenny G music. The wine flowed, the fellowship rang, the friends laughed and the good time was had by all. Total Brahma, as my old guitar oppo Stuart might say (he passed five years ago, cancer). Though I did need a marmite sandwich and a can of cold Soda water to settle the growls before bed. Not quite enough food to soak up the wine. Had a brief word with Chef Mark who was clearly having a great time in Kuala Lumpur. He confirmed that the hearts and venison were a bit not right and better to let them go. He also shared that much of the veggie and sides were Malaysian sourced. Be darned difficult to get them through customs - always fear of a hidden nasty getting past and infecting the local produce. Fair enough. Seems also that Chef Paul was apparently a bit under the weather and not on duty that evening - KL climate can do that to the new visitor, especially if he had been broiling in the heat of a KL kitchen. Got to keep hydrated with the 100 Plus. Hopefully we will see a return of John Doe to Malaysia in the near future. The concept was clearly a tremendous success given all the positive comments I heard from the assembled. 

David, Yin-How, a pooped Chef Mark and a happy Death Metal wannabee
Or can also try and persuade Yin-How to persuade his friend Victor Arguinzoniz, chef and owner of Etxebarri to do a Pop Up of their own. Absolute wow if that could happen. 

But the whiskey was a definite mistake - only got two hours sleep as a result and was Walking Dead Voodoo Zombie for the following day. The price I pay for the liquid kiss of the Lady Firewater and mixing the grape and grain. Normally I know better and can resist, but that extra bottle of the CdP must have lowered the resistance and increased the invincibility quotient. We love the booze, but we sometimes forget that the booze loves no-one. As Christopher Hitchens once said, alcohol can be a great friend but a terrible master. Got that one right. Amen, and cheers!!

Y'all come back now, hear?


A Pop-Up Dining Experience
29th October till 1st November 2015 

Dinner Menu

Ash Roasted Leeks
with Lentils and Tarragon Dressing
Heritiers Lafon Milly Lamartine 2013 (Macon, Burgundy)

Grilled Cornish Octopus
with Chickpeas, Paprika and Aioli
Domaine Trimbach Pinot Gris 2012 (Alsace, France)

Roasted Bone Marrow
with Toast and Parsley Salad
- or -
Brined Chicken Sate
with Wood-Roasted Peanuts and Crisp Salad
Domaine Vieux Telegraphe Telegramme Chateauneuf du Pape 2012 (Rhone, France)

Coal-Baked Crab Claws
with Keralan Curry Sauce, Cucumber and Tomato Salad

Scottish Highland Wagyu Angus Chuck Steak
- or -
Berkshire Pork Chop
with Salsa Verde
Tenuta Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino 2009 (Tuscany, Italy)

Chocolate Terrine
with Roasted Pistachios

Coffee or Tea
Petit Fours
RM280 nett per pax 
RM398 nett (with wine pairing) per pax

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