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.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Ornellaia Wines at Graze KL Hilton - outstanding!

April 14th 2016

You know those nights when all the stars seem to align and you look back and think - wow….  That was the feeling we had after a brilliant wine dinner at the Graze in the KL Hilton with Ornellaia wines being supplied by Milawa. And with vintage Pol Roger Rose Champagne. And all at just over RM300. Wow - Stellar evening.

I didn't take any notes or decent photos for this one. Our guests had intimated that they got a bit annoyed with flashing photos and stuff at the table so I decided to just sit back and enjoy this one. But it was damn good, and I couldn't just let it pass without some sort of record. 

Got wind of this dinner through an unsolicited and somewhat surprising email from the KL Hilton. They don't seem to have emailed me for years and suddenly one pops up. I suspect my recent attendance at the IWFS dinner downstairs at the Chambers might have had something to do with it. Someone new at the marketing desk revises the mailing lists and add what they see as new candidates.

And what a pop up this was - Ornellaia wines with food at the Graze. And a 15% discount if we booked early. Which we did. A quick forward to foodie friends attracted two more so we were four. 

We decided to Uber this one since the parking rates at the Hilton/Meridien seem variable and I no longer have confidence in how much the sucker is going to charge. Chambers was RM8 flat whereas a session at Le Meridien shocked with RM35 for the parking. Rather pay such money for drivers and cars and get happily zonked and not have to worry about the drive home. 

Mirrors on the ceiling - welcome to the Hotel KL Hilton Graze!
So we arrived spot on at 7pm and our friends were there at exactly the same time. Up the escalator and into the Graze (which we were later reminded used to be Senses) and greeted with a flute of chilled Pol Roger Rose. How civilised! We automatically hung around the door for a little while taking in the ambience and chugging half of the fizz and proffering our glasses for a refill to which the charming man kindly obliged. Things were looking good. We then got shown to our seats and made friends with our seating companions. There was Anis and Joe and Ros and partner (never did get her name - too far down the table) and Flemming, apparently of Danish descent but with some Spain and Arab in him. Total chameleon, but loves to cook and pair wines at home. Sounded a natural for the IWFS - I asked him to email me for detail and will get him in. Friend Gordon was brilliant in marketing us as foodies who bring other foodies together. Must say he has great warmth and a gift in bringing people in. 

Drink Rose Champagne on ice...
Must also say the floor staff were most generous with the fizz - we all must have got at least four refills that I remember. And it was delightful - strawberries, crisp bubbles and finish, real sleek and full body in the mouth, nice chew and fresh nose of light fruit. Could easily suck this one all night, it was a belter of a fizz. Though probably time for it to be drunk. The menu says it was 2006 though I thought I saw 2002 on the bottle. So it goes.

The table setting was pleasant, crisp thick white tablecloths with good glassware and a mat for the wine glasses with each place labelled for the wine that was designated to go in there. This makes life far easier in determining which wine is which for comparative purposes. And top ups. 

Ornellaia winery lies near a town called Bolgheri on the West coast of Italy about 50 km south of the port of Livorno. Along with Sassicaia, Solaia and Tignanello, Ornellaia is one of the four original Italian "Super Tuscans" bred to compete alongside the superstars of Bordeaux for global share and attention. The wines are made from pretty much the same grapes as grown in Bordeaux, but with slight differences resulting from grape additions and the Italian sun, sea breeze, and terroir. I almost visited Ornellaia on a recent Mediterranean cruise which made a stop at Livorno but instead opted to go to Florence for lunch and shopping. I also wanted to make a day of it by doing Sassicaia in the morning and Ornellaia in the afternoon cos research suggested there was nothing to do in either Livorno or Bolgheri. So it goes. Maybe next time.

Chef Marc and the demon eyed Patrick...
Ornellaia Far East rep Patrick Lachapele and Chef Marc Fery stepped up to respectively said a few introductory words and we were off.

Now writing this six days after the event, the food is fading into the distance, but the wines remain in the head. They were stellar. We have been fans of Ornellaia's Le Volte ever since we first had a bottle by accident at a now forgotten restaurant some good few years back and when we then found the Vintry selling it for RM70ish at the time we whacked for a case and pretty much repeated this exercise annually. Great easy wine but with good fruit and body and character - fairly full in the mouth but not overpoweringly so. We have drunk its vintages over the years with pleasure. It does gain a little with some age, especially if the year was hot and the tannins a bit pronounced, but it is not really for the long term. We were drinking the 2013 on the night, and indeed it was lovely. Will have to sock away a couple for our Italian foodie sessions. 

The 2012 Serre Nuove came off like classic Bordeaux in taste and texture terms - more left bank than right (think Pichon and Leoville) with lovely medium coffee and tobacco notes. It had enough complexity to satisfy but not so much to get in the way of the food. I first had a Serre Nuove when I picked up a bottle on a tour of Amalfi coast to bring home because I hadn't seen it back in KL (note - the week of my return saw me finding it at the BIG…). We had it with an Amante dinner and it didn't really inspire at the time. But tonight I got a better sense of it and what Ornellaia seems to be trying to do. Classic Bordeaux style and blend but with a slight whack of… Italian, both on the nose and in the wine. Classic Left Bank Bordeaux can be a bit stuffy and formal and… well, classic because that is what it is. Ornellaia adds a cute hint of Mediterranean freshness that gives it a pleasant lift without taking anything away from the classicity. It's a bit like pouring a decent Bordeaux through one of those wine aerator things - gives a nice spritz and tickle but keeps the wine untouched and unadulterated. Very interesting wine, this.

"We are all just prisoners here of our own device" "Eh?" "It's the Eagles, innit? Hotel California?" "Oh yeah..."
Though it got totally lost on everyone who clearly preferred the lighter and fruitier Le Volte. And it was on way dodgy ground having been set up against its big brother to come. So it goes. I had fun. And the servings by the floor staff were far from stingy. I must have had at least four top ups, and I did not appear to be alone in this. They were going up and down the tables dealing out the booze in spades. Which I note is often a sign that they are looking to get everyone well juiced so that the last wine can stretch a bit further. Fair enough - they keep pouring, I keep drinking. This have I have been taught by the Sweeper. 

The Ornellaia 2012 was absolutely stunning - full on dark fruit gobsmack in the mouth, massive nose of deep chocolate and berries, smooth and chewy tannins and a finish that was delightfully endless. What a wonderful wine. And again, they kept topping us all up, as if the final extinction had come to earth and we were clearing the cellar on our last day alive. Brilliant wine service - O if they could all be like this….

Foodwise, the first course Salmon Rillettes were lightly pleasant, sufficiently savoury and mouth meltingly good. The French croutons gave nice crunch and carbo but it was the Yuzu Caviar in extra virgin olive oil that was genius - citrus, salt and the lightest of oils with that soft crush of the caviar bubble was bliss. The fact that they were still pouring the champagne to go with it was double bliss. Absolute perfecto match. 

In the master's chamber, they gather for their feast - the Salmon Rillettes
The Dutch Veal consomme broth was very good - light and liquid with kind of meaty Oxo cube whack in the mouth but smoothly so whilst the tiny cut veggie bits gave enough texture for body. I remember the praline as being a bit like a crusty meat chocolate kind of thing - something you might find in a box of Milk Tray for Meateaters but without the chocolate. Quite cute. The Serre Nuove got a bit diluted with the soup, so I ended up slurping one and guzzling the other. 

The quail came and went - little memory other than it all got finished. Seem to remember a good taste between the potato, jus and the bird, whilst the spinach was brilliant. No real memory of the match with the Serre Nuove, but I definitely enjoyed both!

They stab it with their steely knives - the wonderful lamb
There was a lot going on with the lamb - bean stew, kale cabbage, polenta and mushrooms with onion and thyme jus. It all went together in a rich bistro kind of way.  The lamb was excellent, though not many seemed to finish it all. Mine was - chewed off the rib Viking style. I asked for the remains on the plates to be collected and bagged for the dog, but somehow didn't end up with any of it. I guess some bigger dog got in the way. Given the bistro style food, the Serre Nuove with its classical Bordeaux feel went very nicely. Tannins cut the meat and fat cut the tannins to reveal pleasant fruit and some depth in the wine. But the Ornellaia just blew everything away - the lamb got elevated by the massive fruit and chocolate and the wine evened out to show lovely depth and beautiful silky sleek texture. Yum. 

Dessert was actually very tasty, with the booze infused berries inflicting an alcoholic belt on the rich Valrhona chocolate to which the frozen yoghurt lent a delightful ice creamy skim. Would have been excellent with coffee, which got ordered but did not arrive. 

Last thing I remember - Valrhona chocolate - yum
The wine ultimately stopped pouring which we took as a sign that the night was over. After a bit of nonsense concerning the bill (we were supposed to get a discount which took another 5 minutes to rectify), we left fairly quickly and got a cab home.

All in all, it proved to be a great evening of food, wine and friends. Great conversations around the table, generous pourings and well tasty food. And notwithstanding the pouring generosity, it was also one of those where I didn't feel boozed - usually a sign that the wine was really good. But I did need some biscuits for supper on getting home - it all hit as we got through the door and the soak-up-the-booze munchies set in quite significantly. 

A few grimps and gripes here - didn't get my coffee, didn't get my take-home lamb bones for the dogs, also didn't initially get the 15% earlybird discount on the bill - any more boozy and I would have paid without thinking. Seem to be oversights rather than policy, but oversights suggest that staff are either stressed or uncaring. I think probably the former. 

I remember having conversation with the Hilton Restaurant Manager and feeling stabbed in the heart when she told me about their RM170 corkage charge per bottle. I think I started ranting and saying that that was crazy and how could I come back when Soleil gives an IWFS boy like me free corkage and magnificent service whenever I go there. Got the answer that that was hotel policy. Of course it is. Same as the car park pricing. Which is why with any luck I won't have to go back there on any regular basis. Getting there and home is now an expensive pain which I prefer to marginalise. I'll go back to Soleil or Cilantro or Sage without a second thought but the Hilton and Meridien give me much pause. Which is a shame - the food and service warrant return visits. Only on someone else's ticket, I'm afraid. 

But the staff were generally very pleasant and friendly and hugely professional and the KL Hilton is lucky to have them. Seems to be able to keep them too, which also says much. One of the floor staff shared a story about a visiting Michelin 2 star chef who got all the floor staff in the kitchen after the meal and had everyone drink champagne. I asked whether the home Hilton chefs ever did this and got a shy "no". Which on the face of it comes across as a bit mean when doing so would do wonders for a sense of team. My guess is that such imbibing gets seen as a budget issue by management whereby wines brought in by a supplier must ultimately be accounted for and why incur any extra expense by letting staff guzzle any of it. Someone would have to answer for it. Fair enough - though for me giving wine waiters a sip or two is educational and should ultimately be able to be expensed as Staff Training. There you go. Staff everywhere keep their mouths shut and enjoy the joys as and when they come. They know that their managers will come and go. Been there…  Cheers!!


Champagne Pol Roger Brut Rose 2006

Scottish Loch Fyne Salmon rillettes,
sun-dried Cherry Tomatoes, French
baguette croutons, baby Mesclun
leaves, Yuzu Caviar and extra
virgin Olive Oil

First Course
Sherry and Madeira infused double
clarified Dutch Veal consomme,
crispy pulled Beef Praline, 
vegetable Paysanne, Chive
Le Volte dell'Ornellaia 2013

Second Course
Grilled French Quail, Foie Gras
stuffed, sweet Potato mash, baby
Spinach, Truffle jus
Le Serre Nuove dell'Ornellaia 2012

Cranberry Granite

Main Course
Herb Crusted Australian Dorper 
Lamb rack, three coloured bean stew,
saute Kale Cabbage, Polenta cake 
and Porcini Mushrooms, cipollini
Onion and Thyme jus
Ornellaia 2012

French Valrhona Chocolate tart, 
Passion Fruit mousse, clotted
Cream, candied Macadamia nuts,
Cointreau marinated Raspberries,
forest Berry Coulis and crispy

Premium tea selection of coffee

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