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, December 23, 2016

IWFS Kuala Lumpur Visit to Champagne, Burgundy and Alsace September 2016 - Day Six

Lenglui and flowers. Oui.
Thursday, 29th September 2016

1. Visit to Famille Hugel Winery in Riquewihr, Alsace
2. Lunch at Winstub du Chambard, Kayserberg
3. Dinner at L’Atelier du Peintre, Colmar

Quite a restless night before an unbearably early get up and at 'em and lug the bags down and on to the bus again. Felt pretty dazed and not really rested and don't remember much about the hotel or breakfast. Oh yes…  breakfast was very cramped inside and a bit stuffy, though there was a small area to sit outside and get some chilled morning air in the shade. There was also a long queue for the one single coffee machine which was made worse by the darn thing taking two minutes per cup and everyone was filling up two cups each. Aarghhh! Anger and frustration at everyone taking an insane amount of time and delaying the morning fix. I have a vague memory of having eggs and bread and ham and feeling quite glad to leave this cramped hotel for some reason. I think our room was way at the back of the place, which always makes for a grumpy camper. Think the room was also a bit small. Can't remember the name of the place. Don't think I will be back there. Which often means I well might. Famous last words, eh? 

Zoomed out to get the sunlight on the vines
Napoleon had already picked up the other eight pilgrims who had stayed at the other hotel and was grumpily loading our bags into the bus hold. He really was quite a miserable in this sense, though perhaps he was a bit more affable to those nearer the driving seat. But then again, I am not at my best in the morning - need two coffees to get going, and the inability to drink the OJ meant the early morning grumps lasted a bit longer than normal. Maybe Napoleon was also not a morning person. Not much of an afternoon person either, as memory serves. 

Delightful breakfast seating in Riquewihr
As we left Colmar town, the sun came out to herald another blisteringly bright day in the Alsace. I blame the Lenglui - she always brings the sun wherever we go. Love her to bits for it.

There is a reference to Domaine Trimbach on the schedule, but I have neither memory nor photograph of this. My guess is that it was ditched in favour of more time in the village for photos and wandering and to give a tad more time to people to rest up given the lateness of the previous evening. Which is difficult to argue against, though missing out on an Alsace wine breakfast brought a twinge of regret. Maybe next time. 

The bus went along the highway for a short while before turning off and into country roads and past vine covered tracts of land before landing us outside an arch which proved to the the village gate of Riquewihr. Being labelled by the tourist pamphlets as "The Gem of the vineyards", Riquewihr proved to be another impossibly pretty village of narrow cobblestone roads and lanes and the location of our morning visit, the Hugel winery. Riquewihr was also the destination of two cruise boats that were in dock somewhere up river and who were also being disgorged at the gate - clearly no buses allowed in the town. The brilliant sunshine made for fantastic photo opportunities and we all joined the meandering tourist fun in gawping and gaping at the medieval feel of everything. 

Pilgrims banging on the Hugel door pleading for liquid breakfast. Little pleaders...
A gentle ten minute stroll along this intermittently shaded and sunlit main cobbled street (the Rue du General de Gaulle) brought us to the Hugel winery, parked conveniently on one corner along the main drag. Famille Hugel is a global brand, one most of us will have seen in the supermarkets and probably drunk somewhere along our wine journeys. The marketing blurb talks about 13 generations of family tradition since its inception in 1639 - not far off four hundred years of winemaking. The wines are well made, wonderfully Alsacienne, and ranking up there as among some of the best whites in the world. 

Enraptured Pilgrims hypnotised by Marc Hugel and his bottle in the Hugel Tasting Room
We gathered at the Winery entrance and got met at the door by (I think) Marc Hugel (certainly according to Google Images - our chap in my photos looks more like Marc than any of the other family members) who let us all into the quaint and dark tasting room for a brief talk about Alsace and Hugel's place in it. Smart man, he went straight for the booze, no doubt persuaded by some of us whose tongues were hanging out. He also told us that the public loo was just across the road. Double smart man. He knows his customers. On one side of the room was the bar with all the marketing blurb and prices and on the other was seating in various arrangements. Strewn on the walls were maps and marketing photos from across the campaigns. We all settled in and politely listened to the Hugel story. 

Happy Pilgrims. One clearly in transcendent mode. Oui.
Some of us were a little bit dreading the Hugel visit, and a bit not quite sure how to handle it.  Many of us knew Etienne, the witty and somewhat manic but utterly charming marketing man for Hugel's global distribution empire. He had passed away earlier in the year in somewhat tragic circumstances. I had met him twice on his visits to Kuala Lumpur, though friend Julian from Singapore as Alsace Wine Society President was quite close to him and was en route to a scheduled lunch with him when he got the news. Desperate. We presumed the family wounds were still a bit raw, so Dear Leader had earlier suggested we express simple condolences to the brother and raise a glass to his memory. 

Happy Money
It never happened. Marc got straight into the performance and neither he nor us referred to Etienne at all throughout the session. Which was a bit… unnerving in a weird way. Neither got the chance to express any grief. And why should he share his? He didn't know that we knew Etienne and we never seemed to get around to saying that we did. But the man was there - in marketing photos on the walls and in the blurb, in spirit, in memory, like a ghostly elephant in the room that no one seemed to want to acknowledge. Most odd.

The tasting was in one straight session and we got the chance to sip some right lovelies. Sharply sweet, perfumed, full in the mouth and lovely and firm on the finish. All breakfast should be like this. There were eight on the menu - Gentil 2015, Classic Riesling 2014, Estate Riesling 2012, Jubilee Riesling 2009, and Grossi Laue Riesling, Grossi Laue Pinot Noir, Grosse Laue Pinto Gris and Grossi Laue Gewurtz all of which were 2010. Seem to remember lots of people spitting out the Classics but retaining more of the Grossi. According to the Hugel brochure, Grossi Laue is Alsatian dialect to signify Hugel's finest vineyards and the tag looks to mark those timeless cultural values of the family as deeply anchored in their historic vineyard terroirs. Kind of like a local Grand Cru, though apparently this has caused some ruction amongst some of the other growers who cry foul - "eet ees not an official classification, monsieur, and so should not be yoosed" kind of argument. Which some might suspect to be sour grapes for not thinking of it themselves. Or not.

We took a toilet break prior to a brief visit to the cellars and then back to the tasting room for farewells. We bought one of the 2010 Grossi Lauer Riesling from the upstairs store to bring back for El Manica to try at some time (Euro48). I think we had it at the Nobu dinner earlier in the year and recalled it was not generally available. Others went for the Late Harvest stuff, also not too well available over here in Malaysia. 

End of the Hugel Pilgrimage
After the tasting everyone went separate ways on a brief town walkabout, buying tasty pastries and nibbles and touristy knick knacks. One of our ladies had somehow managed to either charm or pressgang one of the gentlemen into being her personal photographer and was happily getting shot in various mad fashion style poses all over the Rue. Wonder what the old General De Gaulle would have thought of it all. He was famous for saying "Non" to British entry into the EEC in the late 1960s. Not sure that it would have worked with our friend...

The Church across from Hugel
Across the Rue almost diagonally opposite the Hugel winery was the Place des 3 Eglises (Three Churches Square) one of which was open and which I hoped might have been where the funeral took place. Quite a bare place, with lots of pews leading up to the altar. I recall Julian saying it was a Methodist affair, so the spartan feel of the place certainly fit. I popped in to say some quiet goodbyes to Etienne. I remember him telling me at the KL Nobu Dinner in January 2016 that he was the "clown" whilst his brother was the maker of the magic. No one ever saw any of his tears. Dam sad. Adieu mon brave, adieu…

Hugel et Fils / Famille Hugel
3, Rue de la Premiere Armee
email info@hugel.com
Open all days 9 - 12 noon / 1 - 6pm

Riquewihr Well. Think I made a wish to come back...
Lenglui had found a few bits to buy and some of the biscuits on sale were brilliant snaps of sugar on the tongue. We all meandered back to the bus and on a short drive toward lunch at the Weinstub du Chambard in Kayserberg, a "traditional inn serving the classic Alsatian Baeckoffe (casserole)". The place itself looked small from the outside but once we got whisked through to the back it turned into a huge spa and hotel. We got sat on a long table just below ground level and got stuck into the bread and butter and the delightful white that was getting poured. We were having the Albert Boxler 2013 Pinot Blanc (the label of which looked familiar from earlier in the tour) and would later move to a Loire Valley Domaine des Roches Neuves Terres Chaudes Saumur-Champigny 2014 made by Thierry Germain. I have no notes of the wines but a great memory of getting belly busted by the Baeckoffe. Big pots of it got brought out by the impressively strong ladies who then proceeded to ladle it into our plates.  Lots of pig and potatoes and gravy, it was good hearty fare. I had seconds - good stuff. Can't remember if there was starters or dessert. Was there?

Main Street, Kayserberg
Table Setting at Weinstub du Chambard

Ladies who Lunch - Lenglui and May Peng
"An extra beeg dollop for yoo M'sieur?" "OUI!"

Happy President
Lunch. Oui.

The Hearty and Belly Busting Baeckoffe. Magnificent.
Back on the bus to return to Colmar and our hotel. Having been belly busted I opted to nap whilst Lenglui went on a town walkabout. On her return, there was about an hour before dinner so on her suggestion I also opted to talk the town. The lump of lead in the belly that was lunch had lightened sufficiently to make this suggestion workable so off I trotted into the darkening gloom of the late autumn dusk settling over the town. It being about 6pm, all the shops had shut and what was left seemed to be a constant stream of bars and eateries. Every other door seemed to have seats with people parked outside boozing and eating. As said, most of the shops were shut, so there was little chance to spend on anything. Got a couple of photos here and there, and it did indeed look a very pretty town. On the walk back along the river to where the hotel was I found a second hand DVD and CD store still open and ended up buying a Blues Music CD with the same title as one of my songs - Coming Home To The Blues. At 3 Euro it was a must buy and a memory. Hopefully a sign that the song will one day sell millions. Click here to listen...

Back to the room for a quick change and downstairs for a group walk to the L’Atelier du Peintre, an elegant and modern one star Michelin restaurant serving mainly seafood dishes in the centre of Colmar. Lots of party atmosphere on the way there, lots of young Colmarians (or should that be Colmariners?) on the streets getting loudly cocktailed. We entered the place and got scuttled into a nicely white and bright side room with a long table around which we all parked and decloaked. Here we go again…

Three wildcats. And Dear Leader. Oui.
Our room had a modern feel to it, though it was a bit overwhelming with some imposing animal paintings on the back wall. Massive testosterone. Lenglui was being watched by some fierce tigers all through dinner. Felt a bit like the den of some macho male stud who was somewhere out on the hunt for distressed damsels to ravage and haul back home. In Colmar. During our dinner. Okay…

The fizz got poured and it was wonderful, especially so after the tremendous thirst we had worked up as a result of our ten minute walk from the Columbier Hotel. A Cremant Brut Zero, Barmes Buecher, 2013 from Alsace, it had great, great balance, easy honey apples and a raspy throat clag clearing finish. Cracker. And not a hint of any of that sour acidity we seemed to have been getting from all the other fizz this past week. Could happily drink this one all night, so smooth and easy, absolute belter of a fizz. Someone said that Alsation Cremants are worth seeking out. Amen to that one, total convert here.  

The Amuse Bouche was a Carrot Juice shooter next to some fish paste in Lemon juice along with Creme Fraiche and a Foie Gras bonbon on a Macaron wafer. This was darn tasty, all the elements working tremendously well together, and just sufficiently salted to demand that more of the delightful Cremant be chugged to even things out. Well worth the trip alone for this Amuse Bouche. Charming and delightful.

Amuse Bouche. Was highly amused!
Next out was what looked like thinly shaved prawns in a wonderfully sweet and fresh Tomato sauce which also had a cold zesty sour hit from some fresh lemon. The Sorbet was brilliant, full of fresh and chilled zip which set off very well against the delicately sweet tomato.

Thinly sliced Prawn with Tomato and sorbet. Great colours. 
It was a magnificent dish which absolutely killed the fizz. There was way too much acid going on in the dish and fighting with that which was already in the booze. Acid plus acid equals ripping the lining from the system. Had to drink water to neutralise. So it goes. 

The Riesling got poured and first impression was… good. It was a 2013 Le Dragon by Josmeyer from Alsace. Not too sharp, but still enough to tweak the cheeks and tangily get the salivatories to kick in and make you want to eat and drink more. Which is what a good wine should do, n'est-ce pas? Got balance, almonds, lemons, some smoke and good spritz.

Break between the courses
The next dish out was the visually spectacular Poached Cod with what looked like Octopus Fricassee and garden peas, sprinkled with bits of watercress and (i think) basil and planted in a pond of what felt like some kind of bisque. The table couldn't quite figure out the sauce - Google translate calls it Giant Shrimp Sauce with the Devil. Which would kind of make sense - boil down the shells for the bisque and add up some Chili or Paprika for power. Whatever, it was naturally good sopping gear for the bread to soak up and get sucked down. The idea of a Giant Shrimp facing down the Devil is quite an image - can somehow see them squaring off against each other. Maybe an idea for one of the Isadorable One's Manga nights. Then again, maybe not.

The excellent Cod and Peas
The Cod was perfect - sweet clean flakes melting into creamy heaven in the mouth. The peas were magnificent accompaniment with that greeny sweet nip on the bite whilst the Octopus lent a wonderful salty textural tentacle crunch. Some little tiny crouton balls of pasta gave a carbo hit to balance and tick the element boxes. 

Vanessa and Lydia
The Riesling and heat in the sauce naturally tamed each other and left a cute numbness on the tongue. Can't remember how it went with the fish - probably excellent though no note was made and memory has now failed. Have to find a sponsor to go back to the restaurant and give it a retry. In my dreams. Yes. 

Next up was the main course of beef. The cows presumably come from some place called Salers and are (according to some site unearthed by Google) fed a totally herbage diet (ie no soya, cereal or corn) until aged 22 months when they are then prepared for the plate. Someone said the meat is apparently the Black Charolais and coming from the same area as the more traditional White ones. Not sure on this - a Google search sent me to Texas and nothing on any French version - all the cows photos showed them white in color. Have to delve a bit fruther on this, but nothing about Charolais Noir or Blanc cows came to light. 

Beef and Ravioli. Or maybe Wonton.
The meat was initially tough on the outer edges but seemed to get better through the cut. Good taste, aided by orange slices with fresh cream and creamy garlic mash (presumably for vitamin C and thinning the blood). The jus was great, helping the mash provide a good carbo whack in the chest. Was not initially sure about the orange slices - it kind of turned the dish into Beef A L'Orange - but it did give a pleasant citrus kick to the thing. I didn't quite get the Ravioli - texturally it fought with pretty much everything on the plate and tastewise I didn't get a lot. It also looked like the shrivelled up wonton we get with our noodles on Petaling Street - somewhat sad. 

Dessert. Yum.
The 2011 Chateau Pibarnon Bandol was lovely. Dear Leader said it was 100% Mourvedre from Provence and which came on like a Barolo - full fruit upfront with smoke and whack on the finish. It made for an excellent choice to match with the medium done meat, facing down the salt and pepper sear and giving supple sleek mouth juices full of fire and taste to the dish. Absolute Belter of a match. Seems that some of the pilgrims opined that the dish was perhaps a shade rustic rather than refined in taste terms and perhaps a bit below expectation of a one star establishment. Well, and perhaps - I'll agree that a one star Michelin should maybe lean more toward transcendence in taste rather than simply offer what can be got two doors down the road at a shade of the price. But I think I'll leave this one open - I enjoyed the dish and the wine. 

The Birthday Boy. Allegedly.
And the dessert that followed was wicked brilliant. Visually it was spectacular - colour, position, and the light dusting of powder (possibly chives) played nicely with the whiteness of the plate. In the middle was (what I guess was the) Sabayon cream shaped into a piston cylinder on top of some fruit and sponge in gelatin base and surrounded with poached peach slices and some amazing syrup in which the ensemble appeared in danger of drowning. Added zing was goven by a spring of mint and (so my notes say) tarragon sorbet which set the whole thing off like a box of rockets in the mouth. Belter belter belter. Alsace surely does know how to do desserts. Phooo...

Someone had brought a bottle of whiskey for the occasion, but Dear Leader warned that corkage by the restaurant might be insisted upon. The owner of the whiskey bluffed the Maitre D' into believing that it was Whiskey Owner's Birthday and that it would be sad not to celebrate royally with all the friends and by the way there's a glass for your goodself for waiving the corkage. Very Malaysian, non? We all wished Whiskey Owner a very Happy Birthday!

And then it was out and into the nippy Colmar night for a bracing stroll (better make that a boozy stagger) back to the hotel and into bed. In all, a most pleasant evening, with good memories of the walk back along the river and past some terrace buildings and shops. Good night Colmar, see you in the morning. 

L'atelier du peintre Menu

Minardises. Yum.

Fraicheur de Tomate Ananas, BonBon de Burrata, Eau de Tomate au Basilic, Sorbet Tomate et Lard Collonata

Dos de Cabillaud Cuit a Basse Temperature, Confit de Poivrons, Petits Pois et Pates Safranees aux Poulpes, Jus de Crevettes a la Diable

Filet de Boeuf de Salers Mature, Raviole en Tricorne, Oignon, Orange et Jus d'une Daube

Douceur de Peche Pochee, Tartare de Peche a L'Estragon et Sabayon au Cremant D'Alsace

Selection de Cave

Alsace, Cremant Brut Zero, Barmes Buecher, 2013
Alsace, Riesling Le Dragon, Josmeyer, 2013
Provence, Bandol, Chateau Pibarnon, 2011

All prices include service and taxes and all the meats are originated in France. Yes.

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