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.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas lunch at Makan Palace, Doubletree

Was a buffet of Malay, Indian, Chinese and Italian but with the added Turkey and Lamb main. Bit rojak, but it seemed to work. Highlights were the Roti Canai and dhall, Waldorf apple salad and the Christmas pudding washed down with Teh Tarik. Turkey was dry, stuffing had no taste, lamb was okay and the gravy brought it all together. Christmas meatball sauce was very good, all rich and brown and soaked up by the bread and butter. Still no better meal in the world than bread and gravy!!

Christmas Eve at Checkers

Dinner at Checkers was excellent. Mr Tan gave us a Salmon compote with cucumber strips for crunch and foundation. Next up was King Prawn in Ratatouille which was superb - all herbs and squish in the mouth. We had roast pork main course with salad and the most amazing roast potatoes - all butter and oil and melt in the mouth magnificence. Can't rememeber dessert. Bottle of Cullen Chardonnay 2008 and our La Forge 2009 Chardonnay washed everything down most pleasantly. Fantastic evening. 

A Weekend at Straits Quay Penang

A group of us were in Penang to perform our Christmas show at the Penangpac in Straits Quay. I arrived early to set up the stage ahead of the others. This is a brief report on food and drink we encountered whilst there. 

Straits Quay Coffee Bean coffee was thin. Sandwich was small for the price. Nowhere to wash your hands. Not good value.

Ate at some restaurant in the evening overlooking the Marina called Maricosa. It was pretty sad. Blue looking margarita by the jug was thin and watery - we had to order another gin to spruce it up. Special of Pork Ribs was drowned in gravy and tasted like it had been braised in water first. Fair prices, but not large on quality.  See how long it lasts.

Took a morning drive along Batu Feringhi to find breakfast. Everything was closed. 

Had breakfast cake and coffee at Delicious. Lenglui enjoyed, though I found it stodgy and the coffee thin. Friends from our group had a different take and enjoyed it all. Stiff prices. Trendy and popular with pretty people. 

We had booked a suite for the cast to stay as back up in case other accommodation didn't come through. It eventually did, but the Agoda company operating the apartments said they would not allow cancellation since it was a special offer rate and I would have to pay the entire three night booking.  Hmm.  Not customer friendly. Since the location suited us, we put up and shut up. But would not happily book through Agoda again. Next time we will find a place that takes direct bookings. Or at least one that has a better policy for cancelling. We saw a few on the main road offering at RM100 compared to the RM400+ for Agoda's special. The Tanjung Beach Resort should reopen soon after its renovation. Maybe it will offer a better deal. Or stay at the E&O hotel. They have free shuttles to Straits Quay.

The one bedroom suite will sleep five people, three in the bedroom and two on couches in the TV area. It was clean and quiet and well located. Though a bit hit and miss for checking in. You need to find the operator who walks up and down the Mall entrance hoping to be noticed by people looking to check in. Big fridge, cooker, free bottled water and wifi with coffee and tea and someone to come in and clean. Big TV with DVD player but no Cable TV. No microwave. Also no place in Straits Quay to buy food - need to go to the Tesco which is a hot and sweaty 15 minute walk away. A verandah overlooked by some building meant that drying clothes outside was impossible and a magnet for mosquitoes. Got a pool and fitness centre which we didn't visit.

Location wise, you're pretty stuck at the Straits Quay without a car. Taxis abound, but it is a good distance to Penang centre, and traffic can be slow given the road system. Fine for a family getaway, but not for people looking to experience Penang in its historical glory.

Night time was at Goodall hawker stall on Gottleib Road. Excellent Lor Bak and O Tien (oyster omelette). Generally very good standard and food quality and taste in the open evening air. Got a free car park too. Recommended.

Found an excellent coffee bar called Full Of Beans at Straits Quay. Expensive, but worth the splurge. One of the best made coffees I have ever tasted. Various varietals and blends available, and all made perfectly. Must try.

Nyona Blend Restaurant Straitss Quay. Good tasty portions, fair price, nice ambience at lunchtime. Can get busy on weekends. We had potato leaves with fried rice and belly pork stew. Very filling. Recommended.

Found an excellent chicken sandwhich at the Cafe Huey and Wah. Went well with our Sixty Drops 2010 which is ageing nicely. 

Last supper was at Northam Beach Cafe. Located next to the sea, got lovely cooling breezes as we ate. So so satay, excellent Lor Bak, small and average Char Kuey Teow, Tiger lady selling beer growled at me for speaking Bahasa. I thanked her in Cantonese and got a grunt. Cordial relations confirmed. 

Drive back to KL stopped at Tapah Services. Hugely busy. Had a small chicken croissant and coffee at Dunkin Donut. Pretty grim, but it was carbo. Lenglui had ice cream at Baskin Robbins. Tip - drive to the petrol station if you want the toilet, otherwise is a long walk from the services entrance.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

IWFS Charity Dinner: Excellent food and wines, but small portions…


Kalsom and Edna
The annual President’s Charity Dinner is the IWFS Kuala Lumpur's black tie gala dinner and the Cilantro restaurant was again chosen as the venue. It is a favourite dining venue of many members. Chef Takashi Kimura’s cuisine combines a wonderful French/Japanese blend that has proved a great success with a wide range of discerning diners. It is consistently reliable and always to a very high standard. 

The aim of the dinner was once again to raise funds for two worthy charities through donations and through the auction of wines donated by members and suppliers at the dinner. The IWFS Kuala Lumpur gives a three year commitment to the charities it supports, essentially to allow both donor and recipient to more efficiently plan their finances. The charites supported are the Beautiful Gate Foundation For The Disabled and the Damai Disabled Persons Association of Selangor & Wilayah Persekutan, Petaling Jaya, Selangor. Each helps the disabled to achieve an independent and self sufficient lifestyle through both wheelchair purchase and emotional support. The ability to travel greatly increases the chances for gainful employment by the disabled and so engender the gains in self esteem that work naturally entails. 

The IWFS Ladies ready to rumble!
Some wonderful wines and gifts were donated and it was hoped that the auction would exceed the RM100,000 raised the previous year. Not to be. The amount fell short but was still a most impressive RM84,000. The generosity of IWFS Members and their friends is praiseworthy and commendable, and greatly appreciated by the charities who proudly sport the IWFS Logo on their vans and properties! 

Fifty nine members and guests attended the dinner, all being welcomed by excellent oysters and some sashimi looking spoonfuls which went gangbusters with the crispy clean and dry throat slaking fizz. The Chateau Taittinger Brut NV is a delicately balanced champagne known for its consistently excellent quality. It is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier wines from over 35 different vineyards and vintages, and a minimum of three years ageing in the cellars is needed for the fizz to reach the peak of aromatic maturity. Gold yellow in colour with fine bubbles, with an open and very expressive nose delivering aromas of peach, brioche, with hawthorn, acacia and vanilla notes. A good start.

Ocean Trout and Uni Tatare
Which was sadly not sustained when matched with the first course. The Ocean Trout and Uni Tatare was essentially sashimi, soft boiled egg and crispy potato. The combination of the ensemble was wonderful, with the egg binding the potato and the fish and  resulting in a texturally magnificent bite. The champagne did nothing for the food except wash it down. The bubbles cleaned the egg gunk from the tongue, but in terms of taste there was nothing to write home, or indeed write here, about.

The apparently iconic 2008 Ch Vieux telegraphe Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc (91 WA) is one of the top white CdP’s of the appellation. Produced by the Brunier family, it is a  blend of 40% Clairette, 30% Grenache Blanc, 15% Bourboulenc and 15% Roussane. The notes say the wine "reveals lots of minerality as well as notes of lemon custard, honeyed nectarines, quince and white currants. Ripe, full-bodied, heady, super-fresh. Layered and long.” We found a nose of apricot and honey with great texture and slight oil on the palate. Full bodied with wonderful balance and structure and which, to paraphrase Lerner and Loewe, we could have drunk all night. A stunner, with great depth and structure, and indeed worthy of the iconic tag.

Jeremy Diamond and Jeff Walmsley
The combination Lobster and Lily Bulb souffle came across as somewhat bitter and acidic, mainly due to the Lily Bulb. Presumably included to give the dish some fibrous texture to the beancurd-like feel of the souffle (which it did), the tastes didn't really harmonise. Bitter vegetables rarely do any favours to wine and so it proved here  - as far as matching with the wine was concerned, the souffle was better on its own. And this match was very good. The lobster tamed the oil and acidity to bring out a nutty butter richness that went beautifully with the souffle. In turn this enhanced the minerality of the wine without sacrificing the fruit and gave a sandpaper scratchy lime finish along the back of the throat. Total result. Life was good. 

The main courses of Sable Fish with Bottarga and Scallop Mousse, Pyrennees Lamb with Houba Miso, and Blackmore Wagyu with Mushrooms were all paired with the Ch Branaire Ducru 2000 (94 RP) and the Ch Branaire Ducru 2008 (91 RP). Chateau Branaire Ducru is a Fourth Growth St Julien with a long history stretching back to 1680. The notes say the medium to full-bodied 2000 "is close to full maturity and… hits the palate with authority, displaying silky tannins as well as wonderful richness, depth and texture" whilst "Its deep ruby/purple hue is accompanied by scents of boysenberries, black currents and spring flowers."  and Ch Branaire Ducru 2008 (91 RP).  In contrast, the 2008 has been acclaimed as a "stunning success for the vintage" and revealing "notes of lead pencil shavings, sweet raspberries and black currants and a subtle touch of oak. Elegant, restrained yet authoritative and impressively intense, it is a medium to full-bodied."

Wong Yin How and his little friend
Both were lovely wines to drink. The medium bodied 2000 had good bramble fruit on the nose and palate, blackcurrant and cassis notes with great balance, sleek structure and long finish. The 2008 had bigger fruit on the nose, was also nicely balanced with easy smooth tannins to produce a lighter finish. 

The lamb was perfect. Wonderful combination of lean young meat texture with a hint of jus whilst the miso lent a salty squeeze on the tongue for taste. One of the best I have tasted. The problem was that there wasn't a lot of it. Three bites and the plate was cleared. Whilst it is true that we foodies pay for the artistry of the chef and his or her wizardry with the ingredients, there is still a need to feel satisfied at the end of the meal. On previous visits, there was sufficient food to feel a reasonable sense of fair value for the price. Didn't happen here. To contrast, the Lenglui and I had enjoyed a wonderful lunch that day generously sported by the EO Jewellery folks at KLCC and thanks to an invite from fellow IWFS member Ong Li Dong. The turkey and lamb lunch with brussel sprouts, stuffing and gravy supplied by Chinoz on the Park were excellent and the stollen cake that followed was just like a taste of the old Christmas - all sticky jam stodge and icing sugar. Put us in mind of Jam Roly Poly school dinner desserts - very evocative. 

Comparing the two, it is difficult not to say that the lunch was far better in terms of satisfaction. Yes, one could argue it is a different experience and that the taste of the Cilantro dishes is the one that we are prepared to pay so much for. It just would have been better if there could have been a little more of it. The beef looked better value and a brief steal of a piece from Lenglui's plate showed the usual Cilantro standard. Was also most excellent with the wine. Did not get a chance to try the fish.

Chocolate and Pear Mouselline
Dessert of Chocolate and Pear Mousseline with mixed berries got paired with a Ch Roullerie Quarts de Chaume Aunis 2010 (93 WS). Seems there is a micro-climate similar to Sauternes In the AC Coteaux du Layon of the Middle Loire (where the Quarts de Chaume is located)  that creates the conditions for Botrytis. The Quarts de Chaume produces brilliant sweet wines purely from Chenin Blanc that are “Rounded and lush, but defined and pure, with gorgeous creamed green melon, fig, glazed pear and papaya character, backed by notes of maple and apricot." A big round mouth of crisp apples and sweet honey with good acidity to produce a long viscous finish. 

The wine matched nicely with the mousseline which came across as chocolate cream with brandy butter snaps and hints of chestnut, caramel and cinnamon. A delightful mouthful, though not really a match with the wine. Milk based desserts never quite seem to hit it off with the cloying sweet viscous quality of dessert wines. It would have been magnificent with apple pie. Not that we'd ever see apple pie on the Cilantro menu. Would have to be called Pommes des Marche Saute et Crustee. Or something more epicurally and euphemistically seductive. We foodies need to be romanced. Yes, we do. Don't we? 

Merry Christmas!!
As ever, the Cilantro service was pleasantly excellent with staff serving and removing things from tables silently and unobtrusively, whilst all the members were doing the small talk round. I do envy people this skill, the ability to remember names at the drop of a hat and to generate relevant and engaging conversation and forge an immediate and unforgettable impression. On a stage with a microphone is one of the safest places in the world for me, but making friends with a newly met stranger is something that does not come naturally. Guess we are all different, eh?

In sum, great wines, excellent food, but such small portions. The company was excellent and the members raising so much for the charities is most commendable. Here's hoping that 2013 brings us all heatlh, contentment and great food and wine adventures!!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012



The Lenglui got invited to a dinner reception, ostensibly at Third Floor restaurant, and I was getting dragged along as the accessory du choice. Damiani is apparently a king of bling manufacture, though not a name that had been known prior to this dinner. Lenglui is on a number of bling merchant lists and evidently they deemed her a prospect for viewing with a view to investing in the sparkly rocks. Ho hum. Though the prospect of a dinner at Third Floor after many years of it being off the radar was quite intriguing. Long a restaurant of note and standard, it would be an opportune occasion to reassess the chef and his fare.

That was the thinking until information came through that chef Ken Hoh had left some time ago. The email was abuzz as to who had taken over and it had fallen to this intrepid rookie of the KL foodie universe to find out. Initial research was inconclusive - no entries after June 2012 and none to suggest that the chef had left or that the restaurant had closed. Hmmm...  bit odd. All would no doubt be revealed in the fullness of time, and hopefully the fullness of a tummy full of good food and wine.

Rushing from an IWFS meeting and following a swift change into shirt and tie and a swoosh of deodorant in the WC, a glass of sweetly thin but fizzy Torralta Prosecco greeted my arrival. Crisp when cold, it thinned out with the warmth of the lighting and lost any edge it originally possessed. Thin and sweet was the description that equally applied to the white. Probably a chardonnay, it lacked body and fruit with a slightly oily finish and no real depth. Ladies wines - not made to cause offense to nose or palate. 

Lenglui was already there, waltzing around the displays totally at home and in her element. Though it should be said that the bling was indeed very pretty, with some magnificent pieces on show and most of it around five years wages for most of the population. The Puan Sris and the Datins gliding about and admiring each others rocks and stones and dress inhabit a totally different world, and one that will probably survive global warming or annihilation by asteroids. Or haemorrhoids.

It was quickly discovered that Third Floor had indeed ceased to be, and the venue had been hired by the Damiani people to give a party to their favoured customers. The name appeared to be used as a matter of convenience, thought it was still in evidence in the lift that took people there. A chef had apparently been imported for the night, by name of Wan, though he or she did not come out from the safety of the kitchen to reveal their smiling face. Perhaps it was too far buried in the bowels of the hotel and too busy looking after the other outlets. 

The Amuse bouche came out looking like a first course in size. Char grilled Organic Baby Romaine lettuce dressed with anchovies lemon aioli and roasted garlic tiger prawn with egg mollet. Yes. The prawn tasted like it had been recently frozen and didn't come across as totally fresh - though the ensemble was pleasantly simple. Didn't get much of the anchovy or the garlic thought the balsamic and egg slightly improved the white on the palate.

The second course of Peking Duck Consomme with Chestnut Wonton had that rich Chinese Herb broth taste and smell that you get in the Chinese medicine shops on Petaling Street and old Chinatown. Total health and ginseng root. Tasted very good too, though there is not much memory of any duck in the soup. The wonton was a nice textured crunch that mixed well with the broth. There was an elemental feel about the chestnut wonton, a sense of forest and earth in the taste. Quite stirring. The notes read of fire, home and country. Oddly good. The white wine failed miserably with the broth. The fizz fared slightly better.

Lime sorbet was a bit thin on lime, though not sufficiently so to render the palate cleanser of utility. 

The main course of  medium rare Roasted Medallion of Beef with Truffle mash and natural jus was a way bit underdone, almost to the extent of the cow still showing signs of life. It also came out cold. The bit that was sufficiently cooked had that good bounce on the teeth that lets you know you have a chunk of quality meat in the mouth. If you don't have to work a bit, it's not as enjoyable. Overall, though, the beef came over as quite sad. There was good texture on the mash, though it could maybe have used a little seasoning for taste. Though one can never call for salt and pepper in these places. Cartoon images from childhood of chefs brandishing meat cleavers and chasing foodies around the table calling for blood may have some rooting in fact. The red was a Benchmark Cabernet 2011, an old friend from the supermarket. Bright and lively, a bit tannic and young, though sterling enough for the assembled ladies and their gentlemanly accessories. 

Dessert was a somewhat stodgy Valrhona Chocolate Celee, Mouseline Genoise with ice cream and crunchies, which presumably all means something. It looked like a chocolate log and had that bland quality about it which suggested "hotel prepared" so as to cause no offense to any patrons tasting. Which made sense since we were in the Marriott Hotel. Notwithstanding, a pleasant enough way to end the evening with coffee. Again with that distinct hotel taste about it. Slightly bland and toasty with a thin quality. 

As so often seems to happen, the bread and balsamic olive oil was the star of the night. Warm and crisp with soft insides, one could have eaten the stuff all night. Some lovely company on the long table, with a Sultana sat at one end and us Raisins at the other end of the pecking order. 

Reflecting on all of this the day after, it came over as a sad requiem for the glory that the Third Floor used to be. We have had totally memorable evenings of food and wine there in the past. Whilst this one was no less spectacular or unforgettable in decor and ambience, the food did little except remind what used to be. It would be difficult to reopen the Third Floor given the incredible number of restaurants that have sprung up over the last two years and those that are also  in the pipeline. The game has changed and the competition is fierce, and prices seem to be stratospheric in the trendier style places. Third Floor might have a future as a food function room for high calibre people, though the food preparation needs a boost for it to really qualify as being of fine dining quality. Hotel chefs do what they can with the teams they have, but stretched is stretched and quality will always suffer. Thanks for the Third Floor memories, default fine dining remains Sage and Cilantro.

IWFS Vintry Ampang Nov 2012 - Excellent wines, okay food


The latest IWFS Kuala Lumpur eating adventure took place at the recently opened Vintry in Ampang. Located in the middle of a row of shophouses just off the main Ampang road, this third in the Malaysian chain sports the warm and welcoming shelves of wine to choose for enjoying with the dinner that is served in the upstairs section. Lots of wood and barrels doubling as bars for drinks and chat set a homely rustic feel. 

Champagne ladies!
Billed as "A True Vintry Experience" both the food and wine looked promising matches. French style entrees with Wagyu beef or Iberico pork ribs as the main being paired with French and Italian wines. Chef Esther as resident chef at the Ampang outlet was joined by Chef Wayne from the Vintry outlet in Singapore who had been flown in to join the culinary fun. 

There were 54 members and guests in attendance on the night, all being welcomed with a glass of freshly sweetish prosecco. The Vetriano was billed as a classic dry style with citrus and lemon nose and crisp apple acidity and lemon zest on the palate. The sweetness got a bit cloying by the fourth glass, though perhaps this was more the wine warming up. Went very nicely with some amazing canapes - goat's cheese and apricot jam on crackers and the skewered prunes wrapped in bacon were a total delight. Vintry really does the finger food tremendously well.

YC Yap, Barry Shaw and Brian Mack
Everyone got herded up the stairs to the dining area and seated in a medieval style setting on benches of tables with two smaller groups parked next to the bar. A bit of a tight fit but no one seemed to be complaining. The airconditioners were blowing full blast and got a bit cold if one was sat directly in their path. When it was discovered that the kitchen was downstairs at the back of the restaurant and that the food had to run the gauntlet of all the airconditioning, the more pessimistic started grumbling about the spectre of the food coming out cold. The more optimistic felt all shoud give the place a chance. 

The first wine out of the blocks was the Les Heritiers de Lafon Vire Clesse 2010. An Allan Meadows 91 pointer, Vintry owner Wong Yin How's verbal introduction suggested crisp minerality whilst the tasting notes spoke of a "fresh bright nose of ripe yellow orchard fruit" and "generous, seductive and opulent medium-bodied flavours that possess excellent intensity on the vibrant, balanced, palate staining and long citrus-infused finish." The table bibbers got apples and oak on the nose and palate, a crisp full body with melons and apples and a slightly chewy texture and a long citrus finish. 

There seemed to be quite a time gap between the wine and the food arriving at the table, with the result that half the wine had disappeared before the food made it from downstairs. This can make the exercise of seeking to comment on the wine and food matches a shade redundant, especially if the policy in place is a single glass per person per course. Which seemed to indeed be in place since no refilling bottles appeared evident. At least the subzero aircon did sterling work in keeping the wine nicely chilled in the glass. It did eventually warm and started giving off honey notes on the nose.

The first course of Papillote of Cod topped with Ikura and drizzled with a sweet lemon and butter emulsion eventually appeared and was ultimately worth the wait. Preparing food en papillote means the food is wrapped "in parchment" paper and steamed in a conventional oven, with liquid occasionally added to give flavor and the steam. It is a delicate process, requiring foods that cook quickly whilst remaining sufficiently able to absorb the range of herb and seasoning in the bouillon. Non oily fish is the default choice. 

Papillote of Cod
The Papillote texture was one of a beautifully fluffy omelette that floated across the tongue, given sweet and crispy wings by fresh tomato and salt from the Ikura. Most commented that the Papillote was similar to Otak Otak, a South Asian fish cake made with fish paste, herbs, spices and eggs, though the Papillote lacked the bite of Otak Otak. It cut the minerality in the Lafon, thus enhancing the fruit whilst maintaining the crispness of the wine. A most pleasant match.

The second dinner wine was the Guigal Crozes Hermitage Blanc 2010 from the Rhone. The Guigal reds are regular wine choices when seen on the wine lists in KL's restaurants. A Wine Advocate 89 pointer, the Guigal had the same blend of grapes as the Lafon, though with more minerality and higher acids as well as less flesh, depth and fat. It is a stylish, Chablis-like Crozes to drink in its first 4-5 years of life."  Yin How suggested apricots and honeysuckle to be found in the wine, it was a shade overchilled so no nose was immediately apparent. We got flint and steel minerality and honey and melon in the mouth, though a shade oily in texture. Liquorice and nutmeg, cinnamon spice, long lovely finish. 

Again, the gap between wine and food seemed to border on the interminable. The second course was Provencal Style Bouillabaise Infused with Saffron and served with garlic bread wafers. Seems the soup had been simmered for half a day with a combination of fishes. Our fears of the effect of running the subzero aircon gauntlet were realised when the Bouillabaise came to the table with the fish pieces cold and a bit overcooked. Oddly enough, no one sent it back, possibly fearing it might take a second age to come back to the table. The broth is traditionally the key to great Bouillabaise and the Vintry offering came across as spicy though not overly so. The garlic bread wafers gave a butternut sweetness to the broth whilst both let the Guigal give off some persimmon fruit on the palate. 

There was a comment to the effect that having two fish dishes follow each other did not somehow feel proper and that maybe a different texture might have been more appropriate. Research could not find anything to suggest that having two fish courses served one after the other was wrong. The web experts seem to say that so long as there is contrast in colours, tastes, textures and temperatures and the entire menu has a sense of movement and unity, nothing is improper. 

Stephanie, Edna and Lily
The third wine was the Domaine Taupenot Merme Chambolle Musigny 2008. Developed by the 7th generation brother and sister team of Romain and Virginie, the notes of this Allan Meadows 86 pointer spoke of an "airy, bright and pure red pinot fruit nose nuanced by a hint of minerality that transfers over to the lilting and lacy middle weight flavours that are supple, forward and refined." Yin How suggested it to be a classically elegant and aromatic Burgundy and so it proved to be. Lovely nose of black cherry and liquorice, light in body yet supple in texture with firm tannins beautifully balanced, spice on the palate with a clean medium finish. 

Third course was a Foie Gras Mousse and Goose Salami duo served with strawberry coulis on brown bread. This was a bit strange, reminiscent of an open sandwich that had been shrunk. Tastewise, the bread overpowered all else that came on top so that any blending of food tastes and textures got lost in the rich darkness of the rye. When separated, each element was excellent - the goose salami paired particularly well with the Chambolle whilst the Foie Gras mousse pretty much evaporated on contact with the roof of the mouth. Someone once described Foie Gras as "meat butter" which would make the mousse more of a whipped meat cream. Possibly a shade molecular for many tastes and needing a less rich bread base. Credit for seeking to experiment, though maybe a case of the parts being better than the sum. 

The fourth wine was the robust Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino 2007.  Apparently served from magnums and decanted for three hours, this Wine Advocate 93 pointer "bursts from the glass with freshly cut flowers, violets, leather, licorice and black cherries. Firm underlying tannins lend vibrancy to the voluptuous fruit."  Beautiful wine. We got a powerful nose of brambles and black cherry and spice with chocolate and coffee notes. Firm astringent tannins, lovely full body and long on the palate with a firm medium finish. One to keep, 

Fourth course was a choice of either Smoked Spanish Iberico Pork Loin Ribs or Braised Wagyu Beef Cheeks with hand-picked wild mushrooms with each being served with the same truffle infused mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables. The lightly peppered ribs were excellent and an excellent match with the Brunello, though the chef's decision to cut them short rather than leave them long drew some comment from those who presumably like to chew on the bone. The meat cut the tannins nicely and let the fruit come through to dance with the pepper on the tongue. 

Wagyu Beef Cheeks
Wagyu is the meat that comes from those breeds of cattle which have huge levels of fat lined through the meat, hence the term "marbled". There is an art to developing the marbling, and the cattle are treated like royalty with special feeding of top quality grains, beer, and the legendary massaging. Originating in Japan, the cattle are now bred in both the US and Australia where feeding the cattle is more economically sensible than needing to import the special feed for the cattle in Japan. A quick taste of the beef cheeks with the garlic mash found them to be of very good texture with that traditional melt in the mouth oily coating that good wagyu gives. The sauce was nicely bland, givng the cheeks enough gravy for taste though not so much to mask the meat - a welcome change compared to the wagyu decisions of other restaurants. They showed off the wine quite nicely, though, with the sauce and texture mingling with the fruit to give that great sense of well being that ony great food and wine can truly give. A good expression for those who enjoy the wagyu. 

Dessert was Caramelised Peaches, Apples and Apricot Clafouti served with vanilla ice-cream which was a sweetly crisp and crunchy way to round off the evening, as was the generosity of the staff with the remaining Brunello and Chambolle. 

In sum, the wines were wonderful whilst the food ranged from average to very good. The canapes were totally off the map tasty, the ribs were excellent whilst the beef cheeks were well prepared and not over sauced. The Papillote and the Bouillabaise broth had nice body and texture. The progression of the menu was visually pleasant and texturally good, though maybe a question over having two fish dishes follow each other. Some found it a bit odd. The Foie Gras mousse came across as experimental but the ensemble missed the taste mark completely, thanks to the overly rich bread. The cold fish was disappointing. 

As an occasional regular at other Vintry outlets, it does seem to be a Vintry characteristic that the pork dishes are consistently very good whilst other types of fare tend to pale in comparison. They seem to lack that smack inside the mouth quality that the pork dishes regularly display. The offerings are consistently good, but always seem to lack that quintessential quality that would convert the dining into "fine". The Vintry in Ampang should prove a most pleasant detour and watering stop should one find themselves shopping at the excellent Ampang Mini Market on the corner of the block. As a destination restaurant, the prospect of fighting the Ampang Road traffic to get there for those of us living on the other side of town is a daunting one. Great for those living on that side of town, but the rest of us will stick to the Ribs in Damansara. 

 Photos by Jan Shaw

Tai Chi annual dinner at Pik Wah, Kuala Lumpur December 1st 2012

Quick shout out for excellent Pork Noodles and steamed fish, with superb chicken in aspic starter. Great choice from Herman in picking the Montes 2011 Suavignon Blanc. Crisp, clean and refreshing, not a lot of fruit but great zip and acidity. Should buy a few bottles. Mr Gwailo sang his usual Pang Yau and rocked out with Delilah and I Saw Her Standing There. Righteous.

Morande Wine Dinner at Favola December 3rd 2012

The email was promising - five course dinner with wine for RM120 at the Favola restaurant. Silly price.  Wine distributor Cave and Cellar looked to match Favola Italian food with Chilean wine from the Morande vineyard. The troops were quickly rounded up and reservations duly made. 

The marketing manager and winemaker were in town and gave a quick intro to Morande. Standard talk about the wines and the vineyard.

The antipasti was lovely, with honours going to a pear and ricket salad with grilled duck sausage, walnut and gorgonzola. The nut and pear crunch underpinned the chewy sausage and the cheese sealed the whole deal. Clam vongole was a bit over chillied, but gave a good test to the cooling capacity of the Morande Pinero Chardonnay 2011. It proved up to the task, slightly sweet finish with reasonably crisp acidity though not much in the fruit or complexity department. 

Potato and mussel soup with parmesan crouton soaked up the remainder of the bread. The Morande Grand Reserva Chardonnay 2010 felt baked, as if it had been left too long in the heat somewhere. It tasted similar to the 2009 I'd had previously, though less balanced and more wood and vanilla. Possible suspicion of over expsoure to oak in the vinification process. We called for more Pinero which went nicely with the soup. 

The Penne pasta was pleasant, al dente with interesting texture from the pine nuts. The Limited Edition Carignan 2007 came across as a fruity Shiraz. Lots of character and large damson in the mouth, good full body and a long bold finish. It just didn;t match the food, and it was difficult to gauge quite what food the Carignan could actually go with. Possibly a hearty lamb stew or something more country and meat based. Certainly didn't help the pasta. The wine notes were also a bit confusing, with references to sour cherry, myrtle and maqui and boldo tea - what do these taste like? And why should we care? Morande winemaker Ricardo Baettig later shared that they were looking to promote the Carignan as a viable competitor to the traditional Carmenere and other single varietals. On the evidence of this example, got quite a ways to go yet.

The sirloin was fair and juicy, though a shade high in gristle and came out cold. The salmon got slightly overcooked somewhere and came out warm and slightly sad. The flagship House of Morande Red Blend 2006 mixed Carignan with Cab Sauv and Cab Franc and came out…  confused for me. Didn;t seem to match the notes - reasnoable body rather than full and not a lot of length for me. The grapes didn't seem to be happy with each other, fighting in the mouth for dominance of flavour. As with the Carignan, a wine that would be difficult to find a good match with food. Something big and bold to beat back the fruit. And alcohol - both the reds were quite high, with the winemaker shrugging his shoulders and saying "That's the sun, what can we do?" Maybe try picking your grapes a bit earlier?

In sum, a bit disappointed with the wines but enjoyed the food and the company immensely. Overall the wines didn't do any favours to the food and felt a bit rough and raw. Cave and Cellar give great value on their wine dinners, just wish they could find a way to match them with the food with a bit more thought and care. Won't be buying any of these. 

Again, got stiffed by fierce car parking charges - RM14 even after two hours for RM8. Painful.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Petroliam Club KLCC November 30th 2012

The good doctor wanted to treat myself and Lenglui to dinner and raved about the Petroliam Club. We had been there previously on singing gigs with our Six2Eight accapella group but not tried the food. We were the only ones there. Great location on the 42nd floor of the Twin Towers overlooking the city to the north and west. food was okay. Salmon went well with a Shelley Beach white blend whilst chocolate dessert was not overly sweet. Meat quality on the steak not bad but not great. It was nice to feel as thought the place had been booked out for us, but not sure I'd return quickly. The food was not that spectactular, though a quick tour of both the Chinese and Japanese partner restaurants looked promising for a future visit.

Marco Polo Restaurant November 29th 2012

One of our default restaurants. Birthday dinner for Uncle Mak and Mrs Mak. Lenglui ordered and we got treated to excellent chicken soup and very excellent roast duck. The Soon Hock Yee was steamed perfectly whilst the sea cucumber was apparently most enjoyable. Not many people there. Shame because the food is fantastic. so is the 20% discount Lenglui gets from her Marco Polo card. Recommended.

Iketeru KL Hilton November 24th 2012

Supposed to be at an open house but got screwed by Garmin in Shah Alam. Google map as well. Drove around in circles until Garmin sent us back to the main road at which point we conceded defeat. Ended up at Iketeru. Fair sashimi and very good teppanyaki steak with a bottle of hot sake soothed the nerves. Shout out for the Garlic Fried rice and the Garlic chips that come with the steak. With the Hilton card, the food is a good deal at 50% off for two people. But the sake is a bit stiff. Can buy the big 1.8 litre bottle for under RM100 at the Isetan whilst the hotel whacks you RM300 plus after plus plus for a standard 750ml bottle. What to do? Japanese food without sake is like chips without vinegar or Roti and dahl without sambal. Just not the same.

Best Western Hotel November 11th 2012

Went for the wedding of Brother Ho's daughter. Lenglui and I were joined at the Table by Dato Kok and wife, Kelvin, and Key from the Amante group, and by Victor from Spanish Passion who was supplier of the wines to the restaurant. Food was okay, though the chicken seems to be the memory - succulent and a bit oversalted but lovely nonetheless. Dessert also. Victor's Spanish whites were tasty, good firm body and crisp acidity. Kelvin brought a Chilean red. First time I'd ever come across someone bringing their own wine to a wedding. It does make sense, though. Most hotel wine is pretty mediocre stuff. At least with your own you know you'll enjoy it with friends. Sang the usual Yue Liang Tai and Pang Yau for the wedding. Mix up with singers and songs meant that Lenglui had to change to singing "Only You" instead of her wedding party piece "The Wedding Song". To have both of them sing the same song was cannot, even though the bride's mother thought it would be okay. Lenglui did it well. But she would have nailed the Wedding Song way better than the other singer. The groom seems a pleasant chap - well balanced. 

Hilton KL Senses Restaurant November 10th 2012

Surprisingly good steak. Senses were having a beef promotion and this was the star. Meat quality on the Angus was very good and the medium rare ribeye steak was nicely prepared. Lamb cutlets also very good, above the usual con-fusion food that I seem to remember Senses excelling at. Guigal Cotes Du Rhone was an excellent partner to both. Steak was even better than recent eatings at the Prime next door in Le Meridien. Don't seem to have much luck at Senses - every time we go there I get an earful of criticals from Lenglui. Must be the feng shui of the place. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Mill Cafe at Millennium Hotel in KL - still damn good!

Following a wine taste at the Nam Lee Cheong where they insisted I sing some of my songs, I met the Lenglui at the Mill Cafe in the Millenium Hotel for dinner. Yet again, the Mutton curry and Tandoori Chicken with the Garlic Naan were off the map wonderful. And again the pairing with the Oyster Bay 2009 Sauvignon Blanc was excellent. Two days later and still got a full belly from the evening. Kudos to Makhan Singh and new Exec Chef Steven Seow (from the sadly missed Urban Spoon) for looking after us. As is the usual suggestion, try there now before the prices go up and the portions go down!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Post Script to Beychevelle dinner - Shang pulls a stroke!

Found out recently that the restaurant imposed a charge for the water. Seems a bill for RM600 was presented to the organiser for  those who had ordered still or sparkling. The staff had apparently not advised the patrons that water was  chargeable. This had happened to me on a previous wine dinner with regard to getting charged for coffee. The fault is ours for assuming. If we'd known the still or sparkling was chargeable as extra then we'd have insisted on tap water. But I feel the hotel bears some responsibility here. People assume that when they pay one price for a wine dinner then there are no extras. Expecting patrons to read fine print with regard to water and coffee without advising of a charge is not acceptable in a hotel that claims five stars. It leaves a very bad taste at the end of the evening. We used to call it pulling a stroke. Once could be classed an oversight; twice might suggest a policy of disinformation. It certainly blots the Lafite copybook and by association the ShangriLa hotel. I wonder whether the wine dinner organisers will go back there? Don't think I would....  better to go to Sage or Cilantro. Cheaper car parking too.

Friday, November 2, 2012


Poor Jeremy. Not much sooner had the notice for this dinner gone out to the members did he get inundated with acceptances. Whilst not normally a bad thing, on this occasion there was a strict limit on the number of places available. All twenty were snapped up literally within minutes, and many IWFS KL members had to be put on a waiting list. 

It was difficult not to see why. A marvellous selection of wines from one of the leading chateax of St Julien and paired with the food from one of the leading restaurants in the city at a steal of a price. Most of us were on tenterhooks, wondering if we would be part of the chosen few. 

The email with the seating duly came and those fortunate enough to have made the cut found themselves duly allocated. I got to be one of the lucky ones along with my nearest and dearest. Maybe being the food and wine writer in situ for the IWFS helped. No dinner, no write up. Ah, the perques of leverage.

Let the drinking begin!
Located in the Shangri-La Hotel in the Golden Triangle business district of Kuala Lumpur, Lafite remains one of the go-to restaurants for fine French style cuisine. In recent years, the menu had become somewhat molecular, though the quality remained unmatched. The evening’s offering from new-ish Chef de Cuisine John Nash saw a return to more traditional ingredients in what appeared a well thought through attempt to match the wine and cuisine. A delightful evening appeared in prospect.

We learned from Secretary Jeremy's notice that Chateau Beychevelle is classified as a 4th growth though many consider that it should be moved up the classification list. The Chateau's origins go back to the Middle Ages, it being constructed in 1565, and covers some 90 hectares. It is affectionately known as the ‘Versailles of the Medoc’ because of its elegant classical architecture and formal French gardens. The soil is deep Garonne gravel which ensures that the wines extend way down into the sub soil to gather the special nutrients that are conveyed up into the grapes. The grape varieties in the final wine are typically: 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc & 2% Petit Verdot. Vinification is carried out in the traditional manner. The wine is aged for 18 months in oak barrels with production in the range of 40,000 to 50,000 cases. 

We were also to be joined by Mr Aymar de Baillenx, the overall Manager of the Chateau who would explain a little more about his wines at the dinner.

7 Spice Prawn and Crab appetizer
IWFS Secretary Jeremy had advised us that things would get underway at 7pm arrival, with a 7.20pm intro to the wine by the guest of honour and food and 7.30pm to eat. We were a bit delayed and on a 7.25pm arrival at the restaurant, we were somewhat surprised to see everyone queued up in the reception area clearly waiting to be seated. It was reminiscent of waiting for the dinner hall at school to open. And no aperitif to boot. Merde. Greetings were interspersed with many a grumbling of “I’m thirsty.” After all, the IWFS is a wine and food society, and so the wine should come naturally first. The maitre d’ must have heard the rumblings of discontent, for no sooner had we said our hellos we got ushered to our tables and quickly served with a glass of the Chateau Beychevelle Grand Bateau Blanc 2010. Though not as crisply refreshing as one might have wanted in an aperitif wine, no one seemed to be complaining. Methinks everyone was happy to finally have something to sip and swirl. On its own it was crisp enough, with fair fruit and a pleasant nose, though somewhat thin in body. 

The appetizer of 7 Spices Prawn and Crab with caviar, avocado and orange was a delightful mélange of tastes and textures to get the food adventure underway. Looking like a chunk of high end sushi, the avocado softened and enhanced the taste of the crab and prawn beautifully whilst the caviar and orange danced across the tongue. So many sensations – grafefruit, salt, savoury – and not overly sweet. Pairing a low acidity wine with all of these tastes now made sense. A more acidic wine would have hammered all these into submission. A great start.

Chateau Manager Mr Aymar de Baillenx was then invited to share some knowledge of the wines. He didn't say too much, evidently preferring to leave the wine and the food to do the talking. Smart man.

Pan Fried Sole Fillets
The second wine to come to the table was the Secret de Grand Bateau 2010, another Sauvignon Blanc though presumably from a different parcel of land. The difference was palpable. A very well made wine, almost Burgundian in the mouth with layered textures though the nose came across as a bit barnyard – that slightly fermented sense which suggests the vines may be a bit close to the compost heap. Honeyed finish, almost cloying. Might make a useful dessert wine.

It did, however, come into its own with the Pan Fried Sole Fillets in grapefruit, vanilla and mushroom. The sole was tender and pleasantly not overcooked, so the texture came through wonderfully. The grapefruit lent nice acidity whilst the mushroom gave underlying crunch. But the genius was the melted butter with which the sole had been doused. It cut the sugar in the wine and helped bring out the acidity making for a more rounded taste on the wine and a delightful complement to the food. A lovely match.

Both the third and fourth wines came out together so everyone had a chance to compare them ahead of the food. The general table consensus for the Grand Bateau Rouge 2010 was “yummy”. A Cabernet Merlot blend, this had a great nose of berries, black pepper and spice. Very smooth going down with nice weight and even  tannins though the alcohol felt a bit prominent. A very easy drinker.

Lenglui enjoying the Sole
The Secret de Grand Bateau Rouge 2010 was a standard bordeaux blend with some Cab Franc being added to the Cab Sauv and Merlot. It came across as slightly sweet though well balanced with even tannins. Damson and plum suggested a higher percentage of Merlot. Very full finish, though like the predecessor the alcohol felt a bit on the high side. 

The Braised Rabbit Stew with white bean, frisee and brioche was somewhat drier than one might expect of something called a stew. Not much in the way of gravy but there you go. The bean and brioche lent a pleasant textural foundation for the beautifully braised meat which came over as a shade salted though not overly so. Texturally reminiscent of tinned tuna for some reason. For those of us who remember rabbit stew when they were caught out in the wild, this was a new twist on a classic. I have no notes on the pairing.

We were now on the home straight with the two main eventers making their ways to the table. Both the Amiral de Beychevelle 2008 and the Chateau Beychevelle 1998 were blends of Cab Sauv, Merlot, Cab Franc and Petit Verdot. The Amiral was pure bordeaux, with cassis prominent in a smooth sleek and velvet nose. Qutie tannic as one would expect for a wine so young, with a lovely balance that needs a minimum eight more years in the bottle. The 1998 naturally outshone all that had gone before it. A lovely expression of a top end bordeaux, this was the business. Cassis, blackcurrant, herbs, rain and hillsides. A true smell and taste of the romance that can only be France.

Pecan Crusted Venison Loin
The Pecan Crusted Venison Loin with sweet potato, brussel sprouts and juniper berry was not as rich as previous experience with this kind of meat would have suggested. Mine was medium rare, and was lovely. Enough texture on its own, the pecans and sweet potato brought out the softness of the meat and the ensemble came together in a crunching mouth melting finale. Although the sweet potato did look a bit off putting – large brown pellets reminiscent of something that Bambi might have, er, left in the forest. Sometimes you just have to close your eyes. 

The venison naturally cut through the tannins and was a belter with both wines, though the Beychevelle 1998 took the honours. Dessert of Quince and Apple Cobbler with oatmeal, white chocolate and caramel sweetened things off in a liquidly creamy crunchy and not too sweet kind of way. Though for some reason all at the table were calling for more bread. It was terribly, saltily, moreishly delicious and doing stout service in soaking up the remains of the wine which was being poured to any who could still raise a glass. Which leads one to wonder whether enough food had been served. Though no one voiced any complaint on this point. Maybe the bread was just too good.

In all, a great evening of wine and food and friendship. It was unfortunate that there were insufficient places to accommodate all IWFS KL members who wanted to attend. But there will be many more in the future. Look out for the President's Ball on December 8th at Cilantro!

International Wine & Food Society Kuala Lumpur

Ch. Beychevelle Wine Dinner’

7-Spices Prawn and Crab
Caviar, Avocado,Orange

 Grand Bateau Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc 2010
Pan Fried Sole Fillets
Graoefruit, Vanilla, Mushroom

Secret de Grand Bateau, Sauvignon Blanc 2010
Braised Rabbit Stew
White Bean, Frisse, Brioche

Grand Bateau Rouge, Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2010
Secret de Grand Bateau Rouge, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc 2010
Pecan Crusted Venison Loin
Sweet Potato, Brussel Sprouts, Juniper Berries

Amiral de Beychevelle, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc,Petit Verdot 2007
Chateau Beychevelle, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot 1998
Quince and Apple Cobler
Oatmeal,White Chocolate, Caramel

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

New Menu at the Prime October 2012

Been threatening to give this one a shot for ages, and with someone's birthday looming a booking was made. In the end the birthday girl couldn't show but Lenglui myself and the Doc went ahead. The Doc had a RM200 voucher that needed redeeming, and wanted to try out some dishes on their recently amended menu. What to do?

Whilst the reception area was clearly undergoing major renovations, the interior of the Prime had not changed. Long legendary for some of the best steak in the city, we naturally wanted to see if it still had the mojo. The menu had indeed been updated, and the prices had evidently been revised upwards. Maybe blame the bad harvest on increasing grain prices. Inflation had clearly come to the Prime.

Lenglui opted for Angus ribeye, the Doc went for an 1824 Sirloin and I went with a different ribeye. Shared starter of green salad and a delightful Thai style beef with crispy noodle - sweet without cloying and great texture and carbo to combine with the beef proteins. Washed down with a glass of Mumm NV cold fizz, it made for a delightful ensemble.

The Prime is quite reasonable on their corkage, opting to allow no corkage on a bottle brought so long as one is bought from their list. Always a good reason to prefer one restaurant over another. We'd brought a 2005 Brunello which the Doc had brought to a previous food outing and had gone undrunk. Big berries on the nose, powerful and full fruit on the mouth, lovely tannins and great balance, a wine of flair and finesse. It paired with the steak magnificently. The steak was…. okay I suppose. We all opted for the 8oz and they were all done according to our tastes. I just wasn't blown away by them. As we always do here in Malaysia, we all tasted a bit of each others food. Again, all were good and fine and tasty but just not… mindblowing. I guess if we want mindblowing we have to buy the wagyu steak with the marble, but at triple the price it felt too much of a whack to the wallet. 

Another whack to the wallet was to come. Whilst most KL Hotels mark the car parking at a flat rate for the weekend, Hilton and Le Meridien do not. You get two hours at RM8 but each successive hour is RM5. So total carpark whack was RM18. At the Shang, max on a weekend after 7pm is RM10. Feels like quite a lot to pay for the privilege of dining at the Prime. Certainly a reason not to go back there. Coupled with the so so okay only steak, will look to retry the Dish on Tun Razak. Cheaper parking too.

Pleasantly surprised with The Mill Cafe at the Grand Millenium, October 20 2012.

Following a shop hunt at the Uniqlo, we decided upon the Millennium Hotel as our food destination for the night. Lenglui had recently applied for the Hotel card so being in the area it seemed the ideal opportunity to give it a try. 

Previously known as The Regent Hotel, the Millennium now sports a swanky grey marble interior which makes for a cool austere ambiance. Our original plan was to try out the Japanese restaurant there, but on being told that they were fully booked we allowed ourselves to be escorted to The Mill Cafe. In a previous incarnation we remembered it as a tasty Italian outlet. The offering for the buffet was a fairly standard hotel mix of japanese, indian, chinese and italian and looked reasonaby appetizing so down we sat. The wine list was reasonable and we plumped for a 2009 Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. 

The service was attentive and friendly without being overpowering, and the food was well prepared and tasty enough. Pizza was light and crisp, Pumpkin soup a bit large in the mouth, sashimi, prawns and oysters were okay, the Chinese offerings looked a bit sad as did the beef so we passed. Desserts came out a bit on the stodgy side, though not overly sweet.

Star of the night was the Lamb Masala with the Aloo Gobi and freshly baked Naan and Tandoori Chicken. Hotels get notoriously bland with their food but this was full blown in the mouth with solid spice and fire. Perfect match with the ageing and slightly sweet wine. The chef (aptly named Makhan Singh) came across to chat with us and told us of his history in KL. Seems he was instrumental in starting up the Bombay Palace and has since served various tours of the hotel restaurants around the city. Definitely worth a return visit for the masala.

CIMB Cards get discount on the food at the moment, so our card was pretty redundant on the night. After dinner we sat at the reception waiting for the band to start. Following a five minute sit during which no one had come to see if we wanted drinks, we decided to opt for home and the football. 

Buffet was RM88++, wine was RM140++

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Vintry interior
I got a phone call from the Doc. "Ever tried Spanish wine?" he asked.  Well, yes, I said. Sort of. Well, only if you count a session with the Wine Tasting Committee last month, which got very hazy. Outside of this, my experience with the wines of Spain had not been generally positive. A road trip around the country in my early drinking days had found little to commend them. Rough, tasting of red earth and brick, and all of them not really worth the hangover. Occasional bottles since had done little to change this view. 

"Come to Ribs on Monday. You might be pleasantly surprised."  Very good, I said. "Only a hundred bucks." 

I really must learn to ask the price of these things in advance.

The Doc had clearly given this same sales pitch to a few of his friends, because come the Monday there were 24 intrepid and adventurous bibbers ready to embark upon Vintry's Brief Overview of Spanish Wines as part of Vintry's "Experience Wine" series. It did look a most pleasant prospect - eight different styles of wine accompanied by a variety of tasty cheeses from the same part of the world. 

Happy bibbers!
IWFS President Dr Rajan said a brief hello and introduced owner Wong Yin How to talk about the wines. The first was a 2009 Albarino by Martin Castro which proved to be a deligthful aperitif; crisp and fresh, scraping the throat and cleansing the palate. Texturally coming across as a cross between a Chard and a Sauvignon Blanc, and tasting of liquid sherbet lemons. Nice.
The cheese, bread and fruits came out after the first had been swallowed to accompany the extremely drinkable 2010 Godello by Val de Sil. There was a quartz like minerality to this one, as if it had been strained through pebbledash. Bright and sharp, would be a belter with shellfish. I bought two bottles.

Third out as a 2007 Mencia by Altos de Losada. Billed as Spain's answer to the Pinot, I found it reminiscent of some of the lighter Malbecs coming out of Argentina. Nice lush fruit with good alcohol and tannin. 

The two Riojas that followed offered a contrast between old school 1999 Faustino Gran Reserva and new school 2004 Sierra Cantabria. The latter was more approachable in fruit and food friendly match, thought the former scored better in lean and refined structure. Very sleek and silky.

More cheese was demanded and cheerily supplied as the final three wines made their way to the glass. The remaining wines got lost in the mist of conversation and walnuts. Also, my notes have somehow gone missing. But the last was pleasantly memorable, a sweet port style with loads of depth and richness. This style goes back years whereby they keep adding to the original cask. Sounds similar to the way they make sourdough bread. 

In all, a good evening and a great way to taste some excellent wines at fair value. Though tasting eight wines in two hours seemed like a tall ask. A very pleasant ask, but a tall one nonetheless. And indeed so it proved to be. The reds needed to be savoured, and some folks had to leave early to make dinner appointments. Lesson: start earlier next time. This was somewhat assuaged by Yin How offering 20% discount on purchases on the night. My appeal for 25% for IWFS Committtee members was deftly ignored. Well, there need to be some perks to the job? Don't there?

some of the debris...

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

"Fine Dining Chinese Cuisine" - IWFS Dinner Noble House Restaurant 23rd August 2012

"Fine Dining Chinese Cuisine" - IWFS Dinner Noble House Restaurant 23rd August 2012

It's not always easy to match a range of wines with Chinese style food. In the West, our focus is more on taste whereas in the East the emphasis is more on texture. And where sequence in the West generally goes from light to heavy in terms of richness, the East would look for each preceding dish to be followed by one that often contrasts and contradicts to cleanse and rest the system for the next in sequence. It's a different harmony of senses where the alcohol is replaced with often high quality Pu Erh tea. 

Notwithstanding, many Chinese style dishes do pair extremely well with wine. The meats and fish dishes in particular can be nicely matched with a range of varietels and blends. So, since the IWFS Kuala Lumpur had not had a banquet style function for a while it was decided to book the Noble House Restaurant for the August gathering. 

The Noble House is a member of the Oriental Group of Restaurants serving fine Cantonese gourmet delicacies. Opened in January 2003 it quickly established a reputation for being one of the top fine dining Chinese restaurants in Kuala Lumpur, serving the finest Chinese gourmet creations and delicacies in a refreshing contemporary setting. Over the years it has garnered numerous awards, and has been twice placed in the Miele Guide for 2008 and 2010. 

At the food tasting, the Vallaformosa Cava NV brought by Prakash was a lovely glass of fizz that paired nicely with the somewhat salty appetizer. Great bubbles and bead with yeast on the nose and lemon apple in the mouth. Very elegant, very friendly. The La Forge Chardonnay 2009 that I had brought paired very nicely with the Baked Cod Fish. Firm rich texture with enough oak and acidity, it was a pleasing complement to the soft flakes of the cod in its sweetish crisp glaze of soy sauce. So the whites for the function had uickly sorted themselves.  It was decided the remaining wines would be red and we managed to source some suitable candidates from a local supplier. 

Party people!
At the dinner itself, 37 intrepid IWFS foodies and guests gathered, being welcomed with a glass of the well chilled Cava. Taking our seats, we were immediately presented with the appetizers. Deep fried eggplant strips and crispy prawn chips with a lemon mustard mayo dip made for a pleasant amuse bouche, though the pepper dip accompanying the cuttlefish cakes was somewhat fierce. 

Everyone had been shocked by the sudden passing of past IWFS Kuala Lumpur president Ellen Yeow, and President Dr Rajan asked all present to stand for a minute silence in her honour. 

Dr Rajan then introduced Ms Ong Li Dong to tell everyone a little about the Noble House restaurant and chef, which was followed by a description of the food and wine pairing by me which everyone seemed to find amusing. 

The three style abalone first course was quickly consumed. Abalone is a highly regarded delicacy in Cantonese cuisine and its serving is highly respected and regarded as a mark of the wealth of the host. On its own, it has little taste but the texture is delightful, a firm yet soft nut crunch on the palate. The three styles showed off the culinary and presentational creativity of the chef, with minced, sliced and marinated showing on the plate. Most visually pleasant. The slight oil in the dish got crisply cleaned by the Cava.  

The second course Shark Bone soup was different from the original Double-Boiled Seafood Soup in Old Cucumber we had at the food tasting. Seems that the holiday season in Kuala Lumpur meant that the soup ingredients couldn't be sourced so got replaced. The new soup didn't work for me. It came across as quite starchy and tasted of potato and celery for some reason. Killed the Cava and the Chardonnay which was appearing in the glass. Most of our table left the soup relatively untouched.

Baked Cod Fish
The table seemed most pleased with the pairing of the Cod Fish with the La Forge Chardonnay. The full, plush texture of good Burgundy style white with slight oak gained a rich nuttiness whilst retaining a smooth balanced finish. Good match. The excellent and crunchy Kai Lan vegetable that followed gave some necessary green fibre to tthe meal, though as with most green veg it killed the wine.

For the Iberico style Pork Rib, a Spanish wine had suggested itself and it was decided to pair it with a 2005 Vina Real Reserva Rioja. The wine supplier had uttered those two most magical words the English language has produced - "special price" - and we were hooked. The blurb said it was intense with autumn fruit and spice, good acidity and balanced with good length. We found it slightly fading, but still with enough bite to stand up to the ribs. Velvet on the tongue, the ribs did indeed tame the acidity and oak, but the fruit came through to underpin the peppered and sweet meat and made for an excellent match. 

It was at this point in the evening that differences in approaches to wine with food were revealed. The traditional view in the West is that reds should be served room temperature and whites slightly chilled. Chinese style Restaurants in Malaysia normally chill all wines as a matter of course since that is generally what their patrons expect. We guess that the assumption by the staff was "why should the IWFS be any different?" And so it was that we enjoyed extremely chilled reds with the remaining courses. Everyone was entertained by the sight of restaurant staff running around offering hot towels to warm up the wine for those who preferred their beverage more at room temperature. The remaining wines were removed from their ice buckets. 

The tasting change as the wine warmed up was actually quite interesting as different aspects of the wine's character came through. The iced Rioja gave a little dark cherry which became damson with warmth. 
Jeremy and Kalsom Diamond

For the pan fried Australian Beef Fillet we plumped for the special price 2009 Zinfandel from the Ravenswood winery in California's Sonoma Valley. Normally quite muscular, this expression had more of a feminine feel with full fruit, good balance and a round lengthy finish. Less bold than the Rioja, yet retaining the cherry brambly feel in the mouth, the Zin was able to stand up to the beef without overpowering it. The beef itself tasted slightly sweet, and someone remarked that this seemed to be a theme running through all the courses - there seemed to be a sweetness in everything. Not that it was unpleasant; just that it was…   sweet. Maybe it's the sauce that is used to baste and glaze the meat and fish. It was getting a little difficult to distinguish. 

On the home stretch now with one more wine to go. I don't quite recall how the Morande Limited Edition Cab Franc 2008 ended up on the list. I think it was that we don't see much Cab Franc in this part of the world and when the wine supplier gave a silly rather than a special price for it we must have thought "why not?" 

It had been paired with the final course of rice, scallop and crab meat in a superior crab soup. This was where western wine sequencing ran up against eastern food sequencing;  the rice always comes at the end. Traditionally, it is considered good form not to touch the rice as so doing proves to the host that the preceding food was sufficient. Here, it was a delicacy that completed the food sequence with a dose of much needed carbo. So the Cab Franc and rice soup became somewhat unwilling partners. 

In the end, it was not unpleasant. A bit dense with cloves and coffee on the nose and a slightly baked feel, the wine had a pleasant  "end of the night"  kind of quality about it that kept the drinking members at the tables long after everyone else had gone home for the night. The rice soup had a nutty sweetness (that word again) which cut through the tannic structure and lent a counterbalancing sense of velvet on the tongue and palate. 

Li Dong and Rajan with Noble House manager and chef
With snow pear and crispy pancake filled with kaya paste, the evening wound down to a close with Li Dong introducing the chef to the gathering and thanking all for coming to support the function. The food was good to very good but for me fell short of being excellent. The Noble House has found a formula which works extremely well as evidenced by the success of the group and the rest of the restaurant being fully booked out. And they should be commended for being able to turn out consistent well prepared and fine quality dishes for upwards of two and three hundred patrons every night. Perhaps in the phenomenal growth of the group something of the original authenticity has got a little lost in the desire and need to be all things to all people. We see it with hotel restaurants, seemingly a shade fearful of taking a culinary risk and possibly alienating guests of the hotel. Our foodie purists felt that as an expression of Cantonese cuisine the food was way too sweet and would have preferred a more simpler style. 

In all, a most pleasant evening with some sparkling company and lots of laughter and discussion about the food and wines. The pairings for the most part seemed to work well, the iced Rioja was an unexpected experience, though the seeming continual sweetness of all the dishes started to cloy a little after a while. In retrospect, the evening became a good way to honour the memory of our recently departed, engendering that continuity of the spirit in which we all joined the IWFS in the first place - food, wine, fun and friendship. Think maybe Ellen would have enjoyed that. 


International Wine & Food Society Kuala Lumpur

"Fine Dining Chinese Cuisine"

Special Four Appetizers
Crispy Prawn Cracker Thai Style
Cuttle Fish Thai Style
Deep-Fried Eggplant with Chicken Floss
Sea Clam & Lily Bulb in Oyster Sauce

Masia Vallfarmosa Xor del Ray Cava Brut, Macabo, Xarel Io, Parellada NV

Course One and Two
Noble House’s Abalone Three Treasures
Double-Boiled Seafood Soup in Old Cucumber

Masia Vallfarmosa Xor del Ray Cava Brut, Macabo, Xarel Io, Parellada NV

Course Three and Four
Baked Cod Fish with Chef‘s Special Sauce in Dragon Fruit Boat
Stir Fried Hong Kong Kai Lan with Apricot Mushroom

Paul Mas La Forge Estate Chardonnay, Vin de Pays d'Oc, France 2009

Course Five
Charcoal Grilled Pork Rib

Vina Real Reserva 2005

Course Six
Pan-Fried Australian Beef Fillet

Ravenswood Vintners Blend Zinfandel 2009

Course Seven
Two Variety Rice with Scallop & Crab Meat in Superior Crab Soup 

Morande Limited Edition Cabernet Franc 2008

Course Eight
Chilled Hasma in Snow Pear 
Crispy Pancake


Masia Vallfarmosa Xor del Ray Cava Brut, Macabo, Xarel Io, Parellada NV
Vallformosa Winery Cava Brut is a fresh Cava, with a light, long lasting taste and an excellent bouquet - the result of two years ageing. Clean, clear straw in colour, well-integrated bubbles, good yeasty fresh bread aroma with hints of apricot, apples and spice with lemon sherbet on the finish. Rich feel, but elegant and cleansing in the mouth, hinting at the elegant, classical finish to follow. 

Paul Mas La Forge Estate Chardonnay, Vin de Pays d'Oc, France 2009
A rich and smoky Chard with nuanced toasty aromas and flavors of wood-grilled red apples with a caramel drizzle, peach pit and Key lime citrus. Solidly structured with good heft, a long finish and prominent acidity that keeps the wine from going over the edge and being too flabby. Well balanced and very accessible.

Vina Real Reserva 2005
Indicative blend: 90% Tempranillo, 3% Mazuelo, 3% Graciano, 3% Garnacha tinta. Area: Rioja Alavesa Deep ruby and cherry red, with the lightest hint of a terracotta edge. Good intensity on the nose, with ripe autumn fruits, warm spices and elegant toasty oak. The palate is rich, warming and velvet, with good acidity and noble tannin. The vanilla from the oak is beautifully married with the raspberry fruit of the Tempranillo producing a find, rich, complex palate and length of finish.

Ravenswood Vintners Blend Zinfandel 2009
Area: Sonoma, California USA. Raspberries, blueberries, black cherries, and spicy hints of oak spring forth from the fruit-laden aroma of this wine. Well- balanced with supple tannins and a long, fruit-forward but not too jammy finish make this wine a pleasure to drink now and for the next couple of years. A sophisticated yet easy drinking wine.

Morande Limited Edition Cabernet Franc 2008
Area: Maipo Valley, Chile. Deep-red with shades of purple, dense and shining. Black fruits, coffee and dark chocolate. Spicy, with hints of vanilla and cloves. Fresh, rounded and intense with flavours of chocolate, raspberry and black coffee. Great tannins and long persistence. A little funky and cheesy on the nose, with leather, olive and leafy berry fruit aromas. The palate feel is staunch and tannic, a little baked with some heat and smoke but also flavorful and generous.