Mission: To respond thoughtfully and responsibly to my experiences of drinking and dining at restaurants with regard to the quality, service, preparation, presentation and overall experience received thereat. The standpoint is one who respects the crafts of the chef and sommelier and who seeks to understand their choices in the kitchen and cellar and grow in knowledge. In this, I will seek to be fair, reasoned, direct and constructive and aim to keep my ego in check on our mutual journeys through the worlds of food and wine.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Korean Fine Dining and Wine at Onsemiro - so gooooooood!!

Korean food is notoriously and desperately hard to pair with wine. There are so many intense flavors and aggressive scents in your average Korean meal, it's not as straightforward to getting a decent match as compared to pairing wine in a Western context. Equally, there is the eastern style of "wandering chopsticks" and textural sequencing of dishes as opposed to the "light to heavy" approach in the Old World.

Notwithstanding, IWFS KL Food Subcomm Chairman David had been glowing in his praise about the Korean food experience he had enjoyed at the Malaysian International Gourmet Fair the previous September (which he had repeated with success at the restaurant on subsequent occasions) and persuaded us to give it a try. 

So it was that following a food tasting the Committee opted to hold the February 2013 members gathering at the Onsemiro Korean restaurant, located on the second floor of the refurbished Intermark Mall. Onsemiro in the Korean language means ‘nature itself’ or ‘as it is’. This sentiment is said to run very much in line with Korean views on food and culture generally: to keep things simple and natural, letting the herbs and spices do the talking. Onsemiro prides itself on impeccable, unobtrusive service and giving the best Korean dining experience through the most perfect combination of dishes. 

The restaurant itself has a number of enclaves that allow for private dining yet with an open area that nicely seated about forty people. Warm wood dominates with clean glass and steel rails giving that sense of efficiency with comfort. Clear lighting rather than subdued, it felt clean and comfortable and friendly. 

The Executive Chef is Chef Yang Tae Yong. Born in South Korea and with over thirty years of experience in and around distinguished establishments in his home country, Chef Yang draws almost all of his inspiration from nature. Chef's philosophy on food and Korean cuisine is that it should taste as close to nature as possible, letting the natural textures and tastes shine through. Chef believes that these principles mean that Korean cuisine can be as effective as any medicine, becoming food for both the belly and for the soul.

Well, and maybe. Still looked like a devil to try and match wines with it. Web research had suggested:
  • avoid bold, heavy and tannic wines
  • avoid overly sweet whites
  • remove kimchi and many wine issues get resolved
  • aim to pair with the main dishes rather than the banchan sides
The default options seemed to suggest dry, light Riesling or a crisp Sauvignon Blanc for Korean meals heavier on the spice than usual. Nothing that was too sweet, fruity, or complex. The other possibility was beer or soju, more probably to put out the flames rather than complement the food. However, other suggestions included Fizz and/or Chenin Blanc for appetizers, and Rose and Grenache for marinaded beef mains.  We brought a selection of various blends and varietals to the tasting and found some interesting and pleasant pairings.  Onsemiro manager Yuni kindly supplied some Korean liquors to sample with the dishes and they were clear winners. We were on our way to a grand fine dining Korean experience!

Not that the members seemed too enthusiastic at the start. Right up until the extended deadline, Secretary Jeremy was looking to generate support. As it was, 37 members and guests eventually signed up for the function. 

Crunchy Appetisers
On arrival, everyone got greeted with what has become a standard and expected glass of fizz. The Tenimenti Conti Nero Prosecco di Prosecco Veneto IGT NV has been a stalwart for our functions and again it proved its worth as a great appetizer for the night. 

Prosecco used to be a grape varietal until it became a DOCG region and the authorities changed the grape name to Giera to avoid confusion between varietal and region. Now, anything professing to be Prosecco must have been produced in the Prosecco DOC region or the two Prosecco DOCGs. The grape has high acidity and a fairly neutral palate, white peaches, with an occasional soapy note on the nose, producing a light-bodied low alcohol wine. Light, fresh, very neutral. nice, crisp, easy to drink, good acids, nice crown. Some body and a nice crisp flavor, neither sweet nor bone-dry. Lovely color, refreshing bubbles.. Vanilla and yeasty. Lemon rind and slight green apple. It was cold, clean and refreshing, with nice brilliance in the glass. 

We had also decided to pair it with the food appetisers. At the committee tasting, someone brought Bollinger which did excellent work in cleansing the palate from the fresh and crispy vegetables and various seafood combos. So it made sense to follow through the fizz into the first dish on the table. The appetisers were light and delightful combinations of spiced and firmly textured mouthfuls of seafood and vegetables, crisp and firm and yet with a softness and fullness that satisfied both sensually and substantially. Visually pleasant and colorful. The Prosecco livened up the crab spring roll and toned down the mustard dressing, The vinegar did zap the bubbles a bit and thinned out the wine, but not so much that either disappeared. Outside of this, a good pairing and a good start. 

The Samgye Juk
Next came the starter Samgye Juk, which was billed as "Energizing chicken porridge infused with goodness of dates, chestnut, gingko and hearty portion of renowned Korean Ginseng served with cooling Baek (white) Kimchi," it was essentially chicken soup with ginseng. Not as hearty as the stuff one takes for the soul or when feeling a bit under the weather, it did a most pleasant job on the palate. The chicken was lean and shredded and firm in texture, whilst the soup was thankfully undersalted allowing the ginseng to come through nicely. A very delicate taste with the dates and gingko lending necessary firmness. 

We had tried a chilled Rose, a crisp white blend (Nederburg Lyric) and the Robertson Chenin Blanc 2010 at the first tasting. The Chenin shone as a better partner than the fighting Rose and the apple sharp and racey Lyric. The Robertson Winery was established in 1941 on the site of a charming missionary church on the outskirts of Robertson town, named in recognition of a Scottish minister.  The church is now used for winemaking and cellaring operations, so one might say that the wine is somewhat sanctified. The vines have an excellent prospect of the sea whose cooling sea breeze allows for the ripening period to be extended and thus building up concentrated flavours in the grapes. The website notes talk about its "appealing light straw colour. Light with lovely ripe, attractive rounded fruit. Fresh floral nose and an exciting acid balance." 

IFWS KL Ladies - glamour and style!
The Chenin did indeed prove an understated star. Soft fruits on the nose, lean and textured in the mouth and with a hint of spice, it melted the chicken and undercut the ginseng which allowed a lovely floral note in the wine's finish to come through. It quckly became a favourite of the table, with most of the gathered bibbers calling for refills. 

It was at this point that the first of the Korean liquors, the Baekseju, was presented. Baekseju means "one hundred years wine" that is made from fermented Korean glutinous rice and flavoured with eleven herbs and ginseng which help to promote longevity, hence the name. It is brewed using traditional methods and has a mellow flavour to compete with spicy Korean dishes. Herbs include licorice, omija, gugjia (Chinese wolfberry), ginger, and cinnamon. Baekseju has been the official toasting drink in a number of high profile Global meetings, including the 2009 World Environmental Forum and the 2008 OECD Ministerial Meeting. 

This was explained to the members and guests who quickly toasted each other to live for one hundred years. One wag suggested a second toast so that everyone might live for TWO hundred years, though I understand some husbands refused, saying one century of marriage was more than enough. Tasting of plum and calamansari and spice but with the texture and poke of sake, it was given a definite fine oloroso quality by the soup. Highly enjoyable.

There was a slight break at this point when IWFS KL President Rajan introduced wine subcomm member Brian to give a little detail on the wines that had gone before and those that were yet to be, though some simply took the opportunity to go to the bathroom. Sometimes, you just can't fight nature.

The Bibimbap
On to the mains, the Kotsai Gui and Yangnum Galbi. The menu described the Kotsal Gui as "Rare beef part, the chuck flap tail, with fine marbling patterns which creates the distinctive taste of finest meat" whilst the Yangnyum Galbi is marinated beef short ribs. Both would be grilled over Korean Oakwood charcoal on a ceramic brick wood burner brought to the table and served with vegetables and spring onion salad on side, with a Chef’s special dipping sauce made from a concoction of 50 type ingredients. The Korean Oakwood is said to bring out the juiciest, tender and best natural tasting beef.

There would also be Yukhoe Bibimbap (or julienned raw beef) with combination of mushrooms and vegetables medley, flavoured by gochujang (Korean red pepper paste) and sesame oil on top of rice served with egg yolk and bugeot dubu tang (dried Pollack and tofu soup). This would be served with Tangpyeongchae (or Mung bean starch jelly mixed with julienned vegetables and seasoned to taste), Pogi Kimchi (Whole cabbage Kimchi) and Geotjeori (Napa cabbage dressed with spicy Kimchi sauce).

To pair, we had selected two wines from the Guigal range - the Cotes du Rhone 2009 and the Chateauneuf du Pape 2006. Our reasoning was that both paired well with the sweetly marinaded beef at the tasting and the opportunity to let members taste both side by side should prove an educational exercise in comparing the two styles. Other suggestions included Rose, Chianti or Zinfandel, but the Guigal pairing proved irresistable.  

Both looked impressive on paper. The Cotes du Rhone 2009 (WS 88, WA 89, Jancis Robinson 16/20) was a Silver in the 2012 Decanter and a Bronze in the 2012 International Wine Challenge. It is also the house drinkingred of Clive Coates MW, as noted in his contribution to the recently published monograph "An Appreciation of the Age of Wine" authored by current IWFS Honorary President Sid Cross.  Robert Parker notes the "deep ruby/purple-colored, concentrated, fleshy, medium to full-bodied, supple offering reveals plenty of pepper, kirsch and blackcurrant fruit intermixed with a notion of flowers…is meant to be consumed during its first 2-3 years of life although I have tasted 10-year-old bottles that are still holding together. Drink: 2011 - 2014." 

Robert Parker calls The Chateauneuf du Pape 2006 a 'winner" whilst WA scores it 91. " This is an underrated vintage, sandwiched between two greater years, 2005 and 2007, but it is certainly a top vintage that is probably being discounted by retailers. This wine has a dark plum/ruby/purple-tinged color and a big, sweet kiss of creme de cassis, kirsch, cedar, spice, and balsam wood. With outstanding intensity, full-bodied power, and a long, rich, silky finish, it should drink well for up to a decade."

Excellent Beef on the tabletop Barbecue stove
And so they indeed proved, with the CdR edging the CdP in terms of matching the deliicious barbecued meats. The sweet marinade brought the CdR fruit well forward with enough pepper and tannins to tame the proteins and slight fat lines in the meat. The barbecue style meant that the meat was sizzled and seared in its own juices and eaten wonderfully hot off the plate. The meat was first class, tender yet firm with the woody smoke indeed poking through the clay ceramic hotplate and toasting the meat with a hint of oak burn. The one criticism heard was with regard to amount - some felt that there could have been a little more meat on the plate for the sake of feeling fed. Well, and maybe. The argument goes that Fine Dining requires there be enough food to taste but not so much as to dull the senses - if you want quantity, then go find a burger joint. There certainly seemed enough meat for my appetite to be happy, though all plates were totally cleared of the beef. Perhaps an extra chunk or two might have been politic, though it would have been a cardinal sin for meat of such quality to have been wasted. 

Notwithstanding the excellence of the CdR matching the meat, the CdP was class. Sleek, structured, beautifully balanced yet wonderfully full in the mouth with an endless finish. A magnificent wine. 

Old and new IFWS friends
At this point, someone insisted on the Gangnam dance. This is the current craze of the dancehalls of the world made famous by Korean native Psy. So the thinking went that since we were all at a restaurant serving Korean food and since we might not all be gathered there again then the occasion demanded for it to be danced by the members. It would seem the wine had worked its magic on sequential reasoning and, being in a similar frame of mind, it was difficult to argue such a proposition. The restaurant manager Yuni was able to work some magic with an Ipod and a portable player and so it was that the Gangnam got danced at the Onsemiro by sporting members and guests of the IWFS Kuala Lumpur. Yes. It was interesting to see normally reserved and somewhat solemn and sombre members roaring and cheering on the dancers, such is the effect this dance seems to have on people. Nice to see them let their hair down and have fun - Opah Gangnam IWFS Style!

Again, as always seems to be the case with IWFS dinners, dessert is a distant memory with little in the way of legible notes. It was paired with the second Korean wine, the Suljungmae, or Seol Joong Mae, made from Korean Green apricots (plums) and tasting of rich plum and herbs. This seems to be a brand name from the Korean Mae Sil Ju, meaning plum wine. We had the Seoljungmae (Gold) which apparently contains real gold flecks and which is believed to rejuvenate skin and helps detoxify the body. Using the highest-quality hand picked fruits, Seoljungmae Gold has a mild flavor and tastes just like green plums and herbs. Rich textured and honeyed in the mouth yet without that unctuous feel often associated with traditional dessert wnes, it made for a relaxing finish to the night. 

Members also got a free taste of a third Korean wine since the wrong one had been opened and the manager decided to let it go. This was a rich red stickily sweet raspberry reminiscent of the sticky sugary strawberry goo they used to pour over ice cream cornets at the seaside. It is apparently good for maintaining stamina in the men. Okay. I managed to swap mine for the remnants of someone's CdP. 

Yuni and Kitchen crew
The serving staff were pleasant, friendly and accomodating, and everyone coming out to help with barbecuing the meat and serving at the tables was a lovely personal touch. Yuni was a capable and delightful Maitre D'  and kept the evening and the food running smoothly and competently and with good humour. Chef and crew came out for a brief hurrah which became the signal for many to make their ways home. 

Overall consensus was that the One Hundred Year was the evening favourite - not as sweet as the Suljungmae - and the Chenin went well with the Soup.  The CdP was stunning though the CdR was best with the barbecued and sweet marinaded meat. The matches were generally good, and outside of the odd grumble of some people feeling a bit Olivered (Oliver Twist? Asking for more? Geddit?) we can chalk the evening a success and thoroughly enjoyable. Must have been good - we gave our friend the Geezer a lift back home and he was clearly well squiffy. Don't often see him like that, so call that a sign of a good evening. Kanpei!!

Photos by kind courtesy of Onsemiro, Jan Shaw and Brian McIntyre

Thursday, February 21, 2013

IWFS Food Tasting Prime Restaurant Le Meridien 19th February 2013

Prime used to be THE restaurant of choice for a good steak. In the early days when it first opened, you'd get a good chunk of rib eye or sirloin that was cooked to juicy medium rare perfection, with little in the way of adornment save for some garlic mash and green spinach on the side. Paired with a bottle of 2000 Joseph Phelps Le Mistral from the wine list it was as close to steak heaven as you could get outside of New York or San Francisco. We would happily shell out on the Starwood Card just to get the 50% discount for two people to eat there. We'd often give the member vouchers to friends, such was the primacy of, er, Prime.

But then something happened. The meat got somehow thinner and less juicy, a bit more peppery and with jus appearing on or near the meat. The meat looked like it was getting whacked by a nine iron but was getting less tender as a result. So we stopped going with as much regularity as before. Prior to this, and outside of a visiting Michelin chef who commandeered the kitchen for a wonderful week, the last visit is a distant memory and not particularly memorable at that.

So the chance to get a first hand taste of the chef's best at an International Wine & Food Society food tasting for a prospective members function promised much. Billing itself as PRIME SIMPLY THE BEST, the menu looked most interesting and the wines chosen by the Doc looked a fair match. Further, given that one of the senior managers of the Hotel's holding group was joining the dinner, we figured the restaurant would pull out all stops to ensure a meal of memorable proportions. And it did, though it was  the actual proportions of the meal that were to prove memorable in their size and quantity, with much of the table struggling to finish the main courses. In fairness though, it was supposed to be a tasting and it was probably our bad for scoffing down all the courses with abandon rather than tasting for future recommendation. Okay….  but it still felt large. Naughty food taster - lesson learned? Probably not.

Deftly ignoring the shame of being the last to arrive (oops!) by about five minutes, we all allowed ourselves to be escorted to the private dining room set for the nine assembled. The table was long and the seats were huge, needing waiting staff of Conan the Barbarian proportions to push them under the table.

The fizz being served was a Cava, the Castillo Perelada Brut Reserve NV from the Catalonia region. A blend of Macabeo (40%), Xarel lo (30%)and Parellada (30%) and with 15 months in bottle it proved a crispily pleasant liquid entree to the evening. Not much on the nose, but good bubbles and crisp apples and pears on the palate and a firm, sleek finish. It needed to stay cold, though - when it warmed in the glass there seemed to be an unpleasant note of rancidness. In fairness, this quickly disappeared with a cold top up.

Executive Chef Antoine Rodriguez quickly appeared with the starters (designed to stimulate the appetite) and gave a brief introduction. There were six of them, and rather than stimulate they pretty much satisfied. Of the six, the Buratina cheese, Bresaola dry beef with fresh fig, and the Apple wood chips with cold smoked salmon trout and blinis with lemon and sour cream stood out.  The beef, cheese and fig combo was a delightful firm textured melange of sweetness, salt and smooth creamy goo that played sensual soft salty symphonies across the mouth. The salmon, apple and sour cream was a similar sensation though with slightly more sour on the tongue that undercut the immensely fresh salmon a treat. The blini lent a gentle carbo foundation for the mix. Both were stars, both were also great excuses to drink more Cava to cleanse the mouth.

The fresh oyster with vichyssoise gel and harenga pearls was fine, though the oyster felt a bit aged. The pearls added nice saltiness, whilst the gel had texture but seemed to have little to no taste. Naturally good with the fizz.

The two Ratte potato espuma both felt a bit on the stodgy side but went extremely well when spread on the bread as a Danish style open potato sandwich. The bread seemed to contain way more pepper than previously remembered. Pepper can burn the tastebuds and get in the way of tasting the wines, so maybe there's a need for more neutral bread to be available.  It was good to taste the difference between the trufle and ikura styles, with the ikura edging it for me due to the saltiness matching better with the Cava.

The Duck Liver Lollipop came on a bed of chocolate pops in which the lollipop needed to be dipped before consuming. Very, very interesting and playful. The combo of the smooth and creamy foie in the mouth and the popping of the chocolate pops was like having warm sweet fatty pate firecrackers firing into the cheeks. Brilliant concept with lots of cross textures and tastes which worked delightfully. Downside for me was that it left a coating of chocolate across the palate which proved difficult to dislodge. Too much more and the remainder of the food and wine would not be able to be appreciated. The Cava was not up to the task and copious amounts of sparkling water finally did the trick. A lovely starter, but not one for a wine group.

For some reason, the table had got eerily quiet. The staff had come around and distributed marking sheets for us to grade the dishes and the group seemed to take this seriously, sampling the food soberly with gravity and consideration. Perhaps it was the room - there was a somewhat austere quality about it. Whatever. Maybe everyone just needed more booze.

Next out was the "Prime Trilogie" of Grilled jumbo Sea Scallop, sticky oxtail and parmesan wafer; Alaskan Crab espresso; and Truffle ravioli with wild mushroom fricassee. This proved a table favourite and broke the silence. Served in an espresso cup the Alaskan crab was tremendous. Firm sweet meat in a creamy pureed broth peppered with paprika - a perfect blend of taste and texture and the food star of the night. The scallop was indeed a jumbo and had that firm crunch and bite of one that was absolutely fresh from the sea. Matching it with sticky oxtail gave it a sense of surf and turf, though on one level seemed to be pairing two similar protein textures. It did work, though the parmesan chip proved a bit too much salty seasoning for my taste and overpowered the scallop. The truffle ravioli was delightful - amazingly fresh ricotta cheese and a firm pasta covered in creamy wild mushroom sauce. Perfectly underseasoned and with hints of rustic Italian herb and truffle earthiness. Stellar.

For the wines, the crisply sweet and full fruit of the medium bodied Selbach Bernkastel Kurfutslay Riesling Kabinett 2010 would make a wonderful match with a more robust meat or seafood dish. Wonderfully balanced and crisply honeyed, with apricots and orange marmalade covering a sparkling acidity leading to a full syrup finish. It wasn't really a good match with the delicate flavours of the crab and scallop. The sweetness took over the palate and the food neutralised the acidity. The Donnafugata Polena 2011 from Sicily proved to be a charming find. On its own, it came across as a shade industrial, with hints of flint and steel and ironworks. With the food, it started to dazzle and charm and showed itself as a versatile and perfect partner for all of the dishes in the course. Soft fruits, clean nose and texture, crispish yet with low acidity and hints of spice and almond on the finish. Sicilian wines have tended to be somewhat artisan and workmanlike in their presentations. This one shows a welcome maturing in the vinification and winemaking process, with a growing finesse and refinement in the wine. Most pleasant indeed.

Chef was clearly on a roll and his Manilla clams chowder “macchiato”with toasted brioche and leek fondue continued this gastronomic streak with a delightful vengeance. It was creamy, smooth perfection - must have been what Coleridge's poor hero must have felt when he had drunk the milk of Paradise in his search for the lost Xanadu. Total immense pleasure, melting on the palate and disappearing like a creamy whisper to rest warmly in the belly pit. When paired with the light crusty Brioche it was stairway to gastronomic heaven, with the carbo and sweet tomato cutting through the cream. Perfecto. Contento.

Getting paired with the Luciano Sandrone Dolcetto d'Alba 2011 looked good on paper but didn't really come over as a great match on the night . A WS 91 and WA 89 and billed as an easy drinking food partner with plum and dark berries, good structure, minerality and firm ripe tannins, it seemed to be more of a fighting partner with the Chowder. Whilst it did drink nicely on its own, it battled against the Chowder's textured creaminess which all but killed off the fruit in the wine and made it taste alcoholic. Equally, the tannins felt like they needed some proteins and fat to cut through and let Dolcetto's silkiness shine. So it goes. The Sicilian also failed with the Chowder - it neutralised the wine completely. The Riesling fared slightly better due to its larger body and texture, but failed as a match because of its sweetness. Possibly a white burgundy might offer a more robust match for the Chowder.

The Chowder finished me off. I could happily have marched off into the sunset and slept the dreamless sleep of the satiated. But not to be. There were the Prime Place main courses to get through (get through…   sounds like a chore, doesn't it? Nice work if you can get it). There was a choice of either Roasted Filet of Cod and seared Maine lobster with Risotto Cake and Tomato Confit; or a combo of Braised Blackmore Wagyu Inter coastal (with Soft Mascarpone herbs polenta & Bearnaise beurre blanc) and Charcoal Grilled filet mignon Rossini with Wilted spinach and grilled green asparagus.

On the table, both felt a little on the cold side, though maybe this was because the conversation had heated up slightly so that the food was kept waiting on the table for us to finish our chatting.

The fillet mignon felt a little dried out on the tongue, though the meat had been seared perfectly. A lovely chunk of meat, firm in texture but somewhat lacking in fat and leaner than is personal preference. The cut did appear a shade thin compared to tenderloin tasted at other restaurants, so possibly the searing may have dried out what little juice was in the meat. It's probably more a matter of personal taste than anything - the character of the meat is lighter and more delicate and, for me, just missing a little fat.

In contrast, the Wagyu was immediately excellent. Wonderfully succulent and tender texture that was not to the point of waxy liquefying, as some Wagyu tends to be. The Jus was rich and smooth and not oversweet, with some herb undertones. One of the best.

There were two wines to try, both Bordeaux - the right bank Chateau Les Hauts Conseillante Lalande de Pomerol 2008 and the left bank Chateau Dufort Vivens 2000. A WS 88 pointer, the Pomerol presented nicely - light body but full mouth, lean yet firm structure, lovely nose and balance, and fair fruit with a lingering finish. The 2008 also stayed nicely in the glass till the end of the night and made for a pleasant quaffer to toast the road. It paired well with the lighter filet mignon which brought out pepper and powered up the fruit, but it was maybe a little overpowered by the Wagyu. An excellent find nonetheless.

The Dufort needed a lot of time in the glass for some bottle stink to evaporate and open up. Once done, it became clearly a wine of breeding and class. Powerful, structured, blackcurrant and full fruit, good tannins and excellent balance with that unmistakeable full mouth that says "je suis Bordeaux, dare you drink me?" We dared, and it was delightful, though there were still some odd notes on the nose and finish. The Dufort seemed to lack persistence in the glass, with some lingering faustiness toward the end. Maybe a decant would have improved it. It stood up to the Wagyu nicely, but it whacked the filet mignon into beefburger submission. Decanter reviews have the 2000 as having an "Elegant nose and superb colour, fine blackcurrant fruit and deep Cabernet richness… a combination of finesse, length and power on the palate, which remains typically Margaux." Well, and maybe. The Dufort should have been good - I'm not entirely sure it was. Didn't taste the Lobster, but it looked magnificent. Would like to have tried it with the Sicilian.

There was some Dolcetto left which had been spared the somewhat overenthusiastic removal of glasses by the staff. It fared somewhat better with the meats than it did with the Chowder.

The Chocolate experience dessert comprised three tastes - a Hot dark chocolate drink; Prime warm brownies and berries compote; and Espresso chocolate tart with whipping vanilla cream. All were wonderful in their own ways. The chocolate drink had mint and cocoa and was liquid velvet rich and endless on the tongue. The chocolate tart was full, rich and creamy whilst the brownies compote was pleasantly acidic against the rich and toasty brownie.

Someone wondered what wine might go with chocolate dessert, and the response referred to the recent posting on the IWFS blog which offered suggestions. One that found favour was Yamazaki whiskey, though a good Port was also thought to be possible. It's difficult to contradict the blog comment of APZ President Yvonne Wallis that the best partner to chocolate is a good coffee, and the excellent Illy espresso coffee provided at the Prime offered the ideal accompaniment. Well worth the sleepless night that always follows a late night espresso. The macaroons were also excellent. The fact that we did not steal the cookies as we normally do showed for sure it had been a memorable evening of excellent food, wine and company that should prove to be a great evening for a members function.

The service was generally excellent, though occasional over eagerness to clear the glasses without checking whether they were finished with was a shade irritating. It is good to have the glasses left on the table so as to be able to monitor the wine's progress through the evening. The aroma left in the glass after an hour can tell much about the wine that was in it. So I got a bit miffed when a glass with some white got cleared without my consent, and had to ask for it to be returned. Perhaps the assumption was that since the matching dish had finished then the matching wine could also be removed. Okay, but maybe better to get the staff to double check with the person whether a glass can be taken away.

Final note - I think there was a small charge for the water. Bearing in mind the ShangriLa experience, maybe check the costing with the hotel and clarify if can get FOC. Also, be prepared to get whacked with the car parking - restaurant gives you a ticket which gives two hours for RM8 but every hour thereafter is RM5. 

Overall, excellent food and service, excellent individual wines, some pairings better than others. The stars give my ratings (* is okay, ** is good, *** is very good,  **** is stellar)

Food choices would be
***Buratina cheese, Bresaola dry beef with fresh fig
**Apple wood chips with cold smoked salmon trout and blinis with lemon and sour cream.  
*Fresh oyster with vichyssoise gel and harenga pearls
*Ratte potato espuma with the ikura (to give a contrasting texture)

wine match - The **Cava was fine, though if any ***Vallaformosa left in IWFS cellar, that also would work

**Grilled jumbo Sea Scallop, sticky oxtail and parmesan wafer;
****Alaskan Crab espresso;
****Truffle ravioli with wild mushroom fricassee.

wine match - The ***Sicilian. The Riesling had too much crisp honey. Be a cracker for a dessert.

****Manilla clams chowder “macchiato”with toasted brioche and leek fondue

wine match - The **Dolcetto didn't work for me. Suggest a good white burgundy - can also flow through for the Lobster

***Braised Blackmore Wagyu Inter coastal (with Soft Mascarpone herbs polenta & Bearnaise beurre blanc)
Roasted Filet of Cod and seared Maine lobster with Risotto Cake and Tomato Confit

wine - Not convinced the **Pomerol or the **Dufort did a good enough job. Anything in the IWFS Cellar needs drinking?

***The chocolate experience is very good.

wine - if we have the dark chocolate drink, nothing will really match. Port an option, or a good brandy.

Less pepper in the bread
Ask before removing glasses
Will water be charged?
Maybe a sorbet after the Chowder?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

IWFS DINNER MEDTECA - Great wine, so so food.

‘Southern Mediterranean Style dinner at MediTeca Restaurant – 23rd January 2013’

Fresh from the fabulous success that was the president's Charity Dinner at Cilantro in December, the IWFS Kuala Lumpur kicked off the New Year with a belated bash at a recently opened Spanish and Italian fusion venue.  On paper it looked a reasonable deal - getting to sit down in one of the new go-to restaurants in the city offering an interesting take on Spanish and Italian cuisine with some tasty looking wines. Always an irrestistible prospect.

It's often important to determine a standpoint and the context from which one offers comment or opinion. Opinions can have certain pre-determined perspectives and implicit views and attitudes toward the thing being reviewed which can colour and distort.  There can be various agendas working either with or against each other, so it's good to spell out the expectations. We are paying fairly top dollar at these places so we expect something beyond the default weekend food haunts. For my part, the IWFS tends to respond as to how well a restaurant  caters to a large group, whether the ambiance, service and food quality kept to good standards, and how well the wine matches the food. We all seek to learn and improve by sharing experiences. The agenda here is one of seeking to facilitate improvement through constructive comment for mutual enjoyment and letting good establishments become excellent and subsequently great players for the long term. Everyone benefits from this standpoint.

It's also good to bear in mind that these reports are often based on a single visit, which is not really the proper way to judge a restaurant. We can all have bad days that result from a range of circumstances not all of which are always within our control. Strictly speaking, one should return to the restaurant and experience the food and service in a different context to allow the passing of a more considered judgement. So these writings tend to be responses rather than reviews. There is a difference, though it often gets lost given our tendencies to view restaurants as all or nothing propositions - would we go back or not? Get one bad waiter or prawn and we never return and make sure everyone knows why. There are so many other restaurants out there. People can be a fickle bunch...

So.....    MediTeca is quite a new establishment which has quickly gained a reputation as one of THE new places to eat.  The cuisine is a combination of Spanish Tapas and Italian Enoteca, hence the name and concept - Mediterranean and Enoteca. The ambience is modern rustic, with clean lines and a show kitchen for diners to view the activities of the chef and crew.  A La Carte offers an array of Tapas, cold cuts, cheeses and bocadillos as well as a menu of modern takes on classic Meditteranean dishes. 

Executive Chef Riccardo Ferrarotti has over ten years in culinary management. This young professional kindled his passion for food working in this father's restaurant in the small mountain village of Biella in Northern Italy before gaining his experience in the USA, UAE, China and now in Malaysia since March 2008.

The Lenglui
Resident foodie David had reported a number of good experiences and it seemed the Committee tasting clearly went well enough to go forward with a full function for the members. Numbers had been restricted to 40 given constraints in the restaurant.  The Committee food tasting had taken place in the upstairs section, where the room proved to be chilly thanks to some superduper cooling air conditioning. It was also somewhat noisy thanks to a super sparkling sound system that was subwoofing subtantially loud. Consequently, the dinner itself took place at the downstairs section where it proved to be nicely quiet but somewhat warm and indeed stickily so. Many members felt the need to divest jackets and roll up the sleeves to cool down.

Lenglui and I had arrived early due to a need to discuss upcoming travels with a fellow member and when the dear service lady asked so pleasantly if would we like some of the Cava whilst waiting for the others it was so very difficult to say no. So it was that we got the first taste of the Bodegas Muga Cava Conde de Haro and what a delightful taste it proved to be. A blend of 90% Viura and 10% Malvasia from oak vats, this was clean and crisp fizz. The tasting notes spoke of tangy fruit and floral aromas underpinned with bottle time honey and vanilla notes, generating a honeyed yet fresh sensation on the palate, thanks to its significant acidity. We found it nicely balanced, with pleasant acidity and excellent biscuit on both nose and palate leading to a cleansing firm, full and foamy finish. Lovely bubbly.

Delays due to the nightly traffic jam in the city meant that the start was delayed. Those who had arrived early and avoided the worst of KL's inner city roads did not seem to be complaining, happily quaffing away at the fizz and doing the schmoozing rounds. 

Wine Sub Comm Chairman Prakash brought us to order and got us seated, saying a few words about the wine and the restaurant, and we were off. The Tapas Platter Starter came quickly out of the blocks and ended up being the best dish of the night. Spicliy mild gazpacho in a shot glass gave a coating to the top and sides of the throat that needed more fizz to scrape it clean. Delicate octopus in various sauces made for a lovely amuse bouche and appetiser, as did a fluffily firm though somewhat oaky Gorgonzola croquette which rounded out the biscuit and yeast notes in the Cava. Star One was the Octopus doused in squid ink whic made for a nasty salty yet firmly crunchy swallow. Star Two was the Marinated Sardines in White Vinegar, Garlic & Barley which zipped massively across the tongue and set the fizz on fire! Most pleasant.

The second wine came out as the plates got cleared. A blend of 90% Viura and 10% Malvasia (WA 90, WS 88) the tasting notes for the Rioja Blanco 2011 spoke of hints of canned fruit in syrup that was given structure and balance by some malic acid resulting from grapetime on fine lees. For me, It tasted of the sea - a clean, lean yet floral nose with some spice notes that wafted like a salty breeze across the tongue. A hint of flint, well balanced and firm body, soft soursop fruit on the palate with a tart lemon finish. Would have been a belter with oysters and cockles and sat listening to the rush of waves and gulls on a Spanish shore. Memo to self - load the iPod with Sounds of Nature for the next function.

The Seafood Paella came on a plate that was meant to be shared by two people. Not sure if anything happened between kitchen and table but ours came out with not a lot of seafood. One clam and two prawns to be exact, with what looked like occasional chopped calamari, and baby ones at that. The paella had a dried, glutinous quality that didn't really sit well on the palate. Perhaps it had sat too long somewhere else. Equally, the dish lacked fire and bite. I feel great Paella requires some degree of differentiation between rice and sauce that felt quite absent on this presentation. Malaysians will know the taste of Claypot Chicken Rice. The MediTeca Paella had the texture of claypot rice without the spice and fire that is the hallmark tongue teaser for that dish. The MediTeca Paella had not much tomato, and not really that much of anything that made the dish distinctive.  It did help bring out a fine oloroso sherry quality in the wine, though. A fine electricity-like fire across the wire that filled the mouth with sparks and spice. It cut nicely through the glue of the paella. 

My notes speak of the food being a bit slow coming from the kitchen. Indeed, some tables had their food quite some time ahead of others. One would guess that the kitchen cannot quite cope with the large numbers at this time. We were patiently chomping on the bread which was somewhat oversalted. This became a good excuse to call for more wine from the charming ladies walking around with the bottles who obliged quite happily.

Pairing with the fish course was the Nuestra Sra del Portal White 2010 from Batea in Terra Alta in Catalonia. The notes spoke of a young bright pale yellow/green fruity and aromatic wine with a powerful suggestion of scrubland herbs and tropical fruit (pineapple, banana, pear and lychees) with a juicy mouthfeel and fresh, well balanced acidity. For me, it was crisp apple on the nose which gave way to nectarine and rock melon in the mouth. A wine of clear complexity, and able to be savoured in the proper surroundings. As with most IWFS sessions, most of us were well on the way to Merryland to be too bothered with the finer niceties of the glug. Self included. But I try.

The Confit of Black Cod with Sauteed Peppers & Green Pea sauce came out warm but ultimately somewhat bland. The notes say it seemed to have variable texture, some firm and well cooked with other bits slightly more softer in texture and more easy going in the mouth. Not much else to say. Underwhelming. The veggies were good and firm. 

The Crusted Rack of Lamb, Cauliflower Puree & Crushed Pistachios was also a bit cold and somewhat underdone for personal taste, though not so much as to be unacceptable. it was....  okay. Not stunning, not startling, not something that would go uneaten, just... okay. It was large and there was a lot of it, with the cutlets clearly coming from a more aged lamb and as a result having the texture of such. Perhaps I have been spoiled with baby lamb rack which, when cooked simply in olive oil and garlic with parsley, is heavenly. This presentation had a little bit too much meat on the plate - perhaps more for the muy macho eaters than the more sophisticated patatal demands of the foodie. The sweet jus gave a French feel to the dish rather than a pure sense of Mediterranean.  One would wish that restaurants would learn to leave the jus on the side. Some of us like the meat unadulterated save maybe for a hint of salt or pepper. The bones also had a black stripe along the middle which was a new touch. Not quite sure of the rationale for this, though the stripe gave an impression of the poor thing having undergone some kind of Hammer House of Horror preparation ritual.  The Black Striped Lamb of The Pyrenees, muahahahaha.....

The two wines chosen to pair with the lamb were the total business. First out was the Onomastica 2004, a Rioja by Carlos Serres. The notes say it has an intense, deep maroon colour with aromas of black fruit, vanilla and dark chocolate with hints of spices and mineral notes. A generous, full bodied wine with fleshy fruit and a long finish (ST 92, WE 92). This Rioja was lovely. Medium body, full fruit and great balance, with a fantastic finish. Wonderfully drinkable on its own, it cut through the lamb nicely, making for an excellent match. 

Second out was the Montecastro y Lianahermosa Tinto 2007. Hailing from Bodegas y Vinedos Montecastro in Ribera Del Duero, this blend of  96% Tinto Fino, 3% Merlot and 1% Cabernet Sauvignon was totally off the map and with a few latitude lines to spare. The notes told of "expressive aromas of ripe red and black fruits and aromatic herbs with mineral undertones. Full bodied and fleshy palate with big structure and tannins. A well balanced, powerful wine." (ST 91, WA 90, WS 90). And so it indeed proved to be. Full, massive fruit, with great balance and bite, chewy plum and damson, with a hint of cassis and an endless finish. I have no notes as to whether it went with the lamb. On reflection, It didn't matter; the wine was meal enough on its own. The total business. 

Here again, the tardiness of the kitchen in getting the food sent out became apparent. Several members felt the need to leave ahead of the dessert, and those that stayed for it left quickly after it got to the table. The dessert was actually worth the wait - the Banana Fritter with Banana Toffee & Vanilla Ice Cream had sweet banana in light crispy possibly peanut oil batter, each balancing the other most pleasantly with the ice cream giving the butter foundation to let the ensemble work its delightful magic. I tried the chocolate, but have no notes nor memory of it. I preferred to do battle with the remains of the Montecastro since the delightful ladies with the bottles were most insistent on refilling my glass, Perhaps they also wanted to get home. 

Me eating a pen - still hungry, I guess...
In sum, excellent wines, visually pleasing but only so-so food, pleasant staff, restaurant a bit too warm, and slow service from the kitchen. Kudos to Wine Sub Comm Chair Prakash for excellent wine choices and kudos to Chef for the visual aspect of the food. As previously indicated, one perspective from which we review is how the restaurant copes with a large number of patrons, and sadly MediTeca didn't seem to make the full grade on this outing.  Worth a definite visit for the Tapas with a glass of textured white. The mains need another try when the restaurant has less numbers to cope with.

All photos courtesy of Jan Shaw.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Pizzeria Mozze in Singapore - worth a visit.

I found myself as a tourist in Singapore with the Lenglui's family in the run up to the CNY holidays. After a most pleasant morning wandering through Chinatown and visiting the excellent Gardens By The Bay, it was suggested we go eat pizza. None objected. We had all been overdosing on Chinese cuisine and clearly shared a felt need for something Western. So it was that six of us arrived at the Pizzeria Osteria Mozze in Marina Bay Sands Mall with the view to ordering a dish apiece and sharing Malaysian style. Mozze is one of those celebrity restaurants franchised by the chef Mario Batali across the globe. Presume the business model is that he gets a fee for his expertise and branding whilst the Sands pays the salaries of the staff. Located on the upper level, it took a bit of finding for people not used to the Mall.  Mozze lunchtime was full, though we did get a table after a ten minute wait at the bar. Business was clearly good for a Friday lunchtime before the long Chinese New Year holiday.

For the food, it came quite quickly. The Salami salad was good, though a shade salty. Green bean salad was tender and crunchy, whilst a meatball and cream pizza was excellent as was the Panini sandwich. Free lemon zest water was pleasant. We were all too hungry to comment critically on the food; we were all just so happy to enjoy a good solid Italian lunch. Service was considerate and friendly and fairly efficient. With coffee and one dessert, lunch came out to SGD200 after tax, which is probably not bad considering the location. The Osteria is a connected though separate area exclusively reserved for dinner patrons, with an interesting menu and wine list. Would happily go back for lunch, and would be very keen to try the dinner menu. Worth a shot if you feel the need for crunchy pizza before a Theatre Show or a gambling session at the Sands.