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, July 30, 2013

2008 Alexandria Nicole Quarry Butte with T-Bone steak

Quick note on the 2008 Alexandria Nicole Quarry Butte red blend we had with a T-Bone steak at home last night. We'd bought it from the vineyard during a road trip through Yakima Valley and loved the taste. Figured seven years in bottle was about right. 

Predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot and Syrah, also small amounts of Malbec, Cab Franc and Petit Verdot. Aged in 60% new French oak and 40% Two year old French Oak for 20 months. Whatever that means.

Lovely voluptuous chewy body, full sweet plums yet low sugar with good acidity, and a chewy finish with velvet tannins. Had that unmistakeable Washington terroir, a rich cherry note in the mouth. Lovely balance with the tannins evened out and the balance probably at its peak. Great with the steak. Sadly was the last bottle, but got some of our favourite Stella Maris tucked away for future steak. Washington red blends are total belter with steak. 

Amazon notes say "Quarry Butte is an elegantly expressive five varietal blend that packs a punch for the value, capturing the unique terroir of Destiny Ridge Vineyard. Itas beautiful bouquet is loaded with an alluring, aromatic mix of black currants, vanilla, peppercorn, and cocoa. The palate is ripe with blackberry, cherry, rich and supple tannins, hints of cedar and elegant oak-spice that lead to a balanced structure and lengthy finish."

Monday, July 29, 2013

YEAST in Bangsar - Great ambience and food!

Went for a second time to Yeast in Bangsar and was again impressed with the food. The Oeuf au Lait de Comte (poached egg with spinach and cheese sauce) was robust and filling with the home baked bread fingers whist my Boeuf Bourgignon was excellent - rich red wine reduction sauce over tender wagyu like beef strips. The garlic mash was sweetened with glazed (what I guess was) parsnip shavings and was superb. 

In contrast, both the chicken roulade and skate felt oversalted, and the tagliatelle sauce a shade frich in texture. All gets forgiven with the Chocolate souffle and dollop of Ice Cream that sinks slowly through the crust and mingles with the hot sweet sponge into a chocolate goo that is perfect sugar heaven. Profiteroles with green tea ice cream had potential, though the profiterole felt a shade firm and dough like. 

Previous visit found the duck breast outstanding and gthe Catch of the Day very good. Ambience is such that all the kitchen staff are working their magic along a main bar in full view of the audience. In sum, a delightul French bistro tucked in the heart of Bangsar. Hope they can survive when the landlord ups the rent. 

PS the name seems to conjure up some amusement in my medical friends. They immediately assume a reference to a fungal condition when to the rest of the world it is the stuff that makes bread rise. Guess they should get out more.


Had a thought provoking conversation about the IWFS Noble Mansion dinner with the Doc who argued passionately that what we had been served was essentially not representative of a real Chinese Banquet dinner. His point was that in my insisting that the food should follow the weights of the wines, the entire balance and content of the dinner had failed miserably. 

What we had was a standard East / West paradox. In the West we take it as read that lighter body wines get consumed before heavier ones and a menu will be adjusted accordingly. In contrast, a proper Chinese style banquet would oscillate between light and heavy textures with delicate tastes and seasonings which would allow for the palate to rest between the more challenging dishes. 

At Noble Mansion our wines were Australian bubbles, Aligote, White Burgundy, Red Burgundy and Red Bordeaux which was determined to be the best serving order. In the Noble Mansion menu (and in retrospect the Noble House menu of last year) we had adjusted the suggested menus to fit this type of sequence. Consequently, this impacted the textural contrasts and harmony of progression across that sequence. The Doc had observed that for the Noble Mansion dinner we had effectively had four Chinese style starter dishes followed by beancurd and duck (NB in this, the duck was originally before the beancurd but was switched by me to effectively prevent the beancurd becoming seen as a main course). There was little textural or taste difference across the first four which impacted the last two, and switching the duck to the end killed off the rice. So in selecting and forcing the dishes to fit the wines we had destroyed the sequence of the whole which, as a result, had become far less than the sum of its parts.

The Doc is clearly correct - it was not a traditional Chinese banquet and from that perspective it did fail. And whilst I think that my point was that it was never really intended to be, his position raised some interesting questions and got me wondering about the cultural presuppositions and insistences we in the West tend to place on other types of food cultures and how we can unwittingly impose our demands and expectations on them. For elaboration, let's call it the Purist position versus the Radical. 

In the IWFS KL we are predominantly Western educated and I think this instills within us the cultural mores and values associated with such. Additionally, this can include the tendency to insist on and demand that we make the world adapt to cultural expectations inherent therein; eg having food and wines served sequentially according to their weight. Anything other than this simply makes no sense. And by attempting to pair wines with food styles not native to the Base Culture, we become Radical in our actions - we pay little heed to traditions in a Target culture in our search for the next stage in this evolutionary journey of pairing wines with food. 

But serving food non sequentially in this Western sense does matter when you get to the East. The need to rest the system by contrasting textures and styles, and heat and cold is taken very seriously. There needs to be Yin and Yang and harmony across everything (which in many respects also parallels matching a Yin wine with a Yang food!). Within this, traditional Eastern banquets never had an issue of looking to match wines of varying texture and taste with individual dishes. There were little in the way of fruit wines of differing styles being produced. Tea or alcohol based rice wine or spirit like soju or sake made from abundant fermentable produce became the single liquid to aid digestion and presumably cheer health. It was also probably a lot healthier than any unboiled water from the river. 

There is a clear parallel here to the concept we see in Wine producing nations where wine styles and grapes fit the food and cuisine of the area. These types of traditions have long been in place and have rational explanations for their existence. This seeking to maintain a connection between area and cuisine and the attendant cultural and social aspects and traditions associated therewith is basically the Purist position, and protecting the recipes and traditions in preparation and serving becomes culturally important and necessary. Again this is not too distant from some things we still occasionally see in the west - formal dinners requiring a tuxedo and port still being passed to the left, for example. 

And now in this big connected globe we can have Sauvignon Blanc with Sashimi and Soju with spaghetti if we desire. And the explosion in ready availability of wine varietals and blends mean that the potential for pairing combinations has gone ballistic. Honoured demarcations continue to crumble and the Radicals are clearly in the ascendant. The downside is that by the Radical insisting on wine being the dominant determinant, the Purist concept of the Eastern cuisine can become adulterated to such an extent that it gets destroyed. The Radical ends up with something that they are happy to say is "Chinese Cuisine" but which is, from the Purist standpoint, far from it. And it gets done with little to no regard for any cultural sensitivities that may surround maintaining the purity of the cuisine. The inherent tendency that dominant cultures have to make the world fit their desired view of it and match how they would have it be traditionally impacts those less dominant cultures in a negative manner. And the Radical tends to do so with the assumption that there is a divine right to go and try the new pairing, which must be like a red rag to a Purist bull. The desire to find the next perfect pairing trumps everything. Which the now raging Purist would seek to resist absolutely. Couple this with the general Radical tendency to lump all Chinese cuisines together and the raging can get thermal. There is great pride taken in the various cuisines of China - Cantonese, Shunde, Sze Chuan - so that when both National and Regional pride take a Radical whack then the reaction can be heightened.

Another aspect to this is that there is a tendency to be selective about the cuisines that the Radical seeks to pair the wines with. In the IWFS KL, for example, we have made wines fit with Chinese and Indian and Korean cuisine styles and changed the suggested order of dishes to fit the sequence demanded by the wines. With the Korean dinner, we also introduced some Korean liqueurs to pair with the dishes. In contrast, we don't do it when we have Japanese cuisine (except for Bubbles as aperitif) and here has been to my knowledge no attempt to pair grape based alcohol liquids with the food - we just have increasing quality sakes served across the sequence. So why should we seek to force fit the other cuisines to the wines when they has never matched in the first place when we don't do it for all cuisines? Is the wasabi and sake pairing so dominant that no one would dare to challenge it? Is it that other cuisines are more texturally suitable to be possible partners with our hallowed grape juice? Or is it that Japanese cuisine just can't pair easily with grape wines?

Perhaps the upshot of all this is that the Wines of the West should not be made to fit the Cuisine of the East. There are a swathe of liquids available to consume with such cuisine that have existed for centuries and perhaps such pairings should best be honoured and leave Western wines to pair with Western foods. Well…..   maybe. The Purist in me certainly has time for such a position whereby we get to taste textures and styles that have sustained nations for Millennia. Conversely, the Radical in me would like to remain open and kaizen to see whether the existing can be improved upon, or at least tried out to look to understand why a pairing or a sequence does or does not work. And we Radicals are assuming an expectation that each dish coming to a table indeed demands the serving of a wine when perhaps the better option might be something non alcoholic or indeed non existent. Given that the traditional sequence of an Oriental banquet is designed to give the palate and system a rest between the more demanding courses, then maybe there's a parallel we can draw with regard to wine and give the palate a cleansing and relaxing break with some good Pu Erh tea. Or not. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Tasty Cantonese Creations - IWFS Noble Mansion July 2013

Wines waiting to get uncorked
Umnnnngg  fuzzy head. Bleugh. Where's the plinkplink fizz when you need it?

Belter of a night with the IWFS last night. Everyone seemed in the mood to party and whoooo, that was what everyone seemed to do.

The Noble Mansion is the latest addition to the Oriental Group of Restaurants. Opened in January 2013, Noble Mansion showcases the latest creations of Executive Chef Justin Hor. As the name suggests, the restaurant is a modern interpretation of a Chinese traditional mansion. It is divided into a number of sections: The Lantern, The Bamboo Courtyard, The Terracota Rooms and The Grand Hall.

The Cuisine of Noble Mansion is inspired by that found in the renowned food province of Shunde in Guangzhou, China.  Shunde cuisine has a reputation for being regarded as providing the foundation for fine Cantonese cuisine. While the cuisine of Guangzhou has been Traditionally very minimalist in its use of flavors and seasoning, Shunde cuisine is noted for being generous in the delicate sweet side of things, using ingredients like tangerine peel and dates. Though occasionaly rustic and homely in appearance, these belie the preparation and expertise of chefs creating dishes that offer pleasant and delicate blends of texture and taste.

Let's raise a glass...
I seem to have got lumbered with organising the event.  A stab at a committee tasting died with only myself and Lenglui meeting with restaurant manager Jason and finalising the menu with the budget I was given. Possible matching wines within the drinking window at the IWFS Cellar all seemed to be French and quite attractive, so that  sorted itself. 

Always a bit apprehensive with organising a Chinese cuisine dinner for the members. They don't usually get too much support. Still, the Noble Mansion was a new place in a part of town generally free from traffic jams and with easy parking so it offered potential. And not a bad turnout at the end with 42 stumping up the RM250. 

Notwithstanding a couple of service hiccups at the start with staff feeling a bit uncertain as to how to serve the wines (and getting pressganged into serving food as well - a bit overworked they were) there did not seem to be too many complaints about anything. Well, except for the fact that more wine was wanted than was available. Both the whites got downed at a scarily rapid rate ahead of the food coming out. Equally, the burgundy barely survived to get matched with the duck. The Bordeaux appeared to have an easier time of things, with the assembled having seemingly become more civlised in their drinking by this time. 

Oops - forgot to photo... remains of the Crab
Lots of good comments about the food, with the starter Crab and Asparagus and the Razorclam coming in for very special mention. The starter was indeed quite delightful - crab meat with a crunchy cucumber and what felt like an asparagus pate. The whole was a sourish bracing freshness around the mouth with the crab offering the soft sweetmeat to complement. The pairing Aligote had good spice and clean balance with a slight pepper mouth. Remniscent of a Gewurtz withouth the lychee and sugar. Nice and clean and a shade oily but good oily rather than kerosene you occasionally get with fierce Sauvignon Blanc and the cheap stuff. The prawn was big and fresh, though maybe slightly overcooked, and as said the Razorclam was stellar - garlic and glass noodle and clam in vinegar sauce had the table in paroxysms of tongue tickling ecstacy. Indeed, it was tasty and long in finish with afternotes still being tasted way after the plates got cleared. It paired nicely with the Chablis, though it soared with the Aligote - the oil cutting through the chewy meat and the spice giving the garlic and vinegar a good run for the tasting money. On its own, the Chablis was massive - complex, smoky butterscotch with a long clean finish.

The Fresh Prawn
The Garoupa had been cut into pieces and deep fried in a batter that tasted of soft melon and lemons - sweet but not overpoweringly so with the result being crisp tasty morsels of sweet well cooked fish. We guess the Yin Yang was the crisp outside with the soft inside. A bit gwailo maybe (ie one for the white folks rather than the traditional purist Oriental foodie) but tasty nonetheless. Lovely with the Chablis as one would expect. 

The magnificent Razorclam in Garlic
The beancurd was….   beancurd. I mean, it's all texture and pretty tasteless, though the chef had a decent go with it, searing it in some peppery fat and serving it with a softer and less gooey sauce than is traditionally served with the beancurd. Lenglui liked this. Killed the Burgundy so I didn't eat too much of it on principle - nothing should get in the way of magnificent wine. 

Pairing of the night was the Duck with the Ile des Vergellesses. The Vergelless was initially a shade fierce but opened out in the glass after its temperature got raised to room. It had a clean, glass like sheen on the throat and layers - lots and lots of layers so soft that they created so much depth. I seemed to be the only one who thought the duck was champion. Notwithstanding its hacked appearance, it was so tasty - crisp smoky skin with good lemon salt and great textured meat. As said, brilliant with the Burgundy. 

Yin Yang Garoupa
The rice was fair and offered good carbo for the Bordeaux. I missed the coconut, preferring to quaff. There were five bottles of fizz that were left over from the start so it was decided to crack them to end the night. Also, no one really wanted to take any bottles back to the store. So. It's a fizzy fuzzy that the brain is labouring under at this time of first writing. The more sober reflection suggests next time we crack them at the start to save the white wine from getting guzzled. We live and learn. 

In all, a most successful evening of good food and lovely wines being enjoyed by members clearly in the mood to party. It was good that none of the dishes was bad, though perhaps the purists might say that none of them was particularly spectacular. The Shunde inspired cuisine certainly contrasted with traditional Cantonese styles, being way more delicate in content than more usual offerings. The Governor and The Boss clearly had a good night, telling all and sundry what a wonderful time they were having. Indeed, it was surprisingly successful - some lovely individual dishes and wines and some delightful pairings. The room favourite by vote was the L'Estang, being quite nicely approachable and a good quaffer. The Chablis got my vote - complex, full, chewy and a lovely lingering finish. And the Pinot was belter. Definitely a good night had by pretty much all. And I managed to get my Elvis on. Such a slut for the microphone and karaoke...
Emptying the Bottles
Text and photos Brian McIntyre
Additional photos kind courtesy Jeff Walmsley


Andrew Peace Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot 2011

1st Course
White Asparagus with White Truffle Oil and Crab Meat
2009 Domaine Taupenot Merme Bourgogne Aligote

2nd Course
Steamed Fresh Water Prawns
2009 Domaine Taupenot Merme Bourgogne Aligote

Course Three
Steamed Razorclam with garlic
2007 Domaine William Fevre Fourchaume, Chablis 1er Cru

Course Four
Yin Yang Star Garoupa
2007 Domaine William Fevre Fourchaume, Chablis 1er Cru

Course Five
Braised Beancurd with Spinach
2005 Pernand-Vergelesses Premier Cru Ile des Vergelesses

Course Six
Roasted Duck
2005 Pernand-Vergelesses Premier Cru Ile des Vergelesses

Course Seven
Fried Rice With Dried Scallop, Crab Meat and Egg White
2005 Chateau De L'Estang Cotes De Castillion

Course Eight
Summer Breeze Coconut Jelly.
2005 Chateau De L'Estang Cotes De Castillion

Table A
Table B

Table C
Table D  
Prakash, Yin How and Zul
Brian, Paul, Song and Edna
Dr Rajan, Dr Bachan and Ong Li Dong
Dr Stephen, Dr Rajan and See Cheng Siang

Pretty awful food - Shangri La Hotel IWFS APZ

The stage is set...
June 28th 2013

I have had a number of less than pleasant experiences of late at the hands of the Shangri La (see elsewhere in this blog) but this one felt like a real overcharging for very mediocre and low quality food. The occasion in question was the IWFS APZ Welcome Dinner at the Selangor Room in the Shangri La Hotel. It should have been a showcase of one of Malaysia's best food and service experiences for the foodies of the world. But it failed. Boy oh boy, how it failed...

IWFS APZ Chair Yvonne Wallis flanked by IWFS KL Secretary Dato Jeremy Diamond (left) and IWFS KL President Dr Rajan
In brief, the canapes were forgettable, the jumbo prawns were far from jumbo and equally far from fresh, the salad was fair but the mains were quite bad. To expand, the prawns were painfully small and could in no way have been fresh. Tough and dry, they were difficult to get out of the shell and tasted awful. Their texture had that recently unfrozen feel about them. The Orange salad clearly had a Japanese influence and in fairness was not bad. Fruity crisp with fennel, endives and lettuce. Okra tempura was cute, salmon had a good firmness to it and paired nicely with the oranges and citrus mayonaisse. Wasabi would have been bolder, but there you go. 

IWFS APZ Festival Organiser Dato' Jeremy Diamond
The chowder was creamily acceptable, though I had to pass (personal history with peppers) but the lamb was massively overcooked to the extent that all the people on my table who had ordered it found that they could not eat it. My taste of the lamb found it supermarket standard quality and with that nasty lamby smell and taste. It was overcooked to the point of tough and indeed pretty indigestible. Hmmm.  I ended up needing to share my beef with them so that they at least had something to eat. Not that the beef was spectacular - far from it; ordinary, firm and chewy, soaked in jus and lacking anything resembling the Angus that presumably it should have been. Finally, the Clafoutis was stodgy and dry and reminiscent of a bad school dinner pudding. I had to eat it since I had eaten relatively little else during the meal. I think I finished off someone's sorbet and now stale bread in an effort to soak up the wine. 

IWFS Chair Yvonne Wallis 
This and other experiences would suggest that the kitchen cannot maintain quality when there are too many functions on at the same time - we were fighting with about 500 oil and gas people in the main ballroom. Yes, one expects a degree of lower standard when trying to feed the five hundred plus. But not to the extent that the food is inedible, as some of our table felt about the lamb. 

Added to this, the staff that the Shang had allocated us felt hugely under trained with little to no knowledge of either wine or its distribution. We are used to having students serve us at the Shang but usually the old hands help the new ones. I think all the old hands had been commandeered for the other dinner, leaving the newbies to fend for themselves or get helped out by us. One wine bypassed us completely. There was probably an F&B manager overseeing everything, but I guess he or she was probably being pestered by the organiser of the other dinner to have too much time to do anything. Did not appear to be anywhere in evidence.

Making friends
I find it a stunning lapse of judgement that a hotel of the Shang's standing could have served a dinner like this to a society with such clearly refined culinary expectations and standing as is the International Wine and Food Society. Everyone applauded the wines but I don't recall any of the overseas guests complimenting or commenting on the food. Presumably too polite to criticize the hosts. Except for one KL Expatriate veteran who decided to bend my ear for ten minutes on how bad he found the food and that it was the worst he had ever tasted and how could anyone justify the RM700 he had stumped up for the privilege. He had possibly turned to the wine for solace. Other attendees have grumbled similar comments at subsequent get togethers. Difficult to disagree. Overall, the food was pretty awful and just somehow very sad.

Lenglui with Stephanie
Sad because the Shang used to be the standard by which all other hotel ballroom functions would be judged. Based on this and other recent experiences, it has fallen far from this position. Whilst there may be reasons for this, there can be little in the way of excuse. I have many memories of wonderful times at the Shang stretching back over twenty years. Sad thing is that I seem to have little real desire to see whether it can regain its position. This felt like a massive overcharge for the standard of food and service received and, coupled with recent negative experiences documented elsewhere, a sense of injury at somehow feeling my patronage was being taken for granted. Result: any goodwill I might have had for the place has been pretty much dissipated by this night's experience. Enough is enough. The other hotels in the city can offer far better Ballroom food for half this kind of money and be more warm and efficient in their quality of preparation, presentation and service (compare the recent note in this blog on The Westin). Having said this, the service we got at Arthur's for a pre-dinner glass of wine was friendly and efficient, as was the delivery of a tasty pizza from the Lemon Garden earlier in the day to our reception station.

I really hope I don't have to go back to the Ballroom soon - you know what it's like, one of your friends decides to hold a function there and because of the friendship you cannot avoid attending. Maybe I can just give face for the starter and ask if someone can bring me a pizza.

The Wines for the Evening
Wine notes
NV Bollinger Rose Brut - maybe a note of oxidation on opening. Blood orange in colour with a Sour plum nose, excellent bead, acidity a bit high but overall a very classy glass of bubbles.

2010 Puligny Montrachet Jacques Carillon - light, creamy, peach nose, grannysmith apple with granite minerality.  Good acidity, medium finish. Good, not great.

2011 Ch Vieux Telegraphe CdP Blanc La Crau - belter. Rich, pepper spice, full rounded mouth feel with walnut and and honey. New friends on the table who say they would never had tried a white CdP were pleasantly surprised. We could have drunk it all night. I think some people did.

2007 Vosne Romanee Domaine d'Eugenie - light, fruit driven, fresh clean bouquet. Balance could have been better, tasting of sour fruit and a bit harsh on the finish.

2006 Ch Malescot St Exupery - smooth and better balanced, cherry and blackcurrant nose with menthol and breezes. Not spectacular, but not bad at all.

2007 Ch Coutet - nice. Good balance of acidity and honey with apricots, apricots, and apricots on the nose, mouth and finish with a hint of burnt caramel gula melaka spice feel.

The Prawns. So sad.
Opening Black Tie dinner – 28th June Shangri La Hotel

NV Bollinger Rose Brut

Fried beef Tataki in Asparagus with wasabi mayonnaise
Vegetable Spring Roll with green tomato jam
Prawn Satay with spiced pistachio chutney
Bell Peppers Chowder. Give me the wind they do...

Seared Jumbo Prawns with lemon butter sauce

2010 Puligny Montrachet Jacques Carillon


Confit Poached Atlantic Salmon with
Fennel and Orange Salad, Citrus Mayonnaise and Okra Tempura

Beef Short Ribs and Medallion. Ho hum
2011 Ch Vieux Telegraphe CdP Blanc La Crau

Red and Yellow Bell Pepper Chowder
Olive and Pistachio Crouton
Slow Cooked Beef Short Ribs and Australian Beef Medallion
Creamy Potatoes and Mushrooms
Roasted Lamb Loin glazed with Herb and Walnut Crust
Potato Gratin and Green Asparagus Bundle
Cherry Clafoutis. Stodgy but edible

2007 Vosne Romanee Domaine d'Eugenie 
2006 Ch Malescot St Exupery

Clafoutis with Marinated Cherries
Vanilla Ice Cream
2007 Ch Coutet

Coffee and Tea  

Thursday, July 11, 2013

YOU'RE THE TOP! Marini's On 57

Amazing view of the Twin Towers from Marini's
Lenglui and I always look forward to the Amante della Cucina Italiana dinners. This informal group of foodies focus on Italian cuisine in Kuala Lumpur and the evenings generally get quite rowdy and laughter filled. They look to fix dinners at KL's Italian Restaurants for members and generally succeed extremely well. 

We had been itching to try Marini's on 57 for almost a year but for some reason the timings weren't quite right. Lenglui had found that Chef Federico Michieletto (whom we had first encountered during his time at Pietro Restaurant) was head chef. So it was with delight that we received the email saying that the next Amante dinner would be hosted there July 9th. Naturally, we signed up pretty quickly. 

Named after owner and operator Marini Modesto who built his name in KL on a chain of tasty pizza restaurants, it is located on the 57th floor of the third Petronas Tower at KLCC. Unless you know how to get there, the entrance is a bit hidden. The store staff at the Suria all know where it is though, and you basically pass Chanel on your right and head for the corner to the left. There you will see curtains and a smiling bouncer type gentleman who escorts you to the elevator. In less than twenty seconds you are whisked to the 57th floor where Marini's is located. 

Marini's on 57 interior
Half of our Amante group were already seated and we welcomed Datuk and Datin back from seven weeks overseas travelling. A welcome and unexpected glass of Prosecco greeted us, which was found to be slighly unbalanced on the wrong side of sweet but pleasant nonetheless. We had brought our Italian house red Le Volte 2010 Chianti and a spicy Sicilian Barrua 2005 for the occasion. Normal corkage at Marini is RM100 per bottle but organiser Jing had used her massive charm to persuade the management to give us free corkage on the second bottle. Which meant we simply HAD to open it. Yes. Now I understand why buy one free one is so powerful a marketing tool. 

The restaurant itself is long and felt a bit dark, but on reflection necessarily so since too much light would take away from the incredible view we get of the north side of KL City. As we arrived the sun was in the final stages of setting and we sat down to the gloaming dusk to watch the night come to life. This is the premium that you pay to dine at Marini's. And for me it is worth most of the extra ringgit one pays for the privilege. I have been blessed to have sat in a few rooftop restaurants around the world and watched the sun set on those various cities with a glass of something. But when it's your own (or at least the one that has adopted you) there's more of a connection. It becomes personal; this is your town that you're seeing, and it's one heck of a town. Or at least it is when there's no haze or rain, as was the case on our visit. Couple that with no nose bleed or altitude ear pop sickness from our rapid ascent into the heavens and things were looking good.

Amante della Cucina Italiana
All duly arrived and photos were taken and Chef Federico came out to say hello and introduce the starters. Chef continues to be a fantastic supporter of our Amanti della Cucina Italiana group and a cursory look at the menu he had prepared for us showed he was yet again pulling out the stops. As said, we first experienced Chef at his preivous gig at Pietro's through the Amanti and were most impressed with his clean and refined home style of cooking yet with clear leanings toward the fine end of dining. Hopefully Marini's would clearly give him the licence and resources needed to take this to the next level. 

Our menu had been colour printed on frosted paper in the black and red master colours of the Marini's restaurant, nicely complementing the uniforms of all the staff. On reflection, perhaps this colour scheme was a shade too bold, but it melted into the dark ambiance of the restaurant and became a backdrop rather than an influence. 

The service was very good throughout the night. Only faults would be a dropped fork at the start and a slight mix up on the cutlery placing (out to in, I was wondering why I had a spoon to eat the Lobster when I figured it was for the following Pappardelle) but no one else seemed to notice or bother too much so I guess best to just let it pass. 

Ricotta, Zucchini e Vin cotto
The Ricotta was very good - nice and light creamy crumbly with the zucchini lending an acetic quality, I guess from being quickly sauteed in some balsamic reduction. Champion with a chunk of bread.

Goose, Duck Salami with Shallot 
The salami was brilliant, especially the goose - more delicate in taste and texture than its traditional porcine brother, it retained that unmistakeable salami combo of cured meat and fat that we in the West have loved since childhood. The pickled Shallots lent a nice onion crunch and zip and the pan toasted sweet brioche was genius, giving a sweet carbo undercurrent to the meat. Wonderfully filling, this is a perfect option for those in this nation who are not able to take the pork. Could happily have ate this all night, but then I am a salami monster - one of the most perfect foods on the planet. Whilst it went well with our Chianti, it would have been a good match with a nice glass of something bubbly to clean the fatty salt gunk from the tongue and throat. Bread and water had to do and well it did. Most of the plates got cleared, though I reluctantly felt a need to leave a few slices. There was a lot of food yet to come. 

And come it did and what a belter the Blue lobster and Burrata with Cream Form proved to be. Sweet crisp and crunchily good lobster blended masterfully with the creamy burrata, with the rind offering a slightly different texture to contrast the flesh. The sweet chew on the meat was delightfully endless, whilst a splash of olive oil on the plate lent a necessary and welcome cut to the cheese. Given its colour, I'm guessing that Chef added some pureed lobster to the Cream Form, so the colours on the plate had a harmony. The cream form was magnificent, giving the lobster and cheese that milky bite to bring the burrata to perfect texture and taste. Contender for dish of the night. 

Blue lobster and Burrata with Cream Form
Well, it was until the Pappardelle ai Piccione made its way to the table. It must be said that pigeon is not something that has loomed large in my gastronomic adventures. When it makes an appearance on a plate, my standard reaction is "why?" I've never got what pigeon is supposed to be about. Texturally snuzz, bland tasting and rarely much of it - well, it is a small bird, yes? Now thanks to Chef Federico, I think I understand it somewhat better. Tonight's pigeon felt as if it had been treated as a game bird and hung for a while to give it that hint of what can only be called "gamey". It's like fermented eggs and aged cheese - the hanging gives the meat an element of taste that makes it less of a bland experience. Which was what I got from this bird - a light taste that was not oppressive in the mouth and showing great balance. Presenting it Ragout style with simple mushroom gravy style sauce lightly seasoned let the gamey element come through beautifully. Close your eyes and you were transported to a countryside farm in the Veneto. Paired with a freshly made long flat papardelle pasta, this was a real authentic taste of Italian soul food at its best - filling, tasty and satisfying. I think there was a bit of Chef Federico's own soul in this one. I cleared the plate and sopped up the sauce with the bread remains. Perfecto and so, so good. 
Pigeon ragut, Papardelle and Barolo Wine

Our 2010 Le Volte had gone very nicely with the food to date - solid and workmanlike, smoother tannins than previous bottles but still bold and tasty with good fruit, pepper and spice. But in order to take advantage of the corkage deal we had to crack the 2005 Barrua. How could we not? Actually, if thought had been given, we could have shared corkage with others on the table who had also brought wines and saved the bottle. But we were not thinking clearly. Wine and great food will do that to you. As it was, the Barrua had a lovely balance of fruit, tannin, alcohol and acidity. Dried fruits on the nose with prunes and raisins, and a plum jammy sweet mouth with a clean lingering finish. We passed a glass to Chef who looked somewhat stressed and in need of a reviver. The restaurant is clearly doing well, with about 90% full on the night. 

Roasted Veal Tenderloin with Summer Truffle Puree and Roasted Tomatoes with Smoked Duck
And the food kept coming. Some of the table were flagging at this point, but a quick stand and walk up and down the restaurant helped clear a bit of space in the system. By way of introduction here, it should be said that Chef's Veal Tenderloin at the Pietro was legend. We had it one time with the Amanti and it was gorgeous - great texture, and milky meat that just evaporated in the mouth. Tonight's was even better. Done rare with a salt crust in a cream truffle sauce, it had that slight raw firmness that was textural heaven. Total wow. In contrast, the duck had been shredded and somehow packed into a poached tomato to create an amazing juicy sweet and slighly sour tomato bite with a salty crisp duck crunch. Most interesting combination of tongue tickling tastes with this one. Not quite total wow, but still wow. 

I might have a question as to pairing the tenderloin and the duck on the same plate, but possibly Chef was looking to showcase his talents to his Amante. In a fine dining context, they can clearly be separated for degustation and wine pairing purposes. The veal was absolutely stellar. 

And so were the cheeses that came out. We had three on the main plate - the hard Bagoss made from skimmed cow milk, the hard Pecorino made from ewe's milk and the soft goat milk Caprini, all of which seem to originate in the Langhe region in the Piedmonte. All of these were fabulous in their different ways, especially the milky sour Caprini with some toasted brioche. But the cheese star was the Barolo Cheese. This semi firm mixed milk cheese is aged like wine in oak barrels and then pressed with fresh Nebbiolo grape husks. As a result, the wine flavours seep into the cheese to produce an amazingly rich and brilliantly complex taste that went gangbusters with our Barrua. Seems the origin of this cheese was a happy accident as a result of hiding the cheese in a wine barrel to prevent it from being stolen and then forgetting about it until its discovery some months later. As a result, it became legend. It was an absolute stormer - a full rich sweetly chewy and sour salty assault on the back of the tongue and cheeks. A wonderful and totally new experience that gives a whole new meaning to a cheese and wine tasting. Brilliant. 

Cotton Candy
The desserts of a massively sugary Cotton Candy and a somewhat texturally heavy Chef's Grandma Cake (as he called it) were nice enough and we tasted out of courtesy for Chef. But we were all hugely full and it was very difficult to follow the cheese with these desserts. Either one or the other would have been enough but maybe not both. That aside, somehow the dessert didn't quite match up to the standard set by the preceding dishes. As said, the cake was a bit on the heavy side when something lighter might have been more palatable. Having said that, had our preceding dishes been lighter then a heavier dessert would have made sense. Will have to try the Grandma cake in a different context. 

Traditional Pie with Pine Nuts and Cream Pasticcera
And then came the chocolates. Oh my lord, the chocolates. Delightful looking little dainties being offered and suggested according to guest  preferences, these were a stunning end to the night. Chef suggested one of the soft dark brown plain creations should be tasted with a little olive oil and salt. Unbelievably, it totally worked with the salt freshening the tastebuds and the oil coating the throat to let the tongue taste the full chocolate without any gunky residue. Another totally new experience. Double brilliant. 

In sum, one of those totally amazing dining nights full of fantastic food and amazing new taste experiences. No complaints whatsoever about food quality, preparation, presentation or temperature - everything was excellent. Service was very good - clean, quietly efficient, unobtrusive. One staffer had even learnt my name - don't know how he found it. Everyone at our table was pretty quiet at the end of the night, probably too full to do anything else except sit replete with full belly and contemplate life above the streets of our twinkling city below. Chef certainly pulled out many stops for us on the night, yet was still able to manage a room full of paying guests. He remains hugely supportive of the society - a very special Amico dell' Amante - and should be commended as such.

Chef Federico's skills have clearly grown. Being in command of a restaurant with the clout and organisation of Modesto behind it, I guess he has been freed up to experiment with and command the best ingredients for his creations. He creates brilliantly tasting dishes that satisfy and excite.  All the other cities in the Pacific Rim seem to have a chef with a Michelin star and it's way about time that Kuala Lumpur joined that particualr fraternity. Is Chef Federico in that frame? From what I have seen of Michelin graded chefs, he is probably a little too paisano to satisfy the nobs. Michelin seems to require innovative refinement in preparation and presentation, chefs who take the culinary arts to other levels. But then what does Michelin know? Chef Federico has superb culinary chops and is already a star. It doesn't get much better. Just close your eyes to the prices and enjoy the food and the view. Totally the top.
View from Marini's on 57 overlooking Kuala Lumpur

Menu  per amanti della cucina  italiana

Ricotta , Zucchini e Vin cotto

Goose, Duck Salami with Shallot  Agro Dolce Pan Brioche

Blue lobster and Burrata with Cream Form

Pigeon ragut , Papardelle and Barolo Wine

Roasted Veal Tenderloin with Summer Truffle Puree and Roasted Tomatoes  with Smoked Duck

Langhe Cheese, BagosS DOP, Pecorino DOP, Caprini DOP

Cotton Candy

Traditional Pie with Pine Nuts and Cream Pasticcera

Fine Selection of home-made Chocolate

Friday, July 5, 2013

Chateau Cantemerle wine dinner Sage - not bad, had better

The Cantemerle dinner is slipping into faded memory. Well, slipped. Can't remember much about it now. Which might suggest that there was not a lot to remember. Which is not true - the following bears wintess to the fact that memory is an odd thing. Just when you think you have forgotten, by writing a stream of words some of the memories come back. Not much in the way of conversation, as seems to be a skill that most writers have in abundance. But sensations, shared moments, laughter. 

The dinner was organised by newcomers to the wineselling block S&W Wines. Seems it is a subsidiary of the Sunway group and friends have been pleasantly impressed with the operation in Plaza Damansara. Old Nam Lee Cheong worker Jacky found my email and sent details of the new setup and the dinner they were organising. On paper, Chef Daniel's menu looked a bit thin in comparative terms to what we'd get with the IWFS for RM250, but with the wines included it it seemed a fair proposition. The usual gang had little problem in signing up, with ten takers confirming within two days. 

Cantemerle Director Phillipe Dambrine was in town, which seemed a bit close after the unveiling over in Bordeaux for a classified growth. We knew this because we had just returned from Bordeaux and the week prior to our visit had seen the wine world descending to taste the new babies. We also tasted the new babies. Yes. But that is another story.

Cantemerle Director Philippe Dambrine
Mr Dambrine gave a brief talk about Bordeaux and Cantemerle. Standing at the gateway to the Medoc, the 94 hectare estate is now in the hands of a large French insurance company which is in the process of upgrading the vineyard's equipment and replanting the vineyard.The wine is a blend of 60% Cabernet, 30% Merlot, 6% Cab Franc and 4% Petit Verdot matured in oak and bottled at the Chateau. Cantemerle is not one of those vineyards that leap to mind when Bordeaux is mentioned, though it does seem to have some fair penetration in a range of markets. We have dranki it on occasion during our time in Kuala Lumpur and it came across as not stellar but far from low end. It was served at various Godfamily birthday celebrations which suggests to me that it is good value. The Godfamily tend toward the careful. Very Eng Choon and Scotslike. 

We were to try three vintages of the Cantemerle offerings. First out of the blocks though was the second label Les Allees De Cantemerle 2007. Like many of its competitors, Chateau Cantemerle offers a second label alongside its first. Second label wines are made alongside the First labels using the same fermentation and production techniques but often retail at a snip of the price of the First. The ethos is to let punters get a taste of the style and sense of the main wine but who find it difficult to stump up for the main.  It is not the same wine, but it is similar in style and approach - the difference is in the quality of the grape which is still good but not quite good enough to make the cut for the first label. 

The notes say the 2007 was not an easy vintage but that this offering is "a supple wine with finesse and elegance, showing aromas of wood, leather and black fruit." We liked this one. Drinking quite well, with somewhat bold cassis, it came across as a good solid full bodied Bordeaux wine with sufficient tannic teeth to warrant a couple more years in the bottle. Went nicely with the appetizers though paled a bit with the carpaccio. 

The carpaccio seemed to have a lot of truffle, though beef and egg is always a god mix. It made for a refreshing gooey and gunky chew in the mouth with the arugula adding a tang to cut through the goo and give the insides of the cheeks a friendly pinch. 

We had the Cantemerle 2010 to pair. The notes say it is complex, concentrated and structured. Elegance without heaviness, lively and fresh, and with a finish that doesn't finish. Well, it did for me, and quite quickly at that. This garnet purple number was deep and dense, showing rich full fruit in the mouth with good balance though somewhat light on the finish. Alcohol felt a bit on the high side. Not quite as tannic as I would have expected from a three year old, which suggests there might not be a lot longer in the bottle for this one. 

In pairing terms it was a fair match, but raw egg is always going to kill wine. The best it could do was to swish the cheeks clean of the gunk, which it did.  

Normally the foie gras at Sage is top end. For some reason, tonight's felt a shade gamey. There was an artichoke sauce which came over as sweetly sour with a hint of mustard or horseradish - when paired with the foie gras is was massive - the sweetness of the gooseliver getting jazzed by the sour cream artichoke to create a wiz of a whizz on the tongue. If ever a whizz there wuz. The duck felt a bit on the firm side and somewhat lost in the gamey foie gras blitz, but the notes say it was okay. 

Paired with the Cantemerle 2006, the notes say it is one of the most beautiful Cantemerles of the decade. Powerful, black and with great aromatic complexity. Opulent, with a clean lively and fresh finish. It was certainly a lot smoother and less intense than the 2010. Nicely balanced, with a chocolate nose and good firm damson and plum fruit leading to an elegant lengthy finish. A lovely drop, drinking nicely, though again given this not sure how much longer left in the bottle. 

No notes on the match of the food and the wine. 

The Granny Smith sorbet was crunchy and zippy and quickly zapped the tongue clean of all that had gone before in preparation for the Wagyu. Chef Daniel had decided to do it Pane style, by which the meat gets coated in flour, egg and breadcrumbs and presumably pan seared. It had the texture of a fishcake, the taste of salted sweetbread that was bit through to release the liquid fat of the Wagyu Karubi beef within. It was a somehow odd yet not unpleasant mouthful, crunchy sweet and fat but ultimately missing something. Certainly not karubi beef as we know it. Our normal style is to marinade in barbecue sauce and quickly pan fry and serve with the barbecue sauce poured over the lovely bits of beef. The egg and breadcrumb crust somehow neutralised the meat into meek submission. The Doc and I poured some wine over it which did improve matters somewhat. But not really enough to save it. Sorry Chef, missed the mark a bit with this one. But the crust had a longer finish than most of the wines - I was still tasting it ten minutes after. Where is the sorbet when you need it?
Lenglui with favourite nephew

This got paired with the 1996 which on its own still had great balance and enough tannins to let it cellar for a few years longer. Good standard mid range Bordeaux wine, a workmanlike journeyman wine - lacking the degree of aristocracy that gets associated with much of the product from Bordeaux, it nevertheless held its own as a very approachable and drinkable wine.  It was totally wasted on the wagyu croquette. We happily quaffed it till closing time. No notes on the dessert. 

Lenglui with the Hustler
So...  okay, I guess. Wines were fair, food was a bit strange, ultimately not so memorable. What was memorable was bumping into our friend the Hustler. He had forgotten it was smart casual and had turned up in white shorts. Such is his standing there that they let him sit down on condition he would be the last to leave so no one would see his legs. Naturally he ignored this instruction. His friend had nicer legs.


Mushrooms on Toast with Mixed Herbs
Croquette of Black Truffle

Carpaccio of Wagyu Rump 
with Eggs Molet, Truffle Aioli and Black Truffle

Chateau Cantemerle 2010

Second Course
Confit of Cured Duck Leg
with Foie Gras and jerusalem Artichoke Cream

Chateau Cantemerle 2006

Granny Smith Granite

Etuvee of Chliean Black Cod with Wasabi and Cress
Pane of Wagyu Karubi with Yuzu Citrus Sauce

Chateau Cantemerle 1996

Crepe Suzette
with Home Made Blueberry Ice Cream

Coffee and Petit Fours