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

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

IWFS Dinner at The Restaurant at The Club, Saujana.

Mixed feelings. Great place, food good but lacked "wow".

October 24th 2013

On paper, this should have been magnificent. Great reports from people who had dined there and a good selection of tasty wines from the storage. But for some (or maybe a few) reason it didn't all quite click. Good enough, I guess, but lacking any real "wow" factor to transport the night from the good to the memorable. 

Lenglui on the Verandah
Needing to get to the venue quite early since to ferry the bubbles, gewurtz and pinot noir for the dinner, we were greeted by F&B Manager Subra who arranged the chilling of the fizz and Gewurtz while I had a quick swoosh and change in the bathroom and don the medallion and jacket that had been determined were the dress code for the evening. 

Lenglui had found a lovely spot on the verandah of the restaurant. It was a mini manmade lake with lots of brown brick levels over which water cascaded. Proved to be very relaxing and good "chi" while watching the sun go down with a glass of Chilean House White. Most pleasant. Next time, we should have the champagne outside. Had we come earlier to vet the place, perhaps this could have been scouted and arranged.

Sunset over the Pool
Lenglui was itching to try the fizz, but I felt it was necessary to wait until guests arrive. Not the done thing to help oneself. Must serve others first. We didn't have to wait long - Datin Sandra arrived with guests and we got our new friends to pour the bubbles for them. And us. It was worth the wait - the Nederberg NV was nicely dry with good cleansing bubbles, and light to medium in body. Hints of biscuit, lemon nose. As guests arrived they got their glasses and those of us earlier got nice topups from the staff. 

Somewhat delayed getting to the table, due apparently to the kitchen not being quite ready, and we ultimately all got seated at the three long tables. The staff had laid out goblet style glasses into one of which the 2009 Hugel Gewurtz was poured. Not sure if this goblet style was intended, and in retrospect they were reminiscent of glasses I had encountered during a tour of Germany, but some eyes were raised at the absence of the standard stem white glasses. The other glass was a Bordeaux style and clearly for the ultimate red. Which would be a Pinot for which a different glass would normally be set. Hmmm. The upshot is that some of the choices of glasses seemed a bit strange for a restaurant that otherwise clearly ooozed class. Looking at photos of the other tables, there were setm style white glasses there, so maybe it was just our table. No one passed comment on this - perhaps they were just being polite.

The Restaurant Table
The deftly light Gewurtz had the standard lychee and rosepetal nose with light almond notes and turkish delight on the palate and fair acidity to finish. 

We were actually having the Gewurtz with an unexpected Amuse Bouche so much so that it had all but vanished by the time the Salmon Carpaccio had come out. We had not been advised by the staff either in advance nor at the table as to what the food was. Hmmm again. If we'd have known we could have planned for people to take their fizz to the table and quaff it with the AB. But it was a tasty enough amuse and no one seemed to be complaining. It's like being on stage when something goes wrong - only you know the script so act like it is intended and no-one knows different. Happily there seemed enough Gewurtz to go around. 

Given that I had a hand in picking the wines, I had to say something about them. I had the notes on my handphone but couldn't really read off them. Also, I'd hoped the wine supplier of the two Austrian wines we were having would speak about them. So the upshot was I wasn't really prepared and apparently it showed. Fumbling and bumbling. Memo to self - next time, take charge of the event and write the wine notes on little cards to read off.

Amuse Bouche - thought it was the first course!!
The salmon made its appearance and the marinated radish and yuzu promptly blew the mouth off. That fierce salty, lemon acidandsandpaper blitz was a total kaboom that pretty much removed the skin from the tongue and teeth. Like a really fierce lime sorbet. The ensemble was better, with the salmon taming the acidity somewhat. The Gewurtz was a bit too delicate to help with this - a larger bodied Riesling with some compensating sugar fruit might have been better. We had to make do with bread and balsamic to try to neutralise the acid fire. Didn't really help.
Salmon Carpaccio - I think...

Next out was the Muscateller which came across like a very light Riesling but with a steel backbone. Light and very dry, crisp with a bit of a grape acid nose. Steel in the mouth and mineral on the throat and a good gripping finish. It was well matched with the scallop which, along with the sweetcorn veloute, took a slight acidic edge off the wine. 

The duck roll was lovely - a soft, sweet and chewthroat sucking screamer, covering both the tonsils and back of the throat with a tingle and a kiss. Lovely textures, with a medium bite on the roll, strangely reminiscent of the texture of luncheon meat. The Foie Gras Creme came over like a coffee ice cream, and somewhere between a dessert and sorbet. Lot of complex tastes and textures going on here, lots of little explosions of salt, sour and crunch. The Foie Gras took off the tannic edge of the Muscateller, and the sweetness cut the FG oily texture, but the wine lacked sufficient body to do it justice - not really a match to remember. 
Grilled Hokkaido Scallop

Next out was the scallop which, for me, didn't quite feel totally fresh and somewhat lacking tastewise compared to scallop we'd recently eaten elsewhere. It was firm and fresh enough, I guess, but seemed to lack that sweet crunch you can get from totally fresh off the Hokkaido boat scallop which was what Zipangu scallop the previous week felt like. That one was darling. A lot of sweet came from the Sweetcorn Veloute (imagine Jolly Green Giant creamed corn but crunchier), though perhaps too much and bordering on the overpowering. I might have used a hint of pepper to tame the corn. 

Getting paired with the Blaufrankisch seemed somewhat contary at first, but it seemed to work. The Blaufrankisch is very smooth with lots of cherry and pepper. Crisp, rich and drakly fruity with firm character, a whack in the mouth and a silky finish. Cross a Pinot with a CdP and you get this. Great body and taste together in the same bottle. Belter. It neutralised the sweetcorn and the silky texture cut the scallop into meltable proportions. Those who had some of the white left would have found more traditional matches. The Gewurtz went better with the scallop for me than the Muscateller, more for texture than anything. The lack of sweetness on the scallop was helped by the sweet fruit in the wine but that was more luck than judgement.

A wine too far - we were saving the Marimar Pinot for the grand finale with the lamb, but there was clearly too much red on the table already. People were calling for the whites with the food, and there seemed enough white to supply our table. Downside came in the amount of red that would be left on the table at the end.

Smoked Rack of Lamb and Confit Lamb Shoulder
The lamb was two dishes - rack and shoulder, each of which offered different textures and dimensions to the meat. Texturally, the rack was succulent whilst the shoulder was a contrasting dry. Good to taste, though having the two styles felt a little bit overkill and leaning toward the undecided. We totally appreciate that chef clearly embraced the opportunity to showcase his skill for us IWFS foodies for which we are grateful - just a question as to whether it was maybe a bit too much to take in at one time. Unbelievable - telling a chef not to give us his food. 

Notwithstanding, the lamb rack was stupendous - sweet, salt, succulent and juicy and hitting all the bases. Total standard and total belter. It needed nothing more, being perfect on its own. Eat this and die.

The lamb shoulder in contrast came dry texture, so the wafer pastry and crispy mash potato softened the texture enough to taste. Kind of a hickory smoke feel to the shoulder with a hint of sweet game. 

The Marimar Pinot worked quite well with the lamb, taking a sweet edge off the meat. Very vegetal and funky on the nose and mouth, with many layers in the mouth. I saw a lot of red wine left in the glasses as I was leaving, so perhaps the funky nose and vegetal mouth put people off. Which was a shame because once you got past the nose it was a tasty, chewy wine with a finish like clean silky sandpaper on the palate. My notes say it is "a perfect blend of nothing that zips through. Om." Not sure what that means. Sounds like I was in touch with the universe and this was what it was saying to me. Always seems to make sense when you're drunk but screwed if it can be deciphered the morning after. What was clear the following morning and well into lunchtime was the taste of the wine still in the mouth. Fierce beast of a wine - not as delicate as Burgundy, full of character. This wine would spit in your face then offer to wash you down.
Ultimate Chocolate Brownie

As usual, very few notes on the dessert, other than the Brownie felt a bit firm for taste, though the ice cream matched it well.

Lenglui and friend Julie Lim
Staff were very attentive and service was generally excellent. Some complained of delays in some of the food coming out, though personally I did not notice. Totally absorbed by the company and explaining wine to our newbie friends. 

Overall, the food was good enough, I guess, but apart from the rack of lamb lacking any real "wow" factor. Though perhaps that is the European style - understate the preparation of the food and let it speak for itself. Lovely ambience and decor, lovely setting and a beautiful room. Would hope to come back at some time to try the T-Bone. Staff were very attentive and service was generally excellent. Some members complained of delays in some of the food coming out, though personally I did not notice. Totally absorbed by the company and explaining wine to our newbie friends. From my side, it just felt a bit underplanned. Guess we were all thinking that there was nothing to really plan, but there always is. 

I feel the event suffered from not having a designated person in charge to talk to the restaurant to fine check the details (ie store the wines, check the glasses, menu sequence). We also didn't have a food tasting for this one - it got put together as a response to the original venue for the October event getting ditched quite late in the day following what were felt to be excessive corkage fees. Needs better organisation next time, certainly on my part - no one really took charge of the dinner and for me it showed. Live and learn, eh?
IWFS members and friends

‘The MIGF Menu at The Restaurant @ The Club Saujana Resort’

Nederburg Sparkling Cuvee Brut NV

Salmon Carpaccio, Horseradish Panna Cotta, Marinated Radish & Yuzu Sorbet 

Gewurztraminer Hugel 2009

Foiegras Crème
Foiegras, Duck Roll & Granny Smith Apple

Weingut Tement STK Gelber Muskateller 2009

Grilled Kokkaido Scallop, Sweetcorn Veloute & Young Sweet Corn

Weingut Tement STK Gelber Muskateller 2009

Pan Fried Seabass, Bouillabaise Sauce, Garloc Moussline & Ratatouille Vegetables


Smoked Rack of Lamb & Confit Lamb Shoulder
Eggpalnt, Potato Fondant, Baked Potato Strudel

Weninger Blaufrankisch Hochacker 2009
Marimar Estate ‘Don Miguel Vineyard La Masia’  Pinot Noir 2006

Ultimate Chocolate Brownie, Iced Milk Mousse, Nougat Ice Cream & Berries

Mr Lim and Toru Kurokawa

Wine Notes

Nederburg Sparkling Cuvee Brut NV
A blend of Chenin Blanc, Cape Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc from the Paarl region in South Africa, this is brilliantly clear with a lasting sparkle. Delicate fruit on the nose, crisp and fresh on the palate with a lingering aftertaste.

Gewurztraminer HUGEL 2009
The great speciality of the Alsace AOC where the aromatic expressiveness of the varietal attains such great heights. Originally from northern Italy, it is spicy and suave, dry but intensely aromatic.
2009 was a fabulous vintage in Alsace with record levels of ripeness, and cool nights giving its full varietal expression. Deep pale green, straw yellow colour, clear, bright and nicely unctuous in aspect. The bouquet is very aromatic, perfumed and fruity, but above all spicy, dominated by saffron, cardamom, nutmeg, fresh almond, with lots of dense, oriental rose, frangipane, jasmine and fresh China tea. It is seductive and flattering yet totally dry, with a subtle astringency.

Weingut Tement STK Gelber Muskateller 2009
From the Südsteiermark region of Stiermark, south of Vienna. Weingut Tement focuses on white varietals made in the STK (Steirische Klassik) or stryian style that allows their typical characters to shine through. Light gold in color, this fresh and fruity wine has a strong flowery bouquet, with peach and lemon hints. Flavors are crisp, acidity is firm, and together they evoke a feeling of sunlight and summer. A very well balanced wine, pairing well with salads, light cheese sauces and fried dishes.

Weniger Blaufränkisch Hochäcker 2009
From 42 year old vines grown by Austrian red wine pioneer, Franz Weninger in the Hochäcker site in the Horitschon/Mittelburgenland DAC. The Blaufränkisch grapes first undergo native yeast fermentation in steel tanks. They are pressed after 14 days of mash-state, followed by biological malolactic fermentation in a large oak barrels and aged 16 months in big oak barrel and bottled March 2011.
The Blaufränkisch (aka “Lemberger”) varietal is indigenous to Austria and is the predominant grape varietal in Central Burgenland. Aged in large, used oak casks, the single vineyard Blaufränkisch Hochäcker is full-bodied, elegant and complex, well-balanced with cherry and red current aromas, spice, lingering fruit and ripe tannins on a long finish. Ideal food wine, perfect with a wide range of meats, game, poultry and cheeses.

Marimar Estate "Don Miguel Vineyard La Masia" Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2006
“The color is a beautiful garnet, classic Russian River - as is the fruit, loaded with black cherry flavors. There's mocha in the nose and perfectly balanced hints of elegant oak, which contributes a rich texture. The mouthfeel is round and engaging, classic Pinot Noir, with a note of lively spice at the end. The finish is long and the wine shows great aging potential. Alcohol 14.1% bv. (From Winemaker’s notes)
"This vineyard, in the cool Green Valley part of Napa, continues to produce outstanding, ageworthy Pinot Noirs of distinction. The 2006 is a large, powerful wine, distinctly Californian, packed with cherry, cranberry, cola and spice flavors that are immature in their fresh jamminess. But with a dramatic tannin-acid structure, and a just-right touch of new French oak, it will improve in the cellar. Best after 2010." (Wine Enthusiast 93/100)

Lengjai, new friend and IWFS KL President Dr Rajan

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Haute cuisine in the Highlands - The Olive at Genting

The dinner came about as a result of friend Speedy Hotrod asking if we were free to join him at an MIGF dinner in Genting and could we send our CVs to the organiser. This duly happened over the next few days and on the day of the dinner we found ourselves rushing home to get dressed "elegantly" ahead of a 90 minute and RM80 rain filled taxi ride up the Highland Mountain to the Genting Grand Hotel. We ended up being so glad to have chosen the taxi option - by the time we got there the heavy mists had rolled in and we would have definitely got lost.

We were greeted by name by the staff at the hotel entrance (wow!) and escorted to the restaurant to meet up with Speedy to sit and chat with a pleasant glass of Ronin Pinot Grigio and a great selection of Italian and Spanish cheese and crispies. Light body, a whisper of alcohol and reasonable acidity, good balance though not really forward in anything. Little in the way of finish, but then it is meant as a welcome wine and not out to whack any home runs. We didn't get to try the canapes.
Interior of The Olive
The restaurant itself comprises two large-ish rooms, one of which was a bar and reception area with a piano and singer on hand to entertain. The ambience of the reception room was pleasanat and soothing. Lovely pastels of red and green with cool blues on the tables. With the pianist and singer crooning the oldies it made for a delightfully relaxing way to start the evening. 

People arrived and we met the hosts Datuk Steve Day and Datin Su of Vision Four Media. A little socialising with a fairly high powered dining group, including some old acquaintances from our entertaining days. I do envy people who are so clearly at ease in this kind of situation and who can flit and glide easily around the room - definitely blessed with great social skills.  Host Datuk Steve gave a brief speech of welcome and invited all to take seats through at the restaurant area. Walking in, we were greeted with two beautifully laid out tables of ten and about thirty staff on hand to guide to the seats. We had the whole place. The restaurant itself has an open kitchen concept where you can see the chef conducting the orchestra to create their culinary symphonies. Not that many of us seemed to be paying much attention. Too busy getting to know our table neighbours. Lenglui and I were separated on this occasion and I found myself next to Tunku Dara and opposite Datin Su. Hugely pleasant company. 

The breads quickly came out with the fizz. I stole a hunk of what the bread man said was Squid Ink Bread, which was a first for me and so demanded a tasting.  Felt a bit firm in the mouth, a shade mealy maybe, but was a knockout bite with the olive tepanade. I think I understand the concept, though perhaps the bread was in need of a shade more salt to bring the ink a bit better to bear. The soft roll would prove very good with the Duck Liver

The appetiser of Water Melon with chilli, shallot, shrimp, pistachio, mint and balsamic looked a strange combo on the plate but proved one which worked extremely well in the mouth. The water melon was genius - lending a soft watery texture and sugar to offset the powerful tastes of the other ingredients. The mint gelee in particular matched the melon texture brilliantly and the pistacchio crunch and balsamic salt gave a cute kick. The chili proved a pleasant rasp on the throat as it went down and as a result gave the dish a long finish. And finish on a dish is something you don't often think about. Finish on a wine, yes, but on a dish? This was new. 

Pairing this complex Appetiser with a sparkling wine made absolute sense, though for me the Poeti Prosecco from the Veneto lacked sufficient body to stand up to the dish. On its own, it came across as medium sweet strawberries and syrup, though thin in body and acidity and consequently not really cleansing enough. A firmer glass of bubbles would have made for a far more memorable experience, something a bit more robust like a Cava or a sparkler from Oz to cleanse the palate and give the dish its proper due.

Salmon starter
The starter Salmon was perfectly poached and pairing it with beetroot puree was wonderful - the sweet acid cut the fish wonderfully and I got a hint of Yuzu in the sauce which brought the sweetness down to just perfect. Lovely smooth chew with a zip of lemon. Again, given the melange of flavours, pairing the dish with something sparkiling made sense, though again a firmer fizz would have transformed the dish. 

The Truffle Cappuccino soup with Chicken Essence and Candied Almond made sense in context as a break from the previous complexity. The truffle aroma in the foam promised much, but for some reason became a bit anticlimactic in the mouth. The broth was rich and not overseasoned, but the chunk of truffle in the soup had lost its soul by the time it made it to the spoon. Pleasant enough dish, but not spectacular. Put me in mind of Brands Chicken Essence with a dash of truffle oil. Now there's a thought….

We were next served the Chapoutier Muscat de Beaumes 2010 from the Rhone. Odd but pleasing perfume nose of Rose Water and almond wafer. Crisp and medium sweet in the mouth with full dates and fig. Nicely balanced, the finish is full and rich. A very good pairing choice, giving good sweet crisp texture to complement and cut through the purine laden Duck Liver.

Entree Duck Liver
The entree Duck Liver felt a bit gamey and powerful on its own, but again the ensemble was out of this world. The plum jam and pomegranete pickles cut the purines in the Duck Liver beautifully and help set off the gamey liver that threatened to overpower everything. The popcorn wasabi was a cute textural zippy crunch, though the brioche came across as a bit sweet and cakey. The Plum Jam had already done the sugar duty so the cherries and sweet brioche felt a bit overkill. The crumbly brioche texture also didn't do it for me. I would have preferred something toasted to lend better texture foundation. Having some of the soft unsweetened bread still on the table was good as a chunk of solid carbo to load the dish combo onto and feel it slide slowly across the tongue. Heaven. 

The 2006 Meshach Old Vine Shiraz we were next served came out full of blackcurrant, smoke and coffe on the nose. Macho and potent, it exuded testosterone. Rich full body of dark berry fruit with the tannins not quite evened out after eight years. Long, rich supple but slightly fierce alcohol finish. Serious big wine with a lot more time left in the bottle.

Veal Shin
The Veal Shin main came to the table looking a bit like a cinderblock - all dark and moody. The veal had apparently been braised for six hours. The result was a somewhat dryish hunk of meat that really didn't go anywhere for me. Firm texture over taste and tending toward dry. The Meshach gave it a bit of life but not really enough to elevate it beyond the ordinary. Sorry guys, the veal didn't work for me. But the potatoes did. These little roast babies were stunning - firm, slightly sweet with crunchy salt skin and so full of a flavour I haven't had for years - could have easily eaten these all night with a bottle of light Bordeaux. Perfecto Potato, double stellar and the best of the night for me. The Pea Risotto was excellent, soaking up the jus a treat yet retaining a sweet freshness and crisp bite. 

The match with the Meshach was okay, I guess. The food evened out the tannins but the sweaty saddle body came right through and pretty much overpowered the food. Perhaps this was a result of the sadly mediocre and under bodied meat, but the wine felt too forceful and bold. Perhaps a Bordeaux or a firm Barolo would have paired better. The Shiraz needed something beefier and more robust to tame it. 

The Dessert was very, very good. A contrasting Fruit Granite with Chocolate nibs and ice cream was delightful - chocolate crunch and creamy goo with a parmesan chocolate crisp to salt the mouth - excellent. Though I couldn't quite fathom why Sommelier would want to pair this with a Port, and a twenty year old one at that. On its own, the Port was somewhat fierce at first, though the high alcohol and sweet tawny mouth were full on. Texturally light to medium bodied, it got better as the mouth adjusted to the high alcohol, though the balance never quite seemed to come into equilibrium. It did nothing for the dessert other than give an alcoholic kick and the ice cream pretty much just swept away the sweet full mouth.  I understand the snob value that serving Port holds over diners, but Olive could have have done away with the port and maybe used the money saved to upgrade the Sparkling wine to something more flattering for the excellent Appetiser and Starter dishes. Chocolate doesn't really benefit from fruit alcohol, though it can be good with Japanese whiskey. Chocolate really prefers coffee, and the espresso that came slightly late was a far better match. My Port went pretty much undrunk, though the funnel type glass in which it was served was charming and a novel way to sip.

I decided to forego the Grappa and Limoncello that were offered which would have indeed put a perfect cap on a most excellent evening of food. 

The restaurant had given us a report card on which to record our views and responses. I kept mine to write this report with a promise I would give it to them. My excuse was they would not be able to read my writing. Quite often, I cannot read it - boozy scribbles get lost the day after. Must say that the Olive Report Card was a very useful template with lots of categories and scorings. They are appended below.

The Olive is clearly a destination restaurant and so naturally needs to offer something over and above what is available in the city to get people to travel up and back down the mountain. For the MIGF they were offering a special rate on overnight stay at the hotel, though whether this will happen in normal season is not clear.

Well done Chef!!
Genting has a reputation as a rich man's playground, possibly as a result of the hangover from the days when it was seen as casino first and resort second. Certainly, the Olive prices are beyond what most Malaysians would be comfortable paying. But then most Malaysians would not want to visit the Olive - only the foodies. And the foodies should be well impressed with the offerings of what is indeed a very good restaurant. The food is excellent to amazing. Chef has talent with a superb sense of pairing fruits with flesh textures. His water melon with shrimp, beetroot with Salmon, pomegranete with Duck Liver - all were brilliant combos of contrasting tastes and textures yet all of which worked magnificently. The wine list is pretty good, though perhaps on this outing some of the wine suggestions fell a bit short. If you know your wines then maybe take your own and brave the corkage. Or order from the list and argue for a discount. The service was efficient and discreet and of very good standard, though given the calibre of the dining group I suspect the staff had been lectured to be on top form. They certainly were. Foodwise, I certainly got wowed by most of the dishes, and the Olive was definitely a dining experience to remember. In sum, yes - it is worth braving the mountain mists to check out the Olive offerings for the MIGF Festival.  Drive safely!

Scores (out of 20)
Ambience - 16
Festival Decor/theme - 12
Canapes - we had the cheeses with Pinot Grigio - 15
Appetiser - 16
Pairing (Prosecco) - 13
Starter - 17
Pairing (Prosecco) - 13
Soup - 12
Entree - 17 (had to minus one for the pastry like Brioche)
Pairing (muscat) - 17
Main - Veal Shin - 14
Wine - Meschach - 18
Pairing - 11
Dessert - 
Wine - Port - 15
Pairing - 9
Service - 18
Value for Money - Food 19, Wine 11
Creative Dining Experience - 18
Overall Dining Experience / Wow factor 17

Compress Water Melon
Chilli, Shallot, Shrimp Powder, Pistachio, Micro Cress, Mint Gelee, Aged Balsamic Yolk
Bottega Vino dei Poeti Prosecco Pink Gold NV, Veneto, Italy

Mi-Cuit Tasmanian Salmon
Marble Confit Potato, Baby Leek, Beetroot Puree with Vin Jaune Cream Sauce
Bottega Vino dei Poeti Prosecco Pink Gold NV, Veneto, Italy

Truffle Cappuccino
Chicken Essence and Candied Almond

Duck Liver
Popcorn wasabi, plum jam, coco brichoe, glace cherries, pomegranate pickles
Muscat de Beaumes de Venise 2010, M. Chapoutier, Rhone, France

Veal Shin
Smoked, Braised, Pea Risotto, Pickles Girolles, Roasted Root Vegetables, Brocollini
Grant Burge Meshach Old Vine Shiraz 2006, Barossa, Australia

Chocolate Fleur De Sel
Berries, Popcorn Ice-Cream, Parmesan Chocolate, Green Apple Snow
Grant Burge 20 Years Old Tawny, Barossa Valley, Australia
Full Festival Menu
RM398 nett per person with wine
RM288 nett per person without wine

Festival Restaurant - The Olive
Cuisine - Western Continental (Pork-Free)
Capacity - 75 pax Inclusive 2 private rooms
Lobby Floor, Genting Grand, Genting Highlands Resort, 69000 Genting Highlands, Pahang

GPS Coordinates
N 3 25.437
E 101 47.558
+603-6105 9668 / +603-6101 1118 ext 7706
+603-6105 2690

Getting a Mission Statement for the Blog

Had an interesting chat with Datin Su of Vision 4 Media at the MIGF Dinner at The Olive in Genting. If I got it right, Su saw the Vision Four mission as to promote the food and restaurants of Malaysia rather than offer any critique since critique is different from promoting and critique would deter rather than attract punters. This seemed to stem from a writer (actually an old acquaintance) who apparently had written some scathing review of somewhere and it had not gone down well. Well, and maybe fair enough and not wrong from one perspective. The promotion aspect is clearly a very important one to get us punters through the doors of restaurants and, in the broader context, to want to come to Malaysia. 

But from another perspective, this felt a bit short sighted. If anyone wants to find out about a restaurant today, there are innumerable blogs out there offering a range of reports and views on Malaysian restaurants and their offerings. And by reading a few you can get a fair idea of what the restaurants are about and whether one is preferable to visit over another. 

In this, most of the blogs offer very good photos and descriptions of the food. But they do seem to lack much in the way of the How and Why the foood or service was good and worth experiencing. Or whether there were aspects that could be improved upon (toilets!!) And I think there is a need for this. There's a danger of creeping complacency in media and business getting nice and cosy together that can, in the case of restaurants, lead to a downslide in quality which can go unnoticed by managers. There is a need to keep some kind of distance in terms of being friendly with the food industry. Getting too cosy can mean that perspective and objectivity can get lost, which does the industry little good in the long term. True, the real test is repeat customers and making a profit at the end of the year. Positive news in the press clearly helps this, and gushings of praise from the cognoscenti certainly boost the Restaurant profile and status both nationally and globally. And the successful restaurants seem to be those where the kitchen just keeps churning out the same formula with consistent taste and quality. But chefs are human and need love and appreciation and the space to create like all of us. And without constructive and dare I say intelligent feedback, there is neither growth or improvement nor any incentive to grow and improve other than the chef seeking to self improve in his or her own time and so move up the industry greasepole. 

So I figured I needed a mission statement for the blog. Still a work in progress but something like

"To write my experiences of the privilege of drinking and dining at restaurants as responses to the quality, service, preparation, presentation and overall experience received thereat. The standpoint is one of an officious diner 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. On this journey, I will seek to be fair, reasoned and direct. Any critique will seek to be constructive rather than being just for its own sake (Dear Lord, please help me keep my ego in check). I do not seek to destroy. No one loves a critic. We are all on individual journeys of growth and when we all grow together it is a beautiful thing."  

Whilst I lay no claim to being an expert when compared to the pro-eaters and gastronomes, I feel I have a valid standpoint as a punter who knows a good meal and glass when he gets one.We all have a view and a perspective on food, and whilst the chefs do their darnedest to please us foodies, the channels for direct considered responses to their offerings remain few and far between. In truth, chefs should only listen to chefs since only a chef truly knows food and what ingredients can enhance and transport one's dish from excellent to sublime. But then chefs are expert eaters, and much as most of us aspire to be gourmet eaters few of us have yet to reach this pinnacle. For me, I have dined at Michelin stars around the world serving hearty Provencal fare through to deconstructed New Age gastronomy. I'm getting to understand where all this comes from, whereby the experience of the degustation becomes intertwined with the context of the ambience and theatre of preparation, presentation and service. And for this, the world will pay to dine because, when done properly and with imagination, it can be transcending.

What I want in my food is Michelin Star quality in Malaysia. I want the number of restaurants in KL with per capita Michelin stars to equal that of San Sebastan. Daring, inventive chefs creating miracles of gastronomy with simple techniques and ingredients. Where is the NOMA or The Fat Duck? Whither Paul Bocuse Chin or Joel Robuchon Mohammad? At present, many of them go to Singapore because the money and opportunities are better.  There is occasionally a "poor Malaysia" response to criticism whereby the chip on the shoulder from being "backward" in access to quality ingredients and therefore unable to match cuisine standards in Singapore and Hong Kong. Maybe, but perhaps this is more an argument for regulations with regard to food imports to be relaxed and allow fresh food imports to be processed and delivered as quickly as possible. Notwithstanding, it is incredibly good value to fine dine in Malaysia when compared to the rest of the world. And whilst some argue that the fine dining in Hong Kong and Singapore is "finer" that should not detract from the basic point that darned good is still darned good. It's an old point that says to know the excellent one must start somewhere, and Malaysia is a very good place to start a gastronomic odyssey of a lifetime. And so I will write. I now have a dream. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

De Martino WIne Dinner NEO Tamarind, Kuala Lumpur

DE MARTINO DINNER 24th July NEO Tamarind, Kuala Lumpur

Got an email from Mars at Straits Wine telling of an upcoming dinner at NEO Tamarind being paired with De Martino wines from Chile. Having never tried the restaurant since its takeover by the Tamarind group (I have memories of the place being called Citrus or Citrone and going one time) coupled with a good experience with a De Martino Cabernet, we signed up.

De Martino is a family business started in 1934 when Don Pietro De Martino Pascualone arrived with a dream of making Italian style wines. Third and fourth generations continue to farm the land and make the wine. 

The winery embarked on its ongoing organic journey in 1998 and is now the second largest producer of organic wine in Chile. They seek to be leaders in sustainability in growing grapes, especially in carbon neutrality. In 2009 DM launched the first carbon neutral wine in Latin America and became the first carbon neutral winery in Latin America. In 2011 it was declared Winery of the Year in Chile.

Chile is already on the world map though predominantly associated with the Carmenere grape. This is a shade unbalanced since many other varietals grown produce excellent presentations. Given that Chile has conditions for producing great wine, the De Martino team has challenged itself to Reinvent Chile and show that world class wines can be produced there. It seeks to do so by creating "wines that are a true reflection of their origin and show Chile´s unique diversity." In this, they search for Chilean locations hat have the potential for producing wines with tremendous personality and so seek the elusive perfection that will elevate Chile into the seriously big leagues.

The restaurant is reached by parking the car with the jockeys and ascending a quite gruelling ascent up a stairway to get to the entrance. Not quite oxygen mask altitude or angle, but not for the faint of breath or the corpulent. 

Tuna Ball with Ponzu
Foie Gras Mousse and Beef Carpaccio on Cheese Cracker with Balsamic Reduction
The entrance felt very dim in lighting, like entering a long house full of wood and candles. Nice and atmospheric, with the back opening out into the night air and offering a wonderful view of the KFC Building next door. Quite impressive and imposing in a big city kind of way. The aircon and ceiling fans kept the temperature just the right side of cool without sweaty, though we were all glad to take our seats in the cooler closed section of the restaurant. Nice display of De Martino wines. Shame it was too dim to read what it was all about. 

Got welcomed with a glass of the Estate Chardonnay. Pleasant chugger, nicely chilled crisp good thirst quencher when chilled, good acidity, refreshing and light with honey and pineapples. Not a lot of oak on this one. Light to mid weight, cleansing finish and a bit more-ish. Too easy to drink and it actually kept well through the evening, even when a bit warm was still drinking nicely.

The appetizers felt a bit snuzz - the Tuna Ball was somewhat firm and leaning toward stodgy whilst the Foie Gras mousse and beef carpaccio came across as somewhat similar in taste and texture to blue cheese. Sorry. Didn't quite get this one. 

Getting to the table and a glass of the Legado. Clearly a bigger wine with oak and zesty apples on the nose. Less acidity than its predecessor, with medium body and a bit thin on the finish. Came across like a glass of fresh springwater but lacking the body that would elevate this into the complex. But it proved an excellent foil for the magnificent salmon. It was blissful - poached to perfection with a hint of olive oil and light pepper. The lower acidity on the Legado made for a sleeker coating whilst the hint of virgin oil and salt on the fish further let the wine's peachy fruit come through.
Salmon Confit with mixed Salad and Balsamic Dressing

Nice friendly welcome by Mars of Straits Wine who introduced Axel for a very brief presentation on De Martino. 

Next out was the Duck which was a bit rare but was absolute champion. Great bite and chew and good carvings. The red Cabbage puree gives a nice acid kick to the meat and the asparagus gives a good fibre base. Asparagus killed the wine, as expected. 

Wood-fired Roasted Duck with Red Cabbage Puree,
Grilled Asparagus and Orange Salt
The Carmenere had smoky spice with blackcurrant, and boysenberry on the nose. Full fruit and pleasant tannins with a rich plum finish. The balance felt a bit out, with the alcohol coming in a shade high, though the fuit and acidity were good. Light to medium body. Not really a match with the duck, but it was a good drinker nonetheless. It benefitted from air in the bottle, giving a fuller mouth and smoother tannins, though it still retained a lot of grip.

The wines were getting on the tables ahead of the food. Indeed, The main courses did not all come out at the same time. Mine was on the table for ten minutes and had to get sent back when the others finally arrived. In fairness it got replaced immediately.

Braised Beef Cheek, Grilled Mushroom and Garlic Mashed Potato
It was worth the wait - the warm beef in its jus just melted. Total light air on the back of the tongue with slight salt but totally stellar. Brought out the Merlot a treat and Cab was also cracking match. The beef brought out layers of fruit in the wine whilst the tannins took the edge off the fat in the beef. Match made in the seventh of heavens. Normally don't eat the potato but with the jus and the wine it made for a rich full mouthful of food - starch, protein, fat and wine - perfecto. The beef is one beautiful dish. 

For the Merlot, the nose was initially brilliant - complexity and power shining through. For some reason this did not follow through in the mouth - it was a bit on the thin side in fruit and finish terms, though the tannins were tasty.  When paired with the beef cheeks, though, it came together and started to make sense. The meats brought out a silky feature in the wine which then came together in a full lush mouthful. Definitely a wine that benefits from food. The Beef Cheeks were belter as well - the blend of the meat proteins and marble fat was mouthmeltingly amazing and went perfect with his Merlot. Double Stellar.

The Cabernet is from a single vineyard which is a neighbour to the same sector that produces the Alma Viva. The name Las Aguilas means Eagles. Got smooth cassis on the nose with clean aromas.

The Cab came across as a bit fierce on the back end with the beef. It would be better paired with a Rib Eye or a T-Bone - something grilled to let the tannins better work their magic.The strawberry is belter with the crisp chocolate balls. Brownie is a bit stodgy. The sour plum cuts away all of the sweet that has gone before. To have both styles of dessert on the same place seems a bit confusing. Maybe separate them in time and use the sour plum as a sorbet to go before the meat? 
Brownie, Fruit Tart and Plum Sake 

The Estate is surprisingly still full when warm. Good nose and body after 40 mins in the glass. The Reserva is fine, though less of a lively character than the Estate.

Our usual crew got quite boisterous and started helping ourselves to the wine when the waiters seemed to have disapppeared. We eventually kept the botle on the table. Actually quite rude to do so in retrospect, but there seemed enough bottles to go round. It was also difficult to pass up quaffing the good stuff. I took one and started pouring on the other tables - hey we're thirsty here!
The company with Winemaker Axel of De Martino

In sum, not a bad restaurant, though a shade dimly lit for my taste. Also the car parking and uphill trek to the restaurant is not too enjoyable. Very good fine dining with some superb food on the night but don't think I'll be back anytime soon. The car parking situation and uphill trek to the restaurant was not too good on Lenglui's knees. Wines were fine, though not yet ready to buy. Got a lot in the cellar and the fridge which need to go. The Merlot might be a possible for the IWFS, but the cellar is probably well enough stocked with reds for the time being. 

Tuna Ball with Ponzu
Foie Gras Mousse and Beef Carpaccio on Cheese Cracker with Balsamic Reduction

De Martino Estate Chardonnay 2011 - From the Maipo Valley. Beatuiful pale gold in colour with shades of green, aroma of pineapple and grapefruit. A fresh wine, fruity with good body and balance, complex in mid palate, nice elegant long finish.

First Course
Salmon Confit with mixed Salad and Balsamic Dressing

De Martino Legado Reserva Chardonnay 2011 - Limari Valley. Greenish yellow with some bubbles, intense notes with smoked tropical fruits such as passion fruit, pineapple and minerals like graphite. On the palate is fruity and slightly creamy with a hint of salinity.

Second Course
Wood-fired Roasted Duck with Red Cabbage Puree,
Grilled Asparagus and Orange Salt

De Martino 347 Reserva Carmenere 2011 - Maipo Valley. Bright purple in cloour, strong nose of black fruits like blackberry and cherry with hints of spice and mint and graphite. Powerful and dense, fine and silky tannins contribute to a remarkable finish.

Main Course
Braised Beef Cheek, Grilled Mushroom and Garlic Mashed Potato

De Martino Legado Reserva Merlot 2011 - Maipo Valley. Purplish red. Fruity nose with blackberry, strawberry, plum, chocolate bitters, lavender and dried rose petals. The palate is fruity with medium acidity and a strong hint of intense clove and black pepper notes. 

De Martino Las Aguilas Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 - Maipo Valley. Nose of toasted oak, caramel and dried  leather. On the palate a pleasant wine with hints of lavender that enhances the complexity of the nose.

Dessert Platter
Brownie, Fruit Tart and Plum Sake

Zipangu and Greywacke - Exquisite match of Japanese cuisine and New Zealand wines

Regular readers (?) will know that I have issues with the Shangri-La F&B given recent visits to their outlets.  So it was with a hint of reluctance and trepidation that we accepted a wine dinner at the hotel.

In fairness it was an extremely small hint because it was a very difficult wine dinner to say no to. The wines of independent maker Greywacke were being paired with Japanese cuisine at the Shang's Zipangu restaurant. In moons past, we had spent a lot of time eating at Zipangu in the days when the Shangri-La card was well worth the wallet space. It was very, very good, especially with a bottle of the low end Sake to wash down the daintily sliced sashimi and other delicacies the chefs so beautifully prepared. When the fees went up and the benefits went down, the card left the wallet and Zipangu fell off the map. It had also got a bit ordinary (circa 2006) in comparison to other rising Japanese restaurant stars (both KL and PJ Hilton remain regular destinations, as does Kame Sushi in Sri Hartamas). So it was a good opportunity to revisit and rake over old memories.

Winewise, we had been introduced to the Greywacke (pronounced "Grey-wackee") SB by The Kiwi at a previous pairing with Nyonya style food, where we also had a Oahu 2011 Pinot Gris. The bracing zip and fruit of the SB contrasted with the crunchy sweet of the PG and cut the spice on the tongue from a fiery roar to a pleasing tingle across a range of spicy dishes. The Kiwi had been hugely enthusiastic about the Greywacke.  He had told us then that Greywacke Winemaker Kevin Judd was the brains and craft behind Cloudy Bay in its pre- and post-iconic days who had left CB in 2009 to set up his own presumably more independent operation. In pretty short time, we had become converts. 

Arriving at the venue after a swift one-for-one at Arthur's Bar, a glass of the nicely chilled 2012 SB was placed in hand by Mr Gough of Geovinum, Greywacke's rep in Malaysia. Good balance, sweet passion fruit with a crisp and crunchy citrus, a little less racy than the 2011 we'd had at a previous dinner but no matter. Steely minerality and feeling like waterfalls on rocks as it swooshed across the teeth and down the gullet. The Kiwi, the Nyonya and Winedaddy were our table guests for the evening and we spent a pleasant fifteen minutes chugging on the SB and chatting. Got introduced to winemaker Kevin and wife Katrina. Clearly serious about his craft though also clearly preferring to stay out of the limelight, he has an understated sense of humour. Being Kiwi, conversation naturally turned to the incredible turnaround by the USA over New Zealand in the Americas Cup. Eight-one down they came back to win Nine-Eight. Unbelievable. I suspect a Malaysian bookie. They can be extremely persuasive. Allegedly.

Thin-sliced salmon and avocado with wasabi dressing - yum
The SB was a surprising double plus match with the salmon and avocado. The acid minerality was undercut by the wasabi and avocado which let the acidity cut through the unbelievably fresh salmon sashimi like a samurai through one of Kurosawa's bad guys. The SB also transformed the tempura from amazing to through the roof. Imagine the freshest of juicy prawn dunked in the lightest of batter and quickly deep fried in some high grade oil. On its own it was like a whisper on the tongue until the bite released the most succulent of crunches. With the wine, the batter softened the acidity and let some wonderful floral notes sit on top of the citrus. Match of the evening. 
The outstanding Prawn tempura with tentsuyu sauce

Yellowtail sashimi, salted kelp and habanero sauce - brilliant
The PG 2010 was poured and showed a honeyed vanilla nose and spicy pear and rambutan on the palate, but came across as ligh tin acidity and ultimately unctuous in the mouth and finish. Kind of like a Black Forest German Riesling only lighter in texture. The low acidity made it a brilliant match for the full textured yellowtail. The rambutan mouth lent a pleasant fruit foundation to the magnificent fish, but ultimately felt a shade unsatisfying. Same with the braised chcken and radish - good enough match but a shade more acidity was needed for the thing to transcend. It was good to have some of the SB on the table, though - did excellent service in cleansing the throat in the absence of Green Tea. The radish was perfect texture of soft outer and vegetal crisp inner and the delicately seasoned and tender chicken made for another set of full marks to the chef. As said, the lack of acidity made for good, albeit somewhat gunky and sweet, matches with the dishes and the chicken and radish really brought out the pear in the PG. Got a hint of oatmeal biscuit as well with the radish. Interestingly, the SB took the acidic edge off the Radish and made for a softer textured bite. This is such a versatile wine.

Kevin Judd later shared that 2010 vintage had low acidity. One of those years. Maybe need to drink up with Thai style salad dishes and lemongrass dressing to give the PG some assistance in the mouth. 

Grilled eringi mushroom wrapped in wagyu beef with Japanese seven-flavour chili
On to the 2011 Pinot Noir which had good crisp acidity and light cherry fruit which gained a silky texture when slightly warmed. Light in texture and long in finish, it seemed to lack a bit of body especially when confronted with the tender rich Wagyu. On its own, the PN felt in the middle - neither light enough to take the breath away nor full enough to satisy. However, a second round with the beef and mushroom gave a textured crispy bite of meat and fibre which the acid and cherry permeated for a rich textured slightly sweet and slightly sour mouthful. Ah, we live for moments like this. Texture and taste heaven. 

Sushi selection (foie gras terikayi, grilled ell, avocado)
Having the Late Harvest Riesling for the Sushi selection was absolutely spot on. Both the Unagi and the Foie Gras were outstanding with this crispily sweet dessert wine and its mouth exploding nectarine knockout. The full-on gunky texture of the wine seared the eel and foie gras with a sufficiently sugary coat to soften the purines without sacrificing too much of its sweet kick to the tongue. Superb. 

The closing Japanese white peach perfectly poached in its juices on its own was a delight. And whilst you would have thought the dessert would have been a no-brainer match, for some reason they didn't really connect. Perhaps the remnants of the Foie Gras were still stuck on the palate and got in the way. Or maybe the soft easy peach didn't have enough fibre for the wine to get a hold of. 

The Company with Kevin and Katrina Judd
Ultimately, a brilliant evening of great food and tasty wines which made the company and the craique so very very good. The Shang has gone some way to redeeming itself with this outing, though we did get a special deal through the Kiwi to get access to this dinner. The food was outstanding, some of the best sashimi tasted in KL for a while - chef is a star. The wines equally shone in the company of such excellent cuisine. A wine dinner for the ages and a standard to match. Well done Zipangu. Let's hope the Shang Ballroom and other F&B outlets will similarly delight when the occasion demands our presence. 
Kevin Judd, Doctor Su and Doctor Stephen

Greywacke notes

The Greywacke SB 2012 notes say it is "A vibrant combination of fresh basil and spicy tomato leaves, tossed with tangy nashi pear and mandarin, sprinkled with a little lemon zest. A highly perfumed wine with blossom-like floral aromas and a subtle flintiness that alludes to an underlying core of minerality. A mouth-watering, refreshing style with a deliciously crisp, yet luscious finish."  RM135 from Geovinum Wines in Malaysia.

The website notes on the 2011 PG talk about "a bowl of freshly picked stone fruit – fleshy white peaches, plump golden apricots and sun-ripened nectarines – a wine with rich, ripe aromas balanced by a floral purity. The palate is luscious and textural, reminiscent of homemade apple pie with rich buttery pastry and a faint hint of cinnamon. This is a wine with considerable depth and richness."

The 2011 PN is said to be "a virtual compote loaded with black plums, boysenberries and redcurrants, lightly infused with cinnamon and cloves. An intensely perfumed Marlborough pinot with fruit sweetness, floral highlights and a distinct smoky fragrance. The full-flavoured palate has dark fruit richness with great length and freshness – finishing with a hint of Middle Eastern spice."

The 2011 LHR notes say it is "a wine of intense aromatics – exotic honeysuckle blossom, candied lemon and vanilla custard, infused with a hint of cloves. The luscious palate has a marmalade-like combination of lemons and limes mingled with the richness of honeyed apricots and a dollop of crème caramel. Silky, succulent and harmonious – finishing with a lively citrusy crispness."

Thin-sliced salmon and avocado with wasabi dressing
Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc 2012

Prawn tempura with tentsuyu sauce
Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc 2012

Yellowtail sashimi, salted kelp and habanero sauce
Greywacke Pinot Gris 2010

Simmered daikon radish in soup with braised marinated chicken
Greywacke Pinot Gris 2010

Grilled eringi mushroom wrapped in wagyu beef with Japanese seven-flavour chili
Greywacke Pinot Noir 2011

Sushi selection (foie gras terikayi, grilled ell, avocado)
Greywacke Late Harvest Riesling 2011

Japanese whie peach
Greywacke Late Harvest Riesling 2011