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, January 24, 2017

Emirates "Fort Knox" of Wine

Another good article from Bloomberg reprinted in the Malaysian Reserve Jan 12th 2017 talking about the top end wines available on Emirates first class flights. The author is James Gaddy.

Seems Emirates began a wine programme 12 years ago to develop "the best wine list in the sky" and has spent about US$500 million so far in doing so. 

The article notes Emirates Senior VP Joost Heymeeijer sharing that the wines have been built up through selective smart and early purchases through the years and stored in a Fort Knox style facility in Burgundy where they are stored until deemed ready for drinking. 

On the planes, the fizz gets served in a larger than normal flute and the wines are decanted into carafes for pouring. Nine million glasses of champagne were poured on Emirates flights in 2016 and it is one of the largest buyers of Dom Perignon in the world. They went long on Yquem 2005 and the customers are sucking it down (though perhaps more for the snob value than the infanticide of drinking any Sauteurnes under 30 years old). 

Other First Class delights include 2000 cases (10% total production) from Corton Charlemagne (Probably 2013 - was bought in 2015), and Super Tuscans Ornellaia and Solaia. Business class passengers must suffer with Tignanello, Stags Leap Chardonnay and Chateau Palmer. O the pain, the pain...

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Wine Trends in 2017

Cute article by Elin McCoy, Bloomberg's wine buff and writer, pinpointing what to look for in wine in 2017. Is a bit USA focused, but still a good read. Source is Malaysian Reserve Jan 11, 2017 and the link below.

In sum, these are

1 Sparkling wine from more places - fizz is on a global roll with demand for bubbles up across the planet. Should mean more nations will embrace methode champenoise and produce cheaper yet fair quality fizz to satisfy the thirst. English fizz is establishing, but look out for good Lambrusco, Cava and output from Tasmania. 

comment - unlikely in Malaysia. Taxes going up, very niche, have to compete with established lines on price. Well worth a punt if overseas, though.

2. The Loire Valley should make an impact, with more elegant wines at reasonable prices. Given the grim winters in Bordeaux and Burgundy (and the consequent price hike due to scarcity of good booze), the happy Loire harvest should reap vinous dividends.

comment - sounds good. Hopeful Dear Leader or others might bring in at value prices.

3. Light red wines should boom because they're easy to chill (and taste better as a result), easy to drink and perfect with food and friends. Think Loire, Alto Adige, Alsace Pinot and Austrian Zweigelt. 

comment - totally works for me. Great with all the styles of cuisine we get in Malaysia. Bit hard to find though...

4. Chugging wine from cans took off in 2016 and is expected to not slow down any time soon. They are easy to chill, no need for glasses or corkscrew, and easily recyclable. Also look for "cortas" - flat short plastic Bordeaux style bottles that fit through a letter box. 

comment - Cans...  not for me. I would fear a metallic tang. Decent wine deserves a decent glass. But Cortas - absolutely. Now we can have daily deliveries - does anyone remember the Milk Man? Though I can't quite see the Romanee Conti coming in a Corta. Not that it comes in the first place...

5. Less snobby wine lists - goodbye to the leather tome, and hello to the Ipad. Or magazine. Or something more fun and less austere. 

comment - maybe not yet in Malaysia - restaurant wine lists are rarely extensive enough to last beyond five pages and the connoisseurs BYO anyway. Though I could see it happening in Singapore. 

6. Public wine on tap - there is one in Ortono, Italy which is there to nourish and refresh the pilgrims walking the Cammino di San Tommaso route. The Pilgrims fill a glass from the taps and give thanks and praise. And it is 24/7. 

comment - free public booze? In Malaysia? Never happen. Unlikely anywhere, for that matter. Except maybe for the White House - El Trumpo apparently has a vineyard and free samples would make sense. Keep the US rakyat skulled for the next four/eight years…

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Soleil Corkage Policy

Got a reply today from En Azul bin Zainal, GM at Soleil, on the corkage:

Dear Mr,. Brian,

Greeting from Soleil Restaurant !

Thank you for inquiring us for your upcoming dining plan, First of all, apologize for my late reply on your inquiries. As per your request, i attached our wine list for your reference, and as for the wine corkage, yes we do have wine corkage charge at RM100 for every 750ml wine or champagne opened. Please refer to the first page of wine menu for further details.

Please do not hesitate to contact me directly via this email or via my mobile at +60173394339 should you need further assistant.

Thank you

This is taken from the front page of the wine list:

SOLEIL’S Corkage Policy
Soleil Restaurant & Wine Bar brings a diversified range of quality wines to our customers at attractive take away prices. Hence, in the event the wine is consumed in the restaurant we implement a reasonable dine-in corkage which you will find under our Dine In prices to compliment the array of cuisines catered by our talented Chef, Evert Onderbeke.

Corkage fee for wines brought in externally will however, carry a charge of RM100 for every 750 ml volume.

Further, our customers will be entitled to a 10% discount off the takeaway price when you purchase at least 12 bottles from our wine list. And you will also enjoy corkage free while you dine with us and complimentary storage at our sister company SW Wine Depot.

Note: Please allow 3 days’ notice for wine to be transferred back to Soleil from the storage.

Looking at the wine list, there are indeed different prices for takeway wine and consumption at Soleil. In this context, it becomes clear - buy their wines at the takeout price, enjoy a bulk discount and storage and get to drink them here in the future at no corkage. Otherwise, BYO is RM100 a bottle or pay the Soleil premium for buy and drink there (which, looking at the differences between drink in and takeaway, appears to be a straight RM85 across the carte - so Lenglui did hear incorrectly on the RM120. Have to check her source).

The corkage policy does make business sense. Given the ownership link between SW Wine and Soleil, buying wines for storage and then consumption at Soleil becomes a perque for customer loyalty. And the wines selection (massively French weighted) is interesting and catering to a wide range of wine afficionadoes, and the prices not too unfair. So less of an Alamak than first feared and quite competitive compared to others in the same bracket. Have to check when the Baron is up for a tryout. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

Soleil in DC Mall - excellent food, but is anyone home?

January 4th 2017

Aren't expectations a pain? Especially when you have a previous experience at a previous venue with previous people to compare with? I think it's best to preface this report on the new Soleil by bearing this context in mind when reading and assessing. It's always tough moving to a new gaffe and with pretty much a new team in situ. Read with caution. Yes. 

The new Soleil in DC Mall
We recently found ourselves having been set up for a dinner at the new Soleil. We knew that our old favourite would be opening in a spanking new Mall in what was being called Damansara City and had been wondering when we would get the chance to visit. It came sooner than expected in the form of a hastily rearranged IWFS Committee meeting equally hastily organised by President David to let Committee members try out the new Soleil with a view to having an event there for the members at some near future date.

Soleil entrance with the steel and glass wine cellar
Short version - overall, the food remains the quality it used to be, and if anything has improved in tongue titillation terms. Chef Evert has clearly been busy researching and has assembled a darned good team there in the kitchen. In contrast, the service appears to need large and quick attention and determine single chains of command in both food and wine service terms. There seemed to be a lot of staff on our night (perhaps stops had been pulled out in an effort to impress President David) so whilst food serving and clearing were generally swift I got a sense of an occasional lack in confidence and a bit "straight out of college" feel in the staff.  They just need a bit more time. And it was good to see that the ladies got their food first. The food prices look fair, though I did not get to see a wine list and couldn't find one on the website (which was still showing photos of the old PJ venue). I have been trying to check corkage policy and pricing and have been waiting for an email reply for seven days and counting - I went through the general email line. I then messaged through Facebook on Day Five of the Wait and got a response saying someone would reply to my email. Still waiting three days later. Hmmm.....   

Soleil Bar
At its previous venue in Section 17 PJ,  Soleil had been a default restaurant of choice pretty much since the time it had opened in 2013. Warm, quiet, with exquisite dishes and exceptional wine service, it was a destination when you needed that special place with that special person and could be confident of a superb evening. Lenglui and I have had many memorable evenings there with different friends and foodies. It was when we learned that the founding staff were moving on that slight misgivings started to rumble, and indeed in the later visits it felt that something quintessential was missing. Not that the staff were anything less than equally friendly and efficient, just that… well, Yuhei and Fendi were the heart and soul of the place and with them not there it wasn't quite… Soleil. So it goes, but we continued to patronise because Chef's Tomahawk Steak was the total business and the new staff were still some of the best in the city. Then mid 2016 we heard the Soleil was scheduled to move to the newly built DC Mall at the end of the year, which made us a bit sad - I think that despite all the corporate mantras that we all should joyfully embrace change, no one really likes it, especially when it is a favourite food place where (to steal a line from the song) everybody knew our name and were always glad we came. So we crammed in a few more Tomahawks with the Rubber Baron ahead of the move and supped our wonderful wines and hoped that the new Soleil would rise to shine as brightly as the old. Then we heard that some of the existing staff would not be joining the new place, which always give pause and raises the question "why?" Often it is transport issues - if it is a hard slog (which it is most times) to get in and out of town for work and parking for a new job compared to the existing job then people often prefer to find a new job closer to home. Maybe…  but the new is barely a mile up the road from the old, though the DC parking charges would probably make a dent in the gaji (ie wages - staff could probably get away with parking free around PJ). It had also felt that a slight hike in pricing had crept in to our later meals at the old Soleil. The Tomahawk had become a little less than competitive vis a vis other eateries offering this cut. The service aspect can often be put down to the transition and people's minds being in two places rather than just the one in which we were eating. The pricing could be the slow relentless decline of the Ringgit. It happens. Nevertheless, we were hopeful that not too much would be different in the new, and that the food and service be as good, the prices would not have gone up too much to pay the new rent, and that we would like it. Whatever, it was certainly a ballsy move by management to upgrade as they did so kudos for that. Got to hope that it all works out. 

Getting to the DC Mall entrance proved a bit roundabout. On driving there from KL, we had to do the round of the Damansara City - coming from Jalan Semantan (ie SPRINT) or Jalan Maarof, cars cannot seem turn into the Mall, though coming from PJ SPRINT seems okay (it may be that we can turn in from Semantan, but I didn't see much direction signage - will take another look next time we are in the area). Equally, the main entrance proved elusive in signage terms as did directions to the Car Park. We passed one entrance claiming Jockey Park which looked more office than Shopping Mall so we drove on. We stopped at a second entrance at which the Jockey Boys said this indeed was the entrance to the Mall and that Parking was somewhere "around the back, Encik". Okay…  Given Lenglui's continuing issues with stressing out her healing broken toes, we opted to Jockey and go up the escalator to the restaurant (Jockey was RM14 and they came to deliver the keys at the restaurant when they were closing - the car was parked right outside the escalator. Champion.) 

Table setting in Private Room One
Lenglui wandered off for some shop research and I went up the two escalators to Soleil. The new place takes up a whole corner of a floor, all shiny and open plan looking. There is an open island style bar along both the inside Restaurant and the Mall walkway and the entrance opens into a cafe style layout of chairs and tables that lead toward the kitchen. At the entrance is the Glass and Steel Prison that is the Wine Cellar, housing a lot of mostly high end Bordeaux lovelies (at least that was what was visible). High ceilings and towering steel and glass gave a modern Steampunk feel for me - bit of edge, bit of art, but ultimately lacking warmth. Perhaps there was too much space, though this was in early evening light and perhaps the dark would offer a less stark feel. 

Service Window into the Kitchen
Our meeting was in one of the private rooms at the back which would also be our dinner seating. Initial impression of the room was… "cool" in ambiance terms. A bit like modern office board room with panel boards parked together that opened or closed out depending on how many were wanting to seat together. Also, oddly dark in the growing gloomy daylight which was masked by a large artsy photo print of a crystal decanter pouring what looked like Gin or water and taking over the whole back wall. And at one far end was a mirror wall - not sure what the Feng Shui folks would have to say about that, though at least it wasn't facing the door like the twin infinity circular one in the other private room. Table and chairs also felt functional rather than grand, though they were comfortable enough. The lighting was soft, with bare-bulb-on-wire style light shades and low wattage halogens. Seems that the room for us fifteen could extend to the other private room and take a total forty, though my feeling was that it might not leave much room for the waiting staff to get around with the food, water and wines. Their initial squeezing through the doorway and around the chairs was already proving a bit tight. 

But it was functional, and there were wine glasses and water on the table, so I plugged in my old Sony laptop of 12 years service and we did our meeting business.

Looking along the table...
After the meeting, we vacated the room to let the staff work their table setting magic and repaired to the reception area to sip on some fizz and relax with the squeezes and friends who would be joining. President had negotiated a special price for the five course dinner with corkage waived - goodwill is a wonderful thing. I took a brief wander to find the bathroom (note - fewer restaurants in the newer malls seem to have their own toilets; all now require you to exit and wander off to where the general tandas is located, and Soleil DC is now added to this list). On the way back, there was a promising looking Indian cuisine restaurant downstairs so I detoured to grab a look at the menu and steal a card. Going back up the escalator, Soleil had gained a slight sense of less imposing Emerald Palace feel about it. I needed to rush as everyone had seated themselves and were waiting on me to help cheer the New Year. 

On getting seated, first thing to see was the absence of tablecloths and a fairly bare setting with cloth napkins and two sets of cutlery. In fairness, there was not a lot of space on the table for much else in the way of fighting irons. There was a side plate for bread and butter which was of the same magnificent standard as previous - warm, soft crunch with that good doughy miel - the omens were good. 

The Barramundi Ceviche
First out was the Ceviche which was excellent. The Tomato Salsa and the melting pineapple crystals made for a fabulous vinaigrette with the pepper and fish juice - almost like a fish and fruit sorbet. The coldness of the ice crystal lent a pleasing contrast to the room temperature fish as well as each providing a texture counterpoint to the other. Very nice way to start indeed.

Given that I had brought two bottles of the same wine Casa Yin How Spanish Albarinho, it was decided to start with that, so as to give everyone a glass of the same. Well, and okay, though this went against my guess that the wine would be a gangbusters match with the upcoming Octopus and Paella. But no point to be too precious over these things - everyone getting a first glass of the same made sense. I would set a glass aside for the Ocky. As it turned out, the Casa Yin How fared nicely with the Ceviche, with that slightly oily consistency in the Albarinho helping to offer a velvety ripe persimmon mouthfeel and a rich chewy finish.

The Octopus and Paella was well prepared and darn tasty, with that chewy rubbery tentacle texture giving good firm bite to the well tasty rice Paella. The addition of the peppery Chorizo spiced the thing nicely and the whole ensemble blended well for a good whack in the cheeks. Though I did feel that perhaps the portion could have been slightly larger to let the whack in the mouth get matched by a similar one in the belly. 

Someone had decided to pour out the Markowitz Pinot Noir brought by The Money to go with the dish which worked beautifully. There was enough cherry and acidity to tame the fats in the food which led to a great sense of complementarity between both. The Markowitz is a wonderful wine both on its own and with most forms of food - sweetish and cherries and understated power on the finish, I have drunk this on many occasions with delight. Not sure how many The Money has left in her cellar - have to see if she is up to flogging some off. 

Incidentally, my glass of Casa Yin How was indeed magnificent with the Ocky Paella. I have found that to drink the Albarinho alone is not altogether good - it is not at its best as an aperitif or a nightcap. But with food the boy does come beautifully into focus. Its slight industrial whack got diluted by the Chorizo fats and the wine's natural acidity lifted the edge off the somewhat dry-ish oily texture of the rice (regret no photo). Good match, this one. 

The Baby Emperor
Next out was the Baby Emperor. This was one where all the various elements came together to make for a wonderful salty mouthful of tastes and textures which hit most of the buttons and bases - salt, sweet, umami, and a wonderful crispy soy sear on the fish - so, so good. For me, the genius was matching the Apple with the Shallot - we had the sourish apple against the oily sweet onion to give a weird and wonderful sweetly sour undercoat and overcoat to everything. At the same time the textures matched brilliantly. Wicked good. There was a Chablis doing the rounds to pair with it, though I can't remember if any made its way to my glass. I was very happy to see off the remains of the Marko. 

The veal came out to great fanfare, though for me it did not sadly match this entrance. Looking very good on the plate, I found it a bit chewy and somewhat of a mouthful to bite through. it tasted very good, but it seemed to be a bit of a fight to chew it. Everything else was on point - great Jus, excellent artichoke and croquettes - but for me it just felt a bit more beef than veal. But bear in mind I am not a great fan of veal, and there were no complaints from the table. There was also a bit too much of it on the plate (Ed: Whaaaat?? You complain earlier of not enough, now is too much? Aiyoooooo….) and much of mine went back to the kitchen. Too much work to eat this puppy cow. 

Doc Su and Allie Tan with the Gin pouring in the background
The Kiwi shared a bit of his specially prepared Duck. It was done well, tender and excellent quality meat. Worth to try on a return visit (also no photo - we will have to go back. David, are you reading this?).

The wines were coming out at various times and in such various orders that I think most people had decided to just go with what they preferred. A Hugel 2013 Gewurtz was doing the rounds so I opted for it. Classic Gewurtz, lovely sweet and spice and Turkish mouth. Wonderfully easy swig, this one. I have a memory of the Kiwi opening a secret Red which would turn out to come from Georgia. Impressively structured, rich in deep fruit, drinking like a well made North Italian with excellent length and full on finish. 

Dessert was…   my note says "odd". It was a very good mix of tastes and textures, and way less sweet than I expected from the visual. It was good but…  somehow not quite "dessert". Maybe it was Chef's challenge to the expectations of sweetness by the general foodie. Certainly worked from that perspective if so. I didn't eat it all. 

The very not sweet Dessert
We would finish off with a Sauternes which would prove delightful. Clean and sweet, crunchy and crisp, not too bold but with lively and lovely chewy dancing in the cheeks and on the tongue. One of those where all the elements balanced nicely and made for a charming end to the evening. 

Service was a bit….  not the standard I have come to expect from Soleil. Odd little lapses which seemed to suggest that the waiting staff have not quite been trained up enough and as a result are not yet quite as refined as previous. Either this and/or they were confused by the presence of a General Manager helping on the floor and wondering whose orders they should follow - their Boss, his Boss, or someone else stalking around who looked like they might be another Boss. There was one occasion where one waiter was laying our cutlery and two minutes later another was coming round taking it off. This was then followed by a third coming back to lay it out again. And all three pretty much doing this particular round all at the same time. Felt a bit blur, though as said it is well early days and the new staff need time to embed and gain confidence in both themselves and their new surroundings and compadres. Nothing that clear lines of communication and command can sort out. In contrast, the wine service was not bad. President David had determined a wine theme of "Old World" and the wines brought were in the end quite broad and challenging given the food. Our Sommelier had been given some initial direction as to what wines to pour and when, but when the sequence seemed to evaporate, he was sussed enough to bring everything and ask which of the available wines we preferred with the dish before us. Some lovely wines on show, though I didn't get much in the way of photos thereof. Hope the Kiwi did. 

Doc Stephen and Doc Su Kim. You sit opposite me, you get a photo in the blog. Yes.
Would I go back? Not immediately, though probably soon enough. Whilst Chef Evert is clearly still on form, the floor staff need to settle in and proper lines of reporting need to be nailed down. There is also a warmth and a soul that have yet to get established at the new venue. I got a sense of professional friendliness seeping in rather than the efficient warmth that was Soleil in the heydey of Fendi and Yuhei. 

Also (as said) the ambience needs adjusting for me - bit too open and bright and shiny with all the glass and steel and lacking a warmth in which to relax and chill. And feeling a bit more cafe than restaurant Maybe I'm getting old and this bar and cafe style is what the young folks want or is what is felt necessary to compete with the other eateries in the Mall. Fair enough. But then it will be a different Soleil and I will need to adjust and be romanced sufficiently to embrace it as a continuing favoured destination rather than the present fond memory of how it used to be. 

But it is the lack of communication with me that I find a bit troubling. Feels like the lights are on but it doesn't seem like there is anyone home. This is a Serious Fail. Come on, guys - Communication is KEY. You surely got to respond to us punters, yes? If you can't respond, then just SAY you can't and say that you will when you can. But silence? And no follow up? Aiyo...... 

It seems Soleil does a Chef Table degustation which Lenglui is keen to try at some time. Though her getting stiffed for RM50 for a glass of pre-prandial house white will need a darn good reason to go there. Might have to go teetotal. Alamak…

Even more alamak - Lenglui advises that she heard anecdotally that corkage is apparently now RM120 per bottle. This naturally assumes that she heard right (and I have only ever known Lenglui to hear wrong on a rare occasion). Seems also that wines can be bought at Soleil but if consumed at the Restaurant then the RM120 also gets added. Which feels a bit ouch. Actually, it feels a LOT ouch. Will DEFINITELY be teetotal if this be the case. Will let everyone know when Soleil confirms. 

NB Soleil has now confirmed, corkage for BYO is RM100 not RM120 - buy at the restaurant, the premium effectively becomes RM85 - see next posting.

PS - Also hearing a whisper that Cilantro has increased their corkage. Possibly a trend is forming - squeeze the wealthy for wanting to enjoy their luxury booze at a restaurant. Not for long, boys, not for long - my money is on chefs doing more pop ups at people's houses. Rent the chef rather than pay for the restaurant and sup your own booze with friends whilst chef prepares the delights and the maid serves. Or rent the restaurant and bring your own food, chef and booze. Watch this space.

The second Private Dining Room. With Infinity Mirror.
Facing the door. Good Feng Shui? Hmmmmm.... 
Soleil Restaurant
DC Mall Plaza DC, 
Lot 7 & 8, 
Jalan Damanlela, 
Damansara Town Centre, 
50490 Damansara City, 
Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Hours - Weekday 10am to 10.30pm, Weekend 9am to 10.30pm
Telephone +603 2011 8261; +6012 612 5989
email enquiries@soleil.my


Pequillo Pepper, Tomato Salsa, Coconut, Pineapple Crystals

Paella, Turkey Chorizo, Black Garlic Aioli

Baked Apple, Shallot Jus, Sake Cream, Fennel Chlorophyll

Jerusalem Artichoke, Sweet Corn Croquettes, Foie Gras

Caramel Cremeux, Tonka Ice Cream, Dark Chocolate

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

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


This is a rounding up which is followed by a Day Eight report. 

My reason for having the Epilogue first is that Day Eight has little in the way of interest food or wine wise and consequently be likely a bit boring in that respect for general reading. At the same time, I wanted to put something up for the sake of completeness for my side of the Pilgrimage. Pilgrims can thus feel free to ignore Day Eight, though there are some BA and One World experiences that might be of interest. Also, navigating Heathrow by Wheelchair might prove instructive. 


Writing all of this up some weeks (now months) after the event, I am struck at the intensity and vibrancy of the memories that seem to have burned into the brain. Impressions absorbed from the various towns and places visited seem to have a richness about them which has made the writing feel somehow more full and direct than previous scribbles. The main memories that seem to come through are the ambience and service at the restaurants and the grandeur of many of the places we visited. Some dishes also shine through, though possibly more for their contrast against the general fine dining throughout the week - the Baeckoffe in Alsace and the beer and sausage plate in Strasbourg stand out wonderfully. But it is mostly the places and the people that get remembered. Dinner at Ruinart, the Pommery tasting room, lunch at Les Parc des Crayeres, Ms Moneypenny in the vines at Bollinger, seeing Big Tony in total bliss sipping the Bolly in the Bolly cellar, Napoleon the bus driver getting nicked for using his handphone whilst driving and the subsequent Gendarmerie Escort through Beaune, meeting and eating with Fabrice Amiot at the Montrachet and Romain Taupenot at his winery, the morning walk with Fabrice through his vines, tasting Olivier Leflaive's first press of the 2016 vendange, the "light" lunch at Taverne Alsacienne, the delightful ambience of Domaine Trimbach, the stunning aspect of the Auberge de L'Ill and the evening chilldown in the gardens, Hugel and the Riquewihr church, the Baeckoffe, the group walk through Colmar and the whiskey at L'Atelier du Peintre, the boat trip and lunch in Strasbourg and huddled in the wet damp cold at the Strasbourg station waiting for the train to CDG at the end of the trip. And the generally brilliant weather we had. These moments stick. 

Some of the wines also stick - the Amiot Magnums at Le Montrachet and the Daume Taupenots in Morey St Denis, also the Bollys and the Domaine Weinbachs and the Hugels and the Coche Dury Meursault at Buerehiesel - but this trip ultimately became for me more a sense of place and people than the gastronomy aspect. I will remember this trip for the great fellowship, the camaraderie, and the general great humour on everyone's part (except occasionally mine - Mr Grumpy can sneak up on me sometimes when plans don't seem to pan out or after a restless night of music in the ether). A brilliant trip, and brilliantly organised by our Dear Leader to whom I feel all us Pilgrims should be grateful for creating such memories. I share some sympathy with the whinge that the scheduling was hugely intense and crammed one heck of a lot of stops into seven days. I certainly would have liked a bit more down time to absorb the impressions and let both lunches and dinners get properly digested. But I also get it that we need to cram as many food and wine experiences into the time available as is felt possible. We knew what we were in for when we signed up, so we can't really complain. And we can always opt NOT to go for that unmissable Michelin lunch or dinner. Can't we?

I think what has also come out of all of this is a sense of connection which in many respects I find quite odd - I am not normally one for connecting to too much or to too many. I have always been a bit detached from the world, preferring to observe rather than participate in it. But this felt different. I found myself connecting on a range of levels - physical, emotional, intellectual, and a bit spiritual - with both people and place. The Pilgrimage has forever connected all of us together both as individuals and a group (yep, including the idiot Napoleon). The hippies used to call these things a "be-in" - getting together and communing with each other and the place where we are, er, be-ing. Sounds not unfair - as it says at the end of Contact - The Movie, the only thing we have to banish our loneliness is each other. At the same time, I feel the Pilgrimage has also connected me with the places we collectively visited. Feels like there are bits of my soul that will reside forever in the Bolly vineyard, the slopes of the Cotes de Beaune, amongst the vines of Trimbach and in the Riquewihr church. Not sure if it can be called spiritual, but it doesn't feel far off. Though it could just have been the wines… 

It has been a tremendous amount of fun writing up this trip. All the food, all the wines, along with some personal memories and observations. I do hope everyone has enjoyed reading these posts and that, for the Pilgrims, they brought back some pleasant remembrances. And Pilgrims, do please feel free to add via comment and photograph. One Pilgrim has passed a previous comment that they look upon these scribbles as a gift for the future to look back on and bring back fond memories of our Pilgrimage de Gastronomy et Vins de Champagne, Burgundy et Alsace 2016. I do like that, and I do hope all the writing and photos have indeed that effect. Anyone want to throw money to produce a book of all this, also can la...

Salut-salut mes braves and here's hoping the next Pilgrimage will not be too long in coming!!

PS just one story to finish - my Singo foodie friend Julian shared that he was researching whether any Sparkling Wine makers introduced gas into their winemaking process to fizz things up. He said his search for "gas and champagne" got directed to my blog posts about Trombones in the ether…


Saturday, 1st October 2016

This was a restless night of sleep, with three get ups to pee or drink water or check email. We took a 7am wake up to pack and get down for 8.15 breakfast. I could not eat anything - the sight of the food was just not appetising at this time of the morning especially after the Buerehiesel beano of the night before so it was just a brief coffee to kickstart the system and down to check out and wait for the bags. 

I don't really like travel connections. They stress me out which is why I like to have plenty of time between them. So when the front desk suggested 9am taxi for a 9.57 train I was a bit "hmmmm…"  Still, one must presume that they know best so that was what we had opted for. But it never quite stems the anxiety I get - I just like to have large margins of time in case something goes wrong. Some people who were on the same train to CDG had booked earlier taxis and had all left pretty much on time. 

Lenglui sauntered down with some packed ham rolls for later in the day on the train, which were most welcome at about 10.30 speeding through the Lorraine and Champagne countryside. The taxi and the bags came smack on time, in we climbed and 15 minutes later rolled the bags into the station. Some of the earlier departees were there, and we figured safety in numbers near the platform entrance waiting for our departure platform to get announced.  It was a bit wet and cold and we huddled and chitchatted - quite a miserable end to the trip. So it goes.  We also took the opportunity to validate the tickets as had been reminded us to do on a few prior occasions. Non validation on the French Railway incurs a big Euro fine and no negotiations possible. We had to go through some automatic glass doors to reach them which would then not open from the inside - had to wait until someone else wanted to come in before we could get out and back to our bags. Bloody French. 

On the validation side, mine got done quite briskly, but some of the others tickets would not seem to get easily accepted by the machines - bit sensitive for some reason. Finally all got punched and printed and we were all set. 

The platform got announced, we headed straight up an escalator (unusual in French stations in my experience) and walked the length of the platform to get on the train. We managed to snag the luggage space at the end of the coach and parked in initially the wrong seats but quickly changed to the correct ones - each coach has the same numbered seats but the coaches are not all labelled clearly. Bloody French. A check on the electronic signage on the side of the coach verified the facts and we got sorted. 

Two grey, dozing and uneventful hours later we pulled into CDG station, got the bags off and followed signs up the escalator after which we said goodbyes as we went separate ways for different airline check ins. Here was where my anal need for connection time let me down as we could easily have made the 2pm BA flight (I had booked the 6pm, figuring we could be a bit lazy in Strasbourg and not counting on all the train tickets being booked en masse and at the same early time. My bad). To change to the earlier flight would have cost Euro285 each at which point we opted to lepak around the airport with coffee and lunch and free wifi until check in for the flight opened at 3pm. Which was actually quite fun - read papers, watched planes, went into my No Zone of daydreaming into the distance and communed with the rain. Ommmmmm…..

Lenglui had ordered a wheelchair at check in which got us through into the terminal shops quite smoothly. It was at this time that she found her phone was missing. I ran back to the security but nothing had been handed in. My guess was that it had been stolen - someone dipped into the bag and lifted it. They must have been damn fast - very few opportunities and we are normally quite careful. But Security rushed us a bit and I fancy this was where it might have happened. Though I will check Lost Property in CDG - one never knows. 

One point on the check in - we were not permitted to check our bags straight through to KL even though both BA and MAS are part of the One World Alliance. Seems the rule is that one must book the entire flight through One World for this to kick in. Bugger. So we had to retrieve the bags at the Terminal Five luggage carousel and then lug them to the transfer terminus for further lugging across to Terminal Four. 

It was a good simple flight to Heathrow, again opting for a wheelchair processing on landing. We were wheeled by a seemingly dour Londoner who turned out to be quite the raconteur. He told us stories about who he had pushed in his wheelchair. Bit like the proverbial London taxi driver - "Oi 'ad that Victoria Beckham in moi cab larst week" kind of chap. He shared that his most memorable passenger had been Pele, and said that it took an age to get him to the destination because everyone wanted to shake Pele's hand. Cute story, non? No one stopped to shake Lenglui's hand. 

On reaching the Transfer desk, we got told it would be at least a forty minute wait for the Special Wheelchair bus to pick us up. What to do? We were pretty locked into wheelchair process so figured we just had to ride it out. I went for a walk and found the toilet. Forty minutes naturally became an hour - but we had plenty of time so no major panic. During this time I witnessed an incident between a BA staff member and the wheelchair assistance receptionist during which he reduced her to tears through his bullying manner and accusations of her not seeming to be caring about a lost elderly passenger he was trying to locate. I passed a card to offer myself as a witness which the office later took up (I wrote and emailed a report, heard nothing since, doubt that I will but there you go. The BA Staff member was unnecessarily mean. Hope his next crap is a Durian). 

We got loaded on the Wheelchair Bus and swiftly transferred with the bags to Terminal Four and straight to Business Class check in. At the last minute Lenglui decided to check in her hand carry and take out her toiletries. This would cause a twenty minute delay as security would yank it to check for explosives. There were quite a number of people getting their liquids checked. One woman had come through with a bag full of toileteries - looked like she would be there for an hour. It does unnecessarily delay things because the checking takes up personnel and backlogs passengers on what was supposed to be the Express Lane. There is a case for Spot Fine to encourage people not to bring liquids through, though enforcing it would be a nightmare - need a trained linguist to communicate with all the various nationalities. Anyhow, the upshot of all this was we only got to the MAS Lounge at 9pm ahead of a 9.50 flight. I managed to down three cans of Guinness and some finger food and nuts - absolutely wonderful. Could totally feel the valves letting out their steam and relaxing thanks to the magic that is the Booze. Lenglui went for the Gin and Tonic. 

We were seated separately in Business Class for some reason but no matter - supper and a sleeping pill and after half a movie I was asleep and getting woken for breakfast two hours ahead of a 6pm touchdown. Got swiftly through customs and immigration, and our bags were almost the first coming out on the Carousel. I booked a limo at the counter, negotiated the KLIA Exit gate, clambered into the limo and we were home just before 8pm. Brilliantly smooth through KLIA and the MEX Highway. 

And that was pretty much that. We unpacked, loaded the washing machine, poured ourselves a couple of Gin and Tonics and turned on the TV and waited for sleep. Tomorrow would be a working day. Back to the world. No bad thing. As the old song goes, it's so nice to go traveling but it is so much nicer to come home. Word. 

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

Heading to the bridge and (not) our boat
Friday, 30th September 2016

I have little memory of the Columbier Hotel room or of getting everything down and on the bus. Some vague recollection of a forgettable breakfast at the hotel, with all the Pilgrims being directed into a separate area to eat. I seem to recall quite spartan offerings at the trough, with somewhat underfresh bread and cake. Perhaps I am confusing the hotels. Anyhow, all the bags got loaded and on the bus and we were off for what was the last day of our tour in Strasbourg. The grey overcast start to the day pretty much stayed all the way through the morning though thankfully the threat of rain stayed off.  After a pretty nondescript drive, we rolled into Strasbourg where Napoleon again silently dumped us at the roadside alongside a river. Dear Leader had scheduled a boat ride planned for the morning, the boarding for which was on the other side of the river. So off our Pilgrim Crocodile trotted to a bridge that would get us to the dockside ticket office and some seats. 

Almost at the bridge - our lepak waiting area
With over a million people across the city and Metropolitan area, Strasbourg is both the capital and largest city of the Grand Est region of France. Wikipedia says that various European institutions are located here, including the Council of Europe (with its European Court of Human Rights) and the Eurocorps, the European Parliament and the European Ombudsman of the European Union. Strasbourg is also the seat of the Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine and the International Institute of Human Rights.

Strasbourg just reeks with history, with buildings dating back centuries still standing. In 1988, UNESCO declared the city centre, the Grande Île (Grand Island)  a World Heritage site, which Wikipedia notes is the first time such an honour had been placed on an entire city centre. Although much disputed territorially between France and Germany, Strasbourg has remained a cultural bridge between the two nations thanks in large part to the University of Strasbourg and the sense of religious tolerance the city sought to maintain by encouraging the coexistence of Catholic and Protestant culture and now Muslim culture (the Strasbourg Grand Mosque was inaugurated by French Interior Minister Manuel Valls on 27 September 2012). Initial impressions of the town were that it is quaint and pretty but grey and faded, as if its best days were in the past. Notwithstanding it being home to the European Parliament, all the buildings looked Gothic and Medieval and felt aged and in need of a spruce up. 

David checking for opening time?
Most of the Pilgrims looked in need of a pee so we hurried in search of les toilettes. En route, I have memory of David crossing the road to look at the menu of a Chinese Restaurant located there. I guess he might have been checking opening times. My experience of the Malaysian Chinese on Europe tours is that, whilst thoroughly enjoying all of the food and wines, there is a hankering for a decent bowl of rice or noodles ("fur" it is sometimes called) that kicks in after about three or four days in country. Many in the West have a similar thing for potatoes and bread - all the fancy food somehow doesn't fully satisfy and we need something that sticks in the craw. More on this later.

Heading to the boat
Once across the bridge, the Pilgrims lurked for a few minutes before being advised by Dear Leader that there were about twenty minutes before the boat could be boarded. Lenglui and I found a coffee bar just across the way and shared an espresso which was our price for using the bar's bathroom. As I reached the washroom I saw one of our Pilgrims swiftly and furtively nipping out through the back door having clearly used the facilities without buying the usually expected coffee. Made me feel stupid for having bought the coffee when I could have done the same - bugger. Wonder how said Pilgrim found out about the free pee? Whatever, the coffee was excellent as was the packet of free ginger biscuits and created a nice shared memory with Lenglui of coffee in Strasbourg. There was a market happening in the streets so I sat at the table and watched the world whilst Lenglui had a quick bout of, literally, market research. Don't remember it being fruitful on this occasion.

The new European Parliament...
We tootled back to the Ticket Office where most of the other Pilgrims had gathered and Dear Leader gave us the starting gun to move the Pilgrim herd down to the riverside for boarding. The boats (well, more like oversized barges) were long and blue perspex glass covered affairs with about thirty rows of about six seats on each side of a narrow aisle. We got sat near the waterside edge and fiddled with earpieces we got given at the gangplank to try to find the English audio voice recording that would accompany the tour. The boat filled up quite quickly which I found a bit surprising - I somehow did not expect such a trip to be so popular. There were locals, tourists, people with suitcases and backpacks - and mostly European. On a working day some more. There you go. 

and the Old. The inside of either I will unlikely see...
The boat let slip its moorings and we motored into the middle of the water. Strasbourg sits on the River L'Ill and according to the map the old town centre is islanded by the Foss Du Faux Rempart. All of the main historical sights are quite viewable from the boat, though the perspex windows made decent photographs a bit difficult. I took a few en route but was not pleased with the results. Was also not pleased with the audio recording. Initially unable to find the British version, I had settled on what sounded Australian. Presumably in an effort to make our Antipodean cousins feel at home, the voice tone was that of a Bushwhacking Tucker man just back from a kangaroo hunt, me old cobber. Ingratiatingly false and hugely patronising in language, I put up with it for a while, but when he started talking about composers like "Bark" and "Moe-zaaart" I had to pull the plug. Well, pull the earplug. A little more fiddling and I found a young Mancunian Brit who was a lot more informative but who after a while also became irritating. There's only so much of a chirpy North Yorkshire voice that one can take under a grey Strasbourg sky. Well, this one anyway.

Pilgrims getting directed by Monsieur Sanjeev. Oui.
The perspex covering made for rainproofing but it did get a bit stuffy after a while, with little in the way of air circulation through the boat. But the river tour was a very good way to get a sense of the city and its history. Was also a good way to see young Strasbourgians (Strasbuggers? Surely not...) sharing lunch and what looked like migrant refugees camping out under the bridges with cardboard and duvets to keep out the winter chill. Some of them waved to us. I don't remember seeing anyone wave back. There but for the Grace of God...

Bread and beer. O my lordy...
We went up as far as both the old and the new EU Parliament buildings before returning to our embarkation point. The commentary said the New had cost billions of Euro, which raised a question as to "why" and "who had voted for it?" I think I heard that the Old is being earmarked as a museum of something or other. Wonderful. As we passed and U-turned our way back I couldn't help thinking that I would probably never see the inside of them. Brexit would surely see to that - the EU is naturally going to give the UK a dam hard time for electing to leave pour encourager les autres. Which kind of made me feel sad. However people vote, Britain is a part of Europe both geographically, historically and politically. For all of that to get torn up by 4% of the electorate I find darn hard to stomach and leaves me feeling that the UK is now long term economically screwed. Not that Europe is guaranteed a future, but I feel is better to seek reform from the inside than be a single little hammer trying to break down a fortress wall from the outside. Especially with an economically resurgent Russia on the far side of the fortress. Time will tell.  

But all of these thoughts had disappeared once someone had found the short walking route through the town to lunch. This was at a place called L’Ancienne Douane. Small from the outside, the place proved to be internally huge with a warren of rooms both up and down a set of stairs. There were many other groups having lunch at the same time as us, and for the kitchen and staff to be able to cater to all of us with the swiftness that they did was amazing. The logistics alone would tax the best of organisers. 

The Meat Platter. Felt like a homecoming...
We got sat down at two tables. Dear Leader had billed this one as "Casual a la carte lunch at a historic eaterie founded in 1401. Many Alsatian classics." I guess he had given up on using the word "light". But O what a wonderful lunch it would prove to be. Remember I mentioned about some Westerners hankering after solid food? Well, I am one of them. Don't get me wrong - the food had been magnificent. But it had been food for the eyes and belly - I was ready for something for the soul. And L'Ancienne Douane would supply some in spades. The menu whispered of Sausages, Potatoes and Ham and other strange and wonderful sounding dishes. And litres of beer. We ordered various plates of simple delights and shared across the table. It was totally memorable for its wonderful simplicity in contrast to all of the excellent food we had had to date. This was great beer and meat and bread, simply prepared and presented and all the more welcome for it. I was so very happy for the option not to drink wine for a change. As said, excellent swift service from an entertaining football fan of a waiter who wished my home nation Wales all good fortune in the upcoming World Cup qualifiers. 

Crisp raw salad
A brief walk around the place found an outside verandah section overlooking the river and with fantastic views of the city. Shame we could not have sat there, but it was a bit cool and there were probably too many of us to accommodate. I stole a couple of packets which I thought were books of matches but which turned out to be books of toothpicks. Would happily come back here for the beer and sausages and this time sit by the river. Great, great memory.

Restaurant A L'Ancienne Douane Strasbourg
6, rue de la Douane
03 88 15 78 78

At the table in L'Ancienne Douane

Pilgrimettes at the Sofitel
We all clambered back on the bus for a ten minute drive before getting dropped off at the Sofitel Hotel. Supposedly Five Star elegance in the heart of the city, I must say I didn't quite get it. Highly modern reception with lots of colours and high windows looking out onto some garden, and not much real character left in the place. On finding that there was a stairwell to get to our room, Lenglui opted to change rooms to one on a floor that was flat. This took thirty minutes to effect. The resulting room was modern with TV and bath. The downside of lunch was that I was totally stuffed and pretty much beyond any decent exercise. So I opted to stay in the room to pack and sleep ahead of a large night and a long day to follow. Feeling pretty bloated, a walk would definitely have been good. But the packing did need doing and I do like to do it at my own pace rather than madly stuffing everything in the case at the last minute at an ungodly early hour with a hangover. Lenglui went for a walk. And a shop. Of course.

Entrance to Le Buerhiesel
Within an hour I had packed most of the non essential stuff into my Orange Mandarina Duck (more pale tangerine after all the battering it has received at the various airports but still eminently serviceable), leaving out a toothbrush for the morrow. Sadly, the belly had refused to de-bloat sufficiently to warrant a stroll, so I took a shower and a nap ahead of the dinner. The room was modern dark with the curtains drawn and one of the blackest I have ever slept in - total isolation booth with the curtains drawn. Had to keep the TV on to keep a latch on reality. 

I was pretty much dressed for dinner by the time Lenglui returned. She reported that the town centre was very pretty and with some good shops. So it goes. Sorry Strasbourg - maybe next time. If there is one. 

The Pilgrims slowly started to gather for dinner in the reception ahead of our final transport with Napoleon. It seemed he would not be bringing us back to the Hotel from dinner and we would need to get taxis.  I seem to recall a slightly subdued mood on the bus, though this was probably more me feeling resignation at another impending bloatfest when the previous one was still coursing through the system. It was a pretty sunset that had turned almost dark by the time we got to our destination. This was the Restaurant Buerehiesel, a one Star Michelin, and billed as "arguably the best restaurant in Strasbourg in a beautiful setting in a park." Napoleon dropped us off at the Park entrance and as said this was the end of our time together. As I walked to the bus door, I half stopped to say "Bon Chance mon Brave" but he was busy counting money with his back to everyone as we all got off. Pretty much summed up this relationship. Bye bye Napoleon, thanks for not crashing the bus with us on board… 

"Garcon, ou est le booze.... please?"
A gentle walk along a park path led to the restaurant. As said, dusk was quickly turning to dark, which made for a somewhat eerie darkling stroll. It somehow felt that there could be Vampires abroad, in the shapes of all the young Frenchies out for an evening run or bike ride, all getting ready to bite Pilgrim necks and drink Pilgrim blood. Though with the levels of booze coursing through our veins they would have got alcoholic poisoning. The lack of decent lighting did twitch the antenna a bit as suggesting a perfect spot for a mugging, so the watchdog in me kept an eye out. Unnecessarily as it would happily turn out - we all got there safely and arranged ourselves on the stairs up to the place for some group photos before piling in.  Maybe the Vampires went after Napoleon...

Ambience and setting at Le Buerehiesel
The Michelin One Star "Le Buerehiesel" (which translates to "Farm House" in Alsacienne) was actually a working farm dating back to 1607 and which was transported brick by brick to the Parc de l'Orangerie for an international exhibition in 1895. Viviane and Antoine Westermann bought the property in 1970 for it to become Antoine's first restaurant. The Michelin Guide give him his first star in 1975, a second in 1983,  and the third star in 1994, at 48 years old. He left the Le Buerehiesel kitchen for pastures new in 2007, though the family connection remains with the kitchen now being helmed by son Eric.

Orchid ambience
"Over the years, Westermann has revisited the Alsatian culinary tradition in his own way, and many emblematic dishes have emerged, becoming part of his three-star repertoire: “Truffle Foie Gras Crusted Pâté”, “Young Hen in a Baekeoffe”, “Frog's Legs with Schniederspaetle”, “Beer Brioche”, “Young Fatted Hen Terrine with Fennel & Foie Gras”. Naturally curious, his first love outside of Alsace would be the cuisine of Southwestern France. Some have said he is the most Mediterranean of the Alsatian chefs. As early as 1994, he would be listed among the five top chefs in France, along with Alain Ducasse, Bernard L'oiseau and Michel Bras. His preferred cuisine is generous, festive and elegant." (wikipedia)

Dinner was in yet another delightful room and split into two tables. Water and fizz came swiftly, as did a tray of pleasant sweet and savoury nibbles to get things underway. This was quickly followed by a delightful Amuse of what tasted and felt like Rollmop Herring with lemon vinaigrette and dill, all in a sourish yet sweet oil. It put me in mind of Copenhagen for some reason, kind of raw fishy rollmops of seafood freshly caught from the seas. The salty combo was a perfect foil for the wonderfully restrained yet excellently bubbled Cremant by Rieffel. It had great balance with enough acidity to scorch and tease the cheeks yet not so that it would burn the throat. It also nicely stimulated the salivatories enough to make one want to hawk like a Chinaman contractor. But it did need the cold - the fizz got a bit flabby when it warmed. Outside of this, lovely finish, and a lovely drop. 

Doc Rajan and Stephanie
Next out was the Blue Lobster with Roast Potatoes (Homard Bleu Roti). Blue here means "very rare" as the flesh is supposed to remain a shade blue. The yellowish sauce in which our almost live Lobby was paddling tasted of Cumin and so imparted a pleasant spiced Kurma curry hit to the thing. This hint of Indian cuisine followed through, given the addition of some sweet apple which somehow lent a Mango Chutney note. The carrots were brilliant - sweet and softly crunchy and full of firm taste. But what really set the whole thing off was apparently some radish - somehow it brought the apple and lobster and all the goo into some perfect vegetal sweet salty bite and set the pleasure buzzers in the brain to overload. No words - my notes say "Fantastic - radish (?) + lobster + goo to finish was genius.  GENIUS." Though I think perhaps the second "genius" was more to make the first one legible. My scrawl can get indecipherable after some booze. But it was a well tasty dish. Naturally, I slopped up the Carrot and Kurma gunge with the bread and butter which was wicked good. The butter and carbo add suck and oil and the resulting crusty chew was absolute wow…  should create a new word for it - how about "imamu"? It is kind of the opposite of umami - sweet butter salty crunch with bisque-y fire and oil. What say?

Aperitif nibbles
The plates were cleared and there seemed a bit of time before the next made it to the table. Which somehow got me reflecting on the quality of the water being served. It struck me that we often take it so much for granted that our drinking water at the food table is potable. And we think little of it beyond the fact that it is there, and it is ordinary and not much more than a swilling agent to clear the tongue. Yet the night's offerings were definitely characterful. We had Evian still and (I think) Badoil sparkling and both were very good. Nicely neutral but enough minerality and body to cheer and cleanse. Somehow on the night, it seemed to make a difference. 

Amuse Bouche
Next out were Frog's Legs served with packets of Ravioli (which contained Onion, according to one recipe on the web) and served with the sweet honey bomb that was the Domaine Weinbach Pinot Gris (I think this was the one Lenglui and I bought at the Domaine during our visit a couple of days previously). The Legs were all upright and somewhat akimbo, and put me in mind of some inverted Dead Frog Can Can. They were drizzled with what felt like a light ragout style sauce and naturally tasted like tender nibbles of oily chicken well supported by the sauce and the perfect ravioli. I have no note nor memory of the onion - so it goes.

Blue Lobster - sounds like the name of a band...?
The Pinot Gris was a darn good choice to pair, its sweet acidity cutting the sauce and melding together into a rich, sweet, tenderly chewy…  ahhhhhhh in the mouth. Double double yum. 

The Dead Frog Can Can - all together now: "laaaaaa, la la la la laaa laaa...."
Dear Leader had perused the wine carte and decided that there was enough budget to splurge. So Wine Three would be an icon - a Meursault from the Coche Dury operation. I had vaguely heard of the label and understood it to be serious and hugely sought after. Which is why we love to join Dear Leader on these food and wine adventures - as a result of his extensive knowledge of taste and value we get to try wines and visit restaurants that would otherwise be beyond… well, my imagination certainly.  

Liquid Brickfields - the Coche Dury Meursault
What I did not expect was that it would smell and taste of curry leaves. It was like liquid Brickfields, all muruku and murtabak and Deepavali (NB Brickfields is the Little India District in Kuala Lumpur). It apparently cost Euro180, though at home would easily sell above RM1500. Got a crisp acidity with an excellent mouthfeel, of aged lemon and nectarines. Also that sense of power and grace and elegance which somehow lets you know you are in the presence of greatness. Great great wine. 

It was being paired with another one of St Peter's fish fillets in Tandoori style with some Portuguese clams. The fish felt a bit understated tastewise, though texturally it was perfectly poached. The amount of spice was enough to taste and not overwhelm. In contrast, the mussels and clams were hugely fresh and so full of taste, cutely underscored by a hit of mustard. I decided to pass on consuming the whole serving, given that we would be travelling on the morrow and one bad clam can put the whole journey in intestinal jeopardy. Shame - it was darn tasty. 

The Tandoori naturally intensified the Brickfields aspect of the wine which felt pleasantly odd - totally new sensation. Could almost hear sitars playing…    Chef should come to Kuala Lumpur. Perhaps he already has...

St Pierre fillet
David started a game of Golden Moments, inviting all the Pilgrims to share their favourite memories of the Pilgrimage with everyone. Most of it revolved around food or wine memories but there was universal agreement that the attitude which everyone showed toward the misbooking of the Colmar hotel was outstanding. Difficult to disagree here.

The room was getting a bit stuffy so the staff opened a window to let the chill night air breeze through which was delightful. 

Our next wine was a Beaujolais in respect of which the Marcel Lapierre is apparent royalty and we were having the flagship wine. My knowledge of Beaujolais is minimal - not a wine style I seem to have enjoyed, preferring more beef rather than the light strawberry I recall from the stuff I have tasted in the past. This one drank like a Burg - nice length, good acidity and firm cherries. But perhaps fresher and friskier with a lightness in the alcohol level that was refreshing after the Coche Dury. Lovely, friendly wine - I am now a fan.

It was being paired with Sweetbread and worked extremely well, the acidity cutting the crisp, oily slightly spiced gunky bite of the meat. Bit like the fish maw beloved of the Chinese banquet only with heat, it also reminded me of a deep fried Scotch Egg but without the egg - that peppered and crispy breaded sausage meat taste. Today's offering was not quite to my taste, but those in the know about this delicacy marveled at the taste and tenderness of the thing. I have had it on previous occasions, and I remember something a bit more crispy and less oily. There you go. 

Someone not in the know wondered whether Sweetbread was from the thyroid or the pancreas or the brain? Our waiter advised it was from the throat of a baby cow. So now we knew. Yes.

There was a fifth wine that Dear Leader had selected to pair with the lamb - a 2010 Grand Cru Clos de la Roche from Domaine Armand Rousseau. I half recall buying up some Rousseau following the legendary Vinum Sale when they shut up their Sri Hartamas outlet some years back and we got it for 60% or something, and when the Ringgit was worth….  something. Those wines were excellent and the 2010 we were having here was a darling. Feminine, light, clean and fragrant, elegant and total class.

Lamb Cutlet. Total yum
The lamb itself was tiny - one thin cutlet and looking like it had come from something barely new born. It also looked pretty rare and lonely in amongst the forest of vegetables and jus that seemed to swarm the plate. Notwithstanding, it was wonderfully tender and paired magnificently with the tomato and jus. There were also some potato in a samosa style crispy packet which gave some mushy crunch to give an ensemble taste that was massive rich bistro. Total, total wow. 

Service throughout was excellent. Some last minute menu changes to cater to for individual gastro intolerances were handled swiftly and well. And water, wine and food service and plates removal were equally efficient. 

The wines
Again, no notes on the dessert but it looks pretty in the photo. There was some Coche Dury left in the glass. Time in the glass seemed to have intensified the curry leaf aspect and there was more oil on the mouth. We shall have to try one at Deepavali with the Muruku and a Curry Puff. Yes. 

The evening (and indeed the trip) was winding down so President David took the opportunity to present Dear Leader with a Mont Blanc pen that had been procured following a whip round of the Pilgrims to raise the cash in recognition for his sterling work in putting the entire tour together.  And quite right too. 

David (left) clearly sad the trip is over with Dear Leader clearly feeling the opposite
And that was pretty much that. We got the restaurant staff to order us six taxis. Naturally, only five showed up and we got a promise that "zee ozzer one ees coming, Oui monsieur, yoo plizz wait zere, yes?" Took ten minutes shivering in the now cold and rain laden air for the boy to come, and a leisurely ten minute drive back through the Strasbourg streets to the hotel. Phoooooooo… Belly busted. Again. Crawled into bed to the sound of Sitars. Om.

Lenglui and me - cheers!
Menu Degustation

Mise en Bouche

Homard Bleu Roti
boulgour et fruits,
vinaigrette a l'orange et au ras-el-hanout

cuisses poêlées au cerfeuil et schniederspaetle

Saint Pierre de Petit Bateau
au tandoori, mouselline de coco de Paimpol,
mariniere de coquillages

Ris de Veau Rhonalpin
pomme croustillante, jeu de chou pointu, jeunes carottes de Marthe et petites girolles

Agneau de Bareges
roti et confit, zaalouka, courgette de truffe d'ete
sauce vierge aux olives

chocolat et framboises acidulées
framboises fraiches et en sorbet

Cremant d'Alsace Rieffel NV
Domaine Weinbach Pinot Gris Altenbourg 2010
Meursault Coche Dury 2013
Marcel Lapierre Beaujolais 2011
Domaine Armand Rousseau Clos de la Roche Grand Cru 2010

Restaurant Buerehiesel
1, parc de l'Orangerie
67000 Strasbourg
03 88 45 56 65

Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday to Saturday