What a week! There are times when occupational hazard takes one to the absolute extremes of gastronomic limits. Nothwithstanding my considerable capacity – in all respects of consumption and girth – last week was testing the boundaries.
It started with the arrival of an a old and good friend, Terry Chellappah, arriving Monday evening, coming from Margaret River, Western Australia. He was in relatively good shape when he arrived in time for dinner, although as the crow flies, or in this case QANTAS bird, even though it is only a 4 and a half hour flight, incorporating the 4 hour plus drive up from Margaret River, and arriving a good 2 hours before the flight, Terry was up at 5am to catch a 11.55am flight.
He did look a little fatigued, mumbling and cursing about greenie lefties that had recently blocked the proposal for an international airport for the Margaret River region.
The irony here is the carbon footprint of all the highway building and traffic between Perth and Margaret River far outweighs the emissions from aircraft; the logic patently clear that if tourists and locals from the surrounding region did not have to drive an average of 4 hours (longer than most flight times from within Australia and many Asian ports) to get to this bourgeoning wine country with its spectacular coastline and natural wilderness, notwithstanding the environmental harmony and the local economy surly could do with it, if they diverted the revenue from all the speeding fines the local law enforcement has racked up on the highway, it would pay for the airport outright!
The conversation changed quickly as I slipped a glass of chilled Chablis into Terry’s hand, a 2010 Joseph Drouhin Chablis AC; impossibly complex in its modesty, exhilarating in tantalizing piquancy and racy, bony, chalkiness with a whiff of gun-smoke. We talked of how curiously unique Chablis (as a style and region) is, as no one has yet to emulate it, despite hundreds of thousands of chardonnay’s out there.
As our discussion continued, in the kitchen, as I whipped together a Charcroute Garnie, the bottle of Chablis did not last long as a good slug found its way into the pot of Sauerkraut. Par-boiled potatoes, Fleischwurst sausages and smoked duck breast were simmering away whilst I seared two large Berkshire pork chops, liberating a bottle of 2008 Mount Edward Riesling from Central Otago, the conversation moving to the growing, albeit niche market, for residual sugar in riesling.
It seems strange that suddenly in the land of bone-dry riesling, and I mean really dry, crisp and racy Clare Valley riesling, Australian’s are lapping up off-dry rieslings like they were born out of Germany. That said there’s off-dry and off-dry; 10 or 15 grams of natural residual sugar per litre doesn’t really come onto the off-dry radar when you are in Mosel mode, and even in Central Otago or more specifically the Mount Edward has around 49 rs/gl. Not that you know that, with the cobalt, mountain fresh acidity camouflaging most of the sugar, and a brilliant pairing with our Charcroute.
Terry was back for more the following evening, having spent the day at Food Hotel Asia, he was in shell-shock from over exposure to humans and happy to relax at home again, over a couple of bottles.
We had been talking off red meat the night before, more specifically an article I wrote on a recently released report from the Harvard School of Public Health on read meat consumption, mandatory reading at http://www.asiasentinel.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=4354&Itemid=635
I assured him the slab of beef I had procured would have considerably more omega-3 than omega-6 – a ribeye, rolled roast of free-range, grass-fed Pol Angus from Cape Grim in North Western Tasmania, www.capegrimbeef.com.au. Actually, the cut is perhaps a little small for roasting, or I find it shrinks too much, so I simply slice it lengthways in two, and pan-fry as steaks – considerably large (400gram) slabs.
It is to my mind, the most superior meat in all Australia; if not up there with the very best grass-fed beef I have had from Scotland, England and New Zealand.
We waded through our steaks along with a pair of Gigondas, generously given to Terry by Pierre Amadieu www.pierre-amadieu.com and suitably chewy in tannins and extract keeping the palate zoetic despite the sheer weight of this outrageously carnivorous overindulgence.
Having passed the point of sensibility, we liberated a bottle of 1997 Domaine Huet Le Haut-Lieu Vouvray Moelleux from this famous Loire Valley biodynamic vigneron which has to be one of the most idiosyncratic wines on the planet, and I love it – with cheese. Searching in the fridge, I discovered a pyramid of chèvre that had moved to the scientific experiment stage – perfect with the Vouvray!
Wednesday saw a reprieve for my liver and abdominal region.
Thursday, Terry and I headed out with a Sommelier colleague, Shalom Chin, a man on a mission to walk amongst the rows of vines of every vineyard on this planet. We started off at the Rougie-Duboeuf trade event, held biennially for last 26 years, where Les Vins Georges Duboeuf teams up with the premier producer of foie gras, Euralis Gastronomie, www.rougie.com
I have to say, it was a most impressive show and we gorged ourselves on foie gras served in some wildly innovative Asian ways; sushi role with fois gras, Thai spring role with foie gras, foie gras dumpling, foie gras bao, pan-fried foie gras in spicy sauce, and good old fashion foie gras on toasted sourdough bread, which was at the end of the day, still the most satisfying – classique still works.
We washed all this down with the 2010 vintage individual vineyard Cru Beaujolais from Georges Duboeuf, of which I am a particular fan of the Morgon Mont Chavy, read more http://www.thewanderingpalate.com/wine-feng-shui/beaujolais-france-red-wine-of-the-year/
Yes, I know, it’s a dirty job this food writing business, but someone has to do it.
We then moved on for dinner at Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck at Paragon Mall, unquestionably the best duck to be had in all Singapore. I must write a review of this restaurant and it’s most addictive roast duck, cooked and served to the exacting recipe from the Imperial kitchens of the Ming Dynasty.
Take one perfectly steamed pancake, place several slivers of wonderfully crispy, golden brown duck skin and tender meat, add a sprinkle of spring onion and a good dollop of Hoisin sauce and fashion to a roll. Take a significant bite, about half of the roll, lean back and chew sufficiently slowly too boot up all the senses. Pause. Take a sip of 2008 Sandrone Barbera d’Alba www.sandroneluciano.com rolling it around the mouth allowing it to mix with the rich, plumy Hoisen sauce and gamey, caramel/roasted skin. Repeat multiple times, until you are full to the eyeballs and stomach aches, ensuring to open a second bottle of the Barbera on the way through.
Back home, sitting outside under the tropical moonlight, we didn’t need the nightcap of Equipo Navazos La Bota de Palo Cortado No. 21, but we had it anyway, and another one… and one more.
Friday, our good friend Andrew from Melbourne is in town and a heroic Wandering Palate he is. Andrew enjoys culinary expeditions as much as we do, although neither of us are in to foam and fuss much, so we approached the notion of dining at Restaurant André with a degree of scepticism, http://restaurantandre.com/andre.
Ranked No 2 in the 2011/12 Miele Guide http://mieleguide.com/asias-top-20 and Chef André Chiang a man on a mission and his rocket successfully reaching stage 3 separation and now in Singapore orbit, out of respect we decided to give it try.
Patience and understanding is required to grasp the chefs (trademarked) philosophy or Octaphilosophy (Octa-phi-los-o-phy), which has a discipline of eight different phases of a degustation crescendo and palate Pilates.
I had to rely on our Maitre d’ to explain the finer points of this, as detailed on the menu in way too fine-print for my failing eyesight, but it goes something like this… “The hypothesis of eight characteristics that attempt to discover through cuisine; the nature and significance of ordinary and scientific beliefs while investigating the simplicity of concepts by means of rational argument concerning their presumptions, implications, and interrelationships. The pure and unique hues of nature’s gifts from the land together with scientific research are juxtaposed alongside with the intuitions of the South, where primal aromas and texture evoke the endless trail of memories.”
Yes, one is almost feels full (in a verbal sense) before even starting the meal, but don’t be intimidated or confused (!), just ease back and let the highly-skilled-staff-orators guide you smoothly through this holistic culinary journey of Unique – Pure -Texture – Memory – Salt – South – Artisan and Terroir courses, to which I will expand on in a full review in due course.
I have to say, we were all mightily impressed with the meal that was certainly fussy (read complex) food however, there was an defined thread of genuine, wholesomeness and to an extent, or some dishes, completely unadulterated flavours with a menu that ascended calmly and deliberately to a plateau of pleasant satiation and engorgement of the lateral hypothalamus with ones culinary serotonin levels maxing out.
The wine list here, as in presentation of, is the most eccentric I have ever encountered, as was our sommelier, who went about his trade with the decorum of the Queen’s butler, although I am guessing of Japanese nationality. Largely European wines I recall, although an eclectic array at prices designed to shock the nervous system, but we drank well and the service is very polished.
Our Maitre d’ accompanied us upon leaving, taking us down the lift, which opens right outside the kitchen plating up bench. It’s a great ploy to cement the experience – like a Stanley Kubrick scene out of Full Metal Jacket – shock and awe as you witness the first-hand organised chaos of a working kitchen with about 20 cooks and kitchen-hands fully engaged in culinary hand-to-hand combat with Chef Chiang leading the charge.
He looks up from the plating bench, flanked by two cooks frantically putting the finishing touches to two plates with a Colonel Walter E. Kurtz smile; a knowingly assured beam that these loyal ragtag troops would fight to the end.
Even if you have read Anthony Bourdin’s Kitchen Confidential and comprehend how bloody hard chef’s work, you leave Restaurant André with a deepened respect and enhanced gastronomic cognizance.
Saturday night saw us again gourmandising in situ – examining the phenomenon exactly in place where it occurs – dining with friends at one of our favourite and secret restaurants, Xi-Yan, www.xiyan.com.sg, so don’t tell anyone!
Xi-Yan is one of those worst kept secrets, completely off the radar for the uninformed and closely guarded classified information for devotees. In part due to accommodating 30 people with only 4 tables in any one sitting, it’s the sort of place you need to plan in advance and best enjoyed with larger tables of 6 to 12 people with a pre-set communal menu – no a la carte. You do get a say in pre-selecting dishes from a weekly changing menu that they will email to you and is also on their website.
It is located upstairs in an old shop house on Craig Street with an unassuming entrance and not much else happening in the street, but you don’t need a prime location for a destination restaurant.
It actually all started in the back streets of Hong Kong where Jacky Yu was part of the underground movement of private restaurants, Yu now a celebrity chef revered for his modern Chinese/Asian fusion cuisine. The Singapore arm, Xi-Yan, is a bit more mainstream restaurant than Hong Kong however the innovation and flair is there and the cutting-edge of contemporary Chinese/Asian fusion cuisine yet encompasses much of the Confucian sentiment of regional and historic dishes from China only spectacularly presented.
There’s no point in going through what we ate blow by blow, as apart from some perennial favourites that remain on the menus constantly, it’s all about what’s fresh that week and inspirational for the chef.
It’s a quirky, esoteric place with warm, friendly, competent service that we have never been disappointed in both food and service, and we love the place.
Sunday – recovery! And the weighing scales must be wrong; it cannot be ***kilos. Soup for dinner next week.
There’s no way I am going this hard next week… but hang on, Luke Mangan, Ian Curley, Fergus Henderson and Marco Pierre White are in town (Singapore)… “We ate the food, we drank the wine… Everybody having a good time”