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Cuisine: French gastronomic.

Visit: March 2013

Price: Very expensive.

Helen Daroz at Connaught hotel

Hélène Darroze at Connaught hotel

Chef:  Hélène Darroze is among the rare breed of female Michelin star chefs. Being awarded two of these coveted Michelin stars at her Connaught hotel restaurant, she established herself as one of the top chefs in London. Hélène Darroze displays her French roots in her native Landes region (south-west France) through her cuisine. Provenance is very dear to her and the menu shows it. Each of the featuring dishes informs the diners about the origin of the meat, seafood or vegetable. She seems to be proud of knowing her sources well, which in today’s scandalous world (the horse meat scandal, etc.) has become one of the priorities for many foodies.

chef Helene Darroze

chef Helene Darroze

Food: Origin, freshness and innovative assemblage of ingredients. Starting with the signature Raviole of “Institut de Beauvais” potato with Pecorino from Tuscany, confit bacalao from Bilbao, Basque pork chorizo, watercress and roasting poultry jus, I knew that I am not going to be having a simple meal. The potato dough based ravioli à la Italy, filled with Basque fish and spicy sausage and accompanied by Tuscan cheese screamed almost as a “fusion” cuisine to me and thus I would think of her cooking rather in these terms than just purely French defined.

One of the signature dishes of Helene Daroze

One of the signature dishes of Helene Daroze

Sampling another starter from my partner – the L’araignée de mer de Norvège  Spider crab from Norway seasoned with coral mousseline, fresh coriander and Meyer lemon, palm heart tartare flavoured with Bourbon vanilla olive oil, “yam kung” jelly, shellfish tuile and consommé) was refreshing, yet not mind-blowing delicious. Nice with a glass of champagne, but I would not have it again.

For my main course I have ordered another one of the chef’s signature dishes – the La Saint-Jacques XXL de plongée (Hand-harvested XXL scallop cooked with Tandoori spices, confit carrot and citrus mousseline, spring onion reduction with Lampong pepper and fresh coriander. The vegetables on the side were pleasant, yet the texture of the scallop was too meaty for me, not tender as I love with high quality scallops, but rather robust and thick.

Seared scallops

Seared scallops

Dishes like Le porc basque “Kintao”Black pork from Pays Basque and some other main courses must be ordered for two people, so you will need your “tastemate” and order it together.

Drinks: The wine-by-the-glass selection is tempting and we were easily seduced by it. Many of the wines are served from a magnum size bottle, which makes them mature a bit slower. Starting with a glass of white Chablis Le Clos Monopole, Château de Béru, which was served by Magnum, I managed to pair the minerality of this Chardonnay  with my potato ravioli and the bacalao fish. I felt like continuing with a red and the only one grape varietal that rarely disappoints me with seafood and white meats is Pinot Noir,so I went for one from Eaton Family in New Zealand’s Marlborough region. It was fresh, lightly strawberry scented and managed easily not to overpower the scallops since they were more intense than usually.

The Connaught hotel has tremendous cellar so if your pocket allows it and you want something special, rush and get one of these rarities:

  • Château d’Yquem, 1er Cru Supérieur vintages 1900 or 1891 
  • Château Margaux, 1er Grand Cru Classé 1945
  • Champagne, Henriot 1928
  • Marsala Superiore “1860”, Marco De Bartoli 50cl  

Atmosphere: Serious, old school, classic interior with heavy wooden features. Dress smart, men are preferred to wear a jacket. The chairs are comfortable and service quite friendly, despite your complaints about the food (I just cannot pretend at a 2 Michelin star restaurant that I am delighted by the food when I am not).

Opening hours: Closed on Monday and Sunday. Tues – Fri: Lunch: 12:00pm – 2:30pm, Dinner: 6:30pm – 10:30pm. Sat: Brunch: 11:00am – 2:30pm, Dinner: 6:30pm – 10:30pm

The restaurant will be closed between Tuesday 6th August until dinner on Tuesday 20th August 2013

Address: Carlos Pl, London W1K 2AL, United Kingdom

Contact: Tel:  +44 (0)20 7107 8880, Email: dining@the-connaught.co.uk 

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Cuisine: Gastronomic nouvelle cuisine with Southern French heritage.

Visit: October 2012

Price: This is a serious gastronomic experience so the cost is high. (There is no a la carte offer, only a tasting menu: Dinner for SGD 288.00 (lunch for SGD $128 – 4-course menu) per person; wine pairing for SGD 180.00 per person; Tax of 7% and service charge of 10% is not included in these prices).

Andre’s wine & food philosophy

Chef: The Taiwan-born chef Andre Chiang has two passions. One is poetry and art (look at the photographs of his dishes on his website) and another food. His penchant for creativity manifests itself in his small dining establishment in Singapore where he himself decorated the rooms and keeps creating unforgettable dishes for the curious foodies coming to his restaurant from all over the world (there was a French family, a Hong Kong and an Indian couple and the rest I would have to guess when we had dinner there). His credo is Octaphilosophie, which is a gastronomic term that he pursues. Octaphilosophie is based on his study of how our experience influences our perception of taste. Through his food he intends to facilitate an interpretation of his thoughts and the philosophy behind his cuisine. There are eight concepts translated into dishes: Unique; Pure; Texture; Memory; Salt; South; Artisan; and Terroir.

A garden of amouse bouche

Chiang’s unique approach to fine dining was rewarded recently by a number of distinctive accolades such as receiving the 68th position San Pellegrino World’s 100 Best Restaurants 2012 and Singapore Best New Restaurant 2011 by Tatler Asia to name a few.

Food: Complex, artistic and philosophical. Taste is of a secondary importance at this restaurant, as it is more than that. The chef makes you think about his ideas and his perception of the world through his dishes. Most of it tastes very interesting and it is tasty, but you need to switch your brain from looking for your mother’s type of cuisine at this restaurant. It is all but not traditional – I dare to say that the meals at Andre are quite revolutionary and surely worth trying if you are a serious food connoisseur. After a garden of amouse bouche, which was so tiny that it could be considered as a proper food only by someone on a strict diet, we encountered the first concept from the chef’s Octaphilosophie.

The PURE dish was described as such:

“Beauty can be found in the simplicity of pure, unadulterated ingredients. Untainted by any form of seasoning or cooking, this dish allows the produce to speak for itself.”

PURE ingredients

This plate full of raw ingredients from seafood to flowers and herbs had exactly that kind of impression on my palate. the shrimp and salmon roll were perhaps the most palatable, the rest was rather more amusing than tasty. The second course confirmed that it helps to have a description of the meal when you eat it as it navigates your palate to what the chef wanted you to experience.

SALT:

“An ancient seasoning existing since time immemorial. Producing a taste sensation with no barriers, the flavors in this dish call for the briny depth and brings to the mind a hint of the ocean.”

SALT: bringing ocean to the mind

ARTISAN:

“Farmers and artisans deserve to be lauded for the sheer dedication they hold towards their creations. Celebrating the craftsmanship of these highly passionate artists.”

ARTISAN products on the plate

The farmers’ and artisans’ produce is very popular between all the chefs aiming high in the culinary world and Andre Chiang is not an exception. A thoughtful creation, yet I was not overwhelmed by the plate’s taste.

Capturing the SOUTH of France thousands of miles away can be challenging. Moreover, for me this dish was even more personal since I live in this region thus I was more critical on this dish. The chef spent a couple of years cooking at various restaurants with legendary chefs there as well, so our it was interesting to compare our impressions. Here is is concept of the SOUTH:

“The South of France s known for its vibrant joie de vivre, or ‘joy of living’. Capturing the flavors of France’s southern region, expect the generosity, freshness, acidity and a dose of the rustic.”

Capturing the SOUTH of France

The fish is a must on the plate in Provence or elsewhere around the Mediterranean, so I appreciated the white fish layered on a scoop of risotto and it was fresh, generous, rustic and refreshed by a touch of acidity in the foam served on the top, just as the chef described. Nevertheless, my view of the Southern produce would be – olives, verveine, levander, rose wine and anything that is in season such as Southern truffles. Here our perception of one place/idea had definitely clashed.

Another important aspect of any food is TEXTURE:

“Layers of flavor and textural contrasts come together harmoniously in this dish, providing a delicious sensory experience.”

TEXTURE and harmony

This was my favorite dish. It might have been that I prefer balance in the meal and I am biased towards texture, but it was simply delicious. The delicate lobster refreshed by crisp herbs and leafs, icy and melting sorbet and sweet touch of peeled li-chi fruits all created a harmonious experience for my palate.

When most of us eat at a fine dining restaurant we search for something UNIQUE in the food created by the chef.

“What makes a dish unique? Sometimes, it is the possibility of experiencing a common ingredient in a different way. At other times, savouring an exotic ingredient is the key to making a dish unique.”

UNIQUE a common ingredient meets exotic.

For something to be memorable it must stand out. The chef’s take on MEMORY was to highlight an old well-known product – foie-gras that was made in a new form – a creamy custard-like texture with herb consomé made into a jelly on the top. It was delicious.

“Meaningful memories stay with you for a long time. In this case, old recipes and flavours are given a new presentation, but still retain that old-world charm you once knew.”

MEMORY: the old made new

The last creation reflected the TERROIR:

“Rustic, masculine and unpolished, this soulful course is rooted to the flavours typical to a specific region. It reveals the appreciation of the gifts that Mother Nature has bestowed upon the land.”

TERROIR: true to the Mother Nature

Meat, vegetables, mustard seeds, … these are all products of the land. The chef enhanced them through a variety of sauces so the rustic taste of the almost rare chunk of meat was calmed down. A nice dish, although for some people it really might be too much ‘rustic’.

Diverting from the menu’s “Octaphilosophie” concept, the desserts were still very personal for the chef, although each of them was completely different. Fresh and fruity, herbal and zesty, and finally the chef’s weakness for the caramel-filled chocolate Snickers bars lead to his own mind-blowing interpretation. I have never been a big fan of Snickers, but after tasting this sweet delight I might be willing to change my mind. Although, the chef had done a really good job using fresh and high quality ingredients, which in the case of Snickers is doubtful (Perhaps, if they charged you at least$10 and you were willing to pay it for a choco-caramel bar, then you might get such first-class ingredients in your Snickers).

Refreshing dessert

The chef’s creative adaptation of his beloved Snickers

 

Overall, I must admit that the chef initiated a state of deep contemplation in most of the diners including us. With each dish all of us seemed to think about it, discuss it and conclude his/her own opinion about the experience. Isn’t this what we need in today’s fast-food driven society? We should appreciate all the food we put into our mouths and connect the experience with our brain rather than mindlessly put a chunk after chink into our mouths.

Atmosphere: It is almost like a laboratory where each diner analyses his/hr dish. The first floor is only for the chef’s table and can also host private parties. The main restaurant is upstairs. Art and design selected by the chef bejewelled the interior and the seats are very comfortable. It is a relaxing place. Imagine a gathering at a shrine for food connoisseurs and that is exactly how this place feels. Wear something smart.

The chef’s table downstairs.

The Wine Journal

Drinks:  The chef has selected the wines himself for the restaurant’s “wine journal” offering biodynamic wines from small French producers. We did the wine pairing with our meals and it was lots of fun. The wine waiter did not disclose the origin of any of the wines until we tried it and made our guess. Often, we were fooled by these wines. Small artisanal wines can be so unique at times that one can mistaken a Chablis for a Riesling. It was more an interesting tasting, but we were not impressed by the wines themselves. Next time, I would select wines-by-the-glass or a nice bottle of something rare.

Address: 41 Bukit Pasoh Rd, Singapore 089855

Opening hours: Closed on Public Holidays and Mondays; Tue-Fri: 12–2pm, 7–11pm; Dinner on Sat-Sun: 7–11pm.

Contact: Tel: +(66) 6534 8880; email: reserve@restaurantandre.com

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Set a way far from the herds of tourists relentlessly taking pictures of each corner of Paris Vivin is the right place to unwind after a five-hour museum marathon.

Following the advice of a friend ( naturally a wine enthusiast like me ) I took a break from my annual January sales hunting and headed to the suburbs of Paris to visit Vivin. This wine shop is known for its cellar full of rare mostly French wines for which you would have to pay a fortune in a restaurant if they had them on their wine list.

Vivin in Paris

Expecting a shop/bar type of place I thought  the address wrong while entering this cosy wine shop. I forgot to mention, that my friend was singing odes on the incredible food he cherished there. Instead, lots, lots and lots of bottles, two huge Spanish hams and a very tall man looking at us as if we just landed from Mars. No wonder as the first thing we asked for was if we could have some lunch.

French gurmet lifestyle 

 

 

Delicious ham ready to be sliced

 

Following laughs from the only table set in the middle of the shop with comments like “so tourists came for lunch to a wine shop,…where are you from?”, we explained we would like to buy some interesting wine and drink it with a bite to eat, and at that point the ice broke down and we were warmly adjoined to the table. Suddenly a crunchy bread, salad and extraordinary plate of the best Spanish ham, marinated peppers, anchovies with pistachios, and even a mouth watering cheese board landed on our table.

Exchange trade is still alive

Champagne Duret-Marchant Brut

We got a bottle of white Volnay 2005 premier cru, Nicolas Rossignol from Burgundy and shared it with the group next to us for which we got a taste of their red wine ( Domaine la Tour Vieille, Collioure, 2007) from the South-West of France. Both of them of a unique taste. 2005 was an excellent year for white Burgundy. Chardonnay, the typical grape variety for Burgundy, expressed its full potential in this year as it was superbly delicate. Syrah in the red Collioure is dominant. The very first sip unveils typical spicy tones a la Syrah, nevertheless this wine is also fresh and juicy with a nice body as it is blended with Grenache, also found in Spanish Rioja and Priorat,  known for its cherry and peppery flavour. As we indulged in our n-th glass, it turned out that one of the French gentlemen was a wine expert hosting various tastings all over Paris. Now, I was sure, that we are at the right place.

To finish up our outstanding lunch, the wine expert ordered a bottle of Champagne, but not a usual one which you can see at every Nicolas or Oddbins. Champagne Duret-Marchant Brut was surprisingly fruity and naturally slightly sweet.  As it is a brut, a dry champagne into which only a pinch of sugar is being added, you could drink and drink and never stop. Yes, I mean that, I was lucky enough to have there my partner to help me to find my way back to the hotel.

A real French style lunch. Over two hours and instead of a glass you end up with two bottles. How they do it? God knows, though there is something on the French way of life as they are one of the longest living nations and rarely suffer from heart diseases. So, instead of a spa head to a cellar, slow down the pace of your life ( enjoy long lunches ), and you will live longer! I am just wondering how many days I added to my life while staying in Paris for four days. Scientists! This is worth of an experiment.

The cellar

After finishing the first bottle I was trying to find my way to the ladies room and there it is! Hidden downstairs at the end of  the lovely cellar. Walking on the stones on the floor I felt as if I were in a little village in Burgundy or Bordeaux and not in the 10 million metropolis. You must see it.

The cellar

Vivin

Tel: 0146241919

114 Avenue Achille Peretti

92200 Neuilly-Sur-Seine

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The bible of wine lists

400, 000 bottles in a cellar in the middle of the French capital, that is really something! You can find not only a stunning collection of wines from all parts of France, but also can be pampered by gourmet food in the restaurant La Tour d’Argent nesting right on the bank of the Seine river.

The view is breathtaking. The lights of boats passing by and spectacular Notre Dame remind you that you are in one the most romantic places in the world – in Paris.

The cellar

Many diners visit the restaurant just for its wine list. What is impressive is the way in which the wines are kept. The cellar has the best temperature regulation in the whole of Paris. Stéphane Trapier, a second assistant head sommelier said: “We keep the wines under a very low temperature so they age slower than is usual. Therefore, the vintages you get here have a unique taste.”


 Misleading reviews

La Tour D’Argent suffered from negative food reviews in the past couple of years, often rated simply as quite boring. Nevertheless, its proprietors – the family Terrail, spotted it just on time leading to a massive improvement in the menu. 

Delicious scallops with truffles

The signature dish

You can spoil your taste butts on their famous Duck which has been served here to kings, queens, state leaders as well as to Holywood stars since its foundation in 1582! It is definitely one of the oldest restaurants in Europe, perhaps in the world! If you are not a big fan of a duck you can enjoy the mouth watering scallops with truffles or a foie gras melting in your mouth like a chocolate.

Salvador Dalí eating the famous duck at La Tour d’Argent

Famous diners

While having your aperitif downstairs at the cosy bar with a fireplace your eyes will be glued up to the walls full of the pictures and autographs from such honorable diners as Salvador Dali, J. F. Kennedy or king and queen of Japan.

A drawing from S. Dali for La Tour d’Argent

Historical bottles

Grande Fine Champagne La Tour d’Argent 1800

Though what is jaw-dropping are the bottles “enveloped” in dust whose labels only those with hieroglyphic skills can in some cases puzzle out. Chateu d’Yquiem 1880 or Grande Fine Champagne Tour d’Argent 1800 sit behind the glass enclosed cabinets.

Today, the cellar can be visited if you contact some of the sommeliers or the owners, but it wasn’t so always. During the Second World War, the treasures of the cellar were saved from devastation from Germans only thanks to Claude Terrail who walled off part of the cellars. His heroic effort protected one of the biggest cellars in France for further generations so you can still today, if you are patient enough, get on the long wait list and admire the bible sized wine list presented before your dinner.

The bible of wine lists

Once the wine list was in front of my eyes I couldn’t get my hands off of it. Nervous sommeliers must have been thinking that I found a new religion as I turned page by page of this massive book and studied all of its contents. It is strong on Burgundies. Treasures like Chambertin 1865 and Romanée 1874 may be well pass their peak, but they have an enormous value if you imagine that these vintages could have been drunk by Alexander II, Czar of All the Russias, or by F. D. Roosevelt, who both wined and dined here. The choice of Bordeaux doesn’t stand behind as you can find the strongest vintages such as 1982 or 1990 in most of the best Chateaux found there. 

It is not just about wines

Bubbly aficionados will be more than pleased. Top vintage champagnes are nesting in the first part of the wine list. Besides, you can ask for a list of strong cognacs, brandies, French Armagnacs and Madeiras all of discernible vintages. Their higher concentration of alcohol extends their age worthiness when compared to wine.

wine from Madeira 1910

Madeira from 1910

I have tasted Madeira 1910, the oldest liquid ever in my mouth, and I can now confirm the dust on the bottle doesn’t mean that its content has the same life span as human beings. Contrary to this, this brownish sweet Madeira resembled leather, walnuts and dark wood on the palate. I had a sip of Malvasia Vintage Madeira 1934 as well as I was curious to find this grape variety typical for Sicily in a desert wine from Madeira. It was much sweater and gentler than the classical Madeira. I would say it was more of a female drink as it was more subtle on the palate.

I wasn’t lucky enough this time to visit the cellar as it was undergoing a reconstruction. Nevertheless, I was promised to see it on my next visit to Paris so keep reading my blog and soon you can see the secrets of one of the most interesting places not only for wine lovers right here on WINEBEING.

A quiz question at the end: I have had a bottle of wine there which I personally desired for a long time. I give you a hint – I love art and as most of us I find the year of my birth exceptional ( even though in the case of wine it is the right temperature, amount of sun and rain which makes the wine outstanding ). So which wine we were drinking at La Tour d’Argent?

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