My friend Millen spontaneously invited me to join her and her boyfriend Philippe for a food and wine pairing at the bottle apostle just off Victoria Park. Work was hectic so I almost said no but in the end I could not pass up the opportunity.
1. Amuse-bouche of flammkuchen / rice chip, sea trout / shallots
No picture of the Flammkuchen or the shallots – my greedy self got the better of me. Overall the amuses-bouche were nice, though not spectacular in my mind. The Flammkuchen came with pickled carrot, a nice and yummy touch, but clearly not part of the traditional Flammkuchen recipes from Alsace, a piece of smoky and salty bacon just the way it should be, a sour-cream like topping for the crispy dough and shredded crispy chicken skin, again, not true to the original recipe but a good addition. The rice chip with sea trout cured for 48 hours with juniper berries was lovely, though, other than as a vehicle to get the fish and puree into your mouth, I am not sure rice chip has its own raison-d’etre! As you can see from the pic below, ‘rice chip’ is somewhat reminiscent of edible paper. The shallots consisted of fried shallots filled with a shallot puree and other than that I did not get a decent picture of the dish, it was very yummy indeed!
2. Cod, cucumber, yoghurt
Marked as a starter, to my mind this dish could easily be served as a main (mainly so that other greedy people like myself can get a bigger portion of the gorgeous cod). So yeah, the cod. My god. As you can see from the picture, it looks almost raw. This effect is achieved by making a cod confit, which is basically cod cooked in oil at low temperatures. Now I had only come across confit in the context of confit de canard, of which I am not a fan. This instead was amazing, the fish was neither oily, nor dry as cooked fish can sometimes be. The closest this resembled was Maybe sashimi grade tuna, but the texture was somewhat firmer. Anyway, an absolutely gorgeous way to prepare fish and one I clearly need to learn more about. The fish was paired with cucumber prepared in 4 different ways – a charred cucumber (never realised cucumber could caramelise so easily), a cucumber and red pepper salsa, a pickled cucumber and cucumber-yoghurt foam.
3. Scallops, tomatoes, pine
I am a huge fan of scallops. What can I say, they are sweet, have this gorgeous taste of ocean and, if cooked right, can be cut with a spoon. Although I found the tomato jam a bit too sweet and the portion far too large for the serving size of the other components of the dish, I liked how the sweet jam interacted with the light clarified tomato-mousse (the little white block you can see in the picture), the salty yet sweet scallops and the oh-so-refreshing pine. The pine was what really made the dish stand out to me, it is incredible how refreshing this made the dish. Although it seems a bit en vogue at the moment to add pine to dishes (the recently Michelin-starred North Road restaurant of St John street adds pine granita to one of its desserts), I think pine is an ingredient unduly neglected until recent years. If used correctly, it has nothing of the bath crystals my mum used to mix into my bathwater when I was once again suffering from sinusitis as a child, yet is refreshing beyond anything a humble cucumber or melon can achieve in a dish.
4. Potato creme brulee
I am such a snob that when I initially red the menu I just thought ” when will chefs finally start calling dishes by what they are, instead of, again, calling what is probably a fancy version of a potato gratin a potato creme brulee?” … Well, we all have our moments and I was happy to be proven wrong in this case. What we were served was in fact a potato creme brulee, although it contained no egg as far as I understood it had the texture and feel of a creme brulee, achieved by the use of cellulose (yes, the stuff used to make toilet paper among other things, you are welcome). But the real killer of this dish was the broth, made from roasted potato skins which had been left to soak in water for 24 hours before turning the soaking water into an intensely flavoured broth. It was truly incredible. I have never tasted a vegetarian broth so rich in flavour. As rich as my grandma’s beef-bone broth, yet vegetarian. Amazing and something I definitely want to try. The whole thing was garnished with a few pea shoot leaves and chive blossoms. A nice addition but I never quite understood the obsession with micro and non-micro herbs as garnish.
5. Beef, lemon, leek hearts
Beef cooked in hay served with a lemon cream and with roasted leek hearts (i.e. you roast leeks till they are charred on the outside then remove the outer layers – instead of discarding the outer layers, Sven ground them and mixed them with sea salt to scatter over the dish. The taste was great and who doesn’t like a side of carcinogenic charred leeks …). The beef was perfection – very pink and just the way I like it. The lemon cream did not entirely convince me. I liked the idea, but the cream contained whole lemon, pit and all, and the end result was something reminiscent of a lemon curd made with whole lemons, quite harsh against the soft leeks and the beef. Although I like the idea of beef and lemon, I would try a more subtle combination, maybe a steak covered in lemon pepper.
6. Chocolate & fennel
There are no words for how awesome this dish was. Just last Saturday at home in Germany I made a starter of thinly sliced fennel dressed with olive oil and tossed with some mozzarella and Spanish ham. Here, the fennel came as part of our dessert – a rich chocolate mousse, almost of the consistency of a ganache, with caramelised white chocolate ‘rocks’, and an infusion of milk with both fresh fennel and fennel seeds. And, the piece de resistance, shaved fresh fennel dressed with a tiny bit of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt. People this is serious. This dish. The combination of flavours. Wow. And I used to hate fennel. And I don’t even like liquorice. But the sweet and salty combination of flavours with the fennel cutting right through it, oh my. By far my favourite dish of the night!
1. Pfalz Riesling Brut 2009 Reichsrat von Buhl – something bubbly to start, nicely cutting through the salty Flammkuchen we had as an amuse-bouche.
2. Kamptal Gruener Veltliner Loesterrassen 2011 Gobelsburg – ever since I spent a year in Austria in my late teens, I have been a huge fan of Veltliner. In my mind it is one of the few white wines that can compete with the heavy full-bodied red wines like Malbec, Tannat, Garnacha etc that I like so much in terms of complexity. It is also a white wine that is not dry at all yet far from being fruity. And it goes incredibly well with fish so this was a good match for a cod confit starter.
3. Blanco Venezia Giulia “Blanc des Rosis” 2009 Schiopetto – a fairly oaky white wine. We were told “scallops can take a bit of oak” (a nice way of looking at it if you ask me). I think the wine was pretty good, it did not taste too oaky to me, but that might have been due to how well it worked alongside the scallops.
4. Chamoson Petite Arvine 2010 Favre – when I saw Swiss wine on the menu, I was really excited. Not surprising to find Swiss wine on the menu given our Swiss chef, but the Swiss seem to be so protective over their wines that very few are in fact exported, turning Swiss wine into a bit of an urban myth anywhere outside Switzerland. The wine itself was very good although I must admit not being able to remember much about this wine, mainly because I could not believe how incredible the potato skin broth was!
5. Chard Farm Mata Au Pinot Noir 2009 Central Otago – the Pinot Noir was everything a good Pinot should be. It had a gorgeous aroma of plums (almost reminding me of armagnac), a gorgeous deep-red colour almost turning into chestnut tones; in terms of flavour, the wine was very rich, full-bodied, with berry flavours, had a bit of the plum I first smelled and went oh so well with the beef cooked in hay it came with.
6. Nach Sieben Likoerwein 2003 VOLG – a beautiful dessertwine that came about through a winemaker experimenting with fortified wines, and what a beautiful result this experiment had. Although, again. The food stole the show for me. I mean, fennel, chocolate and seasalt? I was in heaven!
Overall, I am so glad my friend Millen invited me along and that I managed to go to this. The food was phenomenal, the atmosphere was great, so intimate, so cosy and a bunch of interesting people. Paired with gorgeous wine and people who understand their craft and can share their passions with others and I could have not asked for more.