Pair of aces
Delightful combination at the Chef's Table qualifies as fine dining at a high level, writes Robin Lynam
The view from the Chef's Table private dining room on the 102nd floor of the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong - the world's highest facility of its kind, the hotel says - is spectacular. So was the menu created by executive chef Peter Find for Good Eating's food and wine pairing session.
It was also cryptic. Find had prepared five courses entitled stone/turtle, mosaic/mushroom, turkey/snail, sole/foam and nougat crème/mandarine/almond ice cream. Only the last of these provided a detailed description. Fortunately, Find was on hand to explain the food he had prepared with his team.
On the panel were sommelier Nellie Ming Lee, Independent Wine Centre manager and wine maker Tersina Shieh, and myself. The wines were selected by Tin Lung Heen sommelier Benson Yan.
We began proceedings with a glass of Roederer Cristal, always a good start, before Find presented stone/turtle, a rich, slightly spicy "turtle" consommé that he described as "a classical dish with a little bit of a more modern slant". Yan said the Cristal had been selected more to prepare our palates than to match the dish, while Shieh commented that pairing soup with wine is a slightly redundant exercise in that both are liquid, and one is more likely to drink the wine before and after consuming the soup than to alternate sips.
Nobody complained about the Cristal, though, and Lee thought the combination worked. The consensus was that the Champagne and soup were delicious independently, and did not conflict, but did not necessarily enhance one another.
The serious pairing started with the next course - mosaic/mushroom, a mosaic terrine of guinea fowl, cow thymus, foie gras, Savoy cabbage and chanterelles, served with squid ink breadsticks, beautifully presented on a slate.
For this dish, Yan had selected a 2010 Austrian Gruner Veltliner, Smaragd Ried Krutles from Weingut Emmerich Knoll. "This is a very complex dish with the foie gras and mushroom, so I have chosen a wine that is very light, clean and refreshing, not too sweet and well balanced," Yan explained. He had considered riesling or a rosé before settling on an Austrian white.
We agreed that the acidity of the Gruner Veltiner offset the foie gras' richness nicely, but Lee suggested going back to the Cristal. "I think the Champagne goes better with the terrine," Shieh said, while Lee felt "it has the yin and yang thing going". Shieh wondered whether a lighter riesling might have worked better and thought the Gruner Veltliner too heavy.
On to turkey/snail - a turkey roll with snail, chicken mousse and chestnut and sage stuffing with Cafe de Paris butter, which Yan had paired with a red Burgundy, 2005 Clos de la Roche from Pascal Lachaux.
"I'm not sure what it is - maybe the sage - but it overpowers the delicate aromas of the wine," Shieh observed. Lee concurred. The consensus was that a more robust red, possibly a shiraz, would have worked better. "The pinot noir is too delicate for the dish," Shieh added.
How about a white, though? We went back to the Gruner Veltliner and the Champagne, and felt that in each case the acidity of the wines made them a better partner for the dish.
Going from red wine back to white flies in the face of convention, but for the next dish of sole/snow - pan-fried Dover sole with lobster meat in roast tomato foam served with fennel - Yan had chosen a white Burgundy, a 2007 Puligny-Montrachet Clos de la Mouchère from Henri Boillot.
This, we all agreed, was the most successful match so far. The richness of the chardonnay perfectly complemented the lobster, although Lee felt the fennel, a complicated ingredient to pair, didn't seem to fit with the wine quite so well.
The temptation to go back to the Cristal to see if that would match the sole was irresistable, but although sole with a Champagne sauce is a classic combination, this time we felt that the pairing wasn't quite right.
"It balances well with the chardonnay, but I think the Champagne is too acidic for this," Shieh said. Lee thought that perhaps the terrine and the sole should have been served in reverse order, but Yan explained that he had wanted the more delicate pinot noir served before the more robust chardonnay wine. The pinot, we agreed, also went well with the sole and the tomato foam.
Time for something sweet. Yan poured us each a glass of 2002 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling, an intensely sweet German eiswein from Weingut Markus Molitor, to go with the nougat crème/mandarine/almond ice cream.
Lee, who has a nut allergy, had to pass on the almond ice cream, which was a shame because it was delicious and an agreeably cool contrast to the warm mandarine compote.
Yan said he had chosen the eiswein for its delicacy, having decided a sauternes would be too assertive.
The fresh acidity of the eiswein complemented the sweetness of the dessert without becoming cloying, and the last of the Cristal also made a successful pairing.
Dinner at the Ritz-Carlton Chef's Table can be booked for a maximum of eight people and a minimum spend of HK$14,000 (plus 10 per cent), which buys you the undivided attention of Find and his team through eight to 12 courses, with Yan on hand to recommend pairings.
That is pretty good value for money, and it certainly qualifies as fine dining at a high level.
The wines used at the tasting.