Great combinations

Chef Que Vinh Dang talks about the TBLS concept, plus perfect wine pairings for its diversified menus, writes Debra Meiburg

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 June, 2013, 10:07pm

What gave you the idea for the TBLS concept?
It was more about wanting to not have anybody influence my food and my cooking. If I do it myself, I get complete creative freedom.

How would you describe the cuisine here?
A bit of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) mixed with influences from everywhere. One month our food might be based on childhood experiences, featuring comfort food. Another month we might offer my mom-inspired Vietnamese food, and the following month could be food from San Sebastian in Spain, because we once ate the town dry. The next month might be a tribute to supermarkets. We'll have sloppy Joes, mac 'n' cheese, puff fries and then the next month can be a play on French bistro food.

How do the guests know what the menu is going to be when they book?
They don't, because I don't even know. It's a set menu so you just take a risk.

How does that work with the wine selection?
Hong Kong has two seasons: hot and tolerable. I choose my wine list according to the food season. In the dead of summer, when it is really, really hot, I prepare food that is light, more refreshing, clean in flavours and without a lot of grease. So when I pick the wines, they are light to medium-bodied, such as pinot noir.

For whites I focus on clean, crisp acidity as the food I'm likely to do will require it, regardless of the next theme. I love to layer flavours and textures, so with the wines, I want the experience to be the same. Some wines are deeply layered, some are just "right there". I can take a wine that is not as layered and pair it with food that is more layered in flavour. In winter, wines need to be heavier, bigger. The food is going to be heartier. That's how I marry the two.

How many wines do you have on the list? And how many suppliers do you deal with?
We have about 38 to 40 wines. I started out with about eight suppliers, now I am down to three. In the restaurant business, relationships matter a lot. The suppliers trust that I will know what to do with their product, and I trust that they know how to source the right products for me.

How often do you reprint and update your wine list?
I update the list about every two months and change half each time. I always look for grape varieties that people recognise easily, but also ones that represent their area really well. Since I don't have a huge list, I can't introduce a bunch of Napa chardonnays or a range of Sonoma chardonnays. If I'm going to pick a Sonoma chardonnay, I try to pick one that represents the area well. Selecting a shiraz can be touchy. I used to love a big, jammy shiraz from Barossa Valley. Now I like McLaren Vale. I'm looking for cooler origins and light, elegant shiraz, but some people just want big, big, big wine. I try to find selections for both.

How about wine by the glass? Do you have a list?
I only have one white and one red by the glass. Since I only have one white and one red, I want to make sure they are really good.

How do you feel about BYOB?
I don't mind if people bring their own wine. What I find funny is that no matter how low the corkage charge, it always seems to be too much.

What is your corkage fee?
It's HK$250. The customers who try to negotiate the corkage are the ones that bring in all the big boys: beautiful Burgundy and Bordeaux. And they will say, "this is a nice bottle, can you waive my corkage"? I've never seen anyone pull into a gas station and say, "this is a beautiful Ferrari, can you not charge me for gas"?

Favourite food and wine matches?
I like wines that are versatile. I love tempranillo from Ribera del Duero, especially for colder weather as it works well with heartier foods. In summer, I enjoy Sonoma chardonnays. I like preparing clean, sharp flavours with natural fats, such as fish fats or anything with Hamachi. I try to find flavours that can cut the fish fat, and then balance it out with a little acidity and sweetness.

If there was anything you could change about the Hong Kong wine scene, what would it be?
[People being] less uptight about wines. Eating and drinking wine should be a happy thing.


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