Pre-prandials

In addition to being a total pig when it comes to good food, I’m also a bit of a lush. Long-time readers will already know about my love for good, well-made cocktails.

I’m a huge fan of starting an evening, before one eats, with a drink. Traditionally, an aperitif serves a couple of functions. First, it’s a really fun and festive precursor to a great meal. A cool cocktail or even just a really lovely glass of vintage Champagne adds that extra bit of oomph or pizazz to the evening’s undertakings. It also allows a host or a restaurant to show off a bit. Creating something exciting, innovative, and delicious hints at more tantalizing gustatory treats to come. Take for example one of the signature aperitifs from Tabla in New York City. Called the “Ginger Citrus Snap”, this cool concoction is a mixture of Stoly orange vodka and ginger eau de vie, which is then topped up with Billecart-Salmon Champagne. When served, a small helping of pomegranate seeds is deposited into the drink. As the bubbles collect around the seeds, they float up. Then as the bubbles fall away, the seeds sink. Some customers have likened it to an alcoholic, edible lava lamp.

Secondly, some pre-dinner drinks can open up one’s palate and stimulate digestion. Traditionally, an aperitif was made only with herb-infused wine-based products like vermouth, Lillet, Dubonnet, St. Raphael and Byrrh. Also, to properly stimulate your appetite, your drink should have a tinge of bitterness coupled with a touch of sweetness, to make it palatable.

Of course, I’m not one to argue whether a good cocktail is or really isn’t a proper “aperitif”. It if tastes good, pour me a double.

My current favourite cocktail is the Alberto #1, named after and created by Alberto Alonso, who spent 40 years working behind the bar at the famous but now closed restaurant La Caravelle. It’s a great but sneaky drink. It tastes deceptively light and refreshing. It’s very easy to drink. You could easily throw back 2 or 3 of these in a row very quickly. But it’s actually pretty strong. I once made the mistake of pouring a few too many of these for a good friend at the start of a dinner party my wife S and I were hosting. By the second course of our meal, he had stopped making sense, slurring and rambling on unintelligibly.

To make one, you will need fresh lime juice, mint, sugar syrup, vodka, and Champagne. Muddle the mint leaves in a cocktail shaker. Add some lime juice, vodka, syrup and ice. (How much vodka, lime juice and sugar syrup should be up to you, to taste.) Shake and then strain into a large Champagne glass. Top with the Champagne.

I’ve very happily been able to convince the amazing bartenders at one of my favourite bars, Coffee Bar K, how to make this delicious drink. Yamato-san (pictured above), in particular, makes it supremely well. And if that wasn’t enough, he and his colleagues have come up with their own variation (which uses mojito syrup and Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label), which they and I have dubbed The Titanium. You simply have got to go try and try one.

Two other places I enjoy throwing back a liquid pre-prandial are Mint Bar, at Graze, and the lounge bar in il Lido. It’s always useful when a good restaurant also has a good bar. It means that you can enjoy a couple drinks then walk directly to your dining table. Call me lazy, but I hate going to a bar that’s more than a 5 minute walk from the restaurant I’m eating in after. If it requires a car ride, then I get really huffy.

Both Mint and il Lido’s lounge bar are sleek, sexy places to cool your Jimmy Choos and quench your thirst. Best of all, the drinks are well-crafted and always served chilled.

So, what’s your favourite cocktail recipe? Please, please, please leave yours in my comments so we can all try it out. Cheers!

Coffee Bar K, 205 River Valley Road, #01-076 UE Square, Singapore, Tel: 6720 5040
Mint, 4 Rochester Park, Singapore, Tel: 6775 9000
il Lido, Sentosa Golf Club,Bukit Manis Road, Singapore, Tel: 68661977

OCBC cardmember offers:

Mint Bar (at Graze)
25% off for cocktails and house pours 6.30pm to 9pm.
From now until 6 April 2007.

il Lido lounge bar
1-for-1 housepours by glass and 10% off on all other beverages including bottles.
From now until 6 April 2007.

Coffee Bar K
Order the Titanium cocktail at the special price of $20 (the normal price for a champagne cocktail is $28).
Additionally, you get a 20% discount on housepour whisky, spirits(vodka/rum/gin) and wine, plus a 20% discount on the following: GLENFIDDICH Solera Reserve 15 years old; GLENFIDDICH Ancient reserve 18 years old; and GLENFIDDICH 30 years old. Additionally, the $15 cover charge will be waived from 6pm to 9pm.
From now until 31 December 2006.

Promotion is subject to Service Charge, prevailing Government Taxes and GST. General Terms & Conditions for all Dining Privileges apply. These promotions are valid every day except eve of and on public holidays. For more details, visit www.ocbc.com.

Love at first sip

There was a time in my life, not that long ago, when I would have been considered a barfly. During this (hazy but fun) period of my life, which lasted for quite a few years, I probably spent some part of each and every day in a bar. After school, after work, before dinner, after dinner, for no reason whatsoever, a bar stop was a routine and requisite part of my life. Of course, even back them, I was finicky and particular. I had two preferred kinds of bars. The first is the dive bar. I love dive bars. I love them for their ugly and bargain-basement interiors, their dirt cheap drinks, their overplayed jukeboxes that always have a few Patsy Cline songs on their playlists, and their regulars, who always sit in the same seats and drink the same drinks. I love them most of all because they’re places where you can go and drink with friends… drink seriously, without stupid interruptions, music so loud that you can’t hear yourself talk, dumb young things looking for a sugar daddy or noisy over-testosteroned knuckleheads. These are also many of the same reasons that my second preferred type of bars are, for lack of a better term, civilized bars. By civilized, I mean clubbish, high-end drinking establishments. You know, the kind of bar in which you can sit with friends, get a perfectly made cocktail and speak to each other without having to yell. The kind of place where the music is soft but cool, the bartenders are immaculately dressed and don’t toss bottles in the air. The kind of place that uses a spray to mist vermouth into your martini and offers you a choice of a dozen different vodkas, none of them flavored. The kind of place where the clientele look great but aren’t bothering the people they didn’t come with. Unfortunately and especially in Singapore, it’s so very difficult to find a civilized bar these days.

At least, that’s what I thought for the longest time. Unable to find the kind of watering holes I love, I had pretty much given up on going out for drinks in the Lion City. Then a few weeks ago, a friend brought me to Coffee Bar K and I knew I had found a new home. Coffee Bar K opened here in Singapore in April, the third in a group that has outlets in Ginza and Chiba, Japan. Coffee Bar K is sleek, sexy, and cool. It’s also expensive and very Japanese. When you arrive, you’re handed a warm towel. As you settle into one of the comfortable black leather armchairs that front the glowing bar, a platter of snacks is placed in front of you. The drinks are made exquisitely and served in proper and beautiful glasses. The bar’s drink menu is huge but if you’re feeling adventurous, you can tell one of the bartenders what you’re in the mood for and let him surprise you with a custom cocktail. Whiskey-lovers will love it here. They have a ridiculously good list of Single-malts from Scotland and Japan. Ask for yours on the rocks and it comes in a nice heavy lowball glass with one giant, round and perfectly clear ice cube. Sit at the bar for awhile and you’ll realize that these cubes are hand-chipped by the bartenders.

Since discovering Coffee Bar K, I’ve been back several times. I’ve also been bringing friends as often as possible. They’ve all had the same reaction as I did, love at first sip. In fact, I bet that my wife and these same friends are probably going to kill me for blogging about this great and hidden gem. But I think a bar this good needs to be written about and shared. Cheers!

Coffee Bar K
205 River Valley Road
#01-076 UE Square
Singapore 238274
Tel (65) 6720 5040

Classic cocktails and new discoveries

I’m a big fan of a well-made cocktail. I appreciate the combination of skill, passion, creativity and great ingredients that goes into mixing the perfect drink. All of these are important, perhaps not in equal measures, but without the presence of all four ingredients, that post-prandial you’ve been craving for might just leave you a little disappointed. These days, my tastes run pretty simple. I pretty much stick to ordering classic drinks. A glass of Champagne or some ice-cold sake and I’m happy. If pushed to order a mixed drink, I’ll take a bellini, vodka gimlet, mojito or Pim’s cocktail over newer, fancier libations any day. Of course, I was not always so simple. In fact, when I was younger, I’m embarrassed to say, I was quite the wanker. My tastes in my early teen years ran to bottled wine coolers. From these disgusting alcopops, I soon found myself exploring and enjoying sickly-sweet, garishly colored cocktails with stupid names like Woo-Woo, Fuzzy Navel and the way-too-popular Sex on the Beach. Pathetic, right? Thank God by the time I went to university I had moved onto microbrewed beers and handcrafted vodkas.

Despite my current penchant for classic combinations, I still enjoy occasionally discovering (and tasting) smartly-crafted and unique cocktails. One of my favorite finds of the past few years is the Alberto #1, named after and created by Alberto Alonso, who spent 40 years working behind the bar at the famous but now closed restaurant La Caravelle. It combines fresh lime juice, mint, sugar, and vodka, and is topped off with Champagne. It’s a delightful, zesty drink that packs a huge punch.


photos courtesy of American Express Publishing Corporation

I recently had the opportunity to peruse Food & Wine‘s Cocktails 2006, a cool, pocket-size guide with over 150 drink recipes. While I have to admit that I probably would never attempt to mix many of the cocktails in this book, there were several that did catch my eye and a couple that had me drooling over the book’s glossy and well-designed pages. I really like that the recipes are all attributed to bartenders and bars across America. It’s a great way to discover interesting drinks and interesting places to drink in at the same time. Many of the drinks in this book have some pretty wacky names, like Label Whore, Heavy Petting, Finding Nemo, Periodista, and The Naughty Greek. In addition to the cocktail recipes, Cocktails 2006 also has a chapter containing 14 very yummy-sounding bar snack recipes. I was particularly excited by the stilton sirloin burgers with onion jam, attributed to the bar at the Peninsula in Chicago (pictured at the top right of the above montage). As a resource, this is a fun, attractive and informative book. I urge any amateur mixologist to pick one up. It’s available in bookstores across the USA and off Food & Wine’s website.

As a sneak preview, I’m transcribing 3 drink recipes that I find particularly yummy and one snack recipe that I’m sure you’ll all love.

Blackberry-mint margarita
From The Hungry Cat, Hollywood, California
8 blackberries, 2 skewered on a pick
10 mint leaves
1.5 ounces reposado tequila
1 ounce lime juice
1 ounce sugar syrup
ice

In a cocktail shaker, muddle 6 of the berries. Add ice, the mint, tequila, lime juice and the syrup shake well. Pour into a rocks glass; top with the 2 berries.

Boa 405
From Boa, Santa Monica, California
2 strawberries, hulled and halved
1/2 ounce sugar syrup
1.5 ounces vodka
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
dash of balsamic vinegar
large pinch of coarsely cracked black pepper

In a cocktail shaker, muddle the strawberries and syrup. Add the vodka, lemon juice, vinegar and ice and shake well. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with pepper.

Vanilla old-fashioned
From Mas, New York City, New York
one 1-inch piece of vanilla bean, split (they recommend Madagascan or Tahitian)
one 1-inch piece of orange zest
1/4 ounce sugar syrup
2 dashes of orange butters
2 ounces bourban
1 orange wheel
ice

In a rocks glass, muddle the vanilla bean and orange zest with the syrup and bitters. Add the bourban and ice. Stir and garnish with the orange wheel.

Truffled popcorn
From Suba, New York City, New York
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon minced black truffle (optional; I suggest using black truffle salsa)
1 teaspoon white truffle oil
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup popcorn kernels (7 ounces)
salt and freshly ground pepper

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Stir in the truffle, truffle oil and a pinch of salt; keep warm. In a large heavy pot, heat the vegetable oil. Add the popcorn kernels, cover and cook over moderate heat until they start popping. Cook, shaking the pot continuously, until the popping has almost stopped. Carefully pour the popcorn into a large bowl. Add the truffled butter and toss well. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Cocktails lovers looking for an alternative guide should check out The Cocktail by Jane Rocca. I wrote a little about this gorgeous book in my holiday gift guide last December. With 200 recipes and stunning illustrations, The Cocktail is as much an art book as it is a fantastic resource. Like some of the drinks in Food & Wine’s guide, Ms Rocca has given many of her drinks some pretty witty names, like Violent Little Ol’ Lavender Girl and Tina’s On A Taipei Bus. Of the many drinks in this delightful book, the one I’m planning on making very soon is the Geisha Fizz. To make it, muddle 2 lychees in 10ml lemon juice. Then mix 15ml sake, 110ml Champagne, 15ml creme de gingembre with the muddled lychee and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker. Add ice, shake and strain into a flute. Garnish with a broken kaffir lime leaf.

Best iced coffee

One of my favorite (non-boozy) drinks is a good iced coffee. I’ve noticed that in some countries, an iced coffee comes with a scoop of ice cream. And while t

hat’s yummy, it’s not quite right to me. I like my ice coffee pretty simple: good quality coffee, served ice cold, sweet and milky. What I really don’t like is when lazy baristas prepare iced coffee by pouring hot coffee into a glass filled with ice. They might as well call that “somewhat cool, watered down coffee”. Not only is the temperature not right but the flavor is diluted, thanks to all the melted ice.

When researching a story a few years ago, I came across the description of a café in Tokyo that had been pitched to my colleagues and I as the home of the best iced coffee in Japan. The owners of this café used only the very best and most expensive Blue Mountain coffee. The coffee was mixed with milk and sugar and then poured into a cocktail shaker. This was sealed tightly and then spun… yes, spun… on top of a giant block of ice. The coffee gets chilled without any additional water diluting it. Fantastic! And of course a tad extreme.

One of the best iced coffees in Singapore used to at the Four Seasons Hotel. In the past, they served their iced coffee with coffee ice cubes. That way, as the ice melted, not only was there no dilution, but the coffee in the glass was replenished. Unfortunately, they’ve stopped serving it this way. Another good iced coffee drink can be found at Café Rosso, in Holland Village. They do a drink there which consists of a tall glass filled with coffee ice cubes. This is served with sugar syrup and milk, which you add to the coffee ice cubes.

I’ve wanted to recreate this at home for a long time. But I’ve long felt that the drink just wasn’t right with small ice cubes (like the ones used at Café Rosso). Then, a few weeks ago, during one of our regular Ikea runs (yup, S and I like to visit Ikea every few months, just to see what’s new), we spotted some great rubber ice trays. Not only were they fashioned in bright colors, but they came in a variety in shapes and sizes. We were immediately drawn to a set of red ones that would hold 4 very large cubes each.

I’ve been in iced coffee heaven ever since. We use these trays to make large blocks of frozen coffee. Each cube is large enough for one drink. All I do is place it in a nice glass and add a splash of cold milk. I then mix a tablespoon of sugar with another 2 ounces or so of milk and zap it in the microwave, just long enough to melt the sugar. I mix this up well and pour this over the iced coffee ice cube, which helps melt it just a bit. The beauty of using a large ice cube versus small ones is that the larger the ice cube the slower it melts. Of course, this means I’m forced to take my time enjoying this drink, sipping it slowly as the cube melts. But that suits me just fine.

The Green Fairy

During our adolescence, there are certain things that we all aspire to experience once we’re “old enough.” Some are quite commonplace, like driving or having sex. Some are more particular to our own personalities, like (for me for instance) getting a suit made on Saville Row, skydiving, dining under the stars at Lasserre with my wife, authoring my own comic book, and drinking absinthe.

I forget when I first read about absinthe. I may have first heard of it through an early teenage fascination with impressionist and post-impressionists painters, many of whom both depicted absinthe consumption and were themselves avid fans of the stuff. I heard the rumours that when consumed in large amounts, absinthe could induce hallucinations and visions, and that this was a great source of creativity and inspiration for some of the early 20th Century’s most celebrated writers, people like Edgar Allan Poe, Oscar Wilde and Rimbaud. The fact that it was a banned substance, illegal in almost all of the Western world, made it even more exciting and exotic. I remember watching Francis Ford Coppola’s version of ‘Dracula’, staring open-mouthed as Gary Oldman’s Dracula seduced Wynona Ryder’s Mina Harker over glasses of the Green Fairy.

Absinthe, for the uninitiated, is an extremely strong distilled anise-flavored liquor made from extracts of wormwood. According to popular histories, absinthe was invented by a French doctor, Dr Pierre Ordinaire, in 1789. It was said that he discovered the plant wormwood (Artemisia Absinthium) while in exile in Switzerland. He mixed wormwood and other herbs with alcohol to create a 136 proof (68% alcohol) elixir, which he employed in his treatment of the sick. As with so many other medical remedies (like Coca-Cola for example), absinthe was soon commercialized and by the early to mid 1800s was being sold by the bottle as a popular liquor.

During the early 20th Century, many countries, including the USA and France, where the bulk of it was being produced, outlawed this potent drink. Absinthe was a curious drink, with slightly (at the time) inexplicable properties. Visions, as mentioned earlier, were a reported side-effect. It was also known to have “miraculous restorative powers.” Essentially, what was really happening was that people were getting high from it. The principle active ingredient in absinthe is thujone, which comes from wormwood. Thujone is chemically similar to THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which many of you might recognize as the principle active ingredient and psychoactive chemical in marijuana. Which means that people taking absinthe were simply getting stoned and drunk at the same time.

My first taste of absinthe came in 1997. At the time, absinthe was illegal (and I believe still is) in the United States and across most of Europe. Only Spain, Portugal and the Czech Republic hadn’t banned it. And despite having visited, worked and/or studied in Europe many times prior to 1997, I had never visited any of these three countries. But in the Fall of 1997, I had quite my job and decided to spend a month with a friend from university slumming around different parts of Europe. In particular, I had planned to visit my closest friend from my first few years in primary school, whom I had just recently reconnected with after having lost touch for over a decade, and who was living in and working as a journalist in Prague.

It was great seeing her, and despite having not seen each other or spoken in 12 years, we were amazingly similar. We spent a fantastic week together, touring the sights and the many, many bars that were fast becoming a haunt for young expatriates who had heard of a scene akin that of Paris in the 1920s. And it was during this heady week that I tried absinthe, real absinthe, for the first time. It was powerful and delicious and also quite fun. I like the fact that absinthe requires specific accessories. To drink it properly, you set a specially-designed, perforated “absinthe spoon” over a glass, in which a bit of the gorgeously clear green liquid is poured. On the spoon, you place a sugar cube. Over this you pour cold water. The water dissolves the sugar into the drink, and as the water reacts with the liquid, it takes on a milky complexion. The water and sugar is used to offset the liquor’s strong, bitter taste, making it a delightfully refreshing, albeit still strong drink.

Here in Singapore, we can’t get the real stuff. I once carried a small bottle into the country though. My wife S, myself, my brother and 2 friends helped drink most of that bottle on one night, with rather memorable results. Especially for one friend in particular, who was gulping down Absinthe martinis—an ice-cold vodka, absinthe, and sugar syrup concoction I had come up with that night. Suffice it to say she passed out in the parking lot at the end of the evening, but not before attempting to French kiss my wife.

One gourmet store here brings in something called Absente, an absinthe like liquor that claims to be “Absinthe refined” and that’s legal all over the world. Instead of using wormwood, Absente’s manufacturers use a botanical cousin called Southern-Wormwood, which I am going to assume does not contain thujone. Absente is also a tad weaker, at 55% alcohol as opposed to the normal 68%. That said, it looks the same and has an almost identical taste and flavour. Which suits me fine, at least until I can get my hands on another bottle of the real thing.

50% Viognier, 50% Marsanne, 0% Cork

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I’m a big fan of Viognier. It’s a wine varietal that I only discovered 4 years ago, and I’ve been hooked ever since. The first one I had was a D’Arenberg “The Last Ditch” Viognier. It was one of many wines served at an amazing al fresco lunch thrown for a bunch of foodies and winos by Tasting Australia and held at Geoff Hardy’s vineyard in McLaren Vale, South Australia. The Viognier was fresh from the barrel, poured into clear glass bottles by the winemakers at D’Arenberg, and rushed over to satisfy we hungry alcoholic-gourmands. The wine, we were told, wouldn’t actually be released for several months, so we were getting a special preview. I’ve also since learnt that New World Viogniers are often best drunk as early as possible, and we couldn’t have gotten this batch any earlier. It was sensational.

Over the past few years, I’ve enjoyed tasting many Old World and New World Viogniers. I have to admit, oddly enough, I prefer many of the New World ones over the more well-known French Condrieus. One of my favourites is the Clay Station Viognier, a reasonably priced, multiple-award winner.

I saw the above pictured wine, a Viognier-Marsanne blend, a couple weeks ago in the wine cellar of Singapore’s latest uber-chic (and expat oriented) gourmet store/café, Corduroy & Finch. I was amused by the bottle’s label. “How very un-French,” I thought, as I admired the clean, bold graphics. That all the other text was also in English meant that this wine was clearly designed for international export. I was especially tickled by the text on the bottle’s back label, which suggested the wine would go very well with Chinese food and a description of the wine itself, which read, “50% Viognier, 50% Marsanne, 0% cork.” Obviously, someone working in the marketing section of La Vieille Ferme wines has been having a helluva time amusing him or herself. Even if I wasn’t a big fan of these grapes, I would have bought the bottle based on the labels.

The wine turned out to be only so-so. There was too much alcohol present in both its nose and on the mouth. I’m not sure if it would age well either. That said, I was pleased by the efforts that the winemakers (and their colleagues) made to make the wine extremely marketable and attractive. As I said, it looked, well, very un-French.

A Lunch with Krug

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It’s great to be married to a food writer at times. Take today for example. S was invited to a fabulous lunch and Champagne tasting and was allowed to bring me along. It was a double treat for me. The lunch was held at Iggy’s, one of my favourite restaurants in Singapore, and the Champagne brand was Krug, by far my favourite Champagne house.

Krug’s young and incredibly friendly winemaker, Nicholas Audebert, had flown in for the occasion, as did an old friend, Anouk Blain-Mailhot, who is Veuve Clicquot and Krug’s regional marketing director. Monsieur Audebert was a fabulous host and before we ate, he led all of us present through one of the most novel and enjoyable wine tastings I’ve ever gone through. We were presented with a glass each of Krug’s Grand Cuvée, Rosé, and Vintage 1990. We were then asked to think about the wines according to our senses. To help us, Audebert offered for each sense, 6 things that he felt would help us describe each wine. For smell, for example, he passed around 6 cups, each with a markedly different scent and asked us to pair the smells to the wines. For hearing, he played 6 different kinds of music and asked us to match the balance in the songs with the balance in the wines. What was most interesting about these exercises was the variation in how all of us present interpreted the wines. For example, with the music, I paired the Vintage 1990 with a slow, seductive vocal jazz piece, while quite a few others paired the song with the Rosé. A Russian operatic piece that I paired with the Grand Cuvée, someone else had matched with the 1990. To end the tasting, Audebert divided us into three groups; each was assigned to one of the wines, and put in front of a blank canvas, with paints and brushes. We were then asked to paint what we felt our assigned wine represented. My group was given the 1990 and we painted a naked, high-heeled woman, dancing in a forest—sensual, wild, yet elegant.

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After our art session, we got down to some serious eating. Iggy, as always us, fed us well. Our menu consisted of Avruga with angel hair pasta tossed in classic caviar condiments; Steamed foie gras with tofu and ponzu; Marinated tartare of tuna; Gourmet salad with maguro, French beans and soft boiled quail eggs; Sakura ebi cappellini with extra virgin olive oil and chili flakes (my favourite course); Roasted quail with truffle risotto; and Champagne jelly and sorbet with elderberry foam. Phew!

In all, it was a fantastic meal. My favourite of the 3 Champagnes we tasted was easily the Vintage 1990. It had a softness and a sweetness, with a structured maturity, that the other two didn’t have. That said, the 1990 still doesn’t come close to the Clos du Mesnil, my all-time favourite Champagne and the superstar of the Krug stable.

A Blind Tasting Wine Dinner

This weekend, my wife and I made dinner to celebrate the visit of two close friends, now living in Turks & Caicos, where they run one of the world’s best resorts (yah, tough life!). Four other friends joined us. At the suggestion of N—one half of the couple being celebrated—each couple brought along a bottle of wine, wrapped in foil or otherwise disguised. Each couple would test the other diners’ knowledge of wine through a series of multiple choice questions, things like, “Is this wine from Australia, France, or Chile?” or “Is this a Cabernet Sauvignon, a GSM, or a Merlot?”

S (my wife) and I came up with a 4-course menu and emailed it out to each couple, assigning a white wine for the first course, a red or white for the second, a red for the third and a dessert wine for the last. While we were up happy to host a blind tasting, we also wanted some assurances that the wines would match our food.

Our first course was something from Kimiko Barber’s book The Japanese Kitchen. It was a Beef Tataki rolled around cucumber julienne, topped with ginger, garlic and kaiware. With the beef, we served the white, which despite most of us thinking it was a French Sauvignon Blanc, turned out to be a Pouilly-Fume (Chardonnay) from the Loire valley (well, at least we got France right). It was the Chateau Favray 2003 Pouilly-Fume, and was excellent.

Our second course was Mac & Cheese. I’ve been enjoying tweaking Joel Robuchon’s truffled macaroni & cheese recipe over the past couple weeks, and have come up with a variation that I really like. I use mozzarella, comte, and gruyere in the sauce and then a sprinkle of parmesan (which I blowtorch) on top. Instead of fresh truffles, I mix Tetsuya Wakuda’s Truffle Salsa (available jarred at Culina here in Singapore) into the sauce. I also add a bit of bacon, which M Robuchon does not. With this, N had brought along a real surprise, a 2000 Moulin A Vent Beaujoulais by Georges Dubeouf (I later found out that M Dubeouf himself had introduced N to this wine). This is a premium Beaujoulais that actually takes to aging, but is already drinking well. As someone who hates Beaujoulias Nouveau, this was a treat.

The third course was a combination of a slow braised Belly Pork recipe by Tom Colicchio and a Lentils recipe from the Balthazar cookbook. The Pork is oven roasted in broth, first at a higher temperature for one and half hours, and then at very, very low heat for 3-4 hours. It was truly fork tender! We paired this with one of my favourite wines from a vineyard S and I had visited a few years ago in Margaret River, Western Australia, and fell in love with. Cape Grace makes incredible wines, especially, in my opinion, its Cabernet Sauvignon. We opened a 2002 (which, remarkably, was only the vineyard’s 3rd vintage) and floored everyone with just how soft, fruity, but full it was. (James Halliday rated it a 93/100.) If you have not tried this wine, I encourage you to find a way to get your hands on a bottle (unfortunately, the one we opened was the last from the case we brought back with us from our last visit).

For dessert, we had a Sticky Date Pudding with Orange Brandy Butter Sauce and a Seville Orange Marmalade Ice Cream (home-made of course). This was paired with a Torbreck’s The Bothie 2003, a deceptive but yummy Muscat. Most of us had no idea what to make of this wine, especially because it was clear in color. Of course, it didn’t help that P, who had brought the wine, was at this point of the dinner, too drunk to ask his questions properly.

A New Wine Bar

Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to tag along with my wife (the food writer) and her editor as they checked out one of the city’s newest restaurants. Townhouse is an airy, comfortable and civilised space that ironically sits above one of the loudest and most popular Irish pubs in town. A joint venture between the company that owns said pub—Molly Malone’s—and a restaurateur famed for his fancy French cuisine and somewhat fiery wife, Townhouse is a sanctuary for wine lovers.

The wine list, lovingly prepared by Townhouse’s manager Tye (pictured above), is both huge and humorous. It boasts some 500 wines, 22 by the glass. But instead of offering up either no descriptions whatsoever or poncy oeneologist’s terms—neither any help to novice wine drinkers—Tye has penned some pretty funny and simple descriptions on this amazing wine list. Some, like the one pictured here, are only one word long.

In addition to these cheeky descriptions, Townhouse offers up simple varietal descriptions printed on paper and wrapped around the vintage silverware. Here, for example, are two shots of a Champagne description that held my fork and knife together.

The menu is a simple and pleasing mix of seafood, charcuterie and bistro classics. We tasted a large variety of dishes, each paired with a different wine, as suggested by Tye. I started with a plate of 4 small items, followed by some escargot (pictured here) and then a chicken vol au vent. After that we shared a cheese plate and a selection of tarts.

While the food was good, the wines were better. I tried 5 different wines yesterday, leaving only around 495 left on the list to get through. And I’ll definitely head back. Townhouse is, as I mentioned, a lovely space for a quiet drink after work…or for a long, boozy Friday lunch.