The dishes ranged from pan-fired leek gyoza dumplings served as pre-dinner nibbles, salmon sashimi and monkfish liver through to scallops and teppinyaki of ribeye steak. All normal fare apparently for this London supper club – which I gate-crashed at the last minute.
There was wine too, the main draw for me; the whole event being to determine if wines from Bordeaux match the culinary delights of the east. We are not talking top notch fine clarets or hefty priced Sauternes but more the lower price range, the stuff you and I can buy and actually afford.
The Bordeaux wines were each finely produced and certainly representative of the style. None were more than £20 a bottle, and that high price was for the sparkling rosé. (Did you even realise that Bordeaux produced ANY sparkling wines?)
So a sparkling wine to open the event (attended by 20 food and wine bloggers and writers) served with pan-fried leek gyoza dumplings and sichimi popcorn. Unlike others – such as Cooksister – wasn’t really taken by the 7-spice popcorn; but those dumplings were worth the trip alone! As a palate-cleasning foil the sparkler – Reserve de Sours NV Sparkling Rosé (from M&S) but a delight. While sporting quite a deep hue the delicate flavours were a little too delicate to cope with the spicy popcorn.
Also served was a Sauvignon Blanc/Muscadelle blend – Les Amants de Mont-Perat Bordeaux Blanc (£9.25 from the Wine Society). A lovely fresh white with the Muscadelle really dominating the nose but the crisp palate clashing somewhat with those delicious little dumplings.
Nibbles over and the main event. (I skip manfully over the ‘setting fire to the menu’ event at risk of embarrassing the perpetrator. I should add that the ‘setting fire to the menu’ event quickly escalated to the ‘blowing the burning ashes all over me’ sub-event and then the highlight of the pre-dinner entertainment, the ‘singeing my trousers’ and a more general ‘burning my clothes’ event).
First dish, a delicate Salmon Sashimi served the ‘South American way’ with avocado and sour cream, caramelised onions and soy sauce. It was lovely. The various components – cool cream, avocado and punchy soy – worked wonderful together; but sadly killed the wine. A glass of Chateau de Bernet Bellvue 2011 Graves (£9.99 Sainsburys) was a good example of a white Graves. A blend of 50% Semillon, 40% Sauvignon Blanc and 10% Muscadelle was a delight with just the salmon and coped well with the soy. Add in the sour cream and avocado and it was killed, sadly.
Next was something totally new to me – Ankimo. This is a traditional Japanese dish of ballotine of monkfish liver cooked sous vide and served with spicy shredded daikon and a ponzu dressing. It was a delight. The texture was of foie gras with a fishy hint to the flavour which worked beautifully with the citrus edge to the dressing and the crunch of the radish (which is what daikon is apparently). The wine though again really struggled with the Japanese flavours. A still rosé, Chateau Maume 2011, Bordeaux Rosé (£7.49 Majestic) was pleasant enough, although lacked a bit of interest on the palate – now whether this was down to the pungency of the lingering Japanese flavours and aromas I’m not too sure. But it really didn’t work with the food.
You couldn’t fail to be enticed by the next course, Grilled Scallops with nori seaweed, tobiko eggs and creamy spicy sauce on sushi rice. Could have eaten those all night long! The wine served with this dish was Chateau Roquefort Roquefortissime 2010 (£12.99 Waitrose) mainly Sauvignon with just a 10% splash of Semillon. A star of a wine, offering richness and a superbly balanced palate full of citrus fruits and peaches. All this gorgeousness was lost sadly against those Japanese flavours; they really are mouthfillingly forceful.
Not a great range of pairings so far then. Is it simply the case that western style wines – just do not work with the vibrancy of Japanese flavours? Or is it that we just had the wrong wines, something from outside Europe maybe, or a Japanese wine perhaps? I’d love to try out.
A dish a little more ‘western’ was next, not totally ‘unsulled’ by Japanese spices especially in the accompaniments, but paired with a red, Chataux Fonguillon 2009, Montagne Saint Emilion (£7.99 Tesco) worked well with Teppinyaki of ribeye steak. It’s a typical Bordeaux red blend combining 70% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc and 3% Malbec. Plenty of ripe berry flavours presented in that typical French style. It worked well with the steak, which incidentally had been marinated for 48 hours in miso, sake and mirin, but I think any red would have. Add in broccoli and green beans in a black eseme dressing, peach and daikon salad in a Japanese mayo vinaigrette and sea bream rice cooked in a clay pot with ginger and spring onions, and any wine would perhaps struggle. But the spices were quite constrained and thus perhaps the better of the various food-wine matches of the evening. I have ‘a thing’ for rich and the sea-bream rice was gorgeous; once my extra scallops have run out I’ll have a huge bowl of the rich, please!
I had to leave; managing just a slurp of the (disappointing) Ginester 2009 Sauternes (£10 Asda) and a spoonful of a flourless chocolate cake with whisky prunes and green tea ice-cream. I wont dwell on the dessert having not given it a proper appraisal.
As an introduction to fine Japanese cuisine the evening was a delight. The conversations, at least at my end of the table, were stimulated by the wine matching possibilities and those presented to us. Many of the wines were delightful – with several offering superb value – but I’m really not convinced that Japanese food works with them.
Huge thanks also to Luiz, the chef of the evening, for such a lavish and wonderful array of Japanese food. Luiz is The London Foodie.