I took a day off today for the annual Balthazar long lunch with a few of my mates - Gumi, Vaughanie, Len and Rob.
Vaughanie, with his usual impeccable good taste, kicks things off with a 2008 Pierro Chardonnay - the latest vintage, I believe. Truly a world class wine - more akin to a good Chablis than the flabby, oily offerings that we too often find in Australia. A clean, crisp attack,with onlythe slightest (but unmistakable) hint that this is a chardonnay - vanilla on the tongue and a (not overly) creamy texture. But as the flavours develop, there are also hints of fruity white wine flavours (I'm not going to bother to try to compare them to actual fruits, as I was enjoying the wine too much to care), all of it nicely balanced off by a backbone of good, crisp acidity. It was so good we polished off 2 bottles.
We had the chardonnay with appetisers of two dozen oysters au naturel from Cowell, South Australia, each served with a dollop of stuff that looked like salmon roe, but didn't taste or pop like them. Instead, they felt more like sweet, chewy gelatin-based faux roe. Must have gone through some curing process.
For my entree, I had the steak tartare, obligatory quail's egg on top of the patty in the middle of the plate, with around 8 condiments tastefully arranged like wheel spokes around the plate - not a lot of each, but just enough for flavouring, which is as it should be. Rob ordered his without the egg. That's just minced meat, I said.
Vaughanie then, no doubt inspired by his recent trip to Lake Como, ordered the 2005 La Serre Nuove dell'Ornellaia - 2nd label of that famous super Tuscan winery Tenuta dell'Ornellaia from Bolgheri, by the central Tuscan coast. It was a flavoursome affair, with that trademark Italian deep earthy rich flavour set-off against balanced tannic tightness.
The Ornellaia washed down my baby goat, which was served with a condiment of something very tasty - I'm sure there was parsley and pinenuts in it, but as I was already on my 5th glass of wine, with a glass of pedro ximenez queued up behind it, I didn't care too much about the details. Suffice to say that it was delicious - a nice amount of chewy texture, but not so much as to make eating laborious.
I saved some Ornellaia to go with the cheese platter - Len chose the manchego (hard sheep milk with a mild flavour), I picked the St Agur (nice semi-firm blue), and Vaughanie picked something with a complicated name that I can't remember (details are starting to get fuzzy for obvious reasons), but it was a white, semi-firm cheese with a dark purply crumbly crust. I love the flavours that mixing good cheese and good red wine will bring out - somehow it enhances the sweetness, even though you wouldn't think of cheese as sweet!
I finished the cheese with the Alvear 1927 Pedro Ximenez. It's not pure 1927 vintage, but has been made via a solera process that started back in 1927 - I'm sure that there are decent traces of 80 year old pedro in the 2 bottles we quaffed. I've always enjoyed pedro ximenez (pronounced "zimenez") more than port - it's sweet without being too heavy or cloying - raisins and fruitcake flavours. Check out that font of collective knowledge, Wikipedia, for more info on how the solera process works: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solera
Gumi and Rob each ordered a Japanese inspired assiette. Gumi was sad that Balthazar had discontinued their superbly rich and tooth-rotting chocolate assiette, but I personally think that a less sweet dessert is a better end to a good meal (or maybe it's just because I'm getting old and have lost my sweet tooth). A bit of molecular gastronomy made an appearance on their dessert plates - pink foam abounded! i wonder if it was extruded through a can of N2O. Sadly, we weren't in a position to fully appreciate the delicate flavours by that stage.
The service, as always, was excellent - unobtrusive but ever-present, knowledgeable, amiable and at times cheeky - quintessential Balthazar!
Copyright Melvin Yeo 2010