Lionizing A World Class Experience!

RAFFLES WINE FOOD AND ARTS EXPERIENCE

About 10 years ago, while consulting for The Ritz-Carlton Millennia Singapore as it was being launched as the new flagship for that company, we were induced to attend a wine and food event at Raffles Singapore.

This iconic 120 + year old hotel hosted a superb set of events featuring then the cuisine of Alain Ducasse paired with the wines of Chateau Latour. It was exquisite!

Fast-forward to 2009 and The Raffles Wine, Food and Arts Experience is a beloved fixture in the Lion City of Singapore (a visiting Sumatran Prince in the 14th century spied a fearsome lion and so changed the name from “Temasek” to “Singapore” literally “lion city” – today the symbol is a Merlion, a mythical creature with features of both a lion and a fish, showing the historical linkage to both the ancient tale and the sea).

This year the event has been particularly wonderful – a revitalized culinary leadership team at Raffles has coaxed and evoked great performances and finesse from remarkable talent. A quick smattering of our dinners and I’ll post the menu of the Gala with wine pairings.

The first night we enjoyed the cuisine of Maria Luisa Valazza, Italian Three Star Michelin Chef from Al Sorriso, a self-taught genius. A real highlight was the Le Triglie, Red Mullet with a Hazelnut Broccoli Flan, Buffalo Mozzarella and Anchovy Foam with a Morey-Saint Denis 1er Cru Blanc 1998 . Another winner, the Fagottini Di Pasta (Pasta Pillow) filled with Duck, Apple and Black Truffle (being reprised for the gala finale) with La Grola 2004 Allegrini.

The next night we feasted on an exquisite menu from Bruno Menard, Three Star Michelin Chef from L’Osier in Tokyo. The decorative aesthetic impact of life in Tokyo showed in the stunning presentations. A highlight was “Mount Fuji Trout” with Sudachi Essence and Macadamia Nut “Hummus” with a quite lovely Chateau La Tour Haut Brion 2001. The Le Pigeon Gremillon (French Squab) with a Wasabi Crust was a visual feast as much as a gustatory one. Some complained the meat was too red. I wanted to suggest to them that this would be akin to complaining that Picasso shouldn’t paint so abstractly…sometimes you go to artists to recognize what you enjoy, at other times to expand paradigms and to be educated. Those Three Michelin Stars are hard won. This was paired with Mission Haut Brion 1998. But it was the Mission Haut Brion 1990 paired with Fourme d’Ambert Mild Blue Cheese on a Banana (!) that was the show-stopper. While we had a surprise pouring of the Haut Brion 1982, alas it was somewhat past its prime.

The third night we exulted in the genius of Didier Elena, whose cuisine I’ve loved from the time he opened the Essex House restaurant for Alain Ducasse in New York. Chef Elena’s Two Michelin Stars are justly earned, and if he didn’t keep moving between kitchens (opening Il Cortile in Paris and Beige in Tokyo), that third star would definitely be his. The Mont D’or – Truffes Noires (Cheese with Black Truffles, Egg, Melting Potatoes and Jabugo Ham) was a revelation, paired beautifully with an unusually astringent (and therefore fitting) Krug Millesime 1998. An utterly extraordinary experience was Slowly Braised (32 hours) Beef, with Blood Stew Sauce to be scooped with a spoon with the Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 1996.

Despite the recessionary downturn, the dining rooms have been packed by enthusiasts and connoisseurs. But there has been an impact. Usually the Chefs not cooking at the Raffles Grill that evening do private events for corporates. That’s what’s not happening this year.

But even so, such festive celebration of life and art at surprisingly affordable prices (great quality and great value is not a bad anthem for these times for any of us) is a way to stem (at least for a time) any incipient despair or angst. Build a brand and they will come – as long as the brand isn’t just hype, but is truly a world class experience, shared with pride and joy (and a suitable immunity to requests to ruin the pigeon with overcooking – you compromise your craft at your peril!). Instead of eroding our standards, let’s remember always though to educate our customers with compassion and a measure of grace, never with condescension.

One gripe: the wine pairings strangely left out dessert wines. The reds don’t work with the desserts. A glass of champagne, a Demi-Sec perhaps, a Tokai, a Madeira…we experimented with several and filled the vacuum. Last night, a ’59 Armagnac and an Opus X from Fuente capped a glorious evening on my terrace.

For this event, for its vision, its execution, and the abundant generosity of spirit of the Raffles team in particular in delivering it: Bravo!

GALA DINNER

Chef Denis Groison (Chef de Cuisine, Raffles Grill, Raffles Hotel Singapore)

Amuse Bouche

Clams Mariniere with Butter Squash Puree, Vanilla and Saffron Foam with Krug NV

Chef Bruno Menard (Three Michelin Stars, L’Osier Tokyo)

Langoustine et Caviar

Langoustine with Caviar, with Leek Cream and Nori Pistachio Pesto with Morey-Saint Denis 1er Cru “Les Monts-Luisants” Blanc 1999

Chef Didier Elena (Two Michelin Stars, Chateau Les Crayeres, Reims, France)

Coquilles Saint-Jacques

Sea Scallops in a Bouillon with Leek Vinaigrette and Black Truffles with Pinot Noir “Recher Herrenberg” Lange Goldkapsel 2006

Chef Maria-Luisa Valazza (Three Michelin Stars, Al Sorriso, Sorriso, Italy)

Fagottini Di Pasta

Pasta Pillows stuffed with Poppy Seed, filled with Duck, Apple and Black Truffle with Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 1975 and Chateau Figeac 1990

Chef Philippe Labbe (Two Michelin Stars, Chateau de la Chevre d’Or, Eze, France)

L’Agneau De Lait Des Pyrenees

Slow Cooked Lamb Shoulder with Aromatic Herbs, Eggplant and Orange Marmalade with Chateau Haut Brion 1982

Chef Gerard Poulard (Cheese Master)

Fromage

Selection of Farm Cheeses by Master Poulard with Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico 1997 – Allegrini

Chef Gael Etrillard (Raffles Hotel Executive Pastry Chef)

Chocolate Variation

Dark Chocolate Stick, Darjeeling Sorbet

Mignardises

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4 Comments

  1. Posted March 7, 2009 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    Those sea scallops look incredible – what an amazing experience! As you describe so perfectly, a real “festive celebration of life and art” – I love it!

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