Monday, September 28, 2015

Dinner with a bunch of oldies

The idea of a special themed BYO dinner just came towards the end of our last BYO gathering at the end of August. This time it's been decided that the theme was going to be "Wines before 1990", and someone in our group came up of the idea of hosting the dinner at an equally old-ish restaurant The China Club. (Technically speaking the club was only opened in 1991 but the building itself - the Old Bank of China Building - certainly went way back, so that counts!)

I returned from my trip on time to take the wine out of the cabinet at home the night before, moved it to upright position to let the sediments set and bring the bottle up to the right serving temperature. I did go a bit back and forth on which wines to bring that would fit the theme and the food, but at the end I settled for a 1989 Chateau Clerc Milon and 1975 Chateau Suduiraut - both ready to drink I am sure.

It's my first time coming to this rather exclusive venue for dinner at night. While the decor was cheesy old Chinese - something you probably see more often in a Chinatown restaurant or something - overall it's classy and comfortable, and perfectly suitable to set us in the mood of going back in time. They even threw in a live band singing classic Chinese old songs, a kung-fu performance and the noodle making demonstration in the main dining area - basically going the whole nine yard pulling out all the cliche tricks that would certainly impress the hell out any out-of-towner.

With their mainly expatriate clientele in mind, the menu geared towards the more generic Chinese cooking without any regional specifics, along with a number of home-style, old Cantonese dishes. I had the honor of ordering for the group, and having the advantage of knowing the wine line-up, it's not difficult to pick a few dishes that offered variety while working well with our bottles.

We started with a trio of Cantonese roast (crispy pork, char-siu and honey-roasted eel) while sipping on the champers - a 1990 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin. The wine carried good acidity with an elegant note of wheat, working well on the slightly sweet roast meat. From that point on, the dishes just came in the order as they were ready - we are not that picky as in which wine paired with which specific dishes, and just worked our way pretty much from the oldest to the more "recent" vintage.

With a big group, we ordered quite a number of dishes, with everything from the whole Peking Duck to Crispy Chicken to Deep-fried Prawns in Salted Egg Yolk Batter to Braised Pork Belly with Preserved Vegetables, then finished off with a pair of vegetable dishes, fried rice and noodles. All the dishes were very decent actually, better than I expected to be honest, and my favorite was actually the Peking Duck. It's done the more classical way using a more mature duck with both the skin and meat sliced together thick in front of us and served with the usual condiments of leeks, scallions and hoisin sauce in a thin flour pancake. I love the tender duck meat with a good bite and they came in good portion. One whole duck was big enough for the 10 of us, with the rest of the duck finely diced and made into a stir-fry dishes with bamboo shoots, to be eaten with lettuce wrap and a generous smear of hoisin sauce inside.

The Deep-fried Lotus Root Patties was another dish I like. It's a dish rooted from Shunde not far away from here in the Guangdong Province, with diced lotus root, minced pork, dried shrimp, green scallions mixed together and form a thick round patty, then dip in a batter with flour and egg and deep-fried in oil. That with the dip of the worcestershire sauce worked very well with the old red wine we had. The steamed minced beef patty didn't look all too appealing but I love the meaty flavor with a hint of dried fruit peel and the crunchy bits of water chestnut. And the fatty braised pork belly with preserved vegetables was a no brainer choice for pairing with the full-bodied Bordeaux wines. 

Of course, the main attractions of the night were not exactly the food but the wines each of us contributed for an amazing flight of oldies. The "young" champagne was quickly followed by a 1981 Chateau Pontet Canet, which was surprisingly youthful with a strong metallic note, red plum and still some good tannin remaining. Next up was a pair of 1989 Bordeaux - the right bank Chateau Pavie going up against the left bank Chateau Clerc Milon. The Chateau Pavie was a medium-bodied wine with an expressive floral nose, some berries on the palate and very fine tannins to finish, while the Clerc Milon was perfumic as well but with a slightly more intense and deep red fruit note. I personally think the Pavie edged the Clerc Milon in this case, though both were great and absolutely enjoyable.

The 1989 Meerlust was the odd one out of the evening, as that was the only "New World" wine of the evening from Stellenbosch in South Africa. I always think South African wines are somewhat of a neglected gem and this is the first time I had one with such maturity. It's straight-forward compared to the others we had this evening, but it's a comfortable with the ripe dark cherry taste and a chewy tannin giving this some structure. Towards the end we went back to the 1982 Chateau Marquis de Terme, which we have put in a decanter to let it breathe a little more. It has a beautiful nose with a slight cedar and peppery note and sweet spice at the back. It was well-balanced and elegant.

Without any coordination among ourselves we happened to have a pair of sweet wines to finish off our flights, first a vintage port (1989 Quinta do Vesuvio) and then a Sauternes (1975 Chateau Suduiraut) I thought both were fine with our Chinese sweet soup, egg tarts and steamed sponge cake. We even had a 1985 Scotch whisky as our digestif which went down extremely well with the slices of mooncakes, while we had fun cracking open the fortune cookies and see what messages were revealed to each of us.
This is one fine evening with a bunch of oldies - I am talking about the wines of course, and a perfect way to kick off this Moon Festival long weekend. We got to do this more often - wines are best aged in our stomachs, not in a cabinet, I reckon.

More photos on my Flickr album:

When? September 25 2015
Where? The China Club, 13-14th Floor, Old Bank of China Building, Central, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Peking Duck, Deep-fried Lotus Root Patty
1990 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Brut Champagne
1981 Chateau Pontet Canet, Pauillac
1989 Chateau Pavie, St-Emilion
1989 Chateau Clerc Milon, Pauillac
1989 Meerlust, Stellenbosch, South Africa
1982 Chateau Marquis de Terme, Margaux
1989 Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port
1975 Chateau Suduiraut, Sauternes
1985 Longmorn Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky (bottled by Kingsbury in 2013 - Japanese version)

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