Sunday, 23 September 2012

Wine and Teochew Food at Chao Shan Cuisine, Beach Road

Chao Shan Cuisine is a place where many great vintages go to die.  Its subtle Teochew cuisine is said to present a perfect pairing with most types of wine, winning it a place in the hearts of many wine lovers in Singapore.  That and the fact they do not charge corkage and provide good stemware for their regulars.  I had promised our friend S a bottle of Les Amoureuses when he passed his CSW exam, so it was my pleasure to make my way to Chao Shan Cuisine last Friday, bottle in hand.

Sure enough, looking around the dining room confirmed our suspicions.  Out of the five other tables present, two were engaged in some serious blind tasting.  Some of those who were not seriously blind tasting were getting seriously blind – a large table of local Chinese businessmen were surreptitiously “decanting” bottles of whiskey and cognac into teapots and drinking them from large glasses, getting more and more boisterous while their wives at a separate table looked more and more bored.

This was our wine list for the evening:

-          2010 Domaine Bernard-Bonin Meursault 1er Cru, “Champs-Dessus”;
-          2010 François Bertheau Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru, “Les Amoureuses”; (all of you in the back of the room chanting “infanticide” may feel free to  quieten down a bit);
-          2001 Domaine Pierre Damoy, Chambertin Clos-de-Bèze;
-          1996 Chateau Léoville-Poyferré, Saint-Julien; and
-          2008 Domaine Weinbach Pinot Gris Altenbourg Vendanges Tardives, Trié Speciale.

First Course: Appetiser Platter

It came with more prawn balls, but my camera was beaten by others' chopsticks
We started off with Teochew pork and liver rolls and fried prawn balls, which were not a bad way to begin proceedings.  The Meursault gave off a bouquet of ripe honeydew and tantalised the palate with minerals.

Second Course: Teochew-style Steamed Parrot Fish

Delicious; the flesh was perfectly cooked and sweet, working beautifully with the lightly sour broth of fish juices, sour plum, tomatoes and shiitake mushrooms.  Finding its own internal balance and harmony, this dish didn’t really need wine.

Third Course: Suckling Pig

This was not particularly impressive, although the fact that I missed lunch made its consumption an imperative for survival rather than enjoyment.  Some of the skin was not crisped up, and it falls way short of the Segovian-style suckling pig I enjoyed at Catalunya.  The Amoureuses got its first showing here; notwithstanding its youth, it was also too cold and hence too closed to make much of an impact, although it blossomed later on in the evening, displaying an extraordinarily persistent finish.

The Clos-de-Bèze, however, was beautiful, with a ripe red fruit, almost caramel nose – easily the best bottle of Clos-de-Bèze I’ve had the privilege of tasting.  According to W, our resident Burgundy expert, Clos-de-Bèze is said to trap heat more than Chambertin due to the fact that it’s walled-up, and its wines are supposed to be riper and more approachable in its youth.  Up until now, the Clos-de-Bèzes I’ve sampled (and I’ve had some pretty good ones including a 2001 Rousseau) have paled in comparison to Chambertin proper; with this bottle, I kinda started to understand what all the fuss was about.

Fourth Course: Oyster omelette. 

Crispy and tasty and slightly greasy.  Good but nothing to shout about.  It was around this time that our alcoholic friends next door took their leave.  It’s hard to convince your wives that you were drinking Chinese tea when you’re staggering out on sea legs and slurring your speech after a couple of hours.

Fifth Course: Wild Boar

Stewed wild boar, nice, chewy and meaty with strong flavours of star anise and dong quai.  Little curls of pork rind were gelatinous little texture bombs and as delectable as they were cute.  The Poyferré was carted out at this stage.  Nose was massive, a big contrast to our Burgundian friends, but it was still quite impenetrable on the palate.  Needed another few years before approaching again.

Sixth Course: Stir-fried Chives with Salted Fish, Straw Mushrooms and Garlic

Fresh, crunchy and a much-needed palate cleanser.

Seventh Course: Water Chestnut “Biscuit” Topped with Crushed Peanuts

S and I looked at each other in horror.  Was this the end of our repast?  The Bordeaux was mostly untouched and we still had a few inches of Burgundy left, not to mention the Weinbach, waiting patiently for its moment like a substitute on the sidelines of a Champions League match.  W, who had organised the food, must have been wondering what sort of company he found himself in.  “What would you guys like?” he asked.  “Meat!”  S and I replied almost instantaneously.  We ticked off what they did not have (beef, venison, etc.) and settled on more pork.

Oh, the biscuit, yes.  Lightly crispy from the edges from pan-frying, and not very sweet at all, although a tad greasier than I would have liked.  Looking back, I think the Weinbach with its 140 grams of residual sugar would have done a hatchet job on it.  W reassured us that we could have another helping or dessert later.

Eighth Course: DIY Pork Belly Buns

Pork Belly Bun - après assemblage
Very nice, with unctuous, fatty pork belly given some fresh, green snap with coriander.  I laughed to think at the way Momofuku had conquered parts of the Western world with this simple, home-style dish.  Good authentic Chinese food doesn’t have to come with a “celebrity chef” premium, although I suspect when David Chang does open here, hordes of fashion-driven affluent Singaporeans will queue (or not) at this doorstep, salivating at the prospect of paying a fine-dining price for a hearty, home-style preparation.  The leafy, tannic Poyferré carried this strongly-flavoured dish well, and had enough in reserve to work through the fattiness.

Ninth Course: ???

The "Super Sub", standing in for dessert
By the time justice was meted out to the pork buns, the kitchen was closed.  No more orh nee (Teochew yam paste), not even another serve of the water chestnut “biscuit”.  Damn.  The Weinbach was still within its bottle, feeling unloved and rejected.  Someone came up with the bright idea of taking it to McDonalds and having it with apple pie, but he was overruled by a majority who wanted to drink it in lieu of dessert (OK, it was me).

A few F-words were thrown about, in the context of “F---, this is really good!”  When you can impress our hardened bunch of alcos with a sweet wine, you know it’s something special.  The racy acidity and structure were still there, along with notes of baked apples, spice and tea; just as beautiful as when we tasted it at the Clos des Capucins almost exactly a year ago.  Check out the temptingly raw-sugar-esque tartrate crystals at the bottom of the glass:

A good night was had by all, with food adding up to S$50 a head for a table of 5.  We really need more excuses to celebrate.

85 Beach Road
Singapore 189694
Tel: (+65) 6336 2390

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