Saturday, 14 March 2015

Review: Lunch at the Royal Pavilion, Park Regis with Winemaker Cornelius Dönnhoff

Weingut Herrmann Dönnhoff has a special place in my heart.  It was a taste of its 2001 Oberhauser Brucke Riesling Eiswein that first opened my eyes to the beauty and versatility of Riesling.  When Boon Heng of Wein & Vin told us that he would be pouring Dönnhoff's 2011 Eiswein at a winemaker lunch with Cornelius Dönnhoff, I replied to Boon's invitation within 2 minutes of receiving it.  Which was just as well because all ten places were booked within 6 minutes of Boon sending it!

Boon successfully added to the mystery by not announcing the venue until two days before the event.  What he came up with was a surprise: Royal Pavilion at the Park Regis near Clarke Quay.  I had never heard of the restaurant before, and "Park Regis" sounded like a cheap hybrid rip-off of the Park Hyatt and St Regis.  The hotel itself doesn't look like much, but the restaurant has that old-fashioned grandeur that I absolutely adore in a good Cantonese eatery.

One of the Private Rooms at the Royal Pavilion, Park Regis

Appetiser: Seared Hokkaido Scallop with Cured Lotus Root and Fruit Salad
Wine Pairing: 2010 Dönnhoff Gewurztraminer Trocken

Unusual start.  It is not without its charms, but the overwhelming impression was one of overdone sweetness.  The fruit salad, with honeydew, strawberry, rockmelon in a mayonnaise-based sauce redolent with lemongrass and hints of fish sauce.  The cure on the lotus makes it rather sweet and syrupy.  The scallop, however, is not seared enough for me, missing the lovely caramelisation that you can / should get with a perfect seared scallop.

The Gewurz is a dry rendition, originally poured too cold but which opens up with a taut minerality as it warms up in the glass.  My personal preference, though (and which I think would be a better pairing for the sweet and spicy flavours of the dish) is for the richer yet still structured Gewurzes such as the beautiful Cuvee Laurence 2009 from Domaine Weinbach, Alsace.  Apparently, Cornelius uprooted the Gewurztraminer vines from this plot after the 2012 vintage and replanted them with Riesling, so you won't be seeing this label again in Dönnhoff's future releases.

Intermezzo: Fried Fish Skin with Salted Egg Yolk Sauce


This was recommended by our friends J and M, who actually recommended Royal Pavilion to Boon when he ran out of ideas for venues in the busy lead-up to Chinese New Year.  It was good, with the salted egg yolk (actually not very salty) adding a nice creamy texture and X-factor to the traditional banquet opener.  It was, however, a bit oily and not perfectly crispy, which suggested that the dish was plated in a hurry without letting the oil drain properly.

Second Appetiser: Deep-Fried Home-Made Taufu with White Truffle Sauce
Wine Pairing: 2009 Dönnhoff Weissburgunder "S"


When the dish is presented to us, I don't smell any white truffle oil (you would be hard pressed to expect any real white truffle in a Cantonese restaurant).  It is only when I lift a morsel of the taufu to my lips that the sweaty socks-and-jocks smell of white truffle oil becomes apparent.  Now this is never a bad thing, because truffle oil abuse is one of the worst culinary crimes committed by Chinese restaurants in Singapore.  Just as I was about to give credit to the kitchen for their remarkable restraint, I learn that Boon had asked them to tone down the truffle oil quotient.

That aside, the spinach-blended taufu is delicious, with a rich and creamy interior contrasting against a lightly crispy exterior.  Nameko mushrooms and blanched xiao bai cai add crunch and texture to the dish.  Excellent.  The Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc, not Chardonnay) "S" is named for the large stückfäss barrels in which the wine was matured on its lees for 6+ months.  Quite a few guests at the table thought this was a Chardonnay, which I guess is some sort of compliment.

Royal Smoked Duck with Lychee Wood and Leaves
Wine Pairing: 2009 Dönnhoff Niederhauser Herrmannshöhle Grosses Gewachs


Excellent, with a nice aroma from smoking prior to roasting.  The duck meat remains tender and juicy, although I wished I had more of it.  For my palate, the Riesling did not quite have the minerality and vitality that marks a great dry Riesling.  It may well have been that the gamy, smoky  flavour of the duck (not to mention the sweet-sour electricity of the sour plum glaze) had simply overwhelmed the Riesling.  I would like to revisit this wine with a lighter fish or white meat preparation.

Roasted Suckling Pig in Three Services
Wine Pairing: 2011 Dönnhoff Niederhauser Herrmannshöhle Riesling Spatlese Alte Reben (Auktion)

Of course, before I begin my dissertation on the three services, I need to throw in some obligatory pig porn.


First Service: Crispy Skin with Pancakes, Onion and Cucumber


Good.  Skin was suitably thin and crispy, and neatly trimmed leaving behind the subcutaneous fat.

Second Service: The Flesh


After the first service, we saw the skinned little piggies lying spreadeagled on their platters.  Now I hadn't had enough to eat at that point and because we hadn't been told it was coming back for two more courses, I was about to launch a putsch of my own.  Thankfully, the staff returned with cuts of the meat from the legs.  Good, tender and slightly gamey.

Third Service: The Salty, Crispy Bits


Crackly, salty, crispy.  This is archetypal beer food, Chinese-style, so I loved that we were spoilt with a limited release old vine Riesling Spatlese.  This was the wine of the day for me, gorgeously aromatic and chock-full of apples and quinces, dizzying intensity on the palate but light on texture, with simply brilliant balance that would put a tightrope walker to shame.  I could drink this all day every day, except my bank manager may have something to say about that.  Stunning stuff.

Dessert: Lime Lemonade with Aloe Vera and Lemongrass Jelly
Wine Pairing: 2011 Dönnhoff Oberhäuser Brücke Riesling Eiswein



I really enjoyed this dessert, with the lemongrass-lime jelly giving a nice savoury kick which cut through the syrupy sweet-sour lemonade.

And what about the Eiswein, my ostensible pretext for attending this lunch?  I had the pleasure of pre-tasting the wine with Boon (something to do with checking the wine for flawed bottles, allegedly) and it is truly hedonism given liquid form.  This is the kind of wine that will make you feel weak at the knees at first taste.  However, one of the joys of having a young late-harvest wine, particularly a Riesling, is the beautiful struggle on the palate between sweetness and acidity.  For me, the 2011 is light on acidity so the wine does get cloying after a while.  It is still a remarkable wine, but really not in the same league as the 2001.

Conclusion

A most enjoyable lunch, and I like that Boon has brought out genius winemakers such as Olivier Humbrecht and Cornelius Dönnhoff to our shores in the last six months.  They are two very different personalities, but you can tell that the are both absolutely, fanatically committed to producing the very best wines from their remarkable terroirs.

As for Royal Pavilion, the food is pretty good.  The experience is not revelationary, but it is pretty good.  The fact that it is not (yet) very widely-known means that it does not have the massive weekend waiting lists that plague places like Hua Ting, so people looking for a good last-minute Cantonese meal should definitely consider Royal Pavilion.  Its BYO-friendly no-corkage policy may soon also find it a few more friends within wine-drinking circles.

ROYAL PAVILION
Park Regis Hotel
23 Merchant Road
Singapore 058268
Tel: +65 6818 8851
BYO Policy: Corkage-free.  Please click here for a list of Singapore restaurants which allow BYO, and their corkage policies.

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