Sunday, 7 June 2015

Review of Dolce Vita, the Mandarin Oriental Singapore - Living the Sweet Life

The Mandarin Oriental Singapore has started to grow on me again.  I've hosted a few events at Dolce Vita and Cherry Garden in the last 12 months, visited for meals on a couple of other occasions, and walked away very impressed each time.  

I think the photo below (incidentally part of the table setting at the recent Dolce Vita dinner which I am reviewing in this post) represents my sentiments quite well.  They are excellent restaurants, beautifully presented and engaging.  I am not suggesting that they are perfect, or that my dining experiences there were flawless, but whatever minor shortcomings there were made the place seem almost more endearing, just like the little caterpillar.

This dinner at Dolce Vita was to celebrate the arrival of Baby No. 2, who incidentally is the prime reason for the lack of recent activity on this blog.  To celebrate this auspicious occasion, I brought some rather more special wines (compared to my usual liquid diet, in any event) along for the dinner.  Inthran Ramasamy, head sommelier at the Mandarin Oriental, was a great help with the wine pairings.

The photos in this post are courtesy of my dear friends Liz and Andrew, whose company I was very glad to have on that evening.

Amuse-Bouche: Brandade of Salted Cod, Croutons
Wine Pairing: 1999 Champagne Pol Roger, Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill

I joked that just as Baby No. 2 was getting clothing hand-me-downs from her older sister, she was also getting wine hand-me-downs, as this bottle came from a case I had set aside to celebrate No. 1's birth over two years ago!  The wine is still gorgeous, not as vigorous and palate-enveloping as it was before, but now taking on the distinctive torrefaction (roasty, nutty, subtle coffee) notes of age.  I'm not sure it is going to improve, but it will definitely evolve over the next decade.  I still have three bottles so will be watching with much interest.

The brandade is very good, savoury, creamy and livened up with the addition of croutons.  Such is my lack of shame that I ask for another one (Andrew and I had finished ours before realising that we had forgotten to snap a photo!)

First Entrée: Scallop Carpaccio with Caviar
Wine Pairing: 2007 Famille Hugel Riesling "Jubilee" (Grand Cru Schoenenbourg); 2010 A & P de Villaine Bourgogne Cote Chalonnaise

A feast for the eyes as well as the palate, the scallop provided a sweet canvas against the character of the various caviars (salmon roe, avruga, wasabi).  A little cracker on the side, which looked and tasted like a super-crispy keropok udang (prawn cracker), was a bit out of place but nevertheless delicious.

The Hugel Riesling, its acids finally softening after 8 years of  bottle age, is starting to manifest its 8 grams of residual sugar in a slightly off-dry-ish finish.  I felt it was drinking better last year when it left a much drier impression, but I hope sincerely that this was merely an instance of bottle variation.  The second wine, courtesy of Liz and made by the proprietors of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, was a strikingly pure and clean expression of chardonnay that perhaps matched better with the scallops on the evening.

Second Entrée: Fegato Grasso, Soft Polenta, Grapes, Balsamic Reduction
Wine Pairings: 2010 Herrmann Donnhoff Oberhauser Brucke Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel; 2002 Domaine Ernest Burn Tokay Pinot Gris Grand Cru Goldert "Clos St Imer"; 2008 Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Rangen de Thann "Clos St Urbain"

AKA foie gras aka meat butter, this is an excellent rendition of a Western culinary staple (for my overseas readers, yes, this IS the level of decadence we have reached in Singapore).  The foie gras is seared well on both sides, not necessarily a given at many restaurants, while the interior of the liver remains custardy and tender.  The use of polenta is inspired, giving an unusual Italian touch to the dish.  Very often, when you order foie gras in an Italian restaurant in Singapore, there is nothing on the plate to remind you that you are eating at an Italian restaurant.  I am glad that was not the case here.

We were truly spoilt for wines with this course, with Mel bringing an Alsatian bottle old enough to be legally labelled "Tokay Pinot Gris".  For me, the Riesling, light and ethereal and not too sweet, went best with the liver, although Inthran said that without the distraction of food, he found the Z-H to be the most memorable wine.

Pasta Course: Venison Ragout with Strozzapretti Pasta
Wine Pairing: 2013 Tolpuddle Pinot Noir, Tasmania

I am a traditionalist at heart, and you need nothing more than al dente pasta, a slow-cooked ragu and a couple of shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano over the top to win me over.  This was all that, and I was really glad that amidst a couple of the more modern touches, Chef Omar Bernardi had the presence of mind to also show that he is a good technician with the classics.  Brilliant.  The Tolpuddle wasn't bad either, but was waaaaaaaaay too young.

Main Course: Slow-Cooked Beef Short Rib
Wine Pairing: 2010 Marchesi Antinori Pian delle Vigne Brunello di Montalcino

Very classic and superbly executed.  The meat is so tender it falls apart when you breathe in (well, almost), and the vegetables are just cooked so their texture and flavour are beautifully preserved.  I would have liked a bit more sauce, personally, but many of my guests were moved to exclamation.  The Brunello served its purpose well, but I must admit I was still in the clouds with the Sir Winston and the superb trio of aromatic whites.

Cheese: Assorted Italian Cheese Platter

I don't know much about Italian cheese, but these were very pleasant, and the accompaniments of seeded crackers and dried fruit were very good.  They're not going to make you want to abandon French cheeses anytime soon, but still very good nevertheless.

At my invitation, Bernardi decided on a glass of the Brunello and toasted us, thanking us for our support.  Now I am not an arbiter of taste, but how I wish he had chosen any of the other far more remarkable wines that we had at the table.

Pudding: 1989 Domaine Huet Vouvray Moelleux, Le Mont Premiere Trie "Fin de Pressee"

In lieu of dessert, I brought a bottle of this charmer, which was my undisputed wine-of-the-night.  I'm not sure I have the words to describe it, but it is still a baby and has the goods to run at least a couple more decades.

In many ways, this wine, and what it represents, captures a lot of the spirit, the respect for tradition, that drives so much of my love for food and wine.  

In 2002, Gaston Huet, the owner and founder of Domaine Huet, passed away, leaving the estate to his son-in-law, Noel Pinguet.  In 2003, to pay off the punitive French inheritance taxes, Pinguet sold a controlling interest in the domaine to Anthony Hwang, a Filipino-American businessman, but remained as chief winemaker.  However, Pinguet retained ownership of the winery's stocks of pre-1975 Huet vintages, as well the great 1989 vintage, which were being aged in the domaine's  tuffau limestone cellars (the Hwangs believed that they held the distribution rights as part of the sale).  Pinguet left the estate in 2012, apparently on bad terms, after which he sold some 2,000 cases of old wine to Berry Bros & Rudd, disappointing the Hwangs and giving me (as a BB&R customer) an opportunity to set aside a few of these choice vintages.

Apart from having the requisite elements of a particularly wine-geeky soap opera, this episode illustrates perfectly our entrance into a brave new world, in which longstanding family traditions are abandoned to the whims of newcomers.  In one my more fevered imaginings, this bottle afforded perhaps a glimpse back to those necessarily more innocent years, when wine was more about enjoyment and conviviality than money, Parker points and big international investors.  That the wine was superlative merely added to the emotion. 


I used to be a habitue at Dolce Vita back in 2009-10 when they ran a series of excellent wine dinners.  The wine dinners stopped, and I stopped darkening the doors of the Mandarin Oriental for a time.  In the last couple of years, the infusion of new leadership seems to have revitalised the hotel's F&B operations, and I need to give a lot of credit to Inthran, F&B Director Etienne Francois and Director of Restaurants Jan Imhoff.  These are gentlemen whose appreciation of the art of hospitality seems positively old-fashioned, despite them actually being quite young, and who seem to really love their jobs.

I normally don't have much time for poolside restaurants, believing them to be the sunny equivalent of the hotel lobby lounge.  But in the hands of this triumvirate and Chef Bernardi, the relaxed feel of the Dolce Vita room actually seems right.  Bernardi, whom I understand joined from the Hilton, seems to be really hitting his stride after moderating his earlier unbridled flights of fancy.

I'm not going to embarrass the folks at Dolce Vita, but I should let you know that with a bit of forward planning and consultation with management, all of the above food set me back $100 nett per head.  For the quality and quantity of food that we had, the sterling quality of the wine service (thanks to Inthran) and the surrounds, that strikes me as being simply unbeatable value.

The Mandarin Oriental Singapore
Level 5, 5 Raffles Avenue,
Marina Square 039797
Tel: +65 6885 3500
BYO Policy: $50++ per 750mL bottle only, but please call ahead to enquire.  Please click here for a list of Singapore restaurants which allow BYO, and their corkage policies.
Reservations recommended

1 comment:

  1. $100 nett is with waiver of corkage?