Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Pierre Gagnaire

The Pierre Gagnaire review is in the Herald today. The above is the view from our table.

Below is the review in full. It really was a very good lunch. All the touches that you would expect when paying prices such as these were in place. Some of the food was exquisite. All of the food was very good. Just the cinnamon was an issue and in the chefs defence we were asked at the very beginning of the meal if we had any allergies or dislikes. If you have a celebration then now you have a destination.

In addition to all the food mentioned was a final course that could be described as petit fours. Some of these were the traditional biscuity, chocolatey things you might expect. The final was a shot glass of sweet, aromatic, palate cleansing liquid and was just another indication of the cleverness of the kitchen.

Pierre Gagnaire

The opening of Pierre Gagnaire’s restaurant at the top of the Lotte Hotel caused something of a stir in the English press here in Korea. The promise of 3 Michelin star quality food in Seoul was unsurprisingly garnering some excitement, not least from myself. Then there was silence. No reviews, no sign of menus, just the knowledge that the restaurant was there and promising so much pleasure for so much money. As I have previously stated I believe the best way to cope with the growing economic crisis is to indulge in luxury and so I took it upon myself to be the first to offer an English language review and so, as a one off, will only deal scantly with wine today.
Luxury is all about the details. With anything on which you are spending a large proportion of your hard earned cash you expect certain levels of service and satisfaction that generally come down to the details. Stepping out of the express elevator at the 35th floor of Lotte Hotel we were greeted by name into the reception. This is a very good start.
First impressions are also very important and unfortunately, with regards to décor, these were not great. Led through a dimly lit corridor with rooms hidden off to the side, the main dining area is gaudy, gold clad and feels dated in its opulence. However, our table right by the window, looking over the city and mountains quickly dispels any worries about the interior. Eyes will be on the food and the view only.
Immediately on being seated a Champagne cart is wheeled to the table with the Champagne flutes hanging like mini-chandeliers. Having been stung by Champagne prices at the start of a meal in the past and spying Dom Perignon as one of the options I should have politely declined. Instead I asked for the house (read “cheapest”) Champagne and got a crisp refreshing Don Ruinart Blanc de Blanc. Very pleasant but at 55,000 won I should have politely declined.
The two menus offered are not for the faint of heart either. The A La Carte menu is terrifying in its pricing with starters starting at a startling 100,000 won. You can peruse the menu at http://www.pierregagnaire.co.kr/pierre_en/menu_en.pdf. There is however the far more reasonable set lunch offering at 120,000 won. Admittedly, not a cheap lunch, but if you are the sort of person who puts a lot of importance on pleasures of the senses then not a disgrace. You are not just paying for a lunch to fill the belly, you are paying for an experience.
Is the experience up to scratch? Very much so. There is no room to detail everything presented so we will just deal with the highlights. First up are a selection of finger bites, small mouthfuls such as parmesan and chocolate composition and goat’s cheese in a crisp sweet shell. They were all very good and interesting. Then comes the amuse bouche, mouth amusement. I am accustomed to this being a single, small bite that is usually packed with flavour. Here we were presented with five fairly large dishes such as a palate cleansing, yuzu citrus celeriac with a soju foam, a fantastic chicken mousse with crispy chicken skin and something described as mang gae with cumin butter and hot fennel jelly which was strange and amazing. Despite the size and number these were all done with a lightness of touch that left you excited for the rest of the meal.
The only low point for me was the starter proper, cod and squid with a pumpkin veloute. It was perfectly executed but the addition of cinnamon ruined it for me as I only really like it in the company of other spices in a curry.
Main courses gave two choices; sea bass with iberique bacon and a veal salad which was pronounced a great success by my companion and my choice of duck leg with date, ginger, coco and quince accompanied by a French ‘kimchi’ and crispy smoked duck. It was a fantastic dish with savoury and sweet, fat and acid all balancing perfectly with the quince being a real surprise in its delicate sweetness. This is top class cooking.
Dessert comprised three dishes, the stand out being a pineapple, green pepper and ginger ice cream dish with a smear of coriander pesto that worked incredibly and is as good a dessert as I have had. Really inventive, slightly experimental but judged perfectly.
The last sentence could be used to judge the whole experience; it was a beautifully executed meal that managed to balance experimentation with classicism and was a perfectly weighted lunch.
The Marssannay recommended by the sommelier was reasonably priced and matched most of the dishes well, in itself a great challenge. The wine list, to my surprise does include affordable options and despite its favour of French wines offers some real interesting treats.
This was not a cheap lunch but it was a lunch that I consider to be great value. Cooking of this quality is rare in all but the world’s top cities and having a destination restaurant like this is a real bonus for Seoul. While 100 dollar starters can survive the economic down turn then there is a gem at the top of Lotte Hotel.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Les Vin Maeil

Back in the day, pre-Gangnam, I spoke a lot about Les Vin Maeil. Jamsil was the nearest, most accessible area of Seoul and so this was the shop that took most of my money. I splashed the cash about elsewhere admittedly, but this was the shop that I had most affection for. Then we moved and there were nearer, sometimes cheaper shops that caught my attention and I neglected my first discovery. This was a mistake.

Les Vin Maeil is excellent. In terms of bringing new wine into the country they seem to be a cut above the competitors. It was the first place I saw sherry here and now they have a sherry range. Fino, Manzanilla, Oloroso, and Pedro Ximenez. Given how underrated sherry is in the rest of the world that they are pushing them in Korea is excellent. I picked up a Manzanilla for 20,000 and will give it a write up in the coming week.

The range of white wines they have is also a cut above the competition. They had the Goats Do Roam red and I expressed, on here, a wish for them to bring in the white too. Well, my wish was granted and it is on sale for 24,000 won.

You may hate the name, Goats Do Roam being a pun on Cote Du Rhone, but the wines are excellent. I have talked about the red before, a blend of Rhone varietals, and the white is a similar story with it being based on the great white of the Rhone, Condrieu. This means it is primarily a Viognier based wine and it is an excellent example. Wonderfully aromatic, your nose is treated to a heady peach and apricot salad that follows through to the palate with acidity that gives a suggestion of red grapefruit. It is beautifully balanced, has excellent length and is a wine I will be buying much more of. This is one I really do think you should be hunting down. Now. Go on. Go and buy one. You will like it. It is good.

Also, they have a wine from the same producer called the Goatfather. It is a blend of Italian varietals. I have a bottle. When I drink it I will write it.

South Africa seems to be doing the business for me at the minute!

The Pierre Gagnaire review is coming. It is written. I am waiting on the Herald.


Saturday, February 07, 2009

Whisky Whiskey

WSET, the body with whom I am undertaking my studies, take their letters from Wine, Spirit, Education and Trust. Wine, Education and Trust I think I am doing alright with here. You feel educated and trust each and every post I assume? Spirit? Not so good. I post each review in good spirit(don't trust me) but actual spirits....and education....nah. Spirits tend to be the short refreshing drink I have when my gut is full of beer at 2 in the morning. It happens.

However, a vertical tasting of scotch over Christmas has created a spark, a burning ember of interest that will only be extinguished by throwing lots of money and hangovers at it.

My expertise is fledgling. I know how to taste but I am not sure what I am tasting. I know what I like(and I like what I bloody well know) but I don't know why I like it.

Anyway. I have 2 bottles here now. A 15 year old Glenfiddich and the above Johnny Walker Black Label. The former is a single malt with 15(the clue is in the name) years of age and the latter is a blend with 12 years of age. They are both good. I read good things about the black label, comments such as 'My desert island whisky' and 'The blenders blend'. I knew Johnny Walker was widely available here and so figured it would be reasonably priced. I was right, 38,000 won at EMart. It is smokey, a little peaty and moreish.
The Gelnfiddich is a smoother, richer affair with it's time in barrel lending a chocolate creaminess with a hint of sherry nuttiness. I like it better and it is more expensive. Who'd have thunk it?

My good friend prefers the Black Label which just goes to show other people are not as bright as me.

I need to drink more. I need more blends and I need more single malts. I am a blank book. Influence me.

Having drunk 2 too many beers and doing a whisky tasting last night my next recommendation has to be Solpadeine plus. The drinkers friend available nowhere in Korea.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Public Service Announcement

Just a quick one to let all you romantic fools know that Emart are running a sale on all sparkling wine for Valentines. So, Moet about 53,000 won, Pol Roger about 88,000 won and Pol Roger 1999 about 100,000 won.

All the new world and cheapy sparklys are on sale as well if you are that way inclined.


Edit: Let's not talk about my spelling.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Pazzo Barrantes Albarino 2005

Pazzo Barrantes Albarino 2005
Around 30,000won Cep D'Or Gangnam
It has been a while since I pulled out a wine review for wine in Korea.
However, this is something of note as it is a grape variety that I have not seen here before and for that is exciting. Yeah, exciting.

Albarino(Albarinho? Not sure about the h.) is a, largely, Spanish white varietal that has stirred up some interest in the UK. It tends to be expensive, however, and so is not likely to be worrying the top sellers any time soon.

It can be a really aromatic, peachy wine with the ability to age making it more interesting than a bottle of cheap Sauvignon Blanc no? No?

This is an almost golden coloured wine and was darker than I was expecting for sure. The nose was very mute with a slight honeyed orange peel quality to it. So what it lacked in intensity it made up for in being appealing.
It is a refreshing and light glass with some good, crisp citrus fruit combining with a soft mouth feel. This makes it very easy to drink with the acidity and softness making it a bit of a quaffer. It developed more body in the glass with temperature and this saw the apperance of some more plumy/pear characteristics. This is a nice wine and definitely a nice change from the ubiquity of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

I would say hunt it down but when I went back to get another bottle they had sold out. I'll update if it comes back.

Exciting see!

In my defence, blogger is blocked at work and so I am messing with publishing from google docs and thereforeI have got a bit bogged down in the geeky side of things rather than the winey side of things. The editing options in google docs appear to be cack. Still, it seems to be working so now I can work on being exciting.

The Gagnaire review is coming. Spoiler...........it was good.