00.12am, Thursday 21st February, M50 freeway between Greystones and Dublin, Ireland
Probably not the best time to be writing up the most extraordinary wine food crossover dinner, seeing as Bridget (our gal from the Cassidy family operation in Ireland that looks after us in Dublin) is driving us back to the city a bit like James Bond would! Good thing I only type on the I pad with one finger anyway – leaves the other hand free to hang on!
We’ve just left Chakra, which is the ‘modern Indian’ restaurant in Greystones – its own village neighbourhood separated from Dublin downtown by the hills. Chakra is one of the Jaipur family of restaurants, and the ringmaster in this whole affair is Asheesh, who I’m pleased to say, adopted us when we first met 8 years ago in the original Jaipur – still on St George’s Street. We were hosting a “lets introduce Yalumba to the local Dublin retail and restaurant trade” event for 50 RSVPd guests – which ended up an Indian version of the ‘loaves and fishes’ moment! Not sure how the boys in the kitchen did it that night, but we fed 100 people split between the mezzanine and downstairs…..all with a minimum of flurry! I’ll never forget it, and each time we come to town, we always do something at one of the Jaipur group stoves. Hence our wine and food matching dinner last night.
Once you’re in Greystones, Chakra is above the high street, opposite the Hungry Monk. However, once you go up that single flight of stairs, it’s like you’ve taken a quick magic carpet flit through to the ‘exotic zone’! At the entrance is a beaten metal vat holding floating floral buds a la lotus style, then it’s into the warm copper, bronze, sand and stone ochre colours that roll from the carpets up the walls and onto the high ceiling. The colours are like these out in the coat hall
Now lets get to the food. Asheesh and the the chefs Satish and Lalit put together several dishes that combined seasonal produce and mostly Northern Indian spice and cooking method, then sent them through to us to match as best we could our most appropriate wine…..what helped was that having worked with the Jaipur boys before, we knew that they’d be aromatic and high spice across the board, and that the sauces and glazes would be magic, and that pretty much what the words on the paper for each dish said – would be what we got! And with wine and food pairing, the idea is just not to clash. If you get that ‘hand in the glove’ combo, all the better, but we were looking to slide in under the aromatics and complement the textures, so here’s how we went. Sorry we didn’t get photos of all the dishes – no excuse other than getting around all the tables and answering 20 wine questions, and trying at least to taste each combo!
Opening food of the evening was a ‘Lentil Cake – Northern street side semolina puffs with long soaked mixed beans, yoghurt, mint and cumin essence’ that we paired with the 2012 Yalumba Y Series Riesling. I wish I had a photo of the lentil cake – it was actually a nearly complete ‘eggshell’ shape semolina brittle skin puff sitting on a ‘footstool’ of the lentil paste kneaded with a dash of oil into a soft dough, laced with ginger. Inside the puff were the soft spiced beans, pomegranate seeds, and the yoghurt. Our lemon lime Riesling with a zesty length of flavour was exactly the right thing the lentil cake was looking for! One out of one so far.
Next was the ‘Squid Salad – baby squid, mango, corn, roasted and puffed rice with chilli tamarind balsamic’. Now folks, I’m allergic to squid, so didn’t go near this course, but the clouds of aroma that floated around the room as it was served were so good I was seriously tempted to risk the reaction! We put our 2010 Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier to work here, because the slippery stone fruit flavours would work with especially the chilli tamarind, and the easiest gauge of whether it all worked was the unanimous call from all the diners present to have this combination added to the Chakra menu as a permanent fixture.
To give the palates a break, out came a ‘Carrot, Sweet Mustard and fennel seed salt sorbet topped with scorched Demerara sugar’ This was like a health juice turned into a slushie! Fresh, cleansing, and just that bit savoury and sweet at the same time. This time I did get a photo.
On to the meat. This is an unusual one for a northern Indian approach…..rabbit. ‘Wild Rabbit leg with brown onion and a dry spice rub, served with butternut squash and aged basmati risotto’. Notice it’s just ‘a dry spice rub’ – which gives nothing away! There was something very special going on here spicewise and it was the darker end of the spectrum. Also, the rabbit leg was stuffed with rice, and the outer skin baked crispy. We put both the 2005 Yalumba The Menzies Coonawarra Cabernet and the new release 2008 Yalumba The Signature Cabernet Shiraz on with the rabbit – purely to see how the leaner cassis driven European palate friendly 100% Cabernet might travel, compared with the classic Australian Blend of the Cabernet filled out with some rich, velvety, juicy dark Shiraz. The Menzies Cabernet did a good job, but the Signature Cabernet Shiraz won the night! The black pepper and Christmas pudding spices of clove and cinnamon just had the extra X factor stuff that wrapped up the rabbit dish beautifully. Excellent exercise though, which is what these evenings are all about. The photo doesn’t do it justice but here goes
And then…dessert! Just listed as ‘Chocolate – Dark chocolate mousse, caramel ream and passion fruit sorbet with fennel’ I did get a magic picture of this on the new I phone I was issued with last week – it’s at the twitter moment I’m doing @barossasaint if you’re interested.
This dessert was ‘outta the park’! Seriously, the best sweet thing I’ve seen on a plate for absolutely ages! Picture this. In the middle of the plate, you have what looks like a maccaron sitting on its edge – glued with chocolate paste – in the middle of a moulded ‘swimming pool’ of chilled caramel cream, that has a choc shatterbiscuit base. That’s my own word there folks, trying to describe the brittle shards of brittle baked choc biscuity bits held together who knows how, that just crumble apart when you bite in! And if that wasn’t enough, the garnishes were a couple of sugar toffee coated blanched whole almonds, a half candied cumquat, and a spoonful of mouthbendingly tart passion fruit mousse laced with whole caraway seeds. Oh…..did I mention there was raspberry jam inside the maccaron?
And which wine did we put with this fabulous mountain of sweets? Our Museum Muscat – a fortified (that means spirit added to the ferment early in the piece to ‘flash capture’ the fruit aromas and flavours) wine with raisin, honey, maple syrup and toffee going on…..and on…..and on! It’s called a ‘stickie’ for a reason, and it was a very nice kiss goodnight finish to our dinner with Chakra.
And just think. Only 12 months until we’re back to do it all again. Thanks Chakra, thanks to the rest of the Jaipur family, and thanks Greystones!!