June 26, 2014

Principal Aikens

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It was finally my turn to host an MNSC dinner tonight, and we settled on the date back at our last dinner.  I had called around to a couple of the best places in town to secure a private room for ourselves, and was looking forward to going back to a place I hadn't been for a long time, when Lord Rayas suggested that I host it at the Principal.  As it turns out, Tom Aikens would be doing a guest chef stint on that very evening.   We had a pretty good experience last year when Jason Atherton came to the Principal, so I had happily agreed.

For some reason, the menu did not include amuses bouches from Tom, so we got them from the Principal's own kitchen...

Watermelon and sangria

Truffle puff and Anchovies

Crab, horseradish, coconut - kinda interesting...

Cauliflower pannacotta, sweetened golden raisins, truffle, mace flavoured gin - the panna cotta was pretty good, and of course I just love cauliflower.  The raisins also made it a little interesting.

Beef tartare, juniper and coriander emulsion, pickled maitake - also with cubes of radish and some kind of grated cheese (like Pecorino?)

Baked cod with ash, beef brisket, asparagus salad, asparagus bouillon - pretty damn good.  I love cod for its juicy, succulent texture, and having a big chunk of it was just really satisfying.  Yum.

Piglet belly, confit squid, roast pineapple - how do I not like pork belly, especially from a piglet?  Loved the acidity from the pineapple, which worked really well with the pork.  The confit squid was a little curious, but I didn't mind as long as it didn't clash with the pork.

And this is the point where our dinner took an interesting turn... The Ox and a couple of others were complaining about the portion size and the amount of food we've had so far, and wanted something extra.  So we called up the Butchers Club Burgers, found out that their last order was in a matter of minutes, and proceeded to run out of the Principal, en masse, and went down a couple of blocks for a "pre-dessert".

The Ox ordered us four burgers, and he got them well-done (but why?!).  The seven of us would each have half, and one particularly greedy piggy ended up inhaling a whole burger by himself.  To be honest, I wasn't exactly starving, but I probably polished off my half in no more than 3 or 4 bites...  I wouldn't have gotten it well-done myself, but what this meant was the exterior of the patty was pretty charred, which was nice.  The ciabatta was OK, but I prefer other types of buns.  I think I remember having one, maybe two sticks of duck fat fries...

I think the sight of a bunch of guys, half-drunk, running into Butchers Club Burgers just before closing time, clutching two empty wine bottles... was probably a pretty strange sight...  And this burger run was certainly unpredecented - both in the history of MNSC, and also within my own dining experiences.

Apple Yoghurt, cinnamon twigs, compressed apple - we went back to the Principal to finish dinner with dessert.  This was not bad, as there was a good mix both in terms of flavors (dairy/acidity for yogurt, spice for twigs and acidity for apple) as well as different textures (creamy for yogurt, crunchy and flaky for twigs, and crunchy for apple).

But tonight wine takes center stage, and I had been mulling over the line up for some time.  I still can't live down the experience of hosting the lowest-scoring MNSC tasting in history two years ago, and I was determined not to do something similar this year, regardless of how interest that tasting actually was...

I left the wines in the care of Senki at the Principal, with no instructions about how they should be served... other than the order of the last 2 pairs.  He made the decision to double-decant the wines 2 hours before we even showed up for dinner, with almost no gap between the flights.  That was a pretty ballsy move... and one that left us a little worried at first.  As it turns out, the timing was just about right for the first three pairs, with no sign that the wines had suffered from the extended aeration.  But we ended up drinking the final pair a little later than planned, so the sweet fruit had gone by then...

1970 Cuvée Dom Pérignon - really mature and caramelized, Chinese licorice (甘草), sugar cane and water chestnut water (竹蔗茅根水), orange marmalade, salty plum (話梅) notes.  Slightly bitter and a little short.

This Champagne was now showing a beautiful hue... after almost 44 years in bottle.

First pair: double-decanted 2½ hours before serving
1999 Armand Rousseau Chambertin - heavy nose of toasty corn, sweet and ripe, with lots of black cherries.  95 points.

1999 Guigal La Landonne - very smoky, a little floral, some leather, with a hint of pencil lead.  Very rich.  96 points.

Second pair: double-decanted more than 3 hours prior to serving
1989 Guigal La Landonne - very farmy with leather notes.  Very lovely.  96 points.

1989 Henri Bonneau Réserve des Célestins - a little green a little smoky, a little savory.  95 points.

Third pair: double-decanted about 3½ hours prior to serving
1994 Opus One - a little green and chalky, not much fruit left, lots of brett, and black pepper.  93 points.

1994 Dominus - very chalky, smoky, minty. 93 points.

Fourth pair: double-decanted 5 hours prior to serving
1982 La Mission Haut-Brion - smoky, a little chalky, a little black pepper.

1982 Léoville-Las Cases, Réserve Nicolas - chalky, peppery, a little green, pencil lead.  A little pungent.

Something strange happened to me tonight.  For the first time in quite a long time, I really wasn't paying much attention during dinner at a meal I was looking forward to.  I barely took notice of the first three dishes, and didn't bother asking the servers for individual ingredients like I normally would.  I guess I was just a little too focused on how the guys were drinking and enjoying the wines...

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