Pork and pinot
My daughter has secured a summer job as staff photographer at a camp near Minden. She returns to the city for three days while the cohorts of unruly children change—which is heaven for this doting p. who wants nothing more than to cook for her. After a month of wieners and frozen hash browns, she craves flavour and gorges on gravadlax, roast beef and maki rolls. I send her back with a cache of Tabasco, hoping she’ll use it to brighten her lunches not startle some foe by spiking his milk shake. I never went to camp. We didn’t have them in England. Much to my regret.
On Tuesday, Splendido hosted a most congenial evening in its wine cellar with Peter Gago, Chief Winemaker of Penfolds, as guest of honour. The mood was merry and relatively informal, the wines exceptionally delicious and David Lee’s dishes beautifully composed. The epiphanic marriage was the pig and the pinot—a dainty plate of supercrisp, bubbly crackling that crumbled between the teeth like a poppadom, a knob of juicy, rough-textured Berkshire pork and liver sausage and a slice of applewood-smoked Yorkshire pork belly that trembled at the approach of the fork and melted into submission on the tongue. A little streak of apple sauce and a dot of grain mustard were the condiments, together with a marinated cherry that tasted of Christmas spice. Penfolds 2004 Cellar reserve Pinot Noir from the Adelaide Hills was the accompanying wine—a gorgeous thing, unfiltered and unfined. Gago cold soaks the grapes for a week then lets the fermentation rip through the free-run juice like a bore tide, natural yeasts working away like rocket fuel, the whole process over in a mere two days. After that, it lives in barrique on its gross lees with only one racking. They make 1100 cases—teeny for Australia—and the wine is complex, intense, breathing out wild strawberries and raspberries but with a pianissimo rhythm section of earthy, smoky, autumnal aromas. It was particularly amazing with the sausage but everything on the plate was designed to flatter the wine and tease out unexpected attributes. Mouth fireworks, if ever there were.
Lee paired a charcoal-grilled Cumbrae Farm beef ribeye and some unctuous pulled braised oxtail in porcini jus with the next wine, a Bin 389 Cabernet-Shiraz. Another love match. Then Penfolds Grange 2002 was poured with the cheese course. It was so young, so intense, the fruit and tannins and acidity so perfectly balanced but still unintegrated—like the pigments of a masterpiece newly squeezed onto an artist’s palette. A wild blueberry compote was the bridge between wine and the cheeses—a Venetian Piave, a show-stealing Dutch Beemster of enormous richness and power, and some “special reserve” Comté so strongly flavoured it was almost bitter. Fascinating.
Before I forget, Kei Hashimoto plans to go to Kyoto for 10 years to become a kaiseki master like his father. I thought he already was a master: the standards he sets himself must be astronomically high. I don’t know if there’s a connection but Hashimoto’s biggest fan, chef Michael Pataran, has also decided to hightail it out of the city, accepting a job as chef on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. His plans for Kappo, long discussed as a unique, sake-fuelled dining experience in Toronto, are now on hold.