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Beefsteak & Burgundy Club of Tinakori at Arbitrageur

By May 28, 2013No Comments
Arbitrageur on Featherston in Wellington’s CBD has superb credentials for first-rate food and one of the most interesting and inviting wine lists in the capital. Chris Green is the owner and head chef, and he has an excellent reputation as an outstanding and innovative cook who combines classical techniques with the contemporary, from his days as a founding partner at Boulcott Street Bistro. His approach to food has won him a raft of top awards and titles. Following a stint in Geneva, Switzerland, he took over the reins at Arbitrageur, with the intention of taking wine and food matching to another level. This he has done, and Arbitrageur is seen as one of the most sophisticated on the food scene. Chris has the services of talented wine consultant and sommelier Stephen Wong in maintaining his wine list, which is broad with a mix of blue-chip with the eclectic, and the wines are available by half-glass, glass, carafe and bottle. Arbitrageur is one of the places to go for an exceptional wine and food experience. www.arbitrageur.co.nz

Sylvaine Novel – Arbitrageur
And a challenging set of luncheon wines

The Luncheon
This meeting of the Beefsteak and Burgundy Club was an unusual one on both the food and wine terms. With the menu served, there were two courses only, instead of the usual three, for reasons that I’ve not been made aware of. And the wine selection (not from Arbitrageur’s list) by winemaster Dean Derwin was particularly challenging. The actual mechanics and delivery of the lunch were faultless, Arbitrageur’s Sylvaine Novel on top of all aspects of service, but the menu and wine choices polarised the opinions of the attendees on how enjoyable the lunch was. I offer my notes, which take a more positive approach to the occasion.

On Arrival
On arrival, a glass of pale coloured, green hued white wine was served. There seems to be a trend of exploring the more austere and minerally style of wines of late, and this fitted the bill. The bouquet gave nothing away, being clean and fresh, with no real aromatic lift. Dry to taste, the steeliness of the wine and subtle herb and nutty flavours suggested Pinot Gris. Or more precisely an Italian Pinot Grigio style. That was our table’s best guess, but we knew we weren’t quite on the mark, as there was a spitzig feel and freshness. The wine was a Casal Garcia Vinho Verde from Portugal. No trace of vintage on the label, but we’re told it’s a 2011. It all made sense afterwards! Remember the squat flagon-boxbeutel shape bottles, the clear Mateus type? It was a collectable 25 years ago! Nowadays, it has a modern presentation is in clear Bordeaux bottle. Maybe this was the fore-runner to this current interest in ‘minerally’ wines?

Les Entrée
First food course was Souffle au Fromage – twice baked Comté soufflé. This is a classical dish and is simple but easy to fail with. Here, the Arbitrageur one was faultless, combining lightness with substance and fine texture. A cheese delight with a note of oven and nuttiness and a hint of butter. In the final analysis a substantial interpretation, with class and sophstication.

To match, we were served blind a small glass of Churchill’s ‘Finest Reserve’ Port. The glass size and shape was a good clue to what it was. Dark ruby-red in colour with a black heart, bright, ripe and dark red berry fruit aromas and flavours leapt of the glass. The sweetness confirmed it all. Supple tannins and good balance with spirit cut, plus a touch of nutty-earthy interest for a little rusticity. Our guess was ruby fort of good quality or maybe a vintage character. The latter it was, and we were on the mark!

In food pairing terms, this wasn’t a clash, but it wasn’t a match. The wine’s sweetness had no place with the savoury soufflé for me. The flavours of red wine were strong and so was the alcohol, standing above the food. The soufflé did absorb the tannins, softening the wine.

Les Plat
The main and final course was Pot au Feu – Classical French beef stew with beef brisket, short ribs, bone marrow and winter vegetables. This on first impressions was a simple and rustic as was the soufflé a model of finesse and style. The stew more a consommé, very clear and watery. The chunks of meat were solid and firm, but not chewy or overly coarse. The flesh of the ribs had dissolved into the stew. In the mix were the winter vegetables, just cooked and nicely crisp. A little spoon was provided for diners to scoop out the bone marrow. The stew was flavour-plus, and clearly well-made with plenty of ingredients and flavour incorporated by a number of means and methods. But as a main course for a group of hungry Kiwi blokes, it was rather meagre. I get the contrast of rusticity and simplicity against the clever and superbly executed soufflé for sure, but more substance was needed here. As mentioned above, I’m not sure who had the final say on this course, as I understand another main course had been proposed.
The wine was another controversial effort. This was the Black Grape Society Marlborough Pinot Noir 2011. This is Treasury Wine Estates’ special project on Pinot Noir, made by Matua Valley’s winemaker Nikolai St George. Tight and elegant, and really quite unforthcoming at first. But identifiably New Zealand Pinot Noir, the freshness and clarity of fruit the giveaway. The acidity level pointed us to South Island, and the more up-front flavours speaking of Marlborough. The tannins grew in the glass, as did the spice nature and oaking, and its serious nature became more obvious. This was a youthful wine, we said 2010, and only one year out, but again, our group were on the right track. But we had no clue as to whose it was. This would be a wine that could be easily overlooked due to its reticence, but it grows to show it has plenty of stuffing.

This was a difficult wine and food match. Texturally the wine handled the chunky beef cubes, and also the richness of the bone marrow. But the watery stew was a physical distraction to the wine. If you’re into umami, the soup had it in spades, and the flavour was able to meet the wine on that level. I couldn’t connect the wine to the food here.

In a final analysis, this was a disappointing lunch in that it was unusual and on the insubstantial side. Quality of flavour in both wine and food were there, but the requirements of meeting the expectations of the members of the club did not occur. The club has frequented Arbitrageur on a number of occasions, the previous time, a year ago, it was pronounced a brilliant and outstanding event. The wines this time were too left field. They were challenging, maybe too much. A degree of familiarity is the key to satisfaction on that front. There was considerable discussion after the lunch, and taking a step back, this is a very desirable outcome. The luncheon made us think and created the situation where opinions were made. That’s a very good result.

Arbitrageur Wine Room and Restaurant, 125 Featherston Street, Wellington, Tel: 04 499-5530, Email: [email protected]

The Beefsteak & Burgundy Club
The Beefsteak & Burgundy Club organization was founded in Adelaide in 1954 with the aim of its members sharing knowledge and experiencing great wines and food and fellowship on a regular basis. With over 150 branches around the world in countries as diverse as Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S.A., it is an international success. In New Zealand there are ten branches, with five located in Wellington. The meetings are run on a semi-formal basis, with officers and committee including a Foodmaster and Winemaster who co-ordinate the meals and wines respectively. The Adelaide parent body oversees administration and maintains a constitution to provide a framework and uniformity, but it is a relaxed and enjoyable time attending the meetings and the occasional international conventions. For more information, go to www.beefsteakandburgundyclub.org.au where you can find out about joining an existing club or forming a new branch.


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