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Pravda Seafood Degustation Dinner

By November 10, 2012No Comments

Although Pravda Café has the appearance of grandeur with it vaulted ceilings and hanging crystal chandeliers that recall the exotic excess of the Russian imperial period, it has delivered smart bistro food and top coffee to Wellington CBD workers and dwellers from the start. Its location and reputation made it a must-buy for Richard Sigley and Simon Gault’s Nourish Group empire when it came time to stake a claim in the Wellington scene, and along with sister restaurant Shed 5, they have continued to do what they have always done. www.pravdacafe.co.nz

There are advantages of being part of a larger concern, and one such outcome has been the arrival of Adam Rickett to the position of head chef, and being a Simon Gault protégé, he’s got style and plenty of ideas to try while he develops his already proficient culinary skills. With a successful ‘Game Bird Degustation’ event three months ago, Adam was keen to try his hand at a ‘Seafood Degustation’. My partner Sue Davies put her hand up to put wines from her portfolio (click here to see) to match the planned dinner. It required a meeting with chef Adam, restaurant manager Glen Houston, maître d’ Declan Body and functions manager Antoinette Lathbury-Axford. It was a treat to sit in the discussion and try the wines, not with the complete and finished dishes, but with components, so that Adam could fine tune and cook to suit the wines that were chosen.

Come the night, we knew the matches would be in the ballpark, but no doubt the combinations could and would surprise. Of course, with wine and food matching, although there are rules and guidelines, such as employing contrast or comparing similarities, much of the preferences and judgements are subjective. The important thing is whether the food and the wine are enhanced by the interaction. We were graced with the attendance of Bob Campbell MW, who has a particular fascination with wine and food pairing, and it was very interesting to discuss and share our thoughts. While we as a group generally agreed on principles, the details which could be interpreted differently by each person made the difference.
The Menu and the Wines
Here are my impressions of the wines, the food courses and the pairings. I’ve taken the format on a note on the wine, then the food, followed by the interaction:
Tuna tartare and avocado with yuzu and coriander

The wine: Quite pale in colour, with aromas of soft strawberry fruit and some underlying herbal notes. Some sweetness apparent, quite gentle and subtle, and with a little textural grip from the tannins. Will this be too light?

The food: Plenty of tuna, quite dark in colour, almost jellied in texture. This is quite subtle in flavour, but has more substance and mouthfeel to it than expected. The yuzu plum very citrusy, possibly dominating, and the coriander a little herb and green hit, but otherwise in the background. This dish had an Asian outlook.

The match: The intensity of flavours of both tuna and the rosé were similar to each other, quite subtle, and the tannins in the wine merging with the tuna flesh well. The wine’s sweetness added richness to the tuna. The citrus and acidity of the dish brought a liveliness to the wine, which became morw zippy and lush. The coriander was echoed by the wine’s herb underlay. While everything was on a similar level, I felt there was no ‘magic’. Maybe this was my expectation, as it was ‘only’ the first pairing. However the other diners were more pleased, and this was the second most liked pairing by the group. My rating of the pairing: 3.5+/5
Tortellini of crayfish served with a crayfish consommé

The wine: Pale in colour with very restrained aromas and flavours. Delicate pear flavours and a little honeysuckle. On palate medium in sweetness, noticeably so, and quite elegant, with an attractive drive, the alcohol quite in balance, and soft acidity providing sufficient freshness. Would this be overwhelmed by the food?

The food: The tortellini seemed to be the feature, and was in terms of presence and texture. Nicely cooked pasta with good firmness, and the crayfish delicate in flavour and showing sweetness to the fleshy texture. Some prawn flesh too? The crayfish consommé was the flavour driver, with classic reduction of shells and seafood pervading the aromas and flavours. Yet not overbearing, though most prominent in the dish. A dish that builds in flavour and distinctiveness.

The match: This was a coming together of equals, the subtle sweetness of the crayfish and the wine very much on level pegging. There was enough power in the wine to hold its own with the consommé, and the detail of flavours in both the dish and the wine continued to come through. The soup became a little spicier with a herb, fennel/liquorice element for me, though this wasn’t in the dish? I liked the evenness of wine and food together, and the integrity of both being preserved, as well as the aniseed tickle from the mix. Other diners not quite as impressed as me. My rating: 4+/5
Whangamata scallops served with purees of rocket and cauliflower

The wine: This has developed well over the years since its release. Still youthful looking, and here more primary with citrus fruits, florals and honey, rather than the toastiness I normally see. Distinctly sweeter than the Pinot Gris previous, very gentle with a lusciousness, and bright, racy acidity showing.

The food: The scallops were the highlight, cooked perfectly with a little searing caramelisation and char, just to off-set the sweetness of the flesh. The purees were not overt in flavour, the rocket being a smooth and even. Micro-greens added the cut to the scallops and cauliflower. An excellent contemporary rendition of a classic seafood dish.

The match: This had the makings of a great pairing. The increased sweetness of the wine and greater cut was a clean and cutting counterpoint to the scallops, which had connecting flavours from different elements. If the Riesling had some of the expected toasty notes, this pairing may have even been better. The micro-greens lent a bitter and herbaceous note to the wine and overall taste when put together. The match was better without the greens. My rating without the greens: 4+/5. With the greens 4-/5. Generally liked as a match by the group, though not as a favourite.
Akaroa salmon, with crisp Serrano, tomato emulsion and confit potatoes

The wine: Moderately dark red and not frighteningly so considering salmon to be the match. Surprisingly primary fruited with dark raspberry and cherry flavours, and little secondary dried herbs as has been noted. Quite concentrated, with some tannins showing, but the sweetness of fruit the feature. Looking good as a wine, but could this be too fruity for the fish?

The food: A superb piece of salmon, just-cooked and moist with freshness and oiliness, exceptionall smooth-textured with an understated density. Pure and rich, this was a treat. The tomato emulsion quite soft and matty, with mild flavours and the acidity in the background. Just enough of a cut and acid contrast to the sweet and oily salmon. The potatoes a firm textural counterpoint, the confit richness and fat a bridge to the salmon oiliness. Great dish!

The match: This was the best match of the night for most people. Was it the novelty of red wine with fish? I certainly thought the fruitiness and tannin strength of the Pinot Noir might be too much for the salmon, but the combination was seamless, the oiliness absorbing the tannins, and the tannins providing some structure to the slightly amorphous fish. The red fruit flavours sat comfortably with the salmon flavours with no harshness or bitterness. Maybe the red-flesh salmon colour seemed visually compatible with the red wine colour? What was a bonus was the excellent flavour match of the Pinot Noir with the prosciutto, the smokiness of the ham lifting the wine, and the wine enriching the flavour and softening the saltiness of the Serrano. The tomato emulsion and wine did not clash, and what I feared with the acidity did not eventuate. My rating: 4.5/5.
Grilled Cook Strait hapuka, sauce thermidor and globe artichoke

The wine: Some golden hues, this oozes ripe apricots and is dense and solid. Oak, rather than exotic florals and citrus zest. Dry, but with a firmness, but decidedly opulent. Quite packed with presence and flavours, the oaking is an integral components, but noticeable. The suggestion of sweetness will make it an interesting wine to work with food.

The food: What a piece of fish. Perfectly served, still cooking and just about there, and spot-on with moistness as one ate it. Near about as fall-apart as hapuka can be, the salty tang of seafood coming out and a stand-out char from the grilling. The creamy thermidor quite subtle with its seafood and spicy notes. Globe artichokes are one of the recognised enemies of wine, with sulphide notes coming from the mix. How would this fare. As a dish, substantial, but light and moist enough to not overbear in any way, the thermidor setting off the fish, and the artichoke a contrast in texture as well as flavour.

The match: The power and oak of the wine was toned down by the fish, quite unexpectedly, showing the hidden texture and density of the fish absorbing the wine. An excellent salty parallel with the fish and the Viognier varietal trait of salt was a pleasing connection. And pleasingly, the body and richness of the wine coping with the artichoke. This was a most unusual pairing that worked very well. Most of the diners thought similarly too. Mt rating of the match: 4+/5.
Apple and rhubarb panna cotta, almond crumble and rhubarb gel

The wine: Bright and light, this is fresh with clear-cut, classical talc, marmalade and honied botrytis on the nose. Immediately one knows this will be sweet. And sweet it is on palate, lush with citrus, florals, honey and an amalgam of fruit and botrytis. Tonight the acidity is a feature. Refreshing a delightful on its own.

The food: Light, but smooth creamy textures with hints of caramel and milk, with a clean and refreshing edge. The apple is subtle and the rhubarb even more so in flavour, maybe providing an acid edge. This had a lovely array of textures from creamy to crunchy with the crumble.

The match: It is often said to ensure success, make sure the wine is sweeter than the dessert. Here the wine was marginally sweeter, and closer in pairing for sweetness. The wine and the panna cotta both soft, but the wine’s acidity just peeking through. The two melded very well, each providing the other with some lifted detail. One could say complexing nuances resulted. And the match a very pleasing one, as could be judged by the smiles on the faces of the diners. My rating of the match: 4.5/5

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