Wine Tasting at Coriander Leaf

I attended a wine-pairing / wine-tasting dinner at Coriander Leaf yesterday evening and thought it would be a good opportunity to put my fledgling photography skills to use. The event, titled ‘A Journey Through The “Other” Mediterranean‘, featured Turkish, Cypriot and Lebanese cuisine matched with Italian, French and Spanish wines.  I was a little puzzled at first as to why “Other” was in parenthesis and I suppose it is because people generally tend to associate the Mediterranean with countries such as Morocco and Egypt. Strictly speaking, however, the Mediterranean refers to the Mediterranean Sea which is a body of water that is almost completely enclosed by land (or at least that is what my brief research on Wikipedia uncovered – apologies if this is an overly broad generalisation).

I suppose that it would have to be almost completely enclosed by land because if it were fully enclosed, that would make the Mediterranean Sea…the Mediterranean Lake?  Semantics aside, any country which shares a border with the Mediterranean Sea may be considered part of the Mediterranean. This in turn means that European countries such as Spain, Italy, France and Greece would technically fall within the Mediterranean, even though the average person would not consider them “Mediterranean” countries. That’s my best guess as to why “Other Mediterranean” had to be placed in parenthesis.

Anyway, I don’t think I should belabour the point and I’ve already spent more words than I should have digressing from the main purpose of this post, which is a review of the food, wine and overall experience. So here goes.

I think the most appropriate place to start would be with Coriander Leaf itself, since it was Coriander Leaf that hosted the event and provided the food. Coriander Leaf is a restaurant which describes itself as serving Pan-Asian cuisine and is a firm fixture in Singapore’s culinary landscape having been opened for more than a decade. The restaurant was opened in 2001 by Samia Ahad, the chef-owner, and was originally situated in Gallery Hotel. It moved to Clarke Quay sometime between 2004 to 2006 (I’m honestly not sure when) and has been part of Clarke Quay ever since. The fact that the restaurant has lasted so long is itself a clear indication that Coriander Leaf commands a strong following, which could only have come about through consistently high standards in terms of the restaurant’s fare and the overall dining experience.

Insofar as the cuisine is concerned, “Pan-Asian” seems an odd adjective to use since it is an extremely wide definition spanning all of Asia, e.g. Russia, Pakistan, India, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Japan…you get the picture. But I think I can understand why one would rather be over-inclusive than under-inclusive. It gives the restaurant the latitude it needs to experiment and offer its customers a range of different cuisines whilst still neatly falling within the boundaries of the restaurant’s promised fare. The difficulty with this, however, is that such a restaurant may have difficulty developing a consistent identity. Thankfully, Coriander Leaf does have a clear culinary identity, namely a focus on Middle-Eastern and Indian food, supplemented by other special menus and dishes from other parts of Asia.

The food at the event was consistent with this emphasis on Coriander Leaf’s core philosophy, with Turkish, Cypriot and Lebanese cuisine being served up. The first course came in the form of a platter, Harira (a chickpea and lentil soup), roasted aubergines with Pomegranate seeds and Haloumi cheese seasoned with Za’artar (a blend of Middle-Eastern herbs).

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This was paired with a Bollini Pinot Grigio, Trentino DOC 2011 from Italy. I only managed to take a group shot of all the bottles and it is the second bottle from the left below. The 2008 Chardonnay (the magnum pictured on the extreme left below) was served as a welcome drink. 

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On the whole, I thoroughly enjoyed the first course. The haloumi cheese was excellent, with a firm bite and a salty finish whilst the chickpea and lentil soup was flavourful. I didn’t really understand how the aubergine with pomegranate seeds fit into the Mediterranean profile but nonetheless felt that it was a good addition as it helped to clear the palate. Insofar as the wine pairing was concerned, the Pinot Grigio did not leave that much of an impression. It was advertised as focusing on “white fruit flavours with a crisp & clean texture” and I suppose, in that regard, it delivered. However, I personally felt that it did not add anything to the dining experience. That being said, it took nothing away either.

The second course came in the form of another platter but was really a deconstructed main course, i.e. Chermoula Prawns with herb couscous, fattoush salad and harrisa salsa.

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This was excellent and probably my favourite dish of the evening. The prawns were fresh, the salsa was spicy all the way to the back of the palate and the couscous was an interesting alternative to basmati rice (which, coincidentally, came with the next course). I don’t really have much to say about the salad but that’s probably due to the fact that I’m not that fond of salads anyway. If the faces of the other diners were anything to go by, the salad was great.

The prawns were paired with another white wine, this time a Bordeaux Blanc (Chateau La Maroutine 2009). I did not like this wine much as I felt it was overly acidic, tannic and served only to distract my tastebuds from the excellent food. Call me boring but I would have enjoyed a Sauvignon Blanc a great deal more. On the whole, the meal would have been better off without this wine.

The third course was tagine of lamb served with butter basmati rice. Let me just say that the rice was heavenly. It was so good that I forgot to take a photo of it. Heh.

The lamb itself was extremely tender and juicy, although I would have preferred it a little more pink in the center. A Spanish tempranillo was selected to pair with this dish and I can understand conceptually why that would be an appropriate choice as the tempranillo grapes produce bold, fruity wine with a solid bouquet (in many ways, to me at least, tempranillo wines are very similiar to pinot noirs). This would have been necessary given that lamb is generally considered to be a strong tasting (and sometimes smelling) meat. However, the Bajoz Ouno Tempranillo 2011 was not uncharacteristic, in my view at least, of a tempranillo wine in that it did not have that full a bouquet nor that lasting a finish. The fruitiness was certainly there but I was otherwise left confused. It was not a bad pairing but I suspect I would have preferred a typical tempranillo or a shiraz.

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The tempranillo is pictured above as the fourth from the left (or the completely black bottle).

Alas, I failed to take a photo of the dessert, which was a baklava (baked phyllo pastry layered with pistachio nuts and greek thyme honey syrup). The dessert was extremely good and the dessert wine it was served with, a Ch Dauphine-Rondillon 2006 from Loupiac France, was exceptional (the leftmost bottle in the picture above). We were informed by the wine merchants (who provided the wines) that the process of making this particular dessert wine requires what is known as botrytis. What is botrytis may you ask? It is the process, or more specifically the infection, where fungus is intentionally permitted to rot the grapes on the vine. This is apparently described as “noble rot” as it leaves the grapes extremely sweet yet maintaining a sufficiently strong acidity level to produce an exquisite dessert wine. I am not ordinarily a fan of dessert wine but was blown away by this one. It lived up perfectly to its billing as having an “intense & rich nose of botrytis, honey, fresh fruits, with citrus, apricots, peaches and orange notes.” The apricot notes were, in particular, extremely strong which suited me just fine.

All in all, I had an extremely pleasant experience dining at Coriander Leaf. Though I felt that some of the wines left something to be desired (with the exception of the dessert wine), the food was great and I reached this conclusion notwithstanding the fact that I am generally not inclined towards Middle-Eastern cuisine (or Mediterranean for that matter of fact). The service was top-notch and the company was lively, fun and engaging. Here are some shots of the event itself and the people whose company I very much appreciated.

The full gallery is found below. I alternated between a 18-155mm zoom lens for general shooting and a 28mm prime lens for the food and profile shots. Had a significant problem with grain which I will have to address next time. Post-production, where necessary (and in this case it was quite necessary due to my failure to stop down my aperture when shooting), was performed with Adobe Lightroom 5. 

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