Grazing Provençal with Guest Chef Banzo at 'The Harbour Grill" in Singapore
Previous Grazing reports of 'The Harbour Grill': click here
Guest Chef Banzo and Chef Jouhannaud
RELAIS GOURMANDS (RELAIS & CHÂTEAUX), the new gastronomic series from Catherine Viau, Daniel Bertolino and Grégoire Viau, wrote this about 'Clos de la Violette': "At the foot of Mont Sainte-Victoire, oft-painted by Cezanne, Jean Marc Banzo ** Michelin, delights the people of Aix-en-Provence with his fine and very tasty culinary creations. The chef adores his town, and his town returns the feeling."
In his own words, Jean-Marc Banzo - a Provence native - crafts his cuisine "to the sway of the sun". In his creations, he expects the diner to discover all of Provence... the four seasons, delightful traditions, heart-warming memories, friendship and the Mediterranean.
Here is the conundrum: a Frenchman whose Spanish father and Italian mother influenced his famously colorful cooking, is transplanted for a week to Singapore. What will he do? In his Michelin 2-Star restaurant, Banzo's alchemy turns tradition into gold, from Braised Sea Bass with Shellfish, "Pot au feu" of Garden Vegetables with Anise to Rack of Herb-Encrusted Lamb served with Roasted Goat Cheese and Rosemary Potatoes. His usual wine list is devoted to the best of Provence. When Chef Julien Jouhannaud of 'The Harbour Grill' invited Chef Banzo to cook for a week in Singapore, what would he do? Singapore is a lovely cosmopolitan tropical city but it's not Provence. Read on, my dear WFEDders.......
This was different from the usual bread selection at 'The Harbour Grill' and even the butter was changed; I assumed it was also from Provence.
Domaine de Triennes, "Sainte Fleur" 2004, Viognier, Nans-les-Pins, Provence, France
In 1990, Aubert de Villaine of 'Domaine de la Romanée-Conti' fame and Jacques Seysses from 'Domaine Dujac' made a partnership to produce wine in the Department of Var, Provence. This white 'Varois' is one of their successes; teeming with personality, flavor and food-friendliness. An explosive nose of floral aromas (apricot and honeysuckle), the palate is balanced with richness (white peach fruit) and thirst-quenching acidity. It could have matched with everything on the menu.
Amuse bouche: Tortellini of tomatoes and marjoram in gazpacho-style, and confit in olive oil
Cold salad of vermicelli and lobster, vinaigrette of lobster bouillon
One could imagine sitting on a terrace in the south of France, sipping cold Viognier with this sun-burst of Mediterranean flavour. Hey! we were sipping that Viognier and the vinaigrette was just tart enough to cut through the richness of the bouillon without overpowering the delicate lobster.
"Paysanne" of white lingo bean and quail eggs, light cream of black truffle mash
This may have been my favourite dish. The beans were infused with so much flavour that I could not figure out how. The black truffle cream was heavenly and the poached quail eggs were unctuously divine: soft enough to undulate over my lustful tongue and still firm enough to be picked up, so as not to embarass myself with a premature dribble of yolk. The peachy acidity of the Viognier paired with this dish almost made me cry out in ecstasy...something that no gentleman should do!
What's this? Looks a bit dry.
Poultry consommé, mini white "boudins", brochette of beatilles in sandwich with cumin flavour
The photo reflections give an erroneous impression of oiliness but actually this was a light clear soup. The white sausage (boudins blanc) of chicken, pork, fat, eggs, cream and breadcrumbs gave texture to the soup. I could not find the meaning of 'beatilles' in my cookery books but as a physician and one-time anatomist, I identified 'organ meat'.....
I was pleasantly surprised because the brochette had been well caramelised and flavoured whilst the "meat" was tender in the middle; really quite delicious whatever my anatomical preconceptions. Sometimes, it's best not to understand French...er....actually it's always good "not to understand the French as she is spoke".
Ch. La Rouvière 2001, Bandol, Domaine Bunan, La Cadière-d'Azur, Provence
Blackberries on the nose with a little pepper spice followed by a leather primary taste and then, complex berry jam, liquorice and old wet grass over tones. Each glassful left another layer of meaty tannins on the palate but the intesne fruit never abated.
The Bunan family have pioneered Bandol since 1961. I had my first Bandol with a good friend - a Frenchman - but my first "reported" Bandol was in a 'Grazing' article about Chef J-C Novelli click here
The Mourvèdre grape comes from Catalonia, where there is the town of Murviedro near Valencia. It is extremely late-ripening and widely distributed in southern Spain without producing any remarkable wines. It is a completely different story in the south of France, where Mourvèdre was a component in the famed Châteauneuf-du-Pape of the 17th century and spread through Provence thence. In Bandol, all the conditions contribute to an original wine - its slopes face the sea and are protected from cold winds. The big deal is the fine tannins created by the chalk-rich slopes that give this wine legendary aging potential. Thinning out of the vines makes for lower yield but masterful quality. Only grapes from the 8th year (or later) could be used for red Bandol and minimum aging in barrel is 18 months.
Signature Dish: Braised European sea bass with shellfish, "Pot au feu" garden vegetables with anise
The secret of this dish is in the stock used to make the sauce. The science (both physics and chemistry) behind the culinary skills must not be underestimated as demonstrated by the balanced intensity of flavour extracted from the shellfish to complement but not overpower the fresh sea bass. Fresh fish usually has no "smell" but sea bass is an unpredictable raw material because it's flavour depends on the conditions at sea, being a bottom-feeder and all......
Perhaps my 2nd favourite dish of the evening. Both white and red wines could be paired with this sauce, which would have made the wine choice easier had we not taken both!
Signature Dish: "Minute" Stewed beef, polenta with taggiashe black olive and anchovy jus
Another technical dish with balanced reduction of sauce that intensified the 'umami' flavour of the anchovy without reaching bitterness. The contrasting texture of the seared marbled beef and polenta with the delicate shavings of cheese kept one's palate scintillated from one mouthful to the next. Here is where the Bandol came into it's own and the complexed mélange of fatty meatiness with wet grass and blackberries can only be understood by the initiated.
Extra: Braised purple artichole and mushroom in beef consommé, Jabugo ham shaves and confit tomatoes
We decided to order this extra dish during the degustation because of the Spanish assertion that it is the "best cured jamon ham in the world".
Although the artichokes were competently done, I could not appreciate what the fuss was about the ham. To be charitable, I attributed this to either a sated palate or one overwhelmed by tannins.
Sorbet and calisson of melon, "Glace royale" of white chocolate and fresh lavender
Despite not being a 'dessert person', I appreciated the lightness of this creation and indeed, the fresh melon and lavender notes came through like playful sprites.
Signature Dish: Croustillant of light raspberry cream, marinated strawberries with ginger and lemon, strawberry and basil sorbet
This looked a lot heavier than it was in reality. The light raspberry cream and strawberry sorbet were easily disposed off and the marinated strawberries hardly touched my gullet on the way down.
Kirsch d'Alsace, Jos Meyer
Chilled in a freezer at -20degC, this was a perfect end to the evening with the chocolates and espresso.
I like the idea of inviting guest chefs. It keeps the kitchen updated and the young chefs motivated to learn new techniques.
For 1 star, you need passion and competent technique.
For 2 stars, you need to master technique like a virtuoso and then learn how to apply it effortlessly.
For 3 stars, you need to pay lots of money.................... it seems like you need an army of staff, mountains of crisp white linen and to change the cutlery after every mouthful!
Certainly, we learnt that Chef Banzo's secret is "the deception of masterly inactivity". For each dish, he gave the outward impression that "nothing" was done to the best ingredients and yet, the technical mastery of extracting maximum flavour from those ingredients is the mark of a Michelin 2-star chef.
No doubt that Chef Banzo will return to Singapore and we will look forward to it but even if he does not, we would still return to 'The Harbour Grill' for the transformation it has undergone under Chef Julien Jouhannaud. Two WFED thumbs up again!
Photos and Text Copyright Melvyn Teillol-Foo, 2007. All rights reserved.