Reflections on a memorable evening at MemSaab.

I’ve been working for over two years with my friend Amita, the owner, to develop the wine offer at MemSaab, the Indian Fine Dining Restaurant in Nottingham. At first that just meant refining the wine list: excluding wines that clash with spicy food and adding those that worked with it.

An example of that is red Bordeaux, Claret. Claret is a great wine and compliments dishes like an English Sunday Roast perfectly, but the structure – tannins and acidity – clash with spicy food to give a hard note. Pinot Noir is more promising but the great Burgundies have some elements of that difficult structure too, while New World example lead on sweet fruit and work better.

The list at MemSaab has developed well, and in the last two years there have been 3 or 4 wine matching evening*. Over that time the food at MemSaab has developed too, from a premium Indian Restaurant to real fine-dining cuisine.

No wonder then that MemSaab should, in conjunction with Moët-Hennessy, host the first ever Indian food and Champagne evening on Wednesday 25th June. As Amita put it in her introduction:

“MemSaab… is developing a style of food that adds finesse and luxury to the complexity and intensity of Indian cuisine. So it has been only a matter of time before we sought to complement our food with that by-word for ‘finesse and luxury’ in the world of wine: Champagne.”

The evening was wonderful, a real treat, and also thought provoking about the matches of food and wine, for the dishes we were served and the whole idea of food and wine matching in general.
Here are my reflections on the evening dish by dish, and then on the whole evening, and wine matching in general:-

Scallop with Masala Risotto and Salmon Caviar
Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial (12%)
In many ways this is the reference Champagne, clean and elegant – showing dry fruit crispness and a smooth moose. The dish cleverly offset the sweetness of the scallop with the spice in the risotto, with the salmon caviar giving accents of fishy-ness. A wonderful dish with which the wine worked perfectly. The food brings out some stone fruit character in the wine that isn’t normally perceptible.

Tandoori Lobster Tail with Goan Vegetables and Bonchinno Cheese and Cucumber Salad
Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label (12%)
Veuve is also part of the Moët-Hennessy portfolio (along with Krug, Mercier, Ruinart and Dom Pérignon). This Cuvée has more Pinot Noir, giving a slightly more “size” and structure. On its own it’s clear that the Veuve is more “attacking” and vinous than the Moët. (That’s trying to be neutral. If you like that style it’s more “vivid and forceful”, if you prefer Moët then the Veuve is more “aggressive and harsh”.) The dish combines warmth and sweetness from the tandoori lobster with the coolness of the salad and creaminess in the Goan vegetables. The dish was probably my favourite and the wine’s acidity and attack balanced the warmer elements in the dish while the fruit seemed amplified and bolder, matching the food’s contrasts with its own. A brilliant and surprising match, almost musical in its harmony. I expect you can tell I was impressed.

Sea Bass with Ratatouille and Coconut Tamarind Jus
Veuve Clicquot Rosé (13%)
Whatever you think about the Yellow label is even more the case with this Rosé. Sea bass is a lovely fish, here cooked to perfection, its firmness and subtle but persistent flavor counterpointed by the warmth in the Ratatouille. A wonderful dish and with it the wine seemed emphatic but not overbearing, the food again exposing subtleties and complexities in the wine.

Spiced Venison with Colcannon, Pencil Asparugus and Juniper Saffron Jus
Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage 2004 (12.5%)
On its own this is a beautiful wine, showing mainly citrus, citrus peel, grapefruit, dry stoney mineral notes – but with power and richness in the background. The dish is itself amazingly complex with the venison, the asparagus and the saffron providing diverse notes contributing to the overall flavor. Each of those poses different questions to the wine and this wine reflected that variety with its own notes… in turn fruity, herby and spicy. Particularly with the venison itself I found spicy peach, even mango, notes in the wine that I hadn’t sensed before. I imagine one could drink this Champagne throughout the meal, its complexity able to reflect all the twists and turns of flavour.

Gulab Jamun, Fruit Skewers with a Berry Coulis & Ras Malai
Moët & Chandon Rosé Imperial(12%)
The wine on its own echoes the differences between Veuve and Moët noted with the whites. The Moët is lighter, more elegant and allows the fruit to develop more sotto voce. The dessert has three components – each faultlessly done – and the wine works by complementing the fruit with its own, but by contrasting the sweetness in the Gulabjamun. Each of these strategies works well individually, but attempting both at once made it the least successful match of the evening IMO. I personally preferred the Gulabjamun dessert as the conclusion to the evening, and a sweeter wine might have worked better.

This experience set me thinking, and talking with my companions, about wine matching food as fine as this. The concepts, cooking and presentation of the dishes are so good the wine has to be fabulous to share equal billing. As one of my friends put it: “each dish takes you on a journey, and asks the wine to accompany you”. I tend to think in a more musical analogy – the food composes a symphony through its component notes – a wine can do the same. A great match, rather than ‘just’ very good, not only has the wine go with the food, but has each bringing out new flavours in the other. That happened a few times during the evening.

In any case – analysis should be secondary to pleasure in a dining experience, and by that token the evening was wonderful.

The highest of praise and thanks to Antony Dyson of Moët-Hennessy, to Amita, her head Chef and all the team at MemSaab for a memorable evening. May there be many more…

* You can see a short note on the last of these events at the end of this (May 16th) Post by clicking here