Last Friday (10th February) I once again ventured to my favourite Indian Restaurant, MemSaab to sample their Seasonal Tasting Menu. This time completing the set with Winter. As before the format is 5 courses with matched wines, and I declare an interest as I has some say in the matching wines. Here are my impressions, with some general thoughts.

Amuse Bouche: Chatpat Artichoke
Jerusalem Artichoke Chat, sweet Yogurt, Tamarind chutney
Altonzano Verdejo-Sauvignon Blanc, Gonzalez Byass, Spain (12.5%)
This wine is 70% Verdejo, and that adds richness, salinity and a hint of florality to warm Sauvignon Blanc acidity. So a slower-burning, subtler entry to the food, and then when the food arrives it shows the wine to its best advantage. There is a counterpoint with the earthiness of the Jerusalem Artichoke, allowing the gentle heat of the spice to glow – and it copes with the sharpness of the Tamarind. A good combination that actually elevates my view of the wine – and gives me an idea to revisit Rueda – where a similar blend is common…

Starter: Anari Pheasant
Charcoal flavour Pheasant breast, sun dried Pomegranate powder, Chestnuts puree & Pickle cap mushroom
Terra Andina Reserva Pinot Noir, Casablanca Valley, Chile (13.7%)
The wine is a slightly herby, quite light, red fruit pinot. The dish is beautifully balanced with the sweet meat and chestnut see-sawing wonderfully with the pickle. The wine match with the pheasant is very good, and also echoes the interplay of flavours. My favourite dish of the night – although the tomato broth, nice enough in itself, seems an unnecessary distraction…

Fish Course: Kale Wali Machli
Crispy Kale leaf wrap Hake, Kale puree, Aubergine Bharta and tangy Peanut
Chateau Ste Michelle Canoe Ridge Estate Chardonnay, USA, 14.5%
As usual, an impeccably cooked piece of fish, presenting with a supporting role of accompaniments. Fish dishes at MemSaab usually seem to have this shape: highlighting the fish itself, and a very good thing in my view. The wine is now familiar to us: a little clumsy and oaky on its own – it seems to grow with the food… its acidity and minerality and a classy creaminess emerging…

<At this stage I was so involved in the pleasure of the evening I forgot to  take any more photographs.>


Main Course: Oxtail Nihari
Very slow braised Oxtail, Keralan spice and Curry Leaf – Mustard Yogurt
Salice Salentino 35 Parellelo, Puglia, Italy (13%)
This is a very big, warm dish, wintery fare indeed – a variation on something very British. Very deep flavoured broth with Indian spices and a heavy beefy meat served on the bone (which put off my slightly squeamish companion). The weight of all this is quite hard to match, and the Salice does pretty well: earthy dried fruit and tannic hints keeping up well. I wonder, though, if this dish, impressive in itself, is too big to conclude such an involved meal. Maybe it could set the scene of a winter menu as an initial soup – with a sherry!

Dessert: Apple Kheer
Apple Rice pudding, caramelised Apple, Almond flakes and Fennel cress
Kia-Ora Late Harvest, Kanu, Western Cape, South Africa (11.5%)
A beautifully cooling and comfortable coda to the meal where the lovely wine acts as another element rather than an accompaniment. The whole thing left me purring…

A whole year in seasonal menus.

We have now had four of these menus and maybe it’s time to draw some general conclusions about the wine, the food, the concept itself and other issues. Here are my 6 things to note (in no particular order)

1 The  quality of the food is very high, and in some cases better than the quality of the wine. I think usually the wines were well-matched with the dishes (I would say that though, wouldn’t I), and those with a little sweetness did very well.  However, at least once in each meal I had the feeling: “this is the right sort of wine, but a better (and more expensive) example would shine with this food, echoing its depth and complexity!”

2 The fish dishes, as a whole, stood out for me. I think (as I hint above) this is because of perfect cooking and letting the star of the show shine. This makes wine matching easier too – of course – and the Canoe Ridge, Chablis or Provence Rosé have all done their job…

3 With a 5 course meal there is an added element – over and above each dish is the progression or arc from one to the next giving the whole meal an overall trajectory. From this point of view I enjoyed each menu very much, but I thought the summer menu was wonderfully orchestrated – taking the whole experience a notch even higher… Mmmmmmmm

4 Matching Indian Cuisine is a challenge, and the wines with forward fruit, freshness, aromatics and some depth (richness, sweetness, warm acidity…) work the best. Too much structure, tannin or – paradoxically – spice can cause a clash…

5 Wines:  As well as several dishes deserving better wines it seems that there is some limitation as to wines available to match the dishes well. There has been some repetition: the Andina Pinot, the Canoe Ridge Chardonnay; the Kanu sweet wine…. So the portfolio could do with other alternatives here: a lightish red, of Pinot weight, but with different flavours; a clean Pinot Gris or a slightly off-dry Riesling; a fresh Riesling sweet wine….

6 A minor cavil: once or twice dishes are offered with an extra (usually liquid) flavour – the sauce with the starter on this menu is an example. This sometimes alters the balance between the food and the wine and – from my point of view as a wine enthusiast – can seem superfluous and over-complicating.

A wonderful year of tasting menus then, and for me a great success – affording some wonderful matching experiences. This includes at least one surprising success: the quail tikka with a Muscato as the Summer menu starter…

I hope these menus (or a series of something similar) continue because they afford an opportunity to eat a wonderfully presented set of varied and complex dishes which would be impossible to match with a single wine.

Thanks so much to Amita and her staff for 4 wonderful evenings, and I drink to, and hope for, many more!

Until soon…