The beautiful, formal place-setting of the Opera Harbour private dining room at the Park Hyatt hotel. What amounts to around a case of various Chardonnay wines to sample; a wine that I rarely enjoy drinking, and thereby rarely ever drink. The watchful gaze of mature, high society ladies that are in their element. The dim lighting of candles and down lights, which makes for superb mood lighting but reaps havoc on correct exposure and white balance. If there ever was a time that I was out of my element, out of my comfort zone, this would be it.
A sizable number of food bloggers were invited to an exclusive dinner to “put Chardonnay to the test”. As much as I had my personal issues of discomfort, this turned out to be a rather interesting and educational evening.
Anna Pooley, a winemaker for the Foster’s group, along with the assistance of fashion/pop-culture commentator & journalist Melissa Hoyer (not pictured), served as our hosts for the evening’s meal, as well as advocates for Chardonnay-based wines.
The purpose of the dinner was to attempt to undo much of the bad reputation that Chardonnay had encumbered itself with during the 90’s as little more than a heavy, oaky wine. As the Chardonnays served that evening showed, there’s much more to these varieties of wines than one might think.
Just one thing to note. I liken wine to art in that I don’t know it but I know what I like. In other words, I’m very ignorant when it comes to this subject matter, which is part of the reason for my afore mentioned discomfort. Rather than insult any wine buffs that might be out there, I’ll leave the tasting notes (beyond a general like/dislike) to the experts. Just click on the appropriate link (where available) to find out more about the wine.
Local cow’s milk burrata with vine ripened tomato and Lakelands Olive Oil, served with Seppelt Salinger Pinot Noir Chardonnay 2006 sparkling wine.
We kicked off the evening’s meal with this very light, very fresh dish. The bulb of burrata cheese is like a delicate and ultra creamy version of fior di latte, the cow’s milk equivalent of buffalo mozzarella. “Strands” of mozzarella cheese are immersed in a creamy, buttery fluid contained within the bulb. It pairs excellently with the tomatoes and the droplets of reduced balsamic vinegar.
Lightly grilled tuna with green beans, olives & crisp potato, served with a Rosemount Diamond Label Unoaked Chardonnay 2009.
The tuna tataki is quite disappointing, having a grainy, unpleasant mouth feel. It’s reminiscent of low quality tuna that you might find in a cheap, franchise sushi train store. The little dabs of sauce around the plate weren’t any better, tasting of tinned tuna pureed in cream, with a grainy texture to match. This was rather disappointing as the rest of the dish was perfectly fine. A wonderfully cooked soft-boiled quail’s egg, perfectly cooked greens and an interesting potato lattice that reminded me more of a wafer of savoury spun toffee than anything else.
Toasted fregola cooked as a risotto with Australian scallops & puffed pork, served with a Rosemount Show Reserve Robe ‘Cool Climate’ Chardonnay 2009.
I liked the idea of this dish, with the relatively sizable toasted balls of semolina pasta (fregola) serving as a replacement for the smaller rice that would normally be used in a risotto. As much as it tasted fine, the thick, gluggy nature of the risotto made it feel like yesterday’s leftovers, rather than a meal worthy of a fine dining restaurant.
The orange foam is made from piquillo peppers, a chili that originates from northern Spain. It has a sweet flavour that is more along the lines of a capsicum (bell pepper) than an actual chili.
Between the courses, as each wine was introduced to the table, Anna would say a few words about the characteristics of the wine being served, or makes a general note about the history of Chardonnay, the process of wine making and so forth.
One thing I’m rather pleased to discover during the course of the dinner is that there’s very little in the way of hawking the specific wines on offer. Very little “marketing buzz”, for lack of a better term. It played out more like a forum of awareness by a passionate wine maker. One that is looking to educate and inform, rather than sell.
Barramundi fillet with poached leeks, celery, smoked oyster emulsion, served with Heemskerk Coal River Valley Chardonnay 2008.
The barramundi was wonderful dish all round. Crispy skin, perfectly cooked flesh (though a little under seasoned in my opinion), served with some fantastic accompaniments that paired well with the fish.
Slow roasted lamb saddle with lemon potato and spring vegetables.
Another wonderful dish, which I was rather happy to see as a lot of the dishes prior to this were rather light in nature. The lamb, roasted to a medium, was succulent and rather fulfilling. All of the vegetables served with this dish were cooked to perfection.
Until consuming this dish, I’d not realised that it’s been more than a decade since I’d last had turnips. This may seem like something of a random comment, and perhaps it is. Either way, the association of the sweet taste of turnip drew me back to fond memories of simpler times. A roast dinner often shared with the family of a friend, one that I no longer keep in touch with. This made this dish somewhat more special than what it would have otherwise been.
Vanilla creme brulee with rosemary sorbet.
The presentation of this dessert was rather unexpected as this is the first time I’ve had a creme brulee served outside of its ramekin dish. It made for an elegant way to enjoy the dessert as there was less of a requirement for the clinking and scraping of spoons around the inside of the ramekin dish.
As with a lot of creme brulees, this too suffers from having a rather lack-lustre caramelised top, lacking any real crispiness. The rosemary sorbet was an interesting touch but I would have been just as happy with the strawberry sauce on its own.
I have something of an embarrassing confession to make. Until recently, I’d thought that petit fours were small desserts served in lots of four, as opposed to its actual meaning of “small oven” in French, referring to the practice of using the residual heat from cooling coal-fired brick ovens to bake small confections.
These petit fours were unexpectly rustic looking wafer biscuits, especially considering the elegant surrounds and presentations of all the prior dishes.
All in all, a great time was had at the dinner, despite being very much out of my comfort zone. Each of the Chardonnays demonstrated that there was more to these varieties of wines than heavy and oaky.
Though all the wines were good, I was quite partial to both the Seppelt sparkling and the ‘Cool Climate’ Chardonnays. I’ll certainly think twice before turning down a glass of Chardonnay off hand.
Harbour Kitchen & Bar
Park Hyatt Hotel, Sydney
7 Hickson Road, The Rocks
+61 2 9256 1661
Wined and dined for free by invitation of Raje from Hausmann Communications.
A similar six course degustation menu is available at the Park Hyatt for $90 per person, or $140 including matching wines.