Wednesday, 24 August 2011

In Celebration of Diversity

There can be few joys in life greater than having a delicious morsel of food brought to new levels by a flavourful sip of wine. The interplay of different tastes is like a marriage where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In Singapore, we are fortunate that there is a vibrant dining scene. We may not have the unparalleled freshness of ingredients that Japan has, nor the mastery of sauces that the French are famous for. Rather, Singapore's strength lies as a confluence of cultures, a melting pot of diversity that lends richness and variety to the food we eat.

Take Keystone Restaurant, a newly opened dining venue in the heart of the Central Business District as an example. It bills itself as offering Modern European fare with a progressive twist. Singaporean chef Mark Richards has tried his hand at Thai, Middle Eastern and French cuisine, and uses various techniques such as spherification and dehydration to coax flavours out of his dishes. The menu, which changes every two to three months, feature seasonal ingredients sourced from Europe, Australia, the United States and regionally.

On the 12th of August Keystone played host to a wine dinner with winemaker Rick Kinzbrunner of Giaconda. Giaconda is located in Beechworth which is a three hour drive north-east from Melbourne. At an altitude of 400 metres, the climate is considered moderately cool with approximately 700 mm of rainfall annually. It has a miniscule production of 2000-3000 cases a year which, coupled with its fine reputation, has led wine critic James Halliday to term these as "super-cult wines".

Giaconda is a study in contradictions. The winemaking style is traditional, using wild yeasts, basket pressing and no filtration. Even the website,, looks as though it was designed in the 1990s. In the business side however, Giaconda is a pioneer. It experimented early with online direct sales, and established an en-primeur system for selling its wines in Australia. Around a third of Giaconda's wines are now sold through its website.

The first course was Sarlat Foie Gras with pistachios, compressed pineapple and white balsamic gastrique. This ignited a discussion at the table on the ethicality of force feeding an animal, although I noticed that all the foie gras was duly finished. It was paired with the 2006 Aeolia Roussanne, a refreshing, citrusy wine with lemon pith notes. A tightly focused wine.

The next wine was surely the star of the evening, the 2006 Estate Vineyard Chardonnay. This wine was rated Exceptional, the highest level, in Langton's Classification of Australian Wine. Elegant and poised, the wine displayed a deft handling of oak that underlined rather than overpowered the fruit character. Rick felt that the wine was not showing as well as it should and would benefit from further ageing. Alongside this we were served Iberian Ham with passionfruit sorbet, mission figs and Tête de Moine (Swiss cheese). This dish showcased what a chef could do with high quality ingredients and a knack for balancing different flavours. The saltiness of the ham was perfectly complemented by the sweetness of the passionfruit sorbet, while the cheese served as a neutral palate cleanser.

Moving on to the red wines, we first tried a 2006 Pinot Noir from the Nantua Vineyard. A brilliant counterpoint to the Chardonnay, the Pinot Noir was expansive, fruity and aromatic. It reminded me almost of a New Zealand Pinot Noir, so ripe was the fruit character. This was paired with deliciously pink slices of Mair Cervena Venison with charred eggplant, black plums, shallot caviar and valrhona textures. The meat was cooked to perfection, and the eggplant exuded a wonderful smoky flavour that was accentuated by the Pinot Noir.

The final wines of the evening were a vertical pair of Shiraz wines from the Warner Vineyard. The 2005 vintage was more savoury and spicy while the 2006 displayed more ripeness, earthy elements and blackcurrant fruit. Rick is proud of making wines that "are not squeaky clean and commercial", and are different from year to year. 2006 was hotter and drier than 2005, accounting for the riper fruit. With these wines we were served Blackmore Wagyu Brisket with porcini & marrow jus, polenta, chinese broccoli and truffle egg fluid.

The let-down in most fine dining venues in Singapore is usually the service, but I was impressed by the attention to detail at Keystone. The staff addressed us by name and water glasses were refilled promptly and discreetly. There was no chaos despite having opened just a few weeks earlier, and the staff seemed to be genuinely enjoying their work. I even saw Chef Richards humming as he prepared the dishes.

It was interesting to see the ideological difference between Giaconda and Keystone. The former holds fast to traditional methods of doing things, believing that their product should be as natural as possible. The latter is akin to a mad scientist, gleefully experimenting with its product and adopting the latest technologies. Yet both are capable of delivering sublime culinary experiences, proving that passion and determination are the true magical ingredients.

Keystone Restaurant
11 Stanley Street
Singapore 068730
Tel: +65 62210046
Lunch: 1200h to 1500h
Dinner: 1800h to 2230h
Corkage policy: SGD42 per bottle

Monopole Pte Ltd is the exclusive distributor of Giaconda wines in Singapore.

Many thanks to Natasha Beh of Ate Consulting for extending an invitation to this event.

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