I just want to start this piece by relaying a couple of impressions I've heard on the Adelaide Hilton from passing tourists over the years. The Hilton, of course, is the location of Adelaide's most iconic restaurant The Grange, where our most famous chef Cheong Liew works.
1.- From German backpackers:- "We've travelled around the world and never seen a Hilton Hotel as ugly as the one in Adelaide." (pictured right)
2.- From a country visitor to her young daughters:- "Look kids the Hilton, just like Paris Hilton."
Around a month ago Cheong Liew announced he'd be leaving The Grange, to which the Hilton responded they'd be closing the restaurant altogether in mid-December.
A lot of people around Adelaide like to believe Cheong's reason lies somewhere behind the critical review his restaurant received by a certain John Lethlean earlier in the year, a fact I'm sure both parties deny. Anyway, I now feel a certain bond with Mr Lethlean after his recent piece on Adelaide's Ristorante Auge, a fine dining venue I've long thought to be highly over rated by the South Australian Restaurant and Catering Association.
To begin the evening the four of us were seated in The Grange's casual lounge, where, after a quick glance over the wine list it was decided nothing would be more appropriate as an aperitif than four glasses of Chandon's Non-Vintage Brut (especially considering we had a $260 a head dinner in front of us). Much to my surprise the waiter returned with a bottle of Chandon's 2005 ZD Blanc de Blancs (reviewed recent post) and started to pour the wine unannounced. I mentioned to my guests it was a different wine, to which the waiter agreed, but a superior one. This unforced upscaling was a pleasant start to the night, particularly as I believe the ZD Blanc de Blancs to be among the top handful of Aussie aperitifs.
So what does Adelaide's leading chef serve at an eight course, $260 a head dinner? The answer is as follows.
- 2009 Paracombe Sauvignon Blanc
Bopiah is a Malaysian (hope I'm right) seafood spring roll. Rather than being coated in deep fried pastry, it's covered in something more resembling a pancake, made with purposeful airholes/netting and garnished with heavily fried garlic chards. The result was a wonderful combination of soft texture from the pancake and crunchy fried garlic. Inside was a delicious Asian style soy/garlic/ginger sauce with just a hint of spice/chilli. Of the seafood lobster was the most obvious. The Paracombe Sauvignon Blanc, usually one of my favourites from the Adelaide Hills, was delicious, containing the inherently fruity banana and tropical fruit notes I've come to love from the maker. It's even better than the 2008 and made a superb accompaniment to the dish, with soft acidity gently dragging out and weaving through a persistent heat. I'll be hunting down a bottle for a future review soon. Great dish.
2. The Four Dances of the Sea:- Soused snook, calamari squid ink noodle, octopus aioli, spiced prawn
- 2008 Maximus Viognier
A Cheong signature dish, and a fantastic, beautifully arranged one at that. Each dish gradually gained in intensity and power, enthralling the palate more with each movement. Although I consumed it in one bite, the calamari layered with squid ink noodles (garnished with fish eggs from memory) were a real highlight, with magnificent depth of complex flavour and texture. I thought a McLaren Vale Viognier might've been a tricky match for this dish, but boy was I wrong! The 2008 Maximus is a full, juicy and bell-clear viognier with its restrained, pungent varietal fruits providing a mere undercarriage to a palate driven by mineral characters. Great stuff all round.
3. Bouillabaisse custard in saffron fish consomme, fried pacific oyster, beetroot ocean trout
- 2005 Rockford Local Growers Semillon
Served in a small tea cup, the fish consomme initially presented an over powering aniseed/star anise flavour, but when blended with the bouillabaisse custard (which sat in a thin layer at the bottom of the cup), the whole package evened itself out beautifully, revealing very gentle, understated characters. Especially sensuous was the texture. The raw ocean trout had been soaked in beetroot juices until it became a vivid crimson/fuscia/pink colour, creating a real visual treat. It was topped off with lightly battered (from memory) and fried pacific oyster meat. A friend of mine stated she found it a little too fishy, but I still enjoyed it. I reviewed the semillon back in April (90pts), but it seems it's developed an extra degree of honeyed, buttery undertones since then, which I don't think matched the dish perfectly for me. Better pick for the consomme than the trout though.
4. Salt Baked Maggi Beer Chicken, slow cooked abalone
- 2006 Voyager Estate Chardonnay
A classic 'east meets west' dish with a very asian style abalone paired with a much more traditional cut of chicken. The chicken was brilliantly soft, fluffy and juicy, but the abalone was inherently salty. Texturally the abalone was a treat, kind of sitting somewhere between good octopus meat and shitake mushroom, but it didn't present a lot of seafood flavour, as its rich, Asian style dressing stole the show somewhat. In fact, the whole dish seemed a little rich for the Voyager 2006 Chardonnay, which also showed a touch of candied fruit. The 2007 would've been preferable (for wine lovers) or even a pinot noir for the food.
5. Mamak Style Lobster, coconut fish, basil spatzle, flathead mousse
- 2005 Greenock Creek 'Cornerstone' Grenache
For me this was my least favourite dish. It was a good dish, and I note the development in intensity from the previous offerings, but it didn't quite work for me. You're basically looking at a Malaysian curry style lobster tail sitting on top of basil infused Greek pasta. Admittedly it's a very ambitious, unique creation, typifying Cheong's east meets west mantra, but it just didn't fall into place for me. Neither did the Greenock Creek, which despite weighing in at 16% alcohol wasn't too alcoholic, but I did find it very ripe, sweetly fruited yet developing and currant like. The natural acidity of the Barossa grenache worked well with the curry's heat though, drawing out further yet pleasant intensity, in what was a bit of a surprise for me.
6. Roasted suckling pig, salted cod with almond, sage and pineapple
- 2002 R.B.J. Theologicum
A fine dish after the previous one did kind of let most people on the table down. The pig meat was awesome; soft, supple and framed with delectable crackling - crispy and salty - a fine play on texture. The salted cod filling too was good, but there didn't seem to be much there. I wasn't too sure about another Barossan southern Rhone, this one seemed rather developed and perhaps a tad tiring, with rather dry barnyard and savoury currant fruit/earth characters marked by still fairly strong acids. For interest the RBJ Theologicum was a bit of cult local Barossa wine (now discontinued) which was established by Chris Ringland, Rolf Binder and Russell Johnstone.
7. Cheese - Delice de Cre'mier, Tomme de Chevre, Come de Reserve, Epoisses
- 2004 Longview Vineyard Block 11 Cabernet Sauvignon
I'm not much of a cheese expert, but I know this collection of cheese was quite exceptional. The Come de Reserve especially, which was a very nutty flavoured hard cheese, was delicious. It also possessed an astringency which made it literally scream out for red wine, which is where the 2004 Longview Block 11 came into play magnificently. I'm not normally a big fan of Adelaide Hills Cabernet Sauvignon and the Block 11 is certainly at the upper end of the pricing scale for the style (around $70 I think). It seemed to me to either be developing fast or hitting an awkward stage - it was very savoury, a bit blocky, dusty, leafy and leathery, but it didn't quite come together well. All the same it was a superb hard cheese wine.
8. Imperial Rice and Sago Square, anglaise sauce with Cinnamon ice cream and fruit compote
- 2007 De Bortoli Noble One Semillon
The rice and sago square didn't quite work for me, but I'm not sure if it's really my kind of thing. The cinnamon ice cream however, was fantastic - light and gently spicy, but I don't know why it was green? This was also my first encounter with the 2007 Noble One. I liked it, but not as much as the '06. It just seemed to lack the length, penetrating flavour and refreshing acids of its predecessor. Having said that it was the ninth 100ml pour of a wine I'd had that night....
To finish off we enjoyed a pour of the Morris Old Premium Muscat, taking the total bill to a bit over $290 per person (with $29 worth of water!). The Old Premium Muscat is an incredibly thick, heavy, concentrated and intense muscat in the classical Old Premium style, with a strong accent of sultana/currant/raisin flavour. Personally I think it lacks a bit of the vitality and character of its tokay sibling, but I'm more of a tokay man myself. The tokay was unavailable unfortunately.
In summary, I can't fault the experience at The Grange. The setting, atmosphere and service were all very good, especially the service. Cheong even comes out towards the end of the night to talk to diners at their own table. Although ambitious and unique (by my standards) the food was of a high standard, but it just might've been a bit much for me, both stylistically and price wise. I walked away thinking maybe my palate isn't yet ready for such extravagant, expensive culinary delights, which made my wallet happy. Because indeed, my main grievance with The Grange is cost, or value for money. It didn't surprise me at all when the waiter told us they'd been very quiet for some time, until Cheong announced his resignation. Hey, this is Adelaide folks!
I give it 9/10