In the search for inspiration to create new dishes for their That Little Wine Bar menu Chef Tommes was in France recently (April & May 2013), travelling, eating, tasting and rekindling with the rustic world of French cuisine. Through his travels, he found that many small-town and countryside restaurants in France, which are manned by a husband and wife team, have returned to the basic rustic French cooking, stripping away all the luxury costs to wade out the current slump in the French economy. These regional restaurants are now serving very regionalised rustic French food from as far back as the 1980’s and beyond, dishes that the locals grew up with and knows how they should taste and look like.
Eating his way through his tour of France, Tommes brought some of the dishes that he knew but have long forgotten to That Little Wine Bar. But the dishes found in his restaurant are prepared with a twist or two of modernisation, but still retaining the old world taste and textures.
Starting off with the show and tell preview is a dish that is only served on Fridays and Saturdays, the Gascony influenced Peckish Platter for 2 consist of Smoked Salmon with Homemade Sour Cream and Caviar, Mini Vol-Au-Vent with Foie Gras Mousse, 3-Salmon Tartare, Homemade Hoummus, Chicken Liver Pate, Spanish Sardines on Croustillade, Marinated Duck Breast Slices, Portuguese style Octopus Ceviche, Spanish Olives, Spanish Anchovies with Grana Parmesan. Gascony is an area in the southwest of France, sandwiched between Spain and France. This area is famous for its ducks, geese, foie gras and Armagnac brandy.
Mini Vol-Au-Vent with Foie Gras Mousse, puffed pastry filled with a fluffy light mousse made from foie gras and heavy cream. It would have been splendid to have had the experience to taste this little creation.
Smoked Salmon with Homemade Sour Cream and Caviar, the smoked salmon accentuates a savoury and smoky flavour which was equalised with the slightly tart and creamy taste of freeze sour cream. The most pungent and most expensive of this dish would be the crowning caviar, salty with a very firm texture that pops in your mouth.
3-Salmon Tartare consist of poached salmon, smoked salmon and marinated chopped and served with fresh egg mayonnaise and herbs and spices. The combination of cooked, smoked and raw salmon helps rookies to tartare an alternative experience and ease of acceptance to a dish which is otherwise made of raw meat or fish.
Spanish Sardines on Croustillade came in pairs, the sardines in oil were meaty sweet and savoury to taste with a firm and woody texture (akin to a tender meat jerky) served on a bed of tomato concasse with olives and oregano on piece of crispy fried sourdough bread.
Portuguese style Octopus Ceviche, raw octopus marinated in olive oil, lemon juice and chopped parsley. The thinly sliced octopus pieces are “cooked” by the acidity from the lemon have a firm and chewy texture, and a tangy fruity taste that when paired with red wines are complementary to each other. It also offers an antidote to the alcohol effects of wines.
Marinated Duck Breast, a very Gascony cold cut dish that is either taken straight or seasoned with a pinch of salt and black pepper to enhance its flavours. The duck pieces were firm with sweet and pleasant flavours minus the gamey taste.
Spanish Anchovies with Grana Parmesan, a simple yet delicately balanced dish of salty fragrant Spanish anchovies served on a bed of smoky and spicy sweet char grilled pimiento (a.k.a. Cherry Pepper) and topped with shavings of rich and savoury Parmesan. Again, it is best eaten straight as it is, but chunks of baguettes also offer an alternative experience and cuts the strong salty taste.
There was also a Chicken Liver Pate in the Peckish Platter, which was less oily and irony due to the sweet citrus taste of the introduction of orange. It goes well with bread, but for me toasted bread would have been my choice. Not to forget too, were the savoury pickled olives.
Another new dish to the menu is their White Asparagus Cream Soup with croutons on the side. The soup had a delicate flavour which was further enriched with cream thus producing a creamy taste of spring. The croutons on the side gave the soup dish with a bit of bite and crunch, rather than the usual soaked through lumps of croutons. White Asparagus are usually not served in wine bars as it will irritate the palate, thus causing a metallic kind of aftertaste. And traditionally in Germany (Europe), they are usually prepared and cooked before noon to preserve their delicate flavours and texture from oxidising after harvest.
Their Middle Eastern Platter has influences from the Algerian and Morrocan migrants living in France. The platter consists of Baba ghanoush, Hummous, Artichoke Hearts in Oil, Feta Cheese and Dolmades ( a Greek styled glutinous rice rolled in grapevine leaf). The baba ghanoush had an earthy and light smoky flavour with chunky texture, artichoke hearts were tart with a fibrous texture, feta cheese was salty and rich, and the Dolmades were sourish with a firm tender texture. Personally, the artichoke hearts and Dolmades were overly tart for our preference.
A rustic and filling dish , Baked Camembert. At That Little Wine Bar, Chef Tommes modified this old “friend” of his by substituting Camembert with Brie; the 125g of breaded cheese was oven baked to a golden brown and served with cranberry jelly cubes and a side salad. For a full blown experience, start digging in while the cheese is still hot from the oven, and it would give you a cheese fondue like experience with a bit crunch here and there.
A 1960’s era southwest France dish, Marinated Duck Breast. The tender cut of duck breast was marinated overnight with rosemary, garlic, juniper berry, black pepper and honey, then pan fried until ‘a pointe’ or pink in the middle and served with seared mash potato, string beans and carrots francaise. The duck breast was sweet, spicy and meaty without that gamey taste, and the mash was fluffy and creamy.
Their revamped Beef Tenderloin with Merlot wine reduction sauce comes with shimeji mushrooms, nutmeg seasoned spinach, potato and carrot mash and caramelised onions. The beef tenderloin was tender, juicy and well seasoned, and the wine reduction sauce was full of body with a light hint of pepperiness and a sweet aftertaste.
John Dory with Moroccan-style rice, pan seared dory fillet and scallop served with a lemon half on the side and melted butter on a bed of flavoured Moroccan-styled rice (with raisins, orange cubes and almonds) and complemented with carrots and string beans. The fish fillet was succulent and tender, and the rice slightly spicy and sweet.
The traditionally French styled Seared Scallops and cauliflower are refined at That Little wine bar. The scallops pan seared with a pinch of cayenne pepper and seasoned with just salt and pepper, then served with a re-boiled cauliflower mash, capers and raisin emulsion, and topped with nutmeg dusting and finely chopped parsley. The capers and raisin emulsion had a bold and full body flavour that combines the sharp tanginess of capers and the sweet mellow taste of raisins that enhanced the taste and texture of the scallops and cauliflower mash.
The preview at That Little Wine Bar gave us further insight into Chef Tommes’ passion and knowledge in the culinary arts. The revival of old rustic food, in this case French food, also denotes that trend or cycle of the return to the basic recipes and food that people grew up with. It is this type of food that has filled our tummies when were young and will comfort us during hard times. The dishes showcased during the preview where simple food that requires not a lot of luxurious ingredients, but simple inexpensive components with a bit of knowledge in the cooking techniques and an understanding in the characteristics of the ingredients.
On average, our overall experience:
Address: 54, Jalan Chow Thye, Georgetown, 10050 Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Phone:+60 4-226 8182
Business Hours: Monday to Thursday 5:00 pm – 12:00 am & Friday to Saturday 5:00 pm – 1:00 am. Sunday Closed