You know those marriages – they’re great people separately but together they just don’t work at all. That was how I felt about pairing Indian food with wine. The delicacy of the grape, its aroma and depth of flavour, just can’t compete with the assault of heat from spicy Indian food. As well as being infused with chili, the rich, heavy Indian cuisine just hasn’t any room for the more subtle notes of wine…or so I believed.
In truth it seems that, just as India is a land of many different styles of cooking, there are also wines that are robust enough to mingle with the spices; the trick is finding out which goes with which. Tommes, the chef and co-owner (with his wife Louise) of That Little Wine Bar, teamed up with a talented Indian cook, Su, to take on the challenge and create an evening of Indian food and paired wines, and I was lucky enough to attend.
The appetiser was an essay in lamb: Seekh Kebab (an elegantly flavoured sausage) with Lukhmi (the royal cousin of the samosa). These were both courtly dishes, so fragile that they could almost have been eaten just with the lips, and was presented a delicate pouch of goodies paired fragrantly with a glass of Prosecco, whose delicate bubbles winked from the glass and tickled the palate.
The next course completely changed the tenor of the dinner. The Kathi Roll – the street food of Calcutta – consists of marinated beef presented in a paper-thin chapatti. This food is fast – it has to be cooked and eaten in a minute because it dies if you reheat it. A green ginger garlic paste daintily spiced with chilli powder and turmeric was the dipping sauce, and so finely blended that it was not overtly hot. This course was more of a challenge, wine wise, than the appetiser. Soave Ca’ De’ Rocchi was its mate– it wasn’t too dry and had quite a lot of body, which helped to balance the rustic taste of the Kathi Roll.
The main course moved away from the dough-based accompaniments of the two previous courses into a pork dish (a rarity in Indian restaurants in Malaysia) – Subbu’s Kofta Curry with turmeric rice. This was paired with a Corolla Rosé; a clever choice as the wine was strong enough to stand up to the spices and, indeed, had some depth of its own. It was bold to pair red meat with white wine – traditionally considered a no-no – but it worked. In fact, the food was almost too delicate for a red wine.
The meal ended, all too soon, with a gorgeous Indian broken rice pudding, called Phirni, which was dusted with gold. Indian rice pudding has none of the stodgy connotations of European boarding schools; it’s considered a food fit for gods and is served, exquisitely spiced with cardamom and saffron, for the resident deities in select Indian temples (usually you have to chat to the priest to get it). The paired wine was a glass of Floc de Gascogne Rouge, a wonderfully sweet dessert wine that deserves to be better known.
After an evening at That Little Wine Bar, you always come home having learnt something, having enjoyed delicious tastes, and with no headache, as the wine they serve is so pure. The Indian Wine evening was no exception, and I think this a marriage that is definitely going to last!
That Little Wine Bar
Jalan Chow Thye
Tel: 04.226 8182
Source: Penang International October-November 2012
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