A Taste of France in Penang

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Chef Tommes, the co-owner of That Little Wine Bar, has recently returned from a trip to Gascony in South-West France with some new ideas and awesome food. Frances Wilks went along to sample it.

The tastes of each country are subtle and not easily transferred to another. All sort of factors go into food flavours such as sunlight, soil conditions and rainfall as well more intangible cultural issues. It is very much to Chef Tommes’s credit that he has transported us, albeit briefly, from the steamy heat of Penang to the more temperate landscape of south-western France, with a selection of delicious dishes that are available at That Little Wine Bar on Friday and Saturday evenings.

“The economy of the region isn’t very good at the moment,” says Tommes. “But that actually is exciting in terms of food because people don’t have the money to buy lavish foreign ingredients and have to go back to basics to cook the way their grandparents did.” Tommes is attempting to recreate some of these heirloom, almost rustic, tastes. We started with the ‘Peckish Platter,’ a delightful conglomeration of flavours served on a retro three tier cake stand. Designed for two, it offers the salty and savoury tastes of smoked salmon and caviars, sardines in olive oil on a tomato concasse on sour dough bread, hummus, chicken liver and orange pate, olives and marinated duck breast. It really is a meal in itself. There’s also a Moroccan platter if you like venture outside Europe while still staying within the Mediterranean.

If you are a soup fan, try the White Asparagus Soup because this really is a rarity in Penang, or indeed a wine bar anywhere in the world. White asparagus, unlike its green cousin, has an enzyme which tastes bad when cooked. Tommes cooks it in a special way which neutralises this and the result is amazing. One of the dishes of 70’s and 80’s which Tommes has revived is the Baked Camembert, which is, just as it sounds a wonderful piece of baked chees – breadcrumbed on the outside and hot and gooey on the inside. It’s defi nitely for sharing!

There are main courses too, such as the beef tenderloin with a merlot reduction, carrot and potato mash, mushrooms, caramelised onions and nutmeg and spinach. I enjoyed the pan-seared scallops with a Penang twist of nutmeg and a strong caper raisin emulsion served with twice boiled cauliflower blended with heavy cream. The John Dory with carrots and beans was delicious as well.

After all these delicious tastes, there was absolutely no room for pudding, so I will just have to come back on another day to sample these delights!

Source: Penang International October/November 2013

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