Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A Play on Pinotage

One of our favorite restaurants in the 'countryside' of Shunyi is Pinotage (www.pinotage.co).  This South African establishment, led by the amazing Amber Deetlef, is an oasis of casual refined dining and sells some of the best South African wines around. Shunyi offers plenty of restaurants including a myriad of local varieties (pop rock duck anyone?) but a nice, sophisticated eatery like Pinotage is hard to find.

However, as much as we enjoy the food, we couldn't help but wonder what would happen if we put the STARAspin on a few of her dishes. Joined by visiting parents, we set off to find the ideal dishes to play with at home. Interestingly enough, we left the restaurant with a whole new set of ideas than what we had expected before our lunch. As we had visited Pinotage numerous times in the past we already knew the menu quite well and had an idea beforehand what we would choose to make.

We started off with Spiced Tuna Ribbons,  Mushroom Parcel, Roasted Cauliflower Soup and Chicken Livers followed by Lamb en Croute, Grilled Sea Bass with a Fennel & Mustard Crust, Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Apple Salsify Puree and South African sausages served with a maize puree. At this point we were already pretty full and had all but decided to skip dessert and just have coffee but couldn’t resist sharing the Malva pudding, mostly because neither of us was sure of what it exactly is.

We left the restaurant sated and happy, a box of wine richer as well, with plenty of new ideas and a menu to plan. Invitation for the inaugural STARAfood had been sent out and there was no going back now.

After careful planning we set out to shop at Beijing’s San Yuan Li market, a haven for a food lover. There you can literally find anything and everything. Vegetables, animal parts of all kinds (and we mean ALL), cooking utensils and why not change a watch battery while you are at it?  We headed for our favorite stalls and found almost all we needed, knowing for sure that we could locate the remaining few items at the stores close to our homes.

Sanyuanli Market

As our first guests, we invited an American couple, known food and wine-ists; one set of visiting parents and a bonus man since one of our spouses was bedbound with food poisoning (NOT from our doing we might add!).

We started out with bubbles, as one should, and served Smoked Salmon Tuilles and Blue Cheese and Fig biscuits to go with it. The salmon enclosed wasabi whipped goat’s cheese and presented the bite sized nibbles on Chinese soup spoons with a dash of soy, lemon and honey reduction.

Big success, huge! The only complaint was that there were too many…

As dinner was served, we poured a beautiful and not too fruity Sauvignon Blanc and served the Lightly Roasted Cauliflower soup with blue cheese, roasted pine nuts and a drizzle of white truffle oil. The cheese gave the soup nice undertones and the truffle oil gave it the oomph that was lacking before. Again, our guests complained; too much!

Our third course was Wild Mushroom Paquets, or cigars more likely. A variety of finely chopped wild mushrooms were cooked down with cream, blue cheese, water chestnuts and prosciutto crudo; then rolled in filo pastry and baked to flaky perfection. A balsamic reduction and pomegranate seeds decorated the plates.

As our main we had decided to take on the lamb en croute. But instead of baking the lamb with the pastry we decided to roast slices of aubergine and stack them with creamed leeks. The lamb fillets were marinated with lemon, red wine, rosemary and bay leaves and quickly pan fried so they were still beautifully pink inside. We made a parsley pesto to go on the plate as well (which, by the way, worked great with the leftover mushroom cigars the next day…). We served a South African Cabernet Sauvignon from 2007 with our meat, a wine that we didn’t mind enjoying long after we cleared the plates.

Done! Well, a meal needs a sweet ending of course and we were so very lucky to receive a bottle of Ice Wine from one set of guests. The Ice Wine worked wonders with the Whipped Ricotta with Grand Marnier and Rosemary marinated berries.

An espresso and a variety of after dinner drinks waited for us and our work was done!
All in all, a success we think; the only question is…where shall we go next and who will be invited to dinner?

Thank you Amber for the inspiration and thank you Xiu for helping to clean up!

Until next time….

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