Mick and I were invited recently to the latest oenophile event at the ever popular Mantra Restaurant and Bar. We were to experience the celebrated wines of the famous Tuscan wine house, Castello Banfi, paired with the culinary creations from Executive Chef Leonard Faust and his team. A family-owned vineyard estate and winery in the Brunello region of Tuscany, Castello Banfi’s dedication to excellence in the art of winemaking has been recognized the world over. Capturing honor after prestigious honor, the American-owned estate has been declared “International Winery of the Year” an unprecedented four times at VinItaly’s International Enological Concourse, which also named Castello Banfi “Italy’s Best Wine Estate” 11 times since 1994. Guillaume Blanchard, regional manager, Southeast Asia for Banfi Winery, was in attendance and charmingly hosted the evening.
The vinous event set sail with canapés and a glass of bubbling Banfi Brut Metodo Classico NV in Mantra’s dramatic bar before being seated in the main restaurant. The wine served with the appetizer was a delightful Banfi Le Rime Pinot Grigio – Chardonnay Toscana. A splendid partnership of grapes; the Chardonnay rounding out the youthful crispness of the Pinot Grigio creating a superb amalgamation. To compliment this wine Chef Leonard had crafted a starter plate of Hiramasa kingfish and fresh fig carpaccio. Hiramasa kingfish is the king of yellowtail and is regarded as sashimi at its finest. Married with the sweetness of those luscious fresh figs and encircled by a roasted artichoke heart, cherry tomato, arugula salad and shaved Parmesan, it was a stunning opening dish.
Tipping his toque to Tuscany, Chef Leonard then produced a rustic Tuscan soup paired with a Banfi Chianti. This classic Italian icon is superbly represented by Banfi’s 2013 vintage. Rich flavors with subtle tannins and a captivating bouquet, it made the perfect companion to the richness of the rustic country-style soup bursting with Cannellini beans, salty pancetta, wilted baby spinach, tomatoes and fruity extra virgin olive oil. Mama mia, it was good.
The main course now beckoned. We chose the fish option for this course although it was a tough call between that and the slow braised lamb shank in squid ink ravioli with seared lamb loin, roasted butternut pumpkin, ricotta cheese and truffle oil. The impeccably cooked snow fish benefited from a blackened polenta crust and was accompanied by sweet poached baby fennel, confit garlic (fantastic) , salsa verde (packed with herby flavors) and crisp schiaciatta (a classic Tuscan flatbread). We should have requested another glass of Chianti to accompany fish but were not quick enough to outrun the efficient servers and before we knew it we were poured the wine to escort the lamb shank, a Banfi Belnero Toscana 2010. Medium-bodied with full structured tannins, it was a rich and fruity wine with overtones of plums and cherries which we enjoyed.
Imported cheeses are a speciality of this kitchen and nearly always appear before the dessert at Mantra dinners. This occasion was no exception and we were then presented with a trio of top-notch cheeses: Pecorino, Taleggio and Gorgonzola served with a duo of dried apricots and grapes. It was the ideal cohort for the big gun of the evening, a Banfi Brunello di Montalcino 2008. This classic from the Banfi portfolio is produced with clones of the Sangiovese grape which the winery has perfected with decades of experimentation and research. Aged in French oak barrels, it is the most aristocratic wine combining Montalcino traditions with modern winemaking. A joy to sip and slurp and it made very good amici with those Italian cheeses.
Chef Leonard still had one more surprise up his sleeve. The dessert was listed on menu as “Chocolate Salami” and indeed it did resemble a slice of dark spicy salami but in the mouth was a riot of rich high-grade chocolate studded with pistachios and almonds served with brioche and for a final kiss attended by a delicious boozy cocktail cherry. The vinous element was an unforeseen surprise, a Banfi “Rosa Regale” Brachetto d’Acqui. This most elegant, soft sparkling wine made from the Brachetto grape utilizes the cold maceration of the grapes followed by soft pressing to extract the full flavor from the skins giving this most chicest of wines its light ruby red color. Mantra once again pushed the culinary envelope and together with the careful selection of wines from Banfi Winery staged another memorable gourmet dinner.
If you haven’t visited Mantra, it really is a world-class gourmet destination and one that comes highly recommended. Seven regional specific kitchens offer Japanese, Indian, Chinese, Western, Mediterranean (including pizzas), the grill and lava stone area plus the huge fish tanks. The ambiance is chic trendy and dynamic. Seclusion can be obtained in one of the private rooms in the Lost Gallery or a reservation made for the long and luxurious Sultan’s Table. Mantra hits the spot in so many ways. It is a popular stylish venue offering a wealth of cuisines to suit all pockets, served in a beautifully chic architectural phenomenon. A must visit.
Mantra Restaurant & Bar
Open daily from 6 pm till l am
(The bar opens at 5 pm)
Sunday brunch from 11 am to 3 pm
Reservations recommended. Dress code applies. All credit cards accepted.
Tel: 038 429 591