by Mick and Di, The Food Lovers

Mantra Restaurant & Bar are always pushing, not only the culinary and vino envelope, but also the entertainment angle.    From opera to Irish folk music to the most recent jazz event, wining, dining and entertainment come together at this most stylish of venues.  Mick and I were invited to two such events recently, the first was a 6-course gourmet menu in celebration of the arrival in Thailand of the French wine house, Famille Castel, and the second an evening of jazz with the international singer Pearl Pratum-Anon and her accomplished trio.

The Famille Castel wine dinner commenced with pre-dinner drinks in the bar which in itself is a wonderful place to be, even if you are not planning to dine.   From the moment you enter through its tall and stately doors into the lounge area you have to be impressed.  The colour statement of vibrant Chinese red and black creates a striking décor.

We then made our way into the main dining area where the first wine was ready to be uncorked.   A Sauvignon Blanc, Reserve de France 2010 was paired with an Alaskan king crab salad with avocado, Parmigiano and truffles.  Perfectly seasoned and presented, it was a lovely salad with the sweetness of the crab meat offset by the richness of the avocado and truffles and delightfully given a final extra kiss of salmon caviar. The wine’s intensive aroma and floral lightness effortlessly escorted the fishy salad to enliven the taste buds and prepare for the coming pageant of dishes.

Morel bisque followed with the pairing of a Sirah Rose, Reserve de France 2011.  Unusual chums but they played together splendidly, neither bullying the other but allowing each flavour to speak for itself.  A thick, dark creamy soup with lashings of flavour from the morel mushrooms was crowned with a cappuccino foam. We enjoyed the peachy rose accompaniment and even requested a further top up.  Pan- seared US scallops on caramelized pineapple followed.  An atypical treatment for these tasty molluscs.  The accompanying Chardonnay-Muscat again seemed surprising but the medium sweetness beautifully married with the decidedly sweet-sour interplay.

The main event was then served.  Australian beef tenderloin “tournedos rossini” lava stone grilled, topped with lavish foie gras and accompanied by truffle mash potato and rosemary jus.  This was served with Cabernet Sauvignon Grande Reserve 2010.  Tenderloin is the most elegant cut of beef and with the luxurious kiss of foie gras it was, yes, you’ve guessed it – fabulous.  The wine escort with its intense black current and spice proved a winning formula indeed.  If the experience so far wasn’t enough we still had two more courses to come.   Brie and Gruyere were served with  big juicy grapes, figs and apricots  to be enjoyed  with a glass of Merlot, Bordeaux.  Again, the pairing made firm friends making for another top notch marriage of wine and victuals.

It had truly been a bountiful dinner already but then rhubarb strudel and vanilla ice cream followed which we stoically found space for and enjoyed with an excellent Monsoon Valley, Muscat 2011. In summing up it was a memorable evening and a quintessential dining experience.

All That Jazz….

The ambiance in the restaurant for the Pearl Pratum-Anon jazz night was tingling in anticipation, the red twinkling table settings glistened and while we browsed the set menu the trio struck up with the well known sounds of  Antonio Carlos Jobim’s  “Wave” which then filled the air.  To commence our buffet of wines we ordered a glass of Zonin Pinot Grigio from Italy.  It’s light elegant structure proved a delightful opener for the tastes to come.

The menu offered options,  for the hors d’oeuvre either beef tartar accompanied by beef carpaccio and truffle shavings or seared scallops and beetroot risotto.  Mick ordered the beef and I plumped for the scallop alternative.  Both were stunning dishes, light in execution and perfectly seasoned.   Executive Chef Leonard Faust is the relatively new chef here.  He hails from Australia and is unquestionably applying his passion for contemporary cuisine to his innovative menus.    I loved the textural interplay between the beetroot risotto, touched with citrus, and the soft sweetness of the scallop while Mick praised the beef tartar blending and the supreme quality of the beef carpaccio.

Meanwhile, Pearl had swung into her first set and the strains of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” imbued the restaurant while we pondered the choice of soups.  I chose the bell pepper cappuccino with foie gras which was spot on while Mick acclaimed his choice of  mussel and saffron chowder with a cherry tomato compote.  The final luxury overload of foie gras to the red pepper emulsion was inspired.  With this course we were drinking a most surprising Beringer White Zinfandel.  The first surprise, you will find is that it is pink and the second that its mellow flavours of summer berries, citrus and melon refresh the palate while the clove spices keep it interesting.

Then Chef Leonard had a surprise up his sleeve.   Laid before us were Lilliputian glasses filled with chilled rock melon and vodka shot.  Fantastic, the flavours singed with freshness, the vodka providing just the right element of oomph to pep up the taste buds.   It was now time to choose the central dish of the evening.  We were faced with choices between pan-fried snow fish served with brocolini, onion bhajis and curry sauce or 120 days, grain-fed Australian beef tenderloin with ratatouille and rosemary jus.  It had been quite a gastronomic journey to reach this juncture and we both felt that the lightness of the snow fish would exactly hit the spot.  How right we were.  The snow fish charmingly fell in shards under the fork and together with the aromatic spiciness of the onion bhaji and sweet complexity of the Thai green curry made for an exciting dish.  Fusion has never worked so well.    To accompany this course we ordered a glass of Tahuna Pinot Noir from New Zealand.  This fine wine from Hawkes Bay was wonderful;  light and clear with its earthy overtones and absence of tannin, it was the perfect companion to the myriad of flavours in our main course.

An assortment of cheese from the trolley was then presented together with a fig and date compote, apple relish and lavosh crisps (an Armenian unleavened flat bread).    For dessert the kitchen had prepared a raspberry and blueberry mille feuille, vanilla bean mascarpone and orange dust.  Sweetness itself, this melodious course appealingly melted away with the dulcet tones of Pearl’s rendition of  “Moon River” both providing the sweetest finale to this brilliant evening of jazz at Mantra restaurant.

Mantra is open daily from 6.00 pm till l.00 am. (The bar opens at 5.00 pm).  Tel: (038) 429 591 or visit Sunday brunch from 11.00 am – 3.00 pm.  Reservations recommended. Dress code applies. All credit cards accepted.

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