Loire Valley Wine Dinner at Bistro Vue

Wine dinners are brilliant affairs – I really love it when a restaurant pulls out all the stops, partners with a wine distributor and decides to let us all take a wine flight to a place we never would have thought to go.  Bistro Vue does a few during the year – and it’s a great way to get into a festival atmosphere without having to wait until March for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.  I latched onto my trusty colleagues, iMac and Gorgeous AT, and locked them in for a fun night of francophile frivolity (alliteration unintended).

We had been instructed to arrive at 6:30pm for a 7:00pm start – however, unfortunately the restaurant wasn’t exactly ready for us and proceedings started very slowly.  I had arrived right on the knocker – with another three punctual diners. We set ourselves up in the bar and started up a convivial conversation – as we were in high spirits and expecting a great night.  It took about 10 minutes for Bistro Vue to bring us out an aperitif – and then another 5 before an amuse bouche was presented to us.

Goat’s cheese and onion tart

The amuse bouche was a lovely morsel – a tiny tart that had beautiful caramelised onion, a gorgeous layer of goat’s cheese, a swirl of pumpkin puree and some baby basil as a garnish.  We also enjoyed La Soupe Angevineas our aperitif – a refreshing blend of sparkling chenin blanc, cointreau and lemon juice.  As guests started arriving in force, again the staff struggled to serve in a timely manner – the lovely iMac had to request one and the Gorgeous AT missed out altogether!  L’horreur! There was a real sense of rationing in the air…. it did not bode well.

We were ushered into our dining area – the larger room of the traditional Bistro Vue – and were seated communally at three large tables.  Overall, there were just over 30 diners there to enjoy the evening. Of course, the more we enjoyed the evening – the louder the room became.  Everyone found it difficult to hear each other – especially with the large tables.  The lady sitting opposite me was saying she was losing her voice because the room was so loud. I have to agree – the room is full of hard surfaces – and it quickly became difficult to converse with anyone not sitting right next to you – this was a real disappointment. Maybe Bistro Vue should look into getting baffles installed – because for me, it really detracted from my enjoyment of the evening.

Garlic Moreton Bay bugs with herb emulsion

This dish was absolutely stellar – and for me was the hit of the evening.  The Moreton Bay bugs were delicate and perfectly cooked, and the herb emulsion (which was more like a soft paste) was delicious – made from chervil, chives and parsley, it added a real freshness to the dish.  Garnished with nastursium leaves the dish was a triumph.  My only complaint – there wasn’t enough.  There was about 30 – 40g on the plate (the serving of bug meat you see is only about 6cm across).  The dish was beautiful – but the serving size was a bit of a tease!

What we drank: NV François Chidaine Montlouis sur Loire Brut.   This lovely sparkling came from a winery just across the Loire River from Vouvray.  From artisan producers, it is aged in wood and bottled with its residual sugar – méthode traditionelle (as opposed to méthode champenoise).  Produced from 100% chenin blanc grapes – it was a lovely, refreshing and smooth sparkling wine.  The vineyard soil sits on a tuffeau foundation – being a particular type of limestone that has been used for centuries to build chateaus and other buildings – but also has a lovely draining capacity to it which enables the vines to flourish.  Retails around $30-35.

Fillet of jewfish, almonds, grapes, verjus

This was another delicious dish – the almonds and grapes beautifully complemented the jewfish – and it was taken to the next level by the judicious application of lemon juice.  The presentation was faultless – I absolutely adored the muslin wrapped lemon and the delicate chive oil that dressed the plate.  Stunning.

What we drank: 2009 Gérard Boulay Sancerre ‘Clos de Beaujeu’.  This was an absolutely delicious wine – Sancerre is generally the home of sauvignon blanc – but this was like no SB I’d ever tasted. It was light and aromatic, and had a mineral note throughout – but it was also quite dry and soft on the palate.  It is grown in a vineyard with a southern aspect, so it enjoys the afternoon sun.  There were tones of honeysuckling and stone fruit.  Apparently this wine can age quite well – which is unusual for this varietal.  Lovely.  Retails around $70.

Rôtisserie pork, pommes sauté, pear

Another great dish – Head Chef Chris Bonello explained that Bistro Vue had just acquired a new toy – a French Rôtisserie.  We were, in fact, the first group to be served a dish from it.  Pork is always lovely, and this gorgeous belly had been roasted at high heat for an hour, and then on low heat for 2 more.  It was delicious, and beautifully complemented by the intensely salty lardons that garnished the plate! The pork was served with a pear puree and a pear crudite – which provided a lovely balance of interesting textures.  The cavalo nero was beautiful, as was the jus.  A gorgeous dish – again, my only complaint was that the serving sizes were inconsistent. Gorgeous AT next to me received two slices of the pork, while I only received one (yes – plate envy!!).  Maybe it was because she missed out on an aperitif???

What we drank: 2009 Bernard Baudry Chinon ‘La Croix Boisée.  Wine of the night for most of us – this soft, elegant red was beautiful.  Bernard Baudry is a purist, so he only uses 100% Cabernet Franc (although the region allows up to 10% cabernet sauvignon to blend).  Chinon is apparently where Joan of Arc met Charles VII and pushed the English out of France – so the region has a lot to be proud of.  The vineyard sits on that tuffeau foundation, so the soil is well drained being a mix of clay and limestone.  A really lovely wine.  Our only regret (and this extended throughout the night) – we were poured a small serve that was miniscully topped up.  When we asked for another taste of the red – only about 3 people were served a centimetre or so more – and I’m sure I saw our waiter wringing out the bottle….  Retails around $70-80.

Chestnut, lemon and chocolate

Dish of the night for iMac – but I’ve just figured out – she’s a great fan of Bombe Alaska, and this was a bit of a deconstructed version.  The lemon was hidden in the meringue and, unfortunately was barely discernable – however, the dish was beautiful. The chestnut and chocolate parfait was beautifully offset by some rhubarb puree and apple discs.

What we drank: 2009 Huet Vouvray Möelleux ‘Le Mont’.  Again we enjoyed the very diverse Vouvray grape – this time as a sweet wine, but not too sweet (in fact, IMHO it was a little dry for the dessert).  Again, sitting in that wonderful tuffeau limestone soil, this 8 hectare vineyard sits right by the river.  The grapes were affected with a little botrytis, which provided a level of complexity and sweetness to the wine.  Apparently it has 20 years of aging potential… but it would never last that long in my house.  No pricing information provided.

Ooops… MAJOR UPDATE… The macarons… I forgot to tell you about the macarons!!!

Petit fours – Macarons

So, as a petit four, we were very happy to receive some macarons!  Alas – they were not great.  The flavours were barely there and they were overly chewy.  Now, I admit that I can’t profess to be a connoisseur of macarons – but I have had the delices from Lindt (they are awesome) and I’ve had Zumbo’s macarons (even more awesome).  So, for me they are the benchmarks – and these macarons fell hugely short of the mark.  Sorry, guys – you’ll have to work on them a bit more.

Overall, the evening was a bit of a mixed bag for me – the food was lovely, but the servings were a little on the meagre side;  the wines were gorgeous and interesting, but they weren’t generously served; the ambience and the people in the room were fabulous, but the acoustics were so loud it made conversation difficult.  When we discussed the possibility of getting some wines through the distributor, he basically begged off saying that the wines were really only available for restaurant trade at the moment.

However, I can say the evening was incredibly informative (especially as I am going cycling in the Loire Valley in September!!) – and the food was really beautiful.  There’s just a bit of room for improvement – but on the whole it was an enjoyable evening, and I met some lovely people.

I wonder where the next wine dinner will be….

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