The Use of Decanters to Create Theatre at a Xmas Lunch
Friday, 6th October, 2017 - David Farmer
You can find great food in humble restaurants and spotting these places before the crowd arrives is most satisfying.
In general though the great restaurants of the world, though I only know France and Australia well, are not modest in appearance. It seems success at the highest level of cooking is associated with creating a similar level of ambience, even luxury, as after-all the clientele are wealthy.
Another attraction is often the location, perhaps the restaurant is in an historical building, though the ones I particularly enjoyed were in scenic, country locations often with fine gardens. The commonality is they look the part and from the entry you pass into the hands of the staff who you quickly realise are the best in the game.
What they do so well is build the sense of anticipation and at times this can be so powerful as to almost overwhelm the senses and so successfully sets the scene for what is to come.
I never tired of the journey to Berowra Waters Inn, Sydney, knowing what lay ahead, parking the car and waiting on the jetty for the punt to take us across river to the restaurant, the build-up of emotions, the arrival, and looking across the Hawkesbury River to the cliffs of Hawkesbury sandstone, so quintessentially Sydney, you knew you had arrived, and they always delivered.
Thus I have never begrudged a dollar spent in these places since half the cost was paying for the front row seat, watching the play unfold through its many acts. From the moment you enter a great restaurant till you leave its pure theatre and the other guests are always interesting to gossip about. The food and wine are a bonus making the cost insignificant.
On one of my first buying trips to France, I recall in 1977, I had arranged to meet a Canberra friend at the grand temple of gastronomy, La Pyramide, Vienne, for lunch. The date had been set months before at a crazy lunch moment in Canberra and I had no idea what might happen as he was travelling around Europe. It was spring, the weather was perfect, and arriving early I sat in the courtyard with a glass of Champagne and felt blessed. Dick arrived shortly after and the theatre unfolded into an afternoon of perfect contentment.
La Pyramide had one of the greatest wine lists ever created and this was at a time when you could afford the great classics. Indeed La Pyramide had not moved its prices for decades even though auction prices at Christies were heralding a great change. Dick was born in 1937 and being in party mode wished to finish with a sauterne of his birth year. While 1937 was a celebrated year I had spotted the Ch. D’Yquem 1921 on the list and the price was affordable.
Dick would not be swayed and though I can still taste the Ch. Coutet 1937 the boasting rights are not quite the same and for those a little puzzled a bottle of D’Yquem 1921 would now sell for +$10,000, supposing any genuine bottles are left.
So when it became my duty in 2010 to create Xmas lunch in the house I rented, a place lacking any ambience, in a street with no character, I knew it was going to be hard.
Still it's how you stage the show that’s important, so use the best table cloth, crockery, sliver-ware, and glasses plus I had one strength which was a collection of decanters accumulated over decades. This is how I used the decanters to build anticipation and maintain the focus on the wine and food.
Gazpacho served with pink Champagne, no decanter required. The wine, Larmandier-Bernier Premier Cru Rose de Saignee.
Pale fino was served with rillette of hare from a small, elegant, hand cut decanter which reflects well the colour of the sherry. Australian finos have more colour than those of Spain and if serving say a Manzanilla, a fine delicate modern decanter of the type not made with a stopper would appeal. Also far more interesting glasses would have been appropriate. This is the moment to use cut crystal ware or glasses with coloured stems or unusual shaped glasses. The sherry, Seppeltsfield Flora Fino DP 117, a favourite which I have been drinking since 1975.
Vouvray is not a grand wine so I choose a simple, straight sided decanter which was just right to display its colour, and drying charms. The Vouvray was poured with the last of the rillette with a side salad. At this stage I also wanted a wine of interest which would sit in the background as this was a breathing moment as gifts were exchanged; it was Le Mont Vouvray 2007 (Domaine Huet).
The yabbies are pan fried till rose-red in colour than placed to the side while the sauce is prepared and then are combined, stirred to warm and served. You can find the recipe for this wonderful dish here.
Yabbies in cream sauce was served with an Austrian Gruner Veltliner. The lightness of the white with its touch of acid/sweetness is a nice match with this dish. The ornately engraved decanter is French, in the art nouveau style of the 1930’s and glassware like this is scarce. The Gruner Veltliner ‘Steinfeder’ 2008 (Franz Hirtzberger) was brilliant.
The first red, an Italian, opened well so I paired this with a distinctive French art deco decanter, severe, and bold in design, and one of my favourites. The wine proved worthy of the decanter; a Verduno Pelaverga 2009 (G.B. Burlotto).
Barossa goose with pinot noir. This brilliant wine needed an exotic decanter which would reflect the colours so I choose an 1820, hand cut, lead crystal, Irish, pineapple decanter. In mint condition this would be worth a great deal of money but this had been well used by the time I purchased it in London, also the original stopper had been lost. The wine was a treasure; an Ata Rangi McCrone Vineyard Martinborough Pinot Noir 2006.
We finished with a range of Seppeltsfield fortifieds with cheeses, nuts and dried fruit. The perfect ending.
The age of decanters may have passed yet they are perfect when pairing wine with food.
I have tried to show how a collection can be used to create a memorable impression of the meal, as the lesson of the great restaurants is the importance of the theatre. Entertaining is fun but for the special moments go the whole way. If you have an interesting home it does not take much to create a sense of occasion and once this is achieved the odd course that is so-so and wine which is boring passes easily.
Decanters of the type shown can be purchased from antique shops in the U. K. and at places like the Portobello Markets, London, for little money. If you want rarely used, mint and rare decanters with original stoppers the prices rise rapidly.
Decanters were not used as much on the continent so they are harder to find though the designs are clever but I found the prices were much higher.
Most modern wines do not need decanting to remove sediment though this is a simple process to do. Just gently pour off 80% of the contents into the decanter and pour the rest through a coffee filter and consume later.
Lastly for a Barossa lunch you may wonder why no local wines were served. All I can say is that on the other days we maxed out on South Australian reds and whites.