Peach Blossoms @ Marina Mandarin Hotel
Last Sunday, I was invited to Chaine des Rottiseurs (Singapore) Annual Lo Hei Dinner. This year, the venue was Peach Blossoms @ Marina Mandarin Hotel. Dress code evening elegance.
I do not own a Cheongsam so the next most suitable attire was a dress that Valerie got me. This Chinese-Korean costume required a little skill and thus my search on YouTube began frantically at the eleventh hour when I realised Valerie has forgotten how to tie an Otkorum.
Armagnac is a highly aromatic brandy from the Gascony region of far south-western France. Armagnac was France’s first brandy and is said to date back more than 700 years, to the early 15th Century. If accurate, this makes Armagnac the oldest distilled spirit produced anywhere in Europe.
Despite its long history, Armagnac is often confused with (and compared with) its more famous cousin Cognac. On the surface the two are really very similar: they are both wine-based spirits (eaux-de-vie de vin) from south-western France, produced in essentially the same way and from similar grape varieties. But there are subtle, vital differences between the two, which are the source of great regional pride. (© Wine-Searcher)
The two most obvious differences between Armagnac and Cognac are region of origin and flavor profile. Armagnac comes from Gascony, 75 miles (120km) south-east of Bordeaux. Cognac comes from the Charente, just north of Bordeaux. Armagnac is more deeply flavored, weightier, earthier and darker. Cognac is slightly lighter, finer and fruitier.
Beyond region and style, there are a few less obvious ways in which Armagnac and Cognac differ. The most technical of these is that most Armagnac is distilled just once, in a continuous still. This single distillation creates a heavier spirit – lower in alcohol and higher in flavor than Cognac (which is distilled twice in a traditional pot still). Because the distillation process naturally separates the spirit from its heavier flavor compounds, the less refined a spirit is, the richer its flavor. Most Armagnac leaves the still between 53% and 60% ABV, versus Cognac’s 72% ABV.
Armagnac is made by distilling wine, so everything begins in the vineyards. The Ugni Blanc grape variety accounts for around 55% of Armagnac-producing vines, typically accompanied by Folle Blanche, Baco Blanc and Colombard. Also permitted (but less commonly used) are Blanc Dame, Graisse, Jurancon Blanc, Mauzac Blanc, Mauzac Rosé and Meslier Saint-Francois. Each of these brings its own particular qualities to the spirit, so the varieties are harvested, vinified, distilled and aged separately. This gives producers greater freedom and flexibility when creating their final blend.
Following distillation, the spirits are aged in oak barrels: an initial 6 to 12 months in new barrels, followed by a longer period in used barrels. They are then blended together to create the desired flavor profile. This blend of spirits is then transferred back into barrel, where it homogenizes and is (if necessary) diluted gradually to bottling strength (typically between 40% and 45%). Because alcohol evaporates gradually over time in barrel, the longer a spirit is aged, the less dilution it requires. This is one of Armagnac’s great advantages; older examples require no dilution at all. From this perspective, mature Armagnac is extremely ‘pure’, more so than even the best vodka (which is inevitably diluted with water).
The barrel maturation process is vital to Armagnac’s character. It softens the spirit, deepens its complexity and introduces new flavors of vanilla and spice. Much Armagnac is aged in oak from the Limousin and Troncais forests, but some producers maintain the tradition of using the so-called ‘black oak’ of the local Monlezun forest.
All Armagnacs are assigned a quality level, based on how much time the spirit spent in barrel: VS (between 1 and 3 years), VSOP (between 4 and 9 years), Napolean (between 6 and 9 years) and XO (10 years+). Some are marked with a specific age (that of the youngest spirit in the blend). Vintage-marked Armagnacs are produced exclusively from the stated vintage. Read more at: http://www.wine-searcher.com/regions-armagnac
It was a coincidence that my cousins and families ate here a few days before this event during CNY. I haven’t eaten at Peach Blossoms for the longest time – we patronised often when they first opened for business. I have no memory how good the food was then but there could be a change of chefs since I last visited.
This evening, the favourable tastes and service will make lasting impressions. Food presentation was stunning and the portions were generous. While, the food was generally slightly saltish to my palate, I loved them all with bias to certain dishes, of course!
Less of the plum sauce and I would be swooned over by the Facai Yusheng.
Double-boiled Clear Soup – tender chewy sea whelk and crisp morchella were to die for.
Alaskan King Crabs – very fresh (live?) and clean tasting and the best part was – they peeled most of the shell away making it very easy to eat.
Suckling Pig Roll – what did they do with the meat? I was and still am (while writing this post) very awed by the way this dish was dealt. How did the chef managed to cut the roasted pig’s skin into such thin slivers? It is not an easy feat to keep the crackling in shape especially when the stuffing was rigid lap cheong “waxed sausage”. I also liked the fact that there was no gamey smell which I am very “aware” when it comes to suckling pigs and mutton.
Braised Amadai – truth be told, I don’t know what Amadai is. I reckon it must be the name of the fish! The deboned flesh was very smooth and sweet. I suspect there’s pumpkin puree in the chicken bouillon, too. The combination was perfect and not too cloying. I had to stop myself from licking the bowl, hahaha…
Braised 8-head Abalone – this dish had everything, it was a mini Poon Choy! I am wowed by the puff pastry with shocking neon pink character “財” which means Fortune! Which Chinese doesn’t like auspicious sounding dishes during CNY? Everyone, rich or poor, could do with a little more fortune. The first whiff that hit us all was the curry aroma in this bowl. It had a strong presence but not too overpowering. It took a little while to get accustomed to (curried dishes in Cantonese restaurants are more Hong Konger’s style) but on continued mastication, the layers of pleasant flavours start to reveal itself. I like the textures of the fish maw, sea cucumbers and black moss (a.k.a fatt choy). I found the abalone too soft, lacking the chewy texture I like in mollusc/shellfish. I am not a big fan of shelled prawns, so enough said for this dish.
Baked Claypot Rice aka Lap Mei Fan (腊味饭) – the big hooha was the topping of crispy pork lard!!! It was an eye opener for everyone at the table. The best claypot rice I have had was in Macau but this had to be the second best. Nothing beats sizzling hot pots and to have crispy lard (I do believe some liquid lard was drizzled into this dish) as garnishing will unquestionably excite most Chinese’ palate.
Dessert – fatal attraction (I was scavenging Andrew’s platter).
Wine pairing – absolute high! I liked the Riesling and loved the Armagnac.
Overall, albeit the saltiness, this meal was definitely not pedestrian quality! Kudos to the Chef and his team in the kitchen as well as the restaurant manager and his wait staff!
I had a very enjoyable and fatt CNY dinner. Thank you, Andrew! 😀
Peach Blossoms (Level 5)
Address: Marina Mandarin Hotel
6 Raffles Boulevard
Marina Square, Singapore 039594
Lunch: 12.00pm – 2.30pm (Monday – Friday)
Lunch: 11.00am – 2.30pm (Saturday, Sunday & Public Holiday)
Dinner: 6.30pm – 10.30pm (Daily)
Reservations: (+65) 6845 1118
Happy lo hei-ing and bonding 😀
Previous posts on Lo Hei & Claypot Rice:
Lo Hei – 七彩魚生撈起! @ Kok Sen Restaurant 国成餐室