Bord Eau Wine Dinner - Shangri-la Hotel, Abu Dhabi

The Face of Love by Ingrid Jonker

Your face is the face of all the others 
before you and after you and your eyes calm as a blue 
dawn breaking time on time 
herdsman of the clouds 
sentinel of the white iridescent beauty 
the landscape of your confessed mouth that I have explored 
keeps the secret of a smile 
like small white villages beyond the mountains 
and your heartbeats the measure of their ecstasy 

There is no question of beginning 
there is no question of possession 
there is no question of death 
face of my beloved 
the face of love 

My dinner at Bord Eau, in which Shangri-la  hosted De Toren, a South African winery that is creating Bordeaux style wines that are challenging the old order, inspired me to open this review with a poem by Ingrid Jonker, one of South Africa's finest poets. There could be no venue more worthy than Bord Eau, arguably one of the most romantic restaurants in the city. Read along and re-live my evening. By the end of it, you will understand why the poem has started this review.

A very intimate setting made for meaningful conversation. 
As I walk in to Bord Eau, there is a buzz. Emil den Dulk of De Toren is the guest of honor as we taste and celebrate his wines. Guests are greeted with a glass of Cattier Champagne Premier Cru Brut, a deviation from the usual house Champagne,  Duval Leroy. This is no ordinary evening though. Bord Eau, which usually caters for a maximum of 40 guests indoors is almost full. If you missed my previous posts, Bord Eau is exquisite - classic French setting with soft tones, Degas- inspired paintings, oversized arching windows and magnificent but tasteful chandeliers providing gentle light. A glorious vase of red roses stands out in the middle of the room. Roses. Romance. Love. While this evening is not about romance, this is Bord Eau. Waiting staff move effortlessly, topping up Champagne glasses and offering canapés. 

A very romantic setting for the evening's special dinner

We are lead to our table and I am seated at the same table as Emil and Sonette den Dulk, the husband and wife pair who established De Toren in 1994. The restaurant is remarkably spacious. They could easily get more tables in there, but Bord Eau is seeking to  remain  peerless when it comes to fine dining in the city. In preparation for our amuse bouche, we are offered a Warwick Estate Professor Black Sauvignon Blanc 2013. It is a crisp, rich and fruity easy drinking wine with a taste of grapefruit and a bit of pear. While Emil is in conversation with some guests at the table, I have the pleasure of learning their story from Sonette. But food first. The amuse bouche, salmon tartar in a cone topped with lobster eggs, is an institution at Bord Eau. In many ways, ironically, it is a testament to simplicity! I await the next. For me the evening has added significance - it is my first experience of the new menu that Chef Didier has created. You will recall that Cyril Calmet had left for Bangkok. 

The second amuse bouche is the White asparagus soup. It leaves me wanting more. It is a very special dish. We had asparagus season a few months ago, so this Dutch asparagus is a real treat. The olive vinaigrette has salty and tangy elements which makes it so delicious. The added pine nuts complete the dish. 

Sonette and Emil, I meanwhile learn, hail from Johannesburg and up to 20 years ago had backgrounds as far removed from wine as you could imagine. Sonette, having absolute faith in Emil's entrepreneurial spirit, responded to his call for them to move to the Cape, a part of South Africa of unequaled natural beauty and famous for its winelands. In 1994 De Toren was born. I ask Sonette if there was a moment during those early years trying to get started when she felt they had made a mistake. She gives an unequivocal 'no'. 'I believe in my husband', is the  sentiment she expresses. Love. Romance. Bord Eau. Your face is the face of all others. .
Langoustine and ravioli
The first starter is served, The Big Langostine. It is a tour de force. Flavourful, original and so pretty. I look at Sonette, and I can see a glow in her face, a hesitation - it is almost as if she does not wish to disturb what is on her plate. A compliment to the chef. Unspoken. I eat. The langoustine is so light as I eat into it. The artichoke has a certain tang about it. The sturgeon caviar brings an obvious sea-saltiness. The subtlety of the celery ravioli makes it is marvelous starter. I look over at Sonette - she has finished hers. A smile creeps over my face.
Seriously challenging stereotypes - De Toren
I am told that the next course will be the Veal Cheek Wagyu Mironton. That means we are about to try the first De Toren wine, the De Toren Z. It is the kind of wine that needs to be decanted to enjoy its full complexity, and is promptly served in a gorgeous decanter. (It had been decanted much earlier to enhance its all-round appeal). While we are living in a time when a label at dinner is a status symbol, there is something charming and romantic about a decanter. The wine itself, Merlot driven,  is complex and richly aromatic with a gorgeous deep colour. Dark berries dominate. It is smooth. Fabulous.
Veal cheek
The Veal Cheek is presented. It bathes in a rich veal jus, with baby carrots and caramelized baby onion. The grave injustice about this dish that leaves me underwhelmed is that I wanted more! It leads me to consider Chef Didier's approach to the dishes, and I have a growing appreciation for his humility. Rather than throw out every item on the old menu and start anew, he has chosen to find a balance between retaining some immensely popular dishes with his own twist to it, while also creating completely new dishes.  

I look at the waiting staff and I watch their interaction with guests. Notwithstanding that this is a special dinner, they are so adept at what they do and are not overawed by the occasion. The hushed tone they use when addressing guests reflects nothing other than their awareness that this is a restaurant where romance is born and celebrated, and that they need to be harmonious with that in their demeanor - which they are. Romance. Love. Bord Eau. Emil and Sonette.
De Toren decanted. 
The Fusion V is poured. There is tremendous anticipation, This is the wine whose 1999 vintage won a Gold medal at the International Wine & Spirit Competition and in a big way altered the perception that Bordeaux wines could not be made to an excellent standard elsewhere. The Fusion V (recalling the 5 varietals used to make it) is dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon and draws 'oohs' and 'aahs' from everyone at my table. It is more intense, smoother and richer than the Z. A fine wine. Even to someone who is still learning about wines, the quality is noticeable. 
Rib eye Rossini
Next, the main course is served. It is the Rib Eye Rossini. This is another one of Chef's new dishes. I have always been a fan of the rib eye, although the strip loin previously on the menu was a delight.  However, rib eye, with its obvious tenderness, is likely to find greater appeal with common guests like myself, notwithstanding that strip loin tends to be chefs' favorites. The ribeye is more robust and has higher marbling. The fresh truffles provide the perfect extra that makes this a stellar addition to the menu. The classic Bord Eau sauce again finds its home on the plate with incredible creamy mashed potatoes. A winner. 

Dessert is a variation on something very special I have written about before - the Dark Chocolate Extravaganza, but this 2014 version keeps the essence of the original and adds a new dimension of flavour. Red fruits bring a bit of sourness, the caramelised pistachios and Brittany biscuit some  crunch while the vanilla ice cream adds  a touch of sweetness, not too much. Of course, the dark chocolate is still there. It remains extravagant! Valhrona chocolate sauce is still poured over the ball, and I am able to watch the chocolate melt. The question was, 'How do you take one of the best desserts in the city and make it better?' Well, Chef Didier has done just that. 

It is paired with an exquisite dessert wine, Klein Constantia vin de Constance 2008, a sweet wine scored 95% by Robert Parker. The dark chocolate notes make it the best possible South African pairing with the Chocolate Extravaganza. 

I look to our wine making pair, Emil and Sonette, and it is clear that the success of De Toren could not have been realised without the love they have shared. Individually, the pair speak glowingly of each other, but not in foolish romantic terms that have poisoned our minds thanks to popular media. It is in terms that reflect a journey started many years ago, and a journey that has resulted in a magnificent manifestation of that love, De Toren's Fusion V and Z. It was really appropriate that it would be Bord Eau to play host to this couple and their fine wine. Bord Eau is, after all, that richly endowed restaurant that reflects the obvious romance of France in its classical decor and dishes, the kind of service that is typical of Shangri-la that does not overwhelm that expression of love between two people - the service is always in the background, but so powerfully felt. 

Couple of the night - Emil and Sonette
It was supposed to be a wine dinner, part of a very exciting initiative at Bord Eau in which wines will be celebrated once a month, either regionally or thematically, but it ended up being so much more. It was an evening in which Chef Didier showed a wonderful respect for tradition while also bringing to the fore his creativity in a very Eliotian way. Poet TS Eliot, in his essay 'Tradition and the Individual Talent' writes about how a poet can achieve something special by finding a  balance between the past and his own sense of creation. Poetry - art. Cuisine - art. That is what was achieved by Chef Didier. But that was not all. The evening also highlighted  two extraordinary wines and a wine maker who has shown that South Africa has a terroir that can produce some extraordinary wines. For me, it was not about a wine maker and his wife. No. It was about a couple who have shown that with love, there are many possibilities. Dionysis surely became what he was thanks to the love of Ariadne? 

There is no question of beginning 
there is no question of possession 
there is no question of death 
face of my beloved 
the face of love 

As they posed for a final photo, there was a moment when they looked at each other. And I saw the way they looked at each other, as each looked into the face of love.

The essential

Bord Eau,
Shangri-la, Abu Dhabi.
02 509 8511

De Toren:

                                                                                           Pictures thanks to Nokia Creative Studio on my Nokia 1520