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Posted by portugalpress on May 17, 2017

The bar had been set extremely high, according to our own Patrick Stuart and the rest of the guests who attended the Bordeaux Imperial Evening, which kicked off the 2017 edition of the Fine Wines & Food Fair. It could have been a challenge to match this calibre of excellence, were it not the night of the Grand Swiss Stars who descended on Vila Vita Parc for the second offering of the star-studded event. And while it did justice to the magnitude promised by the opening night, it differed in more ways than one.

Firstly, the setting: with the floor-to-ceiling glass doors extended to reveal uninterrupted panoramic views of the Atlantic, it was a far more intimate affair as dinner was served at Vila Vita’s 2-Michelin-starred Ocean restaurant.

Secondly, the wines: while the previous evening was a French-wine-lover’s utopia, with some of the great Bordeaux wines served in six-litre Imperial bottles, last night’s menu was paired – absolutely marvellously, as was to be expected from Ocean and its sommelier Nelson Marreiros – exclusively with well-known Portuguese classics, bar a tongue-tingling Dom Pérignon Vintage.

The constant, of course, was the magnificent Michelin line-up, with a total of six stars between them. Hailing from some of Switzerland’s finest dining establishments were Laurent Eperon (1 star, Le Pavillon, Baur au Lac), Tanja Grandits (2 stars, Stucki), Thomas Nesser (1 star, Grand Hôtel du Lac) and Nenad Mlinarevic (2 stars, Focus, Park Hotel Viznau), supported unfailingly by the Ocean team with chef Hans Neuner at its helm.

The first of four whites (including two Vinho Verdes) was the 2016 Contacto Alvarinho from Vinho Verde producer Anselmo Mendes, whose nickname is actually Mr Alvarinho for his work with the iconic grape. The elegance, creaminess and floral character of this wine were the ideal match for the first two finger-food style creations. A single oyster, tempered with sweet passion fruit, and Daikon and basmati rice making for a balanced texture, was the opening of Chef of the Year 2014, Tanja Grandits. It was followed by a beautifully puffy gougère, a tiny choux pastry filled with crème fraîche, ginger and lime, the first offering of French-speaking chef Eperon.

Chef Nenad’s picture-perfect mini-tartlets of potato and leek, topped with Imperial caviar, melted in the mouth in a single bite, while Thomas Neeser’s crab with piquillo peppers, lemon and verbena, served in a dramatic coral-shaped dish, was an ode to freshness and eye-catching presentation. They were paired with the only non-Portuguese wine on the menu, a wonderful 2006 Dom Pérignon Vintage.

The second ‘green wine’ and Alvarinho monovarietal of the night, the fresh, complex 2014 Soalheiro Reserva was a fine (although perhaps unsurprising) match for Grandit’s second dish, distinctly orange in colour and one of the favourite’s of the night: Lupinen salmon served with a misu mousse, rüebli carrot and anis on a bed of tapioca.

Serving his signature dish following his uncle’s original recipe, chef Eperon transported guests to the South of France with an exquisite bouillabaisse, comprising bream and prawn topped with a delicate sliver of fried bread. The selected wine was the 2012 Villa Oliveira from Casa da Passarela, a rich, complex white made from the Encruzado grape that’s so typical of the Dão region.

The 2013 Casal Sta. Maria Pinot Noir, a monovarietal from Colares with polished tannins, was the first red of the night, paired with the most substantial fish dish on the menu – a turbot, artichoke and wild garlic ensemble with a veal broth poured on the side, from German chef Thomas Neeser.

With a menu that was markedly light and incredibly fresh from the classically trained chefs, the only meat dish of the evening, cooked by last year’s Gault Millau Chef of the Year Nenad Mlinarevic, remained consistent with the overall theme: poulard hen (brought from Switzerland as part of the chef’s ‘100% Swissness’ philosophy) cooked for 12 hours, resulting in tender meat with a beautifully crisp top, served with raps, green asparagus and cabbage. The wine of choice was another Portuguese classic: the 2014 Charme, an earthy, elegant and irrevocably smooth red from Douro producer Dirk Niepoort.

Finally, the sweet part of the evening came in the form of two divine desserts, courtesy of Ocean’s own pastry chef Márcio Baltazar. The first, a resounding favourite that led to a lot of dish-scraping, was a fun popcorn-inspired treat, made with popcorn, meringue, strawberries from the Vicentine coast and a touch of lemon. A Portuguese sparkling wine, the 2010 Murganheira Brut Rosé, was a fresh, easy-drinking pairing. Finally, served with a 2002 Bacalhôa Moscatel Roxo (the iconic fortified wine of Setúbal made from the purple muscat grape), was a type of shell covered with 65% Maracaibo chocolate from Venezuela that held a delicate chocolate mousse, complemented by macademia nuts and a fresh, creamy mango compote.

From the first outstanding night to the second, it’s onwards and upwards for the stellar Fine Wines & Food Fair 2017, which culminates on Saturday with the grand Kitchen Party at Vila Vita Parc.

By CRISTINA ALCOCK

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