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Seeing stars at Sofitel

120525_06

Say what you will about the Michelin-rating system, but getting a star creates buzz, especially when its earned in Lyon, which ranks among the highest stars per capita in the world: 20 in a population of 480,000 according to one estimate. It was thus easy to understand the excitement generated by the visit of Jerome Laurent, who earned a star for his Arles (close enough to Lyon) restaurant, Le Cilantro, in 2007.

Laurent was brought in by Sofitel and cooked a five course set menu with wine pairings on the first evening and was in the kitchen of Do Forni offering a slightly altered menu the rest of last week. US$60 is a lot to spend on a dinner in Cambodia, but considering that the four-course menu with wine for the rest of the week was $95 and his tasting menu in Arles is 95 euros without wine it seemed as good an attempt as any to see how these dinners actually shape up.

Laurent titles his current tasting menu at Le Cilantro “Voyage”, his inspiration is a seafood-heavy Mediterranean meets Asian, but he also likes to throw in hearty cuts of meat for good measure. The dinner at Sofitel took a similar course: overall the food was good, very good, but not quite transporting. If anything it was overshadowed by the wines, a stunning selection of pairings compiled by Darren Gall of AK Wines.

The evening started with pleasant but forgettable canapés in the lobby, accompanied by seemingly bottomless glasses of a less forgettable Champagne de Saint Gall Premier Cru. Three to four in before having been seated we were optimistic about what would follow.

With 64 people seated, the normally cavernous Do Forni felt downright cozy: a much more convivial dining room.

The first course, a crab royale (think deconstructed crab cake) sat atop a briny green-pea mousse and gelée; it looked and tasted like the ocean and was finely complemented by a full and floral Fournier “l’Ancienne Vigne” Sancerre. Next, squid came in two ways: with the flavour and texture sautéed out of it and in a stunningly citrusy and creamy croquette. A Paul Blanck Schlossberg, an Alsatian Riesling, cut through it perfectly. The French wine was rich but acidic enough to overcome the unchecked sweetness that plagues its German cousins.

Juicy scallops sitting in a subtle kaffir-lime broth were so plump they had some people questioning how local they were. Paired with a steely Cote de Lechet Chablis the course was a fresh intermezzo for what followed.

The beef, a hunk of Australian sirloin that felt a bit generic, was well cooked and Laurent coated it in a walnut crust, but I can’t remember a banquet meal at a large hotel here that didn’t end in steak and this felt no different. An oxtail hash, which tastes like some ethereally rich slow cooked brisket, accompanied it. I would have happily traded my steak for another portion. A bold, complex Ripa Sinistra Syrah from Domaine Cuilleron brought out more flavours.

After the meat onslaught dessert was a write-off: deconstructed apple pie complete with nutmeg foam felt a bit outdated and meh. Roussilliere, a dessert wine also from Domaine Cuilleron, rounded things out nicely though. Some mignardises or petits fours would have been nice given the chocolate shop you are paraded past on the way in: they were requested and promised but never materialised.

Still, at the end of the night we are in for about $70 in total and immensely satisfied. Sofitel has a slew of similar offerings lined up and while there is no guarantee what the chef will bring to the table the pieces are in place. Go thirsty. If one thing is certain it’s that vineyards are taking the Asian market seriously and happy to send over some of their best offerings. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Guest chef Jerome Laurent at Do Forni, Sofitel, five-course set menu with wine pairings $70 with tax and service.

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