Last week I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Raymond Moore, Food and Beverage Manager for Rhombus International Hotels Group, to discuss the wine program at AVA Restaurant Slash Bar. Situated on the 38th floor of the Panorama Hotel in the bustling Tsim Sha Tsui neighborhood of Kowloon, AVA boasts a wonderful 270° view of the Hong Kong skyline. While the view definitely dominates the atmosphere of the place, it does not eclipse the cuisine offered – the international menu is a creative mix of traditional and modern techniques in which great emphasis is placed on the quality of individual, core ingredients. The wine list, while containing a modest offering of 60-65 labels, is carefully arranged to fit a wide range of pairings, prices and preferences. Brief descriptions follow each name, further guiding customers in choosing the perfect wine for their dish.
Raymond and I discussed the concept behind the menu at AVA and the cuisine, which highlights the quality of individual ingredients, allowing them to become the star of each dish. He described to me the décor of the restaurant and how, while changing uniquely throughout the day, it is consistently dominated by the striking view of the Hong Kong skyline. I asked him about the wine list at AVA and we discussed the range in varieties, regions and prices which the restaurant aims to maintain in order to make sure each guest finds the appropriate wine to match their dish, their budget and their personal palate preference. Raymond explained to me the small, informal, intimate winemaker dinners organized at AVA each month, dinners that highlight a different expert winemaker on each occasion. When asked about signature dishes, Raymond chose the Duo of Crab and recommended with it the Chateau Timberlay Bordeaux Blanc Superieur 2010, which can be ordered at AVA by the glass. Finally, he told me about their famous and very popular Boston Lobster, suggesting with it either the Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve NV or the Gavi di Gavi Rovereto Michele Chiarlo DOCG 2009.
Our interview follows:
My name is Raymond Moore and I’m the Food and Beverage Manager for Rhombus International Hotels Group. My main role is to oversee two quite high-profile restaurants. One is here, AVA at the Hotel Panorama, and also the sister restaurant, AZURE at the Hotel LKF. My primary concern is to always have a good offering of quality food and beverage served by a good service team. That’s my main goal.
Specifically, please tell me a bit about the concept behind the menu at Ava. How would you classify the cuisine offered here?
The cuisine here at AVA is predominantly based on the ingredients. We source the finest quality. If we get lamb, for instance, we want the best possible lamb we can get, from the best producer, flown fresh in without freezing. We use a blend of traditional and modern cooking methods to accentuate those flavors. So, what you get on the plate is more the natural taste of the product, with an interesting blend of flavors combined together to give that “wow factor.” It’s good, simple food from the heart.
The beautiful décor here at AVA, which surrounds us, how does it reflect this concept behind the menu. What type of atmosphere are you trying to create with this interior?
Our atmosphere changes uniquely through the day but, predominantly, the view here at AVA dominates the scene. Whether it’s in the morning, when you have the sunrise, afternoon, or even on a cloudy day the view dominates the experience on first arrival. I’ve worked in many restaurants with very good location or a unique factor in the environment, and I’m very aware that many restaurants that have that tend to be weak on the food or the service provided, because the restaurant is very busy, based on the views and location. We are focused on providing very good quality food and service to back up those views, so people aren’t let down. The atmosphere ranges from chic business breakfasts to friendly working lunches to intimate evenings. In the evenings it’s very different, but at the same time it’s not very formal. The setting is minimalist and late nights on weekends we also become a lounge club. We have a live DJ and MTV lounge and it really winds down. The lights are almost off, with just the backlit views of Hong Kong Harbor. Couples from all over Hong Kong come to finish the day with a glass of wine.
A bit about the composition of the wine list. Is it mostly made up of New or Old World wines? And is there any particular region which is given preference on the list?
The list is set up by region, predominantly, because I do think that guests are quite educated about wine these days and they do have their favorite regions. And within those regions they have typical wines that they enjoy. Our ambition with the wine list is to take every dish on the menu and offer suitable alternatives from throughout the world that will complement those dishes, not necessarily biased by region at this stage. We have selected a range of grape types and then looked to acquire “best of their variety” offering. So we have 19 Whites, 8 Champagnes, 19 Reds and 10 Rich and Famous wines, all with top scores from wine critics. The idea is to have several wines which will fit each dish on the menu to suit different guests’ preferences and, of course, their budget – so a range of prices as well. Although we only have 60-65 bottles available, more than 12 are available at any time by the glass and those change every month.
On your wine list, what kind of information do you provide to your guests about the wines? How do you think this helps them?
All our wines have a brief description to assists the guest in case they want some guidance but don’t necessarily want to ask. For the Rich and Famous wines we also include the scoring from Robert Parker and Wine Spectator.
And about the glasses – I’ve heard that you serve some of the wines in stem-less wine glasses. Why did you choose to do this?
There’s a twofold approach to it. The glass itself is a new design by an Austrian glassmaker who is very famous throughout the world. The glass is stem-less, it’s still the same size as a traditional red wine glass. It’s suitable for red wines from all regions. When you twirl it in your hand, your hand will be touching the glass and some warmth transfers to the wine and it opens up quicker. This should give an increased enjoyment of the wine. But also we decided to use that wine glass because it is less formal. We wanted to have a high quality experience but not necessarily the stuffy formality of a fine dining restaurant. We want it to be fun so these glasses lend to that concept. They’re fun, not so formal as the traditional tall stemmed glass which we’re afraid to break because it’s so fragile. And basically I think it fits well.
Do the glasses have different shapes depending on the variety of wine you serve with it or are they of the same shape?
They have the same shape.
I’ve also heard that you organize some pretty fantastic winemaker dinners here. Please tell me about these.
Yes, every month we have at least one, since we started. I don’t really want to go into names in case we forget someone and they get upset. That would be embarrassing. They are high profile winemakers, the best of their field, throughout the world. We started with a very small clientele, quite loyal, who would come every month, 30 people from Hong Kong who enjoy food and wine. Often a success, we decided to keep them small, informal and select and we decided not to make them commercial but instead increase them to at least 1 or 2 every month. We actually have a waiting list now, if you want to attend one, we have people queuing up to join.
When is the next one?
The next one is next week, we have 2 next month. All you have to do is join our mailing list and you will be given the option to get into it.
And how do you choose the winemakers you feature at these wine dinners?
Generally we let the suppliers of our wines know that we’re interested in doing these events. And we’re upfront right from the start – we want to be small and informal. Everybody gets to talk to the winemaker and then you have good food, good wine, informal atmosphere. It’s not a stuffy classroom session. It’s a relaxed evening.
I wanted to ask a bit about the consumption trends you’ve noticed here at AVA. Have you noticed any region or country being particularly popular among your clientele?
Our wine list is set up to be quite balanced, so we don’t predominantly have all wines from one or two regions. Typically the European wines (France, Italy… ) and then Australia and New Zealand are all very popular. We have seen an increase now in Chilean and Argentinian, from the Southern Hemisphere, also South Africa. But as we change the wines, choosing them to fit the food, the wines change so often that it’s not predominantly one region over another. The idea is that we do want to sell wines from all over the world. We don’t want to sell just one or two regions. So we encourage guests to choose from different varieties.
And so I assume this is the same for varieties. No particular variety is more popular than another?
Right. Single varieties are still the most popular from the Old World and the New World both. But we are seeing an increase in wines from the New World with Old World blend types, like Australian wines, for example, made with Côtes du Rhône blend type. There is an increase in that.
If you could pick one pairing with a dish to a wine that would best represent AVA Restaurant Slash Bar.
One of our signature dishes at AVA is a Duo of Crab salad. It is served in an ice crystal, like an ice balloon or like a little igloo and the crab salad is inside. This is quite delicate. There’s a Blue Swimmer Crab mixed with a lime and crème fraîche dressing and then on top of that we have mangos, tropical fruit and avocado and on top of that we have chunks of Alaskan King Crab leg. That’s quite a delicate dish in its own, so the wine that I prefer with it and also one we have by the glass is a white Bordeaux blend, the Chateau Timberlay from Robert Giraud, very famous family from the Bordeaux region. Excellent quality wine, it’s on our list by the glass, so it’s not overly expensive. We don’t like to just recommend the expensive wines. This is a Bordeaux blend of 50% Sauvignon Blanc and 50% Semillon. With the Semillon there’s a nice floral note to it but the Sauvignon Blanc has a nice, crisp acidity, good mineral-floral balance to it – it’s very well balanced. And it goes very nicely with the crab.
I’ve also heard wonderful things about your Boston Lobster. Being a true Bostonian, I’m curious. Please describe this dish and recommend a wine which you would pair with it.
This dish is so popular that from Day 1 we have not been able to remove it from the menu. Even if we have another lobster, we have to add another one. We can’t take that one off. With several dishes on the menu people come back and ask for it, so we have to make it. It’s slow cooked out of the shell in a saffron base. All the juices and flavors stay inside the bag as it’s being slow poached. So the sweet, nice flavor of the lobster and the rich, creamy saffron sauce and around the base you have a creamy spinach with baby turnips, so a nice vegetal taste there as well to contrast. The wine I would choose with this, personal preference, would be champagne. Nothing but the best. If you’re having lobster, you might as well have champagne. One of my favorites would be Billecart Salmon, they have an Extra Brut, with aromas of dried fruits, and on the palate is bone-dry, crisp, mineral but nice, toasty, biscuit-y, a well-balanced palate. This cuts through very nicely the creaminess of the saffron and the richness and sweetness of the lobster, which gives you a good balance. Alternatively, for another budget and if someone wanted still wine instead, we would probably go with – this kind of sauce is very popular in Northern Italy – so we would go with maybe a Piedmont, we have a Gavi di Gavi, which is a very dry Cortese grape wine, bone dry, mineral, high acidity which is also a good balance with lobster.
Sounds wonderful. Thanks so much for your time.
You’re very welcome.