Matching wine with food to get the very best from both the dish and the glass can be a testing process.
Matching wine with food as creative and complex as Ben Mounsey’s is an altogether bigger challenge.
For Ben, formerly sous chef at Marc Wilkinson’s celebrated Michelin star restaurant Fraiche on the Wirral, loves to spring surprises with daring flavour combinations and off-the-wall ingredients.
After Ben’s signature home-made mini loaves and flavoured butters, the first of six courses brought vibrant and refreshing chilled cucumber soup with goat’s cheese puree and the intense sweet-savoury flavours of mint, celery and coriander singing in perfect harmony.
The accompanying Walt Riesling 2016 from Germay’s Pfalz region just across the border with Alsace, offered generous off-dry pear and white peach notes and crisp apple acidity that married well with the zingy freshness of the dish.
Next came Fish Pie, a mischievous title for a stunning assembly of top notch seafood, the cooking perfectly timed, comprising red mullet, seared scallop, langoustine, brown shrimps and pickled salmon paired with a tangle of peas and samphire under a topping of cod infused foam.
It was a sensational dish perfectly matched with Eagle’s Cliff Chenin Blanc 2017 from South Africa’s Breede Valley, combining tropical fruit flavours with zingy acidity.
Two starters…then two main courses. The first brought breast of corn-fed chicken with purees of corn and watercress, toasted pickled shallot and fantastic parcel of smoked potato and onion.
A few challenges there for the wine pairing, but Miles came up with a corker – Chamonix Reserve Chardonnay 2015 from South Africa’s Franschoek region, bringing stone fruit and rich creaminess balanced by refreshing acidity and hints of sherbet.
The second main featured meltingly tender lamb neck with wonderfully earthy accompaniments in beetroot, black garlic and wild garlic, toasted seeds for texture and, the surprise element, strawberry.
The dish was made for an aged, gamey red. Just like El Puno Old Vine Grenache 2011, produced from grapes grown on century-old vines in Calatayud, Aragon, Spain.
Many chefs, even the most well known, regard dessert as a bit of an afterthought. Not so Ben Mounsey who delivered not one, but two – and both were showstoppers.
Yuzu meringue pie featured curd made from the aromatic Asian citrus fruit encased in expertly crafted pastry with crisp meringue and topped with frozen marscapone cream…then smoked! Sweet but not cloying characteristics of Austria’s Hans Tschida Cuvee Auslese 2015, sporting a streak of citrus acidity, made the ideal match.
Dessert number two majored on the wine-matcher’s nemesis: chocolate. The dish, bizarrely dubbed “PS (Plastic Scouser)” by Ben, comprised caramelised white chocolate crumb, cherries, frozen coconut sponge laced with chocolate and mocha topped by chocolate, cherry and lime “veils”. And yes, there is a wine for that: Domaine Lafarge Maury 2016, a rare and delicious sweet fortified red from France’s Languedoc.
The dinner, priced at just £60 a head including the wine, was one of a series of gastronomic events lined up at Grafene over the next few weeks.
Next up, on 20th June, Ben is creating a special five-course menu, each paired with a tasting from the restaurant’s Sipsmith’s Gin collection for £60. Then on 18th July, five courses will be paired with Pommery Champagnes including Louis Pommery England, the only English sparkler made by a champagne house. The event is priced at £70.