1. The pairing paradox

The pairing paradox

As long as you sensibly choose where you dine, you are guaranteed a good experience no matter how you play the wine-food pairing permutations

By: | Published: July 19, 2015 12:04 AM

SOMETIMES, I know how it feels to be a 20-year-old child of Indian parents—and I don’t just mean from first-hand experience. I know that feeling when all your parents seem to want is to set you up. The next boy/girl to walk in the door and greet them politely is suddenly sized up as a potential groom or bride.

I think sommeliers, sometimes, are no different. Throw anything our way and all we wonder is: is there a wine that can be paired alongside? Of course, there is a wine—there is always a wine. All we do is wax eloquent about what it could be seamlessly paired with.

This pairing problem is perhaps what unites sommeliers and parents of single kids. Yes, it took me a long time to see the connection—in fact, it was a recent spate of rather varied culinary jaunts that made me draw this conclusion.

The first was a single malt pairing with the food at Dakshin, ITC Sheraton, New Delhi. This hotel is a rather undervalued F&B star and any opportunity to try out the food here has me braving mall traffic without second thoughts. Glenfiddich makes great malts (the 15-year-old remains a favourite) and, given the fiery cuisine that we were digging away at, it seemed an apt sip alongside. I prefer to keep my drink stiff with a sparse splash of water at best, but I saw many enjoying their malt almost drowned out. Either way, when dinner ended, everybody seemed to have had a glorious evening, so clearly, the pairings weren’t too off.

The next two meals were Asian, starting with the spanking new Chi Ni at Dusit Devarana, New Delhi, and then Tian at the lavish ITC Maurya, New Delhi. Both are as Chinese as Jackie Chan—they may have roots somewhere on the mainland, but their exposure has given them quite an international facet. Chi Ni—the name is still perplexingly borderline politically incorrect for me—is inspired by Kai, Bernard Yeoh’s Michelin-starred London eatery. From the sweeping tented decor to the tasteful presentations by chef Lauah Ban, the place has fancy written all over it. Pairing anything here is bound to be affected by the euphoria of being in such a marvellous-looking place. I enjoyed my cocktails and wine, too. The food was simple and neat, flavourful but never complicated. But any objectivity that I may have hoped for with respect to the pairing exercise was admittedly long-forgotten by the time I was halfway through the meal.

Tian was, by comparison, a lot more pedagogic. Yes, it, too, is plush and posh, but given the chef’s repertoire of creating artistic and fantastical oeuvres on a plate, I was more focused on how the dishes were constructed. And here again, by the third course, I was happy to sip a good heady Super Tuscan for the rest of my meal, from fish to meat. In fact, I even managed to punctuate a few courses with some cocktails thrown in for good measure. The result was yet again a bias, emerging from the bonhomie of the moment, the kind that makes the passing of judgement not just inutile, but straight up impossible.

So clearly, if restaurant reviews are what you are after, you could do better than read me. But the point I was really trying to make wasn’t about just food or drink, or ambience and service, but a cumulative total of all of these factors, which play very important (sometimes silent) parts in the outcome of any pairing. To find matches for food or wine in a laboratory is like deconstructing the essence of a Saturday night party while sitting at home alone.

In other words, like parents, we can’t give up on our instincts to try and pair up food and wine. But as in real life, one dish will have multiple matches and, given the time, setting and mood, even these will change.

In the meantime, as long as you sensibly choose where you dine—Dakshin, Chi Ni and Tian are highly recommended—you are guaranteed a good experience no matter how you play the pairing permutations.

The writer is a sommelier

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