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Delhi Wine Club

Posted: Thursday, February 11 2010. 13:52

Wine Club Dinner: Sampan Brings Back Fond Memories

The wine dinner organised by the Delhi Wine Club on Sunday at the rooftop Sampan Restaurant at Hotel Crowne Plaza, with sumptuous Pan Asian food matched with wines, brought a vertain amount of nostalgia to members, writes Arun Batra.

Roof top restaurants have their own special charm where the hustle and bustle of the city is left far below and all a diner has to gaze upon is the calming and breathtaking view of shimmering lights of the city – a perfect setting for a great evening out. And when the ambiance is enhanced by a live band, it should surely be the recipe for a successful food outlet.
Pioneered by the Café Chinois at the Oberoi in the late sixties and seventies and then the Bali Hi at the Maurya in the 80’s, Delhi has had its fair share of roof top nightclubs which shone briefly and then morphed into another avatar. Look at each of the leading 5 star hotels in Delhi who have had nightclubs/restaurants at the top of their properties – all of them have struggled to make a success of a rooftop location. Could it be that Delhi-ites don’t like to get high and party in the sky?

I decided to check this out at the Sampan at the Crowne Plaza when we had our most recent wine dinner (#3/155). The Sampan was quite a popular place in the 90’s and was fronted by an enthusiastic band –in fact seasoned travellers to the Surya Sofitel –the hotel’s previous avatar –scrupulously avoided being given a room on the top two floors in order to have a quiet night’s sleep!!.

Walking in after a gap of around 5 years, to our welcoming glasses of the Aussie Peter Lehmann 2004 Semillon Chardonnay, it was like time had stood still at Sampan. The layout was still the same, the décor looked dated and the lighting was probably in energy conservation mode.

The Peter Lehmann was a marriage of two classic white varieties and a great one to be drunk young and would appeal to those who like their Chardonnay heavily oaked. The accompanying starters of Chicken lettuce wraps and Som Tam Salad in Lettuce cups and Prawn Sugarcane sticks were tasty and refreshing and countered the oakiness of the Chardonnay admirably.

The restaurant gave our members the pride of the seating –on the raised dais in front of the dance floor –yes you got it right –one of the few rooftop dance floors left in the city! Some members opined that the tables of four tended to break up the rather modest numbers who gathered that evening but then the larger tables were too far away from the music.

To accompany our starters and soup we had a classic Mosel Riesling from Dr. Loosen –the Dr L Riesling 2008 .Incidentally this wine has just been rated at the no. 62 spot by the Wine Spectators top 100 wines of 2009, with 90 points and a “Best Value” designation. However, with its pronounced sweetish, fruity overtones of apricot and mango, our members found this wine at odds with their butterfly prawns, crab claws and asparagus tempura.

The soup section had the highlight of the evening – a broccoli and scallop soup. It’s pretty unusual to have scallops on offer and that too in such generous quantities in a soup. I was thinking of seconds but was distracted by the lively Masi Bonacosta Valpolicella Classico DOC 2008 – a well structured wine with a distinct cherry and raspberry flavour.

To go with the rice and noodle main course, we had two more reds starting with the Rosso Conero San Lorenzo DOC  from the stable of Umani Ronchi. Though promising a lot with its Montepulciano heritage, this ruby coloured wine had soft tannins but a flat and austere finish. The Masi Toar IGT  2008, on the other hand, was well balanced and structured and had good fruit expression.

By the time the main courses were on the way , notwithstanding the crooner and the karaoke backup producing music sometimes a distant country cousin of the original, the light footed amongst us were on the dance floor enjoying ourselves. In fact it has been a very long time since we had a wine dinner with live music and dancing and it was a welcome change.

Many thanks to the Sampan team led by the F & B Director, Neeraj Balani for their warm ,quick and efficient service – a refill was always at hand . Chef Haldhar has done an excellent job in revamping the menu, making it Pan Asian and crafting each dish with dexterity. But for such a fine location serving such excellent food, there was one worrying thought; for a Friday evening , Sampan- apart from our modest group of 25, had just a handful of customers . Now  would that be due to Crowne Plaza’s unabashedly addressing the “Chinjabi” market or is it that the Page 3 fraternity in Delhi doesn’t like to party at roof top levels?? Tell you when we have another wine dinner at Sampan.
Arun Batra is a Delhi based food and wine enthusiast and a long time member of the Delhi Wine Club


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