One of the great things about living in East London is the plethora of bring-your-own-wine Vietnamese restaurants on Kingsland Road. The restaurants are very reasonably priced and you can easily get away with spending a tenner each on dinner including your own wine.
My friend Niamh had just gotten back into town and when she suggested we meet up for lunch. I knew just the place; I’d been to the Mien Tay in Battersea a few weeks before so I knew the original Mien Tay on Kingsland Road had to be just as good if not better, seeing at it was the first one.
What to bring? Usually white wines are the drink of choice for Asian food but I had a Chilean wine that had been sent to me so I thought, why not give it a go? It was the Casillero del Diablo 2009 Carménère. A full bodied but fruity red wine, I’d recently had it matched with curry where it worked quite well, as long as there wasn’t too much oak in it. So, I thought, let’s see how it goes against the spiciness of Vietnamese food. Vietnamese cuisine is a bit different from Indian; the spices are lighter and tend to the more citrus and salty and Vietnamese food often relies on barbequeing which impart a naturally smoky quality to the food. This was going to be an interesting food and wine matching excercise.
We started off with pork spring rolls with a fishy dipping sauce. Um, no. Just wasn’t happening for me. The wine became quite oaky and almost metallic in my mouth. Definitely not a good match. I was hoping that the spicy pork would work but the salty, fishy sauce was a wine killer. Definitely best to stick to white wines for the spring rolls.
For the mains, we had a bbq beef dish with noodles and that was a much better match. I found that the smoky BBQ flavours enhanced the wine, bringing out a black fruit character as well as highlighting black pepper and spice notes. The wine, while still being quite full-bodied, managed to seem lighter with the BBQ beef, and the tannins of the wine worked with the meat: a good level of acidity helped to cleanse the palate. It was a pleasant surprise to see how a wine could be transformed by the right food. Matched with the wrong food, I would have said the wine was off or possibly corked; but matched with the right flavour combinations, it was a clear winner. A stunning example of how even a good wine can be bad.
The Casillero del Diablo Carménère is definitely a meat wine and don’t try and mix it with fish: it will be a disaster. A very illuminating lunch indeed. The wine is available in off-licenses and supermarkets and retails for £6.99. A good choice if you’re trying to keep costs down.