Maxwell Food Centre, located at the heart of Tanjong Pagar, has become a popular favourite amongst the CBD crowd and tourists alike. Known to be packed with award-winning stores and cheap prices, it’s hard not to love Maxwell.
We have decided to take on the challenge of conducting a wine pairing with perhaps one of the most famous stalls at Maxwell, Tian Tian Chicken Rice, and its long-term rival, Ah Tai Chicken Rice.
Rumours have it that the owner of Ah Tai Chicken Rice, Mr Wong, had previously worked at Tian Tian for more than 20 years, and after a fight with the management, decided to open his own stall just a few feet away. The news articles were printed flamboyantly on Ah Tai’s stall front like a declaration of war, catching the eye of many curious passersby that were deliberating between ordering the two.
Left: 2014 Vincent Gaudry Mélodie de Vieilles Vignes, Right: 2013 Vincent Gaudry Constellation du Scorpion
We decided to bring wines from the same winegrower, Vincent Gaudry, who took over the family domaine in 1993 and immediately switched to organic agriculture, convinced that this was the only way to farm sustainably. The biodynamie crazy farmer managed to get Demeter certified in 2004, and is one of our favourite growers that produces serious Sancerres.
We brought two of his wines with us to Maxwell Centre, the 2014 Sancerre Blanc Mélodie de Vieilles Vignes, and the 2013 Sancerre Constellation du Scorpion. Both are made of Sauvignon Blanc and are grown in Loire, the centre or ‘Sancerre’ of France, where the Appellation d’origine protégée is famous for producing Sauvignon Blancs.
The old vines cuvée, Mélodie de Vieilles Vignes, is chalk-based, and has more richness both on the nose and palate, while Constellation du Scorpion (what used to be L’Esprit de Rudolf ) has a smoky quality from the silex soils. The latter is stunning when given some air, and ages beautifully.
With wines and wine glasses in hand, we braved the crowd and queued up at both Chicken Rice stalls.
The queue at Ah Tai was short but had quite a steady stream of customers, and were cheerfully greeted by Mr. Wong himself.
In comparison, the queue for Tian Tian Chicken Rice snaked around the middle section of Maxwell, with both tourists wielding DSLRs snapping photos incessantly, and PMEBs playing Candy Crush on their phones patiently waiting for their turn, already mentally braced for the long line.
Tian Tian Chicken Rice
Ah Tai Chicken Rice
Mr. Ong YiXin, Managing Partner at KOT Selections
We brought our own wine glasses to Maxwell and did our wine pairing there, drawing quite some attention to ourselves. In spite of how out of place we might have looked, the wines actually went really well with both Chicken Rice plates. We aimed to find the best Chicken Rice first, then paired it with both Sancerres to determine the matchmake in heaven.
Although we’re not food connoisseurs, we evaluated the Chicken Rice based on 3 different criteria:
Tian Tian Chicken Rice: Slightly clumpy and wet, stuck together probably due to the starchiness. Some bits were also overcooked to our disappointment.
Ah Tai Chicken Rice: Grains are distinctively separated, has a bite to the rice itself and not overtly oily. The rice was also slightly more fragrant as compared to Tian Tian.
Winner: Ah Tai Chicken Rice
Tian Tian Chicken Rice: Rather dry and distinctively fibre-y. Not succulent and certainly not very memorable.
Ah Tai Chicken Rice: Although it was not boneless, it had great flavour and was delightfully tender.
Winner: Ah Tai Chicken Rice
Tian Tian Chicken Rice: Has a good balance of spiciness, ginger, sweetness and sourness.
Ah Tai Chicken Rice: Rather two-dimensional – it was just sweet and sour.
Winner: Tian Tian Chicken Rice
It became evident that Ah Tai Chicken Rice was the better of the two – in spite of what the queues indicated. Pairing it with the 2013 Constellation du Scorpion, the high acidity and the smoky flavours managed to cut through the oiliness of the Chicken Rice perfectly.
The 2014 Mélodie de Vieilles Vignes, a rounder, riper Sauvignon due to the differences in vintages, had stronger fruit and herbaceous notes, did not particularly improve the taste of the rice nor the wine. This was particularly due to the fact that it was not as high in acidity as the Scorpion.
The perfect pairing was indeed the Scorpion and Ah Tai Chicken Rice – together, the flavours came into focus, the rice itself tasted cleaner, the flavours were enhanced, and the wine tasted rounder and deeper.