Martell H.O.M.E. pop-up event

Chef Nathalie Arbefeuille’s meat-free cognac pairing menu was a true star at the event.

Martell Malaysia took the cognac experience into uncharted waters with a Be Curious pop-up event called Martell H.O.M.E. (short for House of Martell Entertainment). Set in the lush greenery of Bukit Kiara Equestrian & Country Resort, the six-day event drew scores of discerning visitors.

From floor to ceiling, entrance to exit, the pop-up was packed with puzzles, secret rooms and optical illusions that challenged guests to look beyond appearances and explore Martell’s impressive arsenal of cognacs with a “Be Curious” twist. The event also included cocktail mentoring sessions and exclusive dinners featuring menus prepared by locally-based French chef Nathalie Arbefeuille of Nathalie Gourmet Studio.

“Our Martell H.O.M.E. was designed to give our guests a real and meaningful experience of what Martell is really about,” explains Martell brand ambassador Pierre Boyer. “It’s about shared moments of convivialité, of course, but also about challenging the expected and about looking beyond appearances to discover true pleasure. For the first time in history, guests will have the opportunity to wander in a universe entirely designed by Martell, a brand that deeply believes in the power of curiosity.”

While a psychedelic room with multiple mirrors attracted a steady stream of visitors who were eager to capture themselves in their glamorous best, a (much prettier) version of Madam Zelda the fortune-teller gave us a look into a magic ball that reveals your perfect cocktail. Believe the ball or take charge of your own destiny and pick your own tipple for the night — you end up a winner either way as everyone gets the necessary ingredients to replicate their cocktail of choice at home.

My favourite space? A “living room”, where the bar was busy and jazz music was played at full volume. In this room, guests were able to browse through gorgeous coffee table books on Martell’s provenance while imbibing in delicious cognac cocktails served in pretty glasses. A popular choice was a Martell version of a Mint Julep, although I was more partial to the Yuzu Highball — really a perfect marriage of fruit and spices in a refreshing cocktail.

Not everyone who attended Martell H.O.M.E. was able to partake in Arbefeuille’s dinner, so I consider myself quite fortunate to have been able to sample her custom-designed menu for the event. Arbefeuille is no stranger to the local F&B scene as she has been serving discerning local gourmands for a number of years now, giving her unique insights into what the local palate prefers.

Chef Nathalie Arbefeuille

Incidentally, Arbefeuille is also from the Cognac region in France and is very familiar with the vineyards of the region. The area’s culinary specialities form part of her own heritage as a chef.

This is the first time that Martell has worked with the petite, brunette chef and based on the success of the menu she created, I certainly hope it will not be the last.

“Pairing food with cognac offers multiple and delicate combinations of culinary experiences through colours, perfumes and intense flavours. Playing with optical illusion like ‘what you see is not what you think it is’ is also a concept that I love offering to connoisseurs. Finally, though cognac tends to be a masculine liquor, I wanted the menu to be more feminine in order to balance the pairing,” Arbefeuille says.

Although food and cognac pairing is in itself not unusual, a vegetarian menu is. The one Arbefeuille designed was simply exquisite — it was by far one of the most interesting I have ever tasted, tastefully put together with sensitivity and heart. My carnivorous fellow diners were no less impressed with their meal, which more than lived up to the “Be Curious” theme of the night with delightfully surprising elements that were also incredibly delicious. “As a chef, my favourite part is always the creativity. It is the moment of research, matching main ingredients with other elements, down to the finest details,” Arbefeuille explains.

After cocktails in the “living room”, dinner was served in a lavish setting in a “dining room” with each dish accompanied by a pick from Martell’s superior cognacs. Dinner began with a trio of finger foods — a ring of eggplant caviar, a tube of fresh green juice with a vegetable skewer and crispy carrot with orange blossom cremeux. This was paired with Martell VSOP, which I like to have with a dash of tonic to open up its bouquet. The freshness of this smooth and mellow cognac worked well with the equally light flavours of the ingredients in the finger foods.

My starter was christened Winter Garden, a nod perhaps to the chill that has just begun to fall in Cognac. Barigoule tortellini was served atop a beautifully flavoured fennel veloute, with a capsicum cloud and black bread tuile for a dash of panache. This dish was a great showcase of pure technique on Arbefeuille’s part, but style remained in the service of good taste — each element was really tasty. I was pleased to see that this dish was paired with Cordon Bleu, a cognac for which I have a special affection, so this combination could do no wrong in my eyes.

Salty and light — aged mimolette espuma and a cognac jelly was chased by Martell XO

Arbefeuille’s main course, Spring Harvest, was a suitably hearty dish to absorb all the cognac that I was consuming. A generous portion of herbed quinoa and vegetables — again, seasoned so beautifully — with ricotta and a parmesan tuile looked as good as it tasted, and despite my generally delicate appetite, it disappeared completely. The lively conversation at my table had all but ceased as everyone tucked into their meal, which was accompanied by the recently launched Cordon Bleu Extra.

No French meal is complete without some cheese, and Arbefeuille’s version was nice and light, so it was easy to enjoy after the hearty main course. The aged mimolette espuma and a softly sweet cognac jelly went down rather well, chased by Martell XO. (Mimolette is an Edam-like cheese produced in the French city of Lille.)

Only this exquisite Poire belle Hélène can match the richness of the Chanteloup Perspective

Only something as typically French as Poire belle Hélène could do justice to the venerable Martell Chanteloup Perspective, but of course, made with what I was beginning to recognise as Arbefeuille’s innovative twists. Where this traditional dessert simply consists of pears poached in sugar syrup with vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup, the version we were served consisted of two halves of a pear and a bread sphere, which was then drizzled with warm chocolate syrup. Dessert was simply divine, pairing perfectly with the Chanteloup’s notes of honey, candied fruit and nuts.

Dinner felt like something I would be served in a friend’s home — it was hearty, real, tasty and — despite the innovative techniques it employed — not at all pretentious. Martell certainly has set quite high standards for the first H.O.M.E. event — we can’t wait to see what other good things will come in the next edition.

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