Monday, 23 April 2007

Ever Wandered About Sausages?

TVB Pearl, Monday 23rd April, 8pm

I'm currently watching 'Ever Wandered About Sausages' on TVB Pearl; a BBC production series that explores 'the science and history behind the food'. Hosted by Paul Merrett it offers some interesting viewing, despite annoying, jumpy editing.

The first dish Paul prepares is the 'classic' toad in the hole. Baking sausages covered in thick batter really isn't my idea of the perfect meal. Though what I found really fascinating was that this was, according to Paul, "home cooking at its best", especially when accompanied by frozen peas and granulated gravy! Why the frozen peas, when peas are one of the few fresh vegetables that constantly grow well in the English climate? The second recipe contrasted British home cooking with French, Paul prepared a cassaulet. Fresh ingredients were treated with love and care to produce a dish that really did look like "home cooking at its best", without even the help of granulated gravy.

Later in the show the discussion moved to the controversial haggis (is it or is it not a sausage?) but I was more disturbed when a picture was flashed of a deep fried haggis in a Scottish fish 'n' chip shop. Haggis I love, but precooked, drowned in batter, soggy and oily from a fish n chip shop? Forget it. Fish n chips, is another 'classic' UK dish, yet for my money it's going to be better anywhere else in the World; outside of the UK it will at least be cooked fresh rather than served soggy from a Bay-mare. I've had many fantastic meals in the UK and know some excellent British home cooks, yet why oh why does British food culture keep pushing and portraying below standard food as its greatest successes? Excellent game, Plymouth Gin and the World's best strawberries, focus on the positives not frozen peas and granulated gravy!

Finally the subject of sausages. Oh sweet Sausages, the one thing I crave. You can buy good pies at Sai Kong, Taste sells Coopers beer and every Yuen Long supermarket has Vegemite, yet where can I get a decent snag? Does anyone know a good butcher in Hong Kong making homemade sausages?

Visit BBC website

Sunday, 22 April 2007

Chocolux Cafe

57 Peel St, Soho, Central
Visited Saturday 21 April

It was Saturday night and somewhat strangely I was lucky enough to be going for a drink with four women. As I was led through the lanes and backstreets of Central I didn't know where we were going, but I was pretty sure it wasn't to the bars of Wanchai. We ended up was the tiny, chocolate themed cafe, Chocolux.

Coffee, cakes, crepes and chocolate based cocktails are the mainstay of Chocolux and they generally look excellent. I tasted a rich hot brownie sundae and a hot molten Chocolate cake that's centre oozed delightful, chocolate goo; both were superb. I also sipped a chocolate martini, which was lovely with the chocolate being a lot more subtle than I expected. The coffee I had was good and the glass of Bordeaux very drinkable. If I had to find fault with Chocolux it would be its limited range of alcoholic drinks. It is the sort of place you go to sit and chat, while sipping and nibbling. Some more interesting selections on the wine list, including more by the glass options, along with some premium brand spirits rather than just the cheap, generic brands they stock for cocktails would go a long way.

Chocolux really is a delightful, late night treat. Rich chocolate desserts, cocktails and coffee should be enough of an attraction for anyone. A recommended stop for pure self indulgence.

Visit cafe website

Shek O Chinese and Thailand Restaurant

No 303, Shek O Village, Hong Kong Island
Visited 21st April

Overcast, drizzling weather and a slightly sore head isn't really the best recipe for a day frolicking at the beach, but my first visit to Shek O was a wonderful surprise. A little surf, great views, waves of white sand, beach volleyball and big sandcastle were complemented by a good meal at Shek O Chinese and Thailand Restaurant. This eatery just back from the beach in Shek O village is ideally suited to a big group sucking down a shared banquet; the perfect place for wet sandy bathers and noisy families.

The extensive menu was probably closer to Thai inspired Chinese, rather than authentic Thai, but what was offered was good, cheap grub. Our big group shared a never ending parade of tasty dishes including: chili coconut crab, salt and pepper squid, deep-fried tofu and two whole steamed fish. The winelist looked surprising good and reasonably priced, with a couple of interesting Australian Rieslings and Semillions listed, but after a day on the beach it was big bottles of Tsing Tao that we were getting excited about. The service was friendly, the food good value and the atmosphere relaxed. Shek O Chinese and Thailand Restaurant is a great place to finish a day on Shek O's beach; both are worth the trek.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

Wine Prices an Absolute Joke!

'Anyone for a whine', South China Morning Post, 19th April 2007, p.C8

In today's South China Morning Post was an article titled 'Anyone for a whine' written by Annabel Jackson. Hong Kong has recently reduced duty on wine imports from 80% to 40%. Though this is still a hideous amount (espeicially as nearly everything else in Hong Kong is tax free including beer and sprites), it is at least a step in the right direction. The article
discusses the apparent lack of discount being passed on to consumers and mentions the difficulties faced by suppliers in passing on these savings. Many of these arguments have suggestions of validity, yet others sniffle as inadequate excuses. Sure tax is one issue, but what really annoys me is not the missing discount, but the lack of integrity and consistency shown by the big retailers with their wine pricing.

At my local supermarket the price of wine and sprites is a constant game of snacks and ladders; rising and falling and falling and rising. On a couple of occasions I have visited Yuen Long and Tin Shui Wai branches of a supermarket in the same day and couldn't believe it when they were selling identical wines at different prices. Recently I bought a bottle of Moskovskaya vodka that was being promoted at a reduced, 'super special' price of only $99, yet as soon as this 'promotion' finished the same vodka returned to it's normal price of $79! Examples of the lack of consistency in prices at our major supermarkets are numerous, but here are a few.

Same product different price: Let's look at popular Australian export Jacob's Creek. I have attached poor quality photographs (taken on my phone) of the wine being sold at three different prices by the same supermarket chain. You will notice that not once is the product identified as being on special, so it would seem that Jacob's Creek wines can either cost $75, $82 or $109 depending upon how the supermarket feels on the day; a price fluxuation of up to 31%!

'Discount' and 'normal' price: As there seems to be set retail prices for wine the idea of a product being on special seems something of a contradiciton - how can it be reduced when their is no standard price from which to dioscount it from. Often a wine will be garnished with flashy signs attracting buyers to it's 'reduced price', yet is this price really offering a discount? A example is the Penfolds range at my local supermarket. The Thomas Hynland wines were selling for $119, while Koonunga Hill was being promoted at $99 reduced from $149. Are these prices legitimate? Thomas Hynland is the label above Koonunga Hill in the Penfolds portfolio (see here); in Australia the Thomas Hynland sells for around $A20 while the Koonunga Hill is only about $15 (see here and here). Why does a supposedly better quality wine, have a lower price that than a lesser wine from the same producer? Comparing these prices seems to suggest that either the Thomas Hynland is an absolute bargain which the supermarket has forgotten to tell us about or that really there is no 33% discount on Koonunga Hill and it's usual price isn't $149, but is perhaps somewhere around $99.

I apologise for what has been a pretty long rant and I must add that Hong Kong has some fantastic small wine retailers who sell interesting and quality wines. In Yuen Long their are five decent independent wine stores that I visit regularly. Unfortunately though, many people in Hong Kong buy their wine from the supermarkets and the huge amount of the market share they posse means that they need to be more responsible and honest in their pricing policies. I've also got a few issues with the way they store and handle their wine, but that's a story for another day ...

Monday, 16 April 2007

Eating the Philipinnies

Holiday in Philippines
6th to 15th April 2007

One of the great things about living in Hong Kong is the number of places that you can quickly and easily escape to; for us the Easter holidays were a chance to check out the neighbouring Philippines. With a night each end in Manila we spent most of our time relaxing around the beach resort of Sabang. A great place for diving Sabang also offered some good eating options; here are a few of my favourites.


This outstanding Cuban themed Restaurant was so good that some days we had to resist eating here for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Huge serves of Caribbean and Filipino influenced food, excellent coffee and an interesting selection of tapas. Hemmingway's friendly service and beautiful beach side location meant many hours were spent here flipping through books and watching the world go by, accompanied by a coffee or cold San Miguel.

Marti's Bar
Run by a friendly New Zealander this is a great place for a beer. Devoid of the sleaziness that lingers around many of the other bars in town Marti's has a book exchange, board games and enough cold beer to keep anyone entertained.

Another great bar with a relaxed feel and cheap beers to boot. Situated above the water at the far western end of Sabang beach this was a favourite place for a thirst quencher after a sunset walk along the Laguna beaches.

Street Vendors
The two stalls on the corner of the main intersection were both excellent for late night snacks. One sold an array of tasty grilled skewers, the other delicious fried chicken and fried pastry fingers stuffed with lamb. Cheap and tasty the only issue was having to resist gorging on fried chicken every time I walked past.

Lucky's Saloon
The big serves of freshly cooked, authentic German food is excellent value, but the service was terrible. When we visited we had to wait an hour and twenty minutes for our food to arrive and on inquiring where our meals were we were literally yelled at by the German owner; a real shame.

Talipanan Beach is not in Sabang, but the other side of the town of Puerto Galera past the resort of White Beach. Talipanan is not just remote, it is isolated, underdeveloped and empty; a perfect spot for getting away from it all, but certainly not where you would expect to encounter gourmet delights. Luka's is amazing, its classic Italian menu was stuffed full of authentic, reasonably priced offerings. The pizza was especially good and would have to be close to the best I've eaten since Italy. A highly recommended outing, especially considering the adventure of the location.

Friday, 6 April 2007

Vinicole D' Andlau Barr Gewurztraminer, 2005

Vinicole D' Andlau Barr Gewurztraminer 2005
Alsace, France, $119, cork seal

This wine was a purchased with Naomi in mind and her love of all things sweet. I first tried Alsace wine on Christmas morning 2000 when I went to have 'aperitif' with the neighbours of the French family I was staying. In my extremely hung over state, the fragrant glass I was offered was a joy to drink and relatively easy to stomach, especially compared to the mussels that were also being pushed my way. I've had a soft spot for the good growers of Alsace ever since.

Well the wine. Sweet and fragrant with a nose that leaps out at you, wofts of appealing flowers, honey and perhaps rose water and turkish delight. It tastes rich and thick with a lovely, but not over bearing sweetness. The alcohol content seems quite high to me at 13%, and I found the slight aftertaste of alcohol warmth a bit distracting. One word fits perfectly to describe this wine, pretty. A pretty wine to look at - being a light metallic gold colour, a pretty wine to smell and a pretty wine to taste.

Previously retailing for more, I picked this bottle up for $119 and at that price I would say it is fair value. A perfect wine to be sharing with Naomi over meal at our local favourite Thai Modern, unless of course their bloody liquor license application is successful and we can no longer enjoy the benefits of BYO, free of corkage charge.

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Argento Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

Argento, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006
Mendoza, Argentina, $52, synthetic cork seal

Welcome to my first wine review. From the start it's important to say I can't claim an educated palate, with an acute ability to pick a amazing cornucopia of flavours and fragrance. Instead what I want to do is report what I have been drinking and what I think of it. In a country where tax on wine is huge and prices often seem to border on the ridicules a key focus will be what's good value for money and in my opinion what's worth drinking.

While a big fan of Chilean wine, Argentina has not done much to inspire me. My previous impression was tainted by a couple of very cheap, extremely over oaked whites. Not surprisingly though, a country like Argentina which produces such fine beef, should be able to knock together a few decent bottles of red.

School holidays have started and I've managed to drink several bottles of this over the last few weeks; a couple of bottles even disappearing with afternoon tea! The wine drinks very well. The nose is ripe with rich red fruits. A slight sweetness balances the palate so that it holds iteself together, glass after glass.
Argento Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 is also extremely food friendly, at a local BYO restaurant the other night it seemed far superior to the Wolf Blass Yellow Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 that was drunk before it. This really is a wine I could drink a lot of and while it's available for $52 I can almost afford to; good quaffing value.

Visit winery website


9 Stauntons St, Soho, Central, HK
Visited 31st March

The Hong Kong 7s were absolute, undeniable, craziness. Saturday afternoon we watched Australia beat France, we clapped, we cheered, and then we snuck away to Soho. Tucked away just around the top of the mid-levels escalator and across the road from the bright lights of the Staunton's Wine Bar is Portobello; where we searched for sanity and cafe late.

On entering Portobello you are greeted by a bulging cake display and slick bar. The cafe's narrow, intimate seating and cosy, but refined atmosphere gives it a slight European feel. The menu consists of sandwiches, snacks and a splurge of cakes. The choice of tea was impressive and the wine list contained a couple of interesting options. I was however a little sceptical about how long some of the bottles had been sitting there half full.

Keen for a snack Naomi ordered a toasted mozzarella, tomato panini and a hot chocolate. I was content with a sobering coffee. The drinks were both fine, with the hot chocolate gaining some very positive praise. The panini was OK, but totally under cooked, though the staff were happy to make it "more crispy". Though nothing screamed excellence, everything about Portobello was satisfactory; the service was fine, the food fine and the prices fair (for Soho). Perhaps the best thing about Portobello was its tranquil atmosphere. It really was an oasis of sanity amongst the seething crowds of drunk and disorderly.

Visit cafe Website