Monday, 28 May 2007

Coopers Sparkling Ale

Coopers Sparkling Ale
Adelaide, South Australia, $14 (approx)

I love beer. This is probably a pretty good thing as Australians are considered a nation of beer drinkers, yet in reality they often drink pretty average stuff. Internationally we are represented by some bad stereotypes and there's much more to Australian beer then pint cans of Foster brewed under license in the UK. Australian boutique breweries are starting to emerge and a whole hoard of home brewers, like the infamous Fat Nick Harrison, make pretty good stuff, yet there are also a couple of good, large scale, commercial enterprises. Family owned Coopers is one such exception who is battling the trend of mass produced generic beer. When I saw stubbies of their Sparkling Ale in Taste I got very excited.

Sparkling Ale is a heavier, fuller flavoured beer that the website claims has been brewed following basically the same recipe since 1862. It is top fermented, contains no artificial flavours or preservatives and is bottle conditioned. The beer itself is a rich golden, amber colour and looks exactly like beer bloody well should. The bottle conditioning process means that each bottle contains a flotilla of obvious sediment - whether you roll the beer to disperse these chunks into a cloudy haze or leave them lurking around the bottle for a 'sparkling' beer with final big gulp is often debated. Coopers Sparkling Ale has a full fruity smell with noticeable hops and big, hollow, but not overwhelming froth. It tastes ... well good, with an obvious fruitiness, with a slightly bitter palate and hints of mellow hops in the background. This beer is still wet and refreshing and unlike some of heavier ales that you need a knife and fork for, this really is a drink that manages to merge flavour with refreshment.

Australia is not just about superb wines; give Aussie beer a go and get stuck into a Coopers 'red'.

Visit brewery website

Sunday, 27 May 2007

Bayside Brasserie

25 Stanley Markey Rd, Stanley
Visited 26th May

Stanley, do I love it or hate it? Sitting on the waterfront, having an alfresco lunch and sucking on a couple of beers seems a superb way to spend a Saturday afternoon, yet hidden just round the corner from this apparent bliss there's the market. Shops, lots and lots of scary shops, filled with souvenirs, designer rip-offs and really spooky stuff like baby clothes. Saturday lunchtime I faced my phobias, rushed past the market and met up with friends for a casual lunch at the Bayside Brasserie. This open, breezy restaurant is at the market end of the dinning strip along Stanley waterfront.

The menu contains an eclectic assortment of modern Western, Italian, Asian and Indian dishes, everything from bangers 'n' mash and pizzas to laksas and tandoori chicken. I skipped entrees, but the Vietnamese rolls, samosas and spring rolls the others had looked great. Naomi ordered an amazingly chunky hamburger that was served with gloriously crispy wedges and salad. I decided on sea bass and was presented with two big fillets; they were excellent, perfectly pan-fried with a crispy outer and flaky flesh. Dished up on a bed of ultra creamy mash and roasted capsicum, I thought $138 was good value for this excellent dish. The others seemed very happy; both the prawn packed Singapore Noodles and blackened cod with crab omelette and bok choy enjoyed next to me looked fantastic. Drinks wise I had cool, crisp bottles of Sol, Naomi had a freshly squeezed guava juice and the others chose from the good selection of wine by the glass - Rosemount Chardonnay and Crane Lake Cabernet. The desert selection was an interesting mix. Naomi had a very tasty, but somewhat small serve of lime gelato, while another friend enjoyed a tumbling creation called 'Nicker Bocker Glory'; basically an explosion of fruit, ice-cream, gelato and cream; heaven for a ten year-old. The only culinary let down for the day was the pavlova, a solid, burnt brick of meringue which you almost needed a chainsaw to hack through.

The Bayside Brasserie offers pleasant, but withdrawn service in a fantastic setting; book early and ask for a window setting so you can soak up the sea views. With the exception of the pavlova the food was excellent and I thought pretty well priced. If you can somehow avoid the racks of baby clothes at scary Stanley market the Bayside Brasserie is most definitely worth a visit.

Visit restaurant website

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Al Dente

16 Staunton St, SoHo, Central
Visited 23rd May

The occasion was a friends birthday, the justification Buddha's birthday the following day and the venue Al Dente in Staunton St. A cosy, and often packed, SoHo restaurant that dishes up big serves of traditional Italian food.

The birthday boy happily gulped down a tasty looking serve of Linguine Pesce, while Naomi had fresh tortellini stuffed with spinach and cheese. I ordered the fish of the day; a chunky sea bass fillet, served atop a pile of mash and vegetables. The fat flakes of fish were meltingly tender and accompanied by a good cream based sauce. While I enjoyed the simple mash and big hunks of vegetable that are the standard accompaniment to most mains, I reckon you could grow tied of them pretty quickly. The dessert list comprises of only three items and we shared chocolate pudding, tiramisu and banana flambé; all were OK, though none brilliant. To drink we started with a bottle of Principato Pinot Grigio, a crisp, clean refreshing white. Me and the birthday boy then gulped our way onto Chianti; being out of the bottle on the winelist we were recommended Chianti Il Grigio. Though it settled down with a bit of air and drunk OK with food, I was pretty disappointed; big obvious alcohol and rough tannins, a pretty ungainly affair at a pretty ungainly price. The meals cost between $93 and $124 which is resonable value, however I feel I got a stung on the wine. I wont mention the prices of what we drunk, but ... Al Dente has Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2005 listed for $580; I like this wine and recently purchased it in Australia for about HK$120 a bottle. The strong Australian dollar, 40% import duty and shipping and transportation costs all add up, but this the mark-up from $120ish retail in Australia to $580 seems a little steep.

Al Dente's manager, Sergio, ensures slick service with personality, an element that is sadly missing in most Hong Kong restaurants. For those craving an old-school Italian, just like someone's-mum-in-a-local-joint-thirty-years-ago-use-to-make, Al Dente is the place for you. While not on the cutting edge of modern cuisine what Al Dente does is the classics and it does them well. A restaurant that is worth a try, we certainly had a cracker of a night and a happy birthday to the old bloke!

Visit restaurant website

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Wine Prices; the Joke Continues!

I have written before about my disgust at the lack of consistency one encounters with supermarket wines prices (see here). In this previous post I used the Jacob's Creek range of wines as an example of how prices wildly fluctuate; up to 31% for these wines. I also mentioned how when wines are on 'special' I am a little sceptical of the price they are being reduced from.

Today I visited the supermarket to purchase the few things that I can't get at local shops and wet market. Wandering down the wine aisle you can imagine my interest when I saw Jacob's Creek on 'special'. The whole range was being promoted at a 'discount' price of $82 reduced from $115. Monitoring the price of theses wine I have seen them sold for between $75 and $109, but never ever for $115. Is this price of $115 really legitimate? If it is and I've missed it, it now means that the price of Jacob's Creek can fluctuate by up to 35%! However as I have never seen this wine sold at this higher price I am tempted to suggest that the supermarket chain in question is trying to convince consumers they are getting a good deal when in fact we are not. The wine is neither being sold for an especially cheap price and the price it is supposedly reduced from is in fact an inflated production of somebody's imagination.

Why would you buy wine from these people? Their prices vary so much they lack any sort of consistency; with a few exceptions they stock boring massed produced wines; the wine they do sell is stored so badly that labels are often water damaged or sun bleached and I am very sceptical of their integrity when promoting wine as being on "special". I have to ask myself if I cannot trust them to promote and label wine prices fairly, can they be trusted with anything else?


26-30 Elgin St, Soho, Central
Visited 19th May

After a huge day at the French Wine Fair it was time to regroup and debrief over a quiet dinner. I met Naomi and too exhausted to really think we grabbed at table at Caramba!, a brightly decorated Mexican restaurant in Soho. I enjoy the odd Mexican dish at home; tortilla heaped with fresh salad, sour cream, salsas and chicken or beans is a truly tasty experience. Mexican food however is not a cuisine that I hold in particularly high regard; Naomi on the other hands loves it, having spent time travelling in Mexico and eating heaps in the States. She enjoys the simple, fresh ingredients; I reckon it lacks variety, depth and refinement.

After having slurped and spat wine all afternoon I went straight for a big glass of water and, after a brief look at the drink list, stuck with it. The beers were expensive, wine selection average and the cocktails tequila based (the only spirit I don't particularly like). Naomi ordered chicken enchiladas and I chose Caesar salad with grilled prawns. Naomi's baked enchiladas were stuffed with tasty chicken and topped with guacamole and only a tiny waft of sour cream. They were served atop rice and some off putting black beans that stunk of sweet, artificial BBQ sauce. Though it was OK, I felt that at $128 this dish was well over priced; there are plenty of places along Elgin St were you can get a steak for a similair amount. My Caesar salad was disappointing. Though the dressing was pretty good, the croutons mentioned on the menu were missing, the parmesan was just a couple of slivers and the prawns; well there were just four of them for an additional $40. A few bits of dressed lettuce with a little cheese and four prawns isn't what I call a good meal.

For big groups looking to suck on beers and munch corn chips or those craving Mexican food Caramba! could be worth a visit, but for everyone else not. The service was average, the food uninspiring and both meals and drinks grossly over priced. The menu was limited to basic 'classics'; eg. the stuff you could make better at home. Surely the niche of Mexican restaurants is cheap, cheerful food accompanied by plenty of affordable beer? Sadly Caramba! did absolutely nothing to convince me of the merits of Mexican cuisine.

Visit restaurant website

Friday, 18 May 2007

Bacar Wine Brassiere

2 Shelley St, SoHo, Central
Visited 17th May

This was the third time I've visited Bacar and I'm becoming a bit of a fan. After chewing on some big Aussie Shiraz at the Grape to Glass winetasting (see here) I was ready for food, any food, just food. Most in attendance were of the same opinion and pizza was suggested. Our destination was
Bacar; a thin, stylish bar hidden on the edge of SoHo, were the mid-level escalators does the dip before ascending towards Staunton St. It's a mix-mash of low sofas and high tables fringed with a long bar.

The highlight of Bacar's comprehensive menu is the range of tapas and pizzas. We shared a plate of wedges, sesame seared tuna, stewed chorizo and a couple of pizzas; all were fantastic. The crispy wedges, baked with rosemary were superb; on a previous occasion my mother was quoted as labelling them the "World's best". The tuna was delightful; moist, tender fish hidden under a contrasting layer of crunchy sesame. The pizzas, oh the pizzas; after sipping away at bottles of big red nothing is more satisfying then thin crusts and tasty toppings accompanied by a couple of pints of cold beer, Budvar in this case. Bacar does have a good range of drinks including few different beers on draught and amazingly a draft prosecco, which according to rumour isn't as bad as it sounds. The wine list is interesting with a several 'by the glass' options. The non-alcoholic drinks also look good and are stylishly served in classy glassware. Price wise Bacar isn't cheap, but nowhere in SoHo is. My share of the bill was a tad under $200, which for a couple of beers and a stomach full of food isn't bad; they also have a nightly happy hour.

Packed with attentive, polite staff; dishing up tasty treats and serving a good range of drinks in a slick environment Baccar is definitely worth a visit.

From Grape to Glass, Wine Tasting

One Mans Story, From Grape to Glass Winetasting
YWCA, 1 Macdonnell Rd Central, 17th May

I was not really sure what I was committing to when I signed up for this. I head about it through the Adelaide Cellar Door's mailing list and came along in the hope of trying a few new wines. The event was hosted by David Harris (whose family runs the Adelaide Cellar Door) and run through the YWCA (see here).

The first part of the evening was a personal account of David's background alongside a discussion on the global wine market, the necessities of grape growing and the process of wine production. Though basic, I think most enjoyed it and it was enlightening to glimpse things from David's farming perspective. His move from sheep to the wine industry was interesting, as where his views on the influence of infrastructure on the Australian wine industry and his lively opinions on the French.

The second part of the evening was all about drinking. On tasting were ones from the Adelaide Cellar Door (see here), a company run by David's wife and daughter. Adelaide Cellar Door imports small boutique wines from South Australia and aims to go from the producer straight to the consumer's door, cutting the costs of the middle man. Though having the drawback of only selling wine by the case, Adelaide Cellar Door does offer unique wines at competitive prices. David toured us through a selection of shirazes off their list and here are my opinions:

Horbreck Barossa Shiraz, 2005, $85: A young and upfront wine. The nose was packed with very ripe fruit and some smoky oak flavours. The palate was good, with lots of almost jammy fruit, though the alcohol was a touch obvious and the tannins not really defined.
All up pretty good drop for the price.

D'Estree Bay Wrattonbully Shiraz, 2003, $130: I liked this wine a lot. The nose was oozing fruit, with berries aplenty and a hint of sweetness. The palate was soft and full, with strong, well balanced tannins. D'Estree Bay Shiraz really is a cracker of a cool climate wine at an attractive price.

Cape d'Estaing Kangaroo Island Shiraz, 2003, $210 (website): Another alluring wine. The nose had plenty of fruit accompanied by pepper and spice. The plate had a lovely savoury note along side beautiful silky tannins, though it perhaps lacked length. An elegant and refined wine and while certainly not cheap offers interesting drinking from a different region.

Alsare Barossa Shiraz, 2004, $150: I wasn't a huge fan of this. Alsare Shiraz has a typical big Barossa nose with lots of ripe fruits and perhaps a hint of mint. The high alcohol content showed and tended to dominate the palate. The wine was perhaps a little unbalanced and maybe needs some time to settle down. Not really my thing.

Pencost Estate Robert Hartley Reserve Shiraz, McLaren Vale, 2001, $180: A big fruit filled red that was showing it's age well. Again the nose of this wine was bursting with lots of ripe fruit; red berries, plum and a hint of spice. The palate was packed full, with big, but well integrated tannins, though the alcohol was perhaps a little obvious. All up a good wine, packing a big punch.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Sawadee Thai

1 Tung Shing Lei Rd, Yuen Long, NT
Visited 15th May

A day without pollution is a special day in Hong Kong and a pollution free day often signals a visit to Sawadee Thai. The restaurant is a pleasant kilometre walk from Yuen Long KCR Station, just past Pok Oi Hospital on Castle Peak Rd. Easily Sawadee Thai's best asset is it's well landscaped, outdoor seating, though those relying on cars will love it's carpark. Potted plants, chunky wood benches and plenty of mosquito coils create the perfect place to drink beer while trying and pick out faint stars on clear evenings.

Sawadee Thai offers several menu options; there is a range of tasty Thai dishes, a smaller Indian menu and a large outdoor BBQ area grilling seafood, steaks and vegetables fresh to order. We started our meal with a serve of spring rolls and vegetarian samosas, both were pretty good. The four of us then indulged in a mass of food; Indonesian chicken curry, lamb with mango, fried water spinach, chicken with cashews and a massive bowl of Singapore style curry prawns. The prawns were fantastic; big juicy fellows halved and swimming in a huge bucket of mild sauce. Also superb was the Indonesian curry; the creamy coconut base was a great accompaniment to large chunks of tender chicken and potato. Both the chicken with cashews and water spinach were good. The lamb with mango was perhaps a bit of a weak link - a shame because previously I've thoroughly enjoyed this dish - this time however the meat was tough and the dish lacked adequate chunks of juicy mango that Naomi loves so much. It is hard to resist sucking on bottles of Chang, but Sawadee Thai's winelist looks good and includes a couple of classic Australian producers like Brown Brothers and Taltarni, though not at overly cheap prices.

Sawadee Thai is a good. The service is reasonable - though at times gets a little lost amongst the potted plants. The food is fresh, tasty and abundant; offering some interesting takes on authentic Thai cooking. Our bill came to $700 for four and considering the masses of leftovers I'm having for lunch today this doesn't seem terrible value, though it's certainly not the best bargain in Yuen Long. What Sawadee Thai does offer in is an out of this world location, or at least a location were you feel like your out of Hong Kong. Do yourself a favour one evening and head along to Sawadee Thai for a relaxed meal in an awesome setting.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

E & J Gallo Sierra Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

Ernest & Julio Gallo Sierra Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004
Sierra Valley, California, USA, $57.50, synthetic cork seal

This wine was purchased as a desperate attempt to try and find something exciting amongst the range of cheap supermarket reds. It was apparently on special for $57.50, but as you can probably guess I'm a little cynical of claims like that (see here). Ernest and Julio Gallo is a huge Californian producer and this wine is one of their cheaper offerings, the Sierra Valley label seems to be somewhere around the lower mid tier of their extensive range, though I couldn't find it mentioned on their website.

The wine has a smoky nose with hints of tobacco and cherry. On the palate I had to search to find cherry and blackcurrant flavours, with pretty non-existent tannins. It is very easy to drink, but seemed to lack any sort of depth or complexity, with the wine seeming to disappear before it was swallowed. Though not unpleasant, E & J Gallo Sierra Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 was certainly not exciting; a bit of a non-event really.

Visit winery website

Monday, 7 May 2007

Bricco Gaino, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, 2005

Bricco Gaino, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, 2005
Abruzzo, Italy, $61 (normal price $99), cork seal

I'm getting totally sick of the boring range of 'Austrlian wine I wouldn't bother drinking in Australia' at my local supermarket. Looking for a cheap red quaffer I bought this on special at a local Yuen Long wine shop. It comes from the Abruzzo region on the eastern seaboard of Italy, kind of in the middle and next to Lazio where Rome is. The wine itself is made from the Montepulciano grape, a variety local to this area (for more info see here).

I cracked this fellow last night and thoroughly enjoyed it. The upfront fruit and smooth Tannins went extremely well with dinner. I've just poured glass two on night two. Disgustingly humid weather means that I'd stored the bottle in the fridge and an exhausting day at work meant that I was reaching for glass an hour so earlier than expected. Straight from the fridge the wine was lovely; refreshing and extremely easy to drink. As it warmed a little the noise oozed rich red fruits, I was getting a lot of plum and cherry. The $61 I handed over for this I reckon was a bargain, even at its normal price of $99 it is good value. Bricco Gaino Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is an easy to drink, food friendly and enjoyable drop; finally a punt that paid off.

Sunday, 6 May 2007

Vina Porta Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Vina Porta Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
Aconcagua Valley, Chile, $300 (restaurant winelist), cork seal

The picture here is of an empty glass, a glass that is empty for a very good reason. We enjoyed several bottles of this wine at Ease of Mind in Causeway Bay along side Saturday dinner. The food was off and on (the instant mash potato was certainly dodgy), the service was off and on (one friendly 'good' waiter, one grumpy 'evil' waiter), but the wine was most definitely on.

Lifting this glass to my nose I was initially confused, what was this smell? It definitely wasn't sweet fruit salad or plum jam, nor was it mint or herbs. The closest I could come was "a delicious, yet mysterious savoury nose of Chinese style roast pork". The second bottle seemed to confirm this, though I picked up some earthy tones, perhaps then "a delicious, yet mysterious savoury nose of Chinese style roast pork, from a pig which spent a bit of time rolling around in the mud". The palate was rich, savoury and complex; with smooth tannins and well balanced alcohol. The meal we had was a mix of shared entrees, mains and desserts and Vina Porta Cabernet Sauvignon went well with all; an absolute pleasure to drink.

Visit winery website

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

New York Cafe

Transport Plaza, 2-6 Fung Cheung Rd, Yuen Long, NT
Visited 1st May

New York Cafe is a favourite of mine. It's an American style diner; the kind of place where the Staff don't just know your name, but know what type of beer you drink. Located just around the corner from Castle Peak Rd in Yuen Long it may be out of the way for many, but if you're in the area it's definitely worth a visit. Good food at reasonable prices makes it perfect for lunch or a casual midweek dinner; we went Tuesday night with a couple friends.

The mainstays of the menu include salads, grills, pasta, burritos and burgers. I enjoyed a rack of NZ lamb, which for $99 I thought was excellent value. The meat was cooked perfectly and served with smooth mash and freshly grilled vegetables. Naomi's beef burrito was good and the king prawn risotto my mate raved about was topped with a generous handful of monster prawns and looked fantastic. Eating in Yuen Long means that drinks escape the ridiculous prices of more central locations, New York Cafe is no exception with a selection of bottled beers at $16 and a decent wine and cocktail list. Randy, Alan and all the team offer friendly, helpful service and don't even wack 10% on the bill for the privilege.

Whether its lunch or dinner New York Cafe delivers. An oasis of reasonable prices, consistently good Western food and outstanding service are definitely something to be treasured, especially in the remote wilds of Yuen Long.