Saturday, 30 June 2007

Dream Maker

45 Yau San Street, Yuen Long
Visited 29th June

One of our favourite local restaurants is Dream Maker. This Japanese joint is identifiable by the big Daruma Doll out the front and is part of a group, which has another five restaurants scattered around Hong Kong. After a few cold beers at the New York Cafe, Naomi and I headed to Dream Maker for dinner Friday night.

We normally order a selection of nibbly bits and this time chose salmon, octopus and beancurd sushi, grilled chicken, miso soup, baked gyoza dumplings smothered in cheese and a chicken okonomiyaki or 'Japanese pizza'. I thought the salmon and octopus were good, while Naomi was full of praise for the beancurd sushi. The chicken tasted like it had actually been char-grilled, the gyoza were superbly cheesy and the okonomiyaki was just like we had in Japan, really very tasty. The menu also offers more traditional Japanese udon, soda and rice bowls, but on a Friday after a few drinks I was pretty satisfied with our selection of snacks. To drink alongside the obligatory cups of tea there is a small selection of sake - something I've never got into - and cans of cold Japanese beer. Though it's probably a bit too much to ask, it would be great to see an option BYO a bottle of wine.

The Dream Maker experience is about being pretty; fair enough that the food is creatively presented with lavish garnishes, but the staff also seem more committed to how they look, rather than how they serve. Several times in the past parts of our orders have been forgotten. To enter Dream Maker is to enter the world of big hair; the waiters have embraced a fashion battle that includes every combination of mullet, perm, fringe, crimp, dye and tease imaginable. Perhaps a strange generalisation, but at Dream Maker the bigger the hair style, the worse the service; so look for the one guy with short-back-and-sides. Dream Maker, despite its little quirks (which probably just makes it more "Japanese"), offers fairly priced, well presented, tasty food and I reckon it's worth a visit.

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Krug and Bacon; "The Perfect Match"?

'The Perfect Match', South China Morning Post, 28th June 2007, C7

I enjoy reading Simon Tam's wine and food matching recommendations in the South China Morning Post every Thursday. Each week Tam choices a different (and often seasonal) dish and reviews three wines to match. What impresses me most is that he focuses on picking wines that emphasis the different flavour elements within specific dishes.

This week's dish was the "classic British fry-up" to which Tam matched three different beverages. His selections were: 1} Belvedere Vodka for a Bloody Mary ($280) - good call; a favourite drink of mine; 2} Guinness ($12) - not something I would have thought of, but hey it could defiantly work; and 3} Krug Grand Cuvee Champagne ($1398) - yes a $1400 bottle of champagne! Is he serious? If someone else was paying for it no doubt Krug would go well with any breakfast whether it's crumpets with jam, yum cha, eggs Benedict or Fruit Loops. Yet who in there right-mind would spend this type of cash for a drink to have with bacon and eggs? There a plenty of interesting sparkling wines available for a tenth of the price and plenty of food that is better suited to complementing the Krug. Why isn't Tam recommending something that is both accessible and realistic?

Looking back at his recommendations for the previous couple of weeks I'm even more confused. Last week's (21/6) recommendations were to accompany apple crumble and vanilla ice-cream; Tam selected: 1} Veuve Clicquot Rich Reserve 1999 ($609); 2} Chateau Guiraud Sauternes 2001 ($835); and 3} Dow's 10 Year-old Tawny Port ($265). The previous week (14/6) leading up to Dragon Boat festival Tam discussed 'joong' rice dumplings and suggested 1} Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir 2004 ($398); 2} Penfolds Grange Shiraz 2001 ($5980); and 3} Veuve Clicquot Rich Reserve 1999 ($620).
The wines Tam has suggested over the last three weeks have an average price of $1443 a bottle and even without the Grange an average of $687 (remember these are wines to accompany a fried breakfast, a snack and a dessert). I certainly have no problem reading about top end wines, but if one is recommending wine to match with food why isn't Tam offering some affordable options?

Shangri-La Curry House

144 On Ning Rd, Yuen Long, NT
Visited 28th June

I can't believe I've been writing about restaurants in Yuen Long for a few months now and haven't done a review of the Shangri-La Curry House. The Yuen Long area has a large Nepalese population and as a result we are lucky enough to have this fantastic little family run restaurant. The location on On Ning Rd, though kind of hidden, isn't too far from the Long Ping KCR station and is just behind Yuen Long Plaza.

A meal at the Shangri-La Curry House always starts with a couple of complementary serves of poppadums, one lot topped with cucumber, chilli and tomato, the other served with mint dip and pickled shallots. We then moved onto vegetarian samosas and a couple of cold Tsing Taos while we ordered up a feast - prawn curry, grilled chicken tikka, lamb korma, chickpeas, chicken jhalfrezi, minced eggplant, chicken makhni, garlic naan and rice - really quite a lot of food! I particularly enjoyed the Chicken tikka that was served on a sizzling hot plate and was tender and flavoursome. The Baingan Bharta or eggplant curry was also fantastic; this mildly spiced, tender, minced eggplant was delicious and went extremely well with the generous serves of warm, chewy garlic naan. There are a few wines on offer at the Shangri-La Curry House, but I'm usually more than happy to stick to reasonably priced beers or if I'm desperate bring my own for $50 corkage. Our bill for the evening come to about $120 a head, which included quite a few beers and a mountain more food then we could eat.

A visit to the Shangri-La Curry House is not just about munching on good food it's also about the ambience; "the serenity". While the mural depicting the mountains of Nepal helps to set the scene, the peace-of-mind one enters is mainly due to the Yuen Long's calmest waitress; ordering a beer or curry is way more relaxing than a three hour massage is Shenzhen. Excellent food at good prices, superb service and a comfortable atmosphere definitely makes the Shangri-La Curry House worth a visit; "how's the serenity?".

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Clos des Alouettes Margaux 2000

Clos des Alouettes Appellation Margaux Controllee 2000
Margaux, Bordeaux, France, $199, cork seal

Being a sucker for a supposed bargain I couldn't help myself when I saw this at my local Yuen Long wine shop, it was apparently reduced from $299. It's a 50 - 50 blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, though I couldn't find much else about it on the web. I had a new decanter sitting in the sink waiting to be washed and I reckon I should have done the dishes after lunch to properly appreciate this wine.

It's a magical, vibrant crimson colour, and as I pop the cork there's almost a blood like appearance to the residual on my hands. Initially it's tight; all screwed up in a little ball in the corner, with a dry, almost fruitless palate full of sharp acidity and obvious alcohol. After a bit of air it's all OK; my friend has settled down and decided to come and play. The nose is still not shinning, but there are hints of sour cherries, brambles, green tomato and perhaps a flinty, metallic edge. The palate is dry with sour cherry and tart cranberry flavours. While initially ungainly the tannins settled down with a little time and air and became a lot more pleasant and better integrated. The second night I got the decanter into action and things looked even better, especially along side a meal. A brooding wine that requires lots of work; needing a decent decant and food on the side. All up an interesting drinking experience and one I enjoyed, though I'm pushed to wonder if the rewards are worth the effort and the price.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

798 Unit & Co Bistro

1/F, 9 Hau Fook St, TST
Visited 19th June

Hidden above the steamy noodles joints in Hau Fook St, it's pretty easy to walk past 798 Unit & Co Bistro in total ignorance, but to do so would be a mistake. The night we first stumbled up the stairs to this classy joint I was surprised find a large, stylish restaurant, with cool tiled floors and views of the open kitchens. While the rest of Hong Kong was engaged with the dragon boats Naomi and I headed to TST for dinner at 798 Unit & Co Bistro.

The menu is an assortment of user friendly classics: salads, pasta, risotto, pizza, grills and magnificent desserts. First we shared a peperoni pizza. It was simple and tasty, with plenty of bubbly, gooey mozzarella and chunks of peperoni. The ultra thin crust was a little biscuity for me, but I could see how it would be perfect for many. Naomi ordered a duck breast that was severed perched atop a pile of baby spinach and accompanied by glistening raspberry coulis; good reports were received. After much humming and haring I selected the barramundi fillet which was roasted with lemons and cherry tomatoes. The fish was perfectly cooked with a crispy outer and tender soft flesh, though the wine in the sauce was a little obvious. Dessert beckoned and we shared a generous serve of hot chocolate brownies topped with banana/toffee ice-cream. The unorthodox brownies were baked in separate chocolate and nut layers; Naomi found this a little off putting, I didn't. What was uncontroversial was how good the ice-cream was.

To drink Naomi made the most of the reasonably priced cocktails - sipping on nicely chilled, pretty concoctions. After starting with an Asahi I tried several of the wines on offer by the glass. The highlight was a glass of superb, aged Bordeaux for only $38, a cracker of a deal. The drinks list was good and reasonably priced, though perhaps a little limited; there was no Riesling or Semillon and a choice of only three beers.

798 Unit & Co Bistro is a slick operation. The staff are friendly, efficient and extremely good at what they do: the water glasses on are table were filled up on arrival and never empty; the barman was more than happy to adjust one of Naomi's cocktails and the first time I visited we were even offered complementary desserts to apologise for having to wait for a table. 798 Unit & Co Bistro offers excellent value, many of the mains are under $100 and the drinks are very reasonable. Our bill came to about $600, but that included included a pizza, mains, a dessert, service and quite a few drinks. The food is a superb blend of quality and simplicity; nothing was over done or taken to fluffy extremes; instead we were served good food in an upfront and accessible manner. A highly recommend restaurant and I look forward to checking out its sister venue 798 Unit Gastro Pub in Causeway Bay

Visit restaurant website

Warsteiner Premium Verum

Warsteiner Premium Verum
Warstein, Germany, $8.80

One of the great things about drinking beer is every sip lets you enter into a world of miss-represented masculine stereotypes ... remember those 'classic' Australian VB ads that promoted "a big cold beer for a hard earned thirst”. Well I’d just finished moving house and reckon I had a “hard earned thirst”. This bottle was in the fridge and it earned the honour of being the first “big cold beer” drunk in our new home.

Poured into the glass this Pilsner style beer is a beautiful glistening golden colour, with a spongy, airy head and chunky bubbles. The nose has strong, obvious, slightly sweet yeasts that carry on right through to palate; I'm thinking something reminiscent of baking sour-dough. Initially clean and refreshing it builds through to a fuller aftertaste with hints of both sweet fruitiness and lovely bitter hops. A very drinkable drop; and while there's probably beers with more flavour out there, I was reaching for another one pretty quickly.

Visit brewery website.

Monday, 18 June 2007

Meguro Sushi

1/F, Sun Yuen Long Centre, Yuen Long, NT
Visited 17th June

Since moving to Hong Kong I've developed a passion, perhaps even an addiction, for sushi. Attached to the Yuen Long KCR Station is a branch of the Meguro Sushi chain, as this restaurant happens to be the closest to my work it must take some of the blame for my escalating sushi cravings. Having spent the weekend moving house we were too exhausted to cook and by chance Meguro Sushi, also, just happens to be the closest restaurant to our new home.

As Naomi doesn’t eat fish, I reckon even getting her into a sushi joint is pretty impressive. She seemed totally contented with the miso soup, beancurd wrapped sushi, chicken skewers, gunkan maki sushi topped with diced duck 'salad' and crispy fried gyoza she ordered. On the opposite side of the table I repulsed her with the fishy delicacies I slurped on: jumbo salmon sushi, rolled sushi stuffed with a freshly fried prawn, tuna roll, Wagyu beef sushi and a rolled sushi topped with avocado and stuffed with soft-shell crab. The contrast of the crispy warm prawn and gluggy rice makes the ebi fry maki my absolute favourite. The rest of the dishes were good; the fresh Wagyu beef, with it's garlic garnish, is another favourite. Apart from the mandatory green tea, I also managed to sneak in a couple of cold cans of Asahi. The bill wasn’t cheap at $220 for the two for us, but the problem with sushi is that you never stick to the basics and just keep ordering all those good looking little treats.

I'm certainly not a sushi expert, but Meguro Sushi seems to offer reasonable quality sushi. The fish is always fresh and and tender and they have an clear menu with plenty of options. The service is OK and the place has a bit of a fun feel with all the wacky seasonal sushi they devise - the salmon pumpkins at Halloween were an amusing favourite. Value wise Meguro Sushi isn't the best deal in town, you can get a lot of cheaper raw salmon around Yuen Long, but I appreciate it as an easy option for tasty snacks.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Thai Modern

Transport Plaza, Fung Cheung Rd, Yuen Long, NT
Visited 12th June

On my first visit here six or seven months ago I ordered a beer and was told "we don't have any, but feel free to go and buy what you want from 7/11". This open, corkage free, BYO policy quickly secured Thai Modern a place amongst my favourite Yuen Long restaurants. Though they've since (unfortunately) managed to get a license, they still dish up plenty of tasty Thai dishes. We visited with a group of friends for our usual Tuesday night meal.

To begin we shared a couple of plates of spring rolls and prawn cakes; some quality fried, crispy starters to accompany the Singha beers we grudgingly ordered. Eventually moving onto the mains we ordered prawn curry, fried squid with spicy pepper, Thai style vegetables, grilled lamb, sweet and sour chicken and satay beef and chicken skewers. All were good: the curry was based around a smooth coconut cream sauce with plenty of fresh Thai basil; the squid was fresh, tender and well seasoned; the not overly sweet chicken was served with big, appealing chunks of mango; and the char grilled satay skewers were accompanied be an excellent peanut sauce. Our meal came to about $100 a head, pretty good value considering we drunk a few beers and were stuffed full of food.

Thai Modern's ambiance is a step up from your average Yuen Long eatery. The food is well presented, with enough orchids scatted about to impress any lady. The open plan restaurant is filled with Thai inspired decor, statues, wall hangings and fake palms, and is nicer then it sounds. While the service is not always 10/10 - we had too ask a couple of times for a round of beers and at busy times the food can be a little slow - Thai Modern does try and the staff are usually polite and relatively efficient.

Friendly service, comfortable decor, reasonable prices and tasty food definitely make Thai Modern worth a visit. The final good news was I managed to talk them into letting me keep bringing BYO wine without a corkage charge.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Of Pies and Parmas

Unexpected visit to Australia
2nd to 6th July 2007

I landed back in Hong Kong late last night and after busy day at work finally had a little time to reflect on my unexpected visit home. It was undoubtedly a very intense few days; but I enjoyed some memorable meals and nice wines.

Roast Beef at Mum's (sorry no website): What can you say; returning home to a roast around the family table. In Hong Kong ovens are not a common, so a roast with all the trimmings is a truly fantastic experience, especially those gorgeous crispy roast potatoes ...

Chicken Parma at 'The Dog' (website): I'll admit I was scarred, too scarred to face a parma at 'The Dog'. The Skinny Dog Hotel in Kew was a popular venue from my youth (perhaps even slightly before it legally should have been) and since I've left Melbourne its gone through a stream of face lifts, refits and owners. 'The Dog' now focuses on quality pub dinning and is famous for it's massive 'chicken parmas'. Though of Italian name and origin, the chicken Parmigiana has become an icon of Australian pub food. 'The Dog' didn't disappoint those brave souls who ordered the huge plate size crumbed chicken schnitzels smothered in rich tomato sauce and melted cheese, accompanied by chips and salad. In fear I selected a steak, but got my fair share of parma from those soft lads who weren't up to the task of finishing their dinner.

Sausage in bread and a couple of Coopers 'Green'; Matty O's new house (Coopers website): A brief visit to a mate's new house confirmed beyond all doubt I was in Australia. He had no plumbing, heating, furniture or running water, but what he did have was a working fridge packed full of cold beer and the BBQ firing on the back veranda. Good mates, a couple of bottles of Coopers 'Green', a sausage in bread and I was in paradise!

Everything; Fiorelli Camberwell (website): This stylish restaurant is a long time family favourite. Its excellent food is well cooked and presented, but without the airs, graces or excessive fluff we often see in Hong Kong; the calamari is a must. Fiorelli service is slick and professional, the winelist good and the personable owner Steve is always around for a friendly chat. A lovely evening.

Coffee and a Pie with sauce, local bakery: Australian bakeries are homely places; casual, warm, bursting with good smells and tasty goodies. I love their relaxed atmosphere so the local bakery was a perfect place to catch up with mates over coffee; of course accompanied by a sly pie.

Compared to Hong Kong the wine lists at the restaurants and pubs I visited seemed much better value. I sipped from a few bottles and here are my favourites, the notes are not too good as 'I sipped from a few bottles' ...

Tamar Ridge, Tasmania, Pinot Noir 2004 (website): An easy drinking, stylish Pinot. It was awash with fantastic fruit; lots of cherries, if I remember correctly, and perhaps a slight sweet and sour note. What I liked about this wine was how user friendly it was; everyone was munching on something different, yet this complemented the lot.

Mt Langi Ghiran, Grampians, 'Cliff Edge' Shiraz 2003 (website): A big Western Victorian Shiraz; rich and ripe, with all the big dark berries, pepper and spice you expect. The palate was full, though there did seem to be a little alcohol warmth. A nice wine and a great contrast to the Tamar Ridge Pinot we drunk before it.

Sheralimine, Heathcote, Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (website): We polished off a few bottles of this at 'The Dog'. I really enjoyed this intense and powerful wine, the obvious Cabernet characteristics were all there; lots of berries, with hints of green pepper and chocolate, accompanied by firm tannins. A cracker of a Cabernet from an area more renowned for its Shiraz.

Snobb's Creek, Upper Goulburn, 'Reserve' Shiraz 2004 (website): Snobb's Creek is a small producer based near Eildon in Victoria and perhaps something of a sentimental favourite. I use to live down the road from the winery and 'occasionally' fished the Goulburn River near their back door. I really enjoyed the wine, it was restrained and elegant and all up a very pleasant experience.

Monday, 4 June 2007

Furano Red Wine

Furano Red, Viticulture and Enology Experiment Station
Furano, Hokkaido, Japan, ¥1000 (approx HK $65), cork seal

Japan is certainly not renowned for its wine industry and I bought this bottle for novelty value while skiing earlier in the year. The wilds of Hokkaido, Japan's northern most island, offer fantastic outdoor activities: hiking, skiing, fishing, surfing and paddling, but also produce some interesting culinary delights (see here). Sapporo beer, giant crabs, potatoes, fantastic cheese, salmon, chocolates, lavender, tomatoes and beef are all regional specialities, along side Hokkaido's small wine industry. While skiing I tried a few pleasant whites including a Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Muller Thurgau. I'd been sitting on this bottle for a while and decided it was time to face my fears; I opened it over dinner with my family.

The wine was a surprisingly deep purple in colour and without being able to read the label I'd guess it was a cool climate Cabernet Sauvignon. The nose was pretty thin with earthy aromas, mushroom, a hint of smoky spice, cinnamon and a slight green note. On the palate there were traces of sweet berries, plum and a thin waft of smoke. It was surprisingly well structured with controlled alcohol and restrained tannins. The palate lacked depth and weight and my brother commented "it doesn't have much balls, does it?", though I'm not sure if Japanese wines likes playing ball games I tend to agree with him. While not outstanding the Furano Wine was certainly not offensive and offered a novel drinking experience.

Visit winery website or check out Japanese wine website

Melbourne Food and Wine Fair

Good Food and Wine Show
Exhibition Centre, Melbourne, 3rd July

Sometimes bad timing can be good timing. I was in Australia for one weekend and it just happened to be the weekend of the Good Food and Wine Show. I squeezed a couple of hours out of the schedule Sunday afternoon to catch the tail end of the event. The food stalls were disappointing, despite pushing through the thick crowds I could find nothing of particular interest; apart from a friendly bloke who gave me a much needed "real Dutch pastry" as he packed up his stall. Focusing my attention on wine I had a very pleasant couple of hours sipping, spitting and chatting. Looking below it seems I concentrated on South Australian wines, but this was purely chance, simply a matter of where I started wandering.

Majella, Coonawarra (website): I'm a fan of Majella and was impressed with all the wines I tried. The new Musician Cabernet Shiraz 2006 was as delightfully drinkable as ever, but it was their Riesling 2006 that I found especially intriguing. This wine hit a note for me and though it possessed the crisp, dry, acidic notes you expect from this variety, the palate was packed with fruit and a surprising creamy richness. I bought a couple of bottles and blew my no buying rule on the second stand I visited!

Taylors, Clare Valley (website): Taylors wines are fantastic and I have drunk, purchased and cellared a lot of their estate range over the years - these wines are outstanding value and can often be purchased in Australia for as little as $13. I really enjoyed the opportunity to revisit these wines and try the premium Jaraman and St Andrews range, all of which were good. The Taylors Estate Gewurztraminer 2006 was new to me and very tasty; bursting with a huge, fragrant explosion of lychees. The St Andrews Chardonnay 2001 was refined and elegant wine, while the Jaraman Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 and the St Andrews Shiraz 2001 were also both standouts. I was impressed to see them releasing their top St Andrews wines with around five years of bottle age.

Elderton, Barossa (website): Elderton has been a favourite of mine since a drunken cellar-door visit years ago. It was a pleasure to chat with Cameron Ashmead who was manning the stall; he was super friendly and informative. Highlights included the refined estate Shiraz 2004, the elegant Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 and the outstanding, rich and noble (and I think very good value) Ode to Lorraine 2002.

Peter Lehmann, Barossa (website): Another classic Australian producer and personal favourite, their Semillon is one of our regular Hong Kong quaffing whites. It was good to try a couple of different Peter Lehmann wines; The Futures Shiraz 2004 and Peppers Marananga Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, both of which looked like they had the potential to age very well. The Peppers Marananga Cabernet was so good - elegant, yet full of powerful brooding fruit - that I again broke my no buying rule.

Voyager Estate, Margaret River (website): I haven't drunk much Voyager Estate, and was keen to see what this Western Australian producer had to offer. The whites were excellent with elegant and distinct flavours. The VOC Collection Semillon 2006 was superb and interestingly aged in Russian Oak which contributed to a noticeable spicy finish. The reds were all good, with the Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2003 being an absolutely outstanding wine; elegant, refined and a true gentleman. An top quality line-up and perhaps the most impressive wines of the day.

Rolf Binder, Barossa (website): Rolf Binder is a small Barossa producer and visiting his stall highlighted the great thing about days like this; an opportunity to chat to the wine maker. It was interesting gaining his impressions of the Hong Kong and the difficulties of importing wine here. His wines were big, fruit filled Barossa Valley offerings and, as expected, his Shiraz was a highlight.

Other stalls I enjoyed visiting included: Zema Estate, Seppelt, Burge Family Winemakers, Hollicks, Devil's Lair, Bethany, De Bortoli, St Hallet, Balnaves, Shelmerdine, Baroasa Valley Brewery and believe it or not the Mateus Rose stall! What an unexpected, but thoroughly interesting afternoon.

Visit event website

Sunday, 3 June 2007

Drinking Australia Dry

A couple of bottles of Wine
I'm back in Australia and a little confused. I didn't plan this short, unexpected trip home, and while the reason I'm here means I'd prefer to still be back in Hong Kong, I thought I'd better post a couple of entries.

Opposite is a picture of two empty bottles of wine. Two bottles of wine that I would love to have reviewed, but which somehow magically emptied before I could even pull out a pen. It's kind of bad that I'm here, but what is undeniably good is the wine. Why were these wines so good? Was it because I was back home, amongst family? Was it because red wine and roast beef on a winters night are better than red wine and rice on a hot and humid Hong Kong evening? Was it simply because Australia makes some bloody great wine?

Anyway; d'Arry's Original, McLaren Vale, Shiraz, Grenache 2004 was absolutely superb. Made by the good people at d'Arenberg this wine was literally bursting with attractive sweet fruits and was morishly drinkable - I blinked and the bottle was empty. The other wine; Hoddles Creek, Yarra Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 was also a cracker. Again an easy drinking experience, but hidden behind the lovely dark berry flavours, was a quiet, but refined and well structured wine. I was equally impressed when I questioned Nana on where she got the wine to be told "Boccaccio of course!".

Visit the
d'Arenberg and Hoddles Creek websites