Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Henschke Mt Edelstone 1999

Henschke Mt Edelstone 1999
Eden Valley, South Australia, cork seal

Having finally arrived in Australia, Dad pulled this out of the 'cellar' for my first meal at home. Henschke is a top Australian producer and their Mt Edelstone Shiraz is made from 100% Shiraz, sourced from ninety year old vines in South Australia's Eden Valley

The wine's colour is still an impressive vibrant crimson. The nose has smoky, cedary smells, alongside side some dusty tobacco and hints of deep red plumes. The palate is intense and powerful with some sour black currents, liquorice, dark chocolate and thick, tarry prunes. It is superbly integrated and the refined tannins ooze class. My mate
LB describes it as "graceful and balanced"; though I'm not sure if he is referring to himself stepping up to bat for Balnarring Cricket Club or the wine. A lovely, elegant wine, though for it's reputation and price point it's perhaps not as earth shattering as I would have expected.

Visit winery website

Monday, 30 July 2007

Hong Kong 747s

Flights to Hong Kong and Australia
Having to take three flights in a twentyfour hour period I decided to put the airline meals to the test. While the similarities between Hong Kong’s famous seven-a-side rugby tournament and shitty airline meals may not be glaringly obvious, they, well they both have seven in their title and the HK7s is competitive and pitting international airlines off against each other kind of is as well ...

Air New Zealand, NZ38, London to Hong Kong
24th-25th July

Dinner: potato salad, Moroccan style chicken, beans and potato gratin, chocolate and raspberry mouse-cake, cheese and biscuits. A pretty decent meal. The potato salad was good; the chicken was surprisingly tender and potato gratin OK. The main let down was the beans; they were overcooked and almost seemed burnt. The highlight of the meal was the chocolate and raspberry mouse-cake which was surprisingly delicious. All up pretty good.

Breakfast: fruit salad, Singapore noodles with BBQ pork, yogurt, blueberry muffin. The fruit salad was OK, though three or four chopped up bits of watermelon and pineapple are never going to be fantastic. The noodles were good, with a large amount of BBQ pork and the muffin was nice and soft. A good start to the day.

Drinks: An excellent selection of New Zealand wines made for some rather pleasant sipping. I really liked the fact they offered a large range of choices. I tried a few Sauvignon Blancs, Chardonnays, Pinots and a Merlot, the only disappointment was one of the Pinots, the rest were delightful. As much as I love coffee I'm certainly not brave enough to drink it in economy class on an airplane!

Service and extras: An international team offered friendly and formal service. Passengers were informed of their meal choices of intercom, rather than by menu, which saved papaer and made for some interesting in-flight entertainment. I was impressed that there was an emphasis on re-usable dishes where possible. 'Movies on demand' was great; though I resisted the temptation of a ten hour Lord of the Rings movie marathon.

Cathay Pacific, CX139, Hong Kong to Sydney
Visited 26th July

Brunch: mixed seasonal fruit, yogurt, omelette with sausage and hash brown, croissant. Again a few chunks of average fruit, almost like you'd get in a bad, old school Chinese restaurant. The omelette was rubber, the sausage questionable and the 'hash brown' a soggy mess. The reheated croissant was an interesting mix of burnt and cold. As much as I enjoyed the yogurt, it was a very average start to the flight.

Dinner: chicken salad, beef stew with mashed potatoes and carrots, panna cotta. This meal was a vast improvement from the brunch. The chicken salad was good and the beef stew was actually very tasty, with well-cooked potato and veg. The panna cotta had a nice subtle flavour and was a decent finish to a good meal.

Drinks: A range of OK Australian wines, mainly from Margaret River (I think); it was hard to read the labels and the staff weren't overly informative. The selection was OK, though nothing really jumped out at me and I the red was a little heavy on the alcohol. And no, why would I want to try the coffee.

Service and extras: I fly Cathay Pacific a bit and their service always seems to be something of a non-event. While I've never really noticed it being bad, I've never really noticed it all; thinking back I can't remember a single crew member from any flight I've been on. Compared to Air New Zealand everything on the Cathay seemed to be disposable (read an environmental joke) and the in-flight entertainment was definitely a step down.

QANTAS, QF497, Sydney to Melbourne
Visited 26th July
Snacks: nuts, rice crackers, mini bottle of wine. While my connecting flight from Melbourne to Sydney was brief I was still impressed. QANTAS apparently offers domestic flyers a complementary drink after 7pm, and I was more than happy with my mini-bottle of Langmeil red and a few nibbles. A brief, but enjoyable outing.

And the winner is ...
In the battle of the 747s - just like their rugby counterparts would do - Air New Zealand easily overcame Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific. Nicer food, noticeably better wine and friendly service all contributed to the New Zealand victory. Another factor that helped seal the game for me was the use of more re-usable utensils and having video-on-demand to watch. QANTAS was definitely an honourable mention and I'll have to fly them for a longer trip soon and see how they compare.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Gulping at London

Visit to London
July 2007
London isn't a place where I've spent much time, despite having lived in the UK for three years. It's now my brother's home and I place I love to visit. I had a cracker of a time checking out the sites, catching up with friends and sneaking in a few sly pages of the final Harry Potter release. It is still basically true of London that "no matter how much money you have in your pocket at the start of the day it will all be gone by the end"; it can be very expensive (see here), but with a little local knowledge life can be reasonable. The sun was shinning, it was summer and I was on holidays.

Bakeries and Cafes
By the look of things Londoners are beginning to appreciate good bread and decent coffee. The Euphoria Bakery, Islington was one spot I stoped at pretty regularly. A decent coffee accompanied by a freshly baked treat was a great way to prepare for an intense sight-seeing schedule. Many of the cafes I wandered into did a fair job of putting together a cafe laite; but be warned if you're driving don't assume the same is true for motorway services!

Trendy Bars and Cool Restaurants
For a country in love with pubs London has its far share of ultra trendy, ultra cool, ultra hip bars. Friday night in the back lanes of Mayfair was where all the beautiful people seemed to be. As lost as I felt, I was hanging out on the most expensive Monopoly square paper money can buy and was generally feeling pretty cool. We moved our way through a selection of bars and finished with a meal at a restaurant called Rocket. Chosen by my brother's girlfriend the food was good and the service fantastic; a great night out.

Decent Pubs
As good as a packet of dry-roasted peanuts and a pint of bitter is, London pubs seem to have made huge strides forward and have actually become eating destinations, rather than just somewhere to stuff down a fatty burger to help soak up the pints. I was impressed with the number of pubs serving up fantastic food within minutes walk of my brother's house.
The introduction of a blissfully smoke-free environment certainly helps, but there is also an obvious move away from swilling beer and double vodka-tonics to appreciating good food and decent wine.

I spent a cracker of an afternoon in the Drapers Arms, Islington. The sun was out, the beer garden was full of friends and the big bottles of iced organic cider were just what the doctor ordered. It was one of those awesome lingering summer days that seem to go on for ever, where you have had lunch and dinner in the same pub and the sun shines the whole time. I happily munched my way through a good, thick steak sandwich and a lovely serve of calamari. The Drapers Arms was a fine example of a 'gastropub', a concept I like, especially as I prefer the relaxed pub atmosphere to the overly stiff, formal, fake and wanky service you receive in many English restaurants.

Another pub within walking distance was the Islington Tap. A place with an open kitchen, friendly staff and a good menu of huge, home-made burgers, delicious looking pizza and tasty risotto. We enjoyed a variety of decently priced bottles of wine and I had a great night catching up with few close friends. There was however one questionable moment that DM wasn't even there for.

After a stroll around St James Park my last meal in the UK was a quick pub lunch with my brother. His choice was an 'Irish pub', but unlike the themed chains we have all learned to hate Mulligans was simply an Irish pub. It served Irish dishes, fresh Irish oysters and Irish whiskey. I couldn't help my self ordered fish 'n' chips; the large hunk of haddock and hand-made fat chips were delicious. A great note on which to leave the UK.

The Breakfast Club, Angel

31 Camden Passage, Angel, London
Visited 23rd July

I love to go out for breakfast. In Hong Kong it's normally Yum Cha (unless I'm stuck in Lan Kwai Fong at 5am when it could be anything), in Australia I love to visit a cafe for fresh, tasty food, accompanied by a couple of good coffees. The UK is famous for its greasy spoon style cafes - and though it's probably controversial to say so - I'm not a fan. The normal food they serve up is fatty bacon, eggs fried in an inch of oil, tinned baked beans and cheap, thin white bread, accompanied by the worst possible coffee imaginable, sometimes even that beverage they call instant "coffee".

Up the road from my brother's house in Islington is the revolutionary Breakfast Club Angel; a cafe so good it could be in Melbourne. Looking for an excuse to put off sightseeing and finish the last few chapters of Harry Potter I wandered up for a leisurely, late breakfast. The setting is casual and relaxed; chunky wooden tables and a collection of 'arty' junk covering the walls. The service is great; friendly and efficient, yet casual. And the food? Well the food is fantastic. I got stuck into a huge serve of eggs Benedict, with a side order of awesome home-made sausages, all washed down with a couple of good coffees. Everything was perfect, a recommended cafe that really shows London how it should be done.

Visit restaurant website

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Liefmans Frambozenbier

Liefmans Frambozenbier
Dentergem, Belgium, £2.40

Fruit beers are always going to be controversial; I can remember the heated debate the resulted when a certain old bloke I went to uni with whacked a few bananas in his homebrew for the first time. This raspberry ale from Belgium is a bit like a little Christmas present; it comes wrapped up in tissue paper and is sealed with a mini Champagne style cork; all very festive. The labelling says there's 12.5% raspberry juice added.

Liefmans Frambozenbier has an intense head of small, frothy bubbles. It's a deep brown colour with orange hints around the edges. The nose - yes, you guessed it - smells of fresh raspberries. The palate has hints of sweetness, yet it's not as overbearing as I thought it would be. The raspberry flavours are there, but there is also traditional beery bitterness. I'm amazed at how well balanced this is; it's refreshing and easy to drink, yet not overly sweet or syrupy. A lot better than other beers I've tried in this style, an absolute cracker.

Visit brewery website

Colomba Biere Blanche

Colomba Biere Blanche
Furiani, Corsica, France, £1.49

Having never had a beer from Corsica I thought this could be the first. Colomba Biere Blanche is manufactured by a mob called Brasserie Pietra, who also make an interesting sounding beer flavoured with walnut flour. It apparently follows a traditional recipe using mountain herbs, which includes a big ball of tree strawberry, juniper and myrtle added to the cooking wort.

Poured into a glass the beer is a fantastic cloudy, lemony yellow colour; with opaque thickness about it. There is a big head of tiny intense bubbles that linger. Colomba Biere Blanche has a zingy nose with hints of yeast, lemon, coriander seeds and an interesting herbal edge. On the palate these herbal, almost green flavours continue and are accompanied by a citrus sharpness. Really a very flavoursome drop with a palate dominated by herbal flavours rather than more traditional sweet, “hoppy” beer flavours. A beer that grew on me; Colombra is worth a try.

Visit brewery

Monday, 23 July 2007

Eating the Westcountry

Visit to Cornwell
16th to 22nd July 2007

The revival of the English food scene has been all about using fresh, local produce. My visit to family in the West Country, at the height of summer, was a great opportunity to check out some local regional fare I've listed a few highlights below.

English Berries
No one can deny that the English grow good berries. While I was staying at my Granny's every night we indulged in fresh local raspberries and strawberries; sometimes with Cornish ice-cream and sometimes with thick, artery-blocking Cornish clotted cream. When visiting Pencarrow House, an old manor house with lovely grounds, we indulged in a little 'pick-your-own' raspberries. I was stuffed from the traditional 'two for the bucket, one for me' setup, but Granny showed amazing will power and claimed "I never eat, while I pick" and she really didn't!

The Farm Shop
Up the lane from Granny's house in the tiny village of St Cleer is the Taste of the Westcountry Farm Shop. Displaying an amazing selection of local produce the store really highlighted what the West Country has to offer. It was awash with delicious fresh local vegetables and fruit. Their meat selection was fantastic: lamb, pork, beef, venison, boar, quail, pigeon, duck, chicken, guinea fowl, pheasant, ostrich and kangaroo (though that wasn't local), plus a great selection of fresh and frozen seafood, my favourites though were definitely the local pork sausages and bacon. Walking around the shop I was overwhelmed by the huge amount of locally produced food, much of it organic or bio-dynamic. Their were shelves full of chocolate, preserves, crisps, biscuits, cakes, bread, wine, herbs, milk, cream, ice-cream, cheese, beer, cider, wine and of course hot Cornish pasties. Taste of the Westcountry is a great shop that highlights the fantastic produce available from the region.

Good Country Pubs
England has lots of pubs. Many are average, a few are terrible, but some are absolutely fantastic. The Racecourse Inn in North Hill is one of my favourites and for me is a true English country pub. The drive there is half the fun as you tumble down winding, one-car-wide lanes were you can't see more than two metres ahead because of the huge hedges.
We enjoyed a great family lunch and I was impressed with the quality of local seafood; the scallop salad was an absolute winner.

Late Night Kebabs
My older cousin tends to lead me astray when ever I visit her. After exploring the pubs of Launceston an emergency kebab or burger is often in order. In Australia the kebab, is one of the most gourmet of all fast-food, in the UK it's not. For some reason (I assume it was probably the beer I'd been drinking) I decided a burger made with kebab meat and stuffed with fries was the order of the day ... I'm still not sure if it was a good idea.

Old wine left under Granny's stairs
A few years ago I unexpectedly moved from England back to Australia. One result of the sudden move was I didn't quite get to finish all the boxes of €2 wine I'd bought earlier the year in France, (despite a couple of huge attempts). A Saturday night with my cousin, brother, aunt and assorted partners was a great opportunity to sweep the cellar and get stuck into these old bottles. For the price I paid for these wines I was happy with how good they were at seven to eleven years of age. The Chateau Girarde Bordeaux 1996 was beginning to show its age, but was still drinkable and well-structured. The Chateau Mesmard Minervois 1999 (bottle no. 12569) was OK, though the fruit had fallen away and left it a little dry and unbalanced. The definite favourite though was the Chateau Labadie Minervois 2000, a fantastic, delightfully drinkable drop. I was impressed with how well these cheap old wines held up, though it was disappointing that two out of six were corked.

Granny's home-cooking
Home-cooked roasts, pies and bakes pork at my Granny's; what could be better?

Camel Valley Vineyard

Nanstallon, Bodmin, Cornwall, UK
Visited 20th July 2007

The idea of English wine has always been a bit of a joke, but it's scattered producers are beginning to get a reputation for decent sparkling. One such winery is Cornwell's Camel Valley Vineyard situated on a south facing slope above the Camel River. The cellar door is in a lovely stone building with fantastic views over the vines and across the valley. Granny, my Aunt and I dropped by for a mid-morning tasting.

There were two whites, a rose, a red and a rose sparkling on tasting and to try the Sparkling Brut I had to purchase a glass. The first wine was a Bacchus 2006, which had a mineraly nose; clean, crisp palate with citrus flavours and bubbly acidity, but also a little off putting alcohol. This was the first time I had tried the Bacchus grape and it certainly looked like it would go pretty well alongside seafood. Next was the Atlantic Dry 2006, a blend of Reichentseiner and Schoenberger. Its nose had an appealing honey smell and a little "petroly" stuff going on, the palate had subtle hints of sea-shells, lemon zest, but again suggestions of unbalanced alcohol. The Rose 2005 was OK, with floral and lime flavours, rather than big obvious fruit. The Red 2006 was pretty average; withdrawn fruit and a sour palate. The definite highlight of the morning was the Sparkling Brut 2005, a lovely wine with a lemon, apple blossom and yeast on the nose and a mouthful of refreshing, citrus flavours.

Though the wines were an interesting selection, they weren't cheap and at £17.99 the Sparkling Brut is competing with some pretty decent Champagne. One thing I did notice across the range was a sense of terroir, a pleasant citrus and crushed sea-shell theme. The wines were OK, the views fantastic, but my visit was really let down by the woman on the cellar door. She was uninterested, unhelpful, unknowledgeable and poured out tiny sniffs of wine (and refused to pour a second tiny sniff, when the first evaporated before it could be drunk). A bit of a shame really as I visited the Camel Valley Vineyard wanting to be inspired by British wine and left disenchanted because of how we were treated.

Visit winery website

Ruan Ridge White Table Wine

Ruan Ridge White Table Wine NV
Lambourne, Cornwall, UK, £8.95, cork seal

Night three at Granny’s and to accompany our meal of local Cornish produce – beef, potatoes, greens, strawberries, raspberries and clotted cream – a Cornish wine. Ruan Ridge comes from the Lambourne Vineyard on the Roseland Peninsula near Cornwell's south coast. It is made from a relatively new grape variety called Orion.

The wine is a lovely pale gold colour. Ruan Ridge's has pleasant floral scents alongside aromas of melon, grapefruit and apple blossom. ‘Pleasant’ is again a useful word to describe the palate. There’s a slight sweetness present, but it’s well balanced by suitable melon and pineapple flavours and a touch of acidity. It would have been great to try this alongside some seafood; not a bad drop really.

Visit winery website

Rick Stein's Café

Middle St, Padstow, Cornwell, UK
Visited 18th July 2007

Despite popular rumour the odd lovely English summer's day does exist and I'd stumbled across one. To make the most of this once in a century chance I decided to cycle the Camel Trail from Padstow, through Wade Bridge to Bodmin and back. The trail is an old railway line with spectacular views of the Padstow Estuary and Camal River. The ride was great, the sunshine magnificent, the views fantastic and back in Padstow I was in need of a coffee.

Over winter Padstow is a small sleepy, fishing village. In summer it’s a thriving mass of “holiday makers” dripping with half melted ice-creams, buckets, spades, socks over sandals, fish and chips and all the other paraphernalia required for a day at the English seaside. Central to circus Padstow is the Empire of TV chef Rick Stein. Apart from his famous Seafood Restaurant, Stein also rules over St Petroc's Bistro, Stein’s Fish and Chip Shop, Stein’s Deli, Stein’s Pattisserie, Stein’s Cooking School, Stain’s Gift Shop and Stein’s Café. For a humble bloke like me, a coffee at Stein’s Café seemed an easy place to jump on the bandwagon and experience a bit of TV chef magic, without the hefty price tag of anything grander.

For a "café", the menu was quite formal and obviously aimed towards the lunch and dinner crowd rather than the casual snack I was looking for. I ended up with a coffee and a slice of 'sunken chocolate cake'. The coffee was fine and the cake was actually a lot better then it looked; moist, rich and heavy it was all you could hope for in a slab of rich chocolate goo. Though good, service was boarding on over formal; just like the menu. What Stein's Café really lacked was a sea view; it's tucked away in a back lane hidden from both the action and scenery. Though not a bad place for a quite coffee away from the crowds, the fact Stein's Café really didn't resemble my perception of a café annoyed me a little - I wanted a coffee and a snack, not a £10 main and a £20 bottle of wine. If you want to jump on the bandwagon of Rick Stein World go and eat fish 'n' chips by the harbour or just buy a fridge magnet from his gift shop.

Visit the Rick Stein website

Les Quatre Fitou 2005

Les Quatre Fitou 2005
Tuchan, Languedoc, France, £8.99, cork seal

Well it’s night two at Granny’s and time for bottle of wine number two. Les Quatre is named after the four growers who contribute the Carignan, Grenache and Syrah grapes used to make the wine. It’s unfiltered and the grapes come from 50 year old vines. The whole package looks pretty impressive and I’m beginning to wonder if I’m developing a thing for slick, dark European styling. Like the La Puima last night this is packaged in black, but looks even better because of the classy angles of the big heavy bottle.

A sniff and the nose suggests intense power, alongside a little charry oak. There’s plenty of fruit – blackberries, black currents and cherries – but also cinnamon, pepper, and spice. The palate has blackberries, raspberries, and hints of cedar, all wrapped in a dark chocolate coating. I’m impressed by Les Quatre’s rich texture; it fills the mouth with powerful flavours and approachable, structured tannins. A lovely wine, well balanced and full of the lingering class the label suggests; it even managed to get Granny’s approval despite being French!

Visit winery website

La Puima Montepulciano D‘Abruzzo 2006

La Puima Montepulciano D‘Abruzzo 2006
Montepulciano, Abruzzo, Italy, £4.99, synthetic cork

Today I arrived a Granny’s for a bit of quite time. Granny doesn’t mind the very occasional sip of wine so our first wine off the rank was this Montepulciano D’Abruzzo. The bottle looks very Italian; sleek, stylish, minimalist and black. It looks so cool I feel I should be be polishing it rather than drinking it.

The wine is a sparkling ruby red; very pretty, but lighter than I expected. The nose lacks any sort of oomph and I struggled to get much out of it. There were initial suggestions of the usual dark berry suspects, floral hints (perhaps violets?), and some dried herbs. After some air time a splattering of earthiness emerged, but it’s still pretty lean. The palate is dry and savoury, but lacks fruit and intensity. There are mild plum, pepper, bramble and chocolate flavours, but also quite a bit of alcohol and a sour tartness. Though Granny and I found it easy enough to drink, and it was better alongside our meal, La Puima really didn’t offer much love. A bit of a disappointment from suck a slick looking bottle; perhaps its like one of those Italian footballers who’s all appearances and no substance when they fall over in the penalty square.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Eating HK on Tour

School Holidays

Remember the excitement when school finished for the year? You had what seems like a never ending months to fill of glorious nothingness. Well as a teacher school holidays are even better still and Eating Hong Kong is now officially on tour.

Over the next month or so I'll be briefly visiting family in the UK and then going home to spend a bit of time in Australia. I'll try and keep the updates coming (I'm pretty sure I'll drink a few nice wines and eat some decent meals), but I'm not sure what internet access will be like so if things are a bit slow don't worry, I'll be back when I get a chance.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Trattoria Nobilduca

Shop 105, Level 1, Ocean Centre, Harbour City, Kowloon
Visited 9th July

With tears in my eyes and frustration in my heart I was pushing through hoards of shoppers; tied, hungry, desperate for caffeine and mourning the loss of Colorado Cafe. For such a huge and obnoxiously trendy shopping centre, there are very few places that serve coffee at Harbour City. I was lucky and stumbled upon Trattoria Nobilduca. Positioned on the lower level with fantastic views across Lantau Island, Trattoria Nobilduca serves stylish Italian food. I arrived in time for an 'afternoon-tea set', which with an additional glass of wine, was just what I needed.

Choosing four items off I menu I indulged in a roast Italian sausage, mini club sandwich, deep-fried ravioli and a crème caramel. The sausage was superb - oozing with fennel seeds, herbs and chunky meat - the sandwich and fried ravioli were both good, but the highlight was defiantly the crème caramel. This tiny sweet titbit got me very excited. It was creamy and smooth, but dense and rich in texture and mouth-wateringly delicious; awesome. The coffee that came with the set was good and the glass of Pinot Grigio I ordered was OK, though way, way over-priced at $85.

Trattoria Nobilduca offers friendly service, but its winning feature is the spectacular view over the harbour and Lantau Island. The food I tried as part of the 'afternoon-tea set" was lovely, but I am a little concerned that prices for a full meal could be a bit over the top. I paid $88 for four small bites and a coffee, plus another $85 for a glass of wine. I'd recommended Trattoria Nobilduca for a crème caramel based afternoon tea (if you're stupid enough to be spending an afternoon shopping at Harbour City) and though I would love to try their lunch menu, I'm sceptical that the whole place is a bit over-priced.

Visit restaurant website

Who Stole My Cafe?

I’d had a pretty frustrating day; the half an hour I expected to spend in the China Visa Service had become three hours of raging fun. It was three o’clock; I was tired, hungry and craving coffee. Having to go shopping at Harbour City didn’t really sound like a particularly appealing proposal, but at least I argued to myself I could a decent coffee and a bit of lunch at the Colorado Café.

Situated near the electrical shops on the third floor of Harbour City Colorado Café is a blissful oasis of tranquillity amongst the raging battle that people call shopping. Its coffee is decent, prices are decent and it sells big grilled chibatta filled with thick ham and runny cheese that taste pretty decent. The only problem I was I couldn’t find the Colorado Café. It was gone, disappeared, replaced with a bloody Starbucks. Yes, the stuff of nightmares; Starbucks has stolen my café.

Chateau Petit Vedrines Sauternes 2003

Chateau Petit Vedrines Sauternes 2003
Barsac, Bordeaux, France, $152, cork seal

Liking wine and being in a relationship can sometimes be very complicated - "How much did that cost?" "Do we really need more wine?" "Why did you buy 6 bottles of that?" - are probably all very fair and relevant questions, but ones I'd prefer not to have to answer. As a result a big thumbs up goes to my good, good friend Mr Botrytis; because of him there's always the response "yeah I bought some wine, but half of it's Noble One for you". Naomi loves dessert wines, hey I love dessert wines, but she really, really loves them and as a result drinking wine is that little bit easier. I picked up this bottle from Citi'super were it was part of their French in May promotion.

A beautiful gold colour; not deep, but a sparkling straw like gold. The nose is a delight, there are aromas of pear, honey, maybe a little apricot, toasted almonds and a hints of marmalade and spice/cloves. The palate continues along a similar theme; honey, apricot, candied orange peel, with the pear flavours really coming to the forefront. It actually reminds me a lot of the stewed pears Naomi just had for dessert; the resemblance is remarkable - the syrupy texture, the sweet notes and the lovely spiced pear flavours - all that's missing is the ice-cream. The
texture of this wine is impressive, it fills the whole mouth and lingers around like a good smell. There's a tiny hint of alcohol that is warming rather than distracting. Chateau Petit Vedrines definitely gets the nod; great flavours, intensity and texture, at a very reasonable price. A winner.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Real Bodega Reserva Tempranillo 2002

Real Bodega Reserva Tempranillo 2002
La Mancha, Spain, $113, cork seal

This is my entry for Wine Blogging Wednesday on the theme 'passionate Spanish wine'. The mission was "to taste at least one bottle of Spanish wine, red or white, preferably under $10". This was an adventure I liked the sound of and decided to limit myself to a search of the wine shops of the Yuen Long area where I live. US$10 is currently about HK$80 and wine prices are so high in Hong Kong I thought I'd probably be pushing this limit.

My search took my on a bit of an adventure around Yuen Long's three and a half wine shops. The first shop's only Spanish wine was piled high the doorway soaking up sun. The second shop was closed (it was Sunday), but on my third attempt I found something that fitted the criteria for only $113. Hailing from La Mancha, Real Bodega is 100% Tempranillo and aged in a mix of French and America oak.

Real Bodega started well being a fantastic rich, purple colour. The nose was a little subdued, but there were hints of pepper, tobacco, blackberries, a few herbs and liquorice. These flavours carried onto the palate and the liquorice element become more prominent. What I was most impressed by was the texture of Real Bodega; there were plenty of tannins present, but they were the big, soft, cuddly type (perhaps something like Hong Kong's new Giant Pandas). The wine filled out in the mouth offering plenty of depth and texture. Real Bodega Reserva Tempranillo 2002 was a pretty decent wine: it went well with food, was easy to drink and for Hong Kong was pretty reasonably priced. I did however find that it lacked a bit of interest and excitement and I suppose I was looking more for the "passion" in "passionate Spanish wine".

Visit winery website, Wine Blogging Wednesday #35 website or the home of WBW.

Friday, 6 July 2007

Genki Sushi

3/F, Yuen Long Plaza, 249 Castle Peak Rd, Yuen Long
Visited 6th July

The Japanese chain Genki Sushi is amazingly popular in Hong Kong. Despite the massive queues I've seen in other branches Naomi and I easily managed to get a seat Friday lunchtime. We were tucked away in a corner next to the huge winding conveyor belt that dominates the restaurant.

Normally I tend to order sushi off a menu, but I thought I'd see what chance threw at me and pick as I went along. I ended up with mini-squid and octopus sushi, a fried ebi roll and a rolled sushi stuffed with salmon and cream cheese. Naomi had her favourite little beancurd packages, miso soup and mini profiteroles (yes they were on the conveyor belt!). The food really was pretty average; nothing seemed particularly interesting or fresh. I'm not sure how much I was influenced by sitting next to the kitchen (a word I use lightly) were I watched the rice being prepared by machines and the fish pulled pre-cut from packaging trays. Eating sushi is about enjoying quality fresh ingredients prepared with skill and innovation, something Genki Sushi does not appear to offer. While our meal wasn't overly expensive at just over $100 for the two of us it wasn't particularly good either and there are plenty of other sushi places one can get a feed for a similar amount.

Our visit to Genki Sushi was one big conveyor belt ride; I sat next to a conveyor-belt, I watched my sushi being made by a conveyor belt and I was in a manufactured chain store were the whole experience felt like I was on a conveyor belt. Average service, average food and a plastic fast food atmosphere I can't understand why this chain is so popular - perhaps it's the cute company motif? Sushi in the style of 'Disneyland'; why bother?

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Penfold's Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz 2004

Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz 2004
Coonawarra, South Australia, cork seal

This wine was a gift from a friend and we drunk it to celebrate the first meal at our new table. The Penfolds 2004 Bin range has had a lot of positive press and as I'm a Coonawarra fan I was pretty excited to be trying this.

I got the decanter in action, but the wine was a lot more open and accessible than I expected. The nose was bursting with fruit: ripe red berries were dominant, especially strawberries and raspberries; but there were also blackberries and a suggestion of cigars and cedar. I was pretty amazed with how smooth and integrated the palate was. I tasted plenty of fruit flavours, all the berries were present, but I also got a fair hint of ripe plums. Initially I was thinking it was all fruit, fruit, fruit, but the more I drunk the more I appreciated the quality of it; their were tannins present, but they were soft and seamlessly integrated and as was 14% alcohol. This wine really was a pretty tidy package and is definitely worth a try.

Visit winery website

Monday, 2 July 2007

Top Deck at Jumbo's

Jumbo Floating Restaurant, Aberdeen Harbour, HK
Visited 1st July

Sunday marked the 10th anniversary of the Hong Kong SAR handover from British to Chinese rule. Instead of battling the millions watching fireworks above Victoria Harbour we decided to celebrate at another Hong Kong institution; Jumbo Floating Restaurant. This iconic barge in Aberdeen Harbour contains several restaurants including the recently refurbished Top Deck. Part of the Cafe Deco group, the Top Deck has a Sunday Brunch buffet and was the perfect place to meet up with a big group of friends.

Well a buffet is all about food and I was pretty impressed what the Top Deck offered. There was an interesting selection of salads, sushi, and mains, including a Peking duck station. Naomi was critical that there weren't too many choices for the non-seafood eater, not that this will bother most Hong Kong residents. I gave the buffet a pretty good workout and some favourites included the eggs Benedict, sushi, crispy wontons and Thai style prawn cakes, Peking duck and marinated snapper fillets. Moving onto desserts was just as satisfying and there was certainly something for Naomi to choose. Favourites around the table included the highly discussed mini-meringues, made to order crepes and the apple and berry crumble. Overall the food was of excellent quality, but the selection was pretty limited and it would have been nice to see a few more options.

'Bubbles', softdrinks, tea and coffee were included so I enjoyed (perhaps one too many) glasses of Veurve de Vernay NV, the French Sparkling wine on offer. Though somewhat simplistic it was refreshing to drink and it's slightly sweet note meant that it was easy to enjoy all afternoon. I was also impressed that the coffees included cappuccinos, lattes and espressos; a step up from the usual pre-brewed dribble.

Dining outside is all about location and it doesn't get much better than the Top Deck.
Though it was warm sitting outdoors, floating in middle of Aberdeen Harbour was fantastic. Service was good, but non-intrusive; my water glass was full all afternoon and post buffet debris was quickly removed. For $328 per person the Top Deck Sunday brunch isn't bad value, like any buffet it's all about how much you eat, but with wine included I reckon I certainly came out ahead. Hong Kong's hotels have numerous lunch buffets to choice from and many are cheaper and have larger selections, but what the Top Deck offers is atmosphere. Visiting this well polished Hong Kong icon is a perfect for a special occasion or to offer visitors a unique experience. Thanks MW for organising a great day!

Visit restaurant website