Sunday, 23 September 2007

Diamond Valley Pinot Noir 2004

Diamond Valley 'Blue Label', Pinot Noir, 2004
Yarra Valley, Victoria, A$22, stelvin seal

This was the perfect thing to help pass an afternoon afloat on a friend's junk. Diamond Valley are a Yarra Valley producer, right on the edge of Melbourne. They have a reputation for producing excellent value Pinot Noir and after tasting this bottle I'd have to agree.

Having a sniff it seems the nose is all about fruit, but not the big, mushy, soft hydroponic fruit, this is tough, natural fruit; the kind you pick from the roadside amongst snakes and thorns. There a whole orchid of cherries, with an understorey of wild strawberries and a hint of dark berries, perhaps boysenberry. Having a few sips (mouthfuls) of this I'm very impressed with how drinkable and complete a package it seems. There are plenty of delicious fruit flavours going on; plum, strawberry and all those Pinot cherries, but what shines out is how approachable and drinkable this wine is. There's no hint of the gracefully integrated alcohol and the wine offers a complete mouth full of flavour and texture, something you could suck on all day long. Diamond Valley Blue Label Pinot Noir 2004 is an extremely attractive and drinkable wine that really floated my boat.

Visit winery website.

Cafe de Paris

2/F, 90 Stanley Main St, Stanley
Visited 22nd September

Wandering along Stanley promenade isn't just about avoiding pathetic looking dogs dressed in human clothing (the pup who wears the silver bow-tie is one of the worse) it's also all about an alfresco lunch. Naomi and I, despite huge appetites, did a few laps accompanied by the old "you choose", "no I don't mind, you choose". Perhaps we were as pathetic as the owners of all those stupid looking dogs, but eventually we made decision and ascended the stairs to Cafe de Paris. Part of the Igor's Group, there are also branches of Cafe de Paris in SoHo and Discovery Bay; the Stanley one is above the Pickled Pelican pub, another member of Igor's little Empire. Climbing the stairs I was quietly impressed with the beautiful setting and enchanting views. We propped in a comfortable booth with excellent views of the ocean out, large, open windows.

The menu is small, simple and classically very French. There are only three permanent mains on the menu; steak, mussels and a sole fillet, plus a couple of daily specials. Naomi ordered the set lunch which included the daily soup, main and dessert, plus a glass of wine, while I went with a serve of mussels and helped myself to Naomi's wine. Her cauliflower and pear soup was superb; creamy, soft and subtle. My mussels came with a salad which was good, but simple and just the same as you get in every other Hong Kong restaurant. Naomi was very happy with the plate de jour; a tender chicken fillet in peppercorn sauce served with a potato gratin and spinach. My bowl of mussels were pretty tasty, though the serve was small. The dessert of the day was a beautifully presented mille-feuille layered with apricots; though not something I'm particularly fond of Naomi was more than happy, which is the whole point of dessert!

Our visit to Cafe de Paris was a pleasant affair; the decor, friendly service and great views all contribute to a classic - and I hate to say it - almost "romantic" ambiance. $168 for three courses and a glass of wine ($138 without the wine) for the set lunch is great value. On the other hand $162 for a smallish serve of mussels, even with a salad and fries, is pushing it; and looking over the menu coming for dinner and a few glasses of wine wouldn't be cheap. The service is slick and efficient; our water glasses were constantly re-filled and we were offered more bread several times. In many ways Cafe de Paris is a fantastic restaurant; we enjoyed the beautifully presented food, the lovely setting and authentic French atmosphere, yet I'm not sure if I'd so impressed if I'd paid the dangerously expensive prices you could be up for at dinner. Have the set lunch and enjoy the view.

Visit restaurant website

Ivan the Kozak

46-48 Cochrane St, Central
Visited 21st September

Heading up the Central Escalator to SoHo I've often wondered about Ivan the Kazak; that strange looking Russian restaurant with its pot plants and statue with the well endowed moustache. Naomi and I were heading to Aberdeen for an exotic weekend on a friends junk so we figured we may as well keep the sense of adventure alive and try some Russian and Ukrainian food. I've never eaten at a Russian restaurant before, but Ivan the Kozak certainly makes you feel as if you're in a Russian restaurant. The place is shrouded in heavy wooden timber, murals adorn the walls, the cutlery and crockery is old-school and the big, blond headed staff look the part, they even have an 'ice room' where you can drink vodka in freezing temperatures

The menu looked good and to my untrained eye pretty authentic, or a least the Russian names sounded authentic. I had 'Solynka'; a tasty salmon, lemon and olive soup as an entree, while Naomi enjoyed her 'Gorohoviy' or split pea and bacon soup. Though both soups were good, the serves were rather small and would have benefited from a bit of bread on the side. The range of mains looked fantastic but the lack of decent bangers in Hong Kong pushed me towards the 'Kolbasa Domasnaya' or homemade sausages. The huge sausage was accompanied by steamed broccoli, cabbage and a little tomato sauce, the serve was generous, but the sausage was disappointingly dry. Naomi claimed she was "sick of not having room for dessert" so while I gorged on meat and veg she had a dainty entree serve of 'Pelmeni'; tasty little dumplings stuffed with pork. For her much anticipated dessert Naomi ordered an adequate strawberry 'blini' or crepe.

Ivan the Kozak is certainly an experience. The food is honest and simple, but to pull this off the quality must be good; the soups were, but my main wasn't. The service was friendly and efficient, while the drinks menu featured a huge range of vodkas and some good Eastern European beers. Our bill was $357 which seems pretty fair for a meal in Central. When all's said and done the real strength of Ivan the Kozak is, as the good people at Monty Pythons once said "and now for something completely different".

Visit restaurant website.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Is This Really Wine Writing?

'Uncorked', Sunday Morning Post, 16th Sep 2007

Every Sunday I read the Post Magazine from Sunday's South China Morning Post. Though I'm entertained I'm never really 100% satisfied as the amount of food and drinks coverage is really pretty disappointing for a city of Hong Kong size. Hidden between double page spreads advertising obnoxious clothing I'd never be seen dead in is the wine column 'Uncorked'.

’Uncorked’ doesn't review wines, but offers wine education related comment; it often talks about a grape variety, region or wine style. This week the column started with "Call me crazy, but I think Hong Kong is a lot like Napa Valley California". What follows is an article that is, I assume, meant to be amusing but ends up being the opposite. The loose similarities drawn between the Napa Valley and Hong Kong range from the occasional person having a mud-bath; to Ocean Park and the Stirling Winery both having Gondolas; to the observation that both locations have local indigenous inhabitants. What’s also ignored is the fact that the supposed similarities are based upon the behaviours of an elite minority and that they are far out weighted by the differences. "Call me crazy" but it really wasn't much of a wine article.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Bahce Turkish Restaurant

3 Ngan Wan Rd, Mui Wo, Lantau Island
Visited 15th September

Mui Wo or Silvermine Bay on the back side of Lantau Island is one of Hong Kong's under-rated gems. Unlike the neat Singapore-like fakeness of Discovery Bay just up the coast, Mui Wo offers a glimpse of real, old-school Island life. There's a clean beach for swimming, outdoor bars scattered along the promenade, trails into the hills for a run, walk or cycle and a handful of great restaurants. Tasty Turkish food and a relaxed atmosphere make Bahce a favourite for a filling lunch after a swim or run.

Saturday afternoon at the beach always warrants a drink and I knocked back a couple of reasonably priced half-pints, while Naomi raved about her banana milkshake "made with real fresh bananas". The huge serves of mains at Bache are accompanied by giant grilled vegetable skewers, bread and dips; too much for us, instead we decided to graze from the great selection of meze. Eventually difficult choices were made and we ordered a Greek salad, meze platter and a side of Baba Ghanoush with 'Turkish Bread'. The Greek salad was just like it should be; big chunks of creamy feta, olives and a delicious herb dressing. Bahce offers a warm or cold meze platter as well as a selection of individual serves, we chose the warm platter and it was more than enough for us both. Severed with a choice of three dips and side salad the array of feta stuffed peppers, falafel, calamari, stuffed filo-pastry cigars and meatballs were excellent. The only downside of the meal was the 'Turkish bread' severed with the Baba Ghanoush; it certainly didn't resemble any Turkish bread I'd ever seen and was just an average loaf of reheated white bread.

Bache Turkish Restaurant is cool; while it doesn't have a sea view or even much outdoor seating, it does have a relaxed atmosphere and a beach bar kind-of-feel. The staff are welcoming and helpful, the food is authentic and tasty and the prices are good. Our meal was just over $200 for the both of us, and though it included a couple of drinks it thankfully didn't include any service charge. Bache Turkish Restaurant is definitely worth a stop as part of a day out at Mui Wo.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Med Stars

Ground Floor, Gold Coast Shopping Mall, Tuen Mun
Visited 14th September

The first week back to work after the holidays is always a struggle; but five days later Friday night seems to make everything OK again. Naomi and I met a mate for dinner and drinks at the Gold Coast. Though the Gold Coast is a bit of a hike from the Tuen Mun town centre and KCR station it's worth trudging across to be able to sit by the water and watch the setting sun traverse Lantau Island.
Med Stars is one of the restaurants in the small shopping arcade; inside it's an ugly industrial pub dominated by a huge TV; outside is a total contrast with tables, umbrellas and views of the water.

Drinks at Med Stars are reasonably priced and the couple of cold Tiger beers I drunk were refreshingly good value at only $22. The menu has a pretty large selection; mainly basic Western dishes, but there's also a BBQ char-grilling meaty treats. I started by giving the barbecue a workout and ordered a grilled sardine; the little charcoaled critter was delicious, and an absolute steal for only $13. For a main I ordered grilled tuna fillets which were served with a wasabi based sauce and vegetables. For a $138 the two chunky bits of tuna were a very generous serve and were pretty tasty despite being well over-cooked. Naomi enjoyed her fat club sandwich which was simply served with chips and my mate loved his lamb chops (though he always loves lamb chops so I'm not sure if that's saying much). We shared a bottle of Dona Paula Merlot 2005; a wine I liked, though Naomi thought was over priced and dominated by off putting sour, green flavours.

Yuen Long seems a long way from the beach and when I crave a view of the ocean I often find myself at Med Stars. The beers are cheap, the food's basic, but good and the service is efficient. It's the sort of place were you can waste a whole day or just drop in for dessert and a nightcap. I've got a quite a few friends who live at the Gold Coast and many of them are well over Med Stars as it's the only decent pub in the vicinity, yet I like it and recommend it for a beer or casual meal if you're in the area.

Friday, 14 September 2007

Sushi Tei

6/F Yuen Long Landmark, 123 Castle Peak Rd, YL
Visited 13th September

Naomi and I visited the Yuen Long branch of this international chain for dinner Thursday night. Hidden on the 6th floor of a building off Castle Peak Rd Sushi Tei can be a bit difficult to find, but is worth the effort. The atmosphere is good, with comfortable, modern decor, a great open kitchen and some interesting views of Castle Peak Rd out the window. The only downsides were unflattering short-skirts worn as uniforms by the waitresses and the unashamedly disgusting belching by the woman on the next table.

We ordered an assortment of dishes: tuna, salmon and rolled pork chop sushi accompanied by a serve of grilled prawn and tofu balls for me, while Naomi chose fried chicken and an omelette stuffed with noodles. I was impressed with the sushi; the fish hunks were thick, fresh and tasty, while the pork chop sushi was rolled with crisp iceberg lettuce which was a great combination of textures. Naomi was less impressed with her meal. Though hot and crispy the chicken was a little fatty for her liking and I'd agree that the sauce dribbled over the noodle omelette was just plain weird and off putting. Another positive for Sushi Tei is that it seems to be the only Japanese restaurant in the New Territories which sells wine, though I was happy with a cold can of Asahi. Our bill came to $209 which isn't bad value.

Our experience of Sushi Tei was a positive one. The service was fine, the food decent and the atmosphere good (minus the belching woman); if you're looking for a feed of Japanese in Yuen Long Sushi Tei probably isn't a bad option.
Visit restaurant website

Saturday, 8 September 2007

Walking out of Peccato

Peccato, 37 Elgin St, Soho, Central
Attempted to visit 7th September 2007

Wondering up to SoHo from the D. Milhade wine tasting Naomi and I decided a serve of Italian was in order. I'd heard good things about Peccato and was keen to try this intimate Italian restaurant on Elgin St. We were seated at a small table on the street and the ambiance was fantastic. Though not extensive the menu looked good and I decided upon fried mixed seafood followed by green pea risotto topped with pan-fried scallops, while Naomi had eyed up lamb filled cannelloni. Wine proved a bit more hazardous as everything I knew on the list seemed excessively over-priced (Peter Lehmann Shiraz for $580 and Browns Brothers Everton Red for $380, which retail for about $180 and $107). I decided upon a glass of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo and Naomi just wanted a glass of water to freshen up after the wine tasting; this was when the trouble started ...

Oh, but sorry, we were informed by our waitress, they didn't serve tap water because apparently "some costumers have complained". This was one of the worst excuses know to humanity and when questioned she failed to give a satisfactory explanation and responded by telling us not to worry as we could have a bottle of complementary mineral water; for me this missed the whole point.
Drinking water is undeniably good for you and is a necessary accompaniment to any meal and, despite what the majority of the expat community thinks, tap water is perfectly safe to drink in Hong Kong (see here). I avoid drinking bottled water not because of the financial cost, but because of the environmental cost. Limited fossil fuels are used and carbon emissions created in producing, bottling and transporting bottled water, not to say the huge amounts of waste created by all those empty bottles (which even if recycled still create more emissions in the process). As much as I was looking forward to my meal we walked out the door in protest and I doubt I will ever get to try Peccato; hundreds, potentially thousands of dollars in business lost just because they wouldn't let us have a glass of water.

We finished up along the road at our old favourite Olive where I enjoyed a fantastic seasoned rack of tender lamb and Naomi had her favourite chicken shish kebabs. The wine was better priced, the service was natural and friendly and whithout us having to ask glasses of iced tap water were placed on our table and constantly refilled throughout our meal!

D. Milhade Wine Tasting

D. Milhade Wine Tasting, Ponti Wine Cellars, Central
7th September

A wine tasting is a great was to start a Friday night. This was put on by Ponti Cellars and the plan was for a little sip in Central then to move up the hill for dinner in SoHo; an offer so tempting that Naomi even decided to came along! The event was hosted by Gerard Milhade the President of the D. Milhade wine group whose wines we were trying. Gerard was friendly and courteous and, despite the fact he was exhausted after two weeks travelling China, was happy to chat. We discussed the international wine market, the buying power of the US, the relationship between the Euro and US dollar and the emergence of the Chinese market. He is also interestingly mentioned his frustrations with the French application system and his desire to experiment with different grape varieties (especially Pinot Noir!) in Boudreaux.
Now comes the hard bit. I've unfortunately lost my notes on the nine wines from the D. Milhade portfolio that were offered for tasting and going off memory isn't the best idea. My favourite wine of the night was Chateau Lyonnat 2004 Lussac St Emilion; a wine was produced at Gerard's home (wouldn't it be nice to live in a Chateau!). Both the Grand Crus came from Chateau Boutisse in St Emillion; the Chateau Boutisse 2004 and Baron de Boutisse 2004 were both good wines, well structured and refined, but the price that we being asked was perhaps a little too much. I can't remember anything else from the range jumping out, but again I thought all the wines were pretty good. The D. Milhade Wine Tasting was a worthwhile event which offered a chance to try some nice St Emilion wines and the opportunity to chat with the president of the company producing them.

Visit the D. Milhade website.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Furano Wine Muller-Thurgau 2005

Furano Wine Muller-Thurgau 2005
Furano, Hokkaido, Japan, ¥8000 for 375ml

I found this cute little half bottle hidden at home. I've previously reviewed a red wine from this producer, though I think this single varietal release is meant to be a step up their quality ladder.

It has a soft gentle nose with whiffs of sherbet, honey and sweetly perfumed flowers (perhaps honeysuckle or the like?). On the palate there are delicious, yet subtle lime, pear and stewed apricot flavours. Furano Muller-Thurgau 2005 is well balanced, only just off dry with well integrated alcohol and very little acidity. This is extremely easy to drink, though perhaps it lacks a bit of 'wow factor', Furano Muller-Thurgau 2005 is still a very pleasant experience.

Visit winery website.