Thursday, 29 November 2007

Plastic Bags are Back

'Supermarket faces flak for U-turn on plastic bags'
South China Morning Post, 27th November, p.C1

I was disappointed to read in today's South China Morning Post that the ParknShop supermarket chain has scrapped it's levy on plastic bags after just five days. The decision to charge shoppers 20 cents per plastic shopping bag was a brave attempt to reduce Hong Kong's terrible waste. Hong Kong is a city of about 6.9 million, yet we disgustingly use 23 million plastic bags daily, that's three a day or twenty-three per person per week. ParknShop cited "public criticism" as the reason for the withdrawal of the levy.

For me I see a situation where yet again the selfish nature of consumers has overcome concerns for Hong Kong obviously polluted environment. I visited ParknShop once during he charges and was impressed to see people bringing their own bags or refusing them for small items, yet this has all stopped now that plastic bags are free again. The attitude here is one of laying blame elsewhere, most often on the belching factories across the border, and ignoring Hong Kong's own contribution to the disgusting state of its environment. The amount of "public criticism" that ParknShop received suggests that the bottom line for most Hong Kong consumers is their wallets. If charging for bags will stop their pointless use I say bring back the charge and make us pay $2 or even $10.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Maison Galhaud 'Collection' Viognier Muscat 2005

Maison Galhaud 'Collection' Viognier Muscat 2005
Cotes Catalanes, France, $168, cork

I saw this at a local Yuen Long wine shop and it jumped out as being something different. It's an unusual blend of 70% Viognier and 30% Muscat from those wacky people down in Languedoc-Roussillon. Labelled as a 'vin de pays' it comes from the Cotes Catalanes near the Spanish border in southern France.

Masion Galhaud Viognier Muscat 2005 is a deep golden colour. The nose is dominated by the Muscat and the aromatic grapiness is very attractive; there's also some sweet pineapple in the background. The first few sips were initially tight and alcoholic, but after being opened for an hour or so it settled down nicely. The wine has a luscious thick texture; a delicious creamy syrupiness that became more pronounced as it warmed up in the glass. The palate is all about ripe tropical flavours, predominately peach, with maybe even a little banana and cantaloupe. Maison Galhaud Viognier Muscat is an interesting blend of aromatic Muscat and lush Viogner; its a wine that definitely benefits from food to accompany it's richness. A decent drop that offers something a little different.

Monday, 19 November 2007


Hung Shing Ye Beach, Lamma Island

Hong Kong is well and truly obsessed with shopping so I thought I'd jump on the bandwagon and add my two cents. I've created a new tag 'shopping' with the intention of writing up some of my favourite shops; whether it be food, wine or in this case herbs ... man. Herboland is perched in an absolute prime location, a couple of metres from the edge of Lamma Island's Hung Shing Ye Beach and its spectacularly bizarre view of the power station. This working organic farm specialises in herbs as well as selling seasonal vegetables, potted plants and food and drink in their small cafe. The grounds aren't large, but they're well kept and packed with garden beds through which visitors meander until they come to the shop and cafe tucked away in the back corner. The star attraction seemed to be the rabbits, were a swarm of people were gathered taking photos of these 'so cute', giant eared fellows.

I love the concept of Herboland and enjoyed my time wandering their gardens. I was unfortunately a bit put off by their prices; a tiny, five serve bag of herbal was $50. I see the greatest benefit of this joint being it's role as an educator. Visitors are able buy seasonal produce straight from the farm and were they can see it been grown. Herboland is also a strong supporter of organic principals and has a wealth of information about the extensive selection of herbs they sell. With its great gardens and interesting produce it's definitely worth stopping for a stroll at Herboland. Visit shop website.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Green Point Pinot Noir 2005

Green Point Pinot Noir 2005
Yarra Valley, Victoria, $168, stelvin seal

I'm not sure if you're meant to write tasting notes sitting in the bath, but the cooler weather Hong Kong is experiencing means baths are very much back in fashion. Years ago while I was sharing a house with some very cool girls in Newcastle, UK, one of them once remarked that the one thing I'd taught her was to always have a bath with at least a pint of gin and tonic - though I've swapped the gin for wine I suppose nothing really changes. This bottle comes from the Green Point Winery in Victoria's Yarra Valley which is part of Moet Hennessy's vast Empire; it's also where they produce Chandon, their contribution to Australian sparkling wine.

Giving this bright, ruby red drop a swirl I'm not bowled over by its nose, but what I do smell is very attractive in its freshness. It's a hard nose to pin; not quite minty, it reminds me a little of the Australian bush after rain; fresh and clean, hints of eucalyptus and tea-tree, yet with the reality of damp earth lingering beneath. To stop the aroma being totally wanky and abstract there's also a good hit of cherries. Cherries also crop up on the palate, along side some intense and interesting beetroot flavours. Green Point Pinot Noir 2005 is medium bodied with a hint of acidity, and also strangely a bit of alcohol coming through. An intriguing wine that's certainly drinkable and a pleasant way to spend an hour soaking in the bath. It has some interesting Pinot flavours, 'old-school' compared to the bright fruit of Diamond Valley Yarra Valley Pinot I reviewed a while ago. I'm in two minds if it's worth the money, but it's definitely a decent drop and is very food friendly.

Visit winery website.

Bookwarm Cafe

79 Main St, Yung Shue Wan, Lamma Island
Visited 18th November

I like Lamma Island. The ferry trip from Central takes you away from the hustle and bustle to a peaceful green place were opportunities abound for a kicked back lifestyle; if only for an afternoon. Lamma's also a great spot for a stroll with a 5km trail that winds between the two main villages. Many prefer to finish the walk at the well-know seafood restaurants of Sok Kwu Wan, but Naomi and I went the other way and ended up at Yung Shue Wan. This thriving little village has a diverse population and good selection of bars and restaurants. The Bookworm Cafe pushes a vegetarian ethos, while its mismatched furniture, bulging bookshelves and artwork give it a funky bohemian feel.

The menu has an emphasis on organic, vegetarian wholefoods, with an interesting choice of sandwiches, soup, dhal and pasta. I couldn't go past 'eggs Florentine', while Naomi was tempted by the daily special; a goats cheese and roasted zucchini and tomato quiche. My eggs were served atop a muffin with mushrooms in addition to the usual spinach. They were well cooked and the addition of mushrooms was good, though the sauce was perhaps a little thick and congealed. Naomi's quiche was excellent and came with a couple of salads including one made from fresh beetroot - something you don't see often enough in Hong Kong. I gulped down a couple of decent cafe lattés and Naomi went for the exotically named 'Peaceful Warrior'; a blend of banana, apple and pear, which though tasty was off-puttingly warm. We both enjoyed out breakfast, though looking around at what others were eating much of the food looked very similar, something I reckon often happens in 'wholefood' style restaurants.

The Bookworm Cafe wins on atmosphere, it's relaxed and comfortable; the sort of place were you can sit back watch the afternoon disappear with coffee and the paper. While the staff were friendly, they were not particularly efficient it and it grated me to see the waiter sitting around reading while I was struggling to order another latté. The serves were generous and I thought our meals was pretty good value at $80 each, though I was a little resentful at having to pay 10% 'service' charge for such average 'service', especially when it wasn't mentioned on the menu. If you're heading to Lamma Island the Bookworm Cafe isn't a bad place for breakfast or lunch, just don't be too impatient to order your meal or that second cup of coffee.

Visit restaurant website.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Vigna Brichet Dolcetto D'Alba 2004

Vigna Brichet Dolcetto D'Alba 2004
Neive, Piedmont, Italy, $120, cork seal

I brought this from Il Bel Paese in Wan Chai, who have one of the best selections of Italian wines in Hong Kong.

Pouring a glass I'm surprised how dark it is; it's almost purple rather than red. The nose isn't huge but pleasant; there's a dark, mouldy, forest floor thing going on, perhaps blackberries that have fallen into a pile of rotting leaves. There's also a sniff of powdery coco and something that resembles cough syrup. The front of the palate is pretty light on flavour, with just a hint of sharp red currents. The intensity picks up towards the back end with an attractive sour note that leaves you puckering for another sip. Where this wine wins is with its texture and body, its full and creamy in the mouth with good chalky tannins. Vigna Brichet Dolcetto D'Alba 2004 is a drinkable drop, but certainly nothing special, it's the kind of wine that makes a meal (and life) seem a whole lot better, but is forgotten next day.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Peller Estates Private Reserve Merlot 2005

Peller Estates Private Reserve Merlot 2005
Okanagan Valley, BC, Canada, cork seal

Hong Kong is a travel hub and one of the things about living here is that everyone seems to be "passing-by" and "drops in for a quick visit". My parents were number three in five consecutive weekends of visitors. Though they only stayed for twenty-four hours they did kindly leave this bottle that they picked up on their trip to Canada.

Red fruits aromas are all over the shop; there's lots of delicious raspberry - almost soft drink like - with a handful of strawberries and red currents chucked into the mix. The fruit's is not overbearing as it's balanced by a background gaminess and sprinkling of cinnamon. Red fruits dominate the palate as well; blood plums accompanying the intense raspberries. The jammy sweetness of the fruit is balanced by delicious, dark, bitter chocolate on the finish. The wine is packaged around excellent, powdery tannins. Peller Estates, Private Reserve Merlot 2005 is a tasty little number that went remarkable well with slow stewed lamb shanks and mash. I'm not sure if it's available in Hong Kong, but it's definitely worth trying if you see it around.

Visit winery website.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Sticky Fingers

Tsim Sha Tsui Centre, 66 Mody Rd, TST East
Visited 9th November
Friday night Part 2. TST East is a weird little corner of Hong Kong; there's no real reason to go there, yet a number of big hotels means it's always busy. I've met friends at Sticky Fingers before and the highlight was the 'crazy hour' with cheap, free flowing drinks. Sticky Fingers labels its self as a rock n roll bar, which amounts to all the usual covers being belted out by a better than usual Filipino band. It's a large, open bar with a tiny dance floor.

After Fatt's Place we rolled over here looking for a bit of music. 'Happy hour' was over and the prices certainly didn't make me happy. My friends ordered drinks and, despite popular rumour, I don't always drink to excess so I thought I'd sit with a glass of water before moving back to the booze. I was shocked by the waitress' aggressive response; she informed me that I couldn't have tap water and what's more I had to buy a drink or pay a ridiculous cover charge. They were asking $38 for a 200ml bottle of water. While the cover band was good, they only played about five songs in a set before disappearing and certainly weren't worth paying for.

Sticky Fingers is surely a contender for having the worst service in Hong Kong. In the past I've put up with rude demands for payment, refusals to get change and aggressive, angry staff. During 'crazy hour' it's almost bearable because of the cheap drinks, but not when you're paying $57 for a beer. Sticky Fingers is smoky, crowded and full of ladies who are there for professional reasons; though the food is OK, it's expensive. There is no excuse for rude, argumentative, arrogant bar staff; this is especially embarrassing for Hong Kong considering many international visitors find there way here from surrounding hotels. I'd be happy never to set foot in Sticky Fingers again.

Fatt's Place

2 Hart Avenue, Tsim Sha Tsui
Visited 9th November

I don't go out enough in TST, but Friday we managed it and met up with some mates for a drink. We visited a couple of bars that on first impression seemed similar, but turned out to offer very different experiences. First off was Fatt's Place, a bar on Hart St off Prat Ave.

Fatt's Place did a great job of making work disappear - happy hour drinks were flowing, the missing front wall allowed the festivities to spill onto the street and shells from the complimentary peanuts were scattered over floor (and later turned up in all sorts of unexpected places). The quality drinks list is ripe with interesting Belgium, British and American beers and makes the connection to other pubs in the El Grande Group like the Hong Kong Brew House in Lan Kwai Fong and Inside Out in Causeway Bay obvious. I revisited a few favourite British Ales and enjoyed pint bottles of Deuchars IPA, London Pride and Black Sheep Ale which were all great value at $42 each.

The sly bourbons drunk at my mates were catching up with me so food was definitely in order. The bar snacks include all the standard offerings; pizza, burgers, wedges etc. Naomi and I shared a big plate of Nachos that at $68 were good, tasty value. My mate got seriously involved with a delicious looking, well stacked burger accompanied by onion rings and fries; great value for $78. The food at Fatt's Place impressed me; it's not the stuff of gourmet dreams, but to accompany beer it certainly offered quality at more than fair prices.

Fatt's Place did a great job of launching Friday night; a relaxed vibe, peanuts galore, bottles of English beer, good value, freshly cooked food and friendly staff all contributed to the fun. If I had to look for criticisms I'd name the filthy cigarette smoke, which was disgustingly thick considering the front of the bar is open. The CD playing in the background was also having a few issues; repeating the same two songs continuously, but this was happily fixed as soon as it was mentioned. The only question I have is why isn't it called Fatt's with a 'Ph'?

Visit pub website.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Le Fauchon

45 Elgin St, SoHo, Central
Visited 4th November

We had a friend visiting for the night and after the obligatory glimpse at the pretty flashing lights and star ferry ride across the harbour we dragged him up to SoHo for a meal. We decided on Le Fauchon a French restaurant that always seems to pull the punters. Its Elgin St entrance is smothered in tacky fake red bricks, but don't let this put you off; inside it's a stylish and slick with white tablecloths, candles and all the clutter expected of a 'romantic' French restaurant.

Le Fauchon offers good value with three courses for $198 and this suckered me into ordering both an entree and dessert. I started with a grilled calamari and couscous salad, which though good was a bit basic; the few grains of couscous added only minimal interest to the boring mixed salad leaves that every restaurant in Hong Kong stupidly insists on using for every salad. My fillet steak with green peppercorn sauce was delicious. The meat was well cooked and flavoursome and the sauce extremely tasty. Naomi loved her entree of French onion soup, though
she found her main of lamb chops fatty and a little tough. All artistic stops were pulled out for the slick looking desserts. My blueberry soufflé was good and Naomi adored her molten chocolate cake. To accompany this we ordered dangerously and shared a surprisingly good bottle of South African Cabernet.

I like Le Fauchon; the food's good and great value when you get three courses for $198. In reflection the service was actually pretty poor; they initially brought Naomi the wrong soup, we waited for ages for our mains and they forgot our friend's dessert, yet surprisingly none of this bothered us. The staff were pleasant, the atmosphere relaxed and we were pretty happy chatting while they bungled our orders; mistakes like this shouldn't happen though and Le Fauchon needs to sort out it's ordering as such sloppy service will surely turn people off. If you're after a pleasant French meal - and don't mind waiting - Le Fauchon is definitely worth a look.