Sunday, 30 December 2007
Brescia, Lombardy, €28.50, cork seal
We popped this delicious little number amongst the tinsel and presents on Christmas morning. When I asked my man in the wine shop for a bottle of Sparkling he gave me a couple of options; "good or very good?" I assumed. The hands started waving, the voice raised a notch and he replied with absolute passion "very good or very, very, very good"; so Ca'del Bosco Franciacorta Brut comes with a recommendation from Enoteca Scali. Franciacorta is a DOCG classification for Sparkling wine from Brescia in Lombardy. It's made from Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir.
Ca'del Bosco Franciacorta Brut is a twinkling straw golden colour with plentiful tiny, light bubbles. On the nose there's a pleasant breadiness and a twist of lemon. The palate has lovely flavours of old apples, citrus and hint of saltiness. While this wine certainly isn't sweet, the style is perhaps a little less dry than some. Its feather light, but flavoursome, fresh and extremely drinkable. Ca'del Bosco Franciacorta Brut is an absolute delight, great value and highly recommended.
Visit winery website.
Visited 24th December
On our second day in Italy we headed to Siena after a brief stop at the spectacular fortified hilltop village of Monteriggioni. Walking the winding medieval streets of Siena is fascinating in its own right, but Siena's two main attractions; the huge town square, the Piazza del Campo and its beautiful cathedral, the Duomo are both magnificent highlights. Hidden in the back streets north of the Duomo Osteria Castelvecchio was a superb choice for lunch. Though we were the first to arrive the place quickly filled up with locals who I happily observed drunk a lot of wine and devoured numerous courses.
The bloke running the show was a welcoming and friendly host who translated the daily menu with passion and gusto. I went for roast pork with potatoes and a thick mushroom sauce, while Naomi and my brother got stuck into deliciously rich, beer cooked chicken. My meal was superb; the pork tender and the mushrooms an interesting companion. Dessert tempted us and we ordered a couple of sampler plates piled with the three daily selections of which the white cheese smothered with rich caramel, rum sauce was the highlight. I washed it down with a couple of glasses of a tasty Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and of course finished with a little espresso.
I was a worried about the potential expense of Italy, but the bill for the four of us was less than €70 which even in Hong Kong is good value for two courses, wine and coffee. The service was fantastic and the locals on the surrounding tables companionable and welcoming. For me Osteria Castelvecchio satisfied stereotypes of good Italy food; robust, delicious dishes served with passion from a seasonal, daily menu. Siena good town; Osteria Castelvecchio bloody good restaurant.
Our Tuscan residence was just outside of beautiful hill top town of Volterra. The surrounding countryside was glorious and town itself a spectacular maze of winding medieval streets and Etruscan ruins. As magical as all this was, sadly my priorities were focused on the fruits of the local vineyards. After visiting the towers of San Gimignano we returned for a wander through Volterra and thankfully stumbled across Enoteca Scali, a fantastic wineshop.
Housed in a beautiful medieval building Enoteca Scali certainly looks the part and the huge collection, of mainly Tuscan wines, on display are enough to quicken the pulse. We shared a couple of confused looks before doing the only reasonable thing and asking for a recommendation. The guy running the show was great and selected an interesting mixed dozen; he chose a variety of local DOCG wines and their more mutinous Tuscana IGT brethren. His knowledge was fantastic and we appreciated the bottle of sparkling he snuck in as a Christmas gift. Enoteca Scali doesn't disappoint in the gourmet department and offers a good selection of local cheese, cured meats, oil, vinegar, dry goods and panforte. Even though we walked out happily laden my brother and I did some quick calculations and questioned whether a dozen bottles would last the Christmas period; we snuck back the next day for another sly six.
Enoteca Scali also doubles as a wine bar. It's possible to grab a bottle off the shelf, relax at one of the small tables out the back and munch on a little local produce. On our final night in Italy this is what we did and enjoyed a Castello Di Ama Chianti Classico 1999 and Moris Avvoltore Maremma Toscana IGT 2004. The Castello Di Ama was classic Chianti; spiced, medium bodied and complex, while the full-bodied Moris Avvoltore was a more fruit driven, but equally delicious with silky oak treatment. The accompanying plate of cheese, salami and lardo was delicious and good value at €8. I was also surprised that there was no corkage charge and the wines simply cost their shelf price. Everything about Enoteca Scali impressed me; the service, ambiance, knowledge, passion, range, prices and salami were all spot on. It's a place that made me very excited and one I'd most certainly recommend; Enoteca Scali is an absolute joy.
Visit website (currently under construction).
School holidays again; however I might add these ones have been fairly earned after an eighteen week slog of a term. Naomi and I have somehow stumbled across the romantic sounding destination of Tuscany for Christmas. My brother and his partner are meeting us for a week of exploring the food, wine and sights of this famous regions of Italy. Now all that's between me and my first glass of Chianti are a couple of flights on average discount airlines and what I'm sure is going to be a stimulating eight hour wait at Gatwick Airport.
Saturday, 15 December 2007
Hunter Valley, Australia, approx Aus $22, stelvin seal
Tyrells are a big family owned company based in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales. They produce a large range of wines including some superb Semillons and Chardonnays. I bought a dozen of these on-line in Australia and this bottle returned in my luggage after the summer holidays. I'm not sure why it took me so long to open it, but Saturday night a home-made beef pie was calling for a bottle of Shiraz.
This wine is good to smell; there's a whole rack of soft, delicious spices, along with some blackberries, smoke and a touch of good old Australia earth. The blackberries continue onto the palate alongside cinnamon, spice and a little white pepper to finish. The tannins are integrated, but still present, lurking around the edges. Tyrells Brokenback Shiraz 2003 is a mid-weigh wine, it's not super heavy or concentrated and offers very good drinking straight off the bat. I like this wine and am rather glad I've got another ten bottles cellared back in Australia.
Visit winery website.
Thursday, 13 December 2007
Kat O Main St, Kat O Island School Picnic Day in Hong Kong is usually an unruly exercise. Bus loads of students trundle out to a crowded country park to burn a few fish balls and chicken wings on a BBQ before boredom and delinquency takes over. Thankfully the Form Four students at my school had a very different plan this year. We bussed to Ma On Shan from where we left on a day's nautical excursion. The boat we chartered took us out to Double Haven or Yan Chau Tong; the land of fisherman and pirates. We walked around tiny Ap Chau, visited Tin Hau Temple, explored the Yan Chau Tong Mangrove forest and wandered the deserted streets of Lai Chi Wo.
Kat O or Crooked Island is an island in the far north-east of the New Territories, much closer to Shenzhen than Sha Tin. A traditional home of the Hakka it is now relatively quiet, but a few residents scrap together a living through fishing, tourism and fish farming. Lunch was served at the Island's only restaurant, a place right near the ferry pier. The teachers were banished outside by the hungry hordes and we had a pleasant lunch under the trees. The fixed menu is all there is and we got plates piled with fried prawns, sautéed squid, chicken, green vegetable, a whole steamed fish, broccoli with pork, baked egg, pork short ribs and congee. The chicken was good, the prawns had a great meaty flavour and the squid tender and succulent; just what you expect from a restaurant run by fisher folk.
While it was certainly wasn't fancy lunch on Kat O was superb. The food was classic Chinese fare served in an absolutely cracker of a location. Kat O and Yan Chau Tong are a long way from Yuen Long, but well, well worth the trek. Exploring this area by sea is a great way to enjoy this beautiful, isolated and relatively untouched part of Hong Kong. Who knew school picnic could be such fun?
Saturday, 8 December 2007
Visited 7th December
King Ludwig Beerhall is plonked in a strange spot out in the weird wastes of TST East, more specifically the J1 exit of the KCR Station. As its Hong Kong there is of course multi branches of the same restaurant and the original King Ludwig's is found at Stanley. I was meeting a group of friends for Christmas dinner and was impressed that Santa made a surprise appearance. The authenticity of the Germanic decor - big wooden tables, Bavarian pennants, dark lighting and mounted boar's head - was contrasted by the huge TV playing football and the cover-band in the corner; a strange combination indeed.
The menu at King Ludwig's is all about Germany and offers a selection of schnitzels, potato cakes and of course sausages. I couldn't resist the roast pork knuckle, which came served with sauerkraut and roast potatoes. The huge crispy chunk of pork, which was carved before being served, was genuinely delicious; and I thought good value at $125. Others weren't so lucky with their meals and a mate felt ripped off paying $180 for a tasty, but pathetically tiny serve of seafood. As it was a celebration of sorts and the litre steins of Veltins German Pilsner I drank went down an absolute treat, particularly during happy 'hour' when they were only $65.
All up my visit to King Ludwig Beerhall was positive. The service was professional and friendly, my meal was good and those $65 steins were superb. I'm not sure if the 'beerhall' is quite the correct title for King Ludwig's as it seems much more much more focused on being a 'restaurant', but what ever you want to call it, it's worth a look. Visit restaurant website.
Tuesday, 4 December 2007
Fitou, Languedoc, France, $110, diam cork seal
Another wine from the good growers of the Languedoc. I loved the Les Quatre 2005 Fitou which also comes from the Mt Tauch cooperative and when I saw its sibling here I jumped at the chance to drag a bottle home. It's a Carignan based blend with some Grenache and Syrah and comes from the three villages of Tuchan, Paziols and Villeneuve, within the Fitou Appellation.
The nose, though not huge, is appealing with it's suggestion of sharp, tart red fruits, a little forest floor and a hint of fresh mint. Having a swig the riper red fruit flavours emerge with a burst of plum and blackberries and are rounded out by an ever so slight, seductive sweetness. Where this wine really shines though is its great texture. Chalky tannins help to give it a firm and complete mouth-feel which suggests to me it's going to go well with a lot of different foods. Mont Tauch Fitou 2006 is a good wine at a fair price which I'd be happy to drink regularly.
Visit winery website.
Monday, 3 December 2007
Visited 2nd December
After running 21km in the Macou half marathon I wanted a beer. Restaurante Fernando is as popular as the song and perhaps more justifiably so. Located at Hac Sa Beach on the southeast of Coloane Island it's in a pretty isolated spot, but that's half the joy. I'd called to try and make a booking, but was told they didn't do bookings on weekends and to make sure I got there early. Arriving at 11.30 we were the second group in a line that soon became a mass excess of seething punters. When the doors finally opened at midday the throng pushed forwards in a mad and chaotic rush to get tables. Elbows, knees and the odd head butt and we were finally sitting, but it was worth it. The front room is OK, but out back is where it all happens at Fernandos; there's a large open area with airy windows, views of the garden and plenty of heavy rustic timber.
A priority was my thirst and I quenched it with a couple of crisp Portuguese beers. When I asked about wine I was told to go look at a shelf somewhere; I stuck to beer. To start our table shared a delicious garden salad, a plate of tasty chouriço and olives, along with the compulsory loafs of soft, fluffy bread. I couldn't resist the salted cod I was talked out of the previous evening. The generous serve of grilled Bacalhau was presented with potatoes and a garlicky butter sauce. I was mightily impressed with the food; it was extremely well done in its authentic simplicity. Getting an itemised receipt for the prices was another difficulty, but I remember everything offering outstanding value.
I'm very much in two minds about Fernandos - it certainly gets votes for authentic Portuguese fare, yet it's almost arrogantly run with off putting service. I loved the delicious, rustic food and the awesome prices. After the riot finished the atmosphere was great and the garden bar - where the disappointed waited - looked like a winner for an afternoon session. Despite all the positives I couldn't understand queuing for half an hour just to have to brawl to get a table. Not taking bookings and not opening before noon meant that the whole restaurant ordered at exactly the same time; while we didn't have to wait too long for our food it did take nearly half an hour to initially be served. There's lots to love about Restaurante Fernando just avoid the weekend battle.Visit restaurant website.
I know I sound like a wanker, but I go to Macao to buy coffee. Hong Kong doesn't just lack decent cafes, there's also an absence of freshly roasted coffee beans and as coffee is such a fundamental part of my life I'd go to Mars to buy it if I had too.
Chip Seng is the small family run supermarket that has the vital task of supplying me with coffee. It's crowded and poorly laid out, yet hidden amongst the creamed corn, chocolate and iced tea they stock freshly roasted beans as well as all the associated paraphernalia. Their extensive selection ranges from their own house blends to stuff from Brazil, Costa Rico and Mexican to premium Blue Mountain and Hawaii beans. The basic beans start at about $35 a pound, which is a bargain compared to the $40-$50 you pay for 250 grams in Hong Kong supermarkets. But buying coffee at Chip Seng isn't just about value, it's about quality; where can you get good, freshly roasted beans in Hong Kong? The only issue I have with Chip Seng is that they don't have a fair trade alternative, which needs to be changed. If your life requires decent coffee put in the effort and get yourself across to Chip Seng, and while you're there you may as well check out their selection of Portuguese wine...
Visited 1st December All Hong Kong seems to be flocking to Macao's bright lights; Saturday we joined the crowds and shoved aboard the First Ferry at Central. Naomi and I met up with a group of friends who instead of contributing to the bursting coffers of the casinos were there to participate in the Macao Marathon. First thing Sunday I was running the half marathon and Naomi was doing the 5km 'mini marathon' so dinner Saturday wasn't going to be a late night. We chose Restaurante Platao because of its central location hidden in an ally just off Senado Square. Platao's lovely outdoor courtyard also offers a place to escape Macao's noticeably smoky restaurants.
Platao's culinary offerings aren't always authentically Portuguese, but the menu features a few decent attempts as well as a handful of Asian dishes like curry and fried rice. I initially ordered Bacalhau but was quickly corrected by a serious mate who gave me a lecture on carb loading or something. The 'fettuccine with salmon' I chose instead was disappointing; the serve was small and smothered in a very average, gluggy sauce. My athletic friend was even more shocked when I had my one glass of Monte Velho Alentejano, an enjoyable Portuguese wine made in a very 'New World' style. Naomi ordered 'pork chop Portuguese style' that was served with potato, chourico and olives and topped with a fried egg; a tasty dish that was a more generous serve, though it still had a bit of the sloppy sauce thing going on.
My friends ensured I had a pleasant evening at Platao, but apart from the superb setting I can't think of much too really recommend it from this visit. The service was pretty average; despite the fact the senior waiter is a fantastic, friendly guy who's always on the ball. Though I've enjoyed the food here in the past, my meal was uninspiring and expensive. Though Platao's not terrible, the atmospheric courtyard is it's biggest draw card; just make sure you don't order the pasta.
Visit restaurant website.