Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Tea House on Burke

911 Burke Rd, Hawthorn, Melbourne, Australia
Visited 30th December 2008

Back in Australia and literally the first thing I do is head to a Cantonese restaurant. With most of my family still in the UK my 'welcome home' dinner was a small scale affair involving a feisty nana and a couple of dodgy mates. Tea House on Burke seems something of a cross between old-school Aussie Chinese takeaway and a fine dining Cantonese restaurant. Its owners spent time working at Melbourne's prestigious Flower Drum and this more casual place has established a reputation for excellent food.

There's an obvious Cantonese foundation to the cuisine at the Tea House on Burke, though sprinkling the menu are dishes from all over China. I was particularly interested to see if the food was tempered for the Australian palate and was genuinely impressed with its authenticity. We ordered chicken san choi bao, pan fried dumplings, fried calamari with spicy salt, roast duck, Sichuan eye-fillet and vegetables. The dishes were presented individually rather than all at once and the quality and freshness of the ingredients was obvious. The tender squid was perfectly cooked, as was the delicious beef and crunchy choy. My favourite however was the rich, tea scented roast duck; I'd love to have a taste off with Tai Wing Wah in Yuen Long. To drink we had a couple of beers and I took advantage of the reasonable A$9.50 corkage to crack a bottle of The Story Grampians Shiraz.

Tea House on Burke is good; really good. The food is exquisite and service professional and courteous. I'm kind of out of touch with restaurant prices in Australian; is A$45 (HK$300-350) a head expensive? It doesn't seem particularly cheap, but quality was high and the option to BYO wine brings the bill back in line with Hong Kong where wine (along with cruel and pointless shark fin) is the most overpriced thing on the menu. The lovely food was just part of what made this such a memorable meal, the banter as two of my best mates and my grandmother was a poignant reminder of the joys of home.

Visit restaurant website.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Snap Shot Dartmoor

Trip to Devon
22nd to 29th December 2009

It's Christmas time and I find myself is Devon, England for a family Christmas. While obviously the most important part of the trip was spending time with both the English and Australian sides of my family another highlight was the opportunity to spend a bit of time roaming Dartmoor. My great grand parents lived on the edge of this spectacular wild area and for my family today it is an important place.
This spectacular tor sparkles in the sun, though the winter weather is not always so inviting.

Dartmoor Ponies are a breed of tough little horses that roam semi-wild across the moor. They along with the moor's population of cattle and sheep are often seen running free.The tiny hamlet of Post Bridge is found in the middle of Dartmoor. The above snap shows the town's 'clapper' style bridge spanning the East Dart River. This style of bridge is unique to Dartmoor and this example with granite slaps weighing over 8 tons each was constructed in the 1780s. Hints of winter as ice forms.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Bearslake Inn

Lake Sourton, Devon, UK
Visited 27th December 2008

An integral part of being in England is going to the pub. In winter it's all about roaring fires, piles of abandoned coats and hearty real ales. We spent a week in Devon for Christmas and somehow everyday managed to drop into the Bearslake Inn for a sly pint or two. Located near the cottage we rented on the edge of Dartmoor the Bearslake Inn is classic old school English country pub; think wood panelled public bar, separate dining room and a classic thatched roof. For our final family meal the whole hoard of us gathered in the pub's formal dining room.

There is nothing modern or fancy about the menu at the Bearslake Inn; it's all very old school, though regional produce is key and seasonal dishes abound. The people around me ordered things like liver and bacon, honey glazed pork, plaice and sirloin steaks, while I went with a trio of local fish fillets. The tender pieces of monkfish, sea bass and sole came simply served with a wedge of lemon, lettuce and tartar sauce. We ordered sides of potatoes while the table was presented with shared vegies; the punters were all happy with the very English bowls of brussels sprouts, carrots and two kinds of cabbage. We finished off with a few shared serves of tasty sticky toffee pudding.

Big serves of honest food prepared with quality ingredients were the order of the day at the Bearslake Inn. Prices were probably fair for the UK; the mains ranged from £12 to £16, with a couple of quid for the side of spuds. The serves were decent and too be honest with today's exchange rates the wine was a lot better value than you get in Hong Kong; the Chianti we drunk at £16.50 a bottle was a tasty drop. The staff were efficient and courteous, though hyper formal and lacked all traces of personality (something that's rather common in the UK). The Bearslake Inn is not modern, stylish or excessively fancy but simply offers old style charm.
Visit restaurant website.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Pascal Ponson Champagne

Coulommes la Montagne, Reims, cork seal

Christmas morning and outcome the bubbles. My brother picked this on a tasting tour of Champagne. Before tasting this I knew nothing of Pascal Ponson and could discover very little else. Apparently they are a small, independent grower who produces their own Champagne. The wine is produced in Coulommes la Montagne, a hamlet just to the west of Reims. Pascal Ponson Champagne is a rich golden colour, with slow, rolling bubbles. It smells of freshly baked bread and fresh red berries; strawberries, cranberries and plenty of ripe raspberries. The palate is rich and complex with an interesting preserved lemon note amongst all the red berries. I wrote 'summer berries' on my tasting note, but crossed it out and wrote 'summer pudding' instead; there's a yeasty, breadiness amongst all the pretty raspberries. This has a lot going for it. The flavours are complex and interesting, but more importantly it’s just plan delicious. I've got no idea what it cost but from what I gather it wasn't over the top for Champagne; definitely recommended.

We also had a delicious bottle of the Pascal Ponson Grand Reserve Champagne, but I wasn't in the mood for writing notes by then. From what I can recall it was more complex, but with less of the up flirty fruit charms. A couple of bottles of good Champagne; I've never know my brother to be so generous!

Monday, 22 December 2008

Make your own wine cellar

Christmas Drinks

Family Christmas in Devon with the English relatives resulted in a rather large bill for booze. A rather large bill for booze quickly resulted in the need for a custom made, impromptu wine cellar. I was impressed with out work!

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Pagagena Barbera d'Alba 2003

Alba, Piedmont, Italy, cork seal, $195

Home made pizza called for something Italian and I couldn't go past this. I'm a fan of Barbera, but was also suckered in by the label; I really like the image of silhouetted, but distant gaiety. It's a DOC Superior classed wine from Alba that's seen a year in French oak. I purchased it from il Bel Paese in Wan Chai.

It's a dark purple colour, though it's fading to red around the rim. The nose is bright and cheery with plenty of ripe fruit aromas. I get whiffs of cherries, boysenberry, milk chocolate and herbs (perhaps bay leaf). The palate is a fruity affair dominated by red cherries, cranberries, with a hint of darker blackberries. It's a medium bodied, has a touch of acidity that keeps it fresh; the whole package is wrapped in lovely silky tannins. Pagagena Barbera d'Alba 2003 is a pleasant, if not earth shattering, drop that I can imagine this going well with a whole range of foods

Visit winery website.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

La Baume Sauvignon Blanc 2006

Languedoc, France, $20.60, synthetic seal
This was going for a crazy $20 at my local Park N Shop. Though they're not often to be trusted they claim the usual price for this $69 which makes it a rather serious discount. I couldn't find out much about this Vin de Pays wine from the Languedoc, though it's strangely packaged in a classy heavy bottle yet sealed with a crappy synthetic cork.

This is a little more golden than I expected and the couple of years of bottle age could have been a factor in its heavy discount. La Baume Sauvignon Blanc 2006 smells like there's a touch of creamy oak, though there are also aromas of tropical fruits and gooseberries. This is surprisingly big and full bodied. It tastes of grapefruit and honey dew melon. Long, rich and round this is pretty good, though it lacks flair and real interest. Certainly excellent value at the price I paid.

Visit winery's bizarrely Dutch website.

Monday, 8 December 2008

A Petisqueira

15 Rue S Joao, Taipa, Macau
Visited 7th December 2008

Sunday lunch in Macau and we stumbled, limped and dragged ourselves into A Petisqueira to celebrate good performances in the Macau Marathon. Hidden down a winding lane in Taipa Village, this place would be pretty hard to find if it wasn't for bright blue and yellow outer walls. Its location gives it an authentic ambiance, as do the checked table clothes, wood beams and white washed walls.

The menu is everything you'd expect in a traditional Macanese Portuguese restaurant. There're all the favourites - bacalhau, seafood, grilled chicken and plenty of meat - plus a good selection of daily specials. We shared cod cakes and a generous serve of cheese, ham and sausage to start. While the fish cakes were good I was blown over by the quality of the charcuterie; the salty cheese was beautifully crumbly, the grilled chouriço rich and meaty and the ham a divine merging of silky and smoky goodness. For a main I ordered the boar loin off the specials board and wasn't disappointed. The huge chunks of meat were rich, but amazingly tender, they came simply served with potatoes, steamed vegetables and a wedge of lemon. The complimentary bread rolls were crisp and airy while the green salad the table shared was excellent. The serves were all massive so I managed to try the others dishes and was equally impressed with the chunky lamb chops, well flavoured spicy prawns, char-grilled chicken and an awesome paella that was packed with top quality seafood. To drink I had a couple of Super Bok's before enjoying the bottles of wine we shared. Oh yeah and dessert; we were all stuffed by this stage so we rather frugally shared a serve of chocolate mousse and egg pudding between eight of us. Both were outstanding; the mousse was unbelievably rich, though not overly sweet, while the pudding was deliciously silky smooth.

Though it's doesn't offer fancy cuisine or frilly stylish atmosphere what A Petisqueira does, it does superbly. The big serves of hearty food are well cooked, use top-notch ingredients and are excellent value. Our bill came to a very fair MOP225 a head, which included entrees, mains, booze and a hint of dessert. The staff are friendly, knowledgeable and more than happy to help by making recommendations. I've just noticed A Petisqueira is one of the few restaurants not in a casino to get a mention in the Michelin Guide to Hong Kong & Macau 2009. I'd have to agree as it takes the hat as the best Portuguese restaurant I've been to in Macau. A Petisqueira really is the type of place I love; a relaxed, friendly environment serving top quality, honest food.

Café Ou Mon

12 Travessa de S. Domingos, Macao
Visited 6th December 2008

Surprise, joy and a waves of ecstatic glee; Café Ou Mon is back! This little coffee shop, that's meant to be just near Senado Square, strangely vanished for over a year in time-warp like renovations. The 'new look', renovated Café Ou Mon doesn't really look that different, it's just a tidied up version of the same simple European charm; the polished counter at the back displays tasty cakes while the wooden tables and chairs are always packed with punters.

Café Ou Mon keeps things simple; there's a choice of daily soup, plate and dessert, but it's the baked goods that most come for. I went for a pork chop bun. The thin, char-grilled pork was slapped between a crispy ciabatta style roll that offered a tasty change from the usual round white rolls. My friends ordered an assortment of goodies including the famous 'milk buns' toasted and filled with delicious ham and salty cheese, beautifully flaky Portuguese egg tarts and a lemon cake that was divine. Unlike the milkshake style beverages produced by Hong Kong's coffee chains Café Ou Mon offers real coffee and the cafe latte I ordered was perfect; it wasn't overly milky or sweet, just simple well made coffee.

Café Ou Mon really is a little haven of civility. Service is normally excellent as the blokes who run the place are friendly, efficient and on the ball; our waitress was polite, but did unfortunately get one item confused. All up our bill came to MOP190 for coffee, cake and sandwiches for four of us, at MOP45 a head that's certainly fair value in any one's book. I'm so glad Café Ou Mon has finally reappeared.

O Santos

20 Rue da Cuhna, Taipa, Macau
Visited 5th December 2008

The Macau Marathon's a good race; it's pretty flat, easily accessible to Hong Kong, yet smaller than it's ridiculously hectic counter-part across the Pearl River Delta. Staying near the stadium on Taipa meant that we were near Taipa Village, the quaint old town now in shadowed by the sprawling mass of circus Venetian. The village has a good selection of local eateries and Friday night a group of us found ourselves in O Santos. The restaurant's a thin two story place, simply decked out that looks like its recently been re-decorated; though the decoration consists mainly of plain white walls.

The food on offer is a good selection of the usual Macanese Portuguese classics. To start we shared plates of cod cakes and fried chouriço. The fish cakes were tasty, though mainly potato, while the chunks of meaty sausage were good with a nice smoky paprika flavour. For mains we split half a grilled chicken, lamb stew, chicken curry, grilled bacalhau and a mixed salad. The chicken and cod were both good with obvious flavour from the char grilling, though the chips that came with them were way too oily. While the curry was OK, the well flavoured stew was fantastic with ultra tender lamb. The wilted salad however was a disappointment and looked like it had been prepared three days ago. Despite a number of athletes in training drinks flowed and O Santos' great value wine list got a work out. From this impressive document (that lists wines regionally and with an illustrated picture) we enjoyed excellent value bottles of Rose, Vinho Verde and a couple of different Alentejos.

Embarrassingly, for 'athletes', we were the last to leave, though we still got a farewell handshake and friendly grin from the boss as we staggered out. This friendly casualness was one of the things I like about O Santos; which in several ways it reminded me of my local Italian back in Melbourne. Though I was disappointed with the salad and chips the rest of the food was good and the big serves were perfect for sharing. The wine list was excellent, with a good selection at very fair prices. Actually the whole place was great value; the mains were all under MOP100 and a huge meal with entrees, mains, dessert and plenty of drinks came to a very reasonable MOP180 each. Good Portuguese grub in a friendly setting; O Santos certainly has plenty going for it.

Friday, 5 December 2008

The Delhi Club

Block C, 3/F, Chunk King Mansions, 40 Nathan Rd TST
Visited 4th December 2008
Wading through the TST end of Nathan Road is often an exercise is saying a polite but firm "no". Pushing between the blokes selling "copy watches" and "need a tailor" are hoards of menu wielding touts proclaiming the virtues of the numerous restaurants hidden within the depths of Chunking Mansions; a landmark that probably takes the crown as the most multicultural place in Hong Kong. The Delhi Club is one of the 'hidden gems' secreted away this crazy warren (a hint to finding it is that you need to take the last lift on the left - the lift for Block C). This popular restaurant is pretty basic in appearances with a couple of large crowded rooms and normally a large crowded foyer packed with punters waiting for tables.

I was with an English mate who almost loves curry as much as he loves beer and we ordered up a storm. He ordered up a storm that included crisp poppadums to start followed by chicken tikka, chana masala, mutton jalfrezi, Kashmiri naan, garlic naan and rice. The hearty serves were all fresh and tasty. I really enjoyed the succulent chicken tikka, fragrant chickpea curry and deliciously chewy breads. To drink we accompanied this massive pile of food with way too many bottles of Kingfisher beer.

Sure a visit to Chunking Mansions is partly about the experience of Chungking mansions, but The Delhi Club delivers. The food is excellent with plenty of tasty curries. The bill for me and my mate was $336, which may not seem that great value, but if you take out the mountains of beer we drunk the food was a steal at under $100 each (and as a bonus the beer's not expensive). The service was spot one; the waiters were friendly, helpful and bursting with personality. To put it simply, I like The Delhi Club.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Country Twang in Good Old Yuen Long

'A Little Bit Country'
South China Morning Post, 4th December 2008, p.C7

I love it when Yuen Long gets a bit of press and today's article in the South China Morning Post by Prudence Lui and Anneliese O'Young titled 'A Little Bit Country' offered Yuen Long a little bit of love. The article pays tribute to Yuen Long's unique culinary traditions, traditions that have emerged as a result of its heritage as a farming community and market town. While Yuen Long may have developed into a modern population centre, many of its 600 plus restaurants still reflect culinary links to its rural past. The article mentions the renowned Tai Wing Wai restaurant, Hang Heung Cake Shop, Ho To Tai Noodle Shop and strangely Pizzeria Giovanni. Tai Wing Wai which is famous for its awesome value 'walled village' cuisine and massive celebrity owner Toto and the Hang Heung Cake Shop, renowned for its wife cakes, are both worthy of mention. I am however confused how Pizzeria Giovanni fits in as 'traditional' Yuen Long cuisine; in all honesty I really don't like this place and the only reason it hasn't got a terrible review here is that I can't face going there to eat it's lousy, third rate attempt at Italian cooking. I'm also disappointed that no Nepalese, Indian or Pakistani restaurants get a mention as these cuisines are an integral part of dinning in Yuen Long. However the map accompanying the article did mentioned a few more of Yuen Long's finest including the New York Cafe, Shaffi's Indian and Kei Kee Dessert. Let's not be too critical; the article talked up Yuen Long, I love Yuen Long and that's that. Yuen Long may be a little bit country, but it's also an outstanding place to dine.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Mogao Ice Wine

Wuwei, China, diam cork seal

Opening a bottle of Chinese wine is always accompanied by a little trepidation, though this is the first time I've tried a Chinese sticky. I couldn't find out much about this wine, but it comes from Wuwei in Gansu province. The only English words on the bottle let slip it's made from Pinot Blanc and Riesling and while there's no vintage date it's stamped with 20070925, so I'm assuming it was bottled on the 25th September 2007.

Mogao Ice Wine is a light straw gold colour. The nose is rather reserved, though there're faint aromas of sweet honey and Dumbledore's favourites, old school sherbet lemons (you know; a little bit of lemon, a little bit of sherbet and a little bit of grandma). Tasting it there are traces of red apple and stone fruit, but the palate really lacks oomph. To be positive the sugar, acidity and alcohol are well balanced creating a drop that's smooth and very drinkable. It's a wine that's in many ways technically pretty good; it just lacks flavour, interest and complexity. Mogao Ice Wine while not inspiring does offer hope for this producer and region.

Visit winery's Chinese language website.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Thai Orchids, Quary Bay

39 Tong Chong St, Quarry Bay,
Visited 28th November 2008

I haven't spend much time in Quarry Bay, but as some mates had just moved into the area it was time for a visit. After a tour of their flat (something that never takes long in Hong Kong) it was time for a drink. I was surprised by the strip of bars on restaurants on Tong Chong St near the MTR station; it was Friday night and while it wasn't Lan Kwai Fong it was a lot busier than I was expecting. After a beer at the East End Brewery (the HK Brew House's Quarry Bay outlet) we hit Thai Orchids for a feed. There are apparently three branches of this Thai joint in Hong Kong, the other two are at Langham Place and Mega Box.

What attracted us to Thai Orchids was the advertising my mates had noticed touting an all you could eat and drink satay deal. $120 for as much beer and meat on a stick as you could stomach seemed almost too good to be true, the only catch was the rather late time frame of nine til eleven each evening. For us though it was perfect as we hadn't eaten and before we knew it we were sucking on our first frothy pints of Carlsberg. Initially two piled plates of satays arrived accompanied by peanut dipping sauce. The first was a simple mix of beef, chicken and pork sticks, while the second had a few more interesting titbits including chicken wings, tongue and squid. Freshly prepared, the well flavoured satays were good and we were able to keep ordering up selections of our favourites.

I enjoyed my night at Thai Orchids; atmosphere was relaxed, the grub tasty and the staff excellent. I was really impressed with the service; the friendly bloke behind the bar was attentive and totally understood how the all you can eat and drink setup worked - just before the beer was shut off he ensured we had full pints in front of us and kept us amused with a bit of friendly banter. I've got no idea how the regular menu at Thai Orchids stands up, but they're pretty good at beer and satays.

Visit restaurant website.

Lamma Island Barbacue

School Picnic
28th November 2008
As Christmas approaches teachers and students scramble to take advantage of the mild weather and assault the country parks in great wave of school picnics. These annual excursions are for many Hong Kong students a unique chance to spend time in the outdoors and visit a new place within the territory. For me last year's picnic was a spectacular nautical adventure amongst the remote islands of the north-east. This year the class of Form Five students I accompanied where given responsibility for organising the day themselves; the students did a great job and managed to take advantage of free ferry tickets. Before you could say "Lamma island, never been there" we piled on to a First Ferry and were off to Yung Shue Wan. Despite not being able to swim the students had a fantastic time and enjoyed the chance to escape the confines of the classroom.

For many the highlight of the day was a local style barbecue. Everyone in the world seems to love a good barbie and all seem to have their own unique way of going about it. For Hong Kongers the first step is to get a brave volunteer to spend ages fanning charcoal in a brick pit to get a fire going. The next stage involves everyone reaching into bags of shop-marinated meat and defrosted fishballs to grab a tasty treat that is then speared on the end of a long wire fork. The meat is cooked in a similar way to Australians cook marshmallows on a camp fire; everyone crowds around, trying to position their delicacy over the coals. The final step may seem strange, but involves smothering the almost cooked meat in honey to give it a sweet, caramelised finish. To many cooking a barbecue in this way may seem like a crazy waste of time and energy, yet for people who very rarely cook it is a chance to get down and dirty and prepare their own meal. While I do find the environmental impacts of the layers of protective plastic gloves, disposable table clothes and bales of tissues a bit hard to deal with, a Hong Kong style barbecue is real, honest fun.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Montgras 'Quatro' 2007

Colchagua Valley, Chile, $125, cork seal
Montgras are a big producer whose wines are readily available in Hong Kong at reasonable prices. Their website is pretty congratulatory of the fact they've realised a wine that is a blend of 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Malbec, 25% Syrah and 15% Carmenere; something that is apparently unknown in Chile were they claim single varietals rule.

This comes in a massive, heavy bottle; what is it with South America and big wine bottles? A strange reflection of Latino Machismo perhaps? It's a deep purple colour and when I first opened this there was a meaty gaminess about it, but the fruit soon came to the forefront. It smelt of cherry, plum and plenty of cheeky blueberries, meat and a touch of smoky oak. This is velvety in the mouth and tastes of plums and blackberry, though there's also an earthy element (forest mushrooms?) and pleasant acidity. For a young wine I thought this would be harder and tougher, yet it's surprisingly soft and creamy. It's long and lingering with only a hint of tannins. There is a touch of alcohol heat on the finish, but it's really just pleasant warmth. Montgras Quatro 2007 is pretty delicious, yet strangely I couldn't get excited about it; maybe it's not my style or maybe I wasn't in the mood, but give it a go and tell me what you think.

Visit winery website.

Fruits of Hope

Update from the Garden

While the economic climate's not one for celebrating November is glorious in Hong Kong. Perfect sunny autumn days are accompanied by surprising cool nights; pollution's minimal and the lack of humidity means the garden flourishes. While stock market's tumble, restaurant's shut and relationships teeter my little garden on the roof is showing encouraging signs of hope.

The passion fruit vine I propagated from a cutting has green fruit dangling in the autumn breeze. Young figs are getting plumper and plumper hidden under their covering of lush foliage. Lemons are turning yellow and capsicums red. Red seems to be a bit of a theme as stunningly bright pomegranates are ready for picking. My never ending hedge of basil is finally starting to go to seed, offering the means of germinating for the next crop.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Bonny Doon Syrah 'le Pousseur' 2003

Central Coast, California, $128, screw-top

Randall Graham from Bonny Doon Vineyard recently made an epic appearance on Wine Library TV, so when I saw this bottle I jumped at the chance of trying on of his wines. It's really well packed with a striking label and revolutionary screwtop, though I'm not sure about the almost incoherent blurb on the back. According to their just as well packaged website the wine is made using
whole bunch fermentation, with an exciting little 2% of Cinsault thrown into the mix. Again I lost the photos I took of this bottle (stupid hard drive crashing...) so the label image comes from the Bonny Doon website.

Bonny Doon Syrah 'le Pousseur' 2003 is a deep reddish purple colour. When I first opened there was a big whiff of smoky bacon. After a couple of hours in the decanter the boar had wandered off and it was all about sweet, red raspberries. When I say sweet I'm not meaning 'jammy' or sickly, but more of a "sweet mate" to express the pure, fresh fruit. Behind the fruit there's some delicate floral notes and a touch of aniseed; this really is a lovely smelling wine. It tastes of red fruits; cranberry, sour cherry and those delicious raspberries again. It's a soft and approachable with delicate tannins; medium bodied and only 13.5% alcohol this is pretty easy to drink. There's not much to dislike about Bonny Doon Syrah 'le Pousseur' 2003; it smells beautiful and tastes good.

Visit winery website.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Lagoalva 'Monte da Casta' Branco 2006

Ribatejo, Portugal, MOP90, diam cork seal
It's only three weeks to Macao Marathon and it's all beginning to look a little terrifying. Apart from concerns over the obvious lack of fitness, there's a serious chance that I'll run out of coffee and this was the last bottle of Portuguese wine in the house. I enjoyed this wine's red sibling a little while ago; and while this label is almost identical it does unfortunately lack the horses. It's made by the Quinta da Lagoalva winery whose useless website promotes ice-cream and agricultural machinery and says nothing about their wines. The more informative back label tells me it's a blend of Arinto, Chardonnay and Fernão Pires.

It's a lovely light golden colour. The nose has an initial burst of peach, buttery oak and tropical fruits, but very soon it's all aboard the melon train. There are traces of the lush tropical fruit on the palate, but the prominent flavours are red apples complimented with almonds. The alcohol in this is seamlessly integrated, but what's most impressive is the long, long finish. 'Monte da Casta' Branco 2006 is in many ways a great food wine: it's tasty, full, yet still fresh and lively. Good drinking; I like this a lot.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Cricket without Coffee

Hong Kong 6s, Kowloon Cricket Club
8th & 9th November

Last weekend was the annual Kowloon Cricket Club's Hong Kong 6s tournament. An exciting event where international sides compete with a fast paced, hard hitting style of cricket that makes twenty20 look like a game of rural lawn bowls. The only things that distracted from these fantastic couple of days were the presence of the tacky 'Kukri Dancers', Hong Kong's Irfan Ahmed not getting player of the series and the impossibility of getting a decent coffee.
Visit event website.

Fat Angelo's

49 Elgin St, Soho
Visited 7th November 2008

Found at the top of the escalator in Elgin Street Fat Angelo's has a reputation for offering massive serves of wholesome Italian food at reasonable prices. The big restaurant is decked out to look like your typical family Italian joint with all the expected black and white photos, empty Chianti bottles and associated paraphernalia/junk.

I'm sure you could all tell me the menu at Fat Angelo's; it's standard Italian fare - pizza, pasta, risotto and grills - though they offer the choice of 'normal' or 'family' sized portions. My friends ordered pizza, pasta and ribs, while being a good Aussie bloke I couldn't go past the chicken parma. I was however disappointed with what was served to me; it was dry and tough and came with just a couple of fries and two bits of broccoli. My friends had mixed comments about their grub; the pasta with snow crab was enjoyed, while the ribs were apparently average and the sparsely decorated pizza a big disappointment, especially as $12 extra was paid for about four tiny pieces of pineapple. To drunk we started with bottles of Sol and then moved on to a very average and over priced bottle of Vene Merlot.

Fat Angelo's didn't impress me at all. To be fair the bloke who serviced us was efficient and friendly, but seemed to be in a serious rush the whole time. I thought the wine was terrible and over-priced, while the food was average. I'm a bit confused about why Fat Angelo's is famous for 'huge serves' as to get these larger portions you need to pay a larger price. We all ordered 'normal' sized portions and there was nothing monstrous about them at all. Our bill came to $916 for four basic mains, garlic bread, two beers and a terrible bottle of wine; I can't really see how this particularly good value? Cheap and cheerful Italian is a great thing and this is the angle Fat Angelo's is going for, but unfortunately they're not cheap, not cheerful and the food's certainly not worth the effort of climbing the escalator for. There are a lot better options around, even in pricey Soho.
Visit restaurant website.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Chateau de Surville Costières de Nîmes 2006

Nîmes, France, cork seal, $118

Nîmes gets a pretty good rap by travel guide writers; it's where denim originated, has the best preserved Roman ruins in France and the most sunny days. Yet for years I went through life muttering an expletive just prior to the word "Nimes" as "f!$king* Nimes" was also home to an ugly industrial estate where my broken van was once towed. On my last visit to France I made my peace with Nîmes and thought it time to give their wine a go. Purchased from Marks and Spencer this is a blend of 80% Syrah and 20% Grenache from the Costières de Nîmes AOC. I lost the photos I took of this wine so included a couple of the great town instead.

Chateau de Surville Costières de Nîmes 2006 is a magnificent deep purple colour. It smells like blackberries and black currents, with rich gameness just under the surface. There are secondary aromas of dusty coco powder, something medicinal and rich oak. This has vibrant cola, spice, pepper and red fruit (cherry and cranberry) flavours. I don't want to describe this as jammy as it's not sweet or sticky, but it's got a certain richness that suggests jam; maybe it's more like a chutney or even HP Sauce? There are firm tannins that kept things puckering along nicely and the 14% alcohol is perfectly integrated. I like this; it's a nice, easy drinking wine that's certainly more pleasurable than an old Japanese car breaking down in France.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Peking Garden

Basement, Alexandra House, Des Voeux Rd, Central
Visited 5th November 2008

Friends passing through Hong Kong demands a Chinese meal in Central and for a change we tried Peking Garden. The original branch of this restaurant is in Star House in TST, but this rather fancy looking place in the basement of the rather fancy Alexandra House. It really is beautifully decorated with bright coral (yes coral - not red, not pink, but coral) tablecloths and napkins, plates with classical Chinese images and rather snazzy wine glasses.

The highlights of the Peking inspired menu include beggars chicken and delicious looking Peking duck. The three of us couldn't face a whole duck and didn't order the chicken in advance so instead we went for beef with spring onions, chicken with walnuts, cabbage with Hunan ham and my friends have-to-order-every-time-favourite sweet and sour pork (and to be fair the tender pork was tasty and not overly sweet). I enjoyed the beef and richly flavoured cabbage, though I did think the chicken and walnut dish was a touch too dry. Having dinner with two girls meant that we didn't just order dessert, we ordered three desserts. The coconut jelly (which came with a cherry on top) and baked tapioca custard were both good, but the home banana fritters were the highlight. Finished at the table using cream soda to harden the toffee outside these bad-boys really were delicious. Peking Garden's has a decent winelist and we enjoyed a bottle of rose from one of my favourite Yarra Valley producers, Dominique Portet.

Peking Garden is good, very good. The setting is impeccable and the service ultra professional. I really enjoyed our meal and though it good value considering its location and the high quality; our food came to under $200 each and all the dishes we ordered cost less than $100. There is also an element of showmanship Peking Garden that is perfect to wow guests; the girls loved the banana fritters being finished at the table and the noodle making demonstration that happened half way through the evening was really impressive. I can't recommend Pecking Garden enough and I'll certainly be coming back soon to try the Peking Duck.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Suntime Niya Dry Red 2002

Xinjiang, China, ¥128, cork seal
Though I purchased this in Qingdao it originates far to the west in the province of Xinjiang; the label even has a touch of the exotic with a picture of a camel and Arabic styled font. It's made by Suntime, a huge state funded operation whose six wineries make them Asia's biggest wine producer. Having recently read Christian Tyler's outstanding book Wild West China: The Taming of Xinjiang it's probably good to be aware that not all of the businesses emerging in Xinjiang have a 100% positive effect on the local people.

This dark crimson wine smells of herbs, blueberries, raspberries, pencil shavings and resiny cedar. There's black fruit, mint, green veggies and of almost medicinal syrup on the palate. It's got nice chalky tannins and decent length, though there's a big hollow gap in the mid-palate. Suntime Niya Dry Red 2002 is a nice enough wine; it's certainly drinkable and went really well with the lamb and spinach shepherd's pie we had for dinner. While I enjoyed this the thin mid-palate did worry me a bit. I'm starting to see a few common elements in the better quality Chinese wines I try; medium body, green notes and thin mid-palate have got me wandering if the Bordeaux wine makers of old have all moved to China.

Visit winery website.