Friday, 30 May 2008

Linking Up the Booze

Hong Kong Wine Buying Links
Traditionally I buy quite a bit of wine from local shops around Yuen Long - they're competitive priced, offer different products and I'd much rather support independent small business. Unfortunately since the Government abolished the duty on wine imports many of these local stores have been stuck with excess stock they've been forced to sell at the old prices that include the 40% tariff so as to regain their expenditure. To be fair to the big supermarkets and chains they've dropped their prices and I've started buying more wine from them, but I've also started looking online for alternatives. I buy a lot through the Internet in Australia and figure I should be looking to do the same in Hong Kong, thus I've added some 'Wine Shopping HK' links to the site. Some are bigger places like Watson's Wine Cellar, but there are also smaller establishments like the Adelaide Cellar Door which I've been a fan of for ages.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Villa Wolf Rose de Pinot Noir 2006

Pfalz, Germany, $79, plastic cork seal

I offered Naomi a glass of this and got a grunted "no", but when she turned around and saw what it was her response was a very quick "oh it's not red, I'll have a drink then". The Villa Wolf property is owned by Dr Ernest Loosen a big man in the German wine scene and this offering is made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes.

When you're drinking a rose, you want the pink and the Villa Wolf Rose de Pinot Noir 2006 is a lovely bright watermelon pink with a slight orange tinge. There were quite a few wine crystals free floating around the bottom of the bottle. Naomi said she smelt pear on the nose, but for me it was the berry express all the way. I got punnets of delicious ripe strawberry and raspberry aromas and a hint of confectionary. These red berries dominated the palate, though I also tasted red apple. Villa Wolf Rose de Pinot Noir 2006 was pretty sweet, but this was keep firmly under control by excellent acidity and the result was a surprising refreshing and balanced wine with a touch of sugar to round off the palate. A well made, pretty little thing that is sure to please the crowds.
Visit winery website.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Negra Modelo

Mexico, $22

I hate tequila and have a healthy scepticism of Mexican restaurants so deciding to try this was a chance for the good people of Mexico to woo me. It's made by the giant Modelo group who produce Corona amongst a host of other things. Know as "la crema de la cerveza" or "the Cream of Beers" Negra Modelo is apparently Mexico's biggest selling brew.

Pouring it into a glass it's a deep brown colour, but still quite clear with a beautiful amber sparkle to it. The head is initially big and airy, but quickly collapses to nothing but a few tiny bubbles. The nose is really subdued with a slight smell of caramel and dark sugar. Having a sip things are again pretty quite; there's a bit of a caramel thing going on alongside a bitter sweet chocolate flavour. The finish has a slight sourness, but there's no hint of hops. It's not at all heavy or rich and feels light and airy in the mouth. There's been a bit of trade off here; flavour's been swapped for refreshment which probably makes it a good drink for the hot Mexican desert. Negra Modelo isn't a bad beer, and while it lacks guts and flavour it's a hell of a lot better than tequila or a $150 serve of cornchips.

Visit brewery website.

Giardino Ristorante

1 Minden Ave, Tsim Sha Tsui
Visited 23rd May 2008

I only time I ever seem to go to TST is Friday nights and this week we explored the strip of bars along Minden Ave. We enjoyed happy hour cocktails and bar snacks at the retro and velvety Boozeroo Lounge before rumbling stomachs got the better of us and we chanced upon Giardino Ristorante. It's an Italian place located on the corner of Minden Ave and Minden Row, just behind the Chungking Mansions. While the tables are neatly dressed with crisp white tablecloths, the restaurant itself is pretty worn; it’s most striking feature is a huge plastic tree that dominates one wall - very strange indeed.

The menu is typical Italian and I went for lasagne. The square serve of that greeted me was pretty tasty, though I would have liked to have seen a garnish of some sort. Naomi ordered spaghetti carbonara with "spicy sausage", which was a hideous dish; the spaghetti was congealed and lacked flavour, while the "spicy sausage" was a cured meat that was too dry to chew and both stunk and tasted of repulsive off garlic. One of our companions really enjoyed her gnocchi with blue cheese; the sauce was creamy and well balanced and a little potato dumpling tender and tasty. Our other companion wasn't as happy with his 'pizza Giardino' and said it was the worst he'd had in Hong Kong. He complained of a dry base, lack of topping and flavourless cheese. As it was Friday night I was keen for another beer, but quickly changed my mind when I saw the prices that were being asked. $64 for a basic spirits and $48 for bottles of beer seemed too much, instead we all stuck to tumblers of water.

Giardino Ristorante is really pretty bizarre. The whole place is outdated and very 'old school'. The menu is tied, the decor is tied and the plastic tree is most certainly tied (and extremely dusty). To be fair the potions were a good size, my friend's gnocchi was excellent and my lasagne was OK, but the others were really disappointed with their meals. The service was friendly if non-personal. The food was fairly priced; $99 for Naomi's and my pasta, $118 for the gnocchi and $128 for the pizza, but booze was too expensive. Perhaps a few years ago Giardino Ristorante would have been a hip little spot, but now it's in need of a revamped menu, a face lift and competitive prices. I wouldn't dream of coming here again when Unit 798 is just a short walk away.

Friday, 23 May 2008

The Wolftrap Syrah Mourvèdre Viognier 2006

Franschhoek, South Africa, $59, stelvin seal

I like the bottle and packaging this comes in - it's really very good for an inexpensive wine. Produced by Boekenhoutskloof who are located at Franschhoek in South Africa's Western Cape, 'The Wolftrap' Syrah Mourvèdre Viognier 2006 is made by Marc Kent who apparently won the 'Diners South African Winemaker of the Year' in 2007. When I popped it on Tuesday night I was overwhelmed by a big nose that oozed sweet fruits and a rich oakiness, Wednesday I was out eating Indian so it wasn't until Thursday that I re-acquainted myself with the rest of bottle. I was impressed with how much this improved over a couple of days; the sweetness subsided and some lovely, savoury flavours emerged.

'The Wolftrap' Syrah Mourvèdre Viognier 2006 is inky and dark in colour. The nose is a nice mix of blackberry and dark cherry with a few brambles and a deliciously big sprinkle of dusty coco (something I really associate with Mourvèdre). Drinking this is like walking a tightrope walk between sweet and savoury, there's hints of both, but it's balanced enough to keep us all safe. The palate has flavours of dark fruits; plums and berries, dirty old forest floor and a touch of tobacco. It's got a good mouth feel with clingy tannins and while it's a cheapie I would still recommend a decent decant. I like the sweet savouriness of these Rhone style blends and enjoyed The Wolftrap; an interesting wine that's a steal at $59.

Visit the extremely flashy winery website.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Sun-Shangri-La Restaurant

35 Tai Cheung St, Yuen Long
Visited 21st May 2008

Yuen Long and nearby Kam Tin have a large Nepalese population and as a result we get treated to some pretty fine food. Sun-Shangri-La is the new kid on the block and has only recently having started dishing up curries to the masses. For a restaurant it's in a relatively isolated spot; tucked away at the top of Tai Chung St, just around the corner from On Lok Rd. It's a small place with basic decor and only eight or ten tables; the four of us seemed to half fill it.

As custom requires we started with vegetarian samosas; these tasty little parcels were crisp, a touch spicy and came with a decent mint chutney. The menu's stacked with Indian favourites and we went for murg mutter, channa masalat, jeera aloo, a prawn biryani and a couple of serves of nan. I was impressed with the tender, spiced jeera aloo potatoes, while the rich sauces smothering the chickpeas and chicken were fantastic. The prawn biryani was a delicious combination of spiced rice, prawns and fresh salad and the huge slabs of chewy nan bread were certainly up to scratch. To drink I got stuck into a couple of bottles of Chang beer, which at two for $20 was a steal. Perhaps it's just the wishes Carlsberg Inc but I was intrigued by the cans of 'Special Brew' piled in the fridge.

I really liked Sun-Shangri-La. The food was top notch, authentic and full of flavour. Though shy, the lady serving was polite, attentive and informative. Our bill came to just over $55 each, an absolute bargain especially considering how full we all were. Sun-Shangri-La has joined the ranks of Shaffi's and Shangri-La and entered the Yuen Long curry race. I wish them all the best; they've got the potential to do good things.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Marques de Caceres Crianza Rioja 2004

Rioja, Spain, $109, cork seal

It's strange there's not more Spanish wines reviewed here - I'll try and rectify that, though I am going through a bit of a New Zealand phase at the moment; it's all I seem to be trying and buying. Anyway this is made from "mainly Tempranillo" (I think 85%) and has a touch of Garnacha and Graciano. It's aged in French and American oak for fifteen months and comes from Rioja Alta.

On pouring the first glass of this I initially didon't get much; it's relatively light in colour and the nose is reclusive. But having a big sniff and swirl there's aromas of blueberries, spice and a delicate floral note. The palate is simple and savoury with a flavour that I think resembles green plums. It's not a particularly flavoursome or exciting, but where this wine wins is with it's texture and structure. It has nice fine tannins, a big mouth feel and went beautifully with food; in this case BBQ duck pie and mushy peas. Marques de Caceres Crianza Rioja 2004 is a medium bodied, soft and drinkable, yet also food friendly and grippy. Is it delicious? Not really. Is it worth drinking? It certainly is with dinner.

Visit winery website.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Does it Matter if You're Red or Green?

Update from the Garden It's a good time of the year to be a rooftop farmer in Hong Kong. The weather's warm and wet, the sun shines occasionally and (apart from the bloody stupid fungus killing my tomatoes) things are blooming. We've just started picking the capsicums and the crop is pretty good, though one little controversy has emerged. Naomi likes green capsicums. I like red capsicums. There both the same thing, plucked from the bush at different stages of ripeness, so when do we pick them? It's a good old fashion fight; sweet vs crisp.

Changli Cabernet Sauvignon 1998

Changli, China, ¥108, cork seal

Chinese wine; you've got to love the reputation. I purchased this in Shanghai at Easter and finally the excitement got too much and I couldn't hold off any longer and opened it. Changli is a town in the Hebei Province and wine region in China's northern Bohai Bay area. It is home to 31 wineries and 50,000 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon vines and has been given the distinction of 'dry red wine centre of China'. I couldn't find any inforamtion about the Changli winery so if you're in the know, let me know.

Changli Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 is a light red in colour with a slight orange tinge. The nose is pretty full on and about the nicest thing I can say about it was there was a hint of bacon, but there were also aromas of nail polish, rotting vegetables and burning; pretty ugly. The palate was just as messy and dominated by smoke, tar and the unfortunately recognisable flavour of burnt jam. Changli Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 has all the fire and brimstone without the power; it's weak and thin with no palate weight and is devoid of fruit flavours. This wine was terrible, but I wander how it would have been back in 1998 and why it was aged for ten years? This has done nothing to install faith in the Chinese wine industry.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Saint Clair 'Cell Block' Sauvignon Blanc 2007

Marlborough, New Zealand, $144, stelvin seal

I was extremely impressed with this wine's sibling and thought I'd try another from the excellent St Clair 'Pioneer Block' range of single vineyard offerings. The grapes used in this come from Dillon's Point near the township of Blenheim in Marlborough, a sub-region that apparently has "free-draining alluvial soils and cool nights".

The lush nose is dominated by tropical flavours; there's plenty of passionfruit, tropical fruit juice and ripe mango. As it warmed up in the glass there were also hints of chopped green grass and limes. The palate was bursting with delicious tropical fruit flavours with a touch of tangy citrus on the finish. The complexity, length and lushness of this wine really impressed me. Naomi remarked that it "tasted expensive" and it really is a very classy drop. Thought I slightly preferred the sharpness of the 'Swamp Block' compared to the rich lushness of this, both these St Clair wines are great and offer fantastic examples of what Sauvignon Blanc is capable of. It's also awesome that since the wine tax disappeared this has dropped from $220 to $144; an absolute bargain for such a stylish drop.
Visit winery website.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

'Super' market my ...

'Supermarkets not so super with their prices'
South China Morning Post, 8th May 2008, p.C3

Escalating food prices around the World have been in the spotlight recently. While the issue certainly doesn't have the same gravity in Hong Kong that it does in developing nations it has still been getting a fair bit of local media attention. An article in last Thursday's South China Morning Post grabbed my interest as it reported the results of the first fortnightly survey of local grocery prices by the Hong Kong Consumer Council. The report compared the prices of fifteen items in supermarkets and small grocery stores in Wan Chai. It found that the local shops were between 1.7% to 65.8% cheaper than the supermarkets, an average saving for the shopper of 12%.

I love European cheeses, processed meats and imported chocolate. I drink litres of milk each week and consume tubs of yogurt. All these items are only available from the supermarket, many from expensive supermarkets that don't have branches in the western New Territories. Yet I also consume fruit, vegetables, eggs, meat, cans, pasta, dried fruits and fresh noodles, items that are all available from local grocery shops, markets and elderly ladies sitting on the street. To eat what I want I buy certain things from the supermarket, but when I have a choice I know who I'd rather give my money to. The questions I ask when shopping are: how's it packaged, is it organic or locally grown, what's the quality like and who's more deserving of my money - a local small business or corporate giant? If things are slightly cheaper from an old lady sitting on the curb this is an added bonus of buying her spring onions, for me the real impotence is who does and who doesn't get my money.
Check out the Consumer Council website.

Savour Cafe

3 Tat Fai Path, Yuen Long
Visited 14th May

Tucked away on the 'promenade' next to Yuen Long's fragrant storm-water drain is Savour Cafe. It's a small restaurant that tries to bring a bit of extra class to the fringes of Hong Kong's greatest and already extremely classy town. The restaurant isn't huge and probably only has about twelve tables, there's a bar against the back wall, low lighting and a nice, but pointless selection of empty wine bottles.

While we thumbed through the Italian themed menu we were treated to a good looking bread basket with rolls, slices of garlic bread and bread sticks. The selection on offer was classic Italian - salads, pasta, risotto and pizzas - but there was also a hint of wank factor with blobs of foie gras, truffle and prawns scattered in some strange places. I chose a baked fillet of cod topped with olive and Parmesan. The serve wasn't huge, but the tender fish was well cooked and served with tasty ratatouille and oven roasted tomatoes. Naomi's chunky fillet of pork was pretty nice though the sauce was a bit of a non-event, especially as it lacked any hint of the promised figs. Our companions enjoyed their smoked salmon fettuccine and orange roughy. I finished with a good coffee and Naomi had a huge rap for the 'authentic' tasting cheese cake. We both started with a bottle of Dutch cider, though perhaps a little sweet, the pear based drink was delicious. The small winelist wasn't cheap, but had some interesting options; unfortunately I didn't get to try any as I was stuck with a bunch of miserable non-drinkers. I ended up with a glass of house white; an OK, but oaky Chilean Chardonnay.

Savour Cafe has a lot to live up as it seems to thrive in its own hype. While I found the food good it was nothing spectacular and the serves weren't huge. It definitely gets points for a pleasant atmosphere and a touch of style; the coffee cups were very cool and Naomi's cheesecake was beautifully presented. The service was super friendly though a touch erratic oscillating between in your face and absent. All up a pretty good rap, but I just find it difficult to pay the prices being asked; why would I pay $140 for a bowl of pasta I can get at Olivia for $58 or $220 for a fish fillet when one just is good is available from the New York Cafe for $95? Savour Cafe is a good option if your boss is paying or it might be worth checking out their more reasonably priced afternoon tea sets.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Nalusan Island Resort & Marine Sanctuary

Nalusan Island, Cebu, Philippines
Visited 11th May 2008

A long weekend for Buddha's Birthday and the Cheung Chau Bun Festival and to celebrate Naomi and I headed to the Philippines for a tropical break. Our destination, Cebu City, was a pleasant surprise. As the nations second biggest city it was remarkably relaxed, especially when compared with the filthy chaos that is Manila. Saturday we explored the old town, visiting historical sites like the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño, Fort San Pedro and Magellan's Cross (the Portuguese explorer introduced Christianity here in 1521 and died as a result of his efforts).

Sunday was all about soaking up a little tropical action on an 'Island Hopping' tour. Exploring Cebu's coastal waters between Mactan and Bohol Islands we visited lush reefs and beautiful islands. The diversity of marine life was fantastic with spectacular corals, a huge variety of fish and plenty of interesting critters like sea cucumbers, huge starfish, abundant sea urchins, a sea snake and a turtle. Lunch was at the Nalusan Island Resort and Marine Sanctuary. Run as an eco-tourism venture, this tiny island resort with just eight bungalows and a beautiful reef also caters for the lunch rush

Location, location, location and not many locations are as special as sitting under palm trees on a tiny tropical island with ocean views in every direction. Lunch was a 'simple' barbecue that consisted of mountains of food served on banana leaves. The piles of king prawns, crab, fish fillets, pork sticks, baby cuttlefish and chicken drumsticks were served with rice and a homemade chilli vinegar dipping sauce. The food was truly delicious and even better for being sustainably caught. The fresh pineapple and famous Filipino mangoes to finish completed a perfect meal in a perfect location. We visited Nalusan Island as part of a tour organised through our hotel and Tharsis Marine Sports. For PHP3500 ahead, all inclusive, it really was good value when you include hotel transfers, a boat to ourselves, drinks, lunch, snorkelling and a tropical break to escape Hong Kong's polluted skies and crowded streets. Cebu City, Tharsis Marine Sports and Nalusan Island Resort and Marine Sanctuary all come highly recommend, unlike work Tuesday morning which really was a bit of a disappointment.
Visit restaurant website.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

The Great Italian Cafe

TVB Pearl 8pm Tuesday 6th May

I love coffee; I really love coffee. It's something that you really wouldn't want me to prioritise you or even wine against. So you can imagine that a TV show entitled The Great Italian Cafe on TVB Pearl last Tuesday had me very interested. The idea of coffee, travel and Italy merged into one tidy package seemed like my idea of a good time, perhaps not quite Dr Who, but still a fair bit of viewing pleasure.

This first episode was set in Venice and Australian presenter Paul Khoury took us through 'a journey' of the coffee culture of that great city. What they unfortunately neglected to mention was that when the program was titled "DeLonghi presents The Great Italian Cafe" it really was DeLonghi presents. As Khoury trundled around the cafes, bars and homes of Venice it seemed the only purpose of him being there was to show some snappy shops of DeLonghi coffee machines. The information passed on was average, the host lacked personality and TVB should be ashamed of them selves for running a show during prime time that was so obviously an extended advertising feature. The Great Italian Cafe, try the 'Great Advertising Wank'.
Visit program website (they obviously need the publicity).

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Malouf's Modern Middle Eastern

3/F Elements, 1 Austin Rd West, Kowloon
Visited 3rd May 2008

Visiting Malouf's Modern Middle Eastern is a bit like stepping into Aladdin's Cave. You enter through a dark entrance - a small bar, complete with hookah pipes and scattered cushions – a wind your way up some stars to a rooftop restaurant. I could draw the metaphor out with descriptions of sparkling treasure, but it's probably enough to know that it's a stylish open restaurant with a huge couch dominating one wall and lots of interesting Middle Eastern touches like the fantastic mosaic on the roof. Located on the top level terrace at Elements shopping mall Malouf's is a new venture by Melbourne chef Greg Malouf, who also works as an advisor at Olive.

The menu is full of interesting choices with obvious Middle Eastern influences; the addition of dishes such as pasta and risotto also give it a bit of a Mediterranean feel. I chose oven roasted salmon with lime and sumac dressing. The two delicious chunks of fish were perfectly cooked; tender in the middle with a crisp outer and were servered with a pile of fresh fennel, cucumber and parsley salad and a tiny dollop of rich, creamy sweet potato mash. Naomi enjoyed her pan fried gnocchi with pine nuts, spinach, feta and semi-dried tomatoes. For dessert we shared a Syrian apricot and walnut tart with orange blossom cream, this rather heavy tart was accompanied by orange slices, a lovely sticky syrup and the whipped orange blossom cream. I enjoyed it and found the rich walnut filling satisfying, while Naomi thought it was a too 'Grandmaish' and lacked the promised apricot flavours. To drink I had a couple of glasses of a nice crisp rose, while Naomi went for a glass of Prosecco.

Malouf's is good. The restaurant itself offers a stylish upmarket atmosphere, the service is efficient and the staff friendly and knowledgeable. The excellent menu offered a refreshing change to the average French and Italian places that swamp Hong Kong. The food was superb and my only complaint is that my salmon could have come with a larger portion of that tasty sweet potato mash. The bill come to $729 for the both of us which I think was pretty fair. Normally you would have to drag me kicking and screaming to enter a new hyper-trendy, hyper-obnoxious shopping centre such as Elements but with restaurant's like Malouf's I'd almost go willingly.
Visit restaurant website.

Gunderloch 'Diva' Riesling 2006

Nackenheim, Germany, $149, stelvin seal

It's time for Wine Blogging Wednesday 45 and this month's theme is Old World Riesling. I really wanted to try and track down a noble Austrian example, but time run away and it looks like we're drinking this little number; the pretty picture and sweetness are a hint that it was obviously bought with Naomi in mind. Gunderloch 'Diva' Riesling 2006 comes from Rheinhessen, Germany's biggest wine region. It's a Spatlese style and is miraculously sealed with a screw-top, which makes it the first 'Old World' wine on EatingHK to be sensible topped with a stelvin rather than mouldy old tree bark; a win for Germany.

Gunderloch's Diva is straw golden in colour with a nose that has plenty of nice ripe fruit and citrus aromas. I smell peaches, lemons, limes and a hint of something unusual that's yeasty and buttery; strange, but attractive. This lady tastes delicious; there's good stone fruit flavours, especially peach and apricot, along with a smattering of racey spice. The sweetness is well balanced and there's just a little sparkling acid. Gunderloch 'Diva' Riesling 2006 has a lovely smooth and round mouthfeel with good balance and length. She's an appealing, pretty lady who's well worth meeting.
Visit winery website, Wine Blogging Wednesday 45 or the home of Wine Blogging Wednesday.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Smells Like Home Grown

Update from the Garden

There's absolutely nothing like the smell of home grown tomatoes straight from the bush and today I harvested the first bunch from the rooftop. A couple were quickly polished off for lunch with home grown basil, a splash of oil, salt and a fresh baguette; delicious. While problems with a fungal disease mean I don't hold hopes for a massive crop, it's still fantastic to be enjoying the delights of home grown produce in Hong Kong.