Monday, 30 June 2008

Classified @ the Press Room

108 Hollywood Road, Hong Kong
Visited 27th June 2008

Friday night saw me trudging down Hollywood Rd with shoddy directions and instructions to find number 104. When I stumbled into Classified - which is definitely in Sheung Wan, not Central - my fatigue quickly turned to excitement. A less formal café attached to the prestigious Press Room restaurant, Classified specialises in wine and cheese as well as offering snacks, coffee and desserts. Downstairs it's an open cafe with a few tables, magazines and a tempting cake display, but the magic is all on the second floor. Climbing the stairs you are greeted by a room dominated by a massive, communal table, but it's the walls that grab your attention - three are covered in bottles of glorious wine while the fourth offers magnificent views of the temperature controlled cheese room.

Enclosed in such temptation I managed to hold firm and order 'proper food' - a serve of mushroom risotto - before indulging in the sweet ecstasy of cheese heaven. The plate of risotto wasn't a huge, but was well made and tasty. It was creamy and the richness of the mushrooms was nicely contrasted with a handful of fresh, peppery rocket. It came time for cheese and we shared five different varieties between three of us. We were able to try a few sneaky samples before deciding and the selection we chose came with quince paste and heavy brown bread. The cheeses were perfectly ripe and truly divine. There's a little more to life then cheese and we worked our way through bottles of Bisol Prosecco and Perrin Muscat de Beaumes de Venise 2005. The fresh, crisp Prosecco worked a treat with dinner; while the sweet Muscat was a nice match with the cheese; though I'm not sure it impressed me enough for the $430 price tag.

What's not to love about Classified? The service by friendly and knowledgeable staff was exceptional, the environment is relaxed, yet pleasant and the range of wine and cheese is outstanding. $85 for the risotto was certainly fair and while the booze wasn't cheap, the quality was excellent and selection well thought out. Classified is the sort of place you could visit for lunch, afternoon tea, dinner or a late night snack, the only worry would be making yourself leave; highly recommended.
Visit Restaurant website.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Meia Encosta Dão 2001

Dao, Portugal, MOP$128, cork seal

Saturday was a pleasant day in Macau celebrating a mates ‘Bucks party’, unfortunately Sunday morning wasn’t quite as pleasant. Though alongside my sore head I was surprised to find a couple of soothing bottles of Portuguese wine. A bit of quality investigative work revealed that they’d been purchased from the ferry terminal at a rather late hour. This is produced by the Sociedade dos Vinhus Borges.

Meia Encosta Dão 2001 is a fairly light crimson colour with a hint of orange around the rim. The nose didn't overwhelm me, but there was dark cherry, spice and milk chocolate flavours. Dominated by liquorice, mulberry and blueberry, the palate's also a subtle affair with a little tartness and hint of dried tangerine peel (something that's big in Hong Kong). Initially this opened with a lot of alcohol heat; it settled down though there was still warmth on the tail end. The tannins were beautifully integrated. Meia Encosta Dão 2001 is a soft, easy drinking, medium bodied and while not earth shattering is certainly pleasant enough.
Visit winery website.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

il Bel Paese

25 Queens Rd East, Wanchai
Visited 25th June 2008

Wednesday was rather eventful: a typhoon signal 8 meant school was cancelled, I spent an eternity shopping in the never ending maze of frustration that is IKEA and my umbrella split in two and blew away down Leighton Rd in the middle of Causeway Bay. When I staggered into il Bel Paese I was tied, wet, frustrated and craving caffeine. This deli, come café, come produce store is one of my favourite places for lunch on Hong Kong Island. Downstairs there’s a takeaway counter and a fabulous selection of cheeses and cured meats, while upstairs there’s a few tables in the middle of tempting shelves of Italian wine and dry goods.

I ordered a coffee and a serve of spaghetti with meatballs and retired upstairs to dry out and refuel. The pasta was just what I needed on such a wet and raucous day; the tasty pork meatballs were smeared in a lush tomato sauce that was enhanced with generous amounts of olive oil and fresh oregano leaves. In Italian tradition everything at il Bel Paese is severed with bread and the slices of airy white loaf I was given worked a treat to soak up the left over sauce.

I go out of my way to eat at il Bel Pacese as the traditional food is honest, tasty and good value. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable, service is informal and relaxed, lacking any of the stiff formality and pretentiousness that dominates so many of Hong Kong’s western restaurants. The fantastic selection of Italian groceries are good value, especially compared with the piracy just up the road at the so called ‘Great’. The one problem is not walking with too many bottles of Italian wine.
Visit restaurant website.

Tim Adams: Tasting with the Man

Tim Adams Wine Tasting
25th June 2008

Tim Adams is a bit of a legend in the Australian wine scene. This tasting, hosted by the Adelaide Cellar Door, was a great chance to sample the range while hearing his thoughts. Tim's been involved in wine production in South Australia's Claire Valley since 1975 and has been chief winemaker and director of Tim Adams Wines for over twenty years.

The Clare is renowned for producing World class Riesling and the Tim Adams Riesling 2007 was pretty spot on. It was dominated by zesty citrus flavours, with wet rocks on the finish and tongue cutting acidity. The Tim Adams Semillon 2007 won 'World's Best Semillon' at the London International Wine Show and his 2006 version wasn't bad either. A well structured wine it had aromas of tropical fruit and ripe stone fruit flavours. Tim admitted his love of Pinot Gris and he's a pioneer of the variety in the Clare; his Pinot Gris 2008 was lush and aromatic with green apple and peach flavours and just a touch of sweetness on the finish.

Tim Adams 'The Fergus' 2006 was the first red. This Grenache dominant blend was a soft, easy drinking wine with lots of pepper and red fruit, it was also something of favourite amongst the punters. There's debate over whether the Clare is more suited to Cabernet or Shiraz but Tim produced good examples of both. The Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 was a fruit driven wine with excellent structure, solid tannins and plenty of gorgeous black fruit. The Tim Adams Shiraz 2005 was also a decent wine as was his top drop The Aberfeldy Shiraz 2005. This rich, opulent and perfumed wine spent 24 months in new American oak and will certainly look magnificent in a few years time.

The whole range of Tim Adams wines impressed me. Their quality was obvious; they were packed with flavour and offered varietal interest at very fair prices. It was also a great pleasure to meet Tim and his family; he was a genuine and friendly bloke who spoke extremely well. Thanks must go to Jess and the team at the Adelaide Cellar Door for organising such a successful night.
Visit winery website.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

SCMP Tearing it up for the Bloggers

Post Magazine, 22nd June 2008, p.57

This week's copy of the Sunday Morning Post seems to have gone through a bit of a face lift. While the never ending advertisements for hyper trendy, hyper stupid clothes are still clogging up space, there's been a bit of a rearrangement of the food and drink section. One new column is titled '' and this week it starts with a bang by featuring Hong Kong food blog Cha Xiu Bao. While brief the article is really just a list of the blog's achievements it great to see the SCMP giving more time to online affairs, especially Hong Kong food blogs!

Check out Cha Xiu Bao's site.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Is it Black Current or Plum?

Public Lecture; Is it Black Current or Plum?
19th June 2008

This talk was a free public lecture put on as part of a monthly series by the Hong Kong Anthropological Society's. It was held at the Hong Kong Museum of History and conducted by Lydia Siu Kit Wah; a post-graduate anthropology student from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Siu approached wine from a purely anthropological perspective and focused on the unique cultural elements of wine consumption here in Hong Kong. Her talk was subtitled 'Understanding the meaning of taste in wine' and many of her observations were on the cultural elements that effect how we taste, specifically wine. One Hong Kong example is that locals often find it difficult to associate with traditional wine descriptions as flavours like cedar, cigar and eucalyptus are not widely understood here. She also outlined the strong cultural associations made between wine drinking and wealth, Western culture and sophistication and stressed that Hong Kong drinkers are often more concerned with the image of wine than the wine itself. Another interesting element of her talk was Hong Kong wine consumption from a historical perspective and effects of developments like the introduction of air-conditioning, the reduction of the wine tax and the role of education. Siu also offered an explanation of something that's been bothering me for a while; why Hong Kong drinkers prefer red wines to white despite the fact that white wine is often better suited to local cuisine. Her simple theory is that red is seen as lucky and white, the colour of death, is unlucky.

There was a casual dinner afterwards and the whole event was a thoroughly enjoyable evening. The Anthropological Society was full of friendly and enthusiastic people who made strangers like myself extremely welcome. Siu spoke well and offered many insightful ideas. It was fascinating to hear the thoughts a local resident who deliberately developed a passion for wine in the name of research. If I was going to fault Siu's presentation I'd have to say I found the distinction she made between official "wine tasting" groups and the general public a little contrived, and one that perhaps, unhealthily, encourages false elitism. Still an entertaining and insightful evening and all thanks must go to Lydia Siu for her fantastic efforts.
Visit the Hong Kong Anthropological Society's website.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Pencarrow Pinot Noir 2006

Martinborough, New Zealand, $148, stelvin seal

We're in the process of moving house and it's not really fun. Our new place is in a village "just opposite" - too close to drive and just a tad further than you'd like to walk in the rain while trying to carry a mattress. We're exhausted and surrounded by piles of dusty junk that I'm amazed we've managed to accumulate in just two years. It's time to see if a little glass of Pinot before bed can help lighten the load. Pencarrow is the second label of Martinborough's Palliser Estate, but it's also the name of an English stately home where my Aunt once worked.

It's relatively dark in colour. The nose has warm and spicy about aromas of preserved cherries, cinnamon, Asian spice and a slight tartness. It's an interesting smelling wine and seems to have a touch of vanilla oakiness about it. The palate is initially sweet with flavours of strawberry jam and tomato, but there's a little earthiness as well that becomes particularly evident on the finish. Pencarrow Pinot Noir 2006 is rustic and surprisingly robust. It's big for a New Zealand Pinot, but one I quite enjoyed.

Visit winery website.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Big, Big Chick

Shop 24, G/F, Yuen Long West Rail Station
Visited 14th June

Tuesday night: rugby training, a 'few beers', last train home and as I stagger down the steps of the Yuen Long KCR Station suddenly life becomes all about the smell of fried chicken. I don't eat that much 'fast food' but there's a time and a place and if I'm in the mood I normally stop at Big, Big Chick. It's a small shop located near the bus terminus under Yuen Long West Rail Station; afternoons look for the hordes of pushy school kids; other times follow the delicious aroma to the glowing yellow lights. Big, Big Chick - or Big Chicken Big if you're translating literally from Cantonese - is officially open from 8am to 11pm, but they normally keep the vats bubbling away until just after the last train. For those on the wrong side of Castle Peak Rd there's another branch on Tat Fai Path, next to the Yuen Long gutter.

Big, Big Chick is inspired by those huge Taiwanese fried chicken breasts and the menu includes chicken fillets, chicken chunks, chicken wings, chicken drumettes, chips and some strange fried sausages. On my most recent visit I went with a chicken breast and a small serve of fries. The chicken breast - which was flattened, battered, crumbed, fried, seasoned and cut into bite size chunks - was extremely tasty and would have been equally good in a chicken sandwich or straight from the bag as I had it. The meat was relatively tender with a crisp outer and it was deliciously seasoned with salt, chilli and a touch of cinnamon. Big, Big Chick cooks to order so my accompanying bag of crinkle cut fries were hot and fresh. The chicken was $16 and the chips $9 so no complaints about the price.

Touting itself as selling "Super Fried Chicken" Big, Big Chick is really just a hole in the wall dispensing bags of grease, but if that's what you're in the mood for Big, Big Chick is the place.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008


Long Weekend in Singapore
6th June to 9th June 2008

The Tuen Ng or Dragon Boat Festival meant a work free Monday so it was off to Singapore we went. Really an opportunity to catch-up with mates, it was also good to visit some sights we hadn't previously seen. A nocturnal adventure at the Night Safari was a highlight, as was a morning spent frolicking on Sentosa Island while trying to avoid an obnoxious hangover. Singapore of course presented plenty of opportunities to eat and drink.

International Delights
Many similarities could be drawn between Singapore's food scene and what happens here in Hong Kong. There are lots of great local places offering unique food at bargain prices, but also an upper crust of restaurant's who charge the earth and spend way too much effort worrying about how they look.

Heading to the local Italian seems to be a tradition where ever you are and for many in Singapore I gather the local Italian is Pizzeria restaurant de Mario. This little place tucked away on Robertson Quay is fantastic. The big serves of traditional food are well made and packed full of quality ingredients. My serve of spaghetti with crab, tomato and mushrooms was excellent. This place also scores extra points for its low-key atmosphere and reasonable prices.

For me a visit to Singapore isn't complete without at least one stop at Little Indian. It's an absolute gem of a place that counters all the stereotypes of Singapore's boring conformity. Naomi stocked up on Indian bangles, while I went shopping for poppadums before we randomly chose Serangoon Kaaraikudi Banana Leaf Restaurant for lunch. This place was packed with locals and the friendly waiter served us each a pile of food that was almost as big as the restaurant's name. The rice, chutney, dhal, vegetables and chicken curry was tasty, authentic and a good example of what Little India has to offer.

Too, Too, Too Many Drinks
OK food's done, now for a drink. One thing I did notice about Singapore was that it seems to be lacking coffee. There are a few branches of the big chains around, but even these are pretty scarce. Finding a decent cafe and a decent cup of decent espresso is strangely difficult for a city of Singapore's size and international flavour.
Saturday night was a mission to catch up with an old school buddy; someone I hadn't seen for twelve years. Nights like this always seem to involve a few drinks so we hit the bars of Clarke Quay. The Disneyland like carnival atmosphere of this 'entertainment zone' was enhanced by a bungee jump, costumed waiters from ridiculous themed bars and crowds of camera wielding sightseers. After wandering indecisively we ended up in one of the many bars where plenty of gin and tonics and a good outside table resulted in a fun night. Though I enjoyed myself, Clarke Quay wasn't really for me; the drinks were ultra expensive and the bars wrapped up in too much ego to be really pleasant.

Sunday was all about recovery and Sentosa Island was the place for it. After the enthusiasm of Saturday night's drinking a day on the beach was just what the doctor ordered. After some excellent frisbee and a little dip we wandered along the beaches and palm lined tracks and ended up at KM8. This beach bar was the perfect place to chill; good tunes, beers and bar snacks resulted in a relaxed afternoon, the only problem being the staff who seemed even more relaxed then the punters.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Chateau Partarrieu Sauternes 2005

Fargues, Sauternes, France, $96, cork seal

Nowadays people tend to consider sweet, botrytis affected wines an accompaniment for dessert, but I live with a girl called Naomi who tends to consider them the only wine worth drinking. This bottle comes from Chateau Partarrieu which is located near the commune of Fargues in Sauternes. It's made from 80% Semillon and 20% Sauvignon grapes that come from 60 year old vines.

It's as lush and golden yellow in colour as expected. The restrained noise has aromas of stewed apricots, raisins and splash or rum, while the palate is totally dominated by the taste of dried citrus peel. There's a slight hint of acidity to help keep the sweetness balanced, but unfortunately there's also pretty obvious alcohol heat on the finish. Chateau Partarrieu Sauternes 2005 is a simple wine with a one dimensional flavour profile and no real length or intensity.

Why the French Hate Us

'Why the French Hate Us' by Cambell Mattinson
Hardie Grant Books, Melbourne, 2007

I want to discuss more books so I'll start with a ripper. I'd been wanting to read this for ages and was rather excited when I discovered a copy at Page One. Cambell Mattinson is an Australian writer and critic who amongst other things publishers an excellent website, The WineFront.

Mattinson's title is provocative, but it's also tongue in cheek crack; he's not really having a go at the French, but rather is referring to the strength of Australian wine exports. Understanding this title is the key to understanding Why The French Hate Us, which is simply a celebration of Australian wine. It's written with obvious skill, passion and love and Mattinson successfully conveys his ideas through humour and personal antidotes. The text is fluid and fun, and the book is structured around a series of casually related ideas. The first part contains seven chapters that address topics such as Australia's "cult wines", the importance of Grange and our relationship to the New Zealand wine industry. It's something of a mix of history, opinion and speculation. The second section deals with individual wineries. Mattinson critiques a diverse range of producers in his quest to prove that Australia offers world class fine wine along side the cheap and cheerful commodity wine we do so well.
Critics could claim that the book lacks fact and structure, but Mattinson's approach is personal; more akin to friendly chat than a report. For a book on wine it's entertaining and I often laughed out loud. Why the French Hate Us comes highly recommend; it's a passionate book about a worthy topic and I'm all for celebrating the potential of Australian fine wine.

Visit website.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Gracia de Chile 'Lenga' Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Aconcagua Valley, Chile, cork seal, $89

The big Chilean operation Gracia de Chile seem to sell quite a bit of wine in Hong Kong. I grabbed this mainly because I was keen to try a ready available organic wine. It's 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and comes from their Aconcagua Valley vineyards.

In colour it's a deep, dark, inky purple. On the nose there's a slight sweetness and aromas of blueberries, tobacco and milk chocolate. Having a sip I'm not really impressed by the palate that seems to be a bit of a disjointed affair. There's an initial burst of plummy fruit which is quickly pushed aside by a bitter, vegetable greenness that dominates the mid-palate. Though there's a lick of sweetness on the finish and the chalky tannins were nice and soft, there's really nothing suitable about this. Gracia de Chile 'Lenga' Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 is too awkward, thin and green on the mid-palate to be really enjoyable. Visit winery website.