Monday, 28 July 2008

Chimmy's Breads and Pastries

342 Bridge Rd, Richmond, Melbourne
Visited 27th July 2008

Shopping, no matter where you do it, imparts a very standard response from me; flee, find a cafe and drown the sorrow of the whole thing in caffeine and a good book. Prowling Melbourne's Bridge Rd for bargains, is about as much fun as Causeway Bay on a Sunday afternoon so, before you could say "get-me-the---out of here" I found myself settled in Chimmy's. The place is decked out with mismatched chairs, big wooden tables and a counter stacked full of home baked goodness. They're part of Abbotsford's Convent Bakery; which is where they get their baked treats and a certain mate of mine has been know to eat a lot of pies.

I'm sure there's a menu at Chimmy's, but we just selected a couple of things from the display that surrounded the front counter. I went for a ciabatta stuffed with salami, roasted capsicum, tomato and home-made pesto; the crisp, salty bread was divine and the chunky pesto the highlight of the tasty filling. Naomi enjoyed her tomato and onion quiche; the filling was soft and light, while the flaky pastry was buttery and rich. We shared a slice of berry cheesecake that was just as good as it looked and I enjoyed the couple of cafe latte I drunk.

I liked Chimmy's; the food was good and reasonably priced, the staff cheerful and atmosphere perfect for a casual lunch. I was also impressed that they're pretty social aware in choosing their produce; the coffee was fair-trade and many of the ingredients were organic. Bridge Rd however nearly has as many cafes as it does shoppers and though the food was excellent, I'm not sure if it was truly enough to make Chimmy's stand out from the crowd.
Visit restaurant website.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Hoddles Creek Chardonnay 2007

Yarra Valley, Victoria, A$17.99, stelvin seal
I went to school with the D'Anna boys; though I'll quickly add they were a couple of years older. I see Anthony occasionally when I buying wine in Melbourne, but all I hear about Franco is the awesome wines he's making at Hoddles Creek; their family's Yarra Valley winery. Their whole range has gained a reputation for offering super quality and super value; selling for sub A$20 a bottle, they are certainly a contender for offering the best QPR in Australia.

Sparkling yellow in colour the nose on this is clean and fresh. I smell stone fruits, chalk, faint citrus aromas and a hint of spicy oak. On the palate the stone fruit are hanging around with grapefruit and pear flavours, watched over by a nice mineraly edge. It's well put together with a restrained, clean-cut jibe, integrated alcohol and good length. Hoddles Creek Chardonnay 2007 is an awesome wine; it drinks beautifully and offers pleasure and sophistication at bargain price.

Visit winery website.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Flinders Village Cafe

49 Cook St, Flinders, Victoria
Visited 25th July 2008
Located on the south-east corner of Victoria's Mornington Peninsula, the sleepy fishing village of Flinders, is now more a sleepy village of million dollar holiday homes. For me a visit to Australia isn't complete without a stop at the Flinders Village Cafe; a place where many of my mates have washed dishes and made coffees over the years. Located in a charming old weatherboard house, the cafe is decked out with stunning art, while out front there's a shady courtyard that's a great place to sit and appreciate the resident bird life.

Normally at the Flinders Village Cafe I can't go past their famous homemade sausage rolls, but we'd dropped in for breakfast so bacon and eggs it was. I ordered up a serve of eggs and selected sausages, mushrooms and bacon for accompaniments. The huge pile of food rivalled the massage sausage rolls in both size and flavour. My eggs were cooked perfectly and severed atop thick cut grain bread, while the generous amounts of bacon, mushrooms and sausages were hedonistically delicious. At only $15 for such a huge plate, the food's great value for an area where dollars often rule over common sense. To drink I enjoyed a couple of excellent coffees.

The Flinders Village Cafe is a favourite, a place I associate with good times; friends and holidays at the coast. Warm, welcoming service, excellent food and a charming environment make it a great stop for breakfast before a visit to the Paringa or Moorooduc Estate wineries or lunch after a surf.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Hillcrest Open Day

31 Phillip Road, Woori Yallock, Victoria, Australia
Visited 19th July 2008

Sometimes life just tumbles into place. Friday night dinner with mates at the Healesville Hotel meant I was in the perfect location to swing past Woori Yallock and Hillcrest Saturday morning. Run by David and Tanya Bryant, Hillcrest is a small winery that has gained a big reputation for producing top quality Yarra Valley wines. Only open to the public once a year they put on an annual retrospective tasting where every past vintage of every wine is opened.

This was perhaps the series of wines I found most interesting. Ranging from 2002 to 2007 all the wines showed excellent elegance, finesse and class. I was particularly with both the 2005 and 2006 Premium Chardonnays and the 2003 Estate Chardonnay. I suppose what impressed me the most was the ability of these wines to age gracefully; retaining their elegance and complexity, yet remaining clean and drinkable.
Pinot Noir
The range of Pinot Noir at Hillcrest stretch back to 2001 and it was interesting to try them side-by-side. Perhaps with the exception of the 2002 all the wines were holding up well, with the intensity of the fruit and tannins suggesting long futures. The Estate Pinot Noir 2003 won me over with its rich fruit, but my favourite was the delicious herbs, cherry and game flavours of the awesome Estate Pinot Noir 2006 (which I preferred to the higher priced 'Premium' and 'Reserve' wines). Structured, rich and multi-layered Hillcrest makes Pinot Noir as it should be.

Cabernet Sauvignon
I'm not sure if I prefer Yarra Valley Pinot or Cabernet, but the region does both bloody well. The first realise of Hillcrest Cabernet was 2003 and all five vintages were still fresh and vibrant. My favourite was the Premium Cabernet 2005. Though it had plenty of delicious dark fruit flavour, it wasn't a massive over-bearing monster, but more a thing of beauty and balance; it was a classic wine where acid, fruit and tannin met in harmonious bliss. Yet again an impressive line-up of wine.

The Hillcrest Open Day was a fantastic opportunity; being able to see how top quality Yarra Valley wines age was a fascinating and informative experience. The wines themselves were outstanding and the chance to chat to the enthusiastic David Bryant put the whole experience into perspective. Though it's only open one day a year the Hillcrest winery is certainly worth a visit.
Visit winery website.

Friday, 18 July 2008

The Claire Valley Day Two

Touring the Clare Valley
15th July 2007

Thankfully breakfast options in Clare are slightly better than what's available of an evening. We started the day with a good selection of fried treats and decent coffee at the Epic Cafe and after a quick browse of the local Op Shop it was again time for a little sip and sample.
Sevenhill Cellars (website)
First stop was Sevenhill Cellars. Founded by Jesuit monks in 1851 Sevenhill Cellars is the one of Australia's iconic wineries and the Clare's oldest. The beautiful grounds come complete with chapel, crypt, cellar and an interesting museum of early wine making in the Clare. They grow a lot of Pedro Ximenez for making alter wine of which they are Australia's main supplier. Of their more secular offerings I enjoyed the floral nose of the Inigo Riesling 2007, but thought their reserve St Aloysius Riesling 2007 didn't live up to expectations. Both the Gewurztraminer 2006 and Inigo Semillon 2007 were OK wines, but nothing particularly special. The Grenache 2006 was soft and fruity with plenty of pepper, while the Indigo Shiraz 2005 had a smoky gaminess about it. I enjoyed the Indigo Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 which had more complex aromas, rich plum flavours and excellent texture. Sevenhill is worth a visit for its historic grounds and beautiful setting, but to be honest the wines didn't particularly offer inspiration.

Tim Adams (website)
When I met Tim recently at a tasting in Hong Kong he encouraged me to drop in and visit his cellar door. We stuck our heads in and he proved just as friendly and informative as he was in Hong Kong; stopping work for a chat and a bit of banter. He's a genuine guy and I can say I really like Tim Adams and his wines. My notes for many of the wines are similar to the last tasting, though I was impressed by the reserve range that I hadn't had before. The Reserve Riesling 2007 was a lovely drop with balanced acidity, minerality and citrus flavours. I liked the elegantly structured Reserve Merlot 2004 and loved the excellent Reserve Tempranillo 2006. The back vintage Aberfeldy Shiraz 2001 was an awesome wine; still fresh and youthful it had a good dash of intriguing pepper while the excellent Botrytis Riesling 2006 was a deliciously sweet finish.
Paulett Wines (website)
Named after settlers from Poland who arrived in the 1850s, the Polish Hill River sub-region has some of the most renowned terroir in The Clare and the balcony at Paulett's cellar door offers a great perspective of the valley. They're a small family owned company and I was impressed by the quality of their wines. The Paulett's Polish Hill River Riesling 2008 was fresh and crisp with lovely citrus flavours and good length, while their Sauvignon Blanc 2008 was refreshingly fruity, nicely balanced and not over the top. The Cabernet Merlot 2004 had a delicious aroma of raspberries, good structure and nice herbal notes on the palate. I liked the Shiraz 2004, but their reserve release The Andreas Shiraz 2004 was a superior wine; dark, rich and tannic, it was packed with loads of intense black fruit.

Pikes (website)
Pikes could be responsible for my love of Riesling. Years ago their version was my knock off drink of choice while working in Chinese restaurant in Darwin. The Pike family started off as brewers back in 1886, but today they're all about their wine. I though both the 'Traditionale' Riesling 2007 and the semi-sweet 'Olga Emmie' Riesling 2007 were excellent. The 'Gills Farm' Viognier 2006 was a good example of a variety I'm not overly enthusiastic about; it wasn't 'oily' or 'flabby', but a fresh and intense drop with a lovely nutty flavour. The reds were all of a high standard, but my favourites were the 'Dog Walk' Cabernet Merlot 2006, the 'Premio' Sangiovese 2004 and the outstanding 'Eastside' Shiraz 2005, all of which had powerful noses, impressive length and beautiful texture.

A pie stop at the South Gawler Bakery and we were on our way back to Adelaide after an absolute cracking couple of days in the Clare. The Rieslings I tried were all fantastic, but for me the surprise was how good Clare Cabernet was. I was also impressed with the Semillon, Grenache and Tempranillo I tasted; varieties that I think have a real future in this fantastic part of the world.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

The Claire Valley Day One

Touring the Claire Valley
14th July 2008

Australian Riesling is awesome, yet sadly it doesn't get the recognition it deserves here in Hong Kong. Even in Australia it's undervalued and the large number of bottles I've got stashed under my parents' house testify to the ridiculous prices it can often be had for. The Claire Valley, along with nearby Eden Valley, are the traditional homes of the variety in Australian and surprisingly were two areas I'd never previously visited. My mate didn't take much convincing and pretty quick my couple of days in Adelaide had become a couple of days exploring The Claire. It was a quick pie at the Gawler South Bakery before onwards to Riesling ...

Neagles Rock (website)
The first two places I wanted to visit - Grosset and Mt Horrocks - were both shut so we ended up at Neagles Rock. Established in 1997 they are a relatively new winery that's done a good job marketing their wines with some very cool labels. They had two vintages of Riesling on tasting though I preferred the fresh acidly and citrus flavours of 2007 to the 2006. Their Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2007 was round and full with nice nutty characteristics; a pleasant wine. I liked the soft, bright Grenache Shiraz 2005 that had all the required red fruit and pepper, while the Sangiovese 2006 was a nice wine with a performed nose, good length and beautifully balanced fruit. I wasn't particularly taken with the Shiraz 2005, but I liked the Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 which was packed with varietal richness.
Mitchells (website)
Our next stop was Mitchell Wines; a producer that I reckon unfairly slips through the net of popularity. The winery was established in 1975, but the cellar door is housed in a rustic old sandstone apple shed. There Riesling 2007 had sold out, but the Riesling 2004 they had open was a lovely aged release that was still vibrant, with a lovely long finish. The Mitchell Semillon 2006 was complex, yet good value and had a lovely herbal nose. Their GSM blend used Sangiovese instead of the usual Shiraz and had lush berries on the palate, a peppery nose and was soft and drinkable. The Cabernet was the highlight and Mitchells 2003 release had an awesome nose, rich flavour and good tannin structure. The Peppertree Vineyard Shiraz 2005 was a dark and intense wine, though I preferred the more complex and better integrated McNicol Shiraz 2000.

Kilikanoon (website)
Kilikanoon is a Cornish word that travelled to South Australia with the immigrant tin miners who worked at nearby Burra a hundred and fifty years ago. While Cornwell's famous for exporting tin miners, pasties and my mother, Kilikanoon's renowned for it's Oracle Shiraz that was recently awarded the title of 'World's Best Shiraz' at the London International Wine Challenge. I enjoyed the citrusy Mort's Block Riesling 2007, but though the Mort's Reserve Riesling 2007 was a better balanced, more flinty and subtle wine. The tasty Barrel Fermented Semillon 2007 was all about pineapple and toasty oak, while the Prodigal Grenache 2005 had flavours of cherry and pepper with an herbal edge and lovely length and texture. My favourite wine at Kilikanoon was the Blocks Road Cabernet Sauvignon 2005; a big, well structured wine with a delicious nose and plenty of lovely fruit. The Covenant Shiraz 2005 was also a tasty tipple with an intense, spicy nose, silky tannins and a real moreish quality.

Knappstein (website)
Located in the Claire township, Knappstein started life as a brewery. The cellar door is still located in the original stone brewery and they have recently re-released the fruity Enterprise Ale. I actually found the Hand Picked Riesling 2007 a little disappointing, though I did enjoy soft, sweet pear and apple flavours of the Late Harvest Riesling 2006. Half their selection required a fee to taste (something I'm not keen on paying), but of the wines I did try I enjoyed the Shiraz 2005 and the intense, sweet cherry flavoured Fortified Shiraz 2002. My mate was a big rap for their sparkling Shiraz, but by this stage I'd lost patience with a rude cellar door manager and had called it an afternoon.

For a wine region quality dinning options are relatively sparse in The Clare. We managed to get a nice coffee in Wild Saffron as they were shutting and then decided a bit of reconnaissance was in order. It only took a drink in each pub to decide that Bentley's Hotel was the option for dinner and settled for a reasonable counter meal. After a packed day and an early night was in order and it only took a brief reminder of how terrible Australian reality TV is to send me straight to sleep.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Penfolds Magill Estate

78 Penfold Road, Magill, Adelaide, Australia
Visited 13th July 2008
Summer holidays day one and I'm back in Australia. Instead of heading straight to Melbourne I've decided to first spend a few days in Adelaide visiting mates (and wineries). After a delicious breakfast, that only Australian cafes do so well, we were looking to fill in a little time until it was deemed acceptable to visit the great Wheat Sheaf Hotel. The suburban winery of Magill Estate provided a very workable solution.

One of the World's few city vineyards Penfolds Magill Estate was planted in 1844, just eight years after Adelaide's foundation. Dr Christopher Rawson Penfold and his wife Mary established the vineyard for medicinal wine around their cottage; 'The Grange', from which, of course, sprung the Penfolds empire. Over the years Adelaide has (slowly) grown, land has been sold off and the current 12.94 acres of vines is piddly compared with the 296 acres the estate had at its height in 1949. It's now all Shiraz; the best of which goes into the premium, single vineyard Magill Estate wine and on occasions Grange. The estate still works as a functioning winery producing many of Penfolds premium and ultra premium labels, while their huge Barossa winery churns out their commercial ranges.

The small cellar-door was honestly a bit of a disappointment. There were only four wines open for tasting and it seemed more set up to sell souvenir t-shirts and corkscrews than introducing visitors to the Penfolds wine range. I did however enjoy their Eden Valley Riesling that was on tasting; fragrant, citrusy and acidic, it was a nice wine from a producer famous for reds. The limited realise Penfolds Koonunga Hill “Seventy Six” Shiraz Cabernet 2006 was nearly worth the asking price for it's funky retro label alone; though it was also a nicely balanced wine with plenty of dark berries and spice.

For us the highlight came when my mate clicked he knew one of the wine makers and we were off on a tour of the cellars before you could say "show use your barrels of St Henri my good man". For an Australian wine lover descending into the old brick tunnels to see barrel after barrel of Grange, RWT and St Henri is something akin to looking at the Federal Bank's gold reserves. Whether you love or hate Penfolds, the renown of their wines, especially Grange, has done much to show the world the potential of Australian fine wine. We walked out of out Magill Estate with smiles on our faces, but decided we'd had enough of history and wanted a beer.
Visit winery website.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Ironstone Vineyards 'Obsession' Symphony 2006

Sierra Foothills, USA, $119, stelvin seal

This sounds like a perfume - "Obsession Symphony; the new fragrance for the Californian Man" - but it's actually a bottle of wine made from the Symphony grape. Created at the University of California in the 1960s Symphony is a cross between Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris. I'd never heard of Ironstone Vineyards, but after a little research and I now know that they're a large producer located in the Sierra Foothills AVA which is apparently "in the heart of California’s scenic Gold Rush Country".
OK; Ironstone Vineyards 'Obsession' is a nice straw golden colour. It smells delicious with plenty of lush tropical flavours; guava and melon dominate but there's also a twist of lime, grapes and flowering herbs. The first couple of sips were very 'fresh' with a touch of frizzante action, but it settled down to become rather full and lush. There're plenty of tropical fruit flavours on the palate, plus peaches and pears. It's got a touch of sweetness, but it's subtle enough to just round the palate off nicely. Ironstone Vineyards 'Obsession' Symphony 2006 really is an attractive wine; reasonably priced, well suited to local cusine and delightfully aromatic.

Visit winery website.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Bill Kee Noodles

51 Kin Yip St, Yuen Long
Visited 3rd July 2008

The end of the school year approaches. The hectic marking of exams (the counter productive foundation of Hong Kong education) is at least balanced by the chance for lunch with colleagues. On this occasion I asked a friend to take me somewhere I hadn't been in Yuen Long before. We ended up at Bill Kee Noodles; a place apparently renowned for its beef brisket noodles. So renowned in fact that there's always a line out front and they don't have to worry about opening in the evenings. It's very much a 'local' style Chinese restaurant with shared communal tables, little plastic stools and scribbled bills slapped down onto tea stained surfaces.

There's no English menu at Bill Kee, but that's not a huge problem as there's only a couple of options. A bowl of 'fei lam mai' or beef brisket noodle soup was ordered for each of us along with a shared plate of vegetables. With my first bite I knew why people get excited about this place; the hunks of fatty beef were truly mouth wateringly tender. The soup itself was rather plain, though when enhanced by a touch of chilli oil it went well with the simple noodles. We accompanied our meal with a glass of iced lemon tea and a second plate of that tasty, tasty beef.

If you're in Yuen Long and want a change from the New York Cafe or Indian my suggestion is to seek this little local restaurant out for a truly delicious lunch. My mate wouldn't let me touch the bill, but it certainly wasn't expensive; delicious, authentic and cheap, what more can I say.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008


13 Sha Tsui Path, Sai Kung
Visited 8th July 2008

The options of what you can do on a Hong Kong public holiday are pretty limited. Masses of liberated punters make any remotely popular spot a no go zone; Causeway Bay, Mong Kok, TST and any shopping mall are definitely too crowded to be considered. HKSAR Establishment Day is such a renowned public holiday we thought lunch at Sai Kung with a few mates might be a workable solution to escape the hoards of rampaging merrymakers. Jaspas was pretty busy but we'd booked and got a nice table outside facing the busy square. There are also branches of this ever popular restaurant at Happy Valley and Soho.

The menu is usual assortment of western dishes - a mix of salads, pasta, pizza, grills with a couple of Mexican and Indian options thrown in. We began by sharing a serve of Quesadillas; the crispy little pockets filled with chicken and cheese were a tasty start. For my main I went old school and ordered surf 'n' turf. The steak came topped with a single giant prawn, chips, three chunks of grilled vegetable and a little gravy boat filled with 'mushroom'; my sauce selection. The steak was well cooked and flavoursome, the prawn lovely though lonely and the sauce a gluggy goop that reminded me of packet gravy. While the chips were good I was disappointed by the lack of decent salad or vegetables. Naomi's beef fajitas consisted of a hotplate of beef, capsicum and undercooked onion, flour tortilla, and bowls of guacamole, salsa and sour cream. While the serve was generous, she also lamented the lack of salad and would have liked at least a little lettuce or tomato to accompany the pile of meat. There was nothing to fault about Jaspas, but nothing really excited me either. It's the sort of place that reminds me of numerous other restaurants around Hong Kong; the foods decent, the service professional, but the menu uninspiring. My meal was tasty enough, not really exceptional value at $175, the bottles of cold Sol we were drinking clocked in at reasonable $35 each and the whole bill was wrapped up in usual 10% service charge. Oh, one more thing. Jaspas is a restaurant, it's for people. A dog is a dog, not a person. A dog should not wear clothes. A dog should certainly not sit at a table in a restaurant, wearing clothes and eating from a plate. Sure it's OK to leave out a bowl of water, but a restaurant that allows dogs eat off the same crockery as guests while sitting in seat is the sort of restaurant I won't visit again. Jaspas get rid of the dogs.

Stick My Wine Where?

'Wine-cellar Proposal for Bunkers'
South China Morning Post, 30th June 2008 p.C3

I worked in a hotel in England once where the jacuzzi was an old World War 2 machine-gun bunker. The cost and hassle associated with demolishing the reinforced concrete walls meant it was simpler for the owners to cover it in tiles and then fill it with jets, water and pale, bikini clad holiday makers. Vivienne Chow reported in Monday's South China Morning Post of another alternative being offered for some of Hong Kong's old military bunkers.

The article details the 'discovery' of a new series of bunkers near Lei Yue Mun by Gregory De-eb, who by chance runs Crown Wine Cellars; a facility that is located in disused bunkers at Shouson Hill near Deep Water Day. By filling the bunkers with wine it is suggested that a historical site could be preserved while helping supply adequate wine storage; something Hong Kong will apparently need if it is going to realise the much toted label and become an 'international wine hub'. The article, if nothing else, at least draws the reader's attention to the need for better wine storage in Hong Kong; we'll have to wait and see if bunkers are the answer.

Explore some of Hong Kong's historic bunkers for yourself by walking the Wong Nai Chung Gap trail.