Sunday, 31 August 2008

Quinta da Lagoalva 'Monte da Casta' 2004

Ribatejo, Portugal, MOP98, diam cork seal

Returning from holiday to a garden shrivelled from lack of water is never fun. Lucky though mint's a tough old thing and mine seems to be making something of a comeback. While not quite up to the vigour of past features the bright new leaves are a sign of hope. Just as exciting as mint is a bottle of wine with horses on it; in this case a purchase from Macau made from 50% Castelão, 25% Pinot Noir and 25% Touriga Nacional. It comes from the Ribatejo province.

The wine is a vibrant purple colour. The nose is all about dark cherries with sniffs of cranberry, dried herbs and a slight smokiness. These dark cherries that are hanging around the nose also dominate the palate, but in addition there's a distinct milk chocolate creaminess. It's a medium bodied wine that is soft, drinkable and nicely bound with a touch of tartness. The tannins are smooth and integrated and the alcohol well balanced. Quinta da Lagoalva Monte da Casta 2004 is a lovely wine that offers pleasant drinking at a fair price.

Visit winery's useless website.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Metcalfe Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2007

Macedon Ranges, Victoria, Australia, stelvin seal

Victoria's Macedon Ranges are an area in which I've spent a bit of time; climbing in the phenomenal bad weather of Camel's Hump and fishing in places I wasn't supposed to. While not particularly well known in Hong Kong, the region makes some cracking good wines. Metcalfe Valley is a relatively new winery and this is their first Sauvignon Blanc realise. This was a gift from a mate who's involved in the venture and it may be the only bottle to have come to Hong Kong.

Metcalfe Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2007 is a classic straw gold in colour. The nose is an absolutely delicious mix of tropical fruits; it's dominated by pineapple and passionfruit, but I also smell aromas of starfruit, peach and apricot. These tropical flavours continue on the palate, but there's also a citrus component that brings zingy grapefruit and lime. I was impressed by how drinkable this wine was - it had a lovely long finish, yet remained crisp and refreshing. If I had to find fault I'd say it was a little empty in the mid-palate, but it really is a lovely wine; I'm a fan.

Visit winery website.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Yuen Kee

28 Kimberly Rd, TST
Visited 22nd August 2008

Some people you just don't want to be stuck with in a confined space (ie. the third floor of a Yuen Long village house), so when a mate's visit happened to coincide with a visit from Typhoon Nuri we decided to sit out the storm in the relative luxury of Lan Kwai Fong. For a good part of the day the eye of the storm was passing over Central and during this eerie calm we scuttled across to TST to visit friends. After a few beers watching the spectacular views of storm clouds streaming past their window it was time for dinner. Most places were shut, but just outside on Kimberly Rd Yuen Kee was open and doing a roaring trade. There's nothing flash about this local eatery which I suppose you'd call a Cantonese dinner.

Typhoon Nuri must have hampered supply lines as they'd run out of duck, run out of pork and even run out of vegetables. Contenting myself with the basics I went with a bowl of noodle soup with prawn wontons and beef. It was a tasty dish; the chunky wontons were packed full of prawn, the beef meltingly tender and the soup base was good. The serve was huge and I couldn't get through it all, though a couple of cans of cold San Miguel did help with digestion.
At only $28 for a huge bowl of noodles and $18 for a beer you can't complain about the prices at Yuen Kee. While the settings not particularly glamorous there's nothing wrong with the food and if you're ever stuck in a typhoon Yuen Kee could be a good option.

Fook Moon Lam Restaurant

Kat Hing Back St, Tai O
Visited 20th August 2008

Back in Hong Kong and a visiting mate needed a break from the bars of Wan Chai so we headed off for a day exploring the wilds of Lantau. Remote Tai O situated on the island's extreme west is a great spot to bring visitors. This old fishing village, where many of the houses are raised on stilts over the water, offers short boat trips to try and see Hong Kong's pink dolphins; we were lucky and I got my first glimpse of these allusive mammals. Tai O's restaurants are outnumbered by stalls selling 'souvenirs', but we managed to find Fook Moon Lam amongst the jars of shrimp paste and pungent piles of dried mussels.

This basic local style restaurant has a pretty standard menu with a focus, as you'd expect, on seafood. We ordered salt and peppers squid and fried grouper with 'sweet' sauce. The heaped plate of squid was excellent with slithers of fiery chilli mixed into the thin, crisp batter. The 'sweet sauce' in which the fillets of grouper were swimming was basically a mix of sweet corn and starch and was interesting though a little too cloying. To accompany the food we kept things simple with a couple of bowls of rice and cans of soft drink.
I didn't mind Fook Moon Lam; things are pretty basic, but there's nothing wrong with plates piled with fresh seafood, especially the tasty tender squid like we had. Prices are reasonable; our squid cost $68 and the fish $60. While it certainly isn't five star the blokes running the show were friendly and the service was efficient. I probably wouldn't trek to Lantau Island just to eat at Fook Moon Lam, but I would to visit Tai O, so get motivated and take a trip to this great little corner of Hong Kong.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Pasta Fresca da Salvatore

20 Middle Hong Kong Rd, Qingdao
Visited August 2008

Being in China is normally a culinary adventure of the highest magnitude, but when you're with a bunch of Olympic athletes things aren't quite as exciting. In Qingdao exotic wok offerings and suspect things on sticks took a back burner to the security and comfort of daily doses of pasta. Located smack bang in the middle of the Central business district Salvatore was our restaurant of choice and I reckon I ate here three or four times while in town. The big open restaurant has an old-school vibe with checked table clothes, cheesy murals covering the walls and an open kitchen at the end ruled over by a very Italian chef, with a very cool moustache.
The menu has all the Italian classics, but features a fantastic selection of pasta sauces and a good number of interesting meat dishes. I remember fondly a serve of spaghetti marinara packed with plenty of fresh seafood and some delicately tender spinach stuffed ravioli. The big generous serves at Salvatore were good and I was perhaps most impressed by the use of fresh ingredients, especially fresh herbs and seafood. In China were wine is very much hit and miss so I was shocked by how good Salvatore's winelist was. The selection was all Italian, but it was balanced; there were some big Amarones and Barolos, but also plenty of value plays from Sicilia and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. We drunk decent wine every night and didn't spend over ¥200 a bottle which, for China, is good.

OK it is kind of a bit surreal to spend night after night in China eating at an Italian restaurant, but if you've going to do it Salvatore's isn't a bad place to be stuck. The foods authentic, reasonably priced and tasty; the winelist is surprisingly decent and the service is good. I'm a fan though next time I'm in Qingdao I would like to try somewhere else...

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Huadong Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Tsingtao, China, ¥52, cork seal

A rainy day in Qingdao means a day watching wet Olympic sailors from the couch. As the cheese and biscuits emerge we decide (perhaps against better judgement) to open a bottle of Chinese wine. It's a local drop from the Huadong Winery in Tsingtao.

Huadong Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 is rather light in colour; a bright ruby red. Hey this smells like Cabernet! OK it's thin, green Cabernet, but still Cabernet. There're aromas of herbs, tobacco overlaying dark cherries and blackberries. The palate's dominated by green vegetables and capsicum with a hint of plums. It's a soft and simple wine. Though it pulls up rather short, there's a little lingering acidity on the dry finish. This is unripe and thin, but it's certainly not terrible and at least has a bit of varietal flavour. Not a totally terrible attempt from an area renowned for its beer.
Visit winery website.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

The Streets of Lijiang

Visit to Lijiang
August 2008

The south-western Chinese province of Yunnan is by all accounts pretty spectacular. Natural wonders like Shangri-La County and Tiger Leaping Gorge jostle with man-made marvels like Lijiang's Old Town; whose winding, cobbled streets and original wooden houses helped it achieve UNESCO World Heritage listing in 1997. Popular with Chinese tourists the area is also home to the distinctive Naxi people who contribute to the area's exotic feel. Lijiang is also famous for its mountainous views but we unfortunately arrived in the wet season and didn't even catch a glimpse of the supposedly inspiring Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. I still had a great time and enjoyed strolling the hauntingly beautiful streets of Lijiang's Old Town, wandering the beautiful Black Dragon Pool Park and hiring bicycles to explore the nearby countryside.

Lijiang's restaurants seem to be very much in the backpacker cafe style that offer a mediocre mix of local and western food. We tried a number of places and were never really satisfied or disappointed, just underwhelmed. Street side stalls did however offer a little more excitement. I specifically enjoyed freshly cooked egg based pancake eaten in the pouring rain; a slightly bizarre potato on a stick and pile of delicious grilled skewers from a small shop that only seemed to open to cater for the post pub trade.
Lijiang truly is a marvellous spot. It's a long way from Hong Kong and Beijing and this is perhaps part of its charm. The couple of days I spent there have inspired me to return and I'm looking forward to exploring more of Yunnan Provence in the future. I'd definitely recommend Lijiang to those interested in a visit to a spectacular and unique part of China.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Not Eating with China Southern

CZ 3451 Shenzhen to Lijiang 10th August 2008

Apart from having to offset a heap of a lot of carbon credits, one thing about taking ten flights in a month means you eat way too much airline food. I thought I offer a quick little summary of how it all tasted: QANTAS - relatively good and assisted by an solid choice of beverages.

Virgin Blue - having to pay results in a very polite "get stuffed".

Dragon Air - pretty good and washed down with banter from a very amusing Captain.

China Eastern - below average and just palatable.

• and finally China Southern. What do China Southern and food have in common? Nothing. The picture shows the box of 'delicious' treats we were given on the five hour flight. A stale 'bun' filled with suspect tuna like substance, an extremely solid piece of 'cake' and a tub of iron hard 'jelly' that resembled a yellow rock; mmmmm truly tasty.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Moon Lake Hotel

Ping'an, Longsheng, China
Visited 8th August 2008

The Guilin area has bucket loads of natural wonders to awe the visitor. Exploring the town's limestone caves, cruising the spectacular Li River and checking out the fantastic Yangshuo Lightshow are all impressive, but for me the highlight was the Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces. This truly spectacular spot is located in mountainous Longsheng county, a couple of hours north of Guilin. From the carpark visitors trek through steep, but scenic rice terraces to the village of Ping'an were we found the Moon Lake Hotel and lunch.

Though it's packed with eager sightseers the Moon Lake Hotel is still beautifully basic; there's chickens cruising the floor, but there're also fantastic views of the village and valley. Regional specialities are the name of the day and we enjoyed an assorted feast that included: bamboo baked chicken and rice, fried frogs, sautéed potatoes, fresh water fish and a fried local vegetable. The tasty chicken was packed tight into its bamboo case and the rice beneath absorbed a lot of flavour. Appropriately green and slimy the pile of frogs' legs were complimented by a sweet sauce and vegetables. The fish and potatoes were both good, while the 'fried local vegetable' was interesting. I'm not sure what the leaves were, but they had an almost furry texture and a strong, slightly aniseed taste.
There wasn't much to dislike about our lunch at the Moon Lake Hotel. In spots like this price doesn't really matter but it was still good value, with most dishes under asdsd30. The food was fresh and authentic and the views awesome, though they got even better as we followed the trail higher. If you're in the Guilin area get yourself up to Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces, lunch at the Moon Lake Hotel will only be the start of the fun.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Maxims Palace

2/F, Lower Block, City Hall, Edinburgh Place, Central
Visited 4th August 2008

Yum Cha is on of the quintessential Hong Kong dinning experience and Maxims Palace is perhaps the quintessential place to indulge. A house full of guests keen for a day at Ocean Park called for a serious breakfast so we all tumbled into Maxims to prepare for the pandas, turbo drop and pushy hordes following stupid flags. Once located on prim harbour real estate, City Hall now seems to have been a little lost in the glamour of recent developments and land reclamation. Maxims however has lost none of its popularity and though we arrived early enough to avoid the queue, by the time we left there was a huge line waiting for tables. The decor is rather traditional with lots of red and dragons dominating the huge, high ceilinged room. For me though, a touch of class was derived from the gorgeous white porcelain tea-cups and a spectacular view of Victoria Harbour.

Dim Sum is still served by traditional trolley wielding waitress and we ordered up a tower of baskets that included all the usual favourites: sui mei, barbecue pork buns, steamed beef balls, shrimp dumplings, steamed pork ribs, rice paper rolls, spring rolls and fried squid. The quality of ingredients used was obvious and most of the food was top-notch. I was particularly impressed with the seafood and loved the prawn dumplings and sui mei. The selection of alcoholic drinks available is pretty limited, but seeing what time of day it was that didn't particularly bother us as we were happy with tea.

Maxims Palace really is a perfect place to bring guests to Hong Kong; the foods excellent, the view fantastic and the restaurant has a classic Hong Kong busy bordering on craziness, yet it's restrained with a hint of elegance. The service was fine and the staff were than happy to assist us ordering items that weren't rolling past on trolleys. Maxims' reputation ensures prices are above your street average yum cha joint with the dim sum ranging from $25 to $44. The bill for four of us came to $503, which isn't bad considering the restaurant's reputation, quality and location. Visiting Maxims seems a bit too much bother for Sunday yum cha - I'd prefer somewhere more local in both location and ambiance - but I'll certainly be taking visitors there in the future. Visit restaurant's strangely Chinese only website.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Corte Giara Amarone Della Valpolicella 2004

Veneto, Italy, $213, cork seal

This is probably the most widely available and reasonably priced Amarone in Hong Kong. From what I can discover Corte Giara is a side project of the Veneto producer Allegrini who started the brand to make approachable and value-driven, yet regionally true wines. Like all Amarone you'd assume this to be a blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara.

The dark, inky colour of this gives a hint of things to come. My mate started with a big "how's the nose" and he was spot on in how amazingly intense and complex this smelt. I detected aromas of black cherry, olive, prunes, spice and raisins all wrapped up in a little porty sweetness. The palate took time to open up but when it did there was liquorice, red berries, cherry and a little spice. I was really impressed by how well this wine fitted together. The 15% alcohol was integrated and only showed itself as a pleasant touch of warmth on the tail end; there was plenty of acid that gave it a lively freshness, while the tannins were soft and approachable. Corte Giara Amarone Della Valpolicella 2004 was a lovely wine that beautifully balanced intensity with refreshment; power with approachability.

Squid in my Sandwich

Lunch with friends

I'm back in Hong Kong for a few days preparing for a holiday in China. Excessive sightseeing with visiting friends has resulted in a much needed rest day spend in front of the TV watching footy. Dinner's a lamb roast, for afternoon tea there's a selection of cheese lined up and for lunch? Why squid sandwiches of course. My mate's passion for these tentacled critters meant that we decided to try this slightly abstract meal; something none of us had ever had before. Generous serves of fresh barbecued squid were squashed into crusty white rolls with lime mayonnaise and lettuce. The result was absolutely superb; a tasty sandwiches that went down perfectly with a few crisp beers.