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.