Saturday, 26 December 2009

Giant Steps Tarraford Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006

Tarrawarra, Yarra Valley, Victoria, A$40, screwtop

The turkey's in the oven and it's time to face the dust, spiders and explore the 'cellar'. Most of my wine is stacked unlabelled, in miscellaneous boxes so it's always an element of lucky-dip. I smiled however when this number emerged as it seemed it would meet all criteria. Aussie? Tick. Goes with turkey? Tick. Tasty? Let's hope so. I've raved about their excellent cellardoor previously, but Giant Steps also gets a big thumbs up for producing distinctive single vineyard wines, that promote the concept of terroir within Australia. This specific bottle comes from the Tarraford Vineyard a 21 hectare plot located at Tarrawarra between the towns of Healesville and Yarra Glen. A vibrant crimson colour, this screams Pinot as soon as it hits the glass. The nose has plenty going on and while it's initially all cherry and rich red fruit, soon more subtle aromas of cloves, cinnamon and rosemary emerge. On the palate, red cherry again dominates, but there's plenty going on in the background and complexity is added by spice, cedar, dried herbs and a slight smokiness. This tastes delicious, but it's also very well crafted. Acidity balances out super fine tannins and keeps the fullness of the palate in check. Length is also excellent. A superb wine that contributed to a lovely Christmas day; and yes it went well with the turkey.

Visit winery website.

Mann Méthode Champenoise 2006

Baskerville, Swan Valley, cork

Christmas morning and pop go the bubbles. I'm at my folk's place in Melbourne and when celebrating they normally reach their favourite Mann Méthode Champenoise. The Mann Winery is a small, family run bouquet winery in the Swan Valley near Perth. Interestingly the wine is a blanc de noir made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. From what I understand it normally sells out on allocation so I've no idea how my dad manages to get the odd carton of this.

This is just off white in colour; a pale onion skin pink. It's got plenty of fine, persistent bubbles. The nose is pretty faint with just a delicate shimmer of red fruits; specifically cranberries and raspberries. On the palate though it comes alive; there’s a load of bubbling acidity to keep the whole outfit refreshing and crisp, while the flavours are rich and complex. I tasted red fruits, especially cherries, as well as lemon rind. There’s also an aromatic herbal component and a touch of floor polish(?) that reminds me a lot of Nolly Pratt Vermouth. Bubbles on Christmas morning always taste good, but I like Mann Méthode Champenoise 2006; it's a well cut drop with plenty of personality.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Big Fish

Lunch at a mate’s
24th December 2009

Drawing up a list of things I miss about Australia wouldn’t be an easy task. On top, of course, would be friends and family, but then what? Clean air? The bush? The open road? A half decent education system? But surely, near the very top somewhere, would have to be the subtle joys of fishing. So when I see the fish my friends catch it tends to make me just a tad jealous; jealous of all the casts I’ve missed since being away. It’s my first morning back in Australia and time to begin the circus of catching up with friends; something, that unfortunately for Joey (on her first visit), tends to dominate trips home. First stop is lunch at a mate’s and alongside the super company and delicious wine is this massive Snapper he caught; stuffed with rice, herbs and onion. Freshly caught, well seasoned and packed with juicy flavour it’s a memorable meal that brings buckets of joy, but also just a hint of regret at what would be a much more regular occurrence if I still lived in the Land Down Under.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Medoc Wine Workshop

Asia Wine Service and Education Centre, Sheung Wan
9th December 2009

This seminar was a collaboration between the wine loving dudes at SOPEXA and the wine teaching dudes at the Asia Wine Service and Education Centre. I'd never visited the AWSEC rooms before and I was impressed with the professionalism of the setup. We were seated in a large classroom and provided with everything we needed to learn, as well as drink.

The seminar used resources provided by Medoc Wine Council that included a seemingly never-ending parade of powerpoint slides. Stephen Mack, the lecturer, did a fantastic job of making all this information digestible in an entertaining manner. The Medoc and its communes were explored in detail and eight wines supplied to emphasis the different aspect of the area.

The wines were a good cross section of different styles ranging from unoaked Cru Bourgeois to classed growths Chateau Kirwan and Chateau Grand-Puy Ducasse. While the rich and structured Chateau Kirwan Margaux 2005 impressed with its floral nose and potential for cellaring my favourite wine of the night was the Chateau Chasse-Spleen 2003. This drop from lowly rated Moulis was delightful with a complex nose rippling with blackberry, mocha, smoke and spice and plenty of black fruit and spice on its long, smooth palate. My night of tasting the wines of Medoc was an entering and engaging evening. I was impressed with Stephen Mack's knowledge of the topic and enjoyed the opportunities offered by a comparative tasting.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Corte Giara Ripasso Valpolicella 2007

Valpolicella, Veneto, $98, cork seal

Corte Giara is produced by big Veneto producer Allegrini, as a ready to drink range using fruit purchased from outside growers. The wines are readily available in Hong Kong and I've previously looked at their Amarone. Ripasso is made by fermenting new wine on the lees left over from Amarone production, thus adding body and intensity to fresh young Valpolicella.
The nose on this is pretty busy; it's intense with a real mixed
bag of aromas. There's sweet fruits - cherry and boysenberry, but also a fresh floral aspect, seductive spice and meaty gaminess; yum, yum. There's plenty of action on the palate as well; it's all cherries and herbs, while fresh acidity balances out the sweetness of the fruit. This is a pretty wild wine, some may say it lacks focus, but it sure makes up for it with bunches of crazy fruit and fresh flavours. Corte Giara Ripasso Valpolicella 2007 offers plenty of interest for a very fair price; it's good easy drinking and goes perfectly with food.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Pléyades Shiraz 2007

Cariñena, $49, screwtop

This has a shinny sticker proclaiming it won gold in the Decanter World Wine Awards. I'm not normally interested in bling but thought I'd give it a try as it was very reasonably priced at Park n Shop. It comes from the small Spanish region of Cariñena and is apparently produced by Terrai Viñedos y Crianzas of whom I can't discover a thing. It's good to see a Spanish wine sensibly sealed with a screwtop.

It looks dark and purple and smells of dark, purple fruit. There's a massive whiff of sweet blackberry, alongside hints of cured meat and pepper. The palate has plenty of ripe fruit with plums, red cherry and liquorice. It's not "big" or "sweet" more bright and juicy with plenty of pure fruit flavours. I had this over a couple of evenings and on the second night it noticeably softened with liquorice and blueberries on the nose and a real velvety smoothness overwhelming the palate. Pléyades Shiraz 2007 is fresh and smooth with high quality, fine tannins. It's a lovely wine that offers tremendous value; weighting in well above its price tag.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Antica Trattoria

40-46 Avenue Sir Anders Ljungstedt, Macau
Visited 5th December 2009
The first weekend in December and yet again it's time for the Macau Marathon. The night before the big race a group of us got together for a feed at Antica Trattoria. A few friends have recommended this Italian joint and we thought we'd give it a go in the name of carb-loading. It's on the second floor in a bit of an odd location; halfway between Fisherman's Wharf and the city centre. Climbing the stars you certainly get the impression of an Italian restaurant; red bricks, timber and a walls covered with the usual black and white photos of old Italy; I'm even sure I saw a few old style Chianti bottles stuffed with candles.

The menu was packed with all the usual suspects; pasta, pizza and a selection of grilled stuff. There actually looked like a really good selection of antipasti on offer, but instead we shared a gorgonzola pizza to start. The pizza itself was OK - thin base, rich tomato sauce and too much cheese - but what blew me away was when the waiter came over and told me I couldn't take photos of the food. WTF? Was he serious? When he asked me to stop snapping he was smiling and I thought he was joking, but no, seriously you couldn't take photos of the food. Is this legal? Anyway, as you'd imagine we all went for pasta and the serves of bolognese, pomodoro and lasagna spun past, but my selection was tortellini with mushrooms. The cheese filled pasta dumplings were good and added to the rich creamy sauce made a filling dish with plenty of flavour from tasty mushrooms. I also helped a friend finish her disappointing cannelloni; it was too dry, heavy on the ricotta and lacked the flavour and texture of sufficient spinach. The couple of desserts that others ordered looked OK, though one friend was pretty frustrated that her lemon gelato was served in a lemon; her reasoning was a lemon is a lot smaller than a bowl and she wanted more than too mouthfuls. Playing at being athletes we all drunk soft drink or water. My visit was tarnished by the fact I was shocked and kind of frustrated at been told I couldn't take photos, but I started annoyed when even though I'd rung from Hong Kong to book they had no record of it. My mate, Mr Camera Police, was actually an efficient and friendly bloke, though a couple of the other waitresses were a bit slow on the uptake. The pizza was just OK and the cannelloni average, however I did enjoy my tortellini and most of my friends seemed happy with their meals. Food in Macau is normally pretty good value, but in this case I thought Antica Trattoria to be, if anything, a bit overpriced. Our bill came to over $200 a head which for a bowl of pasta, a slice of average pizza, mouthful of dessert and glass of Coke isn't fantastic. For those looking for an authentic feed of Italian Antica Trattoria meets the criteria, though I have to wonder why visitors would bother when there're a heap of great Portuguese joints in town.

Saturday, 5 December 2009


Level 3, Langham Place, 555 Shanghai St, Mong Kok
Visited 4th December 2009

Friday night and a mate organised dinner for a group of us at Tokoro. I normally avoid restaurants in hotels, but was pretty impressed when we strolled into the third floor of the Langham Place hotel. This robatayaki style Japanese joint is working hard at being hip and the rotating ‘cage’ where we were seated was all rather cool. There seems to be a definite emphasis on quality ingredients with plenty of fresh vegetables and seafood on display around the kitchen counter. They also have a separate bar area for those who simply want to look cool and drink, rather than look cool, drink and eat.

I’m not a massive eater so was hesitant when my mate suggested we go for an extensive set menu, but got talked into as carb-loading for the Macau Marathon. First off was a simple lettuce salad with row and croutons and an appetizer of tasty marinated eggplant sprinkled with bonito flakes. The salmon, tuna and sea bream sashimi that came next was beautifully presented as well as fresh and tasty. Then it was the first robatayaki round; velvety textured, grilled tofu and fish balls. Next stop was miso soup, enriched with tiny claims; it was satisfying stuff. Then it was time for more stuff on sticks; this time Kobe beef and minced chicken, accompanied by grilled corn and asparagus. The simple char grilling allowed the flavour and quality of the ingredients to shine. Tempura time next with a crisp fried oyster, prawn and a couple of sweet potato slices. The food fiesta continued with mushroom topped chawanmushi, a bowl of chewy homemade udon and finally sesame ice-cream to finish an epic eating adventure.
Being saner (or perhaps less susceptible to peer pressure) Joey wasn’t interested in a set, but instead ordered homemade udon and a couple of robatayaki items; a grilled pork chop and sausages. The noodles came with plenty of tender beef, onions, and an egg and were floating in a lovely soup base. The grilled pork chop was decent and the little frankfurter style sausages were tasty, but not remotely Japanese. With the samples she had of my meal she walked away happy.OK, so I’ve listed off a whole parade of dishes above, but what did I think? Was it good? Was it worth it? Would I do it again? Well I certainly enjoyed the food; it was beautifully presented, well prepared and genuinely tasty. However while delicious it’s worth noting that it wasn't particularly innovative or overly interesting. If my meal was worth it is a whole other discussion. The quality of the ingredients was obvious, but was I getting $650 worth of these ingredients? There were only two slices of each type of sashimi, a couple of cubes of Kobe beef, a single prawn and a single oyster. The cool setting and professional service however helped make the experience memorable; so would I do it again? I don’t have a big appetite so can’t really see how gorging myself to excesses is meant to be pleasant. Joey’s food was good and more reasonable at $37 and $47 for the grilled meat and $97 for the tasty udon. I definitely liked Tokoro enough to visit again, but wouldn’t bother shelling out the coin for the multiple fat boy courses.Visit restaurant website.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Kay Brothers 'Block 6' Shiraz

McLaren Vale, South Australia, screwtop

The Kay Brothers Amary Vineyards are McLaren Vale legends and this wine is a bottle of Australian history. The 'Block 6' part of the Amery Vineyard was planted in 1892 with Shiraz cuttings taken from Thomas Hardy's Tintara Vineyard. Where else in the world are you getting to drink wine from 114 year old vines? I think this may have been wrongly priced; I picked it up for AU$26 at Melbourne airport; the winery's website lists it as AU$60 (which is still a bargain!).

It's deep, dark purple in colour. The nose is rich and seductive; there's obvious oak, but it's tasty stuff with hints of sweet cinnamon, cedar and coffee. There's also plenty of fruit aromas that I suppose are more 'blue' than red or black; I'm thinking boysenberries, mulberries and blueberries. Having a sip and I'm hit by how rich and concentrated this is; there's black fruits, smoke and almost sweet, boysenberry. It's silky, smooth and surprisingly soft, with firm, but fine tannins. The 15% alcohol is nicely integrated and the finish is as long and seductive as you'd imagine. This is one tasty wine and a great example of classic, old school Aussie Shiraz.

Visit winery website.

Thursday, 3 December 2009


Shop 1045, 1/F Elements, Kowloon
Visited 3rd December 2009

A midweek movie at Elements and we decided to try somewhere new for dinner. When cruising the water zone I normally find it pretty hard not to head to the roof for tapas at Olive, but I was a little more willing to experiment when I discovered that Nahm is bought to us by the same crew; the good people at Dinning Concepts. It's an upmarket Thai and Vietnamese place that's dolled up to be a step above your average pad Thai joint. The restaurant is fronted by big 'windows' that open onto, well onto a shopping centre... The decors slick though I couldn't find a picture of his Majesty Rama IX.

There are plenty of the usual Thai and Vietnamese favourites on the menu, but also a few dishes that I hadn't seen before and a selection of 'main courses' that seem more aimed towards individual munching rather than sharing. We went for the 'signature' spicy beef noodles, smoked eggplant and roasted game hen. The rice noodles came with a generous amount of beef and oozed fresh flavour from a mountain of chilli, basil, fried garlic and lime. The peeled, smoked eggplant was served with a chilli and vinegar dressing. I really liked this dish, though its flavours were pretty subtle and got a bit lost amongst the wild aromatics of the other two dishes; Joey however wasn't a fan and found it too sweet. The roasted game hen was half a smallish bird, stuffed with fragrant rice that helped keep it really moist. This Thai version of a Sunday roast was served with potatoes, broccoli and cauliflower; it was sticky, sweet and obviously flavoured with turmeric.

Our visit to Nahm was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I liked the food, I liked the setting and to top it off the service was excellent. Impressive touches like cloth serviettes and constant refills of iced water went a long way to impress me. Our tab came to very reasonable $235, which I thought was a bit of a bargain, though looking at the menu I think you could spend a fair bit more if you got stuck into the booze and seafood. Nahm; I'm now a damn fan.
Visit restaurant website.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Iroue Japanese Restaurant

10 Sai Ching Street, Yuen Long
Visited 31st November 2009

I've heard mixed reviews about this little Yuen Long Japanese restaurant. It's located right next to where we play tennis, but the tennis crew don't rate it, yet on the other hand Joey's boss is a big fan. Inside it's all you imagine of a small, local Japanese joint; crowded, tiny wooden stools and a few flags fluttering lonely away on the walls.

Joey’s boss loves this place because of their miso hotpot, but unfortunately the night we went they were sold out. Instead we decided on a beef hotpot, giant salmon sushi, gyoza and a friend prawn sushi roll. Filled with mushrooms, udon, beef and an egg the hotpot was tasty, especially the flavoursome, slightly sweet soup. Handmade from pork rib the dumplings were really satisfying, though oily. Both sushi dishes were decent; though I preferred the massive sushi roll over the OK the salmon. Stuffed with tuna, a big fired prawn, lettuce and mayo, the sushi roll came sprinkled with crunchy crab row and was so large that it was difficult to eat. Big isn’t always better, but this guy was tasty in a somewhat untraditional manner.

I enjoyed my visit to Iroue Japanese Restaurant. The service and environment were nothing special, but that’s not what this kind of place is about; what matters is the value and the quality of the food. Our meal was $146 for the two of us which I thought was fair. The food? Well it was pretty good; I think I’ll come back and try the miso hotpot and maybe bring along that pack of scoundrels I play tennis with.

Simplylife Bread and Wine

Level 1, IFC Mall, Central
Visited 31st December
It's strange that I've never managed to make it to Simplylife Bread and Wine before; my mother lives in Australia yet she seems to be something of a regular. Anyway, located on the first floor of the IFC mall this joint is both a restaurant and a cafe. The restaurant is off to the side while the casual cafe seating has views over Victoria Harbour and Kowloon, though the low angle means the foreground is chocked with buses. As I entered, the busy open kitchen, rows of pretty pastries and a wine covered wall all vied for my attention.

I suppose the 'cafe' is more of an upmarket sandwich bar as they mainly sell pastries and pre-made sandwiches. I wasn't overly hungry so went for a small, toasted panini with cheese and prosciutto and a cafe latte. The crisp, grilled sandwich was good; filled with plenty of salty prosciutto and a gooey cheese it was a nourishing and tasty lunch. The coffee was decent though I was a bit disappointed that it was served in a paper cup; I saw mugs there and it would have been nice if the barista asked me for my preference. I did glance at the main restaurant's menu and it looked interesting so I'll have to come back and check it out.

Simplylife Bread and Wine is a good spot for lunch in the IFC; the bread is tasty and obviously fresh, while the views aren't half bad. Value wise it was pretty fair; my sandwich was $32 ($48 for a large) and the coffee was $22. If you compare Simply Life Bread and Wine to Starbucks and Pacific Coffee you have to wonder why anyone bothers to visit the chains. At Simply Life the food is miles ahead, while the coffee is better and cheaper. I do find this rather interesting as Simplylife is run by the Maxim's Group who also hold the Hong Kong franchise for Starbucks - one works, one doesn't.
Visit restaurant website.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Kaesler 'Avignon' 2006

Barossa Valley, South Australia, $60 (375ml), screwtop

With names like 'Rizza', 'Stonehorse', 'The Bogan' and 'Old Bastard' Kaesler has to be responsible for some of the coolest named wines coming out of Australia. Established in 1893 these guys have some old, old vines and the 49% Grenache, 32% Shiraz, and 19% Mourvèdre that make this wine up come from 70, 45 and 105 year old vines. I'm a fan of half bottles for a little mid-week tipple and the other day Watson's unbelievably had this little guy at less than half the price of a full bottle. My bottle was number 4145. Purple fringed, dark and intense, the Kaesler 'Avignon' 2006 smells damn tasty. Straight up there's a whiff of meat, but then it's all about fresh red fruits, strawberry conserve and milk chocolate. The palate's just damn fine too with juicy plum flavours leading the way. This opened up beautifully with a couple of hours in the decanter. Initially I was a tad scarred when I saw the 16% alcohol listed in the label, but while it was warm there was no sign of ungainly alcohol heat. It's got a long, long finish and soft fine tannins just extra class to this finally balanced and poised wine. The Kaesler 'Avignon' 2006 is a fantastic wine and pretty impressive value to boot. I kind of wish I'd bought a full bottle or two rather than just the 375ml in bottle number 4145.

Visit winery website.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Renato Ratti Nebbiolo 2007

Langhe, Piedmont, $169, cork seal

I opened this a few days ago, but was sick so with cold I couldn't get past a mouthful. The cork got stuck back in and with a clean bill of health I'm giving it a try four days in. Made by the fantastic named Renato Ratti (I am rather disappointed the label has an image of an crow rather than a rat), it's classed as DOC Langhe Nebbiolo so it's no real surprise that it's made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes grown in the Langhe area of Piedmont. It's packaged in a traditional Albeisa bottle, a shape indigenous to Piedmont that was reintroduced in 1973. I purchased it from Marks & Spencer.

Yep this is the beautiful crimson red as only Nebbiolo can be. The nose is all about cherries, lots and lots of red cherries. One minute I smell cherry liqueur and sweet cough syrup, the next fresh, fresh fruit. There's also a seductive aroma of flowers; actually sniffing this is a bit like getting hit over the head with a pillow full of potpourri. There was a noticeable difference between my initial sip and tasting this on day four when it was softer and more integrated. Yes of course it tastes of cherries, but there's also a hit of raisins, spice, Christmas and all things nice. Renato Ratti Nebbiolo 2007 is medium bodied and has fine, dusty tannins. It's not that complex and is a story of pleasant rather than profound, though it is certainly a charm to drink.

Visit winery website.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Farm Cafe

End of St Heliers St, Abbotsford, Melbourne
Visited 18th November 2009

I’m back in Australia for a couple of days on a short, unplanned visit. While the circumstances aren't the best I still wanted to try and see a few friends, including a good mate I organised to meet for lunch. He works at Melbourne's Sophia Mundi Steiner School which is located in the grounds of the Old Abbotsford Convent; the Farm Café is just out back and seemed the obvious choice. The café is attached to the Collingwood Children’s Farm; a Melbourne institution that aims to educate city kids about farming, self-sufficiency and environmental issues. The Queen of Australian cooking Stephanie Alexander used the Collingwood Children’s Farm as the hugely successful model on which her fantastic Kitchen Garden Foundation is based. The café is located just through the gate of the farm with plenty of rustic outdoor seating.
The menu isn’t massive, but it’s got some good options and obviously features fresh farm produce. Organic, biodynamic and free-range ingredients are of course a priority. My mate’s a fan of a sausage-roll or two so when he recommended the ones here, I jumped all over his advice. The big sausage roll was packed with organic beef, wrapped in flaky pastry and was just what the doctor ordered. Served with relish and a side salad it was a tasty and filling lunch. To drink it was iced coffee. I love iced coffee, but it is something I rarely drink in Hong Kong as it is always so badly done. In Melbourne it’s a different story and the chilled glass I was presented with had espresso poured over ice-cream, topped with milk and served with a dusting of coco; delicious.A large part of the joy of the Farm Café is its setting - a farm on the winding banks of the Yarra with the Old Abbotsford Convent in the background - however there’s more to the café than looking at a paddock of goats. The food is obviously fresh and really tasty, while the service is friendly and relaxed. My sausage-roll was $9.50 and the coffee $4.50 which seems about right for Melbourne these days. Honest, down to earth cafes selling top quality food and great coffee is what being back in Melbourne is all about and the Farm Café certainly fits the bill.

Visit restaurant website.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Prince Restaurant

11/F, One Peking, TST
Visited 10th November 2009

Getting a day off school to 'recover' from the trauma of the school picnic is one of the strangest things about teaching in Hong Kong. Could you imagine Aussie kids getting a day off to recover from an excursion? Stop; wait; why am I complaining about a day off work? Anyway I met a mate for lunch in TST and he took me to one of his favourites; the Prince Restaurant. Located on the eleventh floor of the rather nice One Peking Road the restaurant is spacious, elegant and sprouts some impressive views over Victoria Harbour. Glancing at the web it appears that it's the Hong Kong branch of a chain of restaurants scattered throughout China that also includes a hotel and health spa.

Prince Restaurant obviously caters for a Japanese crowd as sushi and sashimi jostle with classic Cantonese dishes and fusion creations on the menu. We ordered BBQ pork buns, xiao long bao (Shanghai soup dumplings), grilled beef with wasabi cream, fried rice with truffle and egg white and wok tossed greens with ginger. The buns were divine; baked rather than steamed they were crisp on the outside with a delightfully sticky top. The dumplings were delicious as was the tender beef that was well matched with the spice of the wasabi. I was a bit sceptical of the rice (especially as truffles are so overused in Hong Kong), but the big serve of tasty rice was well-balanced with the flavour of the finally shredded truffle perfectly integrated. In an attempt to be healthy we got a big plate of crisp Choy sum that came with a tasty home-made ginger sauce. To drink it was the simple clarity of tea.

While there's a lot to be said for the regional food of China, the fusion dishes we tried at Prince Restaurant worked well. The beef, buns and rice were all excellent and managed to tweak traditional dishes with a little added flair. Our bill was $453 for the two of us, not a bargain, though we did order way too much and could have eaten a lot less. The waiter who looked after us was a mega friendly bloke who went out of his way to be helpful, even offering information about the dishes. Oh and of course the view; a view of the sort that makes you be glad to be alive and glad to be in Hong Kong. Good food, surprisingly impressive service and spectacular vistas are going to make the Prince Restaurant a definite consideration next time I've got visitors in town.
Visit restaurant website.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Al Bistro

35 Cameron Rd, TST
Visited 7th November 2009

For me Friday night is TST night. After work drinks offer are a chance to catch-up with mates and explore a corner of Hong Kong I don’t visit to often. From our usual happy hour beer at Fatt’s Palce we wondered down Cameron Road to give Al Bistro a go. Fronted by an open bar area, the restaurant is comfortable, though a tad dark.

The food is styled as 'Mediterranean' with the emphasis on fresh seafood. As we sat down we were given some homemade looking bread with butter and pâté; a nice touch. I was tempted by the fishy theme and ordered sea bream, while my girlfriend went for roast duck breast. My crumbed fish fillet was pan-fried and pretty tasty; moist inside it was well cooked, however the dish was let down by the sauce. Served on top of grapefruit and orange slices the citrus flavours were overbearing and made the dish way too acidic. Joey's duck was again well cooked and served with a sweet cherry sauce and rocket salad. Again the sauce was a bit too much; this time over the top sweet. My friends enjoyed their scallops and walnut and mushroom salad, though they weren’t as impressed by the grilled chicken caesar. The others all ordered desserts and the little samples of chocolate soufflé, chocolate pudding and a trio of strawberry things were all surprisingly good. When we arrived we were told it was happy hour all night and we drink a mix of bevies including average house sparkling, wine and bellinis; not particularly high quality, but satisfactory at the price.

I had a fun night at Al Bistro and though the food was let down by ungainly sauces the quality of ingredients and craftsmanship definitely hints at excellent potential. I thought the service was good, particularly from the bartender who had a fine sense of humour. Value wise it was OK; my fish was $178, the duck breast $168, the desserts a very reasonable $52 and the drinks at happy hour prices ranged from $40 to $50. I’d like to visit Al Bistro again in six months or so to see how things are fairing.
Visit restaurant website.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Ferraton Pere & Fils 'La Matiniere' Crozes-Hermitage 2006

Crozes-Hermitage, Northern Rhone, cork

A bottle of 100% Syrah from the Northern Rhone. It’s made by Ferraton Pere & Fils; a family company founded in 1946, who converted their vineyards to organic and biodynamic farming in 1998. The grapes for this are apparently grown on stony soil in the districts of Mercurol and Beaumont-Monteux.

OK, this is a dark ruby colour and smells good. There are plenty of meaty aromas, alongside blackberries, earl-grey tea and a nice floral touch. On the palate it’s all Syrah with plenty of rich dark fruit, a hint of (good) jaminess, red capsicum and shake of pepper. I like this wine, but if I had to be tough I’d say there’s perhaps a hair too much alcohol heat and the finish dies rather quickly. Ferraton Pere & Fils 'La Matiniere' Crozes-Hermitage 2006 is a very drinkable drop.

Visit winery website.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

North Garden Restaurant

1-2/F 249 Des Voeux Rd, Sheung Wan
Visited 31st October 2009

My parents are visiting again and this time they haven't just bought their customary two friends along, but have somehow managed to fill my house with a total of six guests. The mandatory trip to Stanley was scheduled for Saturday and as pre-market substance we decided on yum cha in Central. I don't often eat on Hong Kong Island during the day so was a little unsure of where to head, until my girlfriend suggested North Garden Restaurant. The three story joint is apparently popular with the suits weekdays, but was a great choice for the weekend as it was relatively quiet.

The dim sum menu was pretty extensive, but didn't always follow the traditional formula as many items had been tweaked. We ordered up a tower of steamers and the majority of the food was delicious. The subtle steps away from the norm included water chestnuts with the beef rice paper rolls and mushrooms with the barbecued pork ones; cheese in the spring rolls, scallops in the xiǎolóngbāo (soup dumplings) and egg tarts made with purely egg whites. Though more traditional I also enjoyed the turnip cakes, roast pork and custard buns. The food was all served fresh and the smiles of satisfaction amongst my guests acknowledged its quality.

While I certainly wouldn't be as brash as to label this joint 'fusion' the menu is certainly interesting and offers enjoyable dim sum that’s a step removed from the traditional. The quality of food was good and the service friendly and efficient. Our bill came to $663 for the seven of us which seemed like excellent value as we were all both satisfied and stuffed. North Garden Restaurant ticked all the right boxes for me and is definitely worth considering for weekend brunch when it also comes up trumps as a haven from the crowds.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Chapel Down 'English Rose' Brut

Tenterden, Kent, £19.99, cork

When my mother's in town I normally rustle up a bottle of Champagne, but as she's an English Woman so I thought this might be an even better. English wines are gaining a bit of creditability and sparkling wine is at the forefront. Chapel Down from Kent is one of the leaders in this emerging industry. Strangely their extensive website fails to give any details of their wines, but I think this is made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes. The bottle does tell me the grapes have been hand-picked in Kent, Sussex and Essex and it's made using traditionally bottle fermentation.
Pale salmon pink in colour with super fine bubbles; it's a pretty start. The nose smells delicious with a big wallop of raspberries, hints of tangerine and bath salts. The palate's fine, dry and linear; it's a pretty sleek operation. I taste plenty of sweet red summer berries as well as a hint of grapefruit. We polished off the bottle before dinner, but I'd be interested to see how this wine went with food as I was really impressed with its stylish structure - decent line and length is, after all, rather unusual for a Pom. Chapel Down 'English Rose' Brut really is a lovely wine. I too knew an English rose once (sigh) ...

Visit winery website.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Mr. J Secret Restaurant

250 Wusing St, Taipei
Visited 26th October 2009

My girlfriend loves Taiwanese pop singer Jay Chou and somehow a romantic long weekend in Taipei became a bit of a Jay Chou odyssey. The first day we had a decent lunch at Butaya his Japanese tonkatsu restaurant and on our final day we visited his flagship outlet Mr. J Secret restaurant. A bit of fast talking meant I avoided the noodle shop where he liked eating dumplings as a school boy (I kid you not). Mr. J Secret Restaurant actually ended up being a bit of a secret and we had to ask directions off a policeman to find it. We eventually found ourselves feeling a little out of place in the grounds of Taipei's Medical University, where the restaurant is found. Inside it's decked out in tribute of the movie Secret, which our man Jay not only starred in but also directed. The waiting staff are garbed in the uniforms of the school in the movie and we sat next the 'magical' piano around which the film revolves.

Mr. J Secret Restaurant claims to be 'French-Italian Restaurant' which I think means it serves a random mix of western food. I ordered a set lunch with a salad and spaghetti bolognese, along with a Taiwan Beer. My little Jay Choy fan went for mushroom soup, the 'authentic' Italian curry chicken risotto and a bubble tea. One of the options for salad dressing was 'orange' and I couldn't resist; while the dressing was surprisingly good the four tiny lettuce leaves and half a cherry tomato wouldn't have been enough to feed my hamster. The pasta was pretty average with the watery sauce lacking meat and needing another couple of hours of slow cooking. The mushroom soup was OK and the risotto was weird, but OK, though not made with risotto rice. Our lunch cost TN$757 (about HK$200) which was OK I suppose.
Mr. J Secret Restaurant is an acquired taste and that taste is Mr Jay. I guess you've got the impression that the food is just OK, but that's not why you go. If getting your photo taken next the piano from Secret, staring at massive photos of Jay Chou or buying a souvenir magnet is your idea of a good time then Mr. J Secret Restaurant is for you. If you're a fan you've probably already been, if not don't bother.
Visit restaurant website.