Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Devil's Lair Chardonnay 2002

Margaret River, Australia, cork seal
I often think that I don't drink enough wine from Australia's western region of Margret River. I dragged this bottle from my cellar last time I was in Australia; though I've no idea where I got it or what I paid for it. I think the current vintage retails for about A$40-50. Watson's Wine sells Devil's Lair here in Hong Kong and their second label, Fifth Leg, is readily available. The wine spent twelve months in new and one year old French oak.

It smells like sunny old school Chardonnay, big and rich with obvious oak. It's good though and the aromas of grapefruit, lemon rind, pineapple, walnut and surfboard wax are appealing. The palate is rich and lush; again the oak's obvious alongside almonds, peaches and mangoes. Devil's Lair Chardonnay 2002 is a big, full on wine with impressive length. While not really my style I enjoyed this, though it wasn't Earth shattering and probably, I feel, not worth the asking price.

Visit winery website.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Snap Shot Kyoto

Trip to Kyoto 31st January to 4th February

After the snow fields of Nagano we headed to historic Kyoto to take on the roles of (supposedly) culturally sensitive tourists. Japanese former Imperial capital and in many ways its culture capital, Kyoto really is a magnificent place. The Fushimi-Inari-Taisha shrine was perhaps the most spectacular of all of Kyoto's sights. Dedicated to Inari, the god of rice and sake the shrine is situated on a wooded hillside. The vivid red of the shrine integrate magnificently with the beauty of nature.
The hillside trails lead through hundreds of spectacular red 'torii' or shrine gates.
In Japan the fox is traditionally seen as the messenger of Inari, the god of cereals, and fox statues littered the hillside. They often had a key to the rice granary stuck in their mouths and this fellow also had something of a modern touch. A chilly morning with misty rain only added to the charm of the Daitoku-ji Temple area. A bonsai in one of Kyoto's many formal gardens.
Plenty of local produce was on display at the Nishiki Market.
Lanterns are a hint of Kyoto's fantastic nightlife.
Okonomiyaki is always a winner.
As was our brunch stable; the bowels of steaming noodles that we sucked up with relish each morning.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Yoshinori Saeki

584 Takakura Tooru Street, Kyoto
Visited 3rd February 2009

We stumbled across Yoshinori Saeki while exploring Kyoto. We decided to take a look. They were full. We did the only reasonable thing. We made a booking. We came back the following evening. Yakitori restaurants are normally a raucous occasion of eating grilled stuff on sticks and sculling beer, but the first thing you notice about Yoshinori Saeki is that it's oozing refined charm. The restaurant is built in a 100 year old house, the staff are traditionally dressed the there's refrained elegance in the air. We were seated at the bar and had perfect view of the chefs cooking tasty treats to order. Glancing at their website Yoshinori Saeki proclaims the merits of suppliers; a typically Japanese commitment to local quality ingredients.

OK, OK the menu was all about grilled stuff on sticks, but I was impressed that there were almost as many vegetable based options as meat ones. The selection we ordered included tender pork belly, chicken fillet with wasabi, beef with leek, delicious minced pork and sweet baby onions on skewers. We also had some delicious sticky chicken wings coated in sesame seeds and fluffy baked Hokkaido potatoes that were so good we ordered a second serve. The food was, well, excellent. The meat dishes were tender and flavoursome, the sauces were delicate and presentation was perfect. Oh yeah we drank beer.
I don't think we had any bad meals in Japan, but some were simply spectacular and Yoshinori Saeki fits the category. What we had was a dining experience where excellent food was perfectly matched by the seating and service. Our meal came to ¥7,250 and even though this included a few beers it wasn't cheap, but it was certainly worth it. At Yoshinori Saeki we drank beer and ate grilled meat on a stick, yet came out feeling calm and meditative - that place is good for the soul!

Visit restaurant website.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Me-n-me Noodles

68 Honmachi, Himeji, Japan
Visited 2nd February 2009

After skiing at Nozawa Onsen we headed to Kyoto to explore Japan's former capital. Our first afternoon was spent amongst the tranquil beauty of the Fushimi Inari Shrine and next morning we caught the train to Himeji to visit its amazing castle. When we arrived it was time for brunch and we took a recommendation from the Lonely Planet and stopped at Me-n-me Noodles. If you're visiting Himeji this little restaurant is pretty simple to find - get off the train - walk along the main street towards the castle (you really, really can't miss this castle) - the restaurant is about two thirds of the way down on the left - look for a flag with a wacky picture of noodles being rolled.

Life at Me-n-me Noodles is pretty simple; it's all about udon in curry sauce. I went for a serve of curry beef noodles and was pretty impressed when I saw the chef start pulling, folding and rolling to make my udon to order. These delicious noodles were perfectly cooked and beautifully chewy. Japanese curry doesn't normally rock my boat but the sauce that was on these was pretty damn good; thick, rich and a beautiful blend of sweet spices it was the perfect accompaniment for a winters morning.

I can't remember how much our noodles cost, but they were certainly good value. People come to Himeji to see its spectacular castle, but the neighbouring Kokoen Gardens are also worth a visit as is Me-n-me Noodles; a rather delicious attraction for both tourists and locals alike.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Snap Shot Nozawa Onsen

Visit to Nozawa Onsen
27th to 31st January 2009

A trip to ski in Japan with my brother and ended up a little place called Nozawa Onsen. This low key resort was famous for its onsens long before skiing arrived. The slopes were fantastic and the town had a relaxed feel; it was a relief to be able mellow in a public hot spring after a day on the runs.
The views from the summit were spectacular.
The skiing was great; fresh snow, empty runs and beautiful views.
Yep we're in Japan!
Sunlight flickers through firs.
The local steamed buns were a tasty treat on the way the onsen.
Udon and tempura; the local restaurants were all excellent.