Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Majuang Red Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

Gyeongsan, Korea, cork seal

Korean wine? Well I suppose in a country with such ridiculously high import duties even the Soju scullers need the odd cheap bottle of vino or two. A bit of research on the web indicates that the Majuang's range account for 15% of wine sales in Korea though at one stage of their 32 year history they accounted for 90% of wine sales in Korea. I grabbed this last year at Chinese New Year when I visited Korea; I can't remember exactly how much I paid, but I think it was about HK$100 from a convenience store.

This is dark in colour and definitely on the blood red side of things. The nose is pretty faint, but the predominant smell is cassis with a little whiff of bacon and green vegetables. It was initially tight and bitter, but opened up a little in the decanter. It tastes of black berries with faint traces of spice, plum and dried currents, but it's really pretty half hearted. There's a silkiness to this that suggests a few splinters in the mix, but rather than adding flavour the oak just makes it a little easier to chuck down. OK so this is big, full bodied and long, but it's also bitter, devoid of flavour and not particularly tasty.

Visit the strange, strange website listed on the bottle.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Tasting at Vartex Wine

2/F, 32 Cochrane St, Central

I'm sure everyone's seen the sign while cruising up the Central Escalators to Soho: "free wine tasting every Friday". Well this Friday instead of continuing upwards on the world's longest outdoor covered escalator system we jumped ship and stuck out heads into Vartex Wines to see what the story was.

In many ways Vartex Wines is a typical Hong Kong wine retailer; their selection includes wines from the usual French regions, a smattering of Italian reds and German whites and plenty of New World offerings. The most interesting thing about their range is the number of South African wines on offer. The New Zealand and Australia bottles displayed were of sound quality and I was particularly impressed to see wine from outstanding Beechworth producer Battely. Vartex Wine is the retail arm of Victory Wines, an importer specialising in South African wine.

The tasting was extremely casual, a few bottles are opened and passed around, people came and went, and the staff casually chatted with customers. I enjoyed the four South African wines we tried with the Chamonix Syrah being especially good. The show is run by Adrian Lee, a friendly bloke with an obvious passion for wine. I loved the easy going casualness of the tasting; it seemed almost as much a chance for the staff to wind down the week as a way to sell wine. The free tastings are casual and relaxed making Vartex Wine a worthwhile Friday night stop on the way to dinner or the pub.

Visit website.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Quinta da Lagoalva 'Talhao 1' 2004

Ribatejo, Portugal, MOP 90, cork seal
This is another purchase from the great wine store that is Macau. This is produced by Quinta da Lagoalva in Ribatejo and I've previously reviewed some of its red and white siblings. It's made from Fernão Pires, Arinto and Alvarinho grapes, but apart from that I can't tell you much else as the company's website is amazingly hopeless for such a large corporation.

It opens with a big, intense bouquet. The nose on this actually reminds me a bit of a good Chardonnay and it's all rather delicious with aromas of lemon curd, almonds, peaches and a touch of coconutty oak. The palate is a fruit fiesta with guava, pineapple and coconut standing out amongst a swagger of lush tropical flavours. This is a big wine with a concentration of aroma and flavour and a finish that is impressively long and lingering. At only MOP90 it's certainly good value, offering plenty of bang for your mop. Quinta da Lagoalva 'Talhao 1' 2004 is a distinctive kind of wine; it's rich and opulent, but if you dig the style you'll certainly be into this.

Visit winery's hopeless website.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Farmers Union Iced Coffee

South Australia, A$2-3

Living in Hong Kong the one thing do occasionally miss from back home in Australia is Farmers Union Iced Coffee. Fair enough I hear you say, but it's just coffee flavoured milk right? Yeah OK, but Farmers Union is bloody good, Australian, coffee flavoured milk that has memories of pies and road trips and staggering home through Richmond under a rising sun and fishing. Australia does the best commercially flavoured milk in the world and Farmer's Union has always been my pick of the commercial offerings. In its home state of South Australia Farmer's Union Iced Coffee out sells Coke, one of the very few places in the world where this happens. Sometimes it is good to be home.

Visit website.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Really Fresh Fish

Dinner on Elcho Island 17th April 2009 Who knows where Galiwinku is? This town on Elcho Island community is found on the bottom of the Wessel Islands off the north-west coast of Arnhem Land in the Australia's remote Northern Territory. Though I only had a couple of days here to visit friends it truly was a fascinating experience in an unique and amazing place.

Apart from spectacular wildlife, beautiful bush and a rich local culture Elcho Island also offers some awesome fishing. Heading out for an evening session with mates produced some serious excitement when we hooked into a school of aggressive Queen Fish. Though I don't indulge enough in Hong Kong, fishing is one of my great passions and connecting with big fish after big fish while the sun set over the Arafura Sea was a truly awesome experience.

Queen Fish are a hard fighting, powerful pelagic fish that also do alright on the dinner table. An Asian inspired meal served on banana leaves was a great way to experience the culinary delights of these fish. Malay style chicken, green vegetables, rice and a moist, tender, surprisingly meaty Queen Fish stuffed with limes, ginger and lemongrass made for a memorable meal.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Cornucopia Museum Cafe

Bullocky Point, Conacher St, Fannie Bay, Darwin
Visited 14th April 2009

It struck me that perhaps I was getting old when I realised it had been seven years since I'd lived in Darwin. I spent a year in this tropical northern Australian city studying to be a teacher and loved every minute of it (well every minute I wasn't studying to be a teacher anyway). Me return was a brief couple of days on route to Arheim Land. I spent the time visiting friends, insisting to locals that the place really hadn't changed that much and buying a new pair of thongs. Back in my day the best coffee in town was at the Cornucopia Cafe, a casual restaurant attached to the city's museum. Darwin's spread along a coast with sharp teeth and the cafe makes the best of its beach side location with a large outdoor terrace offering views straight onto the beach.

The food is classic cafe fair with a mix of sandwiches, salads, pasta and simple mains. As I was back in Australia I decided to order a couple of the things I'm often disappointed with in Hong Kong; caesar salad and iced coffee. Caesar salad in Hong Kong often lacks real flavour as well as the mandatory quality croutons and the anchovies. I hadn't had a good one in a long time so was really impressed with the massive serve I was presented with. Topped with a poached egg, plenty of bacon and parmesan and a rich dressing, the salad used butter lettuce rather than cos, but I think this actually made it better as the softer, creamier lettuce contributed to the melt in the mouth feel of the cheese, egg and dressing. Hong Kong normally has two terrible choices of iced coffee styles - the sweet and sickly 'frappachino' or burnt filter coffee with a splash of sugar syrup. At the Cornucopia Cafe I was presented with a silky, milky coffee dusted with coco and containing a couple of floating scoops of ice-cream; it was a dream.
Hong Kong offers so much fantastic dinning yet I feel we struggle to master the casual cafe; Cornucopia is a good example of how to offer simple and satisfying, yet quality food. Darwin's an isolated, regional capital with a tiny population yet Hong Kong could learn a lot from a place that automatically puts down a bottle of cold tap water when you are seated. I know I harp on about this a lot by I find the environmental destruction caused by bottled water tragically pointless. Anyway it seems the standards at Cornucopia Cafe have been maintained perfectly in my absence. Oh and as there wasn't that ridiculous service charge snuck into the bill I tipped!

Visit restaurant website.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Hawker Centres Singapore

Visit to Singapore
8th to 11th April 2009

A few days in Singapore is always fun and this trip seemed to be packed with action. Visits to the Zoo (think white tigers), Sentosa Island (beach, aquarium, monkeys) and Clarke Quay (beer) were all highlights, as of course was the tasty food offered at Singapore's many hawker centres...
Maxwell Food Centre, China Town
I couldn't find the Maxwell Food Centre publicised in any guidebooks, but I quite like the simple honesty of this hawker market that's found opposite the Buddha's Tooth Relic Temple on South Bridge Road. With its close proximity to China Town regional Chinese cuisine is of course the mainstay with plenty of tasting looking dim sum on offer. I've recently been converted to the joys of Fuzhou fishballs so I couldn't resist ordering a serve of these tasty treats that came floating in noodle soup. My mate grabbed some decent steamed dumplings and we both enjoyed cool glasses of refreshing (and hangover curing) sugarcane and lime juice. While it may not be the most glamorous, cleanest or stylish joint in town, I like the rough and ready style of the Maxwell Food Centre.

Lau Pa Sat Festival Market, Raffles Place
This central hawker market is located within a beautiful Victoria cast iron structure which was apparently built in Glasgow in 1894 and shipped to Singapore in pieces. The market is a popular stop with office workers mid-week and I'm pretty sure that a mate of mine eats here nearly every evening. The selection of food stalls covers an array of different cuisines and styles from hotdogs to curries, and ice-cream to fried-rice. We munched on my friend's favourite popiah rolls. These thin pancakes filled with radish, salad, chilli and egg were an extremely tasty snack. For me Lau Pa Sat is Singapore's quintessential hawker centre; imagine exotic flavours and charming colonial building.

Newton Food Centre, Newton Circus
Newton Food Centre, an established favourite with tourists, just happened to be a short wander from where I was staying near Orchard Rd. While this hawker centre technically opens for lunch it doesn't really seem to fire up until the evenings and when I visited mid-afternoon was just stirring. There's a decent range of food with plenty of Malay style seafood on display, however I was just after a snack and ended up ordering fried rice and a strange grilled sandwich filled with a carrot omelette and smothered in a sweet red sauce. Topped with crisp whitebait the rice was tasty, while the sandwich was just downright weird. The prices at Newton Food Centre seem a tad higher than other markets around town and with its isolated setting its popularity seems somewhat unjustified. Unless you're staying up the road I can't see how a visit to the Newton Hawker Centre is worth it.

Red Dot Brewhouse

25A, Dempsey Rd, Singapore
Visited 11th April 2009

My last afternoon in Singapore and instead of a ride on the Singapore Flyer or a trip to Jurong Bird Park we decided a more constructive use of time was to visit the Red Dot Brewhouse. This small micro-brewery and restaurant is located in a lush garden set back from Dempsey Rd; not far past the end of the Orchard Rd shops and the Botanical gardens. The restaurant is airy and well set out with a pond, plenty of lush greenery and views of the brewery's inner workings.

I arrived at the Red Dot Brewhouse we high expectations set by my mate who had talked up the burgers - I'd basically heard about nothing but these huge, homemade hamburgers for the last couple of days. Tragically we arrived between lunch and dinner and had to make do with a couple of snake plates. The homemade chips we ordered were crisp and a perfect accompaniment to the beer, as was the fritto misto, which in this case consisted of lots of fresh seafood; calamari, mussels and prawns. We started with pints of Monster Green Ale, a fresh, herbal beer with a distinctive green colour and then enjoyed a richer, yeastier summer ale. Both beers were excellent.
I’m all over the Red Dot Brewhouse; this place is cool. One big plus is the beautiful garden setting that is perfect for a relaxed afternoon of sampling boutique beers and nibbling on tasty snacks. Another is the excellent staff; friendly and informed they came over to ask if we wanted another drink before happy hour finished and our change even appeared quickly – something that never happens in Singapore. The beers I tried were great as was the food, though now all I want to do is try the rest of the brews and get my jaws into one of those burgers. For a country were alcohol is pathetically expensive prices at the Red Dot Brewery are extremely fair. During happy hour a pint was only $7 and bargain when you consider at Clarke Quay you’d pay double that for rubbish beer. There's a lot to like about the Red Dot Brewery; I know next time I'm in town I'll be coming back for one of those burgers and a couple of pints.
Visit brewery website.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Chateau la Croix Saint-Michel 2001

Montagne St Emilion, Bordeaux, £9.99, cork seal
A Sunday roast with friends, a leg of lamb and a bottle of Claret. This is from the Saint Emilion satellite appellation of Montagne Saint Emilion and is primarily Merlot with a splash of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. One of my mates insisted on writing a tasting note even though he strangely drunk only sparkling Perrier all night. I promised I'd include his comments;

A slight woody aroma rendezvousing with the smoky atmospheric,
crappy emotional taste emanating from the soul destroying
structural belief system this magnificent wine brings on.

The nose is appealing with aromas of dark cherry, pepper, tobacco and dusty, dried herbs. The palate is intense and complex. There's a swirl of oak, but also spice and dark chocolate, with hints of smoke, plum, red capsicum and tobacco. There're plenty of powdery tannins. Chateau la Croix Saint-Michel 2001 is full bodied, inky and intense; it's definitely Bordeaux, but leans towards bigger side of things; a good drop.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Chateau de Montgueret Rose d'Anjou 2007

Loire Valley, France, $49, synthetic cork
Hong Kong's weather is starting to warm up and as the humidity rises I tend to find myself drinking more and more rose. I couldn't find much about this wine and strangely the website listed on the label doesn't exist. The pink wines of Rose d'Anjou appellation can be made from Grolleau, Cabernet Franc and/or Gamay, but from what I can gather I'm pretty sure this offering from Chateau de Montgueret is entirely Grolleau.

A glass of rose is a pretty thing and this is a lovely coral pink colour with an orange tinge. The nose is all about succulent red fruits and it smells delicious. There are strawberries and, well, lots more strawberries; this smells and tastes like strawberries. The length is good, it's fresh and lively and the rounded off with an acceptable hint of sugar. You could argue that this wine is simple and one dimensional, but it's also well made, packed with bright fruit and pretty damn delicious. For some strange reason I ddrunk this alongside
steak and potatoes and it held up with the meal surprisingly well. $49 is a very fair price for this; it's the sort of wine that's perfect to chuck back mid-week or dish up at a summer barbecue.