Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Brokenwood 'Indigo Vineyard' Chardonnay 2005

Beechworth, Victoria, A$22.25, screwtop
Brokenwood is a great Aussie producer and even a terrible experience at their cellar door several years ago hasn't even been able to lower my opinion of them. While the winery and many of their finest Shiraz and Semillons come from the Hunter Valley, the grapes used to make this wine are from beautiful Beechworth and the Indigo Vineyard to be more specific.

Brokenwood 'Indigo Vineyard' Chardonnay 2005 is a pretty straw gold colour. Well it smells like peaches, millions of peaches. OK apart from the peaches (millions of peaches, peaches for me...) there are also whiffs of citrus and crystallised pineapple; an alluring, sexy nose that is working overtime to seduce. The stone fruit flavours are also all over the palate, though there's also a nice grapefruit element, walnuts and a grainy flavour that reminds me a bit of Wheatbix. It's a clean, flinty package; a well cut wine with excellent length. The oak is in the background ensuring that it's powerful, but steely and focused. There is a hint of alcohol on the tail, but it's certainly not unpleasant. It's a lovely wine that certainly gets a big recommendation from me.

Visit winery website.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Union Bar and Grille

Level 1, IFC Mall, Central
Visited 21st May 2009

I quite like the IFC as a thoroughfare, but as a shopping centre it borders on the outright pretentious. Thursday night, while wandering its glitzy halls and waiting for a rather average film to start, we decide to head to the Union Bar and Grille for a drink and snack. The restaurant is divided into two with a bar at the front and more formal dining area at the rear. Union Bar and Grille is styled on New York watering holes and the interior ticks all the right boxes with lots of all leather, glossy timber and candles; it's pleasant and comfortable.

We settled at a comfy bar table and took advantage of the separate bar menu to order up some snacks. Choosing from a pretty standard range of dishes we went with sweet and sour chicken wings, a flat bread pizza with roasted vegetables and feta and a bowl of fries. The best thing were the fries; while they weren't overly warm the skin on chips tasted fresh, crisp and well seasoned. The serve of four manky chicken drumettes was terrible; the sauce smothering them was sickly sweet and tasted off, while the accompanying bowl of blue cheese dipping sauce was average to say the least. Unbelievably the pizza was worse. The supposed 'flat bread' base was hard and burnt, tasting more like a stale water cracker than bread. The pathetically small pizza was lacking recognisable topping with just a couple of shrivelled vegetables and five tiny pieces of feta in sight. We arrived during happy hour and $35 for a pint of San Miguel and $55 for a glass of wine seemed a lot more appealing than the food.

The Union Bar and Grille has a good reputation; its comfortable setting, professional service and reasonably priced happy hours drinks mean that it is potentially an oasis amongst the overpriced sparkles of the IFC. However there's one problem; the food. Looking at the company's website I was amazed to see the words "WARNING! We Serve American Portions", what I encountered was the total opposite; tiny serves of terrible food. The flatbread cost $65, the wings $52 and the fries $35 which considering the size is really bad value for money. I'm sure I'll be back to the Union Bar and Grille for a drink, but I certainly wont be injuring my wallet by ever ordering their average food again.

Visit restaurant website.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Izutsu Wine 'Silver' Merlot 2002

Shiojiri, Nagano, cork seal
Stereotypes of Japanese drinks bring to mind Geisha serving tea or salary men knocking back sake, yet there're actually a surprising number of different home grown alcoholic beverages available. Alongside shochu and plum wine the Japanese make good beer, outstanding whiskey and a surprising amount of grape wine. On my recent visit I was pretty disappointed with the wines I tried, but I grabbed this bottle duty free at Tokyo's Narita Airport as a final attempt to match the decent attempts I'd previously had from Hokkaido (1 & 2). From what I can gather it's made by Izutsu Wine in Nagano using fruit from vineyards that are 400m above sea-level.

It's darker than I expected; a deep red in colour with faint orange around the rim. It smells rich and surprisingly complex. There's a big whiff of plum alongside coffee, chocolate, brambles, tomato and a touch of mushroom; pretty interesting stuff. To taste it's a lot simpler and is all about red fruit, especially dark cherries. It's big and textured and held together by nice chewy tannins. Though it improved with decanting it did have a sharp, bitter finish. Izutsu Wine 'Silver' Merlot 2002 is an interesting wine; it smells intriguing, but there's nothing subtle about the bitterness that dominates the finish. It's quite 'old world' in style and is certainly not a bad statement for Japanese wine.

Visit winery's Japanese website.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

FIG J(l)AM(g)

Update from the Garden
I haven't done an 'update from the garden for a while' but judging my the state of things summer has well and truly began in Yuen Long. Lot's of sun means everything flourishing; the lemon grass I brought back from my Elcho Island is out of control, while basil and chillies are thriving and there's a tree bursting with baby guavas. But the current highlight are the first of the truly divine figs I started picking this weekend. While probably not enough to make jam these little delights are delicious straight from the tree, warm from the sun. Just look at my garden!

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Tramin Lagrein 2006

Alto Adige, Italy, $178, cork seal
Well this is the first time I've had a wine made from the Lagrein grape and the first time I've had a wine from Alto Adige; which kind of makes sense as the grape is native to this northern Italian region. I purchased this bottle from il Bel Paese in Wan Chai.

This is dark in colour, really, really dark. On the nose there are aromas of blueberries, tobacco, pepper and chalk. This is one tasty little wine. It's medium bodied and opens with savoury earthiness - mushrooms and game - the mid-palate is lusher with cassis and milk chocolate flavours. However the most striking thing about this wine is the long, long finish - it got a real bitterness too, which alongside firm, chalky tannins gives it a striking intensity. Tramin Lagrein 2006 says classic Italian; it has me puckering for another mouthful and a big plate of osso bucco.

Visit winery website.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao, IFC

Shop 2018, Level 2, IFC Mall, Central
Visited 8th May 2009

At last count there were ten outlets of this extremely popular chain in the Territory, though I'm not sure how many of the devotees who regularly queue for tables realise that the Crystal Jade started life as a Cantonese restaurant in Singapore. In Hong Kong they have morphed into Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Bao and specialise in Shanghai cuisine. Their branches are scattered amongst many of Hong Kong's larger shopping centres, but if you're planning on visiting the IFC outlet, evening is the best time as the lines at lunch time are often ridiculously long.

Four of us hit Crystal Jade's for some much needed Friday night sustenance. We ordered up a pile of plates that featured Shanghai dumplings, pan-fried dumplings, turnip pastries, deep-fried shredded 'pancake', chicken with dried chilli, beans with minced pork, tea smoked pigeon and of course the signature Sichuan style 'la mian'. The delicate Shanghai dumplings were delicious with a tasty soup filling as were the flaky turnip pastries and shredded 'pancake'. I enjoyed the rich gaminess of the pigeon, while the spicy chicken came with plenty of cashews and chillies. My favourite however was the Sichuan 'la mian' or pulled noodles; served in a fiery peanut and chilli sauce the tender noodles with beautifully cooked. To drink I went for a couple of cold cans of Tsing Tao, though if you are in the mood for wine a useful tip is to BYO as corkage is a very reasonable $50 a bottle. With its shopping centre location, long queues and crowded layout Crystal Jade has more than a passing resemblance to a fast-food chain; they're just lucky their food is so good so that the mistake never gets made. The service at Crystal Jade is decent; polite staff handle the craziness with good natured efficiency. I was pretty impressed when our bill came to less than $100 per person excluding booze. For such well prepared grub and a selection of eight different dishes that really is a bit of a bargain. To put it simply; everyone, everyone, everyone loves Crystal Jade.

Visit restaurant website.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Duca di Salaparuta 'Colomba Platino' 2005

Sicily, Italy, $65, cork seal
Duca di Salaparuta have been producing this IGT Sicilia wine for over fifty years. It's made from Inzolia grapes that are grown in coastal vineyards in the south-west of Sicily, near the towns of Ribera and Cattolica. I picked up this bottle at Castello del Vino.

This is a really deep golden colour and when first opened it reminded me a lot of Riesling; smelling of talc, lemon and orange blossom. With little time in the glass it rounded out and more nutty and tropical fruit aromas emerged. The palate's all about citrus and nuts, specifically grapefruit and almonds, though there also a touch of fleshy cantaloupe on the finish. A nice wine that offers flavour and refreshment, though it is probably getting a little past it's optimal drinking window.

Visit winery's excellent website.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Coto de Imaz Rioja Reserva 2001

Rioja, Spain, £8.99, cork seal

Every time I drink Spanish wine I think I should do so more often; I really must try and sneak a few more bottles in amongst all the stuff from Korea, China and Japan. This wine comes from the Rioja Alta and is 100% Tempranillo. It's had 16 months in new American oak.The book in the background is Simone and Inés Ortega's classic Spanish cookbook 1080 Recipes that I often find myself referencing these days.

Coto de Imaz Rioja Reserva 2001 is a deep dark red, tinged crimson. I can smell smooth vanilla oak and a touch of cinnamon alongside a big basket of berries - boysenberry, raspberries and plums* (*though plums aren't berries). It smells and tastes pretty damn good. Up front it's all sweet fruit; plums and berries but the long, lingering finish is dry. It's pretty oaked up; big, round and powerful, but is well made with fine
tannins. I like this wine; it's intense and rich, but balanced and rather delicious.

Visit winery website.


Punta Engano Rd, Mactan Island, Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu
Visited 3rd May 2009

The Hong Kong tradition of having holidays on the actual day means that despite a decent number of public holidays we only get the occasional long weekend. May Day was the first three day weekend since last September and to make the most of it I headed to Cebu with a mate. Next to our hotel on Mactan Island was a mysterious, imposing concrete fence and set of gates with a sign saying "honk horn for entry". We assumed it was a nightclub, however a little research (looking for a late night drink) revealed abaca; a boutique hotel and restaurant. Abaca really is a pretty lush proposition. The rooms are extraordinarily indulgent; with each having its own private swimming pool. The beautiful open air restaurant is set in a tropical garden with views of both Cebu Straight and the kitchen's big wood fired oven.

The modern menu is packed with plenty of delicious western style dishes that highlight fresh, local ingredients. I started with a serve of fried calamari followed by a fillet of tuna atop gnocchi, while my mate went with lamb kebabs and grilled salmon. The massive pile of meltingly fresh squid was extremely tasty and big enough to be a meal in itself, while the perfectly cooked tuna was delicious served atop tender home-made gnocchi. The meal was completed by chewy homemade bread, rosemary infused oil for dipping and a side serve of mash. We drank local beers to start and then tried an interesting and aromatic blend of Romanian Gewürztraminer followed by a crisp Woodstock Semillon Sauvignon Blanc from Margret River.
Abaca really is outstanding. The attentive and professional staff are the backbone of an ultra slick operation that centres on excellent food and a beautiful garden location. The Philippines normally offers excellent value, yet our bill at abaca came to P7350 (HK$1240), though nearly half of this was for the drinks. This may seem a tad hefty compared to local chicken and rice joints, but abaca is a restaurant of international quality and judged on this scale still offers good value; my tuna main was P865 which is less than HK$140.
Divine tropical ambiance, professional service, top notch grub and good wine list makes abaca a top dinning destination. How can I not recommend a restaurant where every part of our experience was superb? Visit restaurant website.