Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Summerhouse Chardonnay 2006

Wairau Valley, Marlborough, $99, screwtop

Summerhouse wines are produced by Heather and Meric Davies, a friendly and genuine couple who I met at an Adelaide Cellar Door tasting event. Meric I might add has what is probably one of the best beards in New Zealand. I was impressed with their wines and especially enjoyed the Pinot Noir and Blanc de Blanc, though it was a bottle of Chardonnay that I found I'd come into possession of. Made in a certified sustainable way the fruit comes from their vineyard in Marlborough's Wairau Valley.
The nose is distinctly Chardonnay and smells of stonefruit, lemons and cashews. There are obvious oak derived flavours on the palate alongside lots of citrus; lemon and grapefruit, actually this tastes a bit like old-school-home-made-buy-at-a-church-fete lemon butter. I drank this over two nights and I liked it a lot better on the second. The first night I found the finish was dominated by alcohol heat, while on the second it seemed a lot more settled and pleasant. I'm not 100% sure about this wine, while I liked it I didn't love it; there's just nothing special enough about it to really rock my boat, though you can’t deny it’s not bad value.

Visit winery website.

Pearl Vietnamese Restaurant

7 Wo On Lane, Central
Visited 26th June 2009

I don't often get a chance for lunch in Central so was a bit surprised when my friend stopped outside the shabby exterior of Pearl Vietnamese Restaurant. This little joint has a good reputation for serving up tasty and authentic Vietnamese grub to the seething lunchtime masses that descend from all the glittering towers. Inside its pretty basic and the second floor dining room is found up what could be the steepest and most dangerous staircase in Hong Kong.

The menu is simple, but packed with all the expected Vietnamese favourites. We went for pho with fried lemon grass chicken wings, rice with beef and a serve of spring rolls. The pho were good and served in a tasty soup base, while the accompanying chicken wings were crisp and sticky with obvious lemongrass flavour. The rich beef was good though the short grain rice it came with was a bit dry. I like Vietnamese spring rolls and the crispy little guys we got came stuffed with vermicelli, herbs, pork and mushrooms; a tasty treat. To drink it was iced lemon tea.
I enjoyed my lunch at Pearl Vietnamese Restaurant. The food was fresh and tasty and at under $70 for two of us was pretty good value, especially considering it’s cheaper than a meal at McDonalds. Simple, but tasty and good value Pearl Vietnamese Restaurant is worth a visit.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Outback Steakhouse

2/F, JP Plaza, 26 Patterson St, Causeway Bay
Visited 25th June 2009

A couple of Aussie mates decided we couldn't fight it any longer and had to try this Australian styled chain. Part of a massive global company the Outback Steakhouse has seven outlets in Hong Kong and is spread all over the globe; with fifty branches in Texas alone. Despite the name the Outback Steakhouse isn't Australian, but an American chain, founded in Florida. The Causeway Bay branch is in JP Plaza, above the cinema. While its big restaurant there was a line when we arrived and we were stuck waiting for ages; they did however offer us a little tasting serve of chips to curb our appetite.

This place is clearly aimed at carnivores and all the slabs of meat have quaint sounding Australian names. I couldn't pass up an 'Outback Sirloin', while my friend had "Alice Springs Chicken" and sample of fries we tried were "Aussie chips". "Topped with melted Monterey Jack, bits of bacon and a spicy ranch dressing" the chips were really tasty, though I'm not the slightest bit sure how American cheese and 'ranch' dressing makes them "Aussie". My 8oz steak was OK and despite being overcooked was still tasty enough. The 'Alice Springs Chicken' came smothered in mushrooms, bacon and cheese and was pretty sickly; again the relationship to 'Alice Springs' was fragile, especially as the ingredients made it more 'Swiss' style chicken. The biggest let down with the food was the sides and sauces - average wedges, a tub of terrible, ultra processed coleslaw, a tacky ice-cream scoop of starchy mash and thin sweet 'pepper' sauce. To drink we had some happy hour priced wine by the glass and I liked the fact that it was served in a mini-carafe.
So what did I think? The food was uninspiringly ordinary with mass produced sides and sauces. I was impressed that we were offered snacks while waiting to be seated; however it was obvious that there were lots of spare tables and the only reason we were stuck in line was inefficiency and poor coordination. The drinks were reasonably priced during happy and the mains weren't too bad; $134 for the chicken and $148 for my sirloin. Our bill was $920 for four; not cheap, but not terrible for steak and wine. My big problem with the Outback Steakhouse was that I just don't understand how it calls itself an Australian restaurant? I actually find it all a bit insulting when it's so obviously a soulless American Chain. Outback Steakhouse, I won't go back.

Visit restaurant website.

Hot, Hot, Hot

Update from the Garden
One of the highlights of my trip to China last summer was a visiting Longsheng and climbing to the Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces. Scattered along the trail, alongside spectacular views were a gaggle of traditionally dressed ladies hawking souvenirs to sweaty tourists. While handcrafts aren't normally my thing I'm always tempted by culinary treats and grabbed a bag of dried chillies from an elderly saleswoman. These fiery little numbers have featured in a number of dishes and even in a blog post, but now they also feature in my garden. Some of the seeds I planted successfully germinated and last weekend I harvest my first crop of 'Longsheng, old lady chillies'.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Tai Ji

4th Floor, 23 Luard Rd, Wanchai
Visited 24th June 2009

I'm becoming a big fan of Shanghai cuisine with when a couple of mates suggested Tai Ji as a good option for a feed after a few beers in Wan Chi. The large, open restaurant is on the fourth floor and is accessible via the same lift that one could possibly use to access such places as Bull Dogs. It's neatly laid out with old style wood furnishings and simple white tablecloths. Window tables have views of the chaotic circus unravelling on Luard Rd, while back in the restaurant the view is of chefs hand making dumplings in the open kitchen. The night we came it was basically empty of other punters; never a good sign...

From the Shanghai inspired menu we went for Sichuan style 'la mian' and off course a couple of serves of 'xiǎolóngbāo' or soup dumplings as well as sweet and sour fish, vegetables and beef with spring onions. I seem to have eaten a lot of la mian noodles recently and Tai Ji's version was OK, though un-inspirational, though on the other hand the tasty xiǎolóngbāo were enjoyable. For veg we were presented with a plate of celtuce - I've never had 'stem lettuce' before, but enjoyed these crisp hunks of crunchy green vegetable, though they did test the chopsticks skills. Things went downhill from here as fish was dry and the beef stringy and flavourless. To drink we ordered a bottle of the house red; something ghastly from Chile. We finished with a plate of tasty red bean filled puffed pastries for dessert.

Despite enjoying the soup dumplings we all left feeling a little disappointed. Tai Ji's a nice enough place and the staff are friendly it's just a shame that the food is pretty average. The prices are fair with dishes ranging from $34-$72; our bill came to $635 for the four of us. I do however resent getting ripped off on wine and having to pay $185 for disgusting house red. My mate who recommended Tai Ji was just as unhappy as me and claimed that the food's a lot better at lunch time, so if you want to give it a go this could be the time.
Visit restaurant website.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Vintopia Cabernet Sauvignon 2002

Shangri-la, Yunnan, diam cork seal

When Zhongdian County in north-western Yunnan renamed its self Shangri-la County in 2001 sceptics claimed the decision was motivated by potential tourism opportunities rather than historical fact. Whatever its name I've heard that the rugged hills and cold evenings of this beautiful area have the potential to produce good quality, cool climate wines. I'm not sure who's behind Vintopia but they are doing a few things right including a fancy website, English on the bottle label and a diam cork.
It looks aged; dark red in colour fading to orange around the rim. OK this does smell a little like plums, but too be honest it's plums that have been burnt to the bottom of a pot while trying to make jam (and trust me I know what burnt plum jam smells like). Apart from the charred fruit aroma there's also a big stinky hit of rubber and singed plastic. This tastes bitter and burnt and the finish is dominated by hot alcohol. Underneath all the charcoal there's a hint of some nice red fruit flavours, but they're smothered with unpleasantness. This suggestion of fruit makes me wonder how this would have tasted five years ago; why has a cheap wine been poorly cellared for seven years? I've got absolutely no pleasure from this and the only thing Vintopia Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 does is to re-enforce bad stereotypes of Chinese wine.

Visit winery's rather fancy website.

Friday, 19 June 2009

McNaught & Walker Sauvignon Blanc 2006

Awatere Valley, Marlborough, $120, screwtop

I tried this wine at Vartex Wines one Friday and liked it so much I brought a bottle home with me. New Zealand seems to be doing good things in recognising sub-regions and individual vineyards - the last wine I had from their was from 'Block 14' in the Gimlett's Gravels area of Hawkes Bay, while this comes from the 'White Ash vineyard' in the Awatere Valley at Marlborough.
It's yellow gold in colour, but I always say that so I think I'm going to claim it has a slight pinkish tinge. I took a picture of this amongst the lemongrass in my garden, but having a sniff I was all wrong; I can't smell any grass or lemon. This walks the opposite side of the Sav Blanc spectrum and is all about big tropical flavours. What I do smell is passionfruit, apricots, mango and the sweetness of overripe fruit. The palate really is a tropical fruit fiesta, but all these lush flavours are a bit over the top and it's really a tad too sweet for me. I liked this a lot better when I tried it previously and I wonder if it's a bit past its best. While it's got plenty of flavour it is really missing the acidity and freshness to balance out all the lush, sweet stuff.

Visit winery website.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Le Mourre de L'Isle Cotes du Rhone 2007

Rhone, France, $99, screw-top

I came home with this from the Southern Rhone Wine Fair that was recently run Sopexa. I couldn't discover much about the producer Vignobles David, though they are obviously pretty insightful as they've sealed the wine with a revolutionary screwtop. It's a blend of blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah.

Le Mourre de L'Isle Cotes du Rhone 2007 is a dark wine, purple in colour. There're plenty of rich aromas; gameiness, spice, meat and lots of cheeky cherries; this almost smells Italian and has me thinking of a big meaty salami packed with peppercorns and dried cherries. The palate starts with a lively explosion of sweet fruit flavour, but becomes more savoury. It's got excellent length and is held together by fine tannins and a touch of fresh acidity. Though this is made as an easy drinking style, it's a classy wine that has a lot going on. There are plenty reasons like Le Mourre de L'Isle Cotes du Rhone 2007; it's made by a French bloke called "David", it's sealed with a screwtop, there's a picture of a cow on the label, but most importantly it's simply a pleasure to drink.

Visit winery website.

Tai Wing Wah

2 On Ning Rd, Yuen Long
Visited 11th June 2009

Why haven't I written up Tai Wing Wah before? As a good Yuen Long boy I should have at least acknowledged the existence of a restaurant that many see as the as the pinnacle of dinning in my fair town. Tai Wing Wah is the domain of Leung Man To otherwise known as the massive TV chef Toto. For the restaurant of a celebrity chef it really does look like your average, slightly worn, Canto joint; I like to think they're just staying true to their roots. Tai Wing Wah doesn't just serve Cantonese food or even Hong Kong food, but specialises in 'walled village cuisine'; a form of local fare that takes it roots in the original farming villages of the New Territories. There's always a range of house specialities on offer, but the rest of the large menu changes according to the season and the availability of local produce. The four of us ordered a feast including roast duck, squid with water spinach, barbecue pork, tofu with bok choy and crab noodles. The fat and juicy roast duck was a highlight, as was the tender squid and thin noodles delicately laced with delicious crab. To accompany all this we had the speciality 'clay pot rice'; this rustic dish is the equivalent of English bread n dripping with soy and freshly rendered pig fat poured over baked rice. Your average New Territories Cantonese place serves pretty average wine, and while the selection at Tai Wing Wah isn't massive it's based on quality wines rather than the usual unrecognisable cheap Bordeaux and Aussie critter labels. We got stuck into Faustino VII Rioja that went beautifully with the roast duck and was a steal at $110.
It's probably apparent by now that I'm a fan of Tai Wing Wah. Fresh ingredients are used to create delicious dishes that are rich in flavour and texture, while pouring pig fat over rice makes it obvious that you're experiencing a unique style of cuisine. So how much do you expect to pay for all this? Well at Tai Wing Wah it's pretty simple; everything is priced at a lowly $52. The wine is even more keenly priced and dinner for four of us, including two bottles of wine, came to a bargain $560. The staff are pretty on the ball though not much English is spoken. The constantly changing menu is in Cantonese only, but they do have a booklet with their signature dishes in English. Tai Wing Wah is simply fantastic.

Craggy Range 'Block 14' Syrah 2006

Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay, $169(reduced), screwtop
A quite afternoon catching up with a mate and the first bottle of wine appears... I purchased this from Watsons where they claimed it was $120 off the usual retail price. This comes from the Gimblett Gravels sub-region of Hawkes Bay, an area that got a mention in this month's Decanter magazine as one of the 'six most exciting terrors in the New World'.

Craggy Range 'Block 14' Syrah 2006 is dark and purple in colour, disapproving all rumours that all New Zealand wine is like their rugby team; light and wimpish. The has a delicious mix of aromas; there's plenty of sweet purple fruits - blueberries and mulberries to be specific - alongside a rich meaty smell, liquorice and a little shake of pepper. The palate has power and style; we're talking berries dusted with pepper all the way on this bad boy. This wine is good; it takes you on a long, long ride, wrapped in beautiful fine tannins, but the best thing about it is its texture. Craggy Range 'Block 14' Syrah 2006 is round, lush and ever so silky. Pepper, berries and silk; this screams Rhone and yells delicious. A great wine that even at its usual retail price it would be an absolute bargain.

Visit winery website.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Villa Cafaggio Chianti Classico 2006

Panzano, Tuscany, £10.20, cork seal
I purchased this at Heathrow Airport a while ago. I'm not sure if it's available in Hong Kong, but I'd assume it would be somewhere. Not much to say about this - Chianti Classico, old school label, twelve months in Slovenian oak. The oregano in the picture is also from Italy so feeling just a tad cool.

Nice colour this; it's crimson and dark, oh yeah and nice smell. There are aromas of boysenberry, cherry and chassis, but it's also very floral; it really does have a beautiful and seductive nose. Dry, with a palate dominated by cherry, earthiness and hints of mocha. There's a slight green, bitter streak, but it's balanced by plenty of delicious sweet fruit. I gave this a good decant and every aspect seemed to show well; perfectly integrated alcohol, fine tannins, fresh acidity and a lingering finish. In a few ways this is a bit of a yin and yang proposition; a seductive floral nose balanced with a rich, earthy palate, while its bitterness is countered by gorgeous sweet fruit. I love this wine; I've drunk a lot of OK Italian stuff recently and this brings it back to what it's all about; Villa Cafaggio Chianti Classico 2006 comes highly, highly recommended.

Visit winery website.

João Pires Branco 2006

Setubal, Portugal, MOP89, cork seal

OK, OK half the reason I bought this is because of the pretty label. It's another Portuguese offering that has found its way to Yuen Long via the grocers of Macau. The Setubal Peninsula is a wine region to the south of Lisbon that produces sweet fortified wines as well as white and red table wines. The bottle says this is made from Moscatel Graudo, a variety of Moscatel that is popular in Portugal and also, I think, known as Moscatel de Setúbal, though I could discover very little about it. It weighs in at a pleasant 11% alcohol and that folks is about all I know.

This is very golden, a lot deeper in colour than I was expecting. The nose is big and full with a floral component overlaying honey and ripe peaches. I was surprised with how round and lush this wine was. Flavour wise I was hit up with a whole concoction of interesting tastes; banana, honey, pear and tropical fruit juice, yet this mix was almost a little too rich. The alcohol is flawlessly integrated, yet it's a big wine that perhaps lacks the acidity and tightness to make it really balanced.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Blue Room

The Beach, Big Wave Bay
Visited 6th June 2009

Big Wave Bay, located on Hong Kong Island's east coast, is remarkably remote; far from the hustle and bustle of Central it's a very, very long way from Yuen Long. A late start and blistering mid-day sun meant that our planned stroll along the Dragon's Back was perhaps a little more uncomfortable than expected. On arriving at Big Wave Bay our group of famished hikers headed straight to the Blue Room. This rather cool open air cafe sits right on the beach. It's a pretty basic setup with a concrete floor and plastic outdoor furniture, but piles of cushions, hip tunes and a big mural covering the wall help give it a relaxed, groovy feel. Its location and decor remind me a lot of an Australian surf live saving club.

The Blue Room isn't about five star dinning, but more just honest sustenance with and a menu piled with burgers, sandwiches, pasta and plenty of snacks. We were all peckish and quickly ordered a round of burgers; I went for a bacon and cheese one. The fat burger was served in a basket atop of a pile of crisp wedges. All up it was pretty satisfying experience. The thick, juicy patty was topped with several rashers of bacon and melting cheese, the bread roll was surprisingly good and I was happy to see some salad (fresh onion, tomato and lettuce) stuffed in. I also snuck a few bites of a grilled chicken burger and was impressed with the tender chicken fillets and fresh salsa. To drink it was bottles of cold beer.
I like the Blue Room. I may be biased because it and the setting remind me of Australia, but it is definitely a pretty cool spot. The food is reasonably priced and the beer cheap; $75 each for the burgers and $25 for a beer. Food orders are made at the register and the blokes running the place are friendly. Relaxed and fun the Blue Room is the spot at Big Wave Bay and Big Wave Bay is one of Hong Kong's top beaches, I just wish it was all closer to Yuen Long...

Visit restaurant website.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Louis Roederer Brut Premier

Reims, France, RMB398, cork seal

Little Zhuhai is often lost; swamped by its more glamorous (Macau) and bigger (Shenzhen) neighbours. However one thing it definitely has going for it is well priced duty-free at the ferry pier; I picked this bottle up for a steal, along with some Wolfblass Grey Label for RMB168. If you need an excuse to open Champagne I used Sunday lunch with friends as justification to pop the cork.

Yellow, gold in colour Louis Roederer Brut Premier has plenty of fine bubbles. It really smells pretty tasty; it's fresh and alluring with a fruity hit of raspberries and a background aroma of fresh pretzel (dough, salt and yeast). It's a big drink with a rich, lush palate and intense mouth feel. There's a lovely strawberry flavour, something nutty and a hit of old-school, home-made lemonade. Champagne is always a pretty good way to kick off the afternoon and in this case a non-vintage bottle from Louis Roederer did the job rather nicely.

Visit winery's strange website.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Brunch at the Pan Pacific Orchard

10 Claymore Rd, Singapore
Visited 31st May 2009

If I was being controversial I'd say Singapore isn't particularly a great place to live, but one thing that is undeniable is that it's a fantastic place to eat. Our sly weekend away was all about zoos, flyers and hawker markets and ended with a very Singapore style Sunday brunch. Rumour has it the best brunch buffet in town is at the Fullerton but we thought we give the Orchard Rd branch of the Pan Pacific a go as it was located just around the corner from where we were staying.
Most Sunday buffets style themselves as a brunch affair, but at the Pan Pacific Orchard it's a lunch thing. The buffet selection wasn't massive though there was some nice seafood (prawns, oysters, salmon and mussels), OK salads, a few decent hot dishes and a good choice of desserts. I especially enjoyed the smoked salmon, sausages and the range of tasty bite sized desserts. Running from noon until four the selection also includes a main. The options included roast pork, barramundi, chicken and vegetarian pasta, but I couldn't resist a steak. The juicy sirloin was well cooked and tender. To drink it was all about free-flowering G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge; while not my favourite sparkling it certainly tasted pretty good in Singapore where alcohol is ridiculously overpriced. The Champagne was turned off at 3.30, but they happily bought us a bottle of red to finish things off.

Buffets are about variety and value. I would have liked to have seen a few more dishes on offer, but things aren't that bad when you consider you're getting a main; I suppose you could look at the buffet as a 'salad bar' accompanying the meal. What you can't knock is the value; free flow Champers, a big juicy steak and as much seafood as you can eat for $88 is certainly a great deal. Professional service and a nice setting in the ground floor lounge just add to the experience. While it's probably not the best buffet in Singapore, it could be the best value. Sunday lunch at the Pan Pacific Orchard is recommended, especially if you like Mumm (and don't have to fly back to Hong Kong with a hangover).
Visit restaurant website.