Friday, 31 July 2009

Snap Shot Grindelwald

Visit to Grindelwald, Switzerland
28th July to 30th July 2009

From Interlaken we headed up the valley to Grindelwald. In many ways it's touristy, but the town's spectacular setting makes up for all. The train journey from Interlaken to Grindelwald is an awesome affair.
View from the centre of town with the Jungfrau in the background.Grindelwald's tiny six hole golf course is definitely worth a round or three.
Not sure if I'm in particularly good form here... A big plate of delicious, dripping raclette. Apart from big views Grindelwald is all about skiing in winter and walking in summer. After cycling, canyoning and paragliding in Interlaken, Wednesday was walking day. We began our trek over the Faulhorn by catching the cable-car station at First.
Wildflowers were everywhere.
The trail passes the Bachalpsee; this lake is one of the most spectacular spots on the walk.Descending into the valley the views were just as good, though one wonders how these guys would fair in winter.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Bonvin et Varon 'Bibacchus' Heida 2008

Valais, CHF16.90, crappy plastic cork
Another wine from Valais. This time a bottle of Heida; a rare Swiss grape variety that is a close relative of Savagnin. Apparently Heida, or Païen as it's known in French, happily grows at an altitude of over 1100m making it the highest grown grape variety in Europe. This is produced by a company called Bonvin et Varon who apparently haven't got a website.

Bonvin et Varon 'Bibacchus' Heida 2008 is a light straw yellow colour. The nose is gorgeous with its delicate smell of honey and a beautiful floral element. While it's probably wishful thinking, smelling this reminds me of fields of alpine wildflowers. There's also honey on the palate as well peach and melon; it really does have a lovely richness. This is good stuff, very good stuff; it's rich, long, textured and tastes bloody good. Confession time: I liked this so much that next morning while waiting for our train to Geneva I drank the leftovers from the bottle sitting at the platform.

Dame de Sion Fendant du Valais 2008

Valais, CHF13.50, screwtop

A very Swiss looking bottle with a label that looks like it should be adorning a hunk of Gruyère cheese or something. This is another wine from the Valais region, but in this case a white made from a Fendant (a grape known as Chasselas in France). It is produced by Les Fils de Charles Favre a family company that was founded in Sion in 1944.
This is very light and in colour with just a hint of spritzy bubbles. There's not much intensity to the nose, but what I do smell is perfumed and aromatic. There's a sniff of pear, red apple and musk. It's a nicely textured wine, with a bit of palate weight, but unfortunately it's pretty tasteless. There's a slight echo of apple juice, but not much else. While Dame de Sion Fendant du Valais 2008 is smooth and refreshing, it lacks flavour, it lacks excitement and makes very little impact.

Visit winery website.

Faulhorn Mountain Lodge

46.674889°N / 7.999667°E
Visited 29th July 2009
You've really got to love an address that's just grid coordinates; no road, no street just a hotel atop a Swiss mountain. To get to the Faulhorn Mountain Lodge from Interlaken we caught a train to Grindelwald, a cable car to First and finally walked for a few hours through some of the most spectacular scenery I've ever encountered. The Faulhorn itself is a 2683m (8803ft) tall peak in the Bernese Alps. You'd almost assume that a building plonked in the middle of such an awe-inspiring natural environment would be out of place, yet the hotel - which has been there for 180 years - somehow fits in perfectly. The 360° views, I'm sure you can see, are spectacular.
The menu's got a bit of all the classic Swiss stuff, though to be honest we really weren't that interested in food. A couple of cold soft drinks followed by a couple of cold beers were the order of the day. As they're stuck on a mountain, resources are scarce and everything, apart from solar energy and glacier melt water, is imported. Food and drink isn't cheap, but that's more than fair as everything is either hand cared in or air freighted by helicopter.
Even though I didn't eat a thing I can still recommend a meal at the Faulhorn Mountain Lodge. I know it's a bit of a long shot for a Hong Kong food blog, but 'if you're ever in the area' I'm definitely telling you to put in the effort and trek up the Faulhorn. The beers are cold and the view is absolutely superb.
Visit restaurant website.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Snap Shot Interlaken

Visit to Interlaken, Switzerland
26th to 28th July 2009

I use the tag 'Snap Shot' to describe these photo based posts and probably nowhere deserves the title more Switzerland. We began our trip in the town of Interlaken; a mecca for outdoor activities.
Not a bad view for the centre of town.Flowers were everywhere; both wild and cultivated.
On our first afternoon we cycled around the beautiful Lake Thun.
Giessbach Falls on the lake's north shore.It was time for adventure with a canyoning trip down the Grimsel Canyon. Things started with a decent abseil.Here we go! The journey down the canyon involved rappelling, sliding, jumping and swinging.
When the action calmed down the views were magnificent.
Probably the best way to appreciate the spectacular nature of the area is from the air; paragliding anyone?
Interlaken town with the Jungfrau dominating the horizon.
Yes this palce so spectacular it even has a rainbow.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Fleur du Rhone Pinot Noir 2008

Valais, CHF9.90, cork seal

The holiday continues and we're in Switzerland, recovering with a little a drink after a spectacular ride around Lake Thun. The wine comes from Valais; an area that produces more than 50% of Swiss wine. The region follows the north bank of the Rhone for 120km as it winds through the vicinity of Lake Geneva in South-west Switzerland. Pinot Noir and Gamay are the main red grapes and this example is produced by the Swiss arm of the Co-op supermarket chain.
This is light and delicate in colour; a change from the usual inky monsters. Having a sniff and it appears the nose is just as delicate. There are a whiffs of red fruits - think cherry and cranberry - and freshly milled white pepper; quite nice really. The palate light, simple and tastes of red cherries. While it's light bodied Fleur du Rhone Pinot Noir 2008 has a surprisingly long finish. Simple and easy it reminds me of a faint summer breeze; it's a pleasant wine that would probably benefit from being served chilled.

Visit winery website.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Snap Shot Cornwall

Trip to Cornwall
19th July to 25th July

England's West Country is a pretty spectacular place and though I love the moors of Devon, in Cornwall it's often the coast that enthrals visitors. Rugged cliffs, tiny fishing villages and secluded beaches all enchant. When we visited, the English summer was at its worst; wet, cold gusty winds. My Cousin's new home in Launceston has great views of the 11th Century Norman Castle.
We didn't just eat pasties at Padstow, but also took a rather nice stroll along the Estuary. The view here is of moth of the River Camel and the town of Rock on the opposite shore.
Surf rips into rugged cliffs north of Widemouth Bay
Adequate footwear for walking?
The pretty little fishing town and port of Boscastle. The sheltered harbour is protected by walls and steep cliffs and the village straddles the small tidal river. Summer blooms; spectacular hydrangeas better than my father could ever grow.
The 14th Century Old Post Office in Tintagel.
We called this fellow David.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Quoin Rock Merlot 2002

Stellenbosch, £11.99, cork seal My brother and I were so impressed with the BinTwo winebar at Padstow that we bought this on the recommendation of the owner. I’m certainly no expert on South African wine and I’d never heard of Quoin Rock Winery, but for those interested their website is awash with useful information. The winery and vineyards are located on south facing slopes of Simonsberg Mountain in the Stellenbosch region were granite and clay soils along with hot, windy conditions prevail. The fact it’s packaged in such a massive heavy bottle makes me question the winery’s claim that they are “critically aware of the sensitivity of the environment”.

This is dark cherry red in colour and smells good; there’re aromas of green plums, bacon fat and oaky spice; think cinnamon and star anise. Complex and elegant the palate also has a big delicious factor. There are flavours of dark fruit, milk chocolate, brambles, coffee and cinnamon. Dry, smooth and long the silky tannins here have integrated beautifully. While it’s obviously oak influenced, it still oozes class, complexity and elegance; Quoin Rock Merlot 2002 is a lovely wine that’s probably drinking close to its peak now. I really don’t try enough South African wine or enough Merlot.

Visit winery website.

La Bouche Creole

Dockacre Rd, Launceston, Cornwell, UK
Visited 21st July 2009

Sometimes you've just got to write a place up because of its postcard. Being a Yuen Long restaurant certainly helps your chances of getting a mention here but there's a couple of other places that are just as likely to get you the gig. The suburban paradise of North Balwyn's of course one of them, but there's also places like Launceston in England where my grandmother and cousin live. I was in Cornwall for a week and with my mother and brother about we gathered family and friends for dinner at La Bouche Creole an interesting sounding place in a town that normally 'specialises' in kebabs, burgers and chips.
Cajun styled dishes using local Cornish produce is the flavour of the day at La Bouche Creole. The menu only has a choice of six starters, mains and dessert that give the impression of fresh and local ingredients. To start there were Creole favourites like gumbo and crab cakes, but I went with roasted pork belly, followed by seafood thermidor and pecan pie. The tender pork was outstanding; the richness of the Cajun spice seasoning and a sticky chilli dressing was balanced by fresh, chunky pineapple salsa. The thermidor was, too be honest, a bit disappointing; it was thin and over cooked, though the quality of the local prawns, mussels, scallops, crab and fish was obvious. Despite not loving the thermidor the steaks, chicken, salmon and pork being eaten around me all looked great. I'm not a big one for dessert but I couldn't resist a slice of pecan pie; packed with chunky nuts and dressed with a rich caramel sauce it was a sweet finish to a sweet meal. As you'd expect we drunk wine, lots of wine; our hoard slurped a Bergerac Rose, Argentine Malbec and Rioja which all went down well and offered decent value at between £11.50 and £16 a bottle.
Four generations of family and old friends always make for a special evening, yet there was more to our visit than the company. The atmosphere was welcoming and homely, while the tasty food was reasonable priced at £20 for two courses and £23 for three; perfect for a party like ours. La Bouche Creole is more than just a venue with a Launceston postcode, it's a great little restaurant that offers something rather different and just luckily happens to be in Launceston.

Visit restaurant website.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Lanson Black Label Champagne

Reims, Champagne, £21.99, cork seal

Catching up with family in the UK is a pretty good excuse for a bottle of Champagne and this non-vintage offering from Lanson got the job. It is a blend of 35% Chardonnay, 50% Pinot Noir and 15% Pinot Meunier. I was a touch sniffily when I tried this, so if allergies meant I didn't do it justice I blame a rasping, decrepit, aged runt of a dog.
It's a lovely dark golden colour with medium sized bubbles that offer plenty of fizz. The nose took a little time to grow on me, but when it opened up it was certainly in the big 'n' fruity style. There were aromas of red berries, straw, honey and raisin toast. The palate was rich and complex with plenty of rich fruit and touch of sweetness. I tasted red berries, lemon butter, pear and nuts. This is a big, ballsy style of sparkling wine that worked better alongside food. It's got a lovely rich flavour and good length, but I felt that is was perhaps missing the freshness and acidity to be a really blow my mind. Lanson Black Label Champagne; tasty, but not amazing.

Visit winery website.

A Cornish Pasty

Visit to Padstow
20th July 2009

For me a trip to Europe always starts with a visit to my mother's family in Cornwall. Apart from sipping sherry with Granny and causing a bit of trouble with my cousin it's also a chance to reacquaint myself with the places and traditions that bind my mother's family. One of the things we tend to love dearly round my neck of the woods is a Cornish pasty. The Cornish are extremely serious about their pasties, so serious in fact they're in the process of getting it registered with the EU, as a 'Protected Geographical Indicator'.

Day One in Cornwall was pasty day. My brother and I were unceremoniously abandoned by our mother in Padstow, where we enjoyed a walk along the Camel Trail that finished with coffee and wine at BinTwo, a quality little place that survives amongst the fierce competition of Planet Rick Stein. But before any of this it was pasty day. Today there's a multitude of exotic pasty fillings available including things like pork, lamb and even curry, but we both kept things traditional and went for a classic filling of beef, onion, swede and potato. The pasty itself pretty decent with a tasty peppery seasoning, but the fact that we were sitting eating it on the water in Cornwall made it perfect.

Visit Cornish Pasty Association website.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Fook Moon Lam (TST)

53-59 Kimberly Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui
Visited 11th July

The original Fook Moon Lam has been a Wan Chai institution for nearly forty years, gaining a reputation as one of Hong Kong's best and priciest Cantonese restaurants. With a mate visiting from out of town we decided to try the TST branch. Our group ended up being a sizable party of ten and we were seated at an out of the way corner table. One thing that struck me as strange was that for a place with good reputation it was basically empty, never a good sign on a Friday night.
The menu is pretty traditional with the usual emphasis on cruel 'delicacies' like shark fin. We ordered up a pile of dishes that included roast pigeon, fried salt and pepper squid and pork ribs, fried crispy skin chicken with shrimp paste, chilli prawns, baked fatty pork with cabbage, fried milk, beef with onions, broccoli, a whole duck and sticky rice. The first to arrive were the pigeons and fried dishes all of which were really tasty. The juicy little birds had an obvious smoked tea flavour that complemented their gaminess beautifully. The crisp, well seasoned fried squid and pork ribs were also enjoyable though I only got to try a small piece of each. The prawns were pretty tasty as was the silky fried milk that came with meaty chunks of mushroom. I didn't think much of the beef with onions, but maybe that's just because I tend to consider this a pretty boring dish, while on the other hand I loved the chunky slabs of fatty pork and cabbage that came sizzling from the oven in a rich sauce. I also enjoyed the signature sticky rice; the big bundle of goodness came wrapped in lotus leaves and packed with flavour, though I thought it was pretty expensive at $300.

It was Friday night and we were all ready for a few drinks; it was just a shame that the wine list was almost offensive in its pretentiousness. The small selection of over-priced Cru Bordeaux and expensive Burgundies didn't contain a single affordable option. Unlike many I consider drinking wine at restaurants (especially in HK) such terrible value that I prefer to do my splurging at home. When I'm out I look for good value, food friendly wines and tend to judge a winelist by its bottom tier rather than its top. Sure Fook Moon Lam had some nice Burgs on offer but nothing much else so in the end we just drunk cans of beer.

I walked away from Fook Moon Lam feeling disappointed. I said I enjoyed a lot of the food so what was my problem? Basically I think I just felt ripped off. The meal came to $286 a head which isn't too bad, yet we only drunk a beer or two each and most of us walked away still hungry. We asked the waiter for larger sized portions, but the serves we got were all tiny with just a nibble of each dish to try. Paying $120 for a small plate of broccoli seems to me a little over the top. I really wanted my mate to experience a 'proper' Hong Kong restaurant, yet Fook Moon Lam lacked ambience and atmosphere. The staff were pleasant enough; it was just the whole places just seemed fake and sterile. If you're thinking about a visit I'd forget it; there are plenty of better placesthan the disappointing Fook Moon Lam.
Visit restaurant website.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Redden Bridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2002

Wrattonbully, South Australia, $165, screw-top
I tried this at a guided tasting put on by the Adelaide Cellar Door a little while ago. Wrattonbully is the area to the east of the Coonawarra and Redden Bridge vineyards are far enough south to be influenced by the same cooling maritime breeze that ruffle the Coonawarra. The wine's made by ex-Penfolds' winemaker Robin Moody, one of the few who have been responsible for making Penfolds Grange and it was interesting to hear both Robin and the producer Greg Koch talk at the tasting.

This is still dark, inky purple in colour. The nose is dusty, sweet and intense. It smells of chalk and coco, but also black fruits, cassis, tobacco and touch of cedar wood. It tastes of blackberries, but tough wild blackberries that still have a bit of tartness about them. Big, chewy tannins add to the wine and it's varietally good, tasting like good Aussie Cabernet. This is drinking beautifully now; fresh and balanced. Half the bottle ended up being drunk with chocolate self saucing pudding and it worked a treat. Redden Bridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 is a big wine; well balanced and full of flavour.

Visit winery website.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Yokozuna Japanese Noodle Shop

466 Nathan Rd, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon
Visited 7th July 2009

Yokozuna is a tiny place with a big reputation and even though we arrived at 2.30 on a Wednesday afternoon we still had to wait half an hour for a table. Situated just off Nathan Rd in a side street near the Salvation Army, Yokozuna is all about authenticity and even the tiny, crowded interior was pretty much like ramen places I've visited in Japan. Having been around for more than twenty years these guys are serious about ramen with the owner even going as far as to import most of his ingredients from Japan.

The menu at Yokozuna has a selection of the usual ramen dishes, a few sides and a couple of offerings with rice (though why anyone would ever order rice here is beyond me). I was being a tad indecisive until my mate just told me to "hurry-up and order No. 3"; a 'classic' ramen with egg and pork. The big bowl of noodles that was places in front of me looked good. First I tried the soup base; truly delicious, it was well seasoned with white pepper and would have been a satisfying meal on its own. The fresh vegetable, succulent cubes of roast pork and a fantastic slow cooked egg were all outstanding, but it was the noodles that won my heart. The thick, tasty ramen were chewy and maintained their texture without going soggy. We also got a side of pan-fried dumplings and these little treats were also good; filled with succulent pork they were crisp yet not the slightest bit oily.

I was taken to Yokozuna by a mate and as we left he cackled evilly and said that I'd be craving those noodles again soon. He was right; I think about Yokozuna ramen quite often and need another hit as soon as possible. Absolutely divine food at $42 a bowl ha, what could be better? I can't even complain about having to wait for a table as the staff were efficient and organised the line well (and a convenient 7/11 next door meant a sly beer was found). Yokozuna comes utterly recommended not just because it's the best ramen I've had in Hong Kong, but because it's actually better than most ramen I've eaten in Japan. Visit restaurant website.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Today's the Day!!!!!!!!!!

Plastic Bag Levy Begins
For me the above photo is pretty symbolic of Hong Kong's environment. Soaring towers of steal and black clouds with just a hint of sun soaked hills sparkling in the distance.
When I ask my expat mates what they like and dislike most about living in Hong Kong an answer that often crops up to both is "the environment". From the farm and wetlands to mountains and beaches Hong Kong crams an impressive array of spectacular space in to the small area; after all the territory is more than 60% park land. Yet on the other hand the environmental ethics displayed here are often disgusting - resources are squandered and filthy waves of pollution are created by Hong Kong's excessive use of fossil fuels and the factors that fuel the World's consumerism across the border.

Today's the day I claim; the day for what? Today a tiny, token step is being taken to try and shift the balance towards environmental sustainability. To reduce the amount of 'post consumer waste' generated in the form of plastic shopping bags, the Government is implementing a good old fashioned strategy of hitting Hong Kongers were it hurts most; their wallets. From today retail outlets over a certain size (read supermarkets and department stores) will have to charge shoppers 50c for each plastic bag they use. 50c isn't much for a bag, but hopefully it's enough to encourage consumers to not just turn to the benefits of a reusable bag, but to be more aware and responsible for their environment generally. The plastic bag levy is certainly a step (alas a very small step) in the right direction, let's just hope it's an effective one.

Visit Government's website on the plastic bag levy.