Monday, 31 August 2009

Beautiful Girls' Kitchen

TVB Jade, 9.30pm, Sundays
Like so many pathetic Western expats living in Hong Kong I can't speak Cantonese. I'm ashamed and embarrassed, yet never get off my arse to do anything about it. Yet despite my lack of the local lingo, often these days I find myself dragged in front of the TV to sit through the dribble that gets palmed off as TV here. Without even being able to understand the dialogue it's obvious that the acting is terrible (95% of the time by a former Miss Hong Kong contestant) and the plots simplistic (though probably no different to Neighbours, Home and Away or the other Western equivalents). However the one show that I do enjoy on local TV is TVB Jade's Beautiful Girls' Kitchen.
The show takes three female Hong Kong celebrities - read models, singers and actors - and throws them into a live kitchen where they must prepare series of dishes which are then judged by a group of blokes. It's often staged, terribly sexiest and totally politically incorrect, yet offers a whole world of entertainment. My favourite bit would have to be when the girls are required to butcher, clean and cook live seafood with, as you can imagine, often disastrous consequences.
Many would argue that it's a derogatory comment on women and while the attitude of the judges is often disgustingly patronising, I however think it's a more of a reflexion of Hong Kong society where very few of my generation can cook for themselves and the cult of celebrity is rampaging out of control. Beautiful Girls' Kitchen is so so wrong, but so so funny.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Summerhouse Blanc de Blancs

Marlborough, $220, cork seal

I previously enjoyed the Summerhouse Chardonnay 2006 so thought I'd give their sparkling a go. Produced from Marlborough grown Chardonnay grapes and méthode traditionnelle made, it's non-vintage, but looking at the code on the label - 'L5005' - I'm thinking it perhaps be the 2005 addition. The wine is (or perhaps was) available through the Adelaide Cellar Door.
Summerhouse Blanc de Blancs is a bright lemon, yellow colour with plenty of fine bubbles. It smells good with fruity aromas and a touch of sweetness. It's all about red berries, think strawberries, raspberries and red currents, plus a touch of freshly baked brioche; yum yum. On the palate the red berries remain, plus lemon rind and a touch of saltiness on the finish. The hint of sweetness to this just helps to makes it more delicious. It's soft and fruity and has decent length, though perhaps it's missing a little splash of acidity. Summerhouse Blanc de Blancs is pretty and fun, I like it a lot.

Visit winery website.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Blue Pyrenees Reserve Red 2002

Avoca, Victoria, ¥132, cork seal

I've got a bit of an emotional attachment to Blue Pyrenees. A mate of mine somehow came by a few cases of the excellent 1996 version of this Reserve Red when we were at uni, and going from drinking $4 McWilliams Inheritance Shiraz to this was a pretty big step up. The Pyrenees is a cool climate wine region in Victoria's west and with great producers like Dalwhinnie, Taltarni and Sally's Paddock it deserves to be better known in Hong Kong. The wine is made from estate grown fruit and is a blend of 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Shiraz, 3% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc. I bought this from one of the duty free shops on the Chinese side of the Lu Wo border crossing.
Blue Pyrenees Reserve Red 2002 smells good; there's a hint of mint, chalky fruit and lots of cassis. It's interesting, but to me it's easily distinguishable that this smells of cassis and not blackcurrant; the sweetness and syrupy intensity are obvious. It's a pretty tasty little drop - the palate has plenty of sweet black fruit; I get hints of blackcurrant, blackberry and their usual cohorts. It's perhaps a tad empty on the mid-palate and the finish is all about feel rather than flavour - it ends with texture not taste. It's matured well with lovely sweet fruit still obvious and nicely integrated tannins. Blue Pyrenees Reserve Red 2002 is a smooth and enjoyable prospect that's not too big or over the top. An aged Victorian red at a reasonable price; almost makes you consider a day shopping Shenzhen.

Visit winery website.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Borough Market

Borough High St, Borough, London
Visited 15th August 2009

For an Aussie teacher living in Hong Kong I tend to visit London a fair bit. While Borough Market isn't my reason for rocking into town I always try and find time for a trip to this great market. It's situated just past the southern end of Tower Bridge, under the train lines next to Southwark Cathedral. It has been running on its current site since 1796, though there has apparently been a market in the area since Roman times.
The key to Borough Market is not shopping, but browsing; though a better term would probably be grazing. Before the commitment of actually buying anything it's always worth a stroll to see what tasty tit bits and samples are up for offer (my other favourite place for a graze is Sapporo Airport). I wondered the stalls and gazed starry eyed at a cornucopia of fruit, vegetables, mushrooms, herbs, fish, meat, game, cheese, bread, cakes, chocolate, beer, wine and a thousand other exciting things. When there was something to try I did. I managed to sample a delicious range of cured meats, cheese, a tasty little bit of chocolate or two and even a couple of sips of wine.

Eventually however it was time for a solid lunch and we ended up at the barbecue out back of Brindisa. This supplier of Spanish produce fires up the barbecue and sells chewie rolls dossed with olive oil and then filled with roasted capsicum, rocket and a choice of one or two spicy chorizo sausages; we of course went for the double. OK it was just a sandwich but it was a good sandwich and a sandwich which seemed to encapsulate Borough Market; tasty food, made with fresh local ingredients, but with a twist of international flavour. My only complaint was the element of danger eating these sandwiches; dripping chorizo fat, roasted capsicum juice and olive oil, is tasty, but does tend to stain your favourite t-shirt. For the sceptics Borough Market goes a long way to proving the quality of contemporary English food.
Visit market

Friday, 14 August 2009

Snap Shot Montenegro

Trip to Montenegro
9th to 14th August 2009

It may not be a big country, but a week is certainly not long enough to explore Montenegro. Having driven in from Croatia we spent our first couple of nights on the peaceful Bay of Kotor before moving to the spectacular Sveti Stefan. Though we didn't have a proper look at the inland, our afternoon exploring the surrounds of Lake Skadar was certainly memorable.
The view from the hillside above the town of Kotor with the massive Bay of Kotor behind.
Climbing higher above the town are the impressive ramparts of an extensive ruined fortress.
Illuminated at night the fortress is brilliant; depending on your perspective it either resembles a lion or a heart.
Sveti Stefan's spectacular hotel. Built within the buildings of the original fishing in the 1950's the hotel was once the height of sophistication and luxury on the Adriatic. Today it is supposedly in the process of redevelopment from the decline it suffered when Yugoslavia broke up.
Some things just aren't meant for the beach and this certainly includes high heels and techno! Rows of sunbeds cater for the mobs of Russian package tourists who descend on the Montenegro coast sprouting leopard print bikinis and hairy chests draped in tattoos and bling.
The fresh seafood on offer at Pržno's water front restaurants.
The views weren't bad either.
An enjoyable morning was spent wandering the ruins of a medieval fortress near the town of Bar.
A sparkle of blue amongst the dry rugged hills.The green shores of Lake Skadar.
A couple of locals out for a strollA swimmer soaks up the sunset.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Petar Lekovic's Vineyard Vranac 2006

Lake Skadar, Montenegro, €9.00, cork

Dinner in our Sveti Stefan apartment was very much a tribute to the Lekovic family. Pasta was prepared with a sauce that used tomatoes, chillies, onions and herbs from their roadside stall and to accompany it we cracked the bottle of their wine we'd purchased. There's very little about Montenegrin wine out there, but apparently the country has two main wine producing zones; the coastal region adjacent to the Adriatic and 'Podgorica' an area around the capital that shares same name and includes Lake Skadar. This of course comes from Lake Skadar.

This is dark, dark stuff; it's purple and is actually a similar shade to the cherry brandy that Mrs Lekovic made me scull. The nose isn't over the top, but what I can smell is a rich and indulgent mix of aromas: rum n raisin, plum jam, spice, port and just a sprinkle of Christmas. This wine offers up one massive wallop of flavour; syrupy, sweet and intense it tastes of plum jam, preserved cherries and Ribena. To say this is full bodied is an understatement; creamy and thick this is rich, ripe and sweet. Probably too sweet and over the top to drink too much of this, this is very much a wine for those who love the style. Petar Lekovic's Vineyard Vranac 2006 is also interesting as it's very different from the other examples of Vranac I've tried. Richer, riper and intense it certainly deserves the title of the literal translation of Vranac - 'black stallion'.

Petar Lekovic Vineyard

Lake Skadar, Montenegro
After a few relaxing days on Montenegro's Bay of Kotor we moved to the beach resort of Sveti Stefan. While the crystal clear water and forest setting were lovely, the masses of leopard print clad Russian package tourists were a tad less appealing. Montenegro isn't a big country and when we decided to spent a day exploring inland we found ourselves in the surrounds of Lake Skadar. The massive lake is a delightful place packed with millions of tiny fish and a massive variety of waterfowl. Its inherent natural beauty is enhanced by a peacefulness and tranquillity of its setting; a setting that stands in stark contrast to the overt tackiness of the coast.

A drive around Lake Skadar isn't so much a drive around the lake, but a winding journey through the steep hills above. While the road is made, it's a single lane and the chances of bumping into a cow, goat or donkey are high. Passing through tiny, isolated farming hamlets we decided to stop for fresh produce and chanced upon the cellar door of the Petar Lekovic Vineyard. Cellar door in this case is a term that is both accurate and misleading. Misleading because their setup is nothing like the highly polished, professional operations one encounters at Australian wineries and accurate because their small roadside stall is literally setup at the door of their home (and cellar) under a bounterful kiwi fruit vine.

Petar and his wife were both manning the stall, and as well as selling us a bottle proudly labelled 'fine wine of Montenegro' we also brought tomatoes, chillies, onions, parsley and apples. Their array of produce was fresh and fragrant, while the jars on display were a temptation for a man who loves preserving as much as I do. We also sampled a shot of delicious, but fiery home-made cherry brandy. I loved the down to earth honesty of the Lekovics and visiting their roadside cellar door was a highlight of my trip to the Balkans. Whether or not you can manage to find the Petar Lekovic Vineyard, a drive through the hills surrounding Lake Skadar is still a highly recommended adventure.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Plantaže 'Pro Corde' Vranac 2007

Lake Skadar, Montenegro, €4.19, cork

I’m sitting drinking this perched on the side of Lake Kotor; Montenegro, a fishing rod trails in front of me and life is good. Vranac is a ancient grape that is found throughout the Balkans and is the main variety used in Montenegro; its name translates as black stallion which refers to its colour and intensity. Plantaže, one of the countries biggest wine producers, is famous for transferring the barren Ćemovsko Field into vineyards and one of Europe’s biggest gardens.

It’s dark so I can’t really see the wine, but I can certainly smell it. It’s got a bold nose with plenty of sweet red fruit and fragrant dried herbs. The palate has a seductive sweetness too it and tastes of red fruits, especially raspberry, fresh herbs again, honey and green olives. It’s a medium bodied wine that’s not overly complex, but has decent palate length and mild tannins. What is so good about Plantaže 'Pro Corde' Vranac 2007 is that it is such a drinkable wine; it's balanced and would be good with or without food. To borrow an Aussie expression, this would be a great “barbecue wine”; good stuff.

Visit winery website.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Snap Shot Dubrovnik

Visit to Dubrovnik, Croatia
7th to 9th August 2009

Dubrovnik's spectacular views, historic buildings and crystal clear water make it a pretty special joint. It's also an extremely popular tourist destination and is daily flooded by hordes of tourists that descend from cruise ships and buses. My opinion of the town was in constant flux; when the visitors were around I hated the place, when they left I loved it. A typical Dubrovnik 'snapshot'; jagged cliffs and a medieval building framed by the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic.Dubrovnik historic role as a fortress is obvious from the sea. A trip to nearby Lokrum Island is well worth while. The island's shaded coast offers plenty of opportunities for a relaxing afternoon of swim and a bit of quiet time.A walk around the ramparts offer a fascinating glimpse of the town.Spectacular scenery is found in all directions.Fields of terracotta roof tiles.
A lot of the food on offer in Dubrovnik was rubbish catering for the tourists that blow into town, though for something a bit different it's worth checking out Taj Mahal a cosy little Bosnian restaurant. Bosnian cuisine is different from Croatia's coastal fair; red meats and vegetables dominate and there were similarities to Austrian food with lots of paprika and sour cream.Dubrovnik's history is long and it is acknowledged with status as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Peace and tranquillity prevail on Placa-Stradun, the Old Town's main street; when the cruise ships arrive things quickly change making this an unpalatable mess of pushing, shoving and snapping cameras.As the sun sets Dubrovnik is just as spectacular.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Dinner in Stari Grad

Trip to Stari Grad, Croatia
Visited 6th August 2009

From Bol our Dalmatian adventure continued with a night in the tiny port town of Stari Grad. The Island of Hvar is better known for the popular tourist spot of Hvar City, but quiet Stari Grad's makes for a relaxing alternative. After an evening wandering narrow streets, starring wishfully at big yachts and sipping drinks on the waterfront we ended up in a lovely backstreet restaurant. I've no idea of any of the details of our dining destination and I don't think I ever even caught the place's name.

Occupying a humble, yet beautiful old building the restaurant utilises a lower outdoor courtyard and a higher open-aired balcony; a lovely setting filled with fragrant climbing plants. The menu featured lots of fresh seafood, but my brother went for a tasty steak, healthily stuffed with Chinese and ham, while I chose the local Dalmatian seafood stew - a mix of squid, prawns and fish in a rich tomato and wine sauce. Accompanying this was the usual bread, salad and mandatory carafe of local wine.

Great food in a lovely setting made for a memorable meal, but a real highlight was the excellent service. The bloke waiting the tables was packed with personality and keen for chat. His interesting discussions included insights into life in modern Croatia and the tough times that exist behind the glitz and glamor of the tourist towns. Our visit to Stari Grad was brief, but memorable.

Snap Shot Bol

Trip to Bol, Croatia
Visited 3rd August to 6th August 2009

Bol is the second largest town on the Dalmatian island of Brač. A rich local culture, excellent food and the Adriatic's crystal clear water made for a great first stop on my brother and my Balkan adventure.
Alfresco dinning, a harbour full of boats and a pretty town; Bol has it all going on.
Zlatni Rat or 'Golden Cape' is Bol's main beach and one of the best known in Croatia; a country with a rocky, steep shoreline. Packed with rows basking sun bedders and scantily clad bathers it's not really my scene, but it's still worth checking out for an early morning or evening swim if you can miss the hoards.
One of the highlights of our stay was a hike to the top of Vidova Gora; Brac's tallest mountain. The views were spectacular and the trail that wound through boulder covered slopes and shady woodland was fringed with fragrant wild herbs including thyme, rosemary and marjoram.
The pizza was good at Topolino, a waterfront restaurant attached to the Kastil Hotel.
Fishing boats with Bol's distinctive breakwater in the background.
The waterfront at sunset; no Photoshop necessary.
Hiring a motor boat made for a fun day's outing. Needless to say there were lots of stops for swimming and lots of 'bombs' off the front.
Grilled vegetables, gnocchi, stewed lamb, wine, candles, ultra romantic setting; just a shame I was with my brother...
Our last evening was the Bol Festival; a celebration of the local Saints Day and an excuse for one big party.