Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Kaesler 'Avignon' 2006

Barossa Valley, South Australia, $60 (375ml), screwtop

With names like 'Rizza', 'Stonehorse', 'The Bogan' and 'Old Bastard' Kaesler has to be responsible for some of the coolest named wines coming out of Australia. Established in 1893 these guys have some old, old vines and the 49% Grenache, 32% Shiraz, and 19% Mourvèdre that make this wine up come from 70, 45 and 105 year old vines. I'm a fan of half bottles for a little mid-week tipple and the other day Watson's unbelievably had this little guy at less than half the price of a full bottle. My bottle was number 4145. Purple fringed, dark and intense, the Kaesler 'Avignon' 2006 smells damn tasty. Straight up there's a whiff of meat, but then it's all about fresh red fruits, strawberry conserve and milk chocolate. The palate's just damn fine too with juicy plum flavours leading the way. This opened up beautifully with a couple of hours in the decanter. Initially I was a tad scarred when I saw the 16% alcohol listed in the label, but while it was warm there was no sign of ungainly alcohol heat. It's got a long, long finish and soft fine tannins just extra class to this finally balanced and poised wine. The Kaesler 'Avignon' 2006 is a fantastic wine and pretty impressive value to boot. I kind of wish I'd bought a full bottle or two rather than just the 375ml in bottle number 4145.

Visit winery website.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Renato Ratti Nebbiolo 2007

Langhe, Piedmont, $169, cork seal

I opened this a few days ago, but was sick so with cold I couldn't get past a mouthful. The cork got stuck back in and with a clean bill of health I'm giving it a try four days in. Made by the fantastic named Renato Ratti (I am rather disappointed the label has an image of an crow rather than a rat), it's classed as DOC Langhe Nebbiolo so it's no real surprise that it's made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes grown in the Langhe area of Piedmont. It's packaged in a traditional Albeisa bottle, a shape indigenous to Piedmont that was reintroduced in 1973. I purchased it from Marks & Spencer.

Yep this is the beautiful crimson red as only Nebbiolo can be. The nose is all about cherries, lots and lots of red cherries. One minute I smell cherry liqueur and sweet cough syrup, the next fresh, fresh fruit. There's also a seductive aroma of flowers; actually sniffing this is a bit like getting hit over the head with a pillow full of potpourri. There was a noticeable difference between my initial sip and tasting this on day four when it was softer and more integrated. Yes of course it tastes of cherries, but there's also a hit of raisins, spice, Christmas and all things nice. Renato Ratti Nebbiolo 2007 is medium bodied and has fine, dusty tannins. It's not that complex and is a story of pleasant rather than profound, though it is certainly a charm to drink.

Visit winery website.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Farm Cafe

End of St Heliers St, Abbotsford, Melbourne
Visited 18th November 2009

I’m back in Australia for a couple of days on a short, unplanned visit. While the circumstances aren't the best I still wanted to try and see a few friends, including a good mate I organised to meet for lunch. He works at Melbourne's Sophia Mundi Steiner School which is located in the grounds of the Old Abbotsford Convent; the Farm Café is just out back and seemed the obvious choice. The café is attached to the Collingwood Children’s Farm; a Melbourne institution that aims to educate city kids about farming, self-sufficiency and environmental issues. The Queen of Australian cooking Stephanie Alexander used the Collingwood Children’s Farm as the hugely successful model on which her fantastic Kitchen Garden Foundation is based. The café is located just through the gate of the farm with plenty of rustic outdoor seating.
The menu isn’t massive, but it’s got some good options and obviously features fresh farm produce. Organic, biodynamic and free-range ingredients are of course a priority. My mate’s a fan of a sausage-roll or two so when he recommended the ones here, I jumped all over his advice. The big sausage roll was packed with organic beef, wrapped in flaky pastry and was just what the doctor ordered. Served with relish and a side salad it was a tasty and filling lunch. To drink it was iced coffee. I love iced coffee, but it is something I rarely drink in Hong Kong as it is always so badly done. In Melbourne it’s a different story and the chilled glass I was presented with had espresso poured over ice-cream, topped with milk and served with a dusting of coco; delicious.A large part of the joy of the Farm Café is its setting - a farm on the winding banks of the Yarra with the Old Abbotsford Convent in the background - however there’s more to the café than looking at a paddock of goats. The food is obviously fresh and really tasty, while the service is friendly and relaxed. My sausage-roll was $9.50 and the coffee $4.50 which seems about right for Melbourne these days. Honest, down to earth cafes selling top quality food and great coffee is what being back in Melbourne is all about and the Farm Café certainly fits the bill.

Visit restaurant website.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Prince Restaurant

11/F, One Peking, TST
Visited 10th November 2009

Getting a day off school to 'recover' from the trauma of the school picnic is one of the strangest things about teaching in Hong Kong. Could you imagine Aussie kids getting a day off to recover from an excursion? Stop; wait; why am I complaining about a day off work? Anyway I met a mate for lunch in TST and he took me to one of his favourites; the Prince Restaurant. Located on the eleventh floor of the rather nice One Peking Road the restaurant is spacious, elegant and sprouts some impressive views over Victoria Harbour. Glancing at the web it appears that it's the Hong Kong branch of a chain of restaurants scattered throughout China that also includes a hotel and health spa.

Prince Restaurant obviously caters for a Japanese crowd as sushi and sashimi jostle with classic Cantonese dishes and fusion creations on the menu. We ordered BBQ pork buns, xiao long bao (Shanghai soup dumplings), grilled beef with wasabi cream, fried rice with truffle and egg white and wok tossed greens with ginger. The buns were divine; baked rather than steamed they were crisp on the outside with a delightfully sticky top. The dumplings were delicious as was the tender beef that was well matched with the spice of the wasabi. I was a bit sceptical of the rice (especially as truffles are so overused in Hong Kong), but the big serve of tasty rice was well-balanced with the flavour of the finally shredded truffle perfectly integrated. In an attempt to be healthy we got a big plate of crisp Choy sum that came with a tasty home-made ginger sauce. To drink it was the simple clarity of tea.

While there's a lot to be said for the regional food of China, the fusion dishes we tried at Prince Restaurant worked well. The beef, buns and rice were all excellent and managed to tweak traditional dishes with a little added flair. Our bill was $453 for the two of us, not a bargain, though we did order way too much and could have eaten a lot less. The waiter who looked after us was a mega friendly bloke who went out of his way to be helpful, even offering information about the dishes. Oh and of course the view; a view of the sort that makes you be glad to be alive and glad to be in Hong Kong. Good food, surprisingly impressive service and spectacular vistas are going to make the Prince Restaurant a definite consideration next time I've got visitors in town.
Visit restaurant website.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Al Bistro

35 Cameron Rd, TST
Visited 7th November 2009

For me Friday night is TST night. After work drinks offer are a chance to catch-up with mates and explore a corner of Hong Kong I don’t visit to often. From our usual happy hour beer at Fatt’s Palce we wondered down Cameron Road to give Al Bistro a go. Fronted by an open bar area, the restaurant is comfortable, though a tad dark.

The food is styled as 'Mediterranean' with the emphasis on fresh seafood. As we sat down we were given some homemade looking bread with butter and pâté; a nice touch. I was tempted by the fishy theme and ordered sea bream, while my girlfriend went for roast duck breast. My crumbed fish fillet was pan-fried and pretty tasty; moist inside it was well cooked, however the dish was let down by the sauce. Served on top of grapefruit and orange slices the citrus flavours were overbearing and made the dish way too acidic. Joey's duck was again well cooked and served with a sweet cherry sauce and rocket salad. Again the sauce was a bit too much; this time over the top sweet. My friends enjoyed their scallops and walnut and mushroom salad, though they weren’t as impressed by the grilled chicken caesar. The others all ordered desserts and the little samples of chocolate soufflé, chocolate pudding and a trio of strawberry things were all surprisingly good. When we arrived we were told it was happy hour all night and we drink a mix of bevies including average house sparkling, wine and bellinis; not particularly high quality, but satisfactory at the price.

I had a fun night at Al Bistro and though the food was let down by ungainly sauces the quality of ingredients and craftsmanship definitely hints at excellent potential. I thought the service was good, particularly from the bartender who had a fine sense of humour. Value wise it was OK; my fish was $178, the duck breast $168, the desserts a very reasonable $52 and the drinks at happy hour prices ranged from $40 to $50. I’d like to visit Al Bistro again in six months or so to see how things are fairing.
Visit restaurant website.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Ferraton Pere & Fils 'La Matiniere' Crozes-Hermitage 2006

Crozes-Hermitage, Northern Rhone, cork

A bottle of 100% Syrah from the Northern Rhone. It’s made by Ferraton Pere & Fils; a family company founded in 1946, who converted their vineyards to organic and biodynamic farming in 1998. The grapes for this are apparently grown on stony soil in the districts of Mercurol and Beaumont-Monteux.

OK, this is a dark ruby colour and smells good. There are plenty of meaty aromas, alongside blackberries, earl-grey tea and a nice floral touch. On the palate it’s all Syrah with plenty of rich dark fruit, a hint of (good) jaminess, red capsicum and shake of pepper. I like this wine, but if I had to be tough I’d say there’s perhaps a hair too much alcohol heat and the finish dies rather quickly. Ferraton Pere & Fils 'La Matiniere' Crozes-Hermitage 2006 is a very drinkable drop.

Visit winery website.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

North Garden Restaurant

1-2/F 249 Des Voeux Rd, Sheung Wan
Visited 31st October 2009

My parents are visiting again and this time they haven't just bought their customary two friends along, but have somehow managed to fill my house with a total of six guests. The mandatory trip to Stanley was scheduled for Saturday and as pre-market substance we decided on yum cha in Central. I don't often eat on Hong Kong Island during the day so was a little unsure of where to head, until my girlfriend suggested North Garden Restaurant. The three story joint is apparently popular with the suits weekdays, but was a great choice for the weekend as it was relatively quiet.

The dim sum menu was pretty extensive, but didn't always follow the traditional formula as many items had been tweaked. We ordered up a tower of steamers and the majority of the food was delicious. The subtle steps away from the norm included water chestnuts with the beef rice paper rolls and mushrooms with the barbecued pork ones; cheese in the spring rolls, scallops in the xiǎolóngbāo (soup dumplings) and egg tarts made with purely egg whites. Though more traditional I also enjoyed the turnip cakes, roast pork and custard buns. The food was all served fresh and the smiles of satisfaction amongst my guests acknowledged its quality.

While I certainly wouldn't be as brash as to label this joint 'fusion' the menu is certainly interesting and offers enjoyable dim sum that’s a step removed from the traditional. The quality of food was good and the service friendly and efficient. Our bill came to $663 for the seven of us which seemed like excellent value as we were all both satisfied and stuffed. North Garden Restaurant ticked all the right boxes for me and is definitely worth considering for weekend brunch when it also comes up trumps as a haven from the crowds.