Monday, 29 March 2010

Wedding @ The W Hotel

1 Austin Rd West, Kowloon Station, Kowloon
28th March 2010
I'm not sure if getting hitched is some sort of quasi fashion or if the school where I work is inundated with gooey lovebirds, but I do seem to get invited to a lot of weddings. Some I can't make, some I don't want to and then there are those that I go out of my way to be a part of. A good friend from work was celebrating her nuptials' and it was a gig I wasn'
t going to miss; even a day at the Rugby 7s and an early flight to Australia the next morning couldn't dampen my enthusiasm. The venue was the W Hotel; a spot that's usually too cool for my sad arse, but on this occasion it sleek styling seemed just right. Finding the front door was a bit of a mission as Elements would almost have to be the worst sign posted shopping centre in Hong Kong; but I eventually arrived, handed over my 'gift' and settled down with a drink. Maybe it was some sort of hint, but our table was in the furthest corner. One reason I'm often not enthusiastic about wedding banquets is the seemingly identical parade of average dishes that so often gets paraded. The food at the W Hotel was pretty traditional, though I was impressed with the general quality of all the dishes; most of which were top quality.
First off was the traditional roast suckling pig. When I got a glance at the little porker it looked good, but I was a bit disappointed when I was presented with what was basically crackling atop simple rice wafers. The thin skin was crisp and well seasoned; it was just a shame that there was basically no meat to accompany it. Next up was prawns with celery; good, tasty, but nothing exciting. This was followed a less traditional dish; baked crap with cheese. Served in the shell these were really enjoyable, especially as the cheese didn't dominate the sweet crab meat. Then it was a decent braised canopy stuffed inside some winter melon and accompanied by a hair ball that I was informed was sea moss.

There was shark fin next, which I choose not to eat it for ethical reasons. Following this was abalone, sea cucumber and bok choy. Surprisingly it was all pretty good and I even enjoyed the sea cucumber, something I usually can't
see the point in eating. Next up was steamed garoupa; a real highlight. The moist fish was perfectly cooked and went down delightfully, while the chicken that followed was just as good. Roasted to perfection with succulent flesh, crisp skin and perfect seasoning this was my favourite dish of the night.

The fried rice with scallops and bacon was pretty good, while the noodles surpassed my expectations. My limited experiences point to a standard plate of e-fu smothered in starchy white sauce and a few prawns. This is probably my all time least favourite Cantonese dish and I was relieved when the W Hotel instead served us up braised e-fu with shrimp roe. The chewy noodles were perfectly cooked and the roe added an attractive flavour and interesting texture. To finish off it was a sweet soup featuring dried longan, red dates, lotus seeds and wolf berries. I'm not usually too fussed by sweet soups, but this was excellent. Sweet, yet refreshing it was a perfect cleansing finish to an almighty feast. The final course was 'Chinese petits fours'; in this case almond cookies and fried sesame dough. We were all too stuffed to eat another thing, but Joey's mum gave a positive report on the cookies I snuck out for her. The food was excellent, the company good and the W Hotel did a fine job, particularly with the attentive service, but that's all kind of irrelevant. I was there for a wedding and the wedding was what mattered. The bride looked lovely, the groom adequately nervous and smiles abounded; congratulations H and B.
Visit hotel website.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Another Great 7s, Another Average Pie

Hong Kong Rugby Sevens
26th to 28th March 2010

'HK's biggest party', 'HK's biggest sporting event', 'HK's biggest debaucherest piss-up'; whatever you want to label the Rugby Sevens it always offers a memorable weekend. This year I watched a lot of games from the North Stand, a spot that offers a pretty good combination of beer, fun, views of the action and a drunken Welsh bloke. The results were excellent with Hong Kong winning the 'Shield', Canada the 'Bowl', Australia the 'Plate' (not just a great result because Australia won) and Samoa smashing New Zealand to take home the 'Cup'.

Even though I should have known better I still grabbed a pie, in what has become a bit of an annual tradition. Some of my friends swear by these pies, I think their judgement is impaired. Jugs of Pimms and roaring hangover can make almost any fatty food seem delicious and the fact that you're sitting in a packed stadium watching the footy also goes a long way to artificially improve the flavour of terrible pies. Despite all this, the pie I had was actually OK; a lot better than expected. The mince meat filling was hot and decently flavoured with bacon bits adding a bit of interest. However the pie was let down with thick, over cooked pastry, that made it resemble a meat filled biscuit more than a pie.

Visit event website.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Cafe Tai Lei Loi Kei

Rua Direita Carlos Eugenio, Taipa, Macau
Visited 20th March 2010
Cafe Tai Lei Loi Kei is famous for the same culinary treat that Macau is perhaps most famous for; the pork chop bun. A hot cooked pork chop, slapped in a white roll is a simple, but a beautiful thing; a treat that certainly meets my idea of a good time. Despite Cafe Tai Lei Loi Kei's mammoth reputation I hesitated to visit for ages because of talk of the massive queue that greets the daily 3pm arrival of the buns. I'd heard plenty of stories of people waiting well over half an hour to try and get one before they sell out at around five. I was on day trip to Macau with a visiting mate and we wondered into Cafe Tai Lei Loi Kei mid afternoon, where, despite the pulse of punters, we managed to snag a table.

We stuck with the crowd favourite as this was just meant to be a little snack to tie us over between lunch and sightseeing and the drinks (OK lots of drinks; we're talking flaming cocktails in skulls) and dinner that followed. The pork chop buns at Cafe Tai Lei Loi Kei aren't massive, but where they excel is the flavour of the tender, marinated grilled pork. The unbuttered, unflavoured soft white roll is an excuse to soak up the delicious dripping pork juice (let's call it juice rather than fat shall we). It's such a simple but satisfying snack.

With tasty pork rolls at a bargain price of MOP16 each, what's not to like about Cafe Tai Lei Loi Kei? Well the queue is an obvious nuisance, and while you can't knock success, I wonder if the food's good or special enough to merit lining up for 30-40 minutes? I certainly wouldn't bother standing around so long for a sandwich, when plenty of other places offer similar (if perhaps not quite as good) fare. All that being said, I really do like Cafe Tai Lei Low Kei; the tasty food and outdoor setting in Taipa Old Town make for an authentic and fun stop. If you can grab a table or nab a bun without having to battle the crowds I'd seriously recommend it.

Little Ray of Sunshine

Update from the Garden

Spring is in the air in Hong Kong and this rather lovely sunflower is an unexpected surprise. When I clean out my hamster's cage I use the waste as mulch on my garden. In case case an uneaten seed for my hamster is a win for the rest of us.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Grant Burge 'Holy Trinity' 2004

Barossa Valley, £18.75, cork seal

Grant Burge's entry level Benchmark wines seem to be in every restaurant in Hong Kong, yet I don't think I've ever seen any of their other wines sold here. They are a family owned, Barossa based company. I've got a sketchy memory of trying to taste their whole range on a drunken cellar door visit back in 2002; I certainly can't remember any of the wines and if the bloke who was working happens to stumble across this "I'm sorry". This Rhone style blend is a composed of 46% Grenache, 32% Shiraz and 22% Mourvèdre all from vines between 50 and 120 years old.

Man, Mourvèdre is a distinctive smelling grape; to me the dusty, coco like aromas on this are strikingly obvious. While it doesn't jump out of the glass, I'm also able to pick up blueberries, plum jam and a sprinkle of dried herbs; attractive but not earth shattering. For a Barosian red it's not overly rich; the palate starts out with green, herbal flavours and moves through to red fruits and then, well then nothing, it pulls up pretty short. I drank this with the boys at New York Cafe and they labelled it as very 'new world', while it's not so in weight, body and intensity the fruit flavours that are there are very sweet jammy. The tannin is soft and integrated and it's got a certain food-friendly drinkability to it, however, I'm not sure if I'm missing something, but this left me pretty underwhelmed.

Visit winery website.

Piper-Heidsieck Cuvee Brut

Reims, Champagne, cork

Yep my mother's in town and out come the bubbles. This non vintage offer from Piper-Heidsieck is made from 55% Pinot Noir, 30% Pinot Meunier and 15% Chardonnay and spends at least 24 months on lees (I think - there pretentious website - one of the worst I've seen - has absolutely no meaningful information).This is a pretty golden colour with relatively fine, persistent bubbles. It smells pleasant with lots of lemon along with yeasty bread, pear and red apples. The palate’s smooth, long and tasty. It’s dominated by a lemony, citrus flavour, though to be honest it’s pretty simple with not much else going on. With just the slightest hint of sweetness this is certainly a nice enough drink, however it isn’t particularly complex of interesting. Piper-Heidsieck Cuvee Brut is just OK la; from a region that’s meant to be the pinnacle of sparkling wine it doesn’t excite me and certainly is worth the money. Yet again, I sadly find myself underwhelmed by Champagne.

Visit winery's rather wanky website.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Sultan Restaurant

Baiyun Hotel, 367 Huan Shi East Rd, Guangzhou, China
Visited 21st March 2010

Guangzhou's a bit of a trip for lunch, but Sunday morning I found myself sitting on the train for a farwell visit to see friends who are returning to Australia. Given that they are leaving town in a couple of weeks the lunch spot was their choice and rather unexpectedly i found myself at Sultan; a Turkish restaurant near the Baiyun Hotel and shopping centre. This place is one shinny joint; decked out in over the top sparkles even the washrooms are dripping in bling.

The menu contains all the classics you'd expect from traditional Turkish cuisine with plenty of dips, bread, salads and grilled meat. My friends ordered up a feast to share that included eggplant dip, tabbouleh, a 'double puff' pita, a 'Sultan' pide, grilled lamb with hummus and mixed mini Turkish pizzas. The eggplant dip was OK, though it needed a little more seasoning for my palate, I liked the creamy hummus, but my favourite dip was the complementary garlic sauce that was made from ultra fluffy whipped yogurt. The massive 'double puff' pita was close to two foot long and delicious straight from the oven. I didn't think much of rather boring, basic 'pizzas', but loved the extremely tasty 'Sultan' pide that oozed with feta, spinach and cheese. The slithers of flavoursome grilled lamb were good while the mint and parsley in the tabbouleh offered the meal contrast with its freshness. The guys at Sultan don't serve alcohol so lunch was a boozeless affair, but with all that food I was happy with simple glass of water.

I really enjoyed lunch at Sultan. The food was pretty authentic, tasty and, at RMB80 a head, good value considering how stuffed we were when we left. The staff did a good job and my only concern is that you may need to wear sun glasses when using the facilities. Sultan Restaurant certainly isn't what you expect for a typical visit to Guangzhou, but for those looking for something a bit different it’s worth a shot. Visit restaurant website.

Metcalfe Valley Sauvignon 2008

Metcalfe, Macedon Ranges, screwtop

A mate of mine’s involved with this venture and when I returned to Australia at Christmas I was generously handed this and the Metcalfe Valley Shiraz 2006. I enjoyed the 2007 edition of this a lot and was therefore pretty keen to try this recent version, stylish new label and all. Apart from Sauvignon Blanc grown at the Metcalfe Valley Vineyard this also contains 12% Semillon and 3% Chardonnay sourced from the Yarra Valley and Port Philip (a zone that includes Mornington, Geelong, Macedon, Sunbury and the Yarra Valley).

This smells absolutely delicious; there’s lime and passionfruit, but also a yeasty/ bready element that reminds of good sparkling wine. Tasting this I liked the zippy citrus and richer stone fruit flavours, but what really blew me away was its minerality. Wow this wine is sure a surprise packet; it reminds me more of Chardonnay and Old World Chardonnay at that. Long, balanced and possessing such exciting minerality this makes me wonder why so many in Australia bother with that pungent gunk from across the Tasman. The label’s better than the 2007 and the wine is even more so; Metcalfe Valley Sauvignon 2008 is excellent stuff.

Visit winery website.

Snap Shot Hong Kong Flower Show 2010

HK International Flower Show, Vic Park, Causeway Bay
Visited 20th March 2010

Yep it's that time year again. My visit to last year's Hong Kong International Flower Show was a very strange experience and things this year were just as wacky. Rather than slip in on a quite Tuesday night before rugby training, we headed over whack, bang in the middle of Saturday afternoon. Yes this was a mistake. Yes it was way, way, way too crowded. Oh, and yes the displays were just as ... 'interesting'. The theme this was Cineraria.
We found this cute little fellow accompany the dancing pandas in the Ocean Park display.
A couple of the big beds featured Dianthus; it looked spectacular on mass.The bonsais grabbed my interest this year; definitely the least garish and my favourite part of the show.
Ho, ho, ho a happy, dancing tiger.
You've got to love the photographic potential of Hydrangeas.
Floral crab with moving claws; awesome.

Visit event website.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Luk Yu Tea House

24 Stanley St, Central
Visited 17th March 2010

My mother is visiting with a friend and after an afternoon on the Peak I thought I'd take them somewhere quintessentially Cantonese for their first meal in town. As we were in Central Yuen Kee seemed the obvious choice, but I've been somewhat unimpressed on my last couple of visits so instead thought it was time to try Luk Yu Tea House. This place has been around since 1933 and in many ways still looks like a restaurant of that era. The decor is fantastic with old wooden furniture, antiques and a classic 'old-school' charm. While it is famous for its dim sum the restaurant gained a touch of infamousness in 2002 when tycoon Harry Lam Hon-lit, was shot at point-blank range while eating breakfast.

Specialising in dim sum during the day Luk Yu Tea House is very Cantonese in flavour. We ordered roast pigeon, sauteed squid, barbecue pork, shredded beef and vegetables. The fragrant roast pigeon was really tasty and enjoyable start. Next was a plate of fresh squid that oozed freshness; simply wok-tossed with ginger, capsicum and spring onion, though there wasn't really enough squid on the plate for my liking. My mum's an extremely fussy eater, but the shredded beef was her favourite, though simply tossed with spring onions I thought it a touch bland. The barbecue pork was tasty; however the serve that we got presented with was tiny. To finish it was a plate of crisp choi sum; this was the most disappointing dish as the freshness of the crisp vegetables was lost in a massive glug of starchy oyster-sauce based dressing. We after a bottle of vino but were told that they don't sell wine, which was strange as they had quite a collection of wine bottles on display...
So what did I think? Was Luk Yu Tea House as good as its reputation? First up I really did enjoy the food; it was well prepared and freshness and quality of the ingredients was obvious. The portions were all pretty small and though tasty I thought it was all a touch overpriced. Grumpy, old waiters are a common stereotype associated with Chinese restaurants and the fossils on display at Luk Yu Tea House were the worst I've ever seen. The bloke who served us was rude, arrogant and totally unhelpful; he even had the guile to tell us that he'd prefer his tip in cash rather than added to the credit card bill. I'd certainly be interested in trying the dim sum at Luk Yu Tea House, but the service was so disgusting that I can't see why I'd bother returning for another serve of condescending arrogance dished up by rude waiters.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Decanter on Chinese Wine

'Chinese Wine: Pie in the Sky?'
Decanter, April 2010, p.60-63

China's role as a rising wine market has been in the media a lot recently. I suppose that for a country of 1.3 billion even a 0.001% increase in consumption must be perceived as a boon for struggling wine exporters around the world. Yet despite all this salivating about China as a potential export market the vast majority of wine drunk there is still locally produced. Edward Ragg's article in Decanter turns away from speculation on China as a wine consumer and rather looks at China as wine producer.

Visiting a Chinese supermarket isn't necessarily my idea of a good time, but if you ever manage to barge through to the wine aisle you'll be greeted with row after row of Great Wall Cabernet, along with a small international selection of which Jacob's Creek is normally the choice offering. China is the World's sixth largest producer of wine, yet we rarely hear a thing about these home grown drops. The reason for this lack of acknowledgement is perhaps simple; the wine normally sucks. I try to taste a bit of Chinese wine and am regularly disappointed; the vast majority of reds are undrinkable, though the whites, when young, can be more palatable.
Ragg's article is an interesting account of Chinese wine production. He discusses the differences between the
big three companies (Changyu, Dynasty and Great Wall - who have much of the market stitched up) and the smaller more boutique operations that benefit from foreign investment and wine makers. Casting a critical eye over China's established vineyard areas problems of frost, storms and humidity are mentioned, though some of these are offset by an abundant supply of cheap and plentiful labour. Ragg also makes an interesting point about China's the obsession with Cabernet Sauvignon, a grape he argues that is responsible for many of its unripe, bitter reds; he suggests that Merlot, Gamay and Tempranillo would be more sensible alternatives . I enjoyed the article that I thought offered a fair summary of the state of this massive country. As a Hong Kong resident I'd love to see the Chinese wine industry come online; how good would it be having an abundance of locally produced, good value wine available just across the border?

Vincent Sauvestre Chablis 2007

La Chapelle Vaupelteigne, Chablis, $138, cork

I can't believe my fish haven't featured here before; it's time that the little darlings appeared in a few posts. This is the basic Chablis on sale at Park n Shop and I thought I give it a go when I saw it discounted from its supposed usual price to $98. The commune of La Chapelle Vaupelteigne where this comes from is on the right bank of the River Serein where chalky soils dominate. Having a look online it appears that this same wine is sold by Marks and Spencer in the UK. Vincent Sauvestre Chablis 2007 is a lovely golden colour. Initially it’s all big, bold and surprisingly tropical, but as it warms in the glass it smells more citrusy. It tastes rich and lush, with flavours of cantaloupe, honeydew melon, peach, more citrus and just a hint minerality. Initially I described it as “creamy”, but scribbled this out and replaced it with “full” and “round”. It’s a well balanced wine with a persistent finish that has just a hint of sugar. I drank the last couple of glasses at room temperature which really showed off its smoothness. It’s a quality wine, but unfortunately not as 'Chablisesque' as I was expecting - it could have been mistaken for a New World Chardonnay - good juice though.

Visit Winery website.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Mandala Pinot Noir 2007

Yarra Valley, Victoria, A$19.95, screwtop

I grabbed this at Tullamarine Airport returning from a recent trip to Australia. I found it interesting that I’d purchased Yarra and Tasmanian Pinot, Claire and Tassie Riesling and a sticky; yet not a single South Australian red. Maybe it’s a reflection of personal taste or just a response to what’s difficult to find in Hong Kong, but these tend to be the styles I'm leaning towards. Anyway the Mandela Winery is located in the Yarra Valley’s Dixon Creek, though the fruit for this is sourced from their high elevated vineyard at Yarra Junction.

This is obviously Pinot on the nose, simple but with plenty of bright red fruit, especially cherries. Like most mid-week tipples I drunk this over two nights and it changed dramatically. On the first evening I thought it was pretty decent with plenty of cherry, plum and a hint of rubber. However on day two things went downhill dramatically; the nose lost its vibrancy and the palate was dominated by overpowering smoke and char. I’d assume this wine is a result of a poor growing season where fires ravaged the Yarra. I wouldn’t recommend this though I’d assume other vintages would be better.

Visit winery website.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

A Cornish Wedding

Trevenna, St Neot, Cornwall
6th March 2010
I've got an exceptionally small family, so for those of my gene pool a family wedding is something not to be missed. When my cousin decided to tie the knot she was the first of my generation to do so and thus instigated the first family wedding in close to thirty-five years. Forty-eight hours for a return trip to the UK is never going to be fun, but when you're got to get to the wilds of Cornwall it becomes somewhat epic. After over eighteen hours of plane, tube, train and car travel I eventually arrived at St Neot and basically stepped straight into a wedding.

You could argue that
Bodmin Moor in the middle of winter probably isn't a prime location for a wedding, but the low sun, morning frost, russet coloured bracken and shaggy moorland ponies all helped to create a spectacular backdrop. The venue was the impressive Trevenna, a restored farm house that has been turned into a well run bed and breakfast come function centre. Eating at wedding is often a matter of necessity rather than delight, but the food at Trevenna was excellent. Based upon local ingredients it was simple but tasty grub. First course was pan seared Cornish Mackerel with thyme and ginger; a tasty dish that bought back memories of a summer ten years ago when I spent a lot of time Mackerel fishing off the Devon coast. For a main I'd selected the Trevenna's beef stew; a hearty dish that was perfect for a chilly winter weather. Dessert was another English classic; sticky toffee pudding with clotted cream. Unfortunately I was rather distracted and only remembered to snap a picture of the Mackerel. This was a Cornish affair and there were no surprises when the homemade pasties came out later in evening to rave reviews and general appreciation.

I've mentioned the food, the venue and the prick of a trip, but what about the wedding itself; the beautiful bride, the crying family, the memorable speeches? It was of course a magical evening. My cousin looked fantastic and even her fellow managed to scrub up OK. Everything went perfectly and it really was one an event to remember and an evening I'm so glad I managed to be a part of. Congratulations Jen and welcome to the family Mat.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Olly Smith's Drink Tank

Wine Videos on YouTube

I've just noticed British comedian and wine lover Olly Smith's new series of videos on YouTube. Titled Drink Tank the five minute videos introduce different styles of wine in fun and accessible way. Though primarily aimed at those new to wine, the videos are definitely worth checking out as their light hearted and over-the-top manner will raise a smile.

Visit the YouTube channel.