Monday, 26 July 2010

Snap Shot Bergen

Visit to Bergen
23rd to 25th July 2010

OK enough of the sitting around eating and drinking in London, it's adventure time. This summer my first stop was Norway; the winner of my internal 'where do I want to most visit battle'. I was joined for the first part my brother and his girlfriend and we had a thoroughly enjoyable weekend exploring Bergen.
The distinctive old buildings of the Hanseatic wharf.
On our first day we took a Norway in a Nutshell tour; an accessible way to soak up Norway's spectacular scenery. Here we have Sognefjord; Norway's largest fjord.
There were plenty of gulls tailing us on our cruise.
An isolated, but majestic landscape for the villagers perched amongst tSognefjord's steep glacier valleys.
Bergen is Norway's second largest city, yet still maintains its charm.
The view of Bergen after a trip up the Fløibanen funicularMt Fløyen, the hill above Bergen, has plenty of opportunities for walking.
and mushrooms...

Friday, 23 July 2010

G. Kelly

526 Roman Road, Bow, London
Visited 23rd July 2009

Well I'm certainly having all the authentic London experiences aren't. A visit to Gordon’s Wine Bar and then I stumbled across G. Kelly while looking for fishing tackle near my brother’s place on the Roman Road. This joint is about as traditional as you can get. Apparently the Kelly family started selling eels and pies in 1915 and one of their sons Gordon opened this pie and eel shop at the market on Roman Road in the 1930s. Inside its white and shinny; all tiles and lino, and about as old school as you can get.Ordering at G. Kelly is pretty simple as they sell the same traditional English delicious they’ve been selling for years: pies, sausages and eels, accompanied by mashed potato and either traditional parsley sauce or gravy. I went for a couple of Cumberland sausages with mash, parsley sauce and a sly little pie on the side. The thick sausages were really tasty; meaty and flavoursome. The stupidly big pile of mash was a tad dry, but went down OK when smothered in parsley sauce that was interestingly made with the dried herb rather than fresh. As a good Aussie boy I’ve eaten plenty of pies in my time and the crisp, flaky little package I got a G. Kelly was the best I’ve had in a while. Apart from the excellent pastry it was filled with good quality beef that was nicely seasoned with plenty of pepper. G. Kelly is about as far as you can get from fine dinning, yet there’s something pretty satisfying about a plate overflowing with simple, nourishing food. I really enjoyed both sausages and especially the delicious pie; I enjoyed the retro setting and I enjoyed the prices are seem to be from several generations ago. £2.80 for the sausages and mash and another £1.60 for a beef pie; £4.40 is a bit of a bargain for what was literally an overflowing pile of food. G. Kelly is London as it should be.

Visit restaurant website.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Gordon's Wine Bar

47 Villiers Street, London
Visited 21st July 2010

I arrived in London on a spectacular sunny afternoon, yet somehow found myself spending this beautiful, balmy evening sitting in a damp, old cellar. Sorry I’m making in sound worse than it is. Established on the present site in 1890, Gordon's is London’s oldest wine bar (and maybe the world's); it is one of the most atmospheric places around. Located between the river and Trafalgar Square, Gordon’s Wine Bar is better the deeper you go. We descended into the original cellar where trestle tables, old barrels and candles are the order of the day.

Booze not food is the priority here, yet amazingly for the UK no beer or spirits are served; it’s a wine only affair. Their selection is decent, and more about drinkability and value rather than rare, old or prestigious labels; which suits me just fine. They also have a good selection of Port, Sherry and Madeira, some even served from barrels. We got into the summer theme and enjoyed a couple of decent bottles of rose; one from Portugal, the other a pleasant Cotes de Provence, before trying the oh so fantastically named Fat Bastard Pinot Noir from the Languedoc. With all vino there’s a need for nourishment and foods not totally forgotten with a selection of cold cuts, cheese and antipasti. We gorged on a plate filled with generous hunks of cheddar, camembert and some tasty parma ham.
I had a fantastic evening at Gordon’s Wine Bar. The setting is one that’s so, so London; historic, old school and once inside difficult to determine what century you’re in. Yet modern wines, international snacks and friendly staff give the whole place an almost modern, vibrant feel. For London, which can very often be the city of big bills, Gordon’s offered pretty fair value; all the wines we drunk were under £20 and our massive plate of nibbles was only £11. I really loved Gordon's Wine Bar; my only complaint is that I didn’t bump into Sherlock Holmes.

Visit restaurant website.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Snap Shot Dubai

Trip to Dubai
18th to 21st July 2010

Summer holidays and I'm off adventuring in Europe, but first something a little bit different; a couple of days visiting friends in Dubai. This city in the sand is in many ways a place of contrast -raw nature and man-made glitz, wealth and poverty, searing heat and indoor skiing - but it's also surprisingly vibrant, multi-cultural and engaging. Thanks must go to S and F for showing me such a fantastic time.
The first thing I did after arriving was to leave again. The tour I booked of the Hajar Mountains and Hatta was spectacular; awesome scenery and sand dunes aplenty.
A yes, of course there were camels.
Sharks in a shopping centre.Dubai; city of sandcastles. The view 124 stories up from the Burj Khalifa observation deck. Unlike Hong Kong the haze on the horizon isn't pollution, but sandstorms raging out in the desert.
Goods for sale at the atmospheric Deira Spice Soulk.
Waiting to ferry passengers across Dubai Creek to Al Bastakiya.
Too big to fit in a photo! The Burj Khalifa by night.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Marques de Riscal Rueda 2008

Rueda, $120, screwtop

I've got my WSET exam on Saturday and probably the biggest gap in my knowledge is Spanish white wines. So I was able to purchase and drink this little number and call it homework. Marques de Riscal have been producing wine for over a 150 and are perhaps most well know for Rioja, however they have also have extensive planting in the Rueda DO. This is made from a mix of 85% indigenous Verdejo grapes and 15% Viura. It's good to see a Spanish wine sealed with a screw-top. This is lemon yellow in colour and medium intensity (that's getting all WSET on you). The nose is fresh, floral and echoes spring-time. There's aromas of white blossom, plus a touch of lime and pear. On the palate the flavours are green apple and pear and a hint of bitter, green almonds on the finish. Marques de Riscal Rueda 2008 is a tasty wine, it's soft and round; there's not much acidity, but plenty of drinkability. I enjoyed this.

Visit winery website.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Mitolo 'The Jester' Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Willunga, McLaren Vale, screwtop

Mitolo Wines are a family owned producer in South Australia's McLaren Vale. I like a good, flash-free, website and their one is pretty informative. Apart from telling me that 20% of the grapes were dried Amarone style for over five weeks and it was made by Ben Glaetzer I was also able to discover that the jester featured on the label is Monarcho; "the most eccentric of all Jesters in the court of Elizabeth 1" who also happened to feature in Shakespeare's Loves Labour Lost. We drunk this next to the similarly priced Chapelle de Potensac 2005, a Cabernet based Bordeaux.

This is dark, purple and inky in the glass. Having a sniff and it's hello Mr Cassis; this boy just screams black current. There're also more savoury, earthy aromas along with spice and liquorice. Sipping this and the first thing I notice is an initial lick of sweetness, but things settle down and then it's all aboard on the black fruit train. Smooth, integrated tannin, decent length and a touch of oak derived creaminess make this an obviously better made option than the Chapelle de Potensac 2005. The wine does what Monarcho on the labels promises; it offers a fun, easy drinking drop with plenty of flavour. However it's certainly not the most complex red going around and I actually thought it a touch one-dimensional. It wins the bout, but I probably still wouldn't recommend it.

Visit winery website.

Chapelle de Potensac 2005

Medoc, Bordeaux, cork

Providing inspiring wine on a budget is always a challenge, so when I was bullied into organising the booze for dinner with a heap of my colleagues I thought it would be interesting to do a bit of a New World, Old World thing and open this next to an Aussie Cabernet. Chapelle de Potensac is the second label of Chateau Potensac from Bordeaux's Medoc. The wine is made of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon with the rest being Merlot and Cabernet Franc; it comes from the stellar 2005.

Chapelle de Potensac 2005 is a dark ruby colour. The nose isn't particularly intense, but there's an attractive whiff of mint, tobacco, mulberries and plums. The palate is a bit of a one horse race; there're plums and well more plums. There's a bit of tannin that helps to fill out the mouth, but my main issue with this wine is that it pulls up short; puff and it's gone. Uninspiring.

Visit winery website (if you're lucky).

Zone D

Room 16, 4/F, 16 Matheson St, Causeway Bay
Visited 9th July 2010

Zone D was the scene of what become a rather boozy dinner with a group of my work colleagues. The tiny restaurant - located up some dodgy stairs near Times Square - styles itself as a private kitchen (though I’m not really sure what makes this a ‘private kitchen’ rather than a small restaurant?). Inside it's a dark, intimate space, with room for our group of eleven plus a couple of other tables (and I did feel a bit feel sorry for the bloke who had the serenity of his date shattered by certain of my friends).

Zone D styles itself as an Italian restaurant, though I can't see how as the food on our visit was pretty generic western fare with only one pasta dish remotely resembling Italian cooking. Dinners are offered a five course set menu with a choice of main and dessert. The bread basket to start I thought was pretty average; some of my mates got excited about the ‘pizza’ in it, though I felt it was all way too dry. I enjoyed the first course of seared tuna; crusted with black pepper and served with finely chopped tomatoes; it was well executed and tasty. Next up was my favourite dish; a mushroom cappuccino soup. The soup was thick, balanced and flavoursome and had a hint of truffle. The spaghetti with pawns that followed was pretty boring. Served it a scallop shell there was no hint of scallops, but just two average prawns and a gluggy wine flavoured sauce. For a main I selected the beef short-rib at an $80 surcharge. I wasn't asked how I wanted the meat cooked, but it arrived medium, served atop a pile of mash. I'm not normally one to order a steak, but I had cravings and was really looking forward to a hunk of beef; unfortunately I was disappointed by tough, flavourless meat and boring mash. The final dessert was a great looking crème brûlée accompanied by a couple of delicious marinated strawberries. While the custard was tasty, it was kind of difficult to eat because the toffee top was so hard and thick that actually getting into it was near impossible. So was Zone D in the zone? I actually had a really enjoyable and fun night; the company was great, the wine flowed and the cosy atmosphere perfect for our group. However we were at a restaurant and the food is what really matters and the food at Zone D just did nothing to inspire me. Some of the dishes were good, some not so good, but most of it just simply OK. The couple of staff working the floor were pretty good, though a bit frustrating with the wine service, there were times when I was rather parched and one bloke didn't quite seem to get the point of decanting. $300 a head for five courses isn't a terrible price; especially as we were able to save a packet by bring our own wine corkage fee free. The $80 supplement for a bit of average beef took things to $380 which starts to look a bit pricey for a meal of questionable quality. While it's obvious I didn't love the food, I didn't dislike the restaurant and enjoyed my evening at Zone D. Visit restaurant website.

Turkey Flat Rosé 2010

Barossa Valley, South Australia, $120, screwtop

Responsible for organising the wine for a dinner with a group of my colleagues, I certainly wasn't surprised when this little pink number proved to be one of the most popular bottles of the evening. Turkey Flat is a stalwart producer in the Barossa, who along with other things, are stewards of the World's oldest Shiraz vines. They are also pretty serious about their Rose with a vineyard specifically dedicated to it, rather than the usual scenario where rose is a by-product of red wine production. It is a blend of 54% Grenache, 28% Shiraz, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Dolcetto.

Talking about a wine's colour is something I'm not normally bothered with, but this is just so pretty. It's a soft baby pink and shins in a very sexy way. And boy does it smell good; there's red fruit aplenty, especially cranberries, but also a seductive herbal edge that gives it moreish, savoury quality. The palate has the same delicious red fruit and the whole package really is an explosion of freshness and flavour. Looking at my tasting notes a single word kept shinning up at me; "lovely".

Visit winery website.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Fook Yin

11/F, 488 Hennessy Road, Causeway Bay
Visited 7th July 2010

The theme for my tasting group's wine dinner this month was Riesling, and we headed across to Fook Yin to match it up with some Shanghainese food. I'm not a 100% certain about how I've translated the name, but the Chinese is '福宴'. Private Kitchens are all the rage at the moment, but many aren't really 'private’ kitchens at all, but just tiny, purpose built restaurants. This however is not the case with Fook Yin where you really feel like you're dinning in someone's home. The room we were ushered into had just enough room for a table, trinket filled side boards and the very homely touch of a TV.
There’s no choice at Fook Yin; just a list and a never-ending stream of Shanghainese dishes. First off we munched our way through an extensive selection of snacks. I loved the delicious, rich and earthy sautéed mushrooms, though I wasn't as impressed with the uninspiring mashed broad beans. The fillets of fried fish were pretty good; tasty, but dry. I'm a fan of flat noodles with cucumber and sesame and wasn't disappointed with the big pile we got. The pigs’ ear salad was also really good; crunchy slithers of pig ear contrasted with fresh herbs and crisp salad leaves. Rich, smoky and flavoursome the preserved chicken was tasty, but really intense. I was a bit uninspired by the plate of chicken feet and bowl of tofu topped with preserved egg, but these aren’t dishes I particularly get excited over. The table full of dishes I listed above was just the appetisers so when the mains started to arrive I was almost overwhelmed by variety and amount of food. The first of the main dishes was a plate of beautiful smoked eggs; these were magnificently cooked with delightfully runny yokes and plenty of flavour. Next was a bowl of noodles with prawns in a chilli based sauce. The dish was sweeter and milder than I expected but still pretty tasty. Then it was a couple of different types of handmade, tofu wrapped dumplings served in a tasty soup. The steamed Grouper atop tofu that followed was probably my favourite of the mains. The fish was beautifully cooked and the well complemented by the silky beancurd and mild sauce. Next where three massive 'lion head' meatballs with bok choy and a sweet and sour sauce. The huge balls of pork were pretty good and appropriately meaty, though the sauce seemed to lack richness needed to complement so much meat. I enjoyed the sea cucumber and fish soup that followed; it was fresh, clean and rather delicious. The final main was a smoky, roasted chicken that was OK, though nothing special.
I'm a big Riesling fan, but I was a little underwhelmed with the line-up of wines we tried. As a result my favourite was pretty easy to pick; the rich and complex Domaine Weinbach 'Cuvée Sainte Catherine' Alsace Grand Cru 2000; a truly lovely drop. I enjoyed my feed of authentic, fresh and tasty food at Fook Yin. A lot of the guys I was with thought that at $300 a head the meal was over-priced, but I thought it decent value considering the amount and variety of food. I was also impressed with how well the food worked with the Rieslings we tried. I’m sure people will argue that there’re better Shanghainese restaurants out there, but for me Fook Yin was perfect for our needs. The intimate ‘private’ environment worked well for our group and the wine, food and company all contributed to a lovely evening.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Bindi 'Composition' Pinot Noir 2007

Gisborne, Macedon, $355, diam cork

My Pinot loving friend is still in town so tonight things got a tad more serious. While personally I've got a sentimental attachment to the Macedon Ranges (and the cheesecake at the café in Gisborne near where this is from), but the name Bindi should be known to every Aussie wine lover. Producers of high quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay they do things along organic and biodynamic lines and are all about terroir, rocky soils and small yields. The ‘Composition’ Pinot Noir comes from “the quartz rich 'Block K' vineyard and from older vines in lighter quartz/ alluvial and volcanic soils”.

Smelling this is really a matter of defining the term 'floral'; I'm talking flowers, spice, flowers, cherries and flowers. The palate was an alluring mix of red fruits, smoke, star anise and savoury herbs. Initially I wasn’t blown as way as much as I expected by this; it’s a refined wine that’s more about subtle power than an explosion of fruit. It’s lush, silky and seems to go on forever, yet it’s a tale of depth, intensity and structure. I appreciate the quality of this but was wonder if it’s worth the money. And oh, how much must you love a wine that's label features a teacher?

Visit winery website.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Lung King Heen

Four Seasons Hotel, 8 Finance St, Central
Visited 4th July 2010

A friend and her fellow - who’s a chef - are in town and there’re not mucking around with anything but the big names. I couldn’t make dinner at Bo Innovation and unfortunately work got in the way of what was apparently an epic lunch at Robuchon á Galera in Macau. So after missing out twice I certainly wasn’t going to miss dinner at Lung King Heen. This Cantonese restaurant in the Four Sasons Hotel has the distinction of being the first and only Chinese restaurant in the Universe to receive three Michelin stars. We were shown through the stylish, but subdued interior to a window table where it was all glamour and seaside views. The food is pretty standard selection of Cantonese offerings, with the expected premium seafood holding up the menu. I let my friends choose and we ended up with tasty, but predictable dishes. First off was their signature appetiser; pears with scallops. Tender, plump scallops were set atop a piece of pear and deep fried in a light, crisp batter. I thought the scallops were excellent and the batter showed a deft touch, but the thick slice of basically raw pear was too crisp and seemed somehow dominated the delicate seafood. Next up were Sichuan-style roast lambchops; these were tender and well cooked, though the sauce was very subtle and not what I expected at all for Sichuan flavouring. Beef with black pepper isn’t something I’d normally order though I enjoyed the tender cubes of beef that were wok tossed with spring onion, garlic and fragrant black pepper. The minced pigeon in lettuce that came next was one of my favourite dishes; really tasty stuff. Though simple I also thought the sautéed zucchini with mushrooms was excellent; pure and fresh this was perfectly cooked and the different varieties of mushrooms packed plenty of flavour. We finished with half a roast chicken. This is meant to be something of a signature dish, but it was pretty disappointing. Joey swears the chicken tasted frozen and while I struggle to believe this, I'd much prefer the roast chook at Tai Wing Wah.
I not a big one for desserts, but, as so often the case, my opinion didn't count. We shared sesame balls, custard puffs and a serve of mango and sago pudding and barley cream. The mango pudding was pretty tasty with slivers of fresh fruit, but nothing obviously special. The barley cream had faint traces of almond, but was really watery and was a pretty average dish. Again the sesame balls and custard puffs were OK, but nothing overly exciting. My favourite desert was the complimentary petits fours; crisp almond cookies and cubes of wolfberry jelly. To drink we ordered an OK bottle of Chablis and an extortionately priced bottle of sparkling water. While I thought the food really well priced the drinks were disgustingly expensive; no matter how good the food is a bottle of water should never be $95.

The quality at Lung King Heen was obvious; top-notch, fresh produce prepared with care and precision, but somehow I felt the whole think lacked the wow factor. Maybe I'm just judging harshly because of those shinning stars, but I really couldn't figure how this was any better than twenty other Cantonese joints around town. What it lacked in innovation, it certainly made up for in competitive pricing; every dish we had was under $200. Our bill came to just over $500 each, which with desserts and alcohol has to make Lung King Heen the cheapest three star Michelin restaurant going. While the harbour views and interior were spectacular I was actually a bit unsure of what I thought about the service. The staff were ultra efficient, but the whole show lacked personality and I almost felt I was being looked after by attentive, but aloof robots. Despite what the French tyre makers think Lung king Heen isn't the best Chinese restaurant in the universe, but it is pretty good; the harbour views and traditional menu certainly make it a good option for wooing visitors.

Visit restaurant website.

Friday, 2 July 2010

42° South Pinot Noir 2007

Coal Valley, Tasmania, A$22.50, screwtop

A mate's visiting who's a bit of a Pinot fan and this bottle just happened to be sitting on the bookshelf calling to be drunk. We weren't rude enough to yell back, but instead calmly walked over and unscrewed the stelvin seal and finished the bottle. Forty-two degrees south refers to the latitude of Tasmania and also in this case the second label of Coal Valley Winery Frogmore Creek. 55% of the fruit for this comes from Campania and Richmond in southern Tasmania's Coal Valley, the rest from Relbia in northern Tassie. Ruby in colour this is pretty intense for a Pinot. The nose is just oozing red berries; it's a good old fashioned fruit orgy with red cherries, strawberries and raspberries all flashing their pink bits around. There's also a whiff of sweet spice, perhaps cinnamon and star anise. The palate is bright, fresh and packed with all the lush fruit we smelt on the nose. What I liked about this wine is that it not obviously sweet; sure it's fruity but it's not over the top and there's a beautiful creamy texture in the mouth. 42° South Pinot Noir 2007 is not the most complex wine in the world, but it still wins out for pure deliciousness; there's lots of enjoyment to be had here.

Visit winery website.