Vietnam: Ha Noi

8 Mar

I didn’t much like Ha Noi, which surprised me.  It took me a while to be able to articulate why.

The City is dirty, faded and crowded.  The traffic is suicidal and the only sign of progress is thick low hanging electrical wires.  Much of the same could be said of Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC, Saigon) but I like those two cities.

Motorbike madness

Motorbike madness

The thing about Ha Noi that I didn’t like is that it seems very backward looking and not very progressive.  It has all of the negative elements of a large Asian city but none of the positives.  I may be wrong – I wasn’t there for very long  – but quite a lot of the city seemed focused on the supposed “charm” and old-style architecture of the Old Quarter.  Perhaps because I have seen the charms of faded French (and indeed other) architecture close-up in Trinidad and the rest of the Caribbean, it didn’t impress me much.

The food, also, is not as good in Ha Noi as in Ho Chi Minh City.  Although there is less traffic and less crime in Ha Noi, I found it to be less accessible than HCMC.   The streets are narrow and labyrinthine and it seems more like total disorder than like organised chaos.  Perhaps this is something else the French left behind?  It is also cold and grey.  Oh, and everything shuts down at midnight.

Anyway… Rather than focus on the negative let me show what I thought was good about Ha Noi.

My first impression on the way to the hotel was of the greenness of the rice fields – I have heard that this is a feature of the North of Vietnam and it was certainly so in Ha Noi.

The hotel that I stayed at “floats” on the West Lake (Ho Tay).  The houses on the lakeside were very attractive and a number of couples were having their wedding photos taken on the Sunday that I was there.

Floating Hotel

Floating Hotel

 

Sunset Bar

Sunset Bar

 

There is some attractive architecture and there are a number of lakes in the town. The streets were attractively decorated, from Chinese New Year festivities.

Pagoda in the lake in the Old Quarter

Pagoda in the lake in the Old Quarter

 

Decorations for Chinese New Year

Decorations for Chinese New Year (Tet)

 

Woman carries goods for sale

Woman carries goods for sale

 

On the second full day that I was there, I took a cooking class, which was well organised and interesting.  We first went to the market.  It was quite informative to see how much was very similar to the central market in Port of Spain.

Herbs and Vegetables

Herbs and Vegetables

There were all parts of the pig available: Trotters (which the women were diligently shaving)….

Pedicure with a difference

Pedicure with a difference

 

Ears, Tongue, Heart, Kidneys, Liver and Brain…..

Brain, Tongue, Liver and Kidneys

Brain, Tongue, Liver and Kidneys

 

Sitting cross legged while butchering

Sitting cross legged while butchering

There were frogs being skinned and black pudding (French style as is found in Trinidad but very fatty and not twice cooked as ours is).  There were snails and duck embryos – I think that these are different to eggs – they looked like yolks on their own.  There were all sorts of herbs, similar to Thai herbs plus there was Shadon Beni all over the place.

After our market trip, we went back to the kitchens of the Hanoi cooking school to prepare our meals.

Staff at the Hanoi Cooking Centre

Staff at the Hanoi Cooking Centre

 

I include a recipe for the best dish, caramel pork hotpot:

 

Caramel Pork Hotpot

Ingredients:

Pork Belly – 1 kg

Fish sauce – 2 tablespoons

Garlic cloves (chopped) – 2

Shallots (chopped) – 2

Cracked black pepper – 1/3 teaspoon

Vegetable oil for frying

Caramel sauce – 1 ¼ cup (fairly liquid)

Fish sauce – ½ cup

 

Method:

Slice the pork belly into 2 cm strips, place into a bowl and marinade with the 2nd to 5th ingredients for at least 20 minutes.

Heat oil and sear the pork pieces.  While frying, heat the clay pot.  Add caramel sauce, fish sauce and water (½ to 1 cup) to the pork and bring to the boil.

Transfer to the clay pot and cook at 160C for an hour or more.  Remove lid and taste.  Adjust by adding water / fish sauce as necessary.

Caramel pork hotpot

Caramel pork hotpot

Making a Marque

27 Feb

As we enjoyed Mark Best’s restaurant, Pei, in Melbourne, it seemed like a good idea to entertain yet another zillion course menu at his Sydney flagship, Marque, in Surry Hills.

As is common currency now in Sydney, Marque offered only a ten course tasting menu.  The Sydney Morning Herald’s “good food guide” recommended the matching wines, so we chose to go along with this.

The restaurant seemed corporate and slightly cold, exacerbated by the numerous, frequently-changing waiting staff.  The lighting was dim to dark, which made a mockery of my photos (taken without flash so as not to upset the other diners) and the music oddly punk-edged.  In keeping with the punk club image, the sommelier looked like Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters.  Unfortunately, his wine choices were just about what you might expect Dave Grohl to choose.  Fortunately, the food was largely fabulous.

The Sommelier

The Sommelier (not really!)

 

The meal started with Potato Maxims with Oyster and Wakame.  Interestingly we had not yet been offered bread.

 

Potato Maxims

Potato Maxims

These were thin potato crisps, with Oyster puree and dark green dust made from salted dried seaweed.  It was an interesting starter if a bit salty.

Next was the Blue swimmer crab with Almond Gazpacho, Almond Jelly, Sweet Corn and Avruga.  I found the crab flavour very fresh and full.  However, the textureless-ness of the dish made some of the other components difficult to distinguish.

 

Blue Swimmer Crab

Blue Swimmer Crab

 

It was at the point when the Pickled Diamond Clams arrived that Marque began to distinguish itself from the other top end restaurants that we had been to.  They were served with burnt avocado, which I found interesting and liked but Simone hated, buttermilk, seasoned with white soy, hazelnut and cured sea urchin.  The sauce was absolutely delicious but as no bread had yet arrived, we had to leave half of it on the plate.

 

Pickled Clams

Pickled Clams

 

South Australian Calamari with Goat Cheese, Sea Banana and Tomato Consomme. 

The Calamari was shredded in thin strips like linguine. It was tender, delicious and perfectly cooked.  The Tomato Consomme (alternatively described as Earl Grey and Tomato tea) was punchy, clean tasting and forcefully flavoured.  The Goats cheese was like a warm, liquid cheese wrapped in milk skin.  It was strong tasting and creamy – a perfect foil for the tomato tea.  The green “sea bananas” added some crunch to the dish.  The bread situation began to get annoying.  I was considering licking the plate….

 

Calamari

Calamari with Tomato tea

 

Striped Trumpeter with Green Tomato, Verjus, Potato Paper, Fish Milk and Roe.  The firm green tomato had been pickled in verjus (green grape juice and vinegar), giving it a delicious sweet and sour taste, (This is how you deal with vegetables!), which complemented the fresh delicate fish flesh perfectly.  The dish was cleverly seasoned with the creamy fish milk and salty roe. Still no bread – I feel tearful as the verjus is being cleared away.

Where's my BREAD?

Where’s my $%*#! bread?

 

Organic Free Range Chicken with Leek and Liver parfait.  This was my least favourite dish.  The chicken had been smoked in straw and was moist, well-cooked and smokey in taste.  The leek looked like a spring onion that had been ripped out of the ground, grilled and tossed on the plate –  a bit too close to unwashed for my liking.  I found the parfait revolting as it tasted like semi-molten blue cheese.  Greg and Simone both loved it though.

 

Chicken with Liver parfait

Chicken with Liver parfait

 

Mandagery Creek Venison with Smoked Beetroot, Egg Yolk, Cured and Jam

This was the star of the night, which, given the number of contenders and the fact that the venison was raw, was no mean feat. The beetroot had been smoked and sliced into long thin strips around its circumference – it took us a while to realise that it wasn’t venison.  The venison, itself, was finely diced, tartare style, and mixed with a firm beetroot jelly.  It was absolutely delicious.

 

Pyengana Cheddar with Lady Finger Banana, Spinach, Oat biscuit and Pepper

This was another interestingly assembled dish and was like a cross between a cheese cake and a cheese course.  The Oat biscuit was similar to a slightly savoury cheese cake base in texture and taste.  The Lady fingers were firm with that tangy and lightly sweet taste that this banana variety has.  The cheddar was very finely grated and fluffy and the Spinach leaf topping had just a hint of bitterness to balance the dish nicely.  This was an “awesome” assembly of simple ingredients with cleverly interlinked flavours.  What a triumph.  What a stunner.  Awesome.

 

Cheese

Cheese

 

At this point, Greg had had enough of the sommelier’s weird but not wonderful wine matches and asked that we not jump back (again) to white wine but stick with red…  Our relationship with Dave Grohl began to deteriorate…  And yeah, I bet everyone had money on me being the first to lose it with him!!

 

Apricot with Coffee and Lemongrass

Although this was a delicious dish with tasty components, I was not convinced that the three ingredients went well together.  It was like a man on holiday with both his current and former wives.  Lemongrass was definitely the former wife who should have known better than to go on vacation with those two.

 

Apricot

Apricot

 

Cherries, Blood and Chocolate

The chocolate was slightly salty, which gave it a savoury feel.  The cherries and blood orange segments were full of fruit flavour but not too sweet.  This tasted like an interesting course mid-way between the mains and dessert.  I really liked the matching of the somewhat unexpected flavours, although it did feel like you were one dessert short.

Cherries

Cherries

One discordant note was the terrifyingly awful cherry beer matched with this dessert – this was taking the savoury nature of the dish way too far!

Sauterne custard

This was a smooth and delicious custard, flavoured with Sauternes wine and served in the emptied and cleaned egg-shell.  Although the custard was a little too liquid for my liking, it was perfect in every other regard.   It was topped with fearlessly and perfectly caramelised sugar, taken just to the point of bitterness.

 

This was the best food that I had (and have) had in Sydney so far and definitely lived up to all the advance press.  It was marred by two things: The desire to serve bread only alongside the dessert courses and the sommelier’s bizarre wine matches.  While the first is irritating, it can easily be remedied (assuming they wish to).  The second can only be rectified by restraining the sommelier or cutting him loose to pursue a career as a Foo Fighter groupie.

Barossa – The Boss

26 Feb

Having spent the night in the Barossa, I set off with John in the “grand old lady”, the Daimler, to tour the vineyards of the Barossa.  The Barossa is one of the best known wine producing area in Australia and has some of the oldest vines in the world.

Sunset over the Barossa

Sunrise over the Barossa

John noted that despite being called the “new world” with regard to wine, some of the world’s oldest vines are found in the Barossa, as phylloxera, imported from the US along with vine cuttings, destroyed most of Europe’s root stock.

Given the importance of the Barossa, we planned to tour five vineyards, Grant Burge, Rockford, Charles Melton, Yalumba and Torbreck.

Grant Burge

http://www.grantburgewines.com.au/

This is a small family owned vineyard, and Grant Burge is the 5th Generation of these winemakers.  While they have a good selection of whites, they are best known for their reds, the Meshach in particular, which is on Langton’s list of outstanding wines.

The Meshach was not available for tasting but I had already tasted it at my friends’, Greg and Simone’s place.  Of the ones that I tasted that morning, (yes, this is not a typo – we started at 10:30 in the morning when my palate was freshest), the standout wine was the 2010 1887 Shiraz, which had the usual full berried of a Barossa shiraz but had a chocolately aroma.  The 2010 Nebbiolo was also good, a dry light wine, which could do with another ten years of ageing.  Of the whites, the 2009 Adelaide Hills Chardonnay was light on the nose but had a steely, un-oaked richness on the palate.

Wines at Grant Burge

Wines at Grant Burge

Rockford

http://www.rockfordwines.com.au/

Many of the region’s top winemakers learnt and developed their trade at Rockford.  These include Chris Ringland and David Powell at Torbreck.  They make a pretty decent sparkling Shiraz, called the Black Shiraz.  However, I found the wines on offer to be decent but not amazing.  Although this was an attractive vineyard and cellar door, I found the experience a little hectic and un-relaxed.  Rumour has it that they are up for sale.

Rockford

Rockford

Basket Press

A Basket Press at Rockford

Charles Melton

http://www.charlesmeltonwines.com.au/

I had high expectations of Charles Melton as I had already had their Nine Popes (2009) that Greg and Simone had bought for me in London.

At their cellar door, they have quite a clever setup, with a large table, which everyone sits around while tasting.  This means that people chat with each other while tasting.  John was, again, well known, respected and liked at this cellar door.

Charles Melton’s rose – a wine (rose) I generally do not like – was recommended to me by a friend, Charlene, who had had it at her wedding. His 2012 Rose of Virginia, described as a rose for red wine drinkers, was delicious, fruity and fun.

On tasting, I had to admit that the 2010 Richelieu was the stand out (aside from the Nine Popes of course).  This blend of Granache and Mataro (also called Mourvedre in Europe) was delicious, gentler and spicier than the Nine Popes and possibly with greater ageing potential as well.

The 2010 Grains of Paradise was also a very interesting wine. Grains of Paradise is the name of a spice or pepper, from West Africa, that was all the rage a few years ago.  I tasted this wine alongside the Voices of Angels, another Shiraz.  I found the GoP to be a drier wine, which I described as sexy (the cellar manager described it as voluptuous), so I guess it is just that kind of wine.

View of the vineyards at Charles Melton

View of the vineyards at Charles Melton

Yalumba

http://www.yalumba.com/

This was an attractive cellar door, if a little more commercial than the ones I had seen earlier.

Yalumba

Yalumba

The stand outs were the Hill-Smith Estate Chardonnay 2010, which was a fruity Chardonnay, almost in a Gewurtztraminer style, which would be a good match for spicy food; and “The Signature”, a Cabernet / Shiraz,which was quite easy drinking and friendly  – not too loose (i.e. not only berry, there were some structured tannins) yet not overly complex.

The cellar door at Yalumba

The cellar door at Yalumba

Torbreck

http://www.torbreck.com/

Next we headed to Greenock to what is sometimes called the “working” Scottish quarter.  The Sydney Morning Herald has an interesting  article on the history of the area, which had been well established by Aborigines before the arrival of Europeans.  Greenock was named after a port on the River Clyde in Scotland.

http://www.smh.com.au/news/South-Australia/Greenock/2005/02/17/1108500204272.html

Torbreck vintners is situated near Greenock and was set up by David Powell in 1994.  David started up by share-farming, through which the owner of the vineyards is paid market rates for a percentage of the grapes, in exchange for the having the vineyards totally managed.  In addition to understanding viniculture (i.e. the making of the wine), it is important to understand viticulture, which is the growing of the grapes and production of the wines base material.  What apparently makes David exceptional is his interest in finding the old vines and acquiring their fruit and so being in control of the process from beginning to end.

One of the things that I found interesting to learn is that many vineyards may supply their grapes to more than one producer in the region.  Two ways to differentiate yourself is buy having exclusive access to excellent grapes or making excellent wines from the same grapes.

The stand out wine at Torbreck is RunRig.  This wine has been rated at 98 or 99 almost consistently since 2001 by Robert Parker, an American critic,  and therefore commands ridiculous prices.  Fortunately there are a number of other really good wines which were more reasonably priced.

One thing that I did at Torbreck was try to wines made from the same grapes, same vintage, both grown in the same region but sourced from different vineyards.  The wines I tried were both from 2010, and made exclusively from Shiraz.  “The Gask” was sourced from a single vineyard, Eden Valley.  “The Celts”, from Marananga.  The Gask was grown on more rocky soil.  Its flavour was big and bold but with less length.  The Celts had a bigger more fruity flavour, almost like blackberry jam but was longer and had more tannic structure to it.

The "Old Lady" outside Torbreck vineyards

The “Grand Old Lady” outside Torbreck vineyards

I had a totally enjoyable day – the value of travelling with John was evident in the reception that I got at several of the cellar doors.  Additionally, John has incredibly vast knowledge of the wines and spent a lot of time observing my likes and dislikes and working out my wine style. I was greatly amused to realise, by the end of this day, that not only had my wine style changed over the last ten or so years but that Greg and I have totally different tastes in wine!  I was delighted to have chosen this tour.

I returned to my hotel in the Barossa to contemplate my increasingly dissolute lifestyle.

Adelaide and McLaren Vale

25 Feb

After a horrendously early start (04:45), I finally arrived in Adelaide, SA.  Here I met John, from the Barossa-Daimler tours (http://www.barossadaimlertours.com.au/), who took me wine drinking for the following three days!

Earlier, Greg went through the wine regions and highlighted the different vineyards, those that produce great wine and those that have interesting “cellar doors”, as well as those which do good food.

I started in McLaren Vale on the first day and then went to the Barossa in the evening, through the Adelaide hills.  I spent the next day touring the Barossa and then the final day touring the Clare Valley before heading back to Adelaide on Saturday night and Sydney on Sunday evening.

This is the final wine session of the trip and I hope to add to my recently acquired knowledge of Australian wines.

D’Arenberg

http://www.darenberg.com.au/

Our first stop was the d’Arenberg vineyards, owned and run by the Osbourne family, the original winemaker being d’Arenberg Osbourne.  The d’Arenberg wines come with a good reputation, with a number of their reds featuring in the Langton’s Auction House wine guide.

View of the d'Arenberg vineyards

View of the d’Arenberg vineyards

This was a good “cellar door” with several delicious wines and their cheeky sparkling wine, DADD, a take on the French MUMM.

Dadd sparkling wine

Dadd sparkling wine

I went on to try their Lucky Lizard, a Chardonnay made from grapes from the Adelaide hills.  Note that this wine, made from grapes that are not from the McLaren region have a different label (the signature d’Arenberg label is a diagonal red stripe) and are the baby of Chester Osbourne, the son of the original winemaker.  He has run the vineyard for the last ten years.

The Dead Arm Shiraz, 2008, was, not surprisingly, the best of the reds on show – clearly a little young but developing well.  I also tried one of the “Amazing Sites” wines, the JRO Affiliates 2010.  The best grapes of all vineyards are blended to give the dead arm.  The “Amazing Sites” feature wines made from the best grapes from each vineyard.

The d'Arenberg wines

The d’Arenberg wines

I tried a dessert wine which was tasty but way to sweet without enough balancing acidity.

Kay Brothers

http://www.kaybrothersamerywines.com/

I loved, loved, loved the Kay Brothers’ cellar door, which was certainly my favourite of those in the McLaren Vale.

View from the Kay brothers cellar door

View from the Kay brothers cellar door

I would say white wines are not their speciality, although I tried a perfectly delicious 2012 basket pressed Muscat Blanc, which would be a good match to seafood, fish or even creamy pasta.  All of their wines are basket pressed.  The stand out wine for me was the 2010 Cuthbert, named after the son of one of the original Kay brothers.  I also found the 2011 Basket Pressed Merlot to be a very interesting wine.  It smelt like tobacco / cigars and was very tannic and structured on the palate – more like a Cabernet in style than a Merlot.  It would be interesting to see how this would develop after a few (ten or more?) years of cellaring.

Additionally, for top ranked Australian wines (again, a number feature in Langton’s), their prices were more reasonable than a lot of the other cellars and for wines which aren’t as good.

Their best known wine is block 6, which sadly was not on the tasting menu.  Fortunately, Greg has a case so…..

Primo

http://www.primoestate.com.au/

Next we went on to the Primo vineyards, which were established in 1979.

Primo Cellar Door and vineyards

Primo Cellar Door and vineyards

They have a number of different labels, with Joseph being the premium one used for local McLaren Vale wines and the Primo label being used mainly for the wines made overseas and experimental wines.

The owner, Joseph Grilli, is Italian and he likes to use Italian grapes such as Nebbiolo (present in the Italian stallion of wines, Barolo) and Sangiovese (most commonly known as the key grape in Chianti), which are not so common in Australia.  They also make olive oil – Joe Grilli has almost single-handedly been responsible for improving the quality of Australian olive oil.  The sample that I had was certainly of a high quality, very olive flavoured, with a tinge of green.

As I asked  about the Sangiovese, so we had two extra bottles added to our tasting – both 80% / 20% Shiraz / Sangiovese, one made in Tuscany and one from McLaren Vale.  These are very, very different beasts.  Apparently 2011 was a rainy year in McLaren Vale, so more of the grape retained its blue colour and remained highly tannic, rather than the black colour that the grapes achieve when they ripen more on the grapes and some of the tannins even out.

DSC_0016

I enjoyed these wines and certainly found them quite interesting.  I am not alone in this – the well known Australian chef, Neil Perry, in this month’s Gourmet Traveller highlights Joe’s sparkling Burgundy as his favourite summer barbecue wine. (http://www.gourmettraveller.com.au/summer-drinks-2.htm)

The standout wine for me, though, was the 2007 vintage Joseph Nebbiolo, aged for 20 months in French oak.  This wine had fruits and berries on the nose and some muscle-y tannins on the palate.

Bridgewater Mill

After lunch, we went to the BridgeWater mill, the Petaluma Label.

The waterwheel from the original Bridgewater Mill

The waterwheel from the original Bridgewater Mill

They have recently been taken over by Kirin beer.  While there, I tried a couple of sparkling wines.  The first was disturbingly yeasty and a bit rushed and nothing I would recommend or buy.  The rose was gentler and lighter on the yeastiness.  The late disgorge 2000 was clearly a much better made wine and was something I could drink.

Next we tried their 2012 Riesling.  Now, Clare Valley is the key Riesling area with winemakers such as Jeffrey Grosset specialising in this wine.  The 2012 Hanlin Hill had a fair amount of minerality but was not too acidic.  I would say it was a decent Riesling that would get destroyed by the top Clare Valley wines.  I went on to try their Chardonnay (too “oak-ey” for my tastes), a Cabernet Merlot and a Shiraz.  None of them stood up to the wines I had tried earlier.

At this point, as the early start to the day began to wear on me, we made our way on to the Barossa where I would stay overnight, readying myself for my big wine day.

Sixpenny

19 Feb

Last Sunday, we went to Sixpenny restaurant, a little neighbourhood restaurant at Stanmore, which happens to be walking distance from Greg and Simone’s place.  We chose this spot to celebrate Greg’s sister’s birthday.  Incidentally, she was not with us but we celebrated her birthday anyway J.  This restaurant is a one hat rated restaurant, with the owner / chefs having worked at El Bulli (Ferran Adria), Noma (Rene Redzepi) and a host of other well known restaurants.  We chose the eight course tasting menu and matching wines – it seemed silly not to take advantage of the proximity of the restaurant and the fact that we could walk home!

The first “course” was in fact a number of little snacks, the first of which was salt and vinegar chips accompanied by herb cream.

Salt and vinegar crisps

Salt and vinegar crisps

 

The herbs were sourced from the restaurant’s back garden and seemed to be dominated by tarragon, which, although unusual, wasn’t at all unpleasant.  Sticking to the pub tradition, this was matched with LOBO Norman cloudy cider which was surprisingly tasty – I didn’t think I would enjoy the cider as I dislike anything approaching beer – it was delicious, fruity tasting and quite easy on the palate.

Next up was carrot juice with droplets of olive oil.  Both Simone and I thought we could smell something slightly fishy but suspect it was the olive oil.  This was perfectly tasty if a bit virtuous, which considering everything heading into our stomachs, was probably necessary.

Carrot juice

Carrot juice

 

We then had another small snack of mini-english muffins with cured pork jowl.  These were served warm.  The pork was salty and like a cross between ham and bacon, the muffins warm and soft.  The carrot juice was already a distant memory.

Mini pork muffins

Mini pork muffins

 

Of the little snacks, my favourite was the potato scallops.  To call them deep fried mashed potatoes would not do them justice.  These tiny bits of pre-lunch fun were crispy, light, fresh and salty.

Potato scallops

Potato scallops

 

The second course (as opposed to snack) was salted cucumber with butter milk whey and tomato essence matched with chilled sake.  Hmmm.  A Cucumber course?  This was my least favourite course.  I found the dish bland, despite the complications of using tomato essence. It seemed like a large waste of time for very little resulting flavour.  On the positive side, the sake was a very good match for cucumbers.

Cucumbers

Cucumbers

 

Crab with macadamia and chamomile.  This dish was lovely but disappointing only in so far as I had been led to believe that it was out of this world.  It certainly was good but not outrageously so.  I thought the dish slightly overpowered by the addition of macadamia shavings.  Simone and Greg who had been here before thought that it was better and more balanced the last time they had it.

Crab and Macadamia nuts

Crab and Macadamia nuts

 

This course was matched by Warramate Riesling of 2011, which I found quite tart as it was slightly young.

Grilled carrot, with toasted hazelnuts, mascarpone and toasted whey was delicious and fun, with the hazelnuts complementing the “beurre noisette” effect of the toasted whey.

Grilled carrots

Grilled carrots

 

On balance, though, I found the dish slightly too acidic and overpowered by hazelnuts.  This was served with a Sauvignon Semillon blend from the Yarra valley (Yarra Yarra’s Phoenix of 2009.)  In 2009, the Yarra Yarra vineyards burnt down and this wine was made from Sauvignon Blanc from neighbouring vineyards and Semillon donated by De Bortoli).

Greg’s favourite dish was the Coorong mullet, John Dory roe, ginger leaf, beurre blanc / hollandaise and sweet potato leaf.  This was a lovely, lovely dish which we continued to think about (and talk about), long after we had finished eating and left the restaurant.  The gentle bitterness of the greens, the creaminess of the butter sauce, crunchiness of the Roe and the delicious and well cooked fish flesh all combined to make this dish a real star.

Coorong Mullet

Coorong Mullet

This was served with Muller-Catoir gerwurtztraminer (gutswein), which similar to Italian IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) wines, have stepped down a classification or so, in order to allow more freedom in winemaking.  (Usually, in order to achieve a classification in Europe, strict rules regarding trees grown per hectare, irrigation, grape varieties allowed must be adhered to.) This wine was fruity and fun and not too challenging to the palate yet had good acidity and minerality. It matched the fish well and had the added bonus of being low in alcohol at 11.5% and was therefore not too destructive.

My favourite dish was the Crisp pork cheek – a little additional extra – as if we needed it! This comprised deliciously crisped pork skin on a well cooked and soft piece of pork cheek.  This dish was accompanied by a jus which was a good balance of sweet and sour (it apparently included a cider reduction), roasted garlic cloves which were soft, sweet and strong and crunchy roasted macadamia nuts. This dish was a triumph, so much so that I refused to let them take my plate until I had mopped up every last lick of the sauce with the homemade sourdough bread.

Pork cheek

Pork cheek

 

This was served with a big oakey old school Chardonnay (1997, Bannockburn), which was not really my thing (i.e. I didn’t like it) but it was classily made.

The final savoury dish was leg of lamb served with sweet onion jus, onion sprouts and wild spinach.  This was quite a delicious dish but the sous vide cooking of the lamb leg left it a bit chewy for my liking.  This dish was served with a 2008 Malbec, from the Bloodwood vineyard of Orange in New South Wales, a perfectly drinkeable wine.

Leg of lamb

Leg of lamb

 

The first of the palate cleansers was a floral milk sorbet.  While this dish was attractively presented, it was way too creamy and flowery and really missed the point of a palate cleanser.

Milk and flower sorbet

Floral milk sorbet

 

The second palate cleanser was strawberry ice served with fennel leaves and sour cream sorbet.  This was simple fruit filled yet light dish.  It was matched with a low alcohol (8%) Bugey-Cerdon sparkling rose Gamay from Eastern France.  While I think it is unusual to match iced desserts (and soup as well), flavour-wise, this sparkling wine with its strawberry overtones worked well.

Strawberry granita with sparkling rose

Strawberry granita with sparkling rose

 

The final two desserts were an apricot tart with mead ice-cream, apricot and meringue tuiles;

Apricot and meringue

Apricot and meringue

 

and sweet potato scallops with sticky rhubarb.

Sweet potato scallops and sticky rhubarb

Sweet potato scallops and sticky rhubarb

 

These were matched with a honeyed dessert wine with some acid overtones.  These were some of the better desserts that I had had on my travels but like many desserts that I have had in London were not as spectacular as the mains.  I would also be wary of serving potato scallops twice on a menu, even if one is sweet and one is savoury.

Dinner was finished with a selection of cookies with coffee.

This was certainly a pleasant eating choice with lots of fun and some delicious bits.  I loved the way at Sixpenny, there is a desire to make interesting dishes with vegetables and to use their very own herb garden and locally sourced produce.

Sixpenny's herb garden

Sixpenny’s herb garden

 

The service here was exemplary.  The main “fault” that I could find with this restaurant, and admittedly it is minor, was its desire to be a little too clever with everything which could get a little tiring – it is after all a meal and not an actuarial seminar.  Like Tetsuya’s, I would give this 8 out of 10.  While Tetsuya’s (8) edged it on food, the service at Sixpenny was streets ahead.

Note, however, that Sixpenny was Greg’s choice, as he found it a more entertaining, fun meal.

Sydney – The Harbour

16 Feb

In my first week in Sydney, Simone, Sam and I went into Circular Quay, the train stop nearest to all Sydney’s key sights.

There are six piers at Circular Quay from which you can take the ferry to Manly Island or around the harbour or take any bay tour you fancy.

After walking around the Opera house, we stopped at a café to drink a coffee and essentially bribe Sam into good behaviour with a pastry.

Simone and Sam, following his pastry bribe

Simone and Sam, following his pastry bribe

We then proceeded to the “on-off” harbour tour, which stops at Fort Denison, Taronga Zoo, Shark Island and Watson’s bay.

As the boat set off from Circular Quays, we got a spectacular view of the Opera House superimposed on the Harbour Bridge.

The Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge

The Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge

 

Fort Denison (known as Mattewanye prior to European arrival) is a formal penal site just north of Sydney’s botanical gardens.  It has also been known as Pinchgut (due to the sentencing to a convict there to a week on bread and water).  The land of the island was used to provide sand stone for building Circular Quay.

Fort Denison

Fort Denison

 

We decided to forego Taronga zoo, the next stop, as we had enough other things to see and limited time.

Shark Island is tiny at 1.25 hectares.  It has been used as an animal quarantine area, naval storage depot and a public recreation depot.  It is currently most popularly used for picnics.  Note,. though, that it is called Shark Island because of its shape and not because of what may or may not be found in the water while swimming….

Shark Island

Shark Island

 

We got off at Watson’s Bay.

Watson's Bay

Watson’s Bay

 

Watson’s bay is 11 km North East of the Sydney business district and is at the end of the South Head peninsula.  The most famous sight at Watson’s bay is The Gap, which is an ocean cliff on the eastern side of the peninsula, with views of the Pacific Ocean and Manly.  It has been used as a signalling station to provide early warning of approaching ships.

The Gap

The Gap

The tour guide failed to mention, in his description, that it is one of the most popular (is that the right word?) suicide spots in Sydney.

View of the North Shore

View of the North Shore

The rock at the gap is largely made up of sand and iron bound by clay.  The oxidation of the iron gives the rock its yellow / brown colour.  Much of the vegetation at the Gap grows in its nutrient poor soil and is thus poisonous, to stop pests from eating the leaves.

 

Vegetation at the Gap

Vegetation at the Gap

 

View of Watson's bay from the Gap

View of Watson’s bay from the Gap

 

After leaving Watson’s Bay, we made our way back to Sydney and the Rocks.

 

The Rocks

The Rocks

 

“The Rocks” are famous for being some of the first English developments in Sydney.  The area was originally had a reputation as a slum.  In the early 1970s, plans to demolish the original buildings were opposed, with the eventual outcome being a redevelopment of the area into a tourist attraction.

 

The Sydney Cricket Ground

14 Feb

Last Friday I made a quick trip to the SCG to take in the West Indies – Australia one day match.

The SCG

The SCG

 

The West Indies had already lost the series and the proceeded to lose this match as well as the next.  However, I was there to see a fabulous century by Kieron Pollard and yesterday we finally won our first match in Australia for sixteen years.

Can you see the ball fly?

Can you see the ball fly?

In fact, Australia was beaten by the West Indies twice yesterday – once by the women and once by the men.  Happy days!

Tetsuya’s

10 Feb

Tetsuya’s is a restaurant that I have been hearing about for years and that I have wanted to visit for the last ten.  It has been regularly voted one of the world’s top 50 restaurants and until recently was a three hat restaurant and is now a two hat restaurant. Restaurants in Australia are rated by the number of hats that they get, with the best getting three hats.  Even many good restaurants may only get one hat.

All that is served at Tetsuya’s is a ten course degustation menu, adapted to allow for anything that you don’t eat and any allergies that you may have.

We arrived just after 7 pm on a rainy Friday. We were asked about allergies and anything else that we don’t eat. Having just been through Thailand, I was quick to say “tripe”, upon which our hostess laughed and said that there would be no chance of being served that.

Once we set of on our food trip, the sommelier, Simon Curkovic (Sommelier of the year 2008, http://www.gourmettraveller.com.au/sommelier_of_the_year_2008_simon_curkovic_catalina_rose_bay_nsw.htm), came over to offer us the matched wines. We decided to make our own way, with a bottle of 2003 Dom Perginon. Interestingly, Greg had rowed with Simon for 6 months as a student and won a NSW state rowing championship with him. However, they did that “guy thing” of pretending not to know each other for the whole evening and then remember slowly (yet in incredibly precise detail) when and where they had rowed together.

Anyway, let’s get on to the food….

We started with the Chilled pea soup with dark chocolate mousse.  The soup was refreshing and could have been served hot or cold. The mousse tasted like a small block of dark chocolate oddly dropped into the soup and seemed superfluous.

Chilled pea soup

Chilled pea soup

 

Savoury egg custard with Avruga

The custard was a typical Japanese stock base custard which was more flavourful than creamy but with a very good, wobbly texture and topped with Avruga caviar.

Savoury Custard with Avruga

Savoury Custard with Avruga

 

Salad of the Sea

This included cuttlefish, dory, ocean trout, pomelo segments and lime tapioca pearls, which dissolved in little bursts of citrus in the mouth.

Salad of the Sea

Salad of the Sea

 

Moreton bay Bugtail with braised Witlof

This was my favourite fish dish of the night.  There was a delicious sweet and sour taste to this dish through the soy-caramel sauce and orange reduction.  The witlof had a slightly bitter taste like chicory, which was nicely tempered by the caviar cream.  The cream was seasoned with parmesan which was a well played counterpoint to the distinct flavours of the rest of the dish.

Moreton bay bug-tail

Moreton bay bug-tail

 

Confit of Petuna Ocean Trout with Fennel and pasteurised Ocean Trout Caviar

Finally we arrived at this, Tetsuya’s signature dish, which was Greg’s favourite dish of the evening.  The Ocean Trout had been vacuum packed with assorted aromatics and slow-cooked in a water bath at a low temperature (around 60-65C, I would guess). This gave the fish a texture somewhere between sushi and a true confit, where the confited protein (often duck legs) is cooked gently (around 80-90 C) under duck fat for hours.  The trout was then covered in a crispy dust of konbu (Japanese seaweed) soaked in soy and then crisped and crushed with toasted coriander seeds.  This was interesting and gave the fish a hint of the Indian sub-continent.

 

Our final seafood course was baby New Zealand Snapper with soy butter and nameko mushrooms, this was a light fish dish, served with tangy shiso leaf, often described as Japanese mint.

Confit of Ocean Trout

New Zealand Baby Snapper

 

My least favourite dish of the night was poached spatchcock with asparagus and morels.  I generally dislike poultry dishes which are done at low temperature as often they have a fairly “raw” or “uncooked” texture.  This was certainly the case here and distracted from what may have been delicious accompaniments.

Poached Spatchcock

Poached Spatchcock

 

The fish and chicken dishes were accompanied by 2010 and then 2004 Pierro Chardonnay, from Western Australia.  The extra age on the 2004 was definitely noticeable with greater smoothness and blending of flavours.  Like me, Simon agreed that a good rich full bodied win like this could best be drunk at a slightly warmer temperature than lighter whites (say 11 to 12 C, rather than 9 or 10C).  The first bottle would have been better at the lower temperature though.

 

The final meat dish was Lamb Backstrap with Summer Vegetables and Sheep’s Yoghurt, which was accompanied by complimentary glasses of 2010 Wantirna Estate (Yarra Valley) Cabernet Merlot Blend.

Lamb backstrap

Lamb backstrap

 

Desserts, while good were somewhat low technique and disappointing.  There were two sorbets (really?  Does my palate need that much cleansing or are these just easy to do?)….

Green Apple and Mint Ice Cream with Basil Jelly

Green Apple and Mint Ice Cream with Basil Jelly

 

…. followed by Floating islands with Praline and Crème Anglaise (hazelnut and vanilla egg custards).  Floating islands are poached meringues classically served with anglaise as was done here and seem to be enjoying a renaissance lately.  Personally I missed the texture variation that a real meringue, or even toasted caramelised hazelnuts, would have added.  This dish while it tasted fine was textureless.

Floating Island with Praline and Creme Anglaise

Floating Island with Praline and Creme Anglaise

Fed and watered, we stumbled home.

Sydney’s beaches

8 Feb

Sydney

After a memorable week in Melbourne, I left for Sydney to stay with Simone and Greg in Petersham, just round the corner from Parramatta road. There I met their sons, Jack (6) and Sam (4) and began to drink my way through Greg’s cellar.

Simone and Sam

Simone and Sam

 

Jack

Jack

On our first night, we drank d’Arenberg’s Dead Arm Shiraz (2000) and Grosset’s Polish Hill Riesling (2001).

d'Arenberg's Dead Arm Shiraz (2000) and Grosset's Polish Hill Riesling (2001)

d’Arenberg’s Dead Arm Shiraz (2000) and Grosset’s Polish Hill Riesling (2001)

The Beach

The next morning, Simone and I went to the beach. We started at Bronte and walked passed Tamarama (derived from the aboriginal name “Gamma Gamma”) to Bondi. This is the Bondi to Bronte coast walk in reverse. The cliff top paths enable great views of the beaches below and several people were walking and jogging that route. All of the Sydney beaches were closed that day –there were floods in Queensland and New South Wales and the waves were really rough. That didn’t stop the surfers at Tamarama from heading out to the surf. Now, bear in mind that Tamarama is a beach with a lot of rocks just under the water and at both sides of its mouth and therefore, quite possibly not easy to surf at the best of times – you have to surf across the wave and stop before coming right to the beach and then paddle back out. The waves were rough as heck, yet some guys were diving off of the rocks into the surf. I have seen surfers do this in Cornwall, where I had assumed that they did not know what they were doing. It was explained to me that there is a current which, when you catch it at the right time (i.e. when there are no waves coming in for a little while), will pull you away from the rocks and you can then paddle out past the break point. I have to admit that it looked terrifying to watch.
Having forgotten my camera, I went back to the beaches a week later and through a few parks on the way. We stopped at was Queen’s Park, where people were insanely jogging in the midday sun, covered with sun cream.

Queen's Park

Queen’s Park

Bronte beach, our next stop, was a lot calmer than last week.

Bronte Beach

Bronte Beach

We stopped at Tamarama, again.

Tamarama

Tamarama

It was low tide and the beach was still closed. Again that did not stop the surfers.

Surfing at Tamarama

Surfing at Tamarama

The waves were not as spectacular, nor the surfers as good. I learnt that when the beaches are closed as they were last week, the surf schools cancel lessons. The surf instructors take the opportunity to surf, themselves, which explains the difference in quality. The low tide made entering from the rocks impossible. This didn’t stop one (fool) hardy soul from thinking about it though.

Fool Hardy

Fool Hardy

We went along to Cloverley next, where we admired the bathing pools.

Cloverley beach

Cloverley beach

Finally we ended up at Coogee, where we had lunch and walked the beach.

Coogee

Coogee

Adriano Zumbo

We stopped at Adriano Zumbo’s (http://adrianozumbo.com) new store just before leaving the coast. We bought chocolate brownies and Smartie/Milkshake macarons for the boys, a Dirty Dani (salted caramel, milk chocolate, passion fruit and hazelnut) for Simone and a Bastard Cake (blackcurrant, coffee, peanut and salted caramel) for me. Sam loved the smartie macaron which left his lips blue. I thought the “bastard cake” was way too busy and discordant. It could easily have been split into three different desserts. The technique and flavours were good but perhaps not all together. It was a bit gimmicky.

 

Centurion Park

On our way back home, we went past the SCG, where I will go to watch cricket later today, and through Centurion Park.

Centurion Park

Centurion Park

 

St. Kilda’s beach

4 Feb

I spent my last day in Melbourne at St. Kilda’s beach.  I took the number 96 tram from the City centre (Queen Street) to the beach.  I passed the Melbourne Museum and a lot of other sights.  Museums are not really my thing but this is grand and quite stylish from the outside.

Melbourne Museum

Melbourne Museum

After almost half an hour, I got to the end of the line but there was not a beach in sight.  I do not know how the woman I asked kept a straight face but keep it she did, while letting me know that I had travelled to the wrong end of the tram line.  An hour long tram trip later, I finally got to St. Kilda’s, where it was surprisingly windy and chilly – bear in mind that the mercury hit 40C last Thursday during the tennis.  I walked up and down the beach / boardwalk.

The boardwalk at St. Kilda's

The boardwalk at St. Kilda’s beach

The water at St. Kilda’s was quite calm and there were people paddle boarding and wave boarding.  The wave boarders all wore wetsuits.

Wave boarding at St. Kilda's

Wave boarding at St. Kilda’s

This could have been summer in Cornwall!