March 22, 2007

The best Italian restaurant in Hong Kong

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That was a pretty provocative title, but yes, after Monday's dinner we all agreed that Toscana is certainly the best restaurant in town if one was looking for refined Italian. The occasion was our monthly MNSC gathering and I was the host for the evening. I had asked that Chef Bombana create something to match the wines I was bringing, and regardless of whether that goal was attained, the menu was simply fantastic.

We started with lobster on leeks, avocados, new potatoes and black truffle. This was pretty good and the black truffle complemented the lobster, but many of us left the new potatoes in anticipation of a heavy meal.

Next was Jerusalem artichoke cream, black truffle and organic egg yolk cooked in extra virgin olive oil. This was simply divine...the half-cooked yolk sat on top of the green artichoke cream that was so delicious...and enhanced again by shavings of black truffle. Some of us would have liked a second serving of this...

The tagliolini with green asparagus and black truffle was equally yummy, cooked to perfection and the finely chopped black truffle was just so full of flavor. Would have wanted a second serving of this, too...

The Barbarie duck on mushroom risotto and pumpkin cream was really nice. The small cubes of duck, with its gamey and slightly fatty flavors, worked well with the mushroom and the sweet pumpkin. It was the only course without black truffles.

We had wagyu beef tenderloin, ragout of radicchio and foie gras with black truffle as our main course. This was done very well, but by this time most of us were pretty stuffed.

Dessert was a delicious classic Italian style parfait in pistachio sauce. The parfait had ground pine nuts (or was it pistachio?) and was very interesting. I think most of us didn't finish it...

Now onto the wines I served for the evening. The theme was 92 horizontal, old world vs new world.

1995 Tattinger Comte de Champagne - bought this from the restaurant so that they would waive the corkage. Pretty delicious but we only had half the bottle before moving onto the reds.

1992 Philip Togni - this was drinking very nicely without too much aeration, with a big nose of fruit. Interesting the wine died fairly quickly in the glass, but each fresh pour from decanter brought out the incredible nose.

1992 Leoville Barton - I was expected this to be a dud with no fruit whatsoever. I was pleasantly surprised although I can't say this was the best wine of the evening. At one point we were talking about "sugar water" in the nose

1992 Mouton Rothschild - this was almost the biggest surprise of the evening, that a wine from a famously weak vintage would be drinking as well as it did. Lots of coffee and classic pencil lead in the nose.

1992 Colgin Herb Lamb Vineyard - I always expected this to be the wine of the evening, and it did not disappoint. A huge nose, lots of sweet fruit, a blockbuster of a wine.

1992 Penfolds Grange - how could this wine be anything other than a Grange? It's got the classic knockout punch nose that you get from just about every bottle of Grange...tons of sweet red fruit, almost cotton candy...

1992 Guigal La Mouline - I think this was the biggest surprise for the night. No one expected the '92 La Mouline to drink this beautifully and everyone put high scores on it. For the price this is a very good La Mouline!

Why I never went to Amber

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Finally had a chance to go to Amber last night, thanks to global boss being in town and taking the whole team to dinner. We had something like 14 people and the bill was about HKD 2k/head including wine. Not quite worth it in my opinion... but very happy that someone else paid for my experience.

The tasting menu started with teasers, which consist of three little bits that no one could figure out. The first bit had half a raspberry on top of a thin slice of veggie used as a wrapper, with a plastic squeeze tube inserted into the center. You had to gently squeeze the plastic to injet the raspberry purée into the center, but no one came to explain and most people squeezed too hard and squirted raspberry juice all over the place... The second piece was pretty forgettable (since I have trouble remembering only the day after), and the third bit was like soft potato purée/egg custard/whatever topped with black truffle sauce. I thought it was foie gras mousse at first but the color/taste didn't match. Overall I'd say this was a flop.

Then we moved on to the foie gras, which was two long strips of foie gras terrine sandwiching a center strip of smoked eel. I guess the combination was interesting but the salty, smoky eel didn't work well with the smooth foie. Not really impressed.

The line caught sea bass followed, which was poached, topped with caviar and served on a bed of foam and white/green asparagus spears. Not bad but really nothing to write home about.

I chose lamb for my main course (other choices were wagyu and chicken - which a colleague of mine didn't recognize coz the meat was wrapped in tubes and then cut into cross sections). The lamb chops supposedly went to a two-step process with roasting as a finish. The raw ingredientt was actually pretty good, but when I asked for medium rare I didn't expect that much of the center section to be raw...

The pre-dessert was OK and then came the passion fruit soufflé. We all had individual portions served in a square container. There were a few seeds sprinkled on top to enhanced the visuals. This was served with a small scoop each of apricot (?) and coconut ice cream on the side. Good marks for the dessert.

Surprisingly (or perhaps he wanted to keep the cost down) my French boss ordered Californian wines - a Sauvignon Blanc from Stag's Leap and a Pinot from Au Bon Climat. The Pinot was just a bit too ripe and it's one of the few times that the sweetness of a Cali Pinot actually got to me.

At the end of the evening, it's fair to say that I have no need to return to Amber. There are too many better places in Hong Kong. One last comment - this hits one of my pet peeves...the menu is too long-winded. I can't stand menus with two or three line descriptions of the dishes, listing out every single ingredient that had a distinctive flavor, sometimes obscuring the main ingredient! Sometimes I'd prefer to taste the food and discover all the different flavors! This is why I never went back to Saint Pierre in Singapore, and similarly will not go back to Amber.

March 16, 2007

La Conseillante dinner

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Attended a dinner hosted by a local wine merchant tonight. The theme was Ch La Conseillante from Pomerol, and we were fortunately enough to have both the owner as well as the winemaker present. All the wines are ex-chateau so they are in perfect condition. The line up for tonight was:

2004 - actually very new world/Californian in style. Very fruit-forward and a departure from the classic Pomerol. Pretty enjoyable.

2001 - an underrated vintage and very classic Pomerol. Not as forward but I can see this drinking really well in a few years.

2000 - One of the stellar vintages in recent years, but this is still very tannic and closed. There is potential for this to develop beautifully but surprisingly not as accessible as the other 2000's.

1995 - very drinkable today...classic Pomerol and fantastic nose.

1989 - definitely wine fo the evening. This wine is soooo beautiful. The nose just hits you and very smooth on the palate. Most of us would prefer this over the celebrated '90. Served from magnum.

1982 - a close second to the 1989. Needed more time to open up, but still very enjoyable and cannot complain. Served from magnum.

La Conseillante is certainly one of the top Pomerol estates, and in recent years (perhaps since the new winemaker in 2004) has changed style to be more forward. Apparently the head table tonight was served barrel samples of the 2005, and people have compared it with Californians such as Switchback Ridge!

March 11, 2007

Tasting of Kay Brothers Wines

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My friend Paulo invited me to a tasting of wines from McLaren Vale's Kay Brothers Amery Vineyards. I have a few bottles of their top wine, Block 6, so I was happy to accept his invitation. Colin Rayment, the General Manager of the Winery, was on hand to tell us about the wines. The tasting dinner was a simple affair at Classified, a gourmet shop run by Paulo.

The menu for the night was very simple - smoked salmon, delicious jamón ibérico from Joselito, salad, followed by fondue (!) and a cheese platter. I was a bit apprehensive about having fondue with Aussie shiraz but in the end it didn't really detract from the wines.

The wines that we tasted for the night (funnily enough it was self-service, so you can do it in any order you prefer):

2002 Kay Brothers Amery Shiraz - fairly smooth and nice to drink, but nothing to write home about

2002 Kay Brothers Hillside Shiraz - this was much more interesting. Planted in 1982 using Block 6 cuttings to celebrate the centennary of the original Block 6, this was much more fruit-driven, vanilla and typical of Aussie shiraz.

2003 Kay Brothers Cabernet - actually pretty smooth and drinking pretty well

2001 Kay Brothers Hillside Shiraz - again, very nice to drink although less interesting than the 2002

1998 Kay Brothers Hillside Shiraz - this was a wine from a top vintage, has aged a few years and is now drinking extremely well.

2002 Kay Brothers Block 6 - it's easy to see why this is their top wine, made in fairly small quantities (1,000 cases in good years and 500 or so in poor years like 2007). This is much more powerful and concentrated, and the good to drink now

2003 Kay Brothers Block 6 - good but less interesting than the 2002

2004 Kay Brothers Block 6 - this was THE wine. It's just been released and obviously very young, and the alcohol is showing a little. Full of vanilla and red fruits, this powerful wine is actually approachable now with enough decanting time. Definitely should buy some and save for later.

2004 Kay Brothers Late Harvest Frontignac - a sweet wine to go with dessert. I felt that the nose was a bit too sharp and not exactly to my liking

Kay Brothers Liquer Muscat - other than the 04 Block 6, this was definitely the wine for me. It's got an amazing nose that I could smell from 3 feet away. It was very viscous and sweet, with a deep brown color and a nose of caramel and figs.

Interestingly, Kay Brothers have switched to Stelvin screw caps for their wines as they are frustrated by the quality of corks. Will see how their current production ages over the next 15 years...

March 5, 2007

Progress after 2 months: -4.5kg

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OK so I haven't gone to the gym since before Lunar New Year, which makes 3 weeks. But somehow I have managed to shed a bit more weight...Will need to start up the routine again, starting this week!

March 4, 2007

Pierre II

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Went back to Pierre for a second try. Was a little upset that they stopped allowing BYO, but wanted to try some of the dishes which weren't on the degustation menu. From my last experience, I was sure that I didn't want to have the degustation menu again, especially since they hadn't changed it since my last visit. However I think their portions are big enough and I came away with a very full stomach.

I started with the Saint Jacques, which were pan-seared to perfection so that it is light brown on the sides and soft and succulent on the inside. As is typical of Pierre, it came with a side of diced scallops topped with steamed zucchini topped with roasted potato ice cream, and another side of chopped asparagus.

The Saint Jacques were delicious, and was an interesting match to the glass of 2004 Sigalas Santorini. With the taste of the scallops still on my tongue, a sip of the wine is first amazingly sweet on the palate (the wine is vinified dry) followed by a hint of bitter finish.

The diced scallops with potato ice cream is amazingly sweet, but somehow reminds me of the potato salads that are so popular in Asia - with diced potatoes, cucumber, carrots mixed with generous helpings of mayonnaise. The asparagus is served in a giant ladle and is very, very sweet. It just shows how fresh the ingredients are.

Next up was the famous popcorn soup. Chicken stock with butter and mashed popcorn, whipped up to a creamy consistency like the cream of mushrooms soup, then topped with lots of popcorn. At HK$80, it's the cheapest item on the menu, but rather delicious and deceptively heavy.

For my main the waiter suggested the Chilean sea bass for a taste of Pierre Gagnaire's creativity. The fish comes in cubes topped with slices of shiitake mushrooms, served on a bed of cumin-infused pumpkin purée with cubes of red wine-poached pears. The sweetness of the pumpkin and pears worked well with the cumin.

The 2003 Marc Morey Chassagne Montrachet was absolutely beautiful - sweet, creamy butter mixed with toasty oak and minerals.

I shared the cheese course from my friend's degustation menu, which came in three variations: thinly sliced aged Gouda (or was it Mimmolet) served over diced and sweet marinated zucchini; a blue cheese (forgot which) topped with walnuts; and an opéra of Brie with shredded celeriac and endives.

For dessert I chose the lemon citron, which was a combination of lemon jelly, frozen parfait of passion fruit wrapped in a multicolored marzipan-like skin, lemon meringue, lemon sorbet with a dab of pistachio cream, and a shot of limoncello. It was really refreshing and just what I needed at the end of a rather heavy meal.

I think we all agreed that Pierre's creations were of very high quality, and impressed with the care the chef took to find the right combinations of flavors and ingredients. It is truly at the top of the game in Hong Kong.

Marvin Shanken's take on wine funds

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Marvin Shanken is the Editor in Chief of Wine Spectator magazine. Here are his thoughts on the recent emergence of wine funds.

Wine Belongs on the Table, Not in a Hedge Fund
Posted: 01:33 PM ET, February 26, 2007


This past Saturday my eyes stopped at an article in the Wall Street Journal titled "Investors Buy Wine to Drink in Profits." The subhead read, "Funds Snap Up Cases of Prime Vintages to Sell at Tidy Prices. "

There is a growing trend now, firmly established in the U.K., for wine hedge funds. According to the article, the first fund bought heavily in 2003 and is now up 90 percent. How many such funds exist today? I don’t know, but according to the article, others are coming.

In my book, these funds are an awful idea. All they will do is further drive up prices. Many fine wines are already too expensive. At some point in time, fine wine will hit a price ceiling and reverse itself. These investors may well get caught with their pants down.

Too many people are beginning to look at wine as art--collectible art. That is nonsense. You don’t eat a painting. You do drink a wine. Art is not consumed; it is admired. Wine is meant to be enjoyed. The goal is to pull the cork with friends.


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