Monday, 22 September 2008

Chateau Trebiac Graves 2000

The Pretty Lady, her mother, and I paid a Sunday visit to Galvin for dinner about a week ago. I always enjoy my visits to Galvin - the food is exactly what I like, simple and well-executed, and the wine list is pretty interesting to peruse. I'll blog about our visit, and Galvin in general later (suffice to say that it ranks pretty high on my restaurant scoring scheme). Here, I want to say a little about the wine I chose.

The Pretty Lady and her mother don't really drink very much, so I ordered a glass of Chateau Trebiac Graves 2000. 2000 isn't really a great vintage for Bordeaux as far as I know, so I was a little curious to see it on the list. But what the heck - if you don't try, you don't know, so I ordered it.

Chateau Trebiac Graves 2000
Red wine
France (Graves, Bordeaux)

60% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon

Nosing: Oak, blueberries, pine, hints of soy sauce.
Mouthfeel: Velvety, slightly watery, quite light.
Tasting: Sweet, oaky, cherries, peach, bread, white pepper.

I found this wine slightly savoury, very fruity, and good with the type of food available at Galvin. On this visit, for me it was offal, richly spiced, salty and meaty. Lovely.

Chateau Trebiac is dates back to about 1868, where the property was donated to a community of Franciscan nuns. The nuns cleared some wood to plant grape vines, one thing led to another and here we are. There are about 25 hectares under cultivation. There's also a white wine made of 70% Semillion and 30% Sauvignon Blanc.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Gold Mine

It's now a matter of debate which Chinese restaurant serves the best roast duck in London. 2 or 3 years ago, the answer was easy - the Four Seasons, in Bayswater Road, of course. It was (and probably still is) famous to the point that people would fly in from the Far East to sample the roast duck. It was perfectly cooked, the sauce was perfectly spiced, and the duck was fattier than most ducks available in Asia, creating perfectly crispy skin, with a perfect degree of succulence.

About 2 years ago, however, the chef from Four Seasons, whom many people, including myself, assume was responsible for the roast duck, left. He then opened a restaurant, Gold Mine, a few doors down from the Four Seasons. Ever since then, roast duck aficionados have been trying to come to a consensus over which is better.

Gold Mine
102 Bayswater Road
London W2 3RR
+44 20 7792 8331

My personal opinion is that Gold Mine's roast duck is better - it's exactly as the Four Seasons' roast duck used to be in the late 90s, when I was still in university and a plate of roast duck rice was the epitome of budget-busting hot meals. It's everything I described above, dry, yet succulent underneath the crispy skin. The Four Seasons' duck, on the other hand has less crispy skin and is more oily, with more of the fat rendered out into the sauce.

As far as the wider community is concerned though, the jury is still out.

No matter. Gold Mine has pretty decent food, other than the roast duck. Here, I also believe that the quality is better than that of the Four Seasons'. My favourite dishes include spinach with fermented bean curd, aubergine hotpot, and stewed yam and belly pork. The Pretty Lady is always well served by the plethora of bean curd dishes on the menu. There's braised, fried and stewed, including that old staple, red-cooked bean curd.

The roast meats also pass the test. Roast char siu pork is as good as the Four Seasons', if not noticeably better. The roast belly pork is also fairly decent, with a nice thick layer of pork fat and suitably crispy crackling. One thing I've not tried is the soya roast chicken, but it definitely looks good.

Gold Mine is almost exactly what it says on the tin - decent, well-executed Cantonese cooking. And there's the added bonus of great roast duck.


20 September 2008: TFQ = 24, CS = 24, S = 10, AD = 6, VfM = 8. Total = 72 points.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Okapis, magic invisible giraffes (not really)

There's a big brouhaha in the natural history world at the moment. The Zoological Society of London released new pictures of the okapi, the giraffe's closest living relative, in the wild. Apparently these are the first pictures ever taken of the okapi in the wild using camera traps, and confirm that, in Virunga at least, okapi have not been wiped out by the civil war in the Congo.

It's a big deal because okapis are very hard to find, as their striped rumps allow them to blend in very well in the undergrowth of the forests in which they dwell. They are extremely quiet when moving, and do not vocalise any cries normally. This is inferred because the other semi-plausible hypothesis is that they possess the power of invisibility.

There are a couple of okapis at London Zoo. They're pretty big as I recall, about 6 feet at the shoulder, and about 8 feet long. They certainly stimulate the cuteness reflex, with big eyes, spindly legs and large, flexible lips.

More pictures here.

More links:

Greg Laden, who's eaten okapi, and thinks it tastes like elephant.
Brian Switek, on the history of the discovery of the okapi.
Science & Soul, with some information on the significance of okapis to cryptozoology.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Blair Athol 12 yo 1993/2006

Blair Athol is one of those over-looked Diageo distilleries, known officially only from a Flora & Fauna bottling, and perhaps the odd Rare Malts bottling. Thank goodness there are independent bottlers who can bring the produce of a great distillery to a wider audience.

One of these independent bottlers has had a great idea. I reckon (and hopefully other whisky enthusiasts agree with me) that both 70cl bottles and little 5cl sampler bottles are inefficient sizes for those of us who want to get to know as many single malts as possible. One's too large, and it's difficult to get through it quickly so that I can move on to the next one. The other's too small, and there's not enough whisky to really get to grips with the malt.

Step forward Douglas Laing. They've bottled little 20cl bottles as part of their Old Malt Cask range, and there's a fairly wide selection of distilleries as well. I managed to get this Blair Athol beauty, as well as a couple of other single malts in this bottle size.

I thought I might test this one out with in combination with cheeses. Why? Well, there's no reason why whisky shouldn't go with cheese; it's a matter of choosing the right whisky. This one might well be it - it's got a fair amount of fruit in it, it's got the right level of sweetness to go with strong and savoury cheeses, while not being too overpowering for milder cheeses.

Anyway, the tasting note:

Blair Athol 12 yo 1993/2006 (Douglas Laing OMC)
Single malt - Central Highlands
50% ABV

Nose: Oak, banana, oranges, malty beer, brandy, rubber bands, hints of brown paper.
Mouthfeel: Medium body, syrupy, smooth, thickens in the mouth.
Tasting: Sweet sour. Blackcurrants (Ribena), orange peel, prunes, sherry, hints of mushroom.
Finish: Medium. Peanuts, white grapes, hints of melon.

And so on to the experiments:

1. Mons Beaufort d'Alpage

The cheese is hazelnutty and mild on its own. Savoury and slightly pungent. With the whisky, big notes of smoked ham and smoked chicken appear, with hints of armagnac soaked prunes wreathed throughout. Not half bad.

2. Danish Blue

Classic blue cheese available in supermarkets here in Britain. Milder than Stilton. Again, with the whisky big savoury notes appear, but this time, it's Marmite rather than meat of any description. The fruit is still apparent, although this time it's overripe raisins more than brandy and prunes. Not as good as the Beaufort d'Alpage.

3. Manchego

This particular Manchego was wine-washed, and had a very tasty nutty flavour. The whisky softened the taste of the cheese, bringing up notes of butter and milk, with curious surprising hints of vanilla. These were quickly followed by soy sauce flavours. The whisky itself tasted a little more like brandy, with the rubber band flavours that I associate with brandy beginning to appear. Sounds nice, but the combination doesn't really work.

4. Reblochon

Unfortunately, this Reblochon was a little mild, although wonderfully nutty and creamy. There was only a slight hint of pungency, and so it got rather lost in the whisky. Some interesting buttery hints of vanilla emerged, along with a little bit of black pepper in the finish, but other than that, it was a little boring.

5. Stinking Bishop

Made famous in Wallace and Gromit, this cheese is legendarily smelly. It's also delicious, with lovely hints of pear and beer (it's washed with perry). With the whisky, it's a little cardboardy, but that gives way to waves of sweet sherry, roast ham, and then the cheese takes over. Excellent.

And the winner is... Stinking Bishop! It's the cheese that preserved the sweet sherry / brandy character of this Blair Athol best. I do think though, that perhaps I shouldn't have tampered with this whisky. It's lovely on its own.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

The Holly Bush

I've had a lot of favourite pubs in my time in the UK. They change every so often depending on where I've lived and also whether or not I've been thirsty or hungry. Pubs rarely met both needs well, until the advent of the gastropub a few years ago. But then, there are also good gastropubs and bad gastropubs.

This little beauty, called the Holly Bush in Hampstead, has been my favourite for the last 5 or 6 years. I like it best because of the atmosphere - it's homely and welcoming, and a nice place to sit and drink (and eat, too). It's not only got a great menu, it also has real ales as well as draft Hoegaarden and Leffe. It's also got many little nooks and crannies downstairs where parties of 2 to 6 could fit easily with a modicum of privacy, as well as sofas and chairs upstairs for those people who only want drinks. There's even a legend about a resident ghost - the pub has no table service, but for some years, customers used to give their orders to a waitress who would promptly disappear. The orders never reached the kitchen of course...

Holly Bush
22 Holly Mount
London NW3 6SG
+44 20 7435 2892

There are a number of things that are usually on the menu here. For starters there's a pint of prawns and quail eggs. The pint of prawns is standard - the prawns are no fresher than anywhere else. The quail eggs though, are fresh and simple - boiled just set, and you sprinkle them yourself with black pepper and salt. I also recommend the salads. The Pretty Lady has occasionally had them - smoked mackerel and roast duck on our last two visits.

Veal shank is great whenever it's been on the menu - usually stewed until it melts off the bone, accompanied by mash or fondant potato and whatever vegetables are in season. Other than that, it's something of a potluck, as the menu changes weekly (or even daily), and there are occasionally gems available. As a guide the chef is very good at red meat, less good at poultry, but I think there's been some turnover over the years, so it's a rule of thumb, no more.

Puddings are a bit hit and miss. To be honest I'd go for the stickies, the brandies, whiskies and dessert wines. This pub has an excellent selection, ranging from Italian sweet wines to 3 varieties of cognac. And an interesting Benrinnes which I have yet to try...


3 September 2008: TFQ = 24, CS = 23, S = 15, AD = 10, VfM = 6. Total = 76 points.