Monday, 22 December 2014

Local is lekker - Dublin, Ireland


The latest from Dublin:

Yamamori, in Great St Georges Street, is one of the few Dublin restaurants that have maintained their standards over the years. I've never been disappointed with the food, service or ambience.

There are mainly Japanese dishes with an extensive Sushi menu. It has a funky, vibrant and friendly atmosphere that is cool without being pretentious. A great spot for a dinner for 2 or for a big get together with mates.

I always go for the vegetable tempura to start and then hit the Bento Box, which gives a great variety of smaller dishes to keep the palate on it's toes. If I'm extra peckish some norimaki and sashimi will also find it's way to my table and this will be satisfyingly washed down with a Japanese craft beer or 3.





Local is lekker - Bali, Indonesia


A recent review from my correspondent in Bali:

My absolute favourite place is Teba Mega Cafe, where you can experience exceptionally fresh seafood with your feet in the sand. Candles lighting the tables, a long, beautiful beach, a fantastic seafood barbecue, and the added extra of the moon reflecting in the ocean, this place really is heavenly.  The whole menu is great but my number 1 is the 'Clams and King Prawns' in an amazing sauce.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Taste

This is a really interesting take on taste from a friend that wishes to remain anonymous.



Hunger, thirst and sex are the main drivers of human behaviour, say the psychologists, although sometimes not everyone gets the order right. In this article we will deal with only the first 2 items. The immediate question is do we live to eat or eat to live. This depends on which era in time one lives/lived. Before the hunter gatherer period, humans lived on fruit, berries, insects, water and fish if available. After hundreds of years this diet became a bit boring and those who lived to eat caste around for different taste sensations, thus enter the hunter and farmer into the picture. Raw meat did not appeal to all, however, and so the next big happening was fire, or rather how to start a fire, stack it and control it. Imagine the excitement the world's first braaivleis must have created. The new taste of grilled and charred meat must have been a revelation. Thus started the concept of the gourmet, "I will have mine not so well done, a little pink in the middle". 

As people settled down to a less nomadic life, the idea of cultivating things caught on, and the growing of wheat and it's byproducts such as flour, semolina, burghal, couscous etc. opened a whole new avenue of taste sensations. Civilization was now a short step away from producing alcohol from malt and grapes and suddenly beer and wine appeared on the table, an inevitable and toxic step in the development of refined eating. Life just got better and tastier with the use of spices and herbs in the preparation of food. With the progression of trade came the appearance of new foods, such as rice, preserved and sweet meats and spicy meat stews. The growth of towns also had a profound impact on eating as Inns and Taverns began to provide sustenance and accommodation for travellers. Wars also contributed to the diversity of food products, with the new world giving us tomatoes, chillies, chocolate, potatoes and tobacco. 

But what exactly is taste and does it vary from person to person. To answer these questions one has to look closely at the marvel of humanity, our own body. More precisely, our head, which houses 2 eyes, a nose and a mouth, each of which serving a special purpose. Firstly the eyes enable us to see the thing we're eating allowing us to decide if it's a pleasing picture, or not. More important is our sense of smell. Within the head are number of olfactory glands, situated mainly at the top of the nasal passage. Our sense of smell is so acute that it enables our brains to register and store thousands of different odours. The ability to recognise odours differs from person to person, with experts in say wine or tea being able to recognise many different smells. A university in California designed an aroma wheel to help wine tasters categorize the variety of smells. So don't be surprised when wine experts talk about aromas of oreganum, thyme, rosemary, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, aniseed, fruit and red berries when assessing the bouquet of a Cabernet Franc. Moving on to the functions of the mouth, which not only grinds the food ingested, but also houses a series of tastebuds that are situated in and around the tongue, at the back of the throat and various other places which also send messages to the brain, telling it what the food tastes like. Unlike our sense of smell, the ability of describing taste sensations is limited to sweet, sour, bitter, salty and more recently umami (which is a bit like a meaty taste). 

We have come a long way in appreciating the subtleties of our senses but bear in mind that this ability is idiosyncratic and that the professional tea or wine taster has a much more developed sense of taste than most of us. This is something that can be developed by paying a little more attention to what your instincts are telling you. The French are known to be very pernickety about their food and drink which stems from an innate interest and curiosity about gastronomy. One of their best known gourmets was Curnonsky, which was a play on the words "why not", so go ahead and try it even though it's a snail. 

The moral of the story is we should all enjoy what we are eating and drinking and not feel guilty about it.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Local is lekker - Toyama, Japan

The latest from my Japanese correspondent:

My favourite restaurant in Toyama is Hamatoku, because everything is calm and soft, with the essence of Japanese beauty at a reasonable price.

The menu is full of traditional Kyoto food, with delicate flavours and appearance. You feel the changing of the seasons with both the menu and the flower arrangements. The atmosphere is one of real calm and I would call it modern Japanese.

The menu features mostly set menu's.  These vary greatly but my best is one with 6 dishes that includes, tempura, raw fish, grilled fish, steamed vegetables, and so on, plus rice and soup.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Eskom 'ek se' salad

In South Africa we are struggling a little to keep the home fires burning, or put another way, to make enough electricity for the general population. This may seem like a serious issue, and it is, but as the world's rainbow nation we are blessed with more than enough to be thankful for. Big sky, smiles that could power a few Chinese mega-cities, some of the world's best wine, legendary landscapes, wildlife of note and an excitement indigenous only to this continent.

In the weeks to come, if you try to switch the oven on and it says no, and if you're just not in the mood for a braai, which might seem an unlikely situation, here is a great little salad to keep you happy.

Ingredients:

1) 200g mozzarella, sliced
2) 100g smoked salmon, torn into strips
3) 2 juicy, ripe peaches, cut into small wedges
4) a small pack of rocket, dressed in a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar
5) a handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
6) half a green pepper, cut into slices
7) a few slices of cucumber
8) a good drizzle of chili oil
9) salt and pepper

Method:

Mix all the salad ingredients, dress with chili oil and sprinkle over a little salt and pepper.


Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Local is lekker - Vancouver, Canada


Three of my Vancouver correspondent's top restaurant picks:

  1. Peckinpah Bbq has the best traditional meats I've tasted. The food (if you haven't realised) is BBQ (Carolina Style) in a casual, relaxed atmosphere. My favourite thing on the menu is the pulled pork with a side of baked beans. Other good things to know about; they serve some great local craft beers (which compliment the BBQ meats perfectly) and they have a takeout serving area if you feel like stuffing you face in front of the TV.
  2. The Afghan Horsemen is Canada's first Afghani restaurant which provides and authentic Afghan experience complete with belly dancers! Food is all traditional (middle eastern) style with lots of options for vegetarians, like the delicious lentil stew. There is a dining room where you can sit on the floor (on Persian rugs) to get the full experience but this isn't compulsory and the less adventurous can still enjoy the excellent food sat at a traditional table.
  3. Chambar is a Belgian style (whatever that means!) restaurant which was recently voted as Vancouver's number 1 place to eat. A bit on the pricey side but worth it for the excellent original food and very nice new premises in an old warehouse (lots of exposed wooden beams and brickwork). If budgets are tight, try the lunch or brunch menus which are well within most people's price range and still excellent quality. I would particularly recommend their own Chambar sausage, spicy and smokey.



Sunday, 23 November 2014

Local is lekker - Kiev, Ukraine


I have recently recruited a team of undercover (restaurant) agents around the world. They are in tune with the word on the street, giving us up to date reviews and information.

Here's the latest from my Kiev correspondent:


Cocoa Blues (Kakao Bluz), Grigorenka St, 22

A cosy place to meet friends and it's also the perfect venue for a business conversation. I love it for it's wonderful atmosphere and also for their hot cocoa drinks. It has a good kitchen.

There is a European menu with Japanese cuisine also available. Delicious desserts and teas. The best Cake "Napoleon" that I have ever tried in a restaurant. Only my grandmother can do it better. Easy and relaxed atmosphere. The place lends itself to casual conversation with interiors that are styled in strict elegance. Live canaries and funny rabbits were seen there.


Flower café (Kvіtkove kafe), Shota Rustaveli St, 21

The atmosphere of the café is imbued with romanticism, cinnamon, coffee and sweets. The staff is very attentive and polite. There are fish tanks and funny decorations throughout.

An extremely romantic place in the central part of the city, with just 4 tables, the place is perfect for a date or for a quiet girl's night out.

The Tiramisu here is out of this world.


Solomyanska Brewery (Solomyanska Browarnya), Solomyanska Square

The best beer I have ever tasted. A large selection of fresh beer brewed in-house; from light beer to dark Stout.

A great place for jolly company with spacious rooms and large tables. Their food is delicious.


Kidev Boryspil Road 8th km after KP, 5 minutes from the Boryspil airport.

A very nice restaurant located just 10 km from the city, on the road from the airport (Borispol) to Kyiv, it has excellent cuisine. Suitable for families, birthday celebrations etc.. Especially recommended to visit in the summer, as the restaurant has a large green area and summer houses directly in the pine forest. The restaurant has a hotel with lower prices than in Kiev. Our partners love to stay here on business trips.

Excellent Ukrainian and Georgian cuisine in a peaceful rural setting.

I especially like Georgian dish Khinkaly in this restaurant; it's as good as what you get in Georgia.  If, however, you are visiting the Ukraine for the first time I would rather recommend one of our national dishes, like borshch (beet soup, served with wheat buns. Caution: buns with garlic).


Crimea (krym), in the middle of Kiev, Lane Taras Shevchenko, 1 or “MaidanNezalezhnosti” Square, near the McDonalds.

Tatars are the indigenous people of Crimea and this restaurant is famous for this particular cuisine.  The cosy cabins are in the national Tatar style. There is a very relaxed atmosphere where guests can be found reclining on shelves with pillows. They also have delicious food and the highlights for me are the pasties with meat or cheese and also Sarma (grape leaves stuffed with meat).


Ukraine is famous for it's sweets and these are a must.

 

Fish

Fish (Umhlanga) is the place to be if you're looking for well prepared and seriously fresh fish, a great wine list (try the Bamboes Bay Sauvignon Blanc) and a Mediterranean-like vibe. I had a taste of the deep-fried squid, the white-bait, the scampi, the masterfully seared tuna and a Durban-style prawn curry that had exactly the required punch. 

Little Havana


Little Havana, in Umhlanga, simply got everything just right on  a recent visit. Great duck spring rolls, perfectly seared tuna steaks and the most tender of calamari. Wonderful food and an impressive wine list in a relaxed and chic setting on Umhlanga's main drag. The restaurant then jumped a few notches up my order of merit when my 'fillet on the bone' joined me at the table. I had requested it's presence but had no idea it would arrive with a marching band and fireworks display. The juiciest chunk of meat, well seasoned, absolute butter to the teeth, served with a couple of marrow bones, wilted spinach and a rich red-wine and pearl onion sauce. Exquisite.

The role of a critic

I am a tadpole when it comes to the wine industry, going quietly but energetically about my business and learning every step of the way. An industry that is full of very big bullfrogs that croak loudly every chance they get. The wine critic/judge/journalist is a vital cog in the world wine machine, guiding and educating a 'relatively' ignorant public on what they should be drinking and why, and taking the emphasis away from clever names and pretty labels. Their word should be taken with a pinch of salt because the most important thing about wine is knowing what you like. Every palate is different and while getting insight into the impressions of an expert palate is important, it is even more vital to concentrate on training and listening to your own palate.

One of South Africa's very own big bullfrogs, with an encyclopedic wine knowledge, has given me his take on the subject.  He prefers to remain anonymous. 

In a democratic society everyone has the right to express an opinion thanks to the fundamental right of freedom of speech. Under a totalitarian regime this expression can land one in jail or worse. So thankfully, a bona fide critic can freely express an opinion, but exactly who is qualified and what role does a critic play in society......... Firstly to be a critic, one should know what he is talking about, in other words be intellectually schooled and have practical experience of the subject involved. To be a theatre critic one has to have expert knowledge of plays, poetry, stage craft and literature etc. and have first hand knowledge of what he/she is writing about. However the verb criticise implies an element of finding fault, it is submitted that this is not the primary function of a true critic but critics may be criticised and agree to disagree and leave it to the reader to choose which opinion to follow. 

So exactly what role does a critic play? In short he or she helps to shape public opinion. One does not necessarily have to agree with the opinion but should be the wiser as a result of having read or heard of the critic's view. To be a journalist, writing say on wine, one has to have a detailed knowledge of all aspects of the subject and be honest in his or her view and be able to defend it. South Africa, being a major producer of wine, has a number of respected wine critics who occasionally graduate to become judges of the quality of wines at international and local wine shows. A critic usually comes to the notice of the public via articles published in the press, magazines or the internet and they develop a following. If you're wondering what impact a critic can have on the wine industry, the answer is tremendous. An example of this is the remarkable following Robert Parker has in the United States and other parts of the world. If he gives a wine a rating over 90 points, the price reacts accordingly. Here at home the Platter wine ratings certainly influence the public. This leads to the question of how to assess the integrity of the critic. 

This is a difficult issue and can only be answered by examining the credentials of the critic (both academic and practical) and the consistency of his/her views and whether or not they are generally accepted by their peers. Thus far the wine industry has had no scandal relating to wine critics and those who do not have the required level of competency are soon found out and quietly disappear. 

Another guide is the awards earned by the critic, such as a Master of Wine, as well as international recognition by way of being appointed as a judge at international events. The prestige of the publisher of articles also shows a level of success, but the ultimate recognition comes from the industry itself. The Champagne House of Louis Roederer annually awards a prize to the wine writer of that year which reflects how the industry values the views of the critic. 

It is pointless listing all of our wine writers but mention must be made of Dave Hughes, Phyllis Hands, Christian Eedes, Tim James, Christine Rudman and Michael Fridjhon who have all had distinguished careers. However of all of these one really stands out as an international authority. 

Michael Fridjhon has been writing about wine for The Business Day, The World of Fine Wine, The International Herald Tribune, Decanter, and been a contributor to The Oxford Companion to Wine and has been a taster for the Platter wine guide for a number of years. He has judged numerous wine competitions, such as the Six Nations Challenge, the Australian National Wine Show and the International Wine Challenge (2007). He also runs the prestigious Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show and has written the Penguin Book of South African Wine. In addition he has received peer recognition as a recipient of the French Chevalier de L'Ordre du Merit Agricole, an honorary life member of the UK circle of wine writers, an honorary life member of the South African wine tasting society, the Cape Wine Academy person of the year and visiting professor of wine business at the University of Cape Town. 

Fridjhon co-authored a book entitled 'Conspiracy of Giants' which led to his role in advising and assisting the Minister of Agriculture in the dismantling of the KWV statutory powers in 1998. 

With an example like that the future of top class wine journalism should be assured. So to be a successful critic his/her judgement should generally be accepted over a period of time as setting a benchmark standard for successors to emulate.

A final word - a critical opinion should be constructive not destructive.  
 

Elgin - the apple of my eye


Travelling up the Highland's Pass, from the South, is in my opinion, the intelligent way to visit this region. First stop is Iona and here you'll not only get a taste of what makes the place special, you'll also get a great birds-eye view of the wonderful bowl of mounds and hollows that, along with it's soils, it's elevation, cool climate and sea breezes, give this place the ability to control the vine, optimising potential through the slow ripening of fruit and putting more concentrated and complex flavours in the glass. Once prime apple and pear territory, there has been a revolution over the last 25 years and now some very special wines are being produced.

 
Our 1 day visit saw us stopping at Iona, Southhill, Charles Fox, Oneiric, Highlands Road, Paul Wallace, Hannay and Catherine Marshall Wines and Belfield. The astonishing thing was the hospitality of the people, with owners and winemakers sitting pouring wine for us, overlooking their vineyards. The sort of 'hands-on' attitude that is (wonderfully) becoming more commonplace in South Africa. What people like myself (that make the effort to travel into different wine regions) are looking for is a genuine feeling of the people and passion of the place, that's all. Maybe a little wine as well.
Iona's entrance
 
Mind the fountain

The view from Charles Fox
 
On the way in to Oneiric


Highlands Road

Kosie van Der Merwe - 'sleeping' winemaker at Hannay
 
Mike Kreft - always a gem
 
I was truly impressed with my first visit to a region (MAP) that has pretty rapidly risen to the top of my SA wine destination list. The crisp, terroir-driven wines of Iona, Paul Wallace's 'Big Dog' Malbec and even bigger sense of humour and the elegant reds and open arms of Mike Kreft at Belfield, there was a surprise around every corner. My wine highlights were was follows:

2009 Iona One Man Band - a big, elegant blend of Syrah, Cab, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Mouvedre

2012 Oneiric Chardonnay - a great balance of wood and fruit with a long, lingering finish

2010 Oneiric Cousin Jack - an elegant 50/50 Cab/Merlot

2013 Highlands Road Sauvignon Blanc - fig/gooseberry/mineral in droves

2014 Paul Wallace Little Flirt (Sauvignon Blanc) - my number 1 value for money pick

2011 Elgin Vintners Chardonnay - with such big fruit, the french oak serves only to elevate this wine, and the result is pure balance and intense complexity

2011 Elgin Vintners Viognier - try this even if you don't like the varietal, beautifully wooded with a long finish

2010 Paul Wallace Black Dog Malbec - fruit bomb of note

2011 Hannay Cabernet Franc - lively fruit, low in tannins

2010 Belfield Syrah - 'The grapes were harvested at 23.5 balling, in the cool of the morning, and soaked on the skins for four days at 12ºC for optimal flavour and colour extraction. The wine was fermented dry on the skins, then racked to French oak barrels for malolactic fermentation. Maturation took place in barrel for 11 months.' - this is the wine that you just have to try!


 

Friday, 31 October 2014

Curry²

I was recently given a few bottles of Riesling to test and the first thing that came into my mind was curry. Nice, rounded spice and preferably of Indian persuasion. This is what I came up with:


Prawn and vegetable curry

Ingredients:

1) 800g prawns, peeled and de-veined
2) 1 head of broccoli, cut into florets
3) small packet of brussel sprouts, cleaned and cut in half
4) 3 courgettes, sliced into 2cm discs
5) 1 can peeled tomatoes
6) salt and pepper to taste
7) 2 tsp hot curry powder
8) 2 tsp garlic, finely chopped
9) 2 tsp ginger, grated
10) 1 tsp chilli paste
11) 1 tsp turmeric
12) 2 tsp coriander, heated in a dry pan until fragrant
13) 1 tsp cumin seeds
14) a few curry leaves
15) butter
16) a glug of olive oil

Method:

- using a pestle and mortar, bash coriander and cumin seeds
- in a pan, heat oil and butter and add garlic, ginger, coriander/cumin mix, turmeric, chilli paste, curry leaves and curry powder
- fry gently for 5 mins
- pre-cook the vegetables, around 80% cooked, you don't want mushy veg
- add tomato to the pan and allow to bubble away for 15 mins
- sieve this curry/tomato mix, getting rid of curry leaves and seeds
- add the sieved curry mix back into a pan, check seasoning, adding a little salt and pepper and a touch more curry powder if needed
- add vegetables to the pan and allow to simmer for 10 mins
- add prawns and serve with dhal as soon as these are done, should only be 5 mins or so

                                

Fish and butternut coconut curry

Ingredients:

1) 1 onion, sliced
2) 600g firm, white fish, cut into bite size bits
3) 1 butternut, peeled and cut into chunks
4) 2 cans of coconut milk 
5) 2 tsp turmeric
6) 2 tsp garlic, finely chopped
7) 2 tsp ginger, grated
8) 1 tsp hot curry powder
9) 2 tsp garum masala
10) a handful of fresh coriander, leaves and stems separated
11) salt and pepper 
12) butter 
13) glug of olive oil

Method:

- pop butternut into a 180 C oven until almost done
- heat oil and butter in a pan and add onion
- sweat down a little and then add turmeric, ginger, garlic, chilli, coriander stems (finely chopped), curry powder, garum masala, salt and pepper and fry gently for 5 mins
- add all the coconut milk and simmer for 10 mins
- add butternut and simmer for a further 5 mins
- add fish and cook until done, around 5 mins
- serve with fresh coriander and a dhal

Simple Dhal

Ingredients:

1) a knob of butter
2) 1 tsp garlic, finely chopped
3) 2 tsp turmeric
4) 1 cup red lentils
5) 2 cups water
6) generous sprinkle of salt

Method:

- heat butter and add salt, garlic, turmeric
- when the mix is bubbling away add the lentils and stir well
- add the water and turn up the heat
- just as it starts to boil, turn the heat down and allow to simmer, stirring well, for around 20 mins
- add more water if needed, you should end up with a relatively soft, creamy paste, but not a soup
- just before serving, add a little butter and stir in

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Pressure cooking in Southern Chile

A number of years ago, I not only got the opportunity to cook for a group of people in Torres del Paine National Park, in Southern Chile, but was also given the keys to a professional kitchen and restaurant. It was attached to the campsite we were staying in and because it was winter and pretty chilly (in Chile), it was closed.



I had around 30 hungry mouths to feed, mostly tourists (that had been hiking all day) but there were also a few local farmers, the owners of the campsite and some of their family members. The pressure was on. After purchasing a large salmon, some locally grown vegetables and a whole little lamb (not Mary's, I don't think) I got down to the task at hand. The restaurant had the most fantastic setting on a lake looking out onto the towering surrounding peaks and while the visitors enjoyed sundowners I slaved away in the kitchen. Well that's a bit of a lie. I was in heaven. The kitchen, which was open plan and part of the dining room, had the most fantastic grill, about 2 meters long, with varying levels and gadgets. There I stood, with the owner of the campsite, the farmer I bought the lamb from and the local butcher, preparing a meal and taking part in what seemed to be a compulsory lesson in drinking whisky and being a man in that part of the world. The meal seemed to be a success and I would love to say that it was an experience I will never forget but it seems that being a man in that part of the world involves a little too much whisky. Sadly the later stages of the evening became somewhat of a blur, although I do remember waltzing with the farmer at one point. 

I learnt 3 important things that evening:

1) I love cooking
2) Lamb tastes good
3) The saying should go - 'Africa and Southern Chile are not for sissies'

Mo and Rose and all things nice



Mo and Rose, on the Klaasvoogds Road, outside Robertson, is a feast for the eye and an extravaganza for the palate. A Boutique Guest House with beautiful gardens and a restaurant that has seriously impressed me on each of my 3 visits. With dishes like goat's cheese parcels served with beetroot carpaccio, fresh strawberries and a gooseberry vinaigrette, you won't go hopelessly in the wrong direction. Their meat creations are extraordinarily good and I can honestly say that I had my top ranking Eisbein, of all time, at this establishment. They seem to be great all rounders, performing equally as well with their delicate vegetarian starters as they do with their blockbuster meat options.
Eisbein heaven

Normally I don't harp on too much about service. If it's poor I'll just carry on and concentrate on the food; but here that's not something you'll need to worry about. The whole team, especially Byran, have impeccable attention to detail and I can't remember ever being looked after better.

A little advice from me to you if you've never visited the Robertson Wine Valley - go now! Time your visit with one of the very well organised festivals or explore the area when it's a bit more serene. Make a reservation at Mo and Rose, or even better, stay the night. Have a drink, investigate the gardens and then sit down to what I am certain will be a very memorable eating experience. Trust me. 

Lambrusco's

A touch of Italian passion in a corner of Northcliff, Johannesburg. Unpretentious but refined food; with bold, slap across the chin, flavours. The focaccia we nibbled on while contemplating the menu was perfection; a sign of a well managed pizza oven and the very good probability of great pizzas. The moreish stuffed calamari starter smothered in a rich and herby lemon curd sauce was enough to rev up the taste buds and then it was on to some well executed pasta dishes and finally, the knockout blow, the Veal Marsala and Limone, taking tenderness to new heights.

Shaxi - old school China

On the road between Dali and Lijiang, in China's Yunnan Province, lies the little town of Shaxi. Not so easy to get to, well off the tourist trail and out of the guide books, with a fairly rural setting, a lot of character and an almost ancient feel. That said, it's most probably changed quite a bit since our visit 7 years ago, and now more than likely has more hotels and restaurants, and maybe even a few vineyards or a Disney-size theme park. Maybe not?

We had travelled from Dali and after being dropped off at the market, on the outskirts of town, we wandered in, looking for somewhere to stay. There were a few options and our guesthouse (very loosely speaking) of choice was run by a friendly family of 4. All meals were with them, at the table in their open courtyard, and I even witnessed a cooking demonstration that was undertaken by father and son, in their best suits.
My turn to make lunch

The surrounding countryside was postcard material, bright yellow Canola, with a scattering of livestock and the occasional hothouse. People going about their daily duties, living a simple life, isolated from the colossus that is their country and any rush to modernity. A wonderful place to be a fly on the wall for a couple of days.
 
 
 

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you gonna get

Sometimes, even when you simultaneously take on a few of your favourite things, you're not guaranteed to have the experience you were expecting. This, for a sensitive soul like myself, can be terribly upsetting. Especially on a night like tonight.

Let me simplify what happened; in a fairly particular order:

1. An IPA (that usually hits the spot).
2. A steak (from a trusted supplier) cooked rare, covered in my BEST blue cheese and vodka sauce.
3. A big South African Malbec.

Surely, with this sort of arrangement, there should be happiness, smiles and a little hopscotch, or at least some sort of energetic dance, but no, this was not the case. Flat beer, more gristle than you should ever have to stab a knife at and a flat, diluted and only slightly fruity wine. Poor to say the least; but that's way too much negativity.

Life is exactly like a box of chocolates. When you get the good one, enjoy it for what is, because your next is not guaranteed.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Half ton testis but no Free Willy - whale watching around the world

I have been a fan of the whale for as long as I can remember; their immense but restrained power, their journey, their underwater symphony.  They truly are the most magical of creatures and I have been fortunate enough to witness this magic on a few occasions. 

It's that time of the year again when South Africa's coastal waters are visited by these gentle giants seeking our warmer climates that are more suited to mating, calving and looking after young.  One of our best spots for watching this whale activity is Hermanus, a town just east of Cape Town that is about to celebrate it's annual Whale Festival.  The beauty of Hermanus is that you're able to wander along it's coastal walkway, eating an ice-cream and looking down on these wonderful animals. 

Another South African whale-watching hotspot is the Garden Route town of Plettenberg Bay, with well organised boat trips and plenty of opportunity of sightings from land, along the Robberg Nature Reserve and from one of it's beautiful beaches. You can even relax and enjoy the magnificence of these animals from a restaurant like The Lookout Deck or Enrico's.

If you're keen to get out on a bit more of an adventure, with plenty of whales (if you're there at this, the right time of the year), you can take on the Whale Trail.  A 5 day hike, that takes you into the heart of the De Hoop Nature Reserve, a very special part of this country.

Spot the whale tail
A few years ago we travelled through Argentina and spent a bit of time (when I could tear myself away from the steak) exploring the Valdes Peninsula, South America's most famous whale-watching location.  Argentinians seem to enjoy dressing tourists up like idiots (if the sock fits....) but their boat excursions out into the calm waters are absolutely fantastic.  We spent hours in amongst whales and their young and I must be honest, I'm not sure who was watching who.  The areas shoreline drops away steeply, which also provides great land-based viewing, and if you ever get the chance I highly recommend camping on one of these beaches.  I will never forget lying in a tent, falling asleep to the sounds of whales passing by, just metres away.


 
In Argentina I also discovered some amazing things about these creatures.  To keep you interested I will let you in on just 1 fact and 1 sad truth.  Southern Right Whales have testicles that each weigh in the region of 500kg.  That's a ton of testicles, which is far more than any other animal or whale currently calling earth home.  Southern Right's are docile by nature and because of this have been heavily targeted by whalers, leading to the species endangered status.  If only they could use their testis in some sort of defence manouevre.

A trip to Iceland, a while back, provided us with the opportunity of another whale-watching adventure with a difference.  We (again) were dressed to kill (and I'm sure you'll agree - I looked amazing), it was snowing and it seriously seemed as if the sea had something against us.  Putting aside the freezing conditions and waves of nausea, we ended up having a great time, with our first ever Minke sighting.  
 
We should feel priveleged to share our world with such a beautiful being.    
 
 
'Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace'
   
                           - Albert Schweitzer
 

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Talking Tahini

Tahini is a ground sesame seed paste used regularly in the Middle-east, Greece, Turkey and North Africa.  It's packed full of vitamins, minerals, protein and other things that would be filed in the 'good stuff' folder.  It's easy for your digestive system to deal with, gives your liver a lift and most importantly is a versatile ingredient that has great flavour.

A lot of supermarkets sell Tahini and health shops should have it on their shelves. You might think it's on the expensive side but try it and you'll soon realise that a little goes a long way.

For a great salad dressing or sauce to go over some roasted vegetables or fish, mix 2 Tbsp Tahini, a good squeeze of lemon juice and a glug of olive oil.  Add water to get to the consistency you're looking for. 

Baba ganoush is something that takes a little more time but is worth every second. 


Baba ganoush 

Ingredients:
  1. 3 eggplants
  2. 1/2 cup Tahini paste
  3. 1 tsp coarse salt
  4. 3 Tbsp lemon juice
  5. 4 cloves garlic
  6. 1/2 tsp cumin, ground
  7. a pinch of cayenne pepper
  8. a glug of olive oil
  9. some flat-leaf parsley
  10. a pinch of smoked paprika
Method:
  • roast eggplant and garlic in the oven at 180C (or even better over an open flame) until soft and almost burnt (this gives the all important smoky flavour)
  • peel the eggplant and add to garlic flesh in a bowl
  • add ground cumin, salt, lemon juice, cayenne pepper and a glug of olive oil
  • mix well with a fork (or in a blender) until relatively smooth
  • serve in a dish and add a glug of olive oil, a good sprinkle of finely chopped parsley and a pinch of smoked paprika
  • serve with bread, crackers or anything else 

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Ataraxia, The Plettenberg and the taxi that forgot about us

I have been fortunate enough to attend a few wine dinners at 'The Plettenberg' over the last few years.  It's a great place to enjoy a meal and to learn about and taste some of our fantastic South African wines.  The exciting thing is that it seems as if these events are getting better and better.  A recent dinner, with wines from Ataraxia, was almost perfect.  I'll let the menu do the talking:

 
Canapés
Confit duck wonton

Smoked salmon tartar

Broccoli, pear & Danish feta quiche

Ataraxia Sauvignon Blanc 2014
 

Free range chicken ballottine

baby gem, parmesan custard, anchovy aioli,

pancetta crisps, caramelised walnuts

Ataraxia Sauvignon Blanc 2014
 

Slow roasted pork belly

prawn and glass noodle salad, spiced pineapple chutney,

asian vinaigrette, crackling

Ataraxia Chardonnay 2013
 

Parmesan gnocchi

oyster mushrooms, baby beets, deep fried artichokes,

 red onion marmalade,pine nut paste

Ataraxia declassified Pinot Noir 2013


Roast beef tenderloin

oxtail, potato & wild mushroom gratin, pea puree, confit pearl onions,

 red wine jus

Ataraxia Serenity 2009


assiette of friandise

Earl grey madeleine, assorted macaroons, pistachio & walnut baklava, marshmallows, Turkish delights, mini tiramisu phyllo baskets


Executive chef, Grant Parker, had the somewhat difficult task of compiling a menu that could stand up to a list of wines of exceptional quality.  The food could very easily have been bullied into the background but this was not the case.  The food and wine shone in equal measures. 

Kevin Grant, owner and winemaker at Ataraxia, has a special piece of land in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge Ward, near Hermanus.  He's a self-proclaimed soil farmer and says that essentially what he does is put soil in a glass, with the help of some grapes and a bit of effort.  Kevin, a Burgundy fanatic, is working hard to create wines that have ageing potential.  A great example of this is his Chardonay, with a delicate oak expression that accentuates the complex fruit and bold mineral acidity.  In fact, an ABC (anything but Chardonnay) advocate at our table, who, when first presented with the wine, nervously sniffed and poked at it, fell in love and it turned out to be her wine of the night.  In reference to his Sauvignon Blanc, Kevin says the vintage on the label shouldn't be the sell (or consume) by date, sadly an impression that is often absorbed by the market.  He is a winemaker that speaks with abundant humour and a chiseled common sense and I can't remember experiencing a more interesting, informal wine talk in the last few years.  The 'declassifed' 2013 Pinot Noir, that is not being commercialised until it's just right (according to Kevin), has huge potential and seems to, like his Chardonnay, be a cheerful amalgamation of old and new-world winemaking and style.

The most wonderful thing about the evening was that we had pre-booked a taxi for the ride home.  The worst thing was it never arrived.

Grant has very kindly given me the recipe for his Gnocchi dish.


parmesan gnocchi

oyster mushroom, baby beets, deep fried artichokes,

red onion marmalade, pine nut paste

 

for the parmesan gnocchi
  1. 400g potato
  2. 160g white flour
  3. 1 whole egg
  4. 5ml fine salt
  5. 120g finely grated parmesan cheese
Method:
  • bake the potato in an oven at 180 degrees for approximately 40 mins making sure it's cooked all the way through
  • peel the potato and pass it through a fine sieve
  • add the flour, egg, salt and parmesan
  • knead the mixture for 5 mins
  • lightly dust a board with flour and break the dough into 4 pieces
  • roll the dough into a sausage shape, approximately 1.5cm in diameter
  • from the left hand side cut the end piece off and discard
  • pinch the mixture with your index finger and thumb to form a hour glass shape and cut on the right side of the shape, will be about 2cm in length
  • cut all the dough and place on a tray, lightly dusted with flour, use a large knife to pick this mixture up
  • place a pot on the stove with water and salt and bring to the boil
  • have a container with ice and cold water ready
  • in batches place the gnocchi into the boiling water and stir softly so that it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan
  • once the gnocchi comes to the surface it is cooked, with a slotted spoon remove it from the water and place into the ice cold water
  • carry on this way until all the dough has been cooked
  • strain the gnocchi, place it into a container and sprinkle with olive oil, which will make sure it does not stick together

for the red onion marmelade
  1. 1 red onion, chopped fine
  2. 30ml unsalted butter
  3. 30ml brown sugar
  4. 20ml balsamic vinegar
  5. 30ml red wine
  6. salt and freshly ground black pepper
Method:
  • melt the butter in a saucepan
  • add the onion and sauté until tender and slightly brown
  • add the brown sugar and cook until it is dissolved
  • add the balsamic vinegar and red wine
  • reduce the heat and simmer until the liquid has evaporated, then remove from the heat

for the pine nut paste
  1. 100g pine nuts, toasted with olive oil and maldon sea salt
  2. 20ml olive oil
  3. blend the nuts in a food processor, slowly adding the oil until the mixture becomes smooth

for the baby beets
  1. place the beetroot in a pot, cover with cold water and add salt
  2. cook the beetroot until tender
  3. peel and cut in to match sticks

for the deep-fried artichoke hearts
  1. from a tin of artichokes, peel the leaves off and dry as much as possible
  2. lightly dust with corn flour and deep fry until golden brown
  3. place on a paper towel and season with salt

putting the dish together
  1. put a black pan on the stove, moderate heat and add a drizzle of olive oil
  2. pan fry the gnocchi until golden brown, remove and place in a container
  3. pan fry the oyster mushrooms and season with salt and chopped thyme (once almost cooked)
  4. add 125ml white wine and reduce by half, then add 125ml fresh cream and simmer
  5. add your gnocchi and red onion marmalade
  6. place the gnocchi into a soup plate
  7. spoon the pine nut paste with a teaspoon into the centre of the dish on top of the gnocchi
  8. sprinkle the beetroot around the plate
  9. add your artichoke and shaved parmesan
  10. sprinkle the top of the dish with chopped chives
Enjoy with a glass or 2 of pinot noir!
                      

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Babel - fresh innovation

The reason for a recent visit to Babylonstoren was lunch at Babel.  I had come across the menu a while back and thought it seemed somewhat decent.  I am a pushover when it comes to fresh, locally sourced ingredients and with this restaurant, that concept is taken to a whole new level.  The estate's 8 acre garden, with extensive fruit and vegetables, is harvested throughout the year and is inspired by the Company Gardens of the Cape. 

Our lunch began with fresh bread, guava, pesto and real butter.  The RED salad was our choice and it must rank in my top 5 of all time.  Brilliant combinations of flavour and great textural components.  My beef short-rib was about as tender as is possible but the game-changer was the cauliflower dish.  A real stroke of genius, that sounded good, looked great and tasted even better.  Sometimes chef's try to be a little too clever with it comes to thinking outside the box.  Sometimes they get it exactly right.

Amazingly, head chef Cornelle Minie never thought she would be a chef.  She said that it might have all started because her mom had 2 dishes - take it or leave it.  She started playing around with food, began to enjoy the rush, and wanted to learn more.  Her formal studies were at Silwood Kitchens, in Rondebosch, where she received her Grande Diploma.  Her first job was at Terroir (at Kleine Zalze), under the supervision of Nic Van Wyk and Michael Broughton.  A couple of years in Scotland, at a Boutique Hotel and a little restaurant, followed this and then she returned to SA, and The Big Easy, in Stellenbosch.  Her next move was to Cuvee at Simonsig before the opportunity at Babel arrived.  Cornelle says that the real joy at Babel, is the ability to harvest fresh produce daily, compiling menu's around whatever is available in the garden.  She gets to do what she loves, learning everyday in an environment with endless possibility.       



'The' Cauliflower dish




Cornelle was happy to share her fantastic Cauliflower dish with us.

Cauliflower sandwich with poached guavas, melting gorgonzola, macadamia nuts and viola salt

Ingredients:
  1. 3 whole cauliflower heads, green leaves removed
  2. 4 ripe guavas, whole
  3. 150g gorgonzola
  4. bunch of purple viola flowers, dried
  5. 5 Tbsp fleur de sel - hand harvested sea salt
  6. 200g macadamia nuts, roasted
  7. olive oil
For the poaching liquid:
  1. 4 Tbsp granulated sugar
  2. water
  3. 1 stick cinnamon
  4. 2 star anise
  5. 1 piece of lemon zest - just the skin
Method:
  • preheat the oven to 180 C
  • steam the whole cauliflower heads for 20-30 mins, until just cooked, and set aside
  • for the poaching liquid, combine all ingredients in a saucepan (cover with just enough liquid to cover guavas) and poach them on a medium heat until just soft
  • remove the guavas from the liquid and set aside
  • for the viola salt, grind the dried violas until it looks like dust, combine with just enough salt to get a purple colour
  • to dry out violas, put them on a baking tray and leave in a warm place to dry out overnight
  • put macadamia nuts on a baking tray and put in a hot oven until golden in colour, leave to cool
  • chop the roasted macadamia nuts and set aside
  • to assemble, slice the cauliflower into 2-3cm thick slices 
  • you need 2 slices per person
  • lay the slices on a baking tray and top all the slices with gorgonzola
  • slice the guavas and place them on every second slice of cauliflower (so one slice will have just gorgonzola and the next will have gorgonzola and guava)
  • place in a hot oven for 5 - 10 mins until hot and warmed through
  • place the slice with both the gorgonzola and guava on the plate and top with the slice with just the gorgonzola
  • put a pinch of viola salt next to the sandwich
  • scatter the macadamia nuts over and around the cauliflower and drizzle with olive oil
  • garnish with some fresh viola flowers

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Stealth Delheim visit


Delheim was the first ever wine estate I had the pleasure of visiting.  This was quite a long time ago and I remember running around like a little hooligan.  That's probably because at that stage I was a little hooligan.  With the passing of time and the associated wisdom that is (hopefully) inevitable, I decided that, on my recent visit to the estate, I needed a well executed covert operation.  You never know, they may well have had a 'wanted' picture of me in reception.  I negotiated my way through the vineyards and into the tasting room and quietly went about my business.  What I can tell you, if you can keep a secret, is that their Gewurztraminer and Pinotage, as well as a few other things, are very good. 

Delheim has wine pairings with cakes and pancakes, and have evenings that involve cheese fondues and jazz.  Worth a visit I would say.  Where else can you have your cake and a glass of wine too.    


 

Vriesenhof


I recently enjoyed some of the Vriesenhof and Paradyskloof wines in the tasting room at their very picturesque vineyards.  Impressive views and wine indeed.  In celebration of 30 years of their Paradyskloof wines they have released the 2011 Paradyskloof Pinot Noir/Cinsaut/Pinotage blend (the father, mother and child).  A really interesting, easy-drinking, relatively light red that would work a treat chilled at a warm, summer lunch. 

Their 2008 Vriesenhof Pinotage was my favourite but all of their wines are well made. 


Thursday, 21 August 2014

Simply Saffron - modestly magnificent

We recently spent a couple of days in Prince Albert during their Winter School.  For those of you who don't know, it's the little Karoo town, at the base of the Swartberg, with a big heart and an even bigger creative energy. 

We had a busy few days, taking part in a Mosaic Workshop, a film at the new Showroom Theatre, a lecture on minerals and a tasting of the cheeses produced at Gay's Dairy.  The restaurants in the dorpie (little town) have always impressed and this visit certainly didn't disappoint. 

Simply Saffron, at 10 Church Street, is owned and managed by Ridwaan and Hermon.  It's fairly new to town but has already made quite a name for itself.  A number of people told us about their ever-changing and interesting menu, great value for money and (most importantly) fantastic food.  All of our informants were spot on.  A 3 course menu, with options that would please the full spectrum of veggies and carnivores alike and a venue that ticks all the boxes when it comes to comfort and service.  To say the price is reasonable is an understatement and as a BYO (bring your own) establishment (with no corkage) it just gets better and better. 

I asked Ridwaan for a recipe, which I will share with you below, and he commented that he wanted to give me something easy, that everyone can have a go at and enjoy.  He said that it's the uncomplicated stuff that is often the most difficult to get right, because we take it for granted, but that with a little care and attention we can create something beautiful.  His 'easy' tomato soup starter was a perfect example of exactly this; simple food taken to the next level through meticulous preparation and execution.  My Ethiopian Lamb Stew had layer upon layer of flavour; a subtle dish but one that would awaken even the most weary of palates.   
Walnut and blue cheese pate with toasted linseed bread and orange, ginger and whisky marmalade

Carrot and cabbage koftas in a creamy yoghurt sauce
 
Ethiopian lamb stew




Here is Ridwaan's Vegetable Curry:

Ingredients:
  1. 4 cups of seasonal vegetables, if you use potatoes make sure they are cut into small cubes
  2. 2 Tbsp ghee or coconut oil
  3. 1 tsp mustard seeds
  4. 1 tsp fennel seeds
  5. 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
  6. 2 stems curry leaves
  7. a thumb of ginger, grated
  8. 2 green chillies, chopped
  9. 2 tsp dried fenugreek leaves
  10. 1/2 head of broccoli, cut into small florets
  11. 3 ripe, jam tomatoes, chopped
  12. salt and black pepper to taste
Method:
  • slowly heat ghee or oil with curry leaves and chillies, not allowing them to blacken
  • add all whole spices and continue heating until mustard seeds start to pop
  • add ginger and braise for 30 seconds
  • then add vegetables with a little water and fenugreek leaves and allow to cook until tender but still al dente
  • add broccoli and tomatoes at this stage, along with seasoning
  • cook for a further 5 minutes
  • serve each portion with a roti or some basmati rice