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 (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!