Saturday, 21 July 2012

The Pinot Files Episode 1

he says:

Like a lot of people obsessed with great food and wine, these days I pretty much photograph everything I eat and drink. When it comes to wine this used to be so I could have a record of anything that I really enjoyed. I always found it very frustrating when I liked a great bottle of wine but perhaps as a result of over enjoyment during the course of evening I was then unable the recall the name of the wine. Not only does this makes it hard to actually learn anything but perhaps worse it means that you can't actually go to the effort to source more of that wine for future enjoyment. A by product of this practice is that I usually have a little stash of empty bottles that are not to be thrown out until photographed and I also have a pile of photos of wine bottles that I dont know what to do with! As a solution to the second problem I thought I'd start posting about some of the Pinot that we have enjoyed over the past few months. Tasting wine is a lot of fun but its also quite laborious and requires a lot of concentration. A lot of the time I just like to enjoy drinking it and mostly I'm just happy to classify each wine as great, good or OK. I do however take special note of those cheaper wines that drink really well because these are often the ones that I stock up on for enjoyment with visiting friends.

This first group are some really lovely Pinots, the two on the right are both around around the $50 mark give or take a few dollars and as you would expect they both drink very well. Both are from fine Victorian Pinot producers, you really can't go wrong with any of the Pinot from these labels. It's too hard to pick which of these was my favourite so I'll just cop out and say they are both excellent. The 2004 Savingy Les Beaune Aux Fourches Village was a particularly nice surprise as it was very well priced at less than $40 which I reckon is great value for a wine nearly 8 years old from the other side of the world. 

The next group also contains some delicious Pinot but of this lot the Bannockburn was the best and also the most expensive. The 2008 Kooyong Haven from Sandro Mosele is a great Victorian Pinot as is his 2009 Estate Pinot pictured above although the Haven has a lot more depth and fine qualities to ponder. I felt the Bream Creek was worthy of special mention as it is very reasonably priced at $30 and drinks at a quality of a more expensive wine. This multi dimensional Tasmanian Pinot would definitely be worth cellaring for a few years to see how it developed. 

Another group of excellent Pinot. Curly Flat probably doesn't need any explanation, they're just one of those great producers that seem like they can do no wrong. Merrick's Creek is a new producer to me and one that I will be exploring further in the future. Lots of great qualities in this Pinot, like a number of other wines in this post it's a shame that this isn't more widely available. The Point Leo also falls into the delicious but hard to find category. It's a bit cheaper at around $40 from memory and definitely worth checking out. I tend to live a bit hand to mouth when it comes to wine, meaning that I'm not the best at cellaring wine. I also don't like drinking the same wine too often as there is so much out there to try so it's important to me to be able to find interesting wine when I need it without too much hassle. I'm not a huge fan of chain wine stores and will always try and get to a boutique supplier when possible as they usually have a much more interesting range of local wine that they know a bit about. I'm often asked by the wine store staff, "Can I help you with anything?" to which my response is usually "Have you tried this?" they then respond "No" which then sadly answers the initial question.  What I'm getting to is a bit of a justification of the numerous Maison Champy wines in this post, all of which were quite good for the record. These were all bought from the Chinatown Vintage Cellars at short notice when I didn't have time to venture further afield. I reckon $30 or $40 for a Village Burgundy is worth a look and while none of these were standouts they all had interesting qualities that made for enjoyable drinking. 

These are three great Burgundies and an equally great Mornington Pinot. 10 Minutes by Tractor is another label that isn't the easiest to find but it's certainly worth seeking out. They also have a few more expensive Pinots that are on my must drink list. All of the Burgundies were interesting wines that made for enjoyable drinking but none of them excited me in any great way. I do have to admit that my tastes have been very strongly influenced toward a preference for Victorian Pinot. Maybe this is a good thing, maybe not.

This is a bunch of quaffers that I thought worth including. The Hoddles Creek is a very easy drinking non objectionable young Pinot at a great price. There are a few of these well made young Pinots out there and most of them are very well priced at under the $20 mark. It would be curious to see how well they age and I will be putting a few away for as long as possible to see for myself. I also love Gippsland Pinot and will pretty much try anything from that region so when I spotted the Lightfoot and Son I grabbed a bottle and wasn't disappointed. It wasn't huge but there was a enough forest floor funkiness to give my taste buds a little tickle.

The first standout from this group is the Curlews Bel Sel from the Bellarine Peninsula. Well priced with a bit more complexity and tannin than some of the other Pinots in its price bracket it has a lot to offer. The Lucinda Creek is another well made young pinot with a lot of fruit in the same vein as the Hoddles Creek. There isn't a huge punch of of the funk that I typically expect from a Gippsland Pinot but its just such lovely smooth tipple with well balanced acid and tannin especially for one so young that I had to go back and grab a few more bottles to put away.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Aisa Rot Dee

he says:

OK so back to Bangkok, not literally unfortunately as we are now well and truly back in Melbourne but I have a lot of posts to catch up on from our amazing eating and shopping extravaganza in Bangkok. Since returning home of course I am now craving so many of the wonderful dishes we ate in Thailand.

Once in particular is Khao Mok Gai which is generally translated as rice deep chicken (at least according to google translate anyway). More commonly it is referred to as muslim chicken rice and I suppose you could call it a kind of Thai biryani. Whatever you call it, its delicious! This dish above is actually the Khao Mok Gai and buried underneath that pile of sumptuous yellow rice is a few pieces of beautifully flavoured tender chicken. Although you can't see the delicious chicken that well in the photo I like to think that it actually illustrates the translated name of rice deep chicken pretty well. What I mean is that my take on the translated name is that it is represents a mountain of rice with chicken buried deep within.

Once again I found this place courtesy of the wonderful 'Bangkok's Top 50 Street Food Stalls'. Having well and truly scoured this little gem of a book from cover to cover I decided to explore the hidden little list of establishments in back of the book that almost made the top 50. Given that there are just so many wonderful eating experiences in Bangkok I was pretty confident that most of these would be just as good as those that made the top 50. In the case of Aisa Rot Dee that assumption turned out to be correct. Finding Aisa Rot Dee isn't difficult really but realising that you have actually found it isn't quite as simple. What makes it tricky is that its just another little pedestrian laneway with a noodle cart in the entrance so you easily dismiss it as not being the Muslim restaurant you're looking for. Fortunately we decided to ask some of the nearby stall holders and it turns out that when you enter the laneway it unexpectedly opens up into a bustling little Thai foodcourt.

Even better than the Khao Mok Gai (chicken) in my opinion is what I call Khao Mok Neua (beef). The stewed beef in this dish was just amazingly tender with a fall apart consistency that truly melts in the mouth. We were obviously very hungry as was often the case in Bangkok after spending more time than planned actually searching for the restaurant and the beef was so appealing that I just dived straight in and polished it off without realising that I hadn't taken a photo. One of the great things about Thailand is that the serves aren't huge and they are also incredible cheap so the obvious solution was to go an order another serve which I promptly did! Another real highlight of both these dishes is the superb green sauce. I cooked my version of Khao Mok Gai the other night and while it was very tasty it really needs the sweetened vinegar green sauce to take it to the next level. So much so that the very next day I went straight to the internet to find a recipe for the sauce and then cooked the Khao Mok Gai again that night. I must say that the sauce really makes a huge difference in bringing to life a dish that has a lovely earthy flavour. The piquancy of the vinegar sauce, somewhat reminiscent of the Vietnamese Nuoc Mam really makes a difference to the eating experience.

It turns out that Aisa is actually the name of the lovely proprietress who has been running this restaurant for many many years. She was very friendly and happy to pose for the photo above. Another really charming thing about a lot of the long established restaurants in Bangkok is the beautiful old photos on the wall of the owners in their prime. Some of these photos are very old as was the case with Aisa who is now over 60 but still manning the restaurant and chatting happily with customers and readily pointing out the gorgeous black and white photo of her younger self at the tender age of 16. You can't see it in the photo but respect for royalty decrees that the almost mandatory photos of current and past Kings and Queens of Thailand must be hung higher than all other pictures. 

Aisa Rot Dee can be found in Banglamphu just short skip from Khao San Road and is an absolute must visit if you're in the area. In my opinion it's certainly a much better option that anywhere along the infamous tourist strip...

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Le Bangkok

he says: 

The Melbourne CBD has a number of extremely popular high-end Thai restaurants however what I often felt a bit let down by the lack of a mid priced option that served interesting and authentic Thai food. Lament no more, let me introduce you to my new favourite Thai restaurant Le Bangkok… Situated right in the middle of enemy territory of Lonsdale Street, Le Bangkok is a lovely little forward South East Asian position forged into this Greek stronghold. Perhaps it is this unusual location that caused a little initial scepticism on my part but any doubts were quickly erased when the meals started arriving at our table.

This beautiful creation is the now commonly accepted modern presentation of the infamous Pad Thai. I often get a bit carried away about authenticity and chicken Pad Thai always cops a bit of a tut tut but really it's all mostly tongue in cheek. Now ‘the rules’ specify that Pad Thai should be prawn and tofu but rules are meant to be broken and I am regularly finding that the Thai are often happy to break ‘the rules’ when it comes to Thai food, usually with delicious results. Beautiful presentation aside, this dish had all the right notes, a lovely tamarind sourness, perfectly cooked noodles, subtle delicate tofu and crunchy sprouts. 

Often it’s a single dish that can leave a diner raving about an establishment and certainly in the case of Le Bangkok it was the Yum Pak Boong Krob that for the next week I was gushing about to anyone who would listen. The crunchy egg coated deep fried morning glory is just delightful and a wonderful textural accompaniment to the sublime curry sauce. The sauce is also very special, I describe it as a tangy salty Tom Yum flavoured sweet spicy curry sauce of prawns and pork. It's just another reason I can’t wait for summer as I reckon Yum Pak Boong Krob is perfect beer drinking food. 

I've tried a few different variations Som Tum these days and always enjoy its spicy zestly saltiness. Le Bangkok offers a a standard Som Tum as well as a few more interesting options including one with grilled pork neck, Som Tum Moo Yang. I really enjoy the addition of a bit more protein in the Som Tum and it doesn’t hurt that the extra protein is gorgeous smoky grilled marinated pork neck. This was a really great Som Tam but as is pretty much always the case it was incredibly spicy and definitely not a dish for the chilli averse. Fortunately I'm not one of those poor souls. 

When you visit Le Bangkok as I hope that you do, you need to know to ask for the ‘spicy menu’. If you are not Thai in appearance the staff will provide you with the ‘western menu’ at which point you should politely decline and ask to be brought the menu tactfully referred to as the ‘spicy menu’. The spicy menu has all the interesting stuff and yes it also has a lot of spicy things too. If you’re anything like me you love discovering interesting new dishes that hopefully yield wonderful new taste experiences and this dish Khao Klook Gapi (Shrimp Paste Fried Rice) was certainly one of those occasions. I had read a lot about the infamous Gapi (Shrimp Paste) that is often described as almost as integral to Thai cuisine as fish sauce but I had never had a dish that really showcased its special flavour and qualities. I found the flavour quite interesting and as usual difficult to describe, however I will say that it wasn’t as powerful or obtrusive as I had expected. Actually it was quite earthy and musky with a bit of durian funk like quality. The traditional presentation of this dish is also very special as all the ingredients of the fried rice are deconstructed and the diner mixes them at their leisure. Another must try dish for those food adventurers out there. 

If you ask even the most enthusiastic foodie to name three Thai soups I reckon most will get stuck after one, Tom Yum. And it seems this is also the case for many Thai restaurants. One of the ways I quickly assess the depth of a Thai restaurant’s menu is to check the soups available and more often than not it isn’t the plural soups but rather the singular soup, being Tom Yum. This lovely number is the northern soup Tom Sap with soft bone pork. With predominant flavours of galangal, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaf this spicy Issan soup is both subtle and strong at the same time and definitely a nice change up from the usual (but still delicious) Tom Yum. 

Obviously I have a weak spot for pad krapow, it’s such an easy to eat and easy to prepare dish that for me really brings out the best qualities in good old steamed jasmine rice, they just compliment each other so well. Le Bangkok’s version of krapow has a few compromises in the use of capsicum rather than chilli and green beans over snake beans but one of the great things about krapow is that as long as you get the basic flavour right you can add pretty much whatever asian vegetables you have on hand. I myself am quite partial to pork krapow with baby sweet corn and often cook it at home. Oh and a point deduction for no crispy fried egg, seriously there has to be a crispy fried egg or it just isn't quite right. 

This medley of deliciousness is another of Le Bangkok’s specialties. Awesome Thai flavoured cakes! And I mean awesome. These are all so great that it’s impossible to choose a favourite. Unless you’re very serious about your cake I suggest you bring along a few friends and share them around so you can sample a bit of each as they are all amazing. Clockwise from top right, you have Cha Yen (Thai Milk Tea) cake, Raspberry crepe cake, Nom Yen (Hales Blue Boy Sala Flavour) cake, and finally Banoffee (Chocolate Banana Cream) pie. Did I mention all these cakes are totally awesome! 

As usual this post is longer than I would have liked but when a restaurant has so many interesting and tasty meals it’s hard to leave anything out. In saying that I did have to make some tough editorial decisions (made easier by some less than great photos) to leave out a few excellent meals. Sadly the Pla Tod Lin Suan (Deep Fried Snapper in the Jungle), Yum Poo Nim Tod (Soft Shell Crab Salad) and Miang Kham (Betel Leaf wrapped bits) have all had to be left on the cutting room floor. Of course this doesn’t preclude you from getting down to Le Bangkok and giving them a go. 

At the end of our meal Le Bangkok’s lovely owner Khun Niew remarked to me that when she goes back to Bangkok these days she is less excited about the food because so many of her favourite Thai meals are now available in Melbourne. While the depth of food offered in Bangkok seems never ending, I definitely agree with Khun Niew that if you know where to look you can certainly go pretty close to eating like a Bangkok local and when it comes to where to look, Le Bangkok is a great place to start. 

This review was conducted in my capacity as restaurant reviewer for ‘Thailiciouz’. I dined as a guest of the restaurant who knew in advance that I would be dining there, and selected the dishes they wanted to showcase. Please visit for information on how you can receive hot deals from various Thai eateries, massage parlours and other contemporary Thai businesses. 

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